NICARAGUA STRUGGLES TO AVOID REGIONAL WAR
The increase in verbal aggressions against Nicaragua from the U.S. administration have been carried to a rhetorical climax by President Regan in his speech to Congress. Such aggressions. along with a qualitative increase in counterrevolutionary military actions, dramatically frame the present political situation in the country.
NEWS AND ANALYSIS UPDATE: APRIL 5 MAY 6, 1983. In the face of a substantial increase in the level of both the rhetoric against Nicaragua and the military actions by the counterrevolution, Nicaragua has spent the past month looking for ways to consolidate national unity and to continue the search for peace. These efforts have taken various forms and had varying degrees of success. We will examine the situation in Nicaragua, related regional events, the European situation and finally the complicated U.S. Nicaraguan relations.
NICARAGUAN SITUATIONMilitary. The military situation this past month has continued to be serious. There have been numerous battles between the Sandinista forces and the Contra groups who entered Nicaragua in large numbers in February as well as increased attacks launched from Honduras. For the first time, this month there has been activity on the southern front by groups entering from Costa Rica. The principal goal of the Contras has been to take a section of Nicaragua. Because the invading units have been forced to retreat into Honduras or have been dispersed into smaller groups, the major activity of the Contras has continued to be sporadic attacks on civilians. They often pick out deliberate targets and practice the torture and cruelty characteristic of Somoza's ex National Guard, who make up the leadership of the Contra units as well as a considerable part of their troops.
On April 10 in Tasbapauni, on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast, a Contra group killed one Nicaraguan and kidnapped several others, taking them to Limon, Costa Rica. Two of the kidnapped Nicaraguans have since been returned to Nicaragua. Both had been seriously wounded.
On April 30, near Wiwili, in the Department of Jinotega, Contras set up a roadblock and ambushed several vehicles during a five hour period. The death toll included a German volunteer doctor, Albrecht Pflaum, two nurses, three civilian government technicians, four other civilians, and four Sandinista reservists. All the civilians were shot through the head and bayoneted. The death of these people brought new protests from the internationalists and volunteers from Western Europe, Canada and the United States and they organized a large demonstration in front of the American Embassy.
The most serious military action by the Contras was the incursion of some 1200 Contras, as well as some Honduran military, in two areas near Jalapa. They entered the Jalapa area on April 30 and the fighting continued for five days. They were forced to retreat into Honduras but regrouped and launched a new attack on May 6. The Contras were as close as 8 km. from the town of Jalapa, which has a population of approximately 9000. Taking Jalapa has been a goal of the Contras for some time, for its strategic location in the heart of the most fertile area of northern Nicaragua and for its airstrip which would eliminate the need for supplies to the Contras inside Nicaragua being brought in on mule or by airdrop.
For the people of northern Nicaragua, life this month has been very tense. Each trip by bus from one city to another brings with it the risk of being ambushed; people are on a 24 hour alert in some areas and in Jalapa most houses have a trench and bomb shelter. Mortar attacks from the Honduran side of the border are frequent and are directed at civilians. One religious worker told of taking shrapnel fragments from a baby's scalp as a result of mortar fire from Honduras. A member of a Christian Base Community in Esteli commented, "Every night I go to a wake."
While the Contras seem no more able to pose a serious threat to the Nicaraguan government than they were last month, the tremendous defense effort obviously takes its toll in many other areas and thus exerts a wearing effect which will increase in seriousness the longer the Contra activity continues.
Political. The past month has seen considerable political activity. All this activity was directed to responding to the problems brought about by the military attacks, and to efforts to build national unity and stress Nicaragua's desire for peace.
On April 11, the government announced the creation of Special Tribunals to handle the backlog of cases involving persons charged with counterrevolutionary activity and war crimes. The increased Contra activity has resulted in an increase in the number of persons charged with these crimes. According to the head of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court, Roberto Argüello, if all of these cases were to be processed through the already overcrowded regular court system, many would have to wait for two to three years for a trial.
The Special Tribunals consist of a tribunal of first instance and an appeals tribunal, with the decision of the appeals tribunal being final. Each tribunal is comprised of one lawyer and two other adult Nicaraguans. The creation of the tribunals does not alter the crimes for which one may be tried, nor the maximum sentence, which is 30 years.
The government communique says that the tribunals are a temporary response to a particular situation and will only remain in effect while the situation requires it. The time constraints for the proceedings are admittedly short and will undoubtedly bring some criticism. The new tribunals differ from those set up after the Sandinista victory, principally in the criteria by which the evidence is evaluated in reaching a verdict.
It is important to point out that there is no death penalty, the tribunals are civilian not military, and the names of the tribunal members are public, as are the proceedings. on May 5 the names of the members of the Tribunal of First Instance and the Appeals Tribunal were published. To date, only Managua has a tribunal which will hear cases from all parts of the country. However, it is possible that other tribunals will be established in other departments in the future.
On April 19, four Libyan planes loaded with arms and bound for Nicaragua were detained by Brazilian authorities because the Libyans had stated when they landed that the planes contained medical supplies. This received extensive press coverage in the U.S. and was even referred to by President Reagan in his speech. However, to the Nicaraguans, the fact that Nicaragua would be receiving military supplies at this time of serious military aggression hardly seemed surprising. The U.S. has refused to sell military supplies to Nicaragua and has pressured its allies also not to sell Nicaragua arms.
On April 23 and 24, a Continental Peace Conference was held in Managua with delegates from all over the world, but primarily the Americas. One of the greatest benefits of this type of conference is that it permits a large number of people from different areas to know firsthand what is happening in Nicaragua. Overlapping the Peace Conference, the second annual New Song Festival was held from April 18 to 25. The major concerts were held at a new outdoor amphitheater at Lake Tiscapa in the heart of Managua. Performers from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central and South America were present.
There have been several demonstrations in Managua this month, but one of the most significant was the demonstration/rally on April 28 in the Plaza of the Revolution, following the speech by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. What was significant about the demonstration was its size, given the very short time in which it was organized. Following the broadcast of the speech, Comandante Dora Maria Tellez called for the demonstration. This was about midnight on April 27, so the majority of Nicaraguans knew nothing of the rally until the next day. More than 100,000 filled the Plaza, many carrying guns, sticks, even shovels to show their determination to defend their revolution. The demonstration was an indication of the continuing ability of the Sandinistas to bring out large crowds of people on relatively short notice.
There have been several significant speeches by Nicaraguan government leaders this month, the most important of which were Bayardo Arce's speech on May 1 and Daniel Ortega's speeches on April 25 and on May 4 at the opening of the Council of State. In Ortega's April 25 pronouncement, on behalf of the Nicaraguan Government, he mentioned the three major concentrations of Contra forces: 500 700 on the Costa Rican border; 2000 ex Guardias above Nueva Segovia; and 1500 in Moskitia, above Zelaya Norte. He also talked of U.S. involvement in the Contra activity and emphasized that Nicaragua will not become a base for any foreign power, saying that the idea of Russian nuclear missiles here exists only in the minds of those in the Reagan Administration. At the same time, Ortega repeated Nicaragua's determination to defend itself, while being open to negotiations bilateral negotiations with Honduras and with the U.S. Ortega also reaffirmed the Sandinista principles of political pluralism, mixed economy and non alignment and repeated the commitment to hold elections in 1985. Ortega supported the efforts of the Contadora Group as the most feasible at the present time to be able to effect peace in Central America.
In Comandante Bayardo Arce's May Day speech to the workers of Nicaragua, he said that the Sandinistas’ position can be summarized in eleven specific points. Many of those points had been delineated in Ortega's speech. Some of the new elements stressed, as an absolute prerequisite for any solution of the Nicaraguan problems, the unconditional retreat of the invading troops and a cessation of border attacks. Also required was the cessation of violations of Nicaragua's air space and territorial waters by U.S. warships and spy flights as well as CIA financing, organizing and leading of overt or covert forces and plans against Nicaragua. In terms of the supposed arms flow to El Salvador, Arce again asked for proof of such activity, but expressed the Nicaraguan disposition to discuss the matter with the U.S. He also repeated the immediate willingness of Nicaragua to sign non aggression pacts with any country that considers it necessary and to sustain bilateral negotiations with those countries of the area that want them.
May 4 was the opening of the 1983 sessions of the Council of State, Nicaragua’s legislative body. In the opening address, Council President Comandante Carlos Nuñez reiterated that elections will be held in 1985. He said that during this 1983 session, the Council of State must complete and approve the Political Parties Law, the Communications Media Law, as well as the law regulating electoral procedures. In regard to elections, one of his most important references was to the right of all political parties to seek power. He also spoke of the coming trips to various European countries by members of the Council of State to study various types of electoral procedures in their effort to design the Nicaraguan electoral model.
Daniel Ortega gave the government's Annual Report to the Council of State. The lengthy report treated accomplishments and problems in production, trade and infrastructure. It gave the 1983 economic program, defense needs and foreign policy goals.
Ortega said that so far this year 500 Nicaraguans have died as a result of Contra activity. The human losses include 549 persons kidnapped between May, 1980, and the present. State workers who have died include 58 technicians and experts, 23 professionals, 73 workers and 34 volunteer teachers 19 more of whom were kidnapped.
Material losses amounted to 581.4 million cordobas. This includes 113.4 million in destruction of machinery, equipment, schools and health centers. Losses from delays in hydroelectric projects and programs, road construction, production and agrarian reform projects, forestry projects, and adult education and health programs were 119.8 million. Damage from deliberately set forest fires, stolen cattle and destruction of land planted with coffee, tobacco and other export crops amounted to 244.2 million. There was also 104 million in losses from export goods unable to be delivered and from gold which could not be extracted.
Diplomatic. Diplomatic efforts are always an important part of Nicaragua's efforts to preserve its revolution and this month was no exception. Besides visits by various Nicaraguan officials to several different countries, Miguel D'Escoto attended the Group of 77 meeting in Buenos Aires which ended on April 9. The meeting of the group of third-world countries seeking solutions to their similar economic problems provided another channel in which Nicaraguan sought support and cooperation from other countries faced with similar problems.
An important part of Nicaragua's diplomatic efforts this month has been with Costa Rica. These diplomatic efforts included a visit by Comandante Jaime Wheelock to Costa Rica and an invitation to President Monge to visit Nicaragua. The meetings demonstrate the effectiveness possible in bilateral negotiations to resolve problems that perhaps would only be intensified in regional negotiations.
Probably the most intense diplomatic efforts this month have been in the U.N. On April 9, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and U.N. Security Council representative, Victor Hugo Tinoco, spoke before the U.N. Security Council about the serious threat to Nicaragua and the U.S. role in the counterrevolutionary activities. On May 5, Tinoco called for an emergency session of the Security Council because of the increased danger that the conflict would escalate. The move to bring the matter before the Security Council could also be seen as a measure to counteract Costa Rica's proposal through the OAS to establish a peacekeeping force on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. On May 5 Tinoco said that what Nicaragua wanted was not just a condemnation of Reagan Administration actions, but also that concrete measures be taken to stop the U.S. moves, which were leading to a regional war.
On May 5, U.N. President Perez de Cuellar offered to use his good offices to try to work toward peace in the area and he condemned the counterrevolutionary actions against Nicaragua.
Domestic. In Nicaragua's domestic situation, shortages continued to cause problems but, in the cities at least, the situation seems to have improved somewhat. PETRONIC, the agency in charge of gas rationing, has implemented a new plan which will hopefully avert the lengthy lines which increase toward the end of each month. Many products which were difficult to find, such as soap and milk, are now available. In the rural areas the situation is still serious and is complicated by both the military situation and the spare parts crisis which has left many distribution vehicles out of service.
A polio vaccination campaign was carried out throughout Nicaragua on April 10. What was especially noteworthy was that the campaign was carried out even in combat areas, and volunteers worked to assure that all children who needed the vaccine were reached.
April 30 was the first anniversary of the "Granjas Abiertas," or open-prison farms. There are now three of these farms in operation, and another will open next week. These are prisons without walls, located on farms which the prisoners themselves administer and where they act as their own guards. Three of the farms are for ex National Guard prisoners, and the fourth is for Miskito prisoners. This is an innovative and highly acclaimed program of the Sandinista government to implement a more humane prison system in which there is truly a possibility of rehabilitation.
Religion. On April 15, a letter from the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference was published regarding the papal visit. The letter was written three weeks after the visit but not sent to the newspaper for publication until April 13. There was no explanation of why the bishops felt the necessity to make their comments so long after the visit. They made no direct criticism of the government, but did blame "small numbers of non Catholics" for what they claimed was insulting and disrespectful behavior on the part of the people in the Plaza. The Episcopal letter was criticized by two local newspapers and sectors of the clergy because the bishops still have made no comment on the counterrevolutionary actions or on the deaths of the hundreds of Nicaraguans as a result of those actions.
REGIONAL ISSUESThe brutal assassination of Melida Anaya Montes, Comandante Ana Maria, second-in command of the FPL (Popular Liberation Forces) of El Salvador, in the early morning hours of April 6 in Managua was an event whose effects will continue to be felt both in Nicaragua and in El Salvador for some time. Ana Maria was given a public funeral in Managua, to which thousands of people came to pay tribute to her, including high Nicaraguan government officials. Many thousands more attended the wakes, which were held on April 6 and 7. FPL leader Salvador Cayetano Carpio came to Managua to deliver the eulogy. Ana Maria was placed in a crypt in a plaza renamed for her in the Eduardo Contreras Community Center in Managua.
No results of the investigation regarding Ana Maria's death were forthcoming until the morning of April 20. State Security and the Ministry of the Interior announced the result of their investigation at the same time that they announced the suicide of Comandante Marcial, Cayetano Carpio, the previous April 12. The announcement said that Marcelo, an assistant of Carpio and member of the Central Committee of the FPL, had been the intellectual author of the crime which was carried out by three other Salvadorans. All were in custody. The announcement gave as reasons for Carpio's suicide the fact that he was so devastated by the loss of Ana Maria and the fact that someone close to him had been responsible that he took his own life. The communique said that Carpio had been buried in a private ceremony the day after his death.
The rapidity with which the Nicaraguan authorities resolved their investigation and the openness with which the details were presented to the press and the public were impressive.
Besides the deaths of the two Salvadoran guerrilla leaders, other events in El Salvador also had their effects on Nicaragua. The rebels continued to make military gains, such as the actions against the customs post at El Amatillo on April 29. Continued FMLN gains reinforced the determination of the Reagan Administration to increase support to the Salvadoran Army and to blame Nicaragua for the situation. The effects of the resignation of Garcia as Defense Minister and the ability of his successor to wage the kind of war the U.S. is advocating remain to be seen.
The visit of U.S. Secretary of State Shultz to Mexico on April 14 was seen as the Reagan Administration's attempts to pressure Mexico to change its position on the Central American conflict and to support the U.S. position. In spite of Mexico's financial problems and its proximity to the U.S., it has consistently maintained support for the Nicaraguan government and Shultz's visit did not seem to alter that. The U.S.’s sometimes arrogant attitude toward Mexico and its implication that only U.S. policy will save Mexico from "creeping violence" in Central America are seen by the Mexicans as a continuation of more than a century of U.S. insensitivity to its southern neighbor and only serves to reinforce Mexican nationalistic pride and determination not to be a puppet for the U.S. in Latin America.
The Contadora Group, consisting of the Foreign ministers of Mexico, Venezuela, Panama and Colombia, have been very active this month, and Nicaragua has been supportive of the Group's efforts to resolve the Central American crisis. The Contadora Group first came together at a meeting in January and supports a negotiated settlement in El Salvador and the idea of bilateral negotiations between Honduras and Nicaragua. The four foreign ministers visited the Central American countries on April 12 and 13 and then met in Panama on April 14. The "second round" of the Contadora Group concluded in Panama on April 22 when the foreign ministers from the Central American countries met with the Group. An emergency meeting has been set for May 11 in Panama because of the increased problems from the large scale invasion in northern Nicaragua.
EUROPEAN SITUATION IN RELATION TO NICARAGUAThe Socialist International Congress held in Portugal on April 8 was important to Nicaragua. Various counterrevolutionary groups and figures, including Eden Pastora and Alfonso Robelo, and more recently some of the directorate of the FDN, have made considerable efforts to win support from the SI and the western European countries. The Socialist International Congress made a strong statement in support of the Sandinista Government and against the counterrevolutionary activities and the role of the U.S. in those activities. This was seen as very positive here since the support of the SI is important to the Sandinistas on many levels, especially the political and the economic.
Large demonstrations have taken place in western European countries, especially in France and Germany, in the wake of the assassinations of two European doctors within the past six weeks. The political opposition in West Germany has been particularly critical of the Kohl government's support of the Reagan Administration.
The U.S. attitude that it will resolve Europe is problems and its paternalistic pronouncements also produce a negative effect among large sectors of the European community.
U.S. ROLE IN NICARAGUA AND THE REGIONThe grim and unavoidable awareness that the lives of countless Nicaraguans are in the hands of the Reagan Administration and the U.S. Congress is more tangible here every day. Each move by the Congress regarding monies for covert operations, and each statement regarding Central American policy is carefully watched and analyzed here.
In early April, the U.S. Embassy refused to give Interior Minister Tomas Borge a visa to visit the United States. This was followed immediately by a visit by Ambassador Quainton to the State Department and continuing strident attacks on Nicaragua by Administration officials which culminated with the speech by President Reagan to the joint session of Congress on April 27.
Even though the President did not say anything new or propose any dramatic moves in Central America, the speech was taken very seriously here in Nicaragua. Some polls indicate that internally, both within Congress and with the American public, the speech had little effect but the same cannot be said for this area.
To the people of Nicaragua who are suffering attacks from Somocista groups each day, Reagan's statement that he had asked for the joint meeting of Congress in order to prevent a crisis did not seem to reflect the real situation in Central America, where the crisis is already painfully present. His presentation of El Salvador as a place in which "democracy is beginning to take hold" and of Guatemala as "pledged to the same course" are not borne out by the continued repression that racks both countries. One statement regarding El Salvador was accurate, however: "The Salvadoran people's desire for democracy will not be defeated."
Reagan's portrayal of Nicaragua can be summed up in two phrases: "There is no freedom, no democratic rights and more poverty", and "Even worse than its predecessor, it is helping Cuba and the Soviets to destabilize our hemisphere." He tried to legitimize the counterrevolutionary forces by portraying them all as disillusioned Sandinista heroes, and he said that Nicaragua was the one who was threatening Honduras. This ignores the fact that the dead seem to be on the Nicaraguan side of the border.
In regard to refugees, Reagan said, "Must we by default leave the people of El Salvador no choice but to flee their homes creating another tragic human exodus?" Hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans have already been forced to leave their homes, fleeing from repression by both the U.S.-backed government and the paramilitary forces. Within the United States, where the policy towards those Salvadorans who seek asylum there has been to return them to Salvador, there has been a growing "sanctuary" movement by church groups trying to save the lives of those refugees whom Mr. Reagan seems unaware are in his country.
Senator Dodd, speaking for the Democratic Party following Reagan's speech, made insightful observations on the Central American situation: "If Central America were not racked with poverty there would be no revolution. If Central America were not racked with hunger, there would be no revolution. If Central America were not racked with injustice, there would be no revolution. But unless the oppressive conditions change, the region will continue to seethe with revolution, with or without the Soviets."
Reagan's efforts to gain bipartisan congressional approval for his Central American plans focused on the supposed threat to U.S. security. Yet he was anxious to assure his listeners that Central America would not become another Vietnam. Reagan's naming of Richard Stone as special envoy to the Central American region is another indication of this Administration's insensitivity to the issues in the area. Stone's association with the exiled Cuban community in Miami and his active paid lobbying for the Lucas Garcia government of Guatemala make him an unlikely candidate to win the confidence needed in order to have any positive effect on the problems of the region.
Following Reagan's speech, the House Intelligence Committee voted 9 5, along strict party lines, to curtail covert activity. The press both in the U.S. and in Nicaragua generally portrayed the vote as a defeat for Reagan. However, a close look casts serious doubts on whether it was a defeat. The proposal allocates $30 million between now and October 1983 for overt funds "to stop arms supplies" and an additional $50 million in 1984. It also removed the 45 day deadline which had originally been stipulated for stopping covert operations and changed the wording "in or against Nicaragua" to read just "in Nicaragua."
The Senate Intelligence Committee followed on May 6 with an even more ominous vote approving covert operations until the end of September.
Reagan's remarks to a group of reporters on May 5 are of even more concern than his speech to Congress in that he openly referred to the Contras as "freedom fighters" and said they had as much legitimacy as the Nicaraguan government.
As events seemed to be moving rapidly toward a regional war, Nicaragua appeared to be intensely searching for some way to maintain peace without giving up its dignity and hard won independence. The U.S. rhetoric and the press reports in neighboring countries seems to clamor for war. Nicaragua in the press, in its diplomatic moves, in its determination not to react to provocations by Honduran troops on the northern border – seems to be committed to avoiding a war with Honduras.
The question here is, to what point can this determination continue? If involvement by Honduran troops continues or escalates, what then? If the U.S. continues to pour money and supplies into the Contra activities and to step up economic pressures, what will the alternatives be? One thing is certain, the people of Nicaragua desperately want peace; they want time to continue their reconstruction and to forge their own future. But it is also certain that their destiny in many ways is being determined in the committee rooms of the U.S. Congress and the strategy sessions of the U.S. State Department and the CIA.