Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 58 | Abril 1986



The Image War Gives Way to Real Defeat

Envío team

As this issue of envío went to press, the Contadora and Support Group countries were meeting in Panama both to reaffirm their basic points of agreement and to fix a date for the signing of the Peace Accord in Central America. The urgency of setting a date took on the quality of an ultimatum.

This effort was set against a backdrop characterized in Nicaragua by two polar developments. One was the congressional vote on the $100 million in aid to the counterrevolution, and the other was Nicaragua’s military struggle against the counterrevolutionary attacks.

At the same time, the theological-religious confrontation within the Catholic Church has intensified due to visits to the United States by Cardinal Miguel Obando and Bishop Pablo Vega and their indirect verbal support for Reagan’s campaign for the $100 million. If a cardinal and archbishop of Nicaragua’s capital say to the United Nations and the Organization of American states and in various other arenas in the US that “yes, there is religious persecution in Nicaragua,” he is indisputably giving Reagan the opportunity to don the role of “defender of the church” in his request for military aid for the contras. This is a much more impressive way for Reagan to motivate Congress to vote for the aid than his earlier campaign for the “freedom fighters.”

We take up the religious question in a separate article in this issue of envío, analyzing its repercussions in the Nicaraguan and Central American process. Here, in this month’s news analysis we restrict ourselves to synthesizing what has taken place around the congressional vote and the military struggle, offering an explanation of its significance and its reach, as a framework for understanding Nicaragua’s posture toward Contadora’s latest proposals.

The massive migration of families to the beach during Easter week—albeit less than in other years due to the increased cost of tourist services—is yet another expression of the sense of humor and calm with which Nicaragua confronts moments of major tension. “Nicaragua never loses its cool” is a popular expression that should be kept in mind in any social, political or military analysis. It is the expression of those who step back, contemplate a situation clearly and don’t get snared in the various pitfalls of a conflict.

This tendency of the Nicaraguan people, typical of history’s poor and humble, has been clearly manifested in Nicaragua’s response to the new period internationally that opened with the Caraballeda declaration. Nicaragua decided not to let itself get snared diplomatically into repeating what has perhaps been the most constant and damaging political error of the Central American countries regarding the North American superpower.

$100 Million for the Counterrevolution

Nicaragua’s diplomatic advances in the international arena and the growing weakness of the counterrevolution detailed in last month’s issue of envío erupted within US domestic policy during March. As never before, Nicaragua was thrust into the center of US political debate as a symbol of the diverse roads that its foreign policy can take toward revolution in the third world. Our small country of barely three million people made US media headlines continuously for two weeks. The US public, which was offered hours about the Nicaraguan crisis daily on each TV channel, had an unprecedented opportunity to follow the debate of the US political elite about the need for, merits and possibilities of and problems with a future military invasion. Normally the US public first learns about its government’s imperialist interventions only after the Marines have already occupied the Dominican Republic or the tiny island of Grenada, or when more than 100,000 soldiers are already bogged down in Vietnam. The debate and the conscious march toward direct military intervention in Nicaragua have been so intense and public that some 59% of the US population can now correctly identify that President Reagan is against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Despite the administration’s continued verbal support for the Contadora process, Reagan arrogantly refused to receive representatives of the Contadora and Support Group countries who visited Washington, with the excuse that he was very busy. He did find time, however, to receive the counterrevolutionary leaders no less than three times in the same week. In addition, Secretary of State George Shultz rejected the Latin American countries’ petition that the US end its support to the counterrevolution as a first step toward acceptance of the solution offered by Contadora.

In the face of this confrontation between the Latin American countries and the United States provoked by that Caraballeda declaration, President Reagan opted for more militarization and put special zeal into getting the House of Representatives and the Senate to approve his request for $100 million in direct aid to the contras, of which $70 million is explicitly for military ends.

Soundings prior to the vote showed that the administration would lose in the House and faced a tie in the Senate, despite the fact that the latter is controlled by the Republicans. The administration responded by mounting an unprecedented publicity campaign against Nicaragua. Administration officials also attacked their own domestic opposition, blaming Democratic timidity toward Reagan’s military policy against the Sandinistas for the “massacre” of counterrevolutionaries by Soviet helicopters. “If we don’t help the contras, they will be defeated,” White House Communications Director Patrick Buchanan told CBS. They are making no progress “because of the lack of US support,” underscored Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. “The United States must help the contras to avoid being forced to send combat troops to Nicaragua,” threatened John Silber, ex-member of the Kissinger Commission. The weakened situation of the counterrevolution thus became the administration’s frontline propaganda argument against Congress.

The extreme rightwing groups that support the Reagan administration bought time on national television to spread President Reagan’s message that the United States is confronting the same threat in Nicaragua that it is in Libya—Soviet supported terrorism. This identification between Ortega and Qaddafi and between Nicaragua, Libya and the Palestine Liberation Organization was aimed not only at confusing the US people about the nature of the Nicaraguan government, but also at cultivating US public antagonism against Qaddafi to prepare for a possible direct intervention in Libya. The successes of this campaign were demonstrated by polls showing that 28% favored a Marine invasion of Nicaragua, a figure that has doubled from a year ago.

US groups in solidarity with Nicaragua also bought time to show a 30 minute short, “Images of War” on local television in swing-vote electoral districts. They organized house parties to mobilize people to see the short subject, reflect on its content and call their legislators to vote against the $100 million.

After the first week of debate, rumors began to circulate of a possible compromise by the administration. The content of this supposed deal was that the $70 million destined for direct military aid would be held back 90 days, in order to pressure the Sandinista government to dialogue with the contras. On Saturday, March 9, Reagan repeated once again that the $100 million was necessary “so that communism not be propagated throughout Central America.” White House spokesperson Larry Speakes added that “the posture has not changed in any way.” Reagan warned that those who would push for a deal “had better not compromise the aid.”

Reagan’s March 16 speech to the nation was characterized by Democrat Thomas O’Neill as a virtual declaration of war against Nicaragua. The speech was magisterially anti-communist, but lacked both objectivity and veracity. The following day The New York Times published complaints by the Brazilian government, the New York Jewish community and the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, all correcting elements of the speech. Brazil denied supposed Sandinista intervention in that country; the prominent rabbi Balfour Brickner, of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, declared that investigations by the Jewish community had not revealed any repression against Nicaraguan Jews as Reagan denounced; and the DEA discredited President Reagan’s accusations that Tomás Borge and other Sandinista leaders were dealing in marijuana by noting that the commission had no information to that effect.

These charges against the veracity of President Reagan’s speech neither affected the vote nor even entered into it, however, since the controversy had nothing to do with Nicaragua’s image. This is one topic about which the Reagan administration and the Democratic opposition are already in complete accord. What was at issue was differences among Democrats and Republicans of various stripes about Reagan’s foreign policy, which seeks to confront the Soviets in the third world, using military power against countries that don’t want to align themselves with the US. At issue also was the administration’s domestic policy, which is sacrificing social programs to achieve the objectives of this plan to militarize the Soviet/US conflict at an international level. In this debate Nicaragua is the “test” of the new US policy of worldwide low intensity war against the Soviets.

What the Democrats feared most as the vote approached were the economic pressures from the White House directed against undecided legislators. Despite these pressures, however, the March 20 vote affected the $100 million package by 222 votes to 210, with three abstentions.

Reagan rejected the results immediately. In a White House conference of supporters the day following the vote, Reagan stood beside contra leaders Calero, Robelo and Cruz, calling them “the future of Central America,” adding, “We’re in this together.” He vowed to go back to Congress “as many times as it takes to win” the contra aid bill. In another speech to supporters the previous week, Reagan had said that he was “a contra, too!”

The March 21 conference was preceded by rumors in Washington about an invasion of Nicaraguan troops into Honduran territory, but it was not mentioned on that occasion. The fact that the US government did not spread this news until the morning of March 25 is due to two factors. First, Nicaraguan troops had apparently been in the border zone of Honduras for several days, but without yet dealing strategic blows to the contra camps. Second, the administration wanted to associate Nicaragua’s “invasion” of Honduran territory with the US attack against Libyan boats and missile installations. In fact, the US public awoke on March 25 to discover that its nation was teetering on the edge of war in both Libya and Nicaragua, which increased the Ortega/Qaddafi identification.

Within two days, however, journalists and even some members of Congress had begun to question the level of hysteria the administration was generating around Nicaragua’s supposed invasion of its neighbor. Many analysts consider that it hurt rather than helped the Senate vote. To win, the administration and the Republic party had to make the deal they had refused before the House vote. Of the total package, $75 million would be held back for 90 days to pressure Nicaragua to dialogue with the contras , while the remaining $25 million could be used immediately to buy surface-to-air missiles, military training and non-lethal items. The vote for this “humanitarian” compromise was a bare margin of 53 in favor to 47 opposed. The House would have to take up the issue again on April 15 to reconcile diverging positions and decide what to do in Nicaragua.

In the midst of all the debate about the administration’s interventionist policy and the relative merits of low intensity war, the Democrats urged an exact accounting of the $27 million given last year to the contras , charging that the administration could not justify the expenditures of more than half of the funds already paid out. The Democratic opposition continued its search for compromises and other mechanisms that would prevent the United States and its military forces from falling into a new Vietnam.

Four different tendencies emerged in Congress from the aid debate, of which three contemplate a variety of pragmatic solutions only, and do not touch the real problem. The first—that of Ronald Reagan and his closest followers, including the majority of the Republican party—was to give all the aid, and now, “before it’s too late.” This posture was motivated by political rather than financial considerations: to gain Congress’ approval of the President’s policy as such. The goal of that policy is to “change the structures of power in Nicaragua,” as Shultz put it, or, to be clearer, to remove the power of the FSLN. Given the Sandinistas’ unequivocal refusal to dialogue with the counterrevolution—the preferred way to politically defeat the Sandinistas—it is predictable that direct military intervention and the eventual negotiated surrender of the FSLN is the only remaining road. The administration has been preparing the way for this through its actions in Costa Rica, its diplomatic and propaganda campaign, the Honduran maneuvers, etc. (See the article on Honduras in this issue of envío.) The logic of this first position, which clearly tends toward US military intervention in Nicaragua, also tends toward the Vietnamization of Central America.

The second posture, typical of some Republicans and a good number of Democrats, coincides in its objective with that of the President—to change the structure of government in Nicaragua—and differs only in certain formalities, such as holding back contra aid and thus providing space to pressure the Sandinistas to negotiate. It is a posture that does not substantially change anything and, like the first, ignores the Sandinistas’ refusal to enter into dialogue with the contras while they continue entering Nicaragua with arms in hand to assassinate its people. The Sandinistas have left a different road open for them and their leaders—lay down their arms under the amnesty law, which continues in effect. The Sandinistas remain permanently willing to dialogue, but only with the real leader of the war—the Reagan administration.

The third posture, held by the majority of the Democrats, proposes negotiation within the Contadora framework. The motive advanced for this position is a recurrent one: the enormous costs of a military victory. This refers not only to the military costs of a Vietnamization of Central America but the long-term political costs for US interests in the world, particularly Latin America. Their posture is essentially one of overall opposition to the administration’s policy, but their use of the Contadora solution to oppose Reagan should not confuse anyone into seeing them as activists for a negotiated solution. None has ever introduced legislation that would oblige the administration to seriously respond to the Contadora offer. In fact, very few of these legislators comprehend that the Contadora solution requires much more than ending support for the counterrevolution; few consider that peace in the region would demand a fundamental redefinition of US policy toward Central America.

Congressional thinking notwithstanding, the fundamental problem is not which is the most practical way for Congress to arrange Nicaragua’s affairs. It is to examine whether, according to international law, Washington has or does not have the right to decide what can and should be done with a country, particularly an independent country such as Nicaragua. Imperial pragmatism does not for a minute take up this central point.

And it must, because this is the point of US confrontation with the proposal made by Contadora, Caraballeda and Punta del Este; it’s why Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson; Felipe González of Spain; the Socialist International as a whole; the Non-Aligned Nations, including its Latin American members; and religious groups and others in the United States all reject the proposal for $100 million in aid to the counterrevolution. It’s why Nicaragua qualifies the very discussion in Congress as illegal and immoral. Only on the basis of respect for international law can there be a dignified and operative negotiation.

This brings us to the fourth position. This posture not only criticizes the Reagan policy but proposes a redefinition of the concept of hemispheric security itself, accepts that the road to peace requires coexistence with the Sandinistas, questions the supposed “democratization” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and really advocates the Contadora solution, particularly the Carabelleda declaration. This posture is not that of the Democratic Party itself, but of some 20 of the 550 legislators. At this moment it is a moral posture within the US spectrum of debate.

The FSLN and the Contadora and Support Group movement have not managed to turn this moral rejection into a political position. The propaganda by both US political parties around the $100 million has not permitted this fourth posture to be really aired in Congress, much less to the US public. Nor do the Nicaragua solidarity groups in the US have a clear enough platform about Contadora for their solidarity to reject the Reagan proposal forcefully. As with the small nucleus of Congresspeople who seek solutions beyond the merely pragmatic, they have not reached the point of proposing a concrete solution that could mobilize support either in Congress or among the North American people. In Vietnam there was a clear opposition platform for this support: “Bring Our Boys Home.” In the Central American conflict, where US intervention is indirect, no platform has been found with sufficient draw to stop a massive US invasion and the Central Americanization of the conflict before it occurs. Only coordination between this small minority and the representatives of Contadora, the Support Group, European political forces and Nicaragua could force a clear and unequivocal position in favor of a negotiated settlement to register in Congressional debate.

The Reagan administration gives no sign of wanting to resolve the conflict on the basis of respect for international law, despite its rhetoric and the diplomatic visits such as those made this month to San Salvador, Tegucigalpa and Guatemala by Philip Habib—who substituted Harry Schlaudeman as special envoy to Central America—or the tour by Elliott Abrams to the Support Group countries. As long as this continues to be the case, we can see ever greater pressure being exercised and ever greater escalation of the conflict. It will not change until pressure is successfully turned back on the administration in favor of real dialogue that respects the international right of nations to self-determination.

A Phase of the Military Struggle Ends

Khadafi While Congress debates the $100 million aid package, the Sandinista Army (EPS) continues to defeat the contras militarily. One of the only things the Reagan administration and the Sandinistas agree on is that the contras aren’t winning. Their defeats are mounting and the $27 million granted last year by Congress failed to reverse that decline. The contras’ defeat is the result of strategic steps taken in 1985 by the EPS to confront the counterrevolutionary aggression.

In 1983 and 1984, the contras made considerable advances and won a solid base of peasant support in some areas. The reasons for this include errors by some Sandinista leaders, such as the abuse of civilians suspected of collaborating with the contras in Pantasma; the curtailment of some social and economic programs that resulted from prioritizing the military effort; and the contras’ intense use of religious propaganda as suggested by the CIA manual. Peasants, often motivated by fear of “atheist communism,” not only joined the military ranks of the counterrevolution voluntarily, but sustained a support network, especially in Regions I (Nueva Segovia, Madriz and Esteli) and VI (Matagalpa and Jinotega). This network enabled the contras to enter deep into Nicaraguan territory from Honduras and return safely to their bases just over the border. They also succeeded in multiplying their activity in Region V (Chontales and Boaco). Supplied by air, they maintained their attack positions, although without ever achieving “liberated territory,” as Pastora claimed in referring to his activity along Nicaragua’s southern border.

The EPS was unable to take any action against the aerial incursions, and the “Pantasma Syndrome” resulting from the stiff sentences meted out to the officials who had committed abuses inhibited the army from detaining civilians known to be counterrevolutionary collaborators. Conversely, the obvious priority of defense spending and its immense repercussions prevented the Sandinistas from responding effectively to the real needs of the peasants. All this led to a change in strategy in 1985.

The Sandinistas launched a guerrilla war of positions in order to retake the initiative. New helicopters enabled the EPS to control air space and pursue dispersed contra groups. Collaborators were detained to break the chain that had kept the contras supplied from the border. Finally, to the extent that the aggression and the country’s economic situation permitted, an integrated social, economic and political program was implemented.

The peasantry began to respond to the new measures, causing the contras to resort to kidnapping and forced recruitment just to replace their casualties; they were unable to increase their forces. Young men who fell into the contras’ hands as they fled the draft were another source of forced recruitment. The contra practice of murdering civilians, the blows suffered by the counterrevolution and the recognition that the contras would not “be in Managua by December 1983,” as they had originally promised their recruits, all served to produce a sharp rise in the desertion by peasant combatants. The resulting murder of many deserters by the clandestine counterrevolutionary network only served to make the job of trying to rebuild the peasant base more difficult.

Since mid-1985, the EPS has recovered the initiative in the war. To demonstrate signs of life after the approval of the $27 million, the contras destroyed centers of production, kidnapped civilians and launched propagandistic operations. But their social base has been effectively pulled out from under them. As one EPS official put it, without a “human breeding ground,” the contras will be unable to maintain themselves, much less grow. The $100 million, he added, “will give them better communications, sophisticated air transport, arms and night attack capacity, and might even help open a front on the Atlantic Coast, but will not win more people.”

The Sandinista military program since the end of 1985 has been to “deepen the defeat of the counterrevolution,” though it has not come free of the price that accompanies a mandatory recruitment of young men into military service. A measure of the determination of this program is the March 27 Ministry of Defense communiqué, which described EPS attacks against the contras for the previous two weeks: the EPS caused them 600 casualties, with no fewer than 350 dead, and the destruction of several camps, including their most important training base. According to the communiqué, the EPS suffered 40 dead, 116 wounded and 5 missing.

A few days before the Senate vote for the $100 million, the military developments could not have been better suited to allow the Reagan administration to raise a scandal. From Washington it was announced that the Sandinistas had invaded Honduras between March 21 and 22. In successive news broadcasts, the number of supposed invaders grew from a small group to 800 men, to 1,500, and finally to two or three battalions. The site of the incursion was first reported as Olancho, in the mideastern sector of Honduras. Later, it was reported as the region of El Paraiso on the Pacific and finally, the “Las Vegas triangle,” the contras’ most populous refuge.

Nicaragua’s “invasion” into Honduras confirmed the Republicans’ position and infuriated House Chairman “Tip” O’Neill, who had led the Democratic party opposition to Reagan’s request. On March 25-26, President Reagan announced that US helicopters, flown by US pilots, were transporting Honduran military personnel to the conflict zones. He also sent $20 million in “emergency aid” to Honduras, “at the request of the President of Honduras.” General John Galvin, chief of the Southern Command, flew from Panama to Tegucigalpa to take matters into his own hands, and demonstrate the grave instability that Nicaragua was “creating” in Central America.

Juxtaposed to this flurry of reactions, the Honduran government refused on two occasions to recognize the EPS incursion. The first denial was made by Lizandro Quezada, the President’s communications director. Under US pressure, the Honduran government finally issued a third statement admitting the incursion, but explicitly denying that there had been any conflict between the two countries’ armed forces. According to Azcona’s government, if there was any military conflict it was between the Sandinistas and the contras. Honduras turned a blind eye toward the incident, as if secretly hoping that the Sandinistas would eliminate the problematic contras from its territory.

From the outset, Nicaragua denied that its troops had “violated” Honduran territory or attacked its sovereignty. On March 25, Deputy Foreign Relations Minister José Luis Talavera announced that Nicaragua had requested the immediate creation of a mixed commission from the Contadora and Support Group countries to visit the border, similar to the commission now existing on the Nicaragua/Costa Rican border. In contrast to the alarmist reports emanating from Washington, Talavera also announced that Presidents Ortega and Azcona had maintained telephone communications in the preceding days.

On March 27, as mentioned above, the Defense Ministry issued its official communiqué, without specifying the location of the attacks on the counterrevolutionary bases. The following day, Good Friday, President Ortega was grilled by journalists at a press conference: everyone wanted to know if Nicaragua had indeed invaded Honduras, and why Nicaragua had chosen this moment to attack the camps, when the US Congress was in the midst of debate over contra aid.

President Ortega refused to accept that the EPS had violated Honduran sovereignty or attacked that country in any way. When questioned repeatedly on the location of the camps, Ortega replied:

“The confrontations have been in Nicaragua-Honduran territory; it is there that we have destroyed the training centers… What we know is that Honduran territory, a good part of Honduran territory, has been occupied by mercenary forces. That is, Honduras is losing sovereignty over part of its territory as the mercenary forces become the owners of it, on the decision of the US government. They launch attacks from there against Nicaragua and all of this area is converted into a war zone by the grace of US policy…. We have done nothing more than launch defensive operations in all of this border area, to defend ourselves against those who attack us. In these defensive operations we occupied and destroyed the mercenary forces’ principal training camps. Many other camps were destroyed as well.”

The reports that came from Honduras were in striking contrast with those coming out of Washington. It was also curious that, with one of the most sophisticated air forces in Central America, Honduras needed to have its troops transported by the US. Considering the emergency situation painted by Reagan officials, with such a request for aid, it was either incomprehensible or irresponsible that President Azcona would go on vacation, as he did, without worrying more about the supposed invasion of the Nicaraguan army into his country.

President Ortega’s remark that Honduras is losing its sovereignty over its border area was implicit recognition of an incursion. The “conflictive border zone” is no longer an area in which Honduras maintains sovereignty. It is a zone of attacks by the counterrevolution. The question remains, however, why Nicaragua would have chosen such a delicate moment to carry out this action.

From a military perspective it was easy to understand. It was the continuation of a defensive operation that began in Nicaraguan territory even before the House vote on contra aid. The EPS pursued invading counterrevolutionary forces to their rearguard camps, attacking their main military installations. It wanted to carry out such an attack before the contras could move the camps further inland and before they received training in the use of the new surface-to air stinger missiles that Washington was preparing to give them. The EPS also needed to carry out the action before the rainy season began. Finally, the border between the two countries is not a wall; it is a concept marked by a river at some points and by nothing at others. The dynamic behind the strategic defeat of the contras logically led to the breaking of this imaginary barrier.

It was less easy to understand the move from a political perspective, given the Senate vote about to take place. It has become evident to the Nicaraguan government, however, that Congress is influenced neither by international law nor by the concrete measures taken by the Sandinistas in previous years—the elections, the softening of the wartime repression, the lifting of the state of emergency, etc. It is only influenced by the military situation and the defeat of the counterrevolutionaries. All deliberation in both houses hinges on this factor; their reasoning is pragmatic.

Since only the military situation gives Congress cause for reflection, Nicaragua decided to go to the bottom line with its strategy of defeating the contras. With this defeat, independent of the $100 million, Nicaragua would eliminate the main mechanism of US pressure—the demand that it dialogue with the armed Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries. Independent also of the fact that it might bring a US invasion instead of real dialogue, Nicaragua’s decision to take this step was to demonstrate that the only meaningful dialogue is with the “contra chief,” Ronald Reagan.

If, on the other hand, this measure by Nicaragua is not sufficient to sink that message home, the defeat of the contras is the best way to prepare for an eventual direct intervention.

From this view point, the degree to which Nicaragua comes closer to defeating the contras in the conflictive border zone can be understood in part as a signal by the Nicaraguan government to Reagan and the US Congress that even if they continue supporting this policy, with only formal changes at best, Nicaragua is unwilling to concede to a dialogue with the contras. Such a dialogue would also be a mere political formality, tantamount to forcing the F0LN to cede power conferred on it in the elections and thus provoke its own destruction. It is, further, a signal that those who advocate such a path are advocating the Vietnamization of the area.

One phase of the Nicaraguan military struggle came to a close with the EPS incursion into the Honduran border area held by the contras. Their weakness allowed Nicaragua to enter Honduran territory and attack their bases without the administration being able to rally congressional or international support. This defeat implies that a new political space is opening for Nicaragua vis-à-vis the congressional debate. Instead of continuing to meddle in an independent country’s internal affairs, this new phase obliges Congress to choose between negotiation and intervention. Thus, Nicaragua has put Congress and Reagan between a rock and a hard place.

According to this reasoning, the revolution’s military and political strategy is complementary: rejection of US congressional debate over the future of an independent country. Reagan’s own extreme reaction to the incursion further confirms the need for and success of this strategy. The possibility of a military defeat of the contras is a major political defeat for Reagan. Six hundred casualties with over half of them dead is a convincing toll for an army which, even according to US officials, has only 9,000 troops left and no hopes for replenishing its forces.

The Honduran government’s indifference towards the contras’ fate and lax attitude toward the incursion is equally understandable. Honduras is becoming more and more concerned with problems caused by the contras and US soldiers in the communities near their camps and bases. Honduran Bishop Alfonso Santos has condemned the apparent murder of Father Arsenault, a Canadian priest, by the contras and the sexual abuse of children by US soldiers. The Honduran government assumes its lax attitude because it chooses to maintain the diplomatic fiction that there are no contras there and thus ignore Nicaraguan protests about the bases. Because of this, Honduras forced the US to take the initiative and transport Honduran soldiers to the base by helicopters to create a Honduran presence in the zones of attack and draw it further into the conflict.

One thing becomes clearer every day. The Reagan administration, by steadily increasing the involvement of US troops in the conflict, is indeed pushing the region toward another Vietnam. This resuscitates the interventionist logic, denied in its verbal efforts, of the failed US plan to create an armed conflict between Honduras and Nicaragua. House Speaker O’Neill is struggling against this, although without realizing that the very Nicaraguan actions that so irritate him are also intentionally aimed at cracking this deathly logic.

Is Congress capable of understanding this when it so clearly seems incapable of conceiving a Nicaragua that is not subject to its control? From the perspective of Congress, Nicaragua is “evil” when it behaves in a way other than Congress plans. National dignity and self-determination are not the reference points for US foreign relations. On the other hand, the use of US troops in Nicaragua has been rejected by the majority of Congress, even those who voted for aid to the contras. Sadly it is not because these Congress people see that they are thus killing Nicaragua’s youth daily or that they are arrogantly interfering in the internal affairs of another country, but because they are afraid that US youth might have to relive the Vietnam experience.

In all likelihood Congress will approve funding to the contras, with the various forms and restrictions that are needed. Even faced with this prospect, Nicaragua insists on its position: this is not the road to peace. If they want to overthrow the Sandinista government and reverse the direction that Nicaragua has taken, they will have to pay the high cost of a decision that has no basis in international law. Nicaragua is ready to negotiate on international issues, but it has the enormous audacity to be unwilling to negotiate domestic ones.

Next month we will analyze the results of the April meeting of the Contadora and Support Group countries with the foreign ministers of the five Central American countries involved in the conflict. The significance of Tip O’Neill’s visit to the Presidents of the Contadora Support Group countries will not be known until that meeting. What is clear is that the Sandinistas’ boldness has forced Congress to get more involved in the Central American conflict in order to confront the new stage of the military struggle between the US and Nicaragua.

Given the stakes involved, particularly at this pivotal moment, it is understandable that Nicaragua, before announcing its willingness to sign the Contadora Act, has had to study the document carefully. The obvious limitation of the agreement is that even though the Reagan administration has played the main role in funding and promoting the conflict, the present Contadora document doesn’t even invite the US to dialogue, much less oblige it to do so.

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