A U.S. POLICY THAT IS FAILING IN EL SALVADOR AND IS ATTACKING NICARAGUA
The increased military aggression and the distorted information abroad are the effect of a single strategy that seeks to display before the world a destabilized Nicaragua, torn apart by civil war.
NEWS AND ANALYSIS UPDATE: MARCH 5 APRIL 5. During the last month there was growing and open concern over increased activities by Somocista units inside the country. This meant that defense continued to be the government priority. At the same time, reports by some sectors of the international press distorted the tension in Nicaragua. For us here there were two realities: the one we experienced and the one which we knew was being projected in the exterior.
It seemed that the increased Somocista military activity and the Contra's press campaign were part of a single strategy to show the world a destabilized Nicaragua, racked by civil war, in order to cut into Nicaragua's international support.
A second article in this Envio contains ample information on the military situation, while this article concentrates on this military offensive in its regional context.
I. MILITARY ACTIONS: A PARTIAL CRONOLOGY.March 8: Nicaragua sends two protest notes to George Schultz denouncing the Somocista actions of January and February, 1983. The note states that the Somocista groups who operate from Honduras count on the support of the Reagan Administration. The result of these actions is 56 Nicaraguans dead, including 17 youth and 3 children.
March 10: Five campesinos are found with their throats cut near San Dionisio. Near there, three soldiers are ambushed and killed.
March 20: There is an attack from Honduras on the border observation post at Vado Ancho, Chinandega.
March 22: There is a large deployment of Honduran soldiers in the border area of Palo Grande. In their statement, the Nicaraguan authorities call it a provocation.
March 23: Three technicians from the Ministry of Construction are assassinated between Ducuali and Quilali.
March 23: The Defense Minister announced the assassination of three Agrarian Reform technicians and the kidnapping of a woman Adult Education technician in the area between the departments of Boaco and Matagalpa. The body of the woman is found on April 5.
March 24: Honduran soldiers penetrate Nicaraguan territory in the Las Papayas Valley, 3 km. from El Espino post in the department of Madriz.
March 26: A Somocista group attacks the village of Rancho Grande (Department of Matagalpa). In this attack French volunteer doctor Pierre Grosjean is killed. He was sleeping inside a storehouse where he was staying when the village was attacked. Several campesinos are wounded, including 7 children.
March 28: Near Quilali, an attack on an ambulance carrying an ill civilian kills the driver and seriously wounds the nurse.
March 29: The destruction of a landing strip (constructed by the government and later abandoned) is announced. It was being used by the Somocistas for getting new provisions to the Contra.
April 4: There is an announcement that within the previous 72 hours, 22 Somocistas were killed in three separate actions: in El Cacao (near Matiguas); El Limon (8 km. from the Honduran border); and on the Rio Coco.
April 5: The government announced fighting in Zelaya Norte. 23 Contra were killed.
In recent days, Nicaraguan leaders have repeatedly denounced Honduran troop movement in border areas. Several press conferences and presentations have been held giving information about the military situation.
A two pronged coordinated military operation can be observed in this accelerated attack on Nicaragua. One, carried out by Somocista units, consists of "task forces" that have been penetrating Nicaragua since the beginning of February. Estimates of their number vary between 1200 and 2000 heavily armed men who carry out a policy of terror on the campesino population. The second is carried out by Somocistas and Honduran soldiers in the border area. This effort is intended to draw Sandinista military forces and resources to that area and to have a psychological impact on the Nicaraguan civilian population who are forced to live in a permanent state of alert.
II. CAUSES OF THE ACCELERATION OF THE MILITARY OFFENSIVEThe instrument of this military offensive, the Somocista ex Guardia, have been on the border since July, 1979 nearly 3 1/2 years of waiting for action. The decision that they move into action obviously was made after serious consideration of many factors by those planning the destabilization against Nicaragua.
The regional situation and particularly the state of the war in El Salvador becomes a determinant factor for the initiation of this military operation against Nicaragua. The Salvadoran conflict today has a decisive regional significance that ends up being debated on the U.S. political scene almost as an "internal problem." The Reagan Administration is increasingly frustrated at not finding the way to reverse the situation at a reasonable international political cost.
It seems fundamental then to look at the new offensive against Nicaragua in light of the Salvadoran situation.
A. El Salvador: A Setback for the Reagan Administration?
In examining the Salvadoran situation we will consider both the "state of mind" of the Reagan Administration and those factors which are related to the Salvadoran liberation movement.
March was filled with declarations, statements and observations by the highest U.S. officials regarding the El Salvador problem. Just prior to that, on her return from her trip through Latin America in February, Jeanne Kirkpatrick said that if the Salvadoran situation continued in the same negative vein, the government army would be defeated. She also assessed the real weakness of the Magaña government and the pernicious effects that the internal political contradictions have on the development of the war.
On March 10 President Reagan discussed El Salvador at length in a speech before the National Association of Manufacturers. The following are some excerpts.
1. "Despite their success in largely eliminating guerrilla political influence in populated areas, and despite some improvements in military armaments and mobility, El Salvador's people remain under strong pressure from armed guerrillas controlled by extremists with Cuban Soviet support."
2. "The military capability of these guerrillas and I would like to stress military capability, for these are not peasant irregulars, they are trained military forces this has kept political and economic progress from being turned into the peace the Salvadoran people so obviously want."
3. “It (the military situation) is not good. Salvadoran soldiers have proved that when they are well trained, led, and supplied, they can protect the people from guerrilla attacks. But so far, U.S. trainers have been able to train only 1 soldier in 10. There is a shortage of experienced officers; supplies are unsure. The guerrillas have taken advantage of these shortcomings. For the moment, at least, they have taken the tactical initiative just when the sharply limited funding Congress has so far approved is running out."
4. "I am proposing that $60 million of the monies already appropriated for our worldwide military assistance programs be immediately reallocated to El Salvador.... I will be amending my supplemental that is currently before the Congress, to reallocate $50 million to El Salvador .... I will also be asking for an additional $20 million for regional security assistance. These funds will be used to help neighboring states to maintain their national security...."
The somewhat negative tone of Reagan's remarks could be a tactic to obtain funds from Congress, but it is not likely that he would needlessly risk an image of failure that could affect other areas of his foreign policy. There is a certain "objectivity" in his analysis of the situation. His promoting the theory of the "fourth border" (Central America as the fourth U.S. border) and the necessity to defend it underlines the seriousness with which Reagan regards the Central American situation.
On March 13 Caspar Weinberger, speaking publicly about El Salvador for the first time, said, "there is absolutely no crisis, although the military situation is not particularly good," and then characterized this conflict (as does the entire Administration) as part of the East West conflict.
One day later, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle also referred to the Salvadoran situation, in this case calling the European reaction to U.S. policy toward El Salvador very unfavorable.
A more serious problem for the Reagan Administration's policy is a certain "Vietnam syndrome" within the U.S. In some sectors, fear of a new defeat has increased as the levels of resources invested in this new war have escalated. This fear is augmented by indications that the future policy of the Reagan Administration will implement methods used in Vietnam, methods which had no positive results for the United States. An example is the new program of "Civilian Operations and Rural Aid Development" recently proposed by U.S. functionaries. That program would consist of: an unprecedented military offensive in key regions which have economic importance; this would be followed by a program of "development" with the help of AID; and finally the establishment of fixed army posts in each rural village where it has been possible to dislodge the FMLN forces. It would be, to some extent, a type of "strategic village" similar to what has been implemented in Guatemala. But the geography and the much higher war level in El Salvador make widespread implementation of this proposal almost impossible to carry out with any success.
Internally, the step up in the date of elections, now set for Christmas 1983, was announced on March 6 at the arrival of John Paul II to El Salvador. This was directly promoted by the Reagan Administration and is another indication of U.S. concern. Time is moving against the Salvadoran government. The popular forces have continued their advances since October, 1982. The moved up electoral process means emphasizing the ballot box as the only resolution to the conflict without considering the proposal by the FDR FMLN for negotiations and a political solution. This proposal has had international support by important Latin American and European governments. The Administration fears that negotiations such as those proposed by the FDR FMLN would mean a defeat of its policy (as Reagan expressed in his March 10 speech).
However, it is the FMLN military gains that are the principal concern of the Administration. Since last October there have been offensives in October, January, and March. The results of these offensives are substantial. A recent report listed 1600 casualties to the Salvadoran Army in the last three months, many of them among the ranks of the "elite" Ramon Belloso and Atlacatl battalions.
It is within the framework of these successes that the Salvadoran organizations have called the moved up elections a screen behind which Magaña and the Reagan Administration can continue their policy of annihilation of the organized community.
The Reagan request for aid to reinforce the Salvadoran army seems to contradict the purpose of elections. Why should the military be dramatically reinforced if there is really confidence that there can be free and pluralistic elections which will resolve the country's future?
Another debilitating element to U.S. policy in El Salvador is the multiple contradictions among the Salvadoran military themselves and between them and their U.S. advisors. These contradictions are mainly over the way the war is fought. Ever since the rebellion of Ochoa there has been public and frequent speculation about a resignation by General Garcia. Some U.S. advisors have publicly stated that "incorrect tactics" are being used. All this contributes to a continual decline in morale among the army.
III. Repercussions of the Regional Situation on the offensive Against Nicaragua.
According to some analysts the military offensive is intended to divert international public opinion toward Nicaragua and remove El Salvador from the center of attention. The "information boom" which occurred with the initiation of the Somocista invasion underlines this. There is also a U.S. domestic cost for its interference and responsibility in El Salvador. However it is unlikely that a "diversion" of international public opinion can bring the Administration positive results, especially since today sectors of the press tie both the Reagan Administration and the CIA to this move against Nicaragua.
The offensive of the ex National Guard against Nicaragua seems to be part of a deeper and more refined strategy. Just at the moment in which the Reagan Administration seems to be threatened with a no win situation in El Salvador, there is an effort to present an image of Nicaragua as a divided country without national unity; convulsed in a civil war with irreparable internal Contradictions; with a weakened and out-of-control government and FSLN; and disoriented, without alternatives, destabilized.
If the above were true, would there not be deep similarities between this image of Nicaragua and the reality in El Salvador?
Nicaragua, El Salvador, and by extension Central America (the fourth border of the U.S.) would then appear to be caught up in similar basic problems. Processes as different as Magaña's El Salvador and Sandinista Nicaragua would be united, reduced to "one and the same conflict." Following this logic that similar problems call for similar solutions, Nicaragua and El Salvador would be part of the same "regional package." It would be much more costly politically for the U.S. to intervene first in El Salvador and much later in Nicaragua than for both problems to be dealt with at the same time.
Even discounting the possibility of a U.S. intervention, the strategic long range purpose of unifying the two problems would permit the Administration to implement a combined policy for achieving "regional peace." For Nicaragua this could mean:
1. That they would be pressured to move up elections – a la El Salvador. This would give a political voice to a very weak internal opposition.
2. That regional negotiations would be imposed using either the OAS or the Central American Democratic Community, which would be very negative for Nicaragua. This type of negotiations could also carry over to El Salvador, weakening the FDR FSLN proposal.
3. Eventually negotiations would be arranged with the U.S. But by then they would be based on a position of U.S. strength completely unfavorable to Nicaragua.
4. Dialogue with the external "opposition" would be imposed which would, in practice, be dialogue with the Somocistas.
If this strategy were successful, it would go completely contrary to the proposal Nicaragua made over a year ago for bilateral negotiations with the U.S. and with Honduras. This type of negotiation is now being carried out with Costa Rica as shown in the meeting on April 4 between Tomas Borge and Foreign Minister Volio of Costa Rica. That strategy would also put all of the diplomatic effort that Nicaragua is developing in the U.N. into the OAS.
At the same time, if Nicaragua were to reject negotiations with the "opposition" because of its lack of political representativity, it is likely that certain liberal sectors of the U.S. and the Socialist International that today support negotiations in El Salvador would be pressured to withdraw their support for Nicaragua.
The present accelerated military invasion could also prepare the groundwork and give justification for a war between Nicaragua and Honduras. If the Somocistas within Nicaragua are supplied by air drops from Honduras, the possibilities of confrontations will be even greater and the already hot situation could become explosive. This risk was denounced by various Sandinista leaders recently. A Nicaraguan Honduran confrontation could lead to the regionalization of a conflict that would have disastrous consequences.
Although the internal and international political cost could be high for the U.S. for its direct participation in these operations against Nicaragua, the human cost would be much less so. The instrument for this offensive is the Somocista ex Guardia. If the military effort fails these troops are expendable; they have a world wide image as perpetrators of genocide. On the other hand, in case of a victory, it would be easy to "replace" them, utilizing someone like Robelo or even Pastora and relegating the Somocistas to lower levels.
IV. The Internal Nicaraguan Situation in the Face of the Offensive
National unity is an essential indicator of internal Nicaraguan strength. National unity is shown basically at two levels: the economic (the progress of the mixed economy) and the political. National unity is key in any successful response to a situation such as the one Nicaragua presently faces.
The economic level. On March 10 the National Financial system announced agricultural financing that would allow a considerable increase (113,000 manzanas) in land planted in 1983. Financing will amount to 3,919 million cordobas as opposed to 3,294 million last year.
The percentage of production financing going to the private sector remains the same as last year, 65%, with the remaining 35% for the state sector.
Agricultural production is the most important element in the Nicaraguan economy. Figures released at the end of March, after the cotton harvest, show optimal results. (Cotton will receive the most financing in 1983 151,000 manzanas.) Overcoming last year's monumental problems caused by floods and then a drought, some 4,824,252 quintals (hundredweight) of cotton were harvested, exceeding the prediction of 4,384,000 quintals. The success of the cotton harvest this year is both in the size of the harvest and the fact that the harvest was accomplished in one month less time than was predicted. This was done through volunteers from the many community organizations. Only 31% of cotton production is state property, the rest belongs to cooperatives and to the private sector. Including the coffee and cotton production, the total exports this year are estimated to be $500 million ($10 million more than 1982.)
In spite of problems from the world crisis that have repercussions in Nicaragua, especially the drop in international prices in its export products, the economic program of a mixed economy has been successful.
At a grassroots level, the greatest problems have been shortages in the supply of certain basic products, especially oil and soap. This problem was acute during March. It caused strong complaints in the barrios of Nicaragua and was quickly tackled by government officials. They tried to improve distribution channels in order to avoid exhaustion of supplies or hoarding. A new distribution system for oil was implemented. A vice ministry of medical supply was created to guarantee an equitable distribution of medicines which at times has been another critical problem.
It is more difficult to measure national unity in the political area. There is a unification within the political parties that support the process to respond against this new offensive.
There was a significant meeting on March 19 between the parties of the Patriotic Revolutionary Front and the Sandinista Assembly. That same day the Sandinista Assembly met with the government. This was a special meeting called because of the military situation of the country.
A joint communique by the Sandinista Worker's Federation and the General Workers’ Federation (Independent) indicates cooperation between the two most important unions in the country.
Meetings of unions by area of production to examine the situation, set for April 9 and 10, will be combined with a series of activities in the most active sectors of the population. The mass organizations, the militia and the reserve battalions have responded wholeheartedly in their commitment to repel any attack. A large mobilization of militia throughout the month is part of the consolidation of defense structures.
The most important political ideological problem is the open polemic in the wake of John Paul II's visit. The sharpening of the ideological confrontation takes on religious forms. Some sectors of the population are confused and disoriented. Even people who are supportive of the process and who are at the same time devout Catholics often have difficulty in differentiating certain "religious" positions that are really positions of the political opposition. This situation mostly affects people with less political consciousness. In those sectors the polemic subsequent to the Pope's visit has caused some loss of commitment and, at times, hyper critical attitudes toward everything that has to do with community organization or is in favor of the process. In other sectors, especially among the youth, it has caused people to walk away from the Church.
It is precisely in the religious terrain that the ideological struggle will continue with more force. Many of the symbols and words of the Pope's visit were appropriated by sectors of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie, even by the counter-revolutionary groups outside the country. An example is a large Mass held for Nicaraguan "exiles" in Miami. This Mass was attended by Fernando "El Negro" Chamorro, head of the UDN FARN, one of the counter-revolutionary groups based in Costa Rica. This Mass in "reparation for what the Pope suffered in Nicaragua and to ask his forgiveness for the offenses he received" became a political act. The Mass was celebrated by the former bishop of Leon, Bishop Salazar, and Father Leon Pallais concelebrated. Pallais, a Jesuit, had to leave Nicaragua after the Sandinista victory because of his ties to the Somocista regime. "El Negro" Chamorro was photographed presenting the chalice to the bishop during the Mass.
This complicated religious ideological situation, where Christian symbols and feelings are clearly manipulated for political ends, is without a doubt a serious difficulty in Nicaragua at present. It is all the more serious since it comes at the same time that there is a new and stronger military offensive.