Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 59 | Mayo 1986



Congress Is Forced to Recognize Contadora

Last month's increasingly complex evolution of events in US-Nicaraguan relations had as its guiding logic a diplomatic stalemate and military escalation.

Envío team

Coordinates of the current situation

Nicaragua's perplexing current situation continues to be characterized by three factors, analyzed in previous issues of envío:

1) The strategic defeat of the counterrevolutionaries in Nicaragua is still the most important political and military element. It has had a decisive, though differing, effect on the Reagan Administration, the US Democratic Party and the Latin American nations.

It has forced the Reagan Administration and the Pentagon to look for an "intermediate" military option, between low intensity warfare, already a proven failure, and a full-fledged military invasion, which lacks not only US popular support, but support in the Senate and consensus within the Defense Department. It is forcing the Democratic Party, in contrast, to reconsider its financial support for the contras and to think instead in terms of negotiation. The contras’ strategic defeat allows governments of the Latin American countries to take a firmer and bolder diplomatic stance within the Contadora process.

2) The political rift between the Reagan administration and the Democratic Party continues to grow. On the one hand, Reagan can no longer hope for the bipartisan support for his Central American policy he garnered with the now-forgotten Kissinger Commission. On the other, his effort to isolate Democratic opposition figures by labeling them allies of the Sandinistas is failing, primarily because Democrats accuse the Nicaraguan government of being a "totalitarian and repressive regime" with as much fervor as their Republican counterparts.

It is Reagan, not the Democrats, who has chosen to make Nicaragua the test case for his global policy and is pushing for bipartisan confrontation, but his inability to gain bipartisan support for his military program seriously impedes his plan to destabilize the Nicaraguan government. This is partially because the internal division in the US government over this issue triggers international criticism. The Reagan administration is increasingly forced to operate outside the realm of bipartisan consensus, making the present situation ever more dangerous.

3) The consolidation of the internal democratic process and the Latin American movement is, for the first time in history, confronting and hampering traditional US efforts to "divide and conquer" through the use of diplomatic pressure. This pressure has traditionally relied on the assistance of military and dictatorial governments in the region.

New developments

These three factors have led to a diplomatic stalemate in the Contadora process. However, they have also punctured the deliberate ignorance that prevails in the halls of Congress, forcing Congressional representatives to acknowledge a Latin American initiative for the first time.

Latin America's participation in the Central American conflict through Contadora and the Lima Group had created a diplomatic quadrangle of negotiations and tensions between the US, Nicaragua, the other Central American countries and the representatives of the eight mediating Latin American countries. The recognition that the contras cannot win, however, has brought another participant into the scheme, creating a diplomatic pentagon with the sides made up of the Latin American countries, the Reagan Administration, Nicaragua, the Central American countries and the Democratic Party.

Although Contadora was in a diplomatic deadlock for all of April and there was much talk of exhaustion (especially on the part of the four Contadora countries—Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama), it is historically important for the hemisphere that Democratic and Republican differences are no longer resolved only within the US. They have now taken on an international dimension and are influenced by the tensions that exist between the US and Latin America. It is particularly significant that Democratic congressional leader Thomas "Tip" O'neill felt obliged to tour Latin America in search of information with which to fight his battle against Reagan in Congress. We are facing a new era in which Latin America has gained assess into Congressional debate through the Contadora process.

What happened to Caraballeda?

The January 1986 Caraballeda initiative, a pinnacle in Latin America's struggle to halt US military aggression in the Central American region, dominated the diplomatic arena for the first three months of this year. The Caraballeda principles (see end of article) were reaffirmed by the Latin American nations in a meeting in Punta de Este, Uruguay, in February and by the Central American nations at the January 14 inauguration of Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo. Both these events, as envío postulated in its March analysis, emphasized that Nicaragua had taken the offensive in the Contadora process and gained the diplomatic advantage over the Reagan administration.

During these same months, the positions taken by the eight Latin American countries committed to the peace initiative became more assertive. The foreign ministers from Contadora and the Lima Support Group not only protested the $100 million in aid to the contras, but visited Washington demanding that the US cease its aggression towards Nicaragua and simultaneously take steps toward dialogue with the Sandinista government.

By the end of March, it appeared as if the Caraballeda initiative had become a permanent factor in Contadora's diplomatic equation. Nonetheless, at the meeting in Panama on April 5-7, Contadora reached another impasse. The Contadora countries distanced themselves from the Caraballeda initiative and asked Nicaragua to sign the modified Contadora draft treaty from September 7, 1985, without simultaneously demanding that the US cease its aggression against Nicaragua and renew bilateral negotiations. The other Central American countries, including Guatemala, immediately stated their willingness to sign the draft treaty, thus isolating Nicaragua. Of the eight points included in the Caraballeda initiative, the only one that remained was the one urging the signing of the draft treaty.

How did Nicaragua lose its diplomatic edge at precisely the moment in which Congress and Latin America were rejecting the Reagan administration's military policy? What happened to the Caraballeda initiative? Although the January-February special edition of envío pointed to the lack of international solidarity as a crucial factor in regional military escalation, the meeting in Panama and the decision to abort the Caraballeda initiative demand a new, timely explanation.

Although certain Nicaraguan government officials have criticized the Contadora countries for resigning themselves to the escalation of US intervention, Contadora repeatedly has proven able to revive the negotiation process precisely when it appeared as if the US had successfully sabotaged it. How then do we explain the eclipsing of Caraballeda?

Any advances made in Contadora are, by definition, the direct result of concessions from the US or Nicaragua. For the countries in Contadora and the Lima Support Group, it is always easier to demand concessions from the smaller country than the larger one. Caraballeda symbolized a decision by the Latin American countries to demand an enormous concession from the US because the eight-point initiative contained the essence of the Sandinista position.

The trip by the Contadora and support Group foreign ministers to Washington on February 11, demanding a meeting with Reagan to criticize his military aid plan for the contras, used up much of their diplomatic clout. Reagan's refusal to meet with them in the same week that he met with counterrevolutionary leaders three times demonstrated his complete disdain for Latin America. There was no longer any doubt: the Reagan administration would never accept the Caraballeda initiative.

In order to continue supporting Caraballeda, the Latin American ministers would have had to abandon their role as mediators and assume Nicaragua's position, which, in its revolutionary process, openly questions continued US domination of the continent. Maintaining such an audacious position is an enormous challenge. Consequently, at their meeting in Panama, the Latin American foreign ministers threw the diplomatic ball back into Nicaragua's court, indicating that the Caraballeda initiative was no longer viable and asking Nicaragua to assume a more "realistic" and "mature" position. Once again it became evident that in this long diplomatic process for peace Nicaragua plays a double role: it is at once the symbol of the continent's weakness and its hope for a valiant future in the face of the empire.

The resulting diplomatic stalemate is similar to the one that followed Nicaragua's agreement to sign the September 7, 1984 Contadora draft treaty, which was subsequently rejected by the US and other Central American countries. That deadlock was broken by a series of modifications made to the draft treaty that sought substantial concessions from Nicaragua in favor of the US.

The stalemate grows out of the fact that Nicaragua can only commit itself to disarmament and to peace with the other countries in the region to the degree that the US simultaneously ceases its aggression. The US cannot accept this principle of simultaneity put forth at Caraballeda because without its continued attack on Nicaragua, without its military advisors in El Salvador and its bases and military maneuvers in Honduras, El Salvador, for example, would quickly become another country ripe for a successful national liberation.

On April 12, 1986, Nicaragua issued a response to Contadora, expressing its desire to continue negotiations, renew talks with the US and create border patrol commissions with its neighboring countries. The communiqué also reiterated Nicaragua's willingness to sign the draft treaty under the following condition:

“Nicaragua accepts signing the mentioned Act on June 6, as long as by that date the US aggression against Nicaragua has totally ceased and an accord has been reached over the points pending in the Modified Act; all this within the concept of ‘simultaneity’ explicitly put forth in the Caraballeda message.”

In synthesis, the present diplomatic stalemate is clearly expressed in the Reagan administration's complete refusal even to discuss the principle of simultaneity as presented at Caraballeda, and in Nicaragua's firm demand that the Caraballeda principles be incorporated as a basis for its commitment to any Contadora agreement.

Military escalation

Throughout the month, Contadora's diplomatic stalemate was accompanied by even greater US military escalation, in Central America and internationally.

According to Nicaraguan military officials, the strategic defeat of the contras has shifted the war towards the Atlantic Coast, where some incident could serve as a pretext for the US to occupy the cities of Bluefields or Puerto Cabezas, using its fleet to defend them. While the Sandinistas might enjoy certain advantages over the US army in land combat, the US navy has obvious advantages over the meager Nicaraguan navy in any type of naval confrontation.

The recent events on the Atlantic Coast fit into this analysis. At the beginning of April, the armed Miskitu organization Kisan succeeded in provoking the exodus of some 12,000 Miskitus to Honduras. Although the political conflict between the US, the Sandinistas and the Miskitus is extremely complex, the military logic of this move is obvious (see "Miskitus on the Río Coco" in this issue). This forced exodus implies that Kisan, at present, cannot even consolidate a "liberated zone" on the Nicaraguan side of the Río Coco. Instead it must move the civil population to Honduras for several reasons: 1) to elude confrontations with the Sandinistas on unequal terms; 2) to convert its military weakness into a propaganda victory in the international press in order to create economic support bases in Honduras; 3) to obtain political support for Kisan's military project; and 4) to better recruit and train soldiers in the safety of Honduras for subsequent invasions of Nicaraguan territory.

The majority of Kisan's different factions do not support a US invasion and the US cannot count on notable advances from Kisan in the short term. Nevertheless, they are continuing to prepare the infrastructure that would make it possible for the US and Kisan to act together.

While the Miskitus were crossing the Río Coco, the "Tiger Task Force," made up of 450 US military engineers, was putting the finishing touches on a new airfield for Hercules C-130s, 18 kilometers from the Nicaraguan border in the Honduran Mosquitia. The completion of the airfield on April 15 opened the second phase of the military maneuvers, which consisted of counterinsurgency maneuvers involving 25,900 US soldiers operating within five kilometers of the Nicaraguan border. It was during these maneuvers that the US government ordered the bombing of Tripoli and Bengasi in Libya.

Also, in the middle of this month, some 1,100 counterrevolutionaries invaded the Nicaraguan department of Jinotega from Honduras. According to sources from the Agrarian Reform Ministry, the attacks were designed to disrupt work being done in preparation for the next coffee cycle. These sources saw the attacks as a "last ditch effort" because of their boldness, the number of casualties incurred and the lack of any complementary plan for recruitment or ideological propaganda work in the zone.

On April 22 Reagan renewed the trade embargo against Nicaragua declaring that the Sandinistas "are constructing a Libya on the US doorstep." Several days earlier the US President had accused the Sandinistas of receiving $400 million in arms from Libya, a lie denounced by Comandante Tomás Borge at a press conference in Puerto Cabezas. Borge was visiting the coastal city to evaluate, among other things, its defense capacity during the maneuvers taking place on the other side of the border.

In Costa Rica, 182 US military engineers finished the maneuvers called "Peace Bridge 86" in which they constructed five bridges in Puntarenas. These "peace bridges" reduce by eight hours the time necessary to transport troops the length of the Costa Rican border with Nicaragua.

On April 28, some 2,000 Marines began the "Ocean Venture 86" naval maneuvers in the Caribbean with the objective of practicing military invasions like those used against Grenada.

This military escalation had the double purpose of creating bases of support for the contras and preparing for future involvement of US military forces, a possibility that will have to be taken even more seriously after the US congressional elections in November. All these events indicate that the Reagan administration is not only seeking to undermine diplomatic solutions within the framework laid out at Caraballeda, but is also preparing a new military strategy to recover from the defeats suffered by its "freedom fighters."

Reagan's new diplomatic-military plan

It is necessary to place these recent military developments in Central America, particularly Nicaragua, within the overall framework of the Reagan administration's diplomatic-military program.

The strategic defeat of the contras requires an adjustment in the Reagan administration's military plan. The counterrevolution is no longer capable of destabilizing the Nicaraguan government nor can it stimulate international support for US policy. Instead, the weakness of the contras tends to increase patriotism, Sandinista nationalism and the capacity of the Nicaraguan population to weather the economic crisis generated by the war.

It is apparent that there is not even sufficient consensus within the Republican administration to accept the cost in US lives that would accompany an all-out invasion by the Marines. Faced with this, the Administration needs an intermediate solution to improve or replace the worn-out strategy of low intensity warfare in Central America.

The Reagan administration could settle upon a bombardment formula similar to that already used against the PLO in the mountains of Beirut (from offshore warships), against the FMLN forces in Jucuaran, against the zones of popular control in eastern El Salvador (bombing from warships in December 1985), against Libya’s ships and antiaircraft defenses (aerial bombardment in March 1986) and finally against civilian targets in the aerial bombing of Tripoli and Bengasi (April 1986).

All these incidents demonstrate the administration’s willingness to use US forces when puppet forces aren’t enough, even if this means attacking civilian populations to punish forces labeled by the Reagan administration as "terrorist."

The administration's new military plan is no secret; it appears daily on the front pages of newspapers worldwide. For the US government this program is particularly advantageous because it means low costs in US lives and suits the Pentagon's new political-military approach to interventions since Vietnam: "Go in, hit 'em and get out."

Nevertheless, this scheme is far from perfect. An act of terrorism can provoke a similar response from the enemy. In the case of Libya, the "surgical bombing" had the effect of increasing attacks against US targets worldwide. The attack against the economic summit of the seven industrialized nations in Tokyo was a symbol of the dangers that the new US military plan can bring for the countries of the first world.

Despite these risks, present and future, the administration has gained formidable support from the US public for the political-military tactic of "surgical bombing." According to a Washington Post/ABC public opinion poll, 76% of the population supported the bombing of Tripoli and 67% said they would support similar future bombings against terrorists, not only in Libya but in Syria and Iran as well. (It is important to remember that at the beginning of 1985 Reagan identified five countries as members of an international terrorist network: Libya, Syria, Iran, Nicaragua and Cuba.)

Before the vote on aid to the Nicaraguan counterrevolution, the Reagan administration tried once again to identify Qaddafi with Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua with Libya.

More importance is given in the administration’s diplomatic-military plan to the persuasion of public opinion by the mass media than to diplomacy directed at governmental bodies. Protest notes from governments count less and less in the diplomacy used by Reagan to justify interventions and lightning military strikes.

Is Reagan seeking bipartisan support
for his Central American policy?

In this type of diplomatic-military plan, it isn’t necessary to obtain bipartisan support because intervention can be concluded before Congress even begins to ask for explanations. On the other hand, the mass media neutralizes potential opposition in Congress with reports that show extensive popular support for the President's military actions. Although the lack of bipartisan consensus over Central American policy seriously limits the Reagan administration, the ideological and military apparatus of the Administration has found a new mechanism for resolving this problem: lightning actions. Unlike the tactic of financing anti-Communist guerrillas, surgical bombings do not require approval of funds.

This strategy reveals the true logic behind the many and confusing votes over the $100 million in aid to the contras. Reagan is not seeking unstable bipartisan support for his policy against Nicaragua. He does not want this type of support. His ideological and political program intends to force the Democrats to identify themselves with Nicaragua's position in order to then accuse them of complicity with Sandinista terrorism. He even goes so far as to apply extreme formulas in which Qaddafi = Ortega = Democrats.

This is why Reagan preferred not to submit his aid package to negotiations. The administration was afraid that the version put forth by the Democrat McCurdy might win, thus showing that the Democrats—and not just Reagan—are confronting communism in Central America. Reagan wants to insist on his original proposal and wants to see the Democrats vote it down, in order to be able to accuse them of being soft on communism and then demand the use of US forces in intervention or in lightning bombing raids.

In the new diplomatic-military plan, Reagan seeks to pave the way for greater US military involvement, without requiring a previous bipartisan agreement and in fact insuring his advantage over the Democrats in public opinion. The new military plan depends less and less on the FDN and more and more on eventual surgical bombing strikes. Therefore, with the delay in the discussion of the $100 million the administration isn’t losing time in a military sense but is trying to gain more ideological ground.

This situation explains in part the firm position of the Democrats to present themselves as anti-Sandinistas and distance themselves from any proposal for peaceful negotiation that would favor the Nicaraguan government. The Democrats' fear and distrust of the Sandinistas and the revolution’s social changes are reinforced by their desire for political survival under the Reagan attack, which accuses them of being "friends" or "useful idiots" of the "communists." In this situation the Democrats as well as the Republicans are using contra aid to blackmail Nicaragua: one sector of the Democrats is using it to pressure Nicaragua into signing the Revised Contadora Treaty, without calling into question the US role in Latin America. The Republicans are using it to get the Sandinistas to negotiate with contra representatives, that is, to give in on an important principle of self-determination.

In his new plan, Reagan wants to set up the conditions for a series of options, among them a "surgical bombing” of Nicaragua, and he wants to isolate the Democratic opposition in US political opinion. This would ready the Republicans for the congressional elections in November and at the same time prepare for a greater involvement of US forces in Central America after those elections.

Contadora goes to Congress

The Democrats' weakness with respect to Reagan's new diplomatic-military plan would also explain why this party wants to strengthen its position by allying with some Latin American political leaders in their opposition to the Reagan administration.

Tip O'Neill, speaker of the US House of Representatives, thus seemed to think it necessary to make a quick trip to Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic precisely at a time when he was supposedly enjoying a position of strength after his victory against Reagan on the $100 million contra aid package. His purpose was to look for direct sources of information that his party could use in formulating its own alternatives to the Administration's Central America policy.

The strategic defeat of the counterrevolution puts the US ever more clearly at a crossroads: either negotiation or direct military intervention along the lines of a lightning operation. The Democrats feel that the US is getting closer to this kind of intervention and that their own passive gestures in favor of negotiation are no longer sufficient. With the bombing of Libyan military targets and rumors floating of more attacks on Libya, Reagan is showing the Democrats his determination to move from low intensity warfare to direct involvement of US combat troops. It is precisely for this reason that the Democrats ushered Contadora into the US Congress. While Congressman O'Neill was on his trip, Democratic Congressional representatives Slattery, Barnes and Richardson were present at the Contadora meeting in Panama and brought back a message to Congress from the Contadora and Support Group countries. Those nations asked Congress to postpone the vote on the $100 million and to support the Contadora initiatives.

The purpose of O'Neill's trip through Latin America was not so much to express solidarity with the Latin American countries or even to support an effective solution to the Central American crisis. It was more to oppose Reagan administration policy and look for Latin American support for his party's counterproposal: clear opposition to the $100 million and the need to pressure the Sandinistas, setting aside the spirit of Caraballeda. In this plan, O'Neill found that his position was close to that of the more conservative Latin American countries which are part of the negotiating initiative: Brazil and Venezuela.

In fact, O'Neill's Latin American journey and the present position of the Democrats mean that the countries of Contadora, the Support Group, Central America, and above all Nicaragua must confront two-pronged pressure from the US: the Reagan administration's direct military pressure and the Democrats' diplomatic pressure. The latter is looking for a way to impose a "US-style" negotiated solution on Central America. As Senator Sasser said on March 17, the Democratic Party agrees with President Reagan in his evaluation of the Nicaraguan government but not with his methods to control Nicaragua.

O'Neill's trip constitutes a new Democratic initiative to establish control over the Nicaraguan process. Despite his declarations in Venezuela that his party does not want another Vietnam in Nicaragua and that "to provide that aid [the $100 million] is to return to a rightwing dictatorship," this does not mean that his party is ready to respect the Nicaraguan people’s self-determination. What it is looking for is "a third way," thus avoiding the continuation of current Sandinista policy as well as the return of the Somocistas. On his return to Washington, O'Neill sought to consolidate his victory against Reagan’s plan to aid the contras, indicating that Latin America is in agreement with him and not with Reagan: "I kept asking, persistently and in all sincerity, and everyone is against US policy."

The Democrats' plan, then, is not to take up a position of solidarity with the Latin Americans but rather to join "the other democracies" to its own plan. This is clear in the three contra aid alternatives that will be debated in Congress starting June 9.

The first is the "Reagan alternative" for the $100 million. Reagan wants to win it all or lose it all so that if it is the latter he would be able to put the blame later on the Democrats. The second is the "Hamilton formula," which denies military aid to the contras and asks for $25 million in support of "refugees" and $2 million to help facilitate the Contadora process. The third (the choice of the majority of Democrats) is the "McCurdy formula," which proposes to give $30 million immediately for military purposes and conditions the other $70 million in possible military aid on whether Nicaragua shows a willingness to seek a negotiated solution.

After the O'Neill trip, the "only proof" that Nicaragua wants peace would be the signing of the Revised Contadora Treaty by June 6, the date that has been set as the limit. The Democrats thus join the chorus of those who are demanding that Nicaragua commit itself to a disarmament process without any guarantees by the US to stop its military aggression. The US Congress and Contadora’s conservative forces are now calling upon each other for mutual support.

The Reagan administration took advantage of this favorable situation to send Philip Habib on a diplomatic journey as Special Envoy for Central America. Much confusion was created by the letter Habib wrote on April 11 to Democratic Representative Slattery, in which, vaguely, without legal language and without making any commitment by the administration, Habib said that the US would be ready to consider stopping contra aid if Nicaragua signed the Contadora Treaty. Five days later, Secretary of State George Shultz, in a letter to Democrat Fascell, denied that the administration was ready for any such agreement with Nicaragua. In his letter Shultz indicated that the US had not changed its position and would only stop helping the contras when Nicaragua entered into negotiations with them.

In spite of this clarification, Shultz used his own letter to put Nicaragua on the defensive during the last two weeks of April, characterizing the Sandinistas as closed to negotiations while the US was considering opening up a range of diplomatic options. In a climate of stalemate and fatigue in the Contadora process, the Habib initiative created as much confusion as hope about the possibility that the US was finally ready to show greater flexibility. It matters little whether Habib was acting under instructions from the administration or trying to build his own reputation as star negotiator after his performance in the Philippines. His Central America act was clearly designed to set up a smokescreen, and it helped increase the diplomatic pressures against Nicaragua. For its part, the administration knew how to use Habib in its continual effort to tarnish Nicaragua’s image. All of this is also part of the Reagan diplomatic-military plan in which the basic diplomatic-ideological task is to identify Nicaragua as the terrorist force of the hemisphere.

Is Contadora burned out?

O'Neill's trip, like Habib’s, served to increase what has come to be known as "Contadora fatigue." All the countries involved are impatient to see some positive result after hard years of negotiations. The more conservative elements of every Latin American country point to June 6 as "the last chance," the final date for the culmination of the Contadora process. The progressive elements, for their part, are hurrying to find a new way out of the diplomatic stalemate, as they did after the impasse the US caused in September 1984, and after the more recent impasse Nicaragua brought on in November 1985, when it touched the sore point and refused to sign the Revised Treaty.

Is it possible that the Latin American countries can confront the joint pressure of the Republicans and Democrats and once again open the door to Caraballeda-type solutions? There are signs of a will to struggle. The same day that Habib sent his letter to Slattery, the Presidents of Uruguay and Peru issued declarations and sent a letter to President Daniel Ortega indicating that the Support Group’s militancy continued even after the Contadora meeting in Panama in which Nicaragua was so isolated.

In their letter the two Presidents clearly supported Nicaragua's position: "Once again we reiterate our firm rejection of all foreign interference and of every threat or use of force in that region, and strongly call upon the countries with ties and interests in that region to apply the principle of simultaneity and to observe the basic points and put into effect the actions called for by the Caraballeda Message."

In other declarations, the President of Argentina, Raul Alfonsín, asserted that international relations are characterized today by "a process of barbarization," explaining that "the US should recognize that the democratic ethical-philosophical foundation that it proclaims for its domestic national life must be honored also in relations between the different nations of the hemisphere. After all, Latin America has been shortchanged in terms of democratic treatment."

Peru's President Alan García, on an official visit to the Legislative Assembly of Uruguay, denounced "the imperialist presence (which) threatens Central America" and said that "the foreign debt mortgages our destiny and commercial protectionism limits our possibilities. Now more than ever unity among us is necessary and the very weight of the crisis makes our coming together inevitable."

The new strong language being used by Latin America openly questions the economic, political and military aspects of US foreign policy toward the continent. The search for Latin American unity is not only geared to putting the brakes on US intervention in Central America but also to confronting in unison the problem of the foreign debt, which constitutes the greatest restraint on economic development faced today by all Latin American countries, wherever their governments may be on the ideological spectrum. Thus, the diplomatic stalemate regarding to the Central American crisis has its deepest roots not so much in the Central American countries' resistance to US diplomatic and political designs as in the present tensions between the US and Latin America.

The period of democratization that Latin America is experiencing has deep roots in the internal dynamic of its peoples’ social life. The present wave of farewells to the dictators and military rulers is different from the unstable democratization processes of the 1950-1980 period. The present phenomenon is rooted in the ripening and the growing consolidation of both the structures of dependent capitalism and the configuration of civil society in Latin America. The international economic crisis provokes political and social tensions that require bourgeois democratic kinds of control systems. Increasingly the great Latin American democracies are tempted by the Mexican formula. This involves a liberal international policy by which these governments can capitalize on the anti-imperialist sentiments of their peoples, together with the imposition of a very conservative domestic policy, which obliges the poor majorities to pay the costs of the international recession. Peru and Argentina are typical examples of this tendency. The Latin American diplomacy involved in the peace negotiations is tired because it has no concrete result to prove to its peoples that the new democracies can lead the US to negotiate with Latin America instead of walking all over it. But, despite these countries’ exhaustion, it would be a mistake to walk away from Contadora with nothing or contribute to a situation in which the Democrats emerged victorious with their pressure formula rather than with authentic and respectful negotiations.

In early May, Deputy Minister of Foreign Relations Victor Hugo Tinoco made a diplomatic trip to explain Nicaragua's position to Latin America’s governments. In keeping with the Caraballeda declaration, Nicaragua continues to insist that only an end to the aggression would allow it to sign the Revised Treaty. Nicaragua is now looking for ways to bring about some changes in the Treaty that could open the door to solutions in the spirit of Caraballeda. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams visited the same Latin American capitals trying to apply economic and other kinds of pressure to ensure that the Treaty not take up the Caraballeda Declaration.

Although they may be tired out by the long negotiating process and by US pressures, the Latin American countries are playing a part in the formulation of a new hemispheric policy. For the first time their peace proposal has become part of the debate in the US Congress. Whether Contadora will only serve as a pressure mechanism against Nicaragua in that debate or will serve to take the first steps toward the negotiated solution depends on the quality of the Latin American response. Only a strong Latin American position could place the Caraballeda proposal on the congressional agenda. The Democrats are very much afraid of supporting peace initiatives that could benefit Nicaragua, because Reagan would use this to accuse them of being traitors and unpatriotic and thus win more seats for the Republicans in the November elections. It would also help him justify lightning bombing strikes and even the direct involvement of US forces.

The Central American point of view

Events in Central America are also a key element in the diplomatic stalemate. On the one hand, Costa Rica, by not inviting Sandinista government officials to the inauguration of the new President, Oscar Arias, is playing the US game of isolating Nicaragua. Along with El Salvador, Costa Rica is now playing a political role very closed to the peace negotiations, although the latest public opinion polls show that 90% of the Costa Rican population favors those negotiations and opposes US aid to the contras.

On the other hand, both Honduras and Guatemala are showing a greater openness to joint Central American solutions. On May l, thousands of Hondurans filled the streets of Tegucigalpa to protest the US military presence in their country. Relations between Nicaragua and Honduras continue to improve in spite of—or perhaps precisely because of—the tensions generated by the contras in the border zones they occupy between the two countries.

Guatemala along with Nicaragua is leading the efforts for Central American unity and for a negotiated solution to the crisis. The meeting of the five Central American Pesidents on May 25 in Esquipulas, Guatemala, is a complete break from the US strategy of isolating Nicaragua and blaming it for all the problems in the isthmus. The first draft of the Esquipulas document opens up perspectives toward Caraballeda-type solutions. The possibility that Esquipulas may sufficiently include the Nicaraguan position could have considerable influence on the Latin American countries. This could make it possible to include new clauses in the Revised Contadora Treaty that would allow Nicaragua to sign it, thus putting the ball back in the US court and heightening tensions between the Democrats and the administration.

All of this means that the ground is moving under the United States’ feet in its Central American "backyard." The countries of the isthmus are no longer the five unconditional puppets of the past. During the last days of April, thousands of peasants from Nueva Concepcion de Escuintla marched to the capital of Guatemala demanding two things: l) land and agrarian reform, and 2) that President Vinicio Cerezo be able to govern. Cerezo’s international activity is crucial to his effort to gain more independence from the military.

While there are public protests against the military and in favor of Cerezo in Guatemala, protests continue to grow in El Salvador against the Duarte government’s economic measures. These are carried out by the National Unity of Salvadoran Workers (UNTS), a new movement that brings together unions, cooperatives, public employees and even the UPD, which supported Duarte in the 1984 elections.

The ground is moving under US feet in Central America because the military solution Washington is trying to impose upon the region only serves to further weaken the Central American Common Market, thus harming business interests and intensifying the economic suffering of the majorities in all the countries. The newly elected chief executives in Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica find themselves obliged to respond "in some way" to the pursuit of a peaceful solution and not give unconditional support to the US militarist position.

In his May l speech, President Daniel Ortega said that US aggression has been unable to demoralize the Nicaraguan people despite the fact that there are now 26,680 victims since the start of the war, 14,893 of which are deaths. Just in the first four months of l986, there were 1,811 victims, 1,244 of whom were contras.

It is clear that Nicaragua has had to pay a high price to achieve the FDN’s strategic defeat, and this has included the disjointing of the economy. On May l, in the face of growing inflation and scarce foreign exchange, President Ortega announced some adjustments in the 1986 economic plan without radically changing the mixed economy policy. As the UNAG peasant congress in late April showed, small agricultural enterprises will continue to enjoy government support while at the same time the agrarian reform will be deepened. A stable element in the economic resistance to US aggression is the Sandinista program of gradual changes, which does not run the risks that an excessively rapid process of social changes would.

The prolongation of the conflict due to the Reagan administration is harmful not only to Nicaragua but to all the Central American countries. In this war, Nicaragua's capacity to persevere is put to the test, and Contadora's penetration of the US Congress is a crucial step toward a new vision of hemispheric relations that may be able to serve the cause of peace and justice. The treatment given Contadora in Congress will depend on the strengthened capacity for independence shown by the Latin American and Central American countries and on Nicaragua's capacity to combine flexibility and diplomatic skill with its people’s already proven capacity to resist.

The Caraballeda Principles

1) A Latin American solution: This means that the solution to Latin American problems should arise from and be assured by the region itself, to avoid plunging the zone into the strategic global East-West conflict.

2) Self-determination: This means the independence of each of the Latin American countries to choose its own form of social and political organization, establishing within the country the form of government that its population as a whole freely chooses.

3) Non-interference in the internal affairs of other states: This means that no country, by means of its own direct action or indirectly by means of third parties can impact the political situation of Latin American states or affect their sovereignty in any way.

4) Territorial integrity: This means recognition of the borders of each country, within which it enjoys free exercise of its sovereignty and outside of which it must adjust its conduct to strict compliance with the norms of international law.

5) Pluralist democracy: This means the exercise of universal suffrage through free and periodic elections, supervised by independent national bodies; a multi-party system that permits the legal and organized representation of all political thought and action by society; government by the majority, assuring the freedoms and basic rights of all citizens and respecting those of political minorities within the constitutional order.

6) The absence of armaments or military bases, which endanger the peace and security of the region.

7) Prohibition of military actions by the countries of the area or by countries with interests in it that imply aggression toward the other countries or may constitute a threat to peace in the region.

8) Prohibition of foreign troops or advisors.

9) No political, logistic or military support to groups that seek to subvert or destabilize the constitutional order of the Latin American states by means of force or acts of terrorism of any kind.

10) Respect for human rights: This means unrestricted observance of the civil, political and religious freedoms that assure the full material and spiritual development of all citizens.

Print text   

Send text

<< Previous   Next >>


Congress Is Forced to Recognize Contadora

Miskitus on the Río Coco Whose Political Football Are They?
Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America
GüeGüe: Web Hosting and Development