NICARAGUA UNDER ATTACK: THE COSTS OF AN UNFAIR BATTLE
In the past month an important part of the life of the country has been directed to the military terrain, where three war fronts can be clearly discerned: on the northern border with Honduras, in the northern and southern parts of the Atlantic region and on the southern border with Costa Rica. The Contras are now trying to consolidate their operations.
NEWS ANALYSIS: MAY 5 JUNE 5, 1983. The clear delineation of three war fronts fighting against Nicaragua (the north, the north Atlantic and the south) and the attempts of the counterrevolution to consolidate their operations has once again made the military issue the most important one in Nicaragua during May. The Reagan administration's vitriolic rhetoric has continued as in previous months and is still accompanied by aggressive actions. The U.S. action cutting Nicaragua's sugar importation quota by 90% (5 9 83) was interpreted as a further step along the road to a much more generalized economic blockade.
The recent U.S. personnel changes in the region must also be part of any serious analysis. Motley replacing Enders, at the head of the important post of Under Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, and Pickering replacing Hinton as Ambassador in El Salvador open the possibility of an even harsher U.S. policy in the region. On the other side, pressing for a negotiated solution, is the Contadora group, which in spite of its own limitations has occupied an important place in the analysis of last month's activities.
Confronted with the increase in aggressions, the Nicaraguan government has campaigned in the diplomatic arena. An emergency session of the U.N. Security Council was requested, meetings were promoted with the OAS Special Commission on Consultations and Negotiations and the Latin American Economic System was also consulted. While this forced the U.S. to deal with Nicaragua on a high diplomatic level, it was also risky for Nicaragua because it threatened to "use up" diplomatic channels, such as the Security Council.
Internally, the government has been forced to take some measures which were not always looked upon favorably from outside the country. Currently the military situation is partially controlled in spite of the increasing aggressiveness of the southern front controlled by Pastora and Robelo. But the government has sanctioned various confiscations of lands and businesses in order to effect a more equal distribution of land and wealth and to win some space arid popular support, especially in the combat zones. On the economic level, a new tax law has been legislated and new measures have been taken for buying and selling dollars in order to stop the speculators and those out to destabilize the country.
The Council of State reopened political debate on the discussion of the Political Parties Law and the Housing Law, and various articles in each have already been approved in their final form.
On the religious level, there have been new ideological confrontations and more church demonstrations.
1. THE THREE FACES OF AGGRESSION: Rhetoric, Economic and MilitaryOnce again, high officials of the Reagan administration launched verbal attacks against Nicaragua. The President himself, as well as Kirkpatrick, Casey and Enders, revived their harsh criticisms about the supposed Soviet Cuban Nicaraguan axis and in this way justified the right to assist the "allies" in the area. "Nothing should stop us from getting to our friends," said President Reagan. This came the day after the U.S. had voted positively on the Security Council resolution that affirmed, "the right of Nicaragua and the other countries in the area to live in peace and security, free from outside interference."
On a par with rhetorical attacks, the recent changes in important U.S. posts in Central America can be interpreted as a strengthening of the hard line policy. The fact is not that Enders and Hinton differed from the administration's overall strategic objectives, but that they did see the possibility of "opening a diplomatic front" to accompany the essentially warlike character of the Reagan policy in the region. This was evident during Ender's trip to Spain in February of this year (See ENVIO # 21, March 1983).
However, neither the verbal attacks nor the internal reorganization of U.S. policy in Central America can be considered the most aggressive U.S. action. Rather, it was the reduction of the U.S. importation quota of Nicaragua sugar from 58,000 quintales (100 lb. bags) to 6,000. This is an old and often employed weapon: hitting at the economy of a country for political ends. The U.S. had already employed this weapon against Nicaragua on four separate occasions. A week after assuming office, Reagan decided to freeze the remainder of the $75 million credit to Nicaragua destined for the buying of wheat. In the first few months of 1982, the U.S. actively opposed credit lines to Nicaragua in both the World Bank and the Inter American Development Bank. Then in October of last year, the U.S. banana company, Standard Fruit, pulled out without warning from the country.
But the cruelest aggression continues in the military field, where the toll in lives and property damage mount daily for the Nicaraguan people and the reconstruction process. During May, the counterrevolution concentrated its military activity in consolidating the March offensive, called Plan C. To accomplish this, operations were opened up on three fronts. In the north, alongside the ongoing offensive in Jalapa begun on April 30, a new offensive was initiated on May 6 in the area of Macarali, also in the department of Nueva Segovia. A few days later, spokespersons for the Ministry of Defense announced that this invasion attempt had been averted. On May 13, it was learned that the "task forces" which had been trying to get a foothold in Matagalpa and Jinotega since March had been repelled with heavy casualties (243 dead, 60 wounded, and 12 taken prisoners). Casualties on the Sandinista side were not mentioned.
In the middle of May it was learned that 500 anti Sandinistas had tried to invade the area called Llano de Bawisa in the north Atlantic zone. Steadman Fagoth, former leader of MISURASATA, was presented by the Costa Rican press as the military commander of these troops, which were made up of Miskitos, principally. The ethnic nature of the attack against the government was highlighted in the Costa Rican press.
The southern front also increased its area of operations during May. From the camps of ARDE, in Costa Rica, along the Nicaraguan border, many announcements were made concerning their military operations. At the end of May, some of the Costa Rican newspapers which openly support the Pastora Robelo group published long reports and interviews, in which they claimed Pastora was fighting inside Nicaragua. (The current situation of the Rio San Juan area is treated in a separate article in this issue.)
Three forms of aggression (rhetoric, economic and military) were again present this month, and an extremely warlike tendency on the part of the U.S. government was intensified in the region. The time from now until the end of the year (when the electoral process begins in earnest) makes the Reagan administration hard pressed to resolve the Central American situation. The Democrats are also under this pressure. Even though they must maintain their distance from the Republicans, they have to be extremely careful not to support popular movements in the area to the detriment of what Reagan has decided is harmful to U.S. national security. For these reasons, this can only mean that this whole period is a very dangerous one for the area as the U.S. electoral pretensions will be played out in Central America.
2 FMLN CONSOLIDATES POWERThe dynamic of the internal conflict in El Salvador, completely intertwined with the Reagan administration's strategy for the area, acquires a more decisive importance each day. New and powerful blows by the popular organizations are showing that the situation vis-à-vis the U.S. plans is more and more critical. As the bombing of Guazapa by U.S. planes and pilots continues, as denounced by the FMLN, there is already an increase in a more direct intervention. Reagan's success after his address to the joint session of congress for additional military support to the Magaña government, as well as the increase in U.S. advisors and the almost imminent arrival of U.S. military doctors, presuppose an increase in the magnitude of the war.
The FMLN closed the month with a series of important military operations and the use of different techniques. The Quebrada Seca bridge was blown up; a U.S. advisor, second in command, was killed; and two important military transmission stations were taken, one of them in Cacahuatique. These actions all demonstrate a correlation of forces unfavorable to the Magaña government.
Another factor which must be taken into account are the signs that a form of local political power is being consolidated in the liberated zones. In Chalatenango, the formation of the First Regional Government was announced, complete with its respective Popular Council. This action signifies a qualitative advance in the "game" of dual power in the country.
On the other side, the Reagan administration has decided to continue seeking a military solution to the conflict even at the high cost of regionalizing the war. A new training base for Salvadoran troops will be installed in Honduras and will begin to operate in June in La Castilla on the Atlantic Coast. More naval bases will also be constructed on Honduras's Atlantic side. To add to the increasing militarization, Honduras has bought kfir planes (Israeli), Spanish C 101 cargo planes and British weapons. They have also restructured their army at the operational level.
The advance of the popular forces in El Salvador presents two important questions; Is direct intervention on a large scale more possible now? Or will the administration first try to destroy the Nicaraguan process and only later move to "resolve" the Salvadoran conflict?
These are difficult questions to answer, especially if we take into account that the main options, dialogue or intervention, are not as clear cut as they would appear on the surface.
What is certain is that the Reagan administration will continue trying to make parallels between the situation in one country with what appears to them as a similar situation in another country. The reasoning behind this maneuver is to try and unite all Central America's problems. Faced with the consolidation of the popular forces in El Salvador, the possibility cannot be eliminated that the U.S. will try more desperately than ever to have the Somocistas occupy a small part of Nicaraguan territory in order to install a "provisional government." The partial defeat in El Salvador would therefore be balanced by an advance, albeit partial, in the war against Nicaragua.
An editorial on May 20 in the La Nación, a Costa Rican daily newspaper put it this way: "Until now, unfortunately, a strange distancing has existed in the way in which many governments and democratic groups of the continent have focused the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan problem. In the case of El Salvador, the internal factors of the crisis are immediately recognizable, and insistence and pressure is put on the authorities to sit down at the negotiating table with the guerrillas. In the case of Nicaragua, on the other hand, many still defend the conflict as one originating from outside aggression and deny the fundamental cause of the crisis, that is, the nature of the regime itself."
At whatever cost, the Reagan administration and their allies in the region want to identify the two conflicts as the same one, and thus justify "one regional solution" and multilateral negotiation of the two conflicts. For that reason, a bloc of countries which will kowtow to the administration's plans (El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras) has been formed to isolate Nicaragua and in the diplomatic arena to control the decisions of the Contadora group.
3 CONTADORA GROUP: Its Strengths and Weaknesses THE CONTADORA GROUPA group up of diplomats from: COLOMBIA, MEXICO, VENEZUELA and PANAMA.
First meeting: January 8-9, 1983, on Contadora Island (Panama)
At that meeting, the group established an alternative proposal to the Pro-Peace and Democracy Forum (Costa Rica, October 1982), which was promoted by the Central American Democratic Community supported by the U.S.
Chief points of their first document:
• * PROPOSED THE PROMOTION OF DIALOGUE AND NEGOTIATION TO RESOLVE THE CENTRAL AMERICAN TENSION
• * CONSIDERED THAT IT WAS INCORRECT TO DESCRIBE THE CENTRAL AMERICAN CONFLICT UNDER THE GUISE OF THE EAST-WEST CONFLICT.
• * ESTABLISHED ITS OPPOSITION TO OUTSIDE INTERFERENCE IN THE REGION. PROPOSED THAT THE OUTSIDE FORCES WHICH WORSEN THE CRISIS BE ELIMINATED.
• * RATIFIED RESPECT FOR THE PRINCIPLES ON NON-INTERVENTION AND SELF-DETERMINATION OF NATIONS.
• * PROPOSED ECONOMIC SUPPORT TO CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN WITH SUCH PLANS AS THE MEXICAN-VENEZUELAN ENERGY PROJECT.
• * PROPOSED THAT THE INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC SYSTEM BE REFORMULATED.
• * SEE THAT THE PANAMA CANAL TREATY BE RESPECTED.
• * BROADEN THE PARTICIPATION OF LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES IN THE NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT.
The Contadora group is considering both multilateral and/or bilateral negotiations to resolve the problems in the area.
The two most important activities in May of the Contadora Group have been the sending of observers to the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua (as a response to President Monge's request) and the meeting of the group recently held in Panama (May 28, 29 and 30).
President Monge's original request was that the OAS should select a peacekeeping force from the troops of those countries which are part of the Contadora group to patrol the Nicaraguan Costa Rican border. Both Nicaragua and Mexico categorically rejected this request and thus stopped this maneuver from being carried out. The plan had a two fold objective: to give the appearance of a generalized war in the south of Nicaragua as well as in the north and to subordinate the decisions of the Contadora to the OAS.
What is evident in this proposal is what could be called the Costa Rican "schizophrenia," i.e., a policy toward Nicaragua that is both divided and contradictory. The policy goes from the one extreme of allowing their territory to be used as camps for the anti Sandinista groups to the other extreme of formal meetings being held between the Foreign Ministers of both countries. It was the proposal that a "peacekeeping force" be established that hastened Nicaragua to request an emergency session of the Security Council so that the problem could be studied on an international level instead of reducing it to an OAS decision as Costa Rica wanted. (Note: U.S. exercises considerable control over decisions taken by the OAS.)
The recent meeting of the five Foreign Ministers of the Contadora group has not produced any important short term results. The Colombian representative stated after the meeting: "if the current peace efforts of the Contadora fail, the only alternative left is war." This is exactly what makes the Contadora group so important today; it is the only viable hope of dialogue and negotiation in the region.
The countries which make up the Contadora group have a series of internal and diplomatic contradictions which influence the workings of the group. While Colombia tries to keep its image as a leader of an autonomous nation, it is faced with until now internal irresolvable problems. Venezuela, only a step away from trying to renegotiate its economic problems, is faced with an election year in which an unprecedented number of interests are being played out. Panama is undergoing massive structural changes in order to get itself into a strategic position to fulfill its prime objective, recovering the canal.
David Palmer, a high official in the State Department, pointed out recently that the U.S. policy toward Central America (of strengthening friendly governments in the area) and the initiative of the Contadora group are similar alternatives but on different levels (Inforpress, #542).
On May 11, before the Contadora's position was known in reference to Costa Rica's request, Jeanne Kirkpatrick praised the group for the first time (PROCESO, #341). According to both Palmer and Kirkpatrick, therefore, there would appear to be no fundamental contradictions between Contadora and U.S. foreign policy.
However, to leave it at that, would be too simplistic. The Contadora group arises as a relatively independent response to the region's problems, but it is very worrying to the more hard line sectors of the U.S. foreign policy makers. The original plan of the Contadora, as stated at their constitutive meeting and in their first document, was to take the proposal for negotiation in Central America to the head of the Non Aligned Movement at its meeting in Managua (January, 1983). Over time, and after world opinion recognized that the Contadora is the only alternative for a regional negotiation, it went on to receive broad international recognition (OAS, UN, NAM, Socialist countries, etc.), and the U.S. began to get worried.
During May, signs of the two different tactics used by the U.S. with respect to the Contadora group can be seen. First there was the attempt to "integrate" it or "recoup" it for their own goals, which was later followed by trying to break it apart from within. The first tactic was evident both in the Costa Rican proposal (which went along almost completely with the administration's international policy) to align the Contadora to the OAS, thereby making it subservient to that body, and in the U.S. positive vote in the U.N. supporting the Contadora's motion. If the former had failed, the U.S. would have sought a consolidation of its Central American allies (Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras) in the meeting held in San Salvador so that these countries would have gone to the meeting as a bloc and thus have more bargaining power at the negotiation table.
Right now, the efforts of the Contadora favor Nicaragua's search for peace and could be the means by which war with Honduras could be averted. But it cannot be forgotten that the results of the Contadora also depend on the U.S. If the political decision of the administration continues as warlike as it is now, that of not accepting negotiations, then the Contadora's days are limited.
4. NICARAGUA'S OTHER DIPLOMATIC EFFORTSApart from the support which Nicaragua has shown to the peace efforts of the Contadora, Nicaragua also initiated a series of other diplomatic gestures. On May 6, Nicaragua requested an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, and after various meetings a resolution was approved which, though watered down from the original, did meet Nicaragua's expectations. That the fifteen members of that body voted for the resolution is evidence of the serious lobbying Nicaragua did and can be considered a part of that diplomatic victory. Another side of the victory is that the Security Council considered the problem so that it was not necessary to take it to the OAS.
The unilateral decision of the U.S. to reduce Nicaragua's sugar quota was viewed by Nicaragua as a violation of article 19 of the original agreement. Nicaragua requested a special meeting of the OAS Economic Commission on Consultation and Negotiation, which condemned the U.S. action, thereby ratifying Nicaragua's right to protest. This protest was also supported a few days later in the SELA meeting, which was requested by Nicaragua and backed by Venezuela. Open criticism of the Reagan administration was evident at all these forums, even among U.S. allies in the region. For example, in the CECON meeting the Salvadoran representative stated his dissatisfaction with the U.S. economic measure.
Nicaragua's international outcry over the reduction of the sugar quota was not simply symbolic. More than 50% of the sugar in Nicaragua is produced by the private sector, and more than 60% of the sugar cane is sown by independent businesses. Nicaragua's protest noted that both the government and the private sector came under attack. The Nicaraguan Sugar Co., a private business which also owns the San Antonio Refinery, voiced their criticism of this measure as well.
The official communique announcing the reduction of the sugar quota gave three reasons for that action: Nicaragua's support to the Salvadoran guerrilla (still not proven); Nicaragua's refusal to negotiate multilaterally; and, Nicaragua's hostile rhetoric against the U.S. in international forums.
Alternative markets were quickly sought so that the $12 million loss could be recovered. Algeria and Iran have offered to buy Nicaragua's sugar and have guaranteed the same price per pound which the U.S. used to pay.
5. CONFISCATIONSBecause of the serious military situation in the country, Nicaragua has initiated a series of economic measures. The reform of the Tax Law will guarantee a better redistribution of the money acquired by taxes and insure that a part of these monies will be used in new social programs. The new measures for the buying, selling, holding and circulation of money, both national and foreign currency, will guarantee a more effective governmental control over the flow of money. More than $10 million passed hands on the black market in 1982 and in many cases was directly used by groups whose destabilizing activities consciously seek to destroy the revolutionary process.
Camas Luna, a furniture company specializing in beds, had previously been intervened after the union protested the administrative mistakes and denounced decapitalization activities. The investigations were completed this month, and the company was confiscated.
In another case, 15 landowners in the north of the country received confiscation notices after investigations proved their direct links to counterrevolutionary groups. Thirteen of the 15 landowners affected were from the region of Zompopera, where only a few weeks before 13 persons had been killed in an ambush. (One of those killed at that time was the German doctor, Albert Pflaum.) When the measure was announced by Victor Tirado Lopez, a member of the FSLN National Directorate, he said that the same policy would be followed in all situations similar to that one.
The government would react quickly and compensation would not be given. The lands will be given to campesinos whose own areas are under attack. It is a significant measure in that it seeks to broaden the social support base of the revolution in those remote areas where the benefits of the revolution have arrived slowly and where for historical reasons a welcome predisposition to the revolution has not existed. (The area affected in these latest confiscations is where Somoza recruited the majority of his National Guard.) It also seeks to answer the claims of campesinos who want to have their own lands. As a result of this action, it is foreseen that around 119,000 acres will be given out to campesinos in the department of Nueva Segovia in the next few months as part of the Agrarian Reform and will affect about 2% of the idle lands.
Another confiscation was the banana plantation Candelaria, owned by Ramiro Gurdian, national leader of UPANIC. According to reports, Gurdian's property was confiscated because of statements he made about the reduction in the sugar quota, which were seen as anti patriotic.
The official explanation in this case was found wanting. However, non official sources in the Justice Ministry told us that this confiscation had not been carried out. Business groups in Nicaragua stated that to insure a mixed economy the decisions which affect the business sector should be accompanied by solid and unquestionable evidence.
6. THE IDEOLOGICAL BATTLE CONTINUES
Once again, religion became a focal point during May. The statements the Archbishop of Managua made in Rome minimizing the aggressions against the country provoked reactions from various sectors. One day earlier, on May 17, the National Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, recently returned from the combat zone, had published a serious document testifying to the immense cost which the Somocistas are exacting. In May alone, more than 30 battles, kidnappings and/or ambushes were reported by the parish team in Jalapa. A few days earlier, leaflets with pictures of the Pope and Jesus and slogans of the FDN (the counterrevolutionary group made up of ex National Guard) were taken from groups of the ex guards in the north. These provoked strong protests in the country against the counterrevolutionary's manipulation of religious symbols. Later, when the Episcopal Conference went to the defense of Fr. Timoteo Merino, accused of being linked to anti Sandinista armed groups in the southern of the country, the tension was only heightened.
The tension within the Church itself and between a sector of the Church and the Government, which increased during May after a period of relative quiet during April, does no more than underline the real ideological contradictions which are seen in the Church.
CONCLUSIONThe attacks against Nicaragua, its process and its model have multiplied. Each day, the government is forced to take certain decisions and measures (confiscations, expulsion of Fr. Merino, solidification of military structure, renewal of the State of control, etc.) which we would classify as “survival” tactics. Many of them are not sufficiently explained outside the country or are reported incorrectly by the multinational news agencies and, therefore, appear as arbitrary decisions. This presents a new dilemma to the Nicaraguan revolution. Should these survival measures be taken with the risk that they may not be understood, exactly at the time when now more than ever Nicaragua needs understanding and international solidarity in order not to be asphyxiated by those carrying out the aggressions? The resolution to this dilemma will demand a great deal of creativity and maturity. The revolution is only four years old, and it would seem that the greatest constant in those years has been conflict.