A Disarming Proposal
"We want to help Central America put an end to its costly arms race and will support any verifiable and reciprocal agreement regarding the non-importation of offensive weapons."
—Ronald Reagan, April 27, 1983
"Nicaragua is willing to reduce, limit or regulate, or even do without offensive weapons. It is a proposal that seeks reciprocity in the Central American sphere. We will discuss it then come to concrete agreements."
—Daniel Ortega, May 26, 1986
One event after another this month revealed that the position expressed by President Reagan was a lie.
With the Caraballeda principles obviously forgotten, the Contadora meeting in early April had ended in a deadlock, with Nicaragua backed into a corner. In May, a month rich in diplomatic moves, Nicaragua came back off the ropes. It achieved this with a proposal on the military aspects of the Contadora treaty that was at once bold and concrete. With it, Nicaragua retook the offensive with the Latin American negotiators and the Central American governments, not to mention the US
government itself. Although this initiative recaptured what could again be lost to US intransigence and to the weaknesses and ambiguities of the Latin American governments involved in the negotiations, the fact remains that the "ultimatum" decreed by Contadora for June 6 reverted favorably to the Nicaraguan positions. It also showed yet again what the fundamental problem is that is prolonging the Central American crisis.
Nicaragua takes the offensive in Panama Nicaragua's isolation in Contadora lasted until mid-May. During that time, Contadora maintained the position that only the signing of the treaty could pressure the United States to stop its counterrevolutionary war. Nicaragua, for its part, held that an end to US assistance to the counterrevolution was a precondition to signing the document. It also reaffirmed the Caraballeda principles, in particular regarding "simultaneity" of the various agreements—i.e., demilitarization together with a cessation of support for the insurgent forces—as basic to reaching a realistic peace agreement. Although these positions were completely in tune with the official Contadora positions, the reality was that Nicaragua defended them alone.
Unless something changed, then, Nicaragua, for reasons that went well beyond the nature of its proposals, would again be branded as intransigent. It would thus be held responsible for the failure of Contadora when the June 6 “deadline” passed without the signing of the accords since, naturally, the other countries had at that point declared themselves willing to sign.
But sign what? Contadora's roller coaster peace process, so long and complex, so publicized and yet so little known, is aimed at holding back the war, but it is also a process of superimposed political images, a veritable war of images, that can be very confusing. Faced with the June 6 ultimatum, it was important to bear in mind something as simple as this—there was still nothing to sign.
Internationally, the image being peddled was one of four peace-loving countries that wanted to sign plus one intransigent government that refused to disarm. But this is not reality. None of the five Central American governments had even ended their discussion of the draft treaty, and therefore couldn’t sign anything.
Since September of last year, key negotiating topics had remained unresolved. They included security and armaments, military maneuvers and mechanisms of verification and control of all items agreed to in the treaty. This reality, so obvious and basic, was covered over in the war of images triggered by the countdown toward June 6.
The first openings in this image war against Nicaragua came on May 8, in the meeting of Latin American Presidents held during the inauguration of Costa Rica's new President, Social Democrat
Oscar Arias. Since his election, Arias had been seesawing between US pressures that he take a clear anti-Nicaragua position and fears of the consequences for Costa Rica of involvement in a war. With his urgent need for US economic assistance to subsidize Costa Rica’s declining economy, he had been forced to abandon his initial Latin Americanist positions and become the leader of Central America’s anti-Sandinismo. He had become the best representative of the Reagan line of pressure for "democratization" in Nicaragua. The only difference from his predecessor, Alberto Monge, is that Arias is a much more high-profile, defined leader.
Faithful to this brand of leadership, Arias discouraged the presence of Nicaragua’s President, Vice President and foreign minister at his inauguration, alleging that his country could not guarantee their security. Nine Latin American Presidents, among them the other four Central American heads of state, met in San José. The meeting was clearly designed by the US to further Nicaragua's isolation, but apart from the forced absence of President Ortega, the US didn’t gain much.
This turn of events was dubbed Arias' "first foreign policy failure." The Costa Rican leader brought to the meeting a prepared document reflecting Reagan administration positions, titled "For Democracy in Central America"; a document that also found its way to the press. According to this proposal, Nicaragua would have to "democratize" within the next two years by holding new elections, dissolving its legislative assembly, dialoguing with the contras and introducing changes in the Constitution that is at this moment being drafted. The idea was that all Presidents would sign Arias’ document, but the plan was short-circuited by the Contadora and Support Group Presidents present in the meeting. Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia and Panama (Mexico and Venezuela did not attend) instead signed a document that exhorted "an extra-regional country" with interests in the area to give signals in favor of peace. President Arias did not hold back from publicly expressing his disgust at this clear allusion to the United States.
As if this weren’t enough, not all the Presidents that Vice President Bush might have liked attended his "working breakfast"—only the Central Americans went—and Peruvian President Alan García left the Presidents' meeting early, giving visible signs of his support for Nicaragua in an improvised press conference.
Despite all this, however, the image persisted that the only thing still missing in the treaty was signatures. The presidents reinforced this in San Jose by making a call to the Central American governments to all sign for peace on June 6.
Nicaragua comes off the ropesOn May 16-18 in Panama, the situation made a 180-degree turn in the meeting of deputy foreign ministers of Central America and Contadora called by the Contadora countries. Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras arrived empty-handed to buttress the image that it was an "empty" meeting, in which everything was already discussed and only the will to sign was lacking. Nicaragua, on the contrary, arrived with a new position, which the Sandinista government termed of "maximum flexibility." From conditioning its signature to the end of US support for the counterrevolution, Nicaragua moved to propose concrete solutions to pending military themes.
Some aspects of the Nicaraguan proposal were already known, since Nicaragua had promoted them on other occasions. For example, regarding military maneuvers, it proposed the prohibition of international maneuvers and the of national ones. With respect to armaments, it promoted the principle of a "reasonable balance of forces."* The novelty in the Nicaraguan proposal was that, in order to clarify and concretize the discussion about arms limits, the negotiation should distinguish between offensive and defensive armaments, based on each country's own criteria of the distinction between the two. Offensive weapons should be subject to negotiation among all the countries in order to regulate, limit or even eliminate them. Each country should advise its neighboring countries which and how many defensive armaments it considered necessary to guarantee its sovereignty. The countries would also negotiate some limits for these defensive weapons as well.
*The definition of "reasonable balance of forces” proposed by Nicaragua is "the magnitude of military force of a defensive nature needed by each state to defend national territory from foreign aggression in the face of which all human and material resources must be dedicated in order to preserve its sovereignty, self-determination and national independence.”
Honduras responded that to attempt a distinction between defensive and offensive armaments would be endless, since the United Nations Disarmament Commission had spent 30 years futilely attempting such definitions. To this the Nicaraguan foreign minister countered in Managua that it was not an attempt to "enter into a philosophical discussion," but rather that all countries should make concrete proposals.
To use an old baseball term, the Nicaraguan proposal generated immediate "movement in the bull-pen." The following day Honduras, reacting to Nicaragua’s proposal, drew up its own. It consisted of a complicated "factoring table" which would assign points to the weapons, with no other distinction made between a rifle and a helicopter gunship. In addition, international military maneuvers would be permitted to continue, virtually unregulated, and the organization of militias would be proscribed. The Honduran proposal seemed calculated only to snarl the discussion and, while at it, question Nicaragua's military principles.
Despite this, and because of the unexpected and substantial Nicaraguan proposal, publicly referred to as "positive" by Contadora, the meeting "didn't terminate, but was suspended," according to one of its spokespeople. The new dynamism imprinted on it by Nicaragua required this suspension so the players could retool their strategies. At that point, the June 6 deadline began to wobble on the negotiation calendar, and in the war of images there was no longer any hiding of the fact that the treaty’s substance remained to be discussed.
Nicaragua KO's isolation in EsquipulasThe meeting of Central American Presidents in Esquipulas, Guatemala, on May 24-25 had been planned since January 1986. Vinicio Cerezo's new Christian Democratic government in Guatemala prepared for the summit meeting expecting it to be a great occasion to project itself as a promoter of much-needed Central American unity. In Nicaragua, too, there were hopes that the event would offer opportunities to halt to the isolation that was a permanent part of the US strategy. The San José meeting, in which Costa Rica pulled away from Nicaragua, was contrasted in Esquipulas by Guatemala, which sided with Nicaragua.
The Esquipulas meeting had four agenda points:
- The creation of the Central American parliament;
- Contadora and its mechanisms;
- The restructuring of the Central American integration process;
- Strengthening of interregional commerce and the search for solutions to the problem of the Central American foreign debt.
The meeting was took place in the Benedictine monastery in Esquipulas, a place of high religious symbolism for Central America. It is in the sanctuary of this monastery that the historic image of a black Christ is venerated. Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans traditionally arrive in pilgrimages to this site, which has lent its name to similar sanctuaries and images in other Central American locations, including Nicaragua.
On the eve of the meeting, the Costa Rican President continued playing his boycotting role, suggesting that he would not attend. He finally arrived, but once in Esquipulas firmly opposed signing the meeting’s final document on the grounds that it carried a heading referring to the five Presidents as "elected by their peoples." In his judgment, this was not the case with President Ortega. Arias managed to have the heading deleted.
The document had been prepared and approved weeks earlier by Central America’s deputy foreign ministers and Vice Presidents. In Esquipulas, it suffered somewhat substantial modifications in that all critical references to the role of the United States in the region were deleted, and it only reflected very generically the points of coincidence. Positive aspects of the final signed text included the emphasis put on the value of the Contadora process and the fact that it made no reference to deadlines for reaching agreements.
Unquestionably, the most significant paragraph of the Esquipulas Declaration is the following: "Peace in Central American can only be the fruit of an authentic democratic, pluralist and participatory process that involves the promotion of social justice, respect for human rights, territorial sovereignty and integrity of the states and the right of all nations, without foreign interference of any kind, to freely determine their economic, political and social model, understanding this determination as the product of a will freely expressed by their peoples." The spirit of the entire Contadora negotiation is deposited in this paragraph.
Nonetheless, the Esquipulas summit meeting’s value cannot be judged by a text that proved so difficult to write. The meeting’s greatest value is this:
- that all five Central American Presidents met together;
- that they met alone (they were alone exchanging viewpoints for 10 hours);
- that they agreed to continue meeting.
The historic ideal of Central American unity was at the bottom of it all, as was the Central American peoples’ desire for peace. A great deal of emotion was added to the political encounter by the place, so charged with symbolism, the waving of the five flags, the prayers of the peasants who came, and the heartfelt homily for peace by the Archbishop of Guatemala.
On his return to Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan President related it as follows: "The objective that we Central Americans dream of is to become one single nation, one single sovereignty. It will be quite a day when we can speak of a single Central American sovereignty, of a single Latin American sovereignty and when we have eradicated borders. It is a dream now, a utopia, but we’re obliged to pursue our dreams.... We have made the first stop, which is to converse. We have not been able to converse in more than four years of crisis."
Other positive aspects of the summit meeting were:
- The Central American Parliament project, in which Guatemala is particularly involved. Although it is all still incipient, it is promising, if, of course, it accepts the basic Contadora principles referring to respect for the diverse regimes in the area.
- The decision of Honduras and El Salvador to turn to the International Court at The Hague to resolve their border problems, which reinforces the Court’s role in Central America, even though the United States decided unilaterally to withdraw recognition of its jurisdiction in any Central American issue.
In summary, a political space has been opened up that makes Esquipulas a new deck of cards, if not a decisive new ace in the hole, useful for peace in the next periods.
Although the United States achieved some victories in Esquipulas, especially through the Costa Rican positions, it is evident that the meeting as such neither suited nor satisfied it. From there came the immediate urge to present it as a "failure" because "it made manifest the divergences between the four democratic Presidents of Central America and the President of Nicaragua."
Most important within the current period is that precisely in this new Central American forum the Nicaraguan President presented in all its detail the proposal that Nicaragua had made in the Contadora meeting. The solidness and the scope of what Daniel Ortega presented greatly surprised the four Presidents. From that point on the June 6 deadline ceased being an element of pressure.
From being cornered in Panama, Nicaragua came out of Esquipulas strengthened. It took the
offensive, giving more time and life to Contadora. If Nicaragua was put against the ropes in Panama, it did the same to the other Central Americans in Esquipulas, offering them more concrete definitions than ever. Evidently, Contadora also ended up against the ropes, with its real independence as a negotiating initiative in the face of the United States put to the test once again.
The Nicaraguan proposal on arms controlElaborating on the proposal presented at Contadora, President Daniel Ortega presented the other Central American leaders with a list of the arms Nicaragua characterizes as offensive. Nicaragua would be willing to negotiate with all the Central American nations to reduce, limit, regulate or even totally do without any of these military elements.
Nicaragua's list of offensive weapons includes:
1. All types of military planes
2. All types of military helicopters
3. Armored tanks
4. Heavy mortars over 120 mm
5. Self-propelled anti-aircraft cannons
6. Rocket-launchers over 122 mm
7. Artillery over 160 mm
8. Self-propelled rocket-launchers
9. Surface-to-surface missiles placed in warships
10. Warships over 40 meters
Nicaragua is also willing to negotiate in the same way about:
11. Military Airports
12. International Military Maneuvers
13. Foreign Military Bases
14. Foreign Military Advisers*
*Cuban Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, who was in Uruguay when the Nicaraguan proposal was announced, declared that some 800 Cuban military advisors were working with the Ministries of Defense and the Interior. (He also said there were 550 to 600 civilian volunteers.)
This list includes all armaments and structures that could be used to attack neighboring countries. It should be noted that at the present time Nicaragua doesn’t even have several of the arms on the list, doesn’t have foreign military bases and has not carried out international military maneuvers.
"This is a very concrete and specific list of military points,” President Ortega said in Managua, "that could be a basis, a point of departure for arms negotiations. It is a proposal that seeks reciprocity in the Central American environment. It seeks a response that is just, because it isn’t a question of disarming Nicaragua, that Nicaragua is going to reduce or do without, but instead all Central American countries are going to come to an agreement about this list: what are we going to reduce, what we will regulate, what we will limit, and what we will do without. We are going to debate and then draw up concrete agreements."
The Nicaraguan President took the opportunity to specify that Nicaragua considers the rifles in the hands of the army and the militias or the self-defense cooperatives to be strictly defensive weapons. "It’s not going to bother Nicaragua" Ortega added "if any Central American government has all the rifles it wants." Concerning the number of troops he said, "Nicaragua doesn’t aspire to have an enormous army. When we speak of 200,000, 300,000, 500,000, a million combatants, we’re not speaking of an army, but of an armed population. "The peasant that works in a cooperative with a rifle isn’t a member of the army. He doesn’t earn a living from the army. He produces and with his rifle defends this production. This will not be negotiated." In many cooperatives, the peasants have asked the government for more sophisticated weapons in order to defend themselves against the sophisticated armaments that the contras are using.
On May 27 and 28, immediately after the Esquipulas summit, Contadora returned to the negotiating table in Panama. There Nicaragua's deputy foreign minister presented the negotiators with the list of arms Nicaragua considers offensive, and those it is willing to negotiate. Nicaragua pointed out the similarity between its conception of the military as defensive and the practice of a country like Switzerland: a limited regular army and a large trained and organized reserve with the capacity to confront a strategic threat. The Swiss army has 1,500 men and can mobilize over 600,000 more within 48 hours. (Swiss population: 6.5 million). In Nicaragua, according to Defense Ministry reports, 300,000 citizens could be mobilized at the present time, including members of the militias. (Nicaraguan population: 3.2 million).
As an alternative to Nicaragua’s proposal, Guatemala and Costa Rica, backed by Honduras and El Salvador, again presented their arms valuation proposal using a point system. But this time they included other aspects that Nicaragua is willing to accept as a basis for discussion. This meeting was also "suspended" at midnight on the 28th, at the behest of Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, which felt the need for consultations at a higher level.
The impact of the Nicaraguan arms limitation proposal deactivated the pressure created by Contadora's ultimatum. It disarmed the US strategy, forcing Washington to recognize that the proposal was "important." But it immediately retreated from that begrudging concession by adding that "resolving security problems isn’t enough."
Applying pressure from another angle, the State Department said, "The problem of militarization in Central America is not a problem of arms. It’s a problem of democracy"; Honduran President José Azcona followed suit.
Applying pressure from the angle of "democratization" was a repeat of a tried and tested propaganda ploy: the "Mig scandal" was produced when Nicaragua had elections and now that Nicaragua is offering a possible moratorium on Migs, the question of elections is raised...
United States: More threats and a telling silenceSince the US Congress was "forced to recognize Contadora"—as we analyzed in last month's envío—US diplomacy has been faced with a complex new element.
When the Contadora image war was focused on the sign or not sign alternative and Central America was divided into four flexible countries and one intransigent one, it was easy for Reagan hardliners to design their plans on the assumption that Contadora would be completely stalled on June 6 and Nicaragua, which had said it wouldn't sign, would be blamed. Following Contadora's expected failure, they reasoned, it would become obvious that the only alternatives left were support for the contras' military effort or stepped-up US intervention.
As the month progressed and the hardliners realized that Nicaragua had decided to sign, serious fears arose that Contadora would finally produce a signed agreement. With these fears, described by some US analysts as a virtual state of panic, new contradictions came to light together with the most blatant threats the Administration has issued to date.
Fear that the act would be signed, no matter what its content, led eight ultra-rightwing Republican representatives to write President Reagan in mid-May, demanding assurances that he would continue to aid the contra forces, "whatever the results of Contadora." They also referred to the "diplomatic disaster, comparable to the 1945 Yalta talks," that could result from the contradictory diplomatic efforts of Central American special envoy, Philip Habib. The Republican representatives took issue with Habib and the secretary of state because they no longer had hope for the contras and this, according to the Republicans, made them inclined to negotiate and accept "any old" treaty. Reagan gave them all the assurances they had asked for.
The contradictions were also reflected in two documents that included speculations concerning what would happen after the signing of Contadora. One came from the State Department and stated that the most important aspect of the negotiation was not the signing but "the essential elements for an effective verification." In this sense, the "price" of verification has already been calculated: US$40 million and 1,300 people (220 military personnel from each Central American country). Was this message about the practical and financial difficulties of negotiations?
The other document came from the Defense Department. It offered the following analysis: “The signing of the Act will essentially grant Nicaragua license to cheat." For this reason Nicaragua will sign, but "due to its communist essence, it will logically violate it, which will unavoidably force the US into a permanent intervention in Central America, in which initially it would employ 100,000 US soldiers, which would cost US$ 9 billion just in the first year of fighting.” This money would also be used to reconstruct the armies of Honduras and Costa Rica and to station US troops permanently in the two countries.
First and foremost, the Pentagon document is blatant evidence of the contempt for international law that the Reagan Administration has displayed since taking office. It also presents a possibility that cannot be discarded, one that the Administration has worked hard on and on which it continues to rely. The connection between an eventual intervention and the signing of the Act, however, takes on a new light. It has now become another weapon in the psychological war within the so-called low intensity warfare. The document sends one message to the Nicaraguans warning them against signing and another to the Democrats in Congress, pushing them to abandon their interest in seeking a negotiated settlement: If the military option is unavoidable, it’s better to give full support to the contras than to launch a massive and costly intervention.
The contradictions at the highest levels of the Reagan administration over how to resolve the Nicaraguan conflict were reinforced when Philip Habib criticized the Pentagon document. "We’re not buying a pig in a poke. There is no final draft of the accord. Let's see the results of the negotiations before we condemn them."
Both documents reflect the administation’s decision to set itself up as the arbiter of any settlement that is reached. "They are trying to be the executioner, judge and plaintiff at the same time," as Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister, Father Miguel D'Escoto, has often said. This position of unilateral arbitration is the real test of Contadora's independence, since it is the only mediator to the conflict that commands international recognition.
In response to the public announcement of the Nicaraguan proposal, the combined effect of the administration's fears, contradictions and threats gave rise to a significant silence. Such a concrete and bold proposal for demilitarization made by a country that the administration continually accuses of "militarism," "planned aggression" against its neighbors, “intransigence” and being a "soviet base" seriously call into question the administration's propaganda campaign. It’s not easy to hide or neutralize this type of proposal, which gives rise to unsettling questions: How is the US going to accept negotiations on maneuvers and foreign bases with the military infrastructure it has built up in Honduras? And how is it going to accept demilitarization in El Salvador on the scale proposed by Nicaragua?
Disarmed by the Nicaraguan proposal and cornered in this desperate situation, the Reagan administration and its allies have returned to the theme of "democratization" Contadora's basic theme. The administration has chosen to ignore the fact that the issue of political pluralism and democracy in the countries of the region is part of the 80% of the Act that had been definitively discussed and approved since September 1985 by all Central American countries. Its proposals—new elections for Nicaragua and dialogue with the counterrevolution leading to power sharing or a handing over of power—have no place in the scheme put forward by Contadora since 1984. To suggest them is an act of open interference. To divert the discussion from demilitarization to democratization would appear difficult at this time, but the administration will make every effort to do so.
The US is already being assisted in this task by all Central American governments except Guatemala. Costa Rica has assumed the lead in calling for "democracy" in Nicaragua. During this month the new Honduran President, José Azcona, registered his support as well. On a visit to Washington immediately after the Esquipulas summit, he repeatedly mentioned in his public statements the lack of democracy and resulting "Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism," which in his opinion characterize Nicaragua. In his speech before the OAS, he suggested that Nicaragua be expelled from the organization, which some Latin America ambassadors qualified as "a slap in the face of Contadora and Esquipulas," both initiatives for coexistence in which Honduras is participating. (After his trip, Azcona received over US$ 100 million in credits from the US that the Inter-American Development Bank had frozen.) For his part, El Salvadoran President José Napoleón Duarte spent two weeks traveling to the Contadora and Support group countries presenting the same sort of speech: the "democracy" issue should be the top priority in the diplomatic pressures applied to Nicaragua. He also insisted on symmetry between the conflicts in Nicaragua and El Salvador and in the search for solutions through dialogue with those who have taken up arms. Duarte had little success in his tour and in several countries was greeted by demonstrations against his government. On June 1 he announced a new round of talks with the FMLN-FDR. This decision, while obviously related to the Central America conflict, seems more a maneuver intended to recover some of his fallen image within El Salvador, which has been in decline since the kidnapping of his daughter.
Nicaragua again breathed new life into Contadora, while the Reagan administration was left with a tight collar and the liberal democrats in Congress found more room to maneuver.
"The debate over the US$ 100 million has never seemed so ridiculous as now," was envío’s response to a US political analyst upon the announcement of the Nicaraguan proposal. (The debate had originally been scheduled for June 9 and now, not surprisingly, has been pushed back.)
The contras: More terrorismNicaragua's proposal for demilitarization is not only concrete and bold, it is also revealing. It reveals the type of war being waged in the country: a defensive one that as such needs defensive arms and is in a phase characterized by the consolidation of strategic victories.
The counterrevolution has been strategically defeated and has no chance of winning militarily, as Edén Pastora recognized publicly this month when he turned himself in to the Costa Rican authorities and sought political asylum. (Some observers saw this as "purge" of the contras' ranks by the Reagan administration.) Both Republicans and Democrats have recognized this strategic defeat of the contras, as has Contadora. It limits the administration's options: either concede and negotiate or intervene directly. For either of these two options Nicaragua reserves the right to keep its defensive arms. Deputy Foreign Minister Tinoco had this to say: "The 300,000 rifles are going to remain intact, and this will leave a confrontation between an M-16 in the hands of a US soldier and an AK-47 in the hands of a Nicaraguan combatant. This is a guarantee that the gringos will think twice before intervening in Nicaragua."
The counterrevolution is not only suffering a proven military crisis inside Nicaragua, but its leaders are in a profound political crisis inside the US, which is their base of operations. The terrorist image that the contras have won with their atrocities and the fundamentally Somocista image made clearer by Pastora's abandonment of the military struggle have been joined in the last few months by proven accusations of participation in drug trafficking and misuse of millions of US tax dollars assigned by Congress. This growing scandal has already been labeled "the Watergate of the contras" given the implications that exist concerning high Administration officials.
"It is becoming clearly demonstrated that Reagan’s brothers are a troop of gangsters," said Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto in Managua. These accusations and other permanent tensions arising from personal ambitions have exacerbated the divergences between the "civilian" leaders of the counterrevolution. To resolve the conflict, more decision-making power was given over to Robelo and Cruz this month. Cruz had threatened to abandon the FDN, declaring that until the differences were resolved and the contras’ image as human rights violators was cleaned up, they would not be able to count on victory.
Keeping the counterrevolution alive, united and salvaging its credibility has become an increasingly difficult priority for the Reagan administration, which has invested considerable political capital in the FDN, making it the lead example for the other counterinsurgencies it is supporting around the globe. Within this priority, the most important element is quick military training, at least for six months, since the contras don’t have the capacity to assimilate more or better arms.
In its attempt to wear down Nicaragua's resistance by war, the counterrevolution has itself been worn down. The following figures speak for themselves.
Battles 5/day 850
Casualties 16/day 2,500
Deserters* 2/day 300
* Indicates only those who have taken advantage of the amnesty law by turning themselves in to local authorities. The numbers of deserters who return to their communities without notifying the authorities are difficult to estimate and in some remote areas completely unknown. Last month alone (May 6-20), the contras suffered 302 casualties, 267 of them deaths.
The number of casualties has been increasing throughout the year. In January there were 480 and in April 859. Some 1,500 "messengers" for the counterrevolution—peasants who perform sabotage missions, pass information, etc.—have been imprisoned so far this year.
The contras now more than ever avoid confrontation with the EPS and have stepped up their use of terrorist tactics, ambushes, mines and kidnapping. (The average so far in 1986 is 150 peasants kidnapped per month.) They are also attacking civilians in cooperatives, settlements and along the highways. This was the fate meted out to 4 teachers, a producer and 3 merchants murdered on May 9. So far, an average of 60 civilians has been killed each month in 1986.
During May three terrorist acts affected the Nicaraguan public deeply:
- On May 11, the town of Los Santos (Chontales) was attacked. Three peasant militiamen were killed resisting the attack and three civilians died, including a mother and child. Six children and two adults were wounded.
- A few days later the Miraflores settlement (Estelí) was attacked. Eight civilians (three children) were killed, and another fifteen were wounded. Millions of córdobas worth of stored food was destroyed.
- On May 31 the "Daniel Teller" cooperative in Tuma La Dalia (Matagalpa) was attacked. Sixteen peasant militiamen were killed and two civilians (one of them a young girl) died; ten children, nine women and three men were wounded. This attack left eleven widows and thirty-eight orphans.
In order to demonstrate to the US that they still exist, the contras are taking action, but all of it is directed towards destroying infrastructure and crimes against civilians. (Within the increased terrorism by the contras, special attention should be given to the deaths and kidnappings of European internationalists. This subject is addressed at length in another article in this issue of envío.)
As the contras' human rights record continues to deteriorate, it becomes harder and harder to reconcile the presence in Washington of Monsignor Pablo Vega, vice president of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference. He was invited there by the US organization PRODEMCA (Pro Democracy in Central America), which openly supports the contras. On June 5, Monsignor Vega, speaking in New York on the Church’s role in Nicaragua, went so far as to say that the armed counterrevolution and the Church "each has its own ring. The Church has its specific function, which it cannot go beyond in one direction or another. But armed struggle is a human right. What alternative is left to a people repressed not only politically but militarily?"
Demilitarization and democracyThe Contadora Act was not signed on June 6, but neither did Contadora die as a result. June 6 was not a deadline; it couldn’t have been one. It was a step, and an especially significant one. A deadlock was overcome once again, thanks to the Nicaraguan proposal, which by being so concrete in such a sensitive area led to the drafting of a new Act.
Throughout the Contadora process, new avenues of negotiation have followed crises of deadlock. It has always been Nicaragua, employing creative diplomacy together with concessions, that has broken the deadlocks and opened the avenues. Today, with the strategic defeat of the counterrevolution, Nicaragua has more room to negotiate on military questions.
The cycle of crises in Contadora is in itself revealing. With every repetition of the same scenes, it becomes clearer and clearer what the positions in the drama are. Nicaragua wants to maintain its revolutionary model and although it has taken up arms to defend it, the country wants peace and has struggled creatively to achieve it, while the other Central American countries, because of their dependency-based models, are forced to seek only "the peace" that the US defines for them. In this situation, the effort of the Contadora and Support group countries, which are also historically dependent on the US, has become a grand act of defiance.
As a sign of its continuing intransigence, the US chose June 6 to begin a new phase of the ongoing maneuvers "Cabanas-86," involving 1,500 US and 500 Honduran troops who carried out armed exercises in the Honduran Mosquitia, only 17 km from the Nicaraguan border.
In this time when the US strategy is shifting to the demand for Nicaragua's "democratization," it is important to keep in mind that the revolutionary government is not only making a proposal for demilitarization that is echoing on the international scene, but is also trying to advance democratization and an institutionalization of participatory democracy inside Nicaragua. Since May 18 and continuing through June, cabildos abiertos (open forums) are being held throughout the country to discuss the contents of the new Constitution, scheduled for approval in time for the municipal elections early next year, according to statements by President Ortega.
A real national reconciliation process is also continuing. On June 4, 307 prisoners with sentences up to the maximum of 30 years were pardoned and returned to their families and communities. Among them were ex-members of Somoza's National Guard sentenced in 1979 and others imprisoned for counterrevolutionary offenses. The Amnesty Law remains in effect, without exceptions, as recommended by Contadora. "Counterrevolutionary leaders can return freely, with no restriction, take advantage of the amnesty law and join a political party. And, if any of them thinks he is sufficiently popular, he can create a new party." This is from recent statements made by President Ortega to a US magazine, while Vice President Sergio Ramírez stated in Madrid that even Edén Pastora could return if he wished.
"Nicaragua wants a reasonable regional peace treaty, and wants it as soon as possible. We believe that everyone will accept our proposal, because if they don't they will have to say why won’t accept it," said Foreign Minister D'Escoto. On June 6, it was clear that the rest of the Central American countries couldn’t say exactly why they didn’t accept Nicaragua's proposal. They won’t accept it until the US decides to accept the change in structure within Nicaragua and with it the possibility of sweeping changes in the other countries of the area; in other words, until the US is convinced that Nicaragua's new sovereignty does not constitute a danger for the US or the other countries of the area.
The reasoning behind this drama becomes clearer to the rest of the world every day. Because of this solidarity, commitments should be even more imperative. "We think and react to a possible intervention in Nicaragua as if it were Sweden suffering the intervention" said Sweden’s Vice President Pierre Schori, calling attention to what is also part of democracy: the equal rights that both small and large countries deserve.
On a tour through Western Europe in search of effective diplomatic and economic solidarity, Vice President Sergio Ramírez expressed confidence that the seriousness of Nicaragua's proposal would be taken into account. More than on any other occasion, it is clear that Nicaragua’s weapons are none other than those that serve to defend peace and life.