Congress Votes for War
To any reasonable observer it appeared that the moment was ripe for a negotiated solution to the Nicaraguan situation. The military defeat of the counterrevolution had advanced even further in previous months, as had the Contadora process, particularly in May. All this was obliging the US government to reformulate its policies.
What would be the outcome of this pivotal moment? A reasonable move by the United States toward a negotiated political settlement? Or an escalation of death and destruction in Nicaragua, which some in the US see as a prerequisite to the "negotiated" defeat of the Sandinistas and others recognize as a dangerous new step toward direct US intervention?
Two important events occurred this month—the decision by the US House of Representatives to continue supporting the counterrevolution and the judgment in favor of Nicaragua's case by the International Court of Justice at The Hague. These events have fortified the positions of each of the contenders in the conflict, accentuating the seriousness of the conflict and opening a new period for Nicaragua, both internationally and internally.
The Sandinista government has interpreted the congressional decision as a declaration of war. Supported by international law and by its right to protect the revolutionary project, it is preparing for the consequences. "What we are facing here is a war, and war is answered with war," said President Daniel Ortega, in his announcement that the revolution will deepen its objectives and rigorously apply the state of emergency in the political, economic and military arenas.
The dynamics of negotiationsIn the midst of this situation—a declaration of war and Nicaragua's response—it is important to review the dynamics of a political solution and those of a military solution.
The dynamics of war
The eight Latin American governments of the Contadora and Support Group countries are acting as mediators in the negotiation of a political solution to the US conflict with Nicaragua. In essence, they are seeking peace based on respect for the right of each nation to elect its own political and economic system (in other words on the principles of self-determination and nonintervention).
The United States has promoted the military approach for the past five years in an attempt to resolve the situation in its own favor through the counterrevolutionary war. It is an escalating war, which logically must end either in direct intervention or in the political surrender—through military pressures—of the revolutionary government. (When the US government proposes "dialogue" between the Sandinistas and the counterrevolutionaries it appears to be power-sharing proposing formulas; but given the opposed natures of a revolutionary and a counterrevolutionary project, what underlies this is nothing other than a formula of surrender.)
To justify its military approach, the Reagan administration—and the President himself—embarked several years ago on a campaign of accusations against the government of Nicaragua which has caught the attention of the entire world for its persistence and exaggerated rhetoric. Also notable is that these accusations are challenged not only by Nicaraguan reality, but by the Contadora proposal itself. All the dangers that appear to torment the US President and lead him to a military "solution" are taken into account in Contadora's proposals for a negotiated solution. When Reagan says, for example, that he fears that Nicaragua would permit the installation of a Soviet base, Contadora proposes a serious commitment to nonalignment and the prohibition of any foreign bases (the only ones in Central America were constructed by the US); Nicaragua supports that position. When Reagan says he fears the introduction of Migs, Contadora calls for a regulation of such armaments and Nicaragua agrees to renounce the purchase of Migs. The stated dangers could be neutralized and the problems resolved through Contadora, but the military "solution" continues escalating. This demonstrates that the US government’s positions and decisions (both its executive and legislative branches) are nothing more than a new cover for the historical US interventionism in Latin America.
The latest Contadora events:On June 6, the deadline Contadora had imposed on itself, the Latin American negotiating formula was raised in the meeting once again. This time, after one of the most intense and agitated meetings that the group has experienced, the formula came out in the form of a third peace treaty and the so-called Panama Declaration that accompanied it.
Toward a negotiated solution
With negotiations on the important security themes of maneuvers and arms control still pending, Contadora considered the military proposals Nicaragua had presented on May 27 (explained in detail in the previous issue of envío and the less developed ones of the other Central American countries, which were improvised responses to the Nicaraguan proposals more than options fully embraced by the respective governments.
Combining both positions, Contadora drafted a third version of the Peace Act, agreed to by consensus. In it, international military maneuvers were proscribed and criteria were established to initiate arms reduction in each country. The eight mediator countries called on the five Central American ones to present as soon as possible an inventory of the military items each of them considered negotiable, in order to thus begin the negotiations that would culminate in the signing of the treaty.
Contadora drafted its first treaty in September 1984. When Nicaragua agreed to sign without introducing any change, the United States blocked the treaty and pressured the Central American and Contadora countries to "reformulate" the text according to US interests. Although Contadora still put its money on a negotiated solution, the changes introduced in what became the second or "revised" treaty meant a retreat and a certain tolerance toward aspects of the US military solution. The second version of the treaty is the one that has been the object of negotiations until now, when the third version appeared. In addition to the variations in content between the first and third treaty, other important differences demonstrate the worsening of the conflict between the United States and Nicaragua as it got played out in Contadora. (See “Comparative contexts for treaty drafts I and III” at the end of this article.)
The Panama Declaration that accompanied this third treaty must be recognized as very important, given the crisis of weakness Contadora finds itself in after the United States ignored Latin America’s positions in Caraballeda. The Declaration has 11 points, of which number 7 is the most significant at this moment:
"To advance in the Contadora process and reach the final objective of peace, it is imperative that three fundamental orders of commitment be accepted:
a) That the use of national territory not be permitted for aggression against another country or for giving military or logistical support to irregular forces or subversive groups.
b) No country should constitute itself as a member of military or political alliances that directly or indirectly threaten peace and security in the region, inserting it into the East-West conflict.
c) That no power militarily or logistically support irregular forces or subversive groups that act or could act in countries of the region or that use or threaten to use force as a means to defeat a government of the area."
The conditions for a realistic peace, the essence of negotiation, are found more concisely than ever before in these "three orders of commitment." The first and third points are directed to the US government in order that it renounce the military route to impose its criteria (a) through the Central American governments or (c) directly. The second point is directed to Nicaragua: that it guarantee the security of the United States and the other countries of the area through its commitment to nonalignment. The road to a negotiated solution is thus opened.
On June 21, Nicaragua responded, calling the new treaty "the only instrument that can and must make possible a rapid and effective conclusion to the negotiation process." The Nicaraguan government expressed its willingness to provide the list of military items and the factoring table recommended in the treaty without delay in order to begin negotiations on armaments, the only issue yet to be concluded before signing. Backing the "three orders of commitment" of the Panama Declaration, Nicaragua also called on Contadora to create adequate conditions for this signing by promoting direct US-Nicaragua dialogue, pushing for the creation of mixed commissions among the countries of the area to resolve the border problems and sponsoring bilateral non-aggression pacts among the Central American countries.
The latest US attitudes:To prepare the mood for the House vote on the $100 million, President Reagan this month upped his campaign of well-known accusations against Nicaragua. Regarding the supposed danger to US and Central American security, Reagan reiterated that if the funds were not approved, "Nicaragua would become a refuge and sanctuary for the terrorists of the world," and a "second Libya." He argued that Nicaragua "is not only a threat to regional security but particularly to the United States," saying at the same time that the military pressures against Nicaragua were designed to make it "cease its aggressions against the Central American democracies."
Toward a military solution
Regarding Nicaraguan alignment with the East, Reagan charged that Nicaragua "receives orders from Gorbachov, Castro, Qaddafi and Arafat," that "Cuban soldiers travel in great numbers through the streets of Nicaragua" and finally that Nicaragua has received more than $1 billion in support from the Soviet Union, including "some of the most frightening arms in the Soviet arsenal."
To make his case about the domestic situation in Nicaragua, Reagan relied on statements from two of his supporters in the Nicaraguan Church hierarchy. "The final verdict was already written by Cardinal Obando in The Washington Post," cited Reagan. "Listen carefully to the words of the Cardinal: He said that 'it is not true that the Sandinista regime is a democratic government, legitimately constituted, that seeks the well-being and peace of the people and enjoys the support of the large majority.'" Reagan added that "Nicaraguan Bishop Vega, who visited Washington several weeks ago, said that the humble peasants recognize their right and are acting to defend it."
The most concrete accusation was formulated by CIA Director William Casey and by Reagan himself: a Soviet AN-30 plane would be carrying logistic support tasks for the Nicaraguan army. Even on the face of it, it is surprising that the United States would challenge Nicaragua's right to use such a plane in its defensive war, since in March and April alone the US violated Nicaraguan air space 140 times with its spy planes. Furthermore, the Nicaraguan government explained the Soviet plane’s actual mission some days later. The AN-30, equipped with very precise long-range cameras, had been contracted for two years on a credit line from the Soviet Union by the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER) to photograph 50 square kilometers in the western zone of the country. The goal is to update the 20-year-old cartographic maps and the national nautical map made 100 years ago. The photographic studies will also permit soil studies for the implementation of development projects.
The positions of Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras, although still not totally defined or definitive, also express the bottom line to which US intransigence has taken the Contadora process. The third treaty, presented as "the last version," incorporated the military proposals—albeit tactical and hurried ones—made by the Central American countries themselves; it was known that Nicaragua would give a positive response; and Reagan's reintroduction of the "democratization" theme had clashed with the new Contadora dynamics. The US had no choice but to promote the death of Contadora at the hands of its three allies.
The moment was propitious to deal the death blow; the exhaustion of the negotiators, after three years of constant US pressure of all kinds, was obvious despite the lift they had been given by the June 6 meeting. Following that very positive meeting, the declarations of the Central American countries regarding the Contadora process were the most denigrating ever.
These declarations, naturally, started in the United States with Secretary of State George Shultz, who said of the Panama meeting, "The four democracies that find themselves in the first line of fire, facing Nicaragua's communist aggression, want to decide for themselves what kind of peace treaty is the most appropriate."
The Honduran foreign minister, in a June 13 communiqué, followed that line, saying that the new treaty "does not establish reasonable and sufficient obligations to guarantee their security," adding that Honduras will not sign the act.
Salvadoran Foreign Minister Castillo Claramount went even further, claiming that Contadora was "dominated by Nicaragua" and that the other Central American countries wanted "mediation not imposition": "We are going to leave aside the fraternal guidance of friendly nations that committed themselves to this effort and instead generate our own options to deepen this peace process.... We, the Central Americans, will decide how, when and with whom we are going to meet." He described the peace treaty as a "gray, incomplete and somewhat inconsequential" document.
On a similar tack, Costa Rica said it aspired to a Contadora that would be "a group of fraternal pressure against Nicaragua" to achieve "democratic changes" in that country. On June 19, Costa Rica made its response official, qualifying the third treaty as "deficient" and "vague," and referred to the need to "get closer to Europe," a suggestion also made by El Salvador, which spoke of the re-creation of Contadora with two Latin American countries and two European ones.
To all these dangerous efforts must be added the campaigns launched by some Republicans and US media against the Mexican government and the head of the Panamanian armed forces, General Manuel Antonio Noriega, accusing them of election fraud, corruption and ties to the illegal drug trade. Mexico and Panama are two key countries in the negotiation process.
Guatemala’s current position merits separate mention. It is struggling to maintain more neutral positions than those of its neighbors, while the Pentagon is actively working to win over its military through renewal of military aid to the country. After extensive declarations, the Guatemalan foreign minister finally distanced himself from the anti-Contadora positions of the three countries that make up the so-called Tegucigalpa bloc:
"We are not going to form a bloc with any country or group of countries that has as its objective to carry out isolation or unilateral military actions that would mean problems or overstepping the international principle [of nonalignment]. We have always said and we continue to say: We Central Americans are the most interested, the most called upon and the most able to resolve our own problems, but the assistance of Contadora and the Lima Group will be welcomed.”
In an official visit to Mexico, Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo reiterated, together with his Mexican counterpart, his support for the Contadora initiative as the "only body" to solve the Central American crisis.
Before taking a look at the most significant declarations this month before the vote on the $100 million to see how the military solution/political solution dynamics were played out, we have schematized below the fundamental positions as they have been appearing over time:
The House vote: A key statementInternational public opinion has become dangerously accustomed to the political immorality inherent in the idea that the legislative body of the United States periodically discusses how to politically and militarily force the Nicaraguan government to accept its proposals for hegemonic power in the region. While maintaining diplomatic relations with the Nicaraguan government, the Reagan administration openly finances armed groups whose objective is the destabilization and defeat of that government, a goal they comply with by killing civilians and destroying the economic infrastructure of a country already impoverished by this very same power. The illegality and immorality of such an action can only be justified by those who believe that the strongest and largest have more rights than the weakest and smallest.
in support of a military solution
After delays in the date for a new debate, motivated largely by the ultimatum that Contadora imposed on itself and by the new shift that took place inside Contadora due to Nicaragua's proposals, US legislators met again on June 25 to debate and vote on financing for the counterrevolution. Three proposals were presented to members of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives:
1. Hamilton Bill (the most progressive): No direct aid to the counterrevolutionaries; $27 million in aid for refugees and those displaced by the war (through the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees) and for Contadora.
OPTION: Negotiated political solution. Vote: defeated by 245 votes to 183.
2. McCurdy Bill (the one that in recent months seemed most likely to pass): $100 million in aid to the contras ($30 million in immediate "humanitarian" aid and $70 million in unspecified armaments, which would start in October following a second vote by both houses of Congress conditioned on advances in regional negotiations); $350 million in economic assistance to all Central American countries except Nicaragua.
OPTION: Intermediate; continuation of military pressure to reach a negotiated settlement more favorable to the United States. Never reached a vote.
3. Skelton-Edwards Bill: (a package of the Republicans and conservative Democrats about which most only received notice just before the debate; responds to a plan designed a year ago by a presidential commission. $100 million in aid to the contras ($30 "humanitarian" and $70 million in unspecified military aid to be spread out in payments starting immediately and terminating February 15, 1987, in which the majority would go to the FDN, an undesignated amount to the indigenous armed group Kisan, plus $5 million for the counterrevolutionary groups of the Southern Opposition Bloc (BOS) and $5 million for Misurasata); $3 million to investigate corruption by the counterrevolutionaries; $2 million for the trips of Central American governments to participate in dialogue; $300 million in economic aid for the Central American countries, except Nicaragua.
OPTION: Military solution. Vote: passed by 221 votes to 209.
The Skelton-Edwards bill also authorizes training of the counterrevolutionaries by CIA advisers. This is one of the most serious points in the package and one of the most important for Reagan's plans. The only amendment to this proposal was that the training must be carried out at least 20 miles from the Nicaraguan border.
At a moment in which Contadora proposed its last new proposal for a negotiated solution, and after months in which the most liberal Democratic Congresspeople began to take Contadora into account and attentively follow its evolution—even if only to use it as a weapon against the Reagan policy—it seemed that the McCurdy position would have triumphed. In an effort to strengthen the positions of these liberal Democrats, the Socialist International expressed its "rejection" of the Reagan policy in a resolution published at the end of its meeting in Lima.
Despite all this, the solution that puts its chips most explicitly on war was the one chosen by the majority of the House members. No room was left to doubt that the character of this vote was interventionist and belittling of Latin America. The four Contadora ministers arrived on the same day as the vote to hand the third version of the peace treaty to the secretaries general of the United Nations and the Organization of American States; when they also tried to give a copy to State Department authorities, the latter could find no time to receive them.
The intense anti-Nicaraguan campaign organized by the administration before the debate, the doors that were officially reopened to the CIA, the amount of the aid package and its design, including the aid to the four Central American countries—as if it wanted to pay for or buy their anti-Contadora positions—all give this latest congressional vote for war an extremely grave quality.
The counterrevolution is being defeated militarily in Nicaragua and discredited for its corruption in the United States.* If, despite this, the House votes to escalate the war, it is not adventurist to suggest that within this decision is a vote not only for the overthrow of the revolutionary government, but, whether consciously or not, for direct intervention. Following the inevitable logic of such actions, the doors are being opened to a generalized conflict in Central America, with increased involvement by US military personnel.
*The Barnes amendment, which conditioned the aid to an investigation about the destiny of the $27 million provided previously to the counterrevolutionaries, was defeated by 225 votes to 198. Referring to the vote, counterrevolutionary leader Alfonso Robelo said, "This is a message for the combatants within Nicaragua: the United States is not abandoning us. We can now plan for the next 17 months."
The Contadora ministers present in Washington called the House vote a "historic error." And Nicaragua’s foreign minister, Father Miguel D'Escoto, said, "This vote does not surprise me. I am much more interested in the vote that the International Court of The Hague will pronounce tomorrow."
The World Court decision:Just a few days after the vote in the US Congress, the International Court of Justice announced to the world its decision concerning the US-Nicaragua conflict (see special article in this issue of envío). This decision had been delayed for some months by US pressure, but the pressure was not enough to stop the court from rendering its verdict. Nor could the US prevent the verdict from being a clear, categorical and detailed condemnation of the actions it has taken in its war against Nicaragua.
A key statement of support for a negotiated solution
Fr. D'Escoto went personally to The Hague to receive the final verdict. And in an early-morning radio announcement to the Nicaraguan people he gave the news they were waiting for: "This has been a victory for peace, a victory for the third world, a victory for Latin America and also for the US people. This is a triumph for all the people of Nicaragua and for all who walked with us on the Way of the Cross for Peace and Life. That sacrifice was an outcry heard by God." Fr. D'Escoto was referring to the l90-mile pilgrimage from Jalapa to Managua made by thousands of people, including himself, during the first two weeks of Lent.
A few minutes after receiving the news in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega gave his reaction: "The Court has clearly condemned the decision of Congress and the President. This gives us more strength to resist, fight and defeat the terrorist policy of the US."
The State Department, as expected, rejected the judgment and asserted that contra aid was "consistent" with international law. "That's what the US government says," noted Carlos Tüunnermann, Nicaraguan ambassador in Washington, "but what do the legal experts and the rest of the US people say?" One US attorney, Abraham Chayes, who took part in all the Court proceedings, stated emphatically that it was "the most important case in the history of the Court."
Within 30 hours the nature of the conflict Nicaragua is involved in had become clear to the whole world in a dramatic and profound way. A political institution—namely, the US Congress—declared war on Nicaragua, and in doing so was acting only in the name of one of its traditions, i.e., that of intervention and arrogance. At the same time, a legal institution, in the name of international law, condemned that interventionist tradition before the whole world. In an unprecedented way, these 30 hours showed that the Nicaraguan case raises profoundly important questions about the rights of the exploited countries of the South and about the meaning and future of international law if these rights do not begin to be respected in a real way.
In the view of moderate groups like the Christian Democrat Organization of America, international law is going through "its greatest and most dangerous crisis since World War II," as its president, Hilarion Cardoza, said in commenting on the results of the US House vote.
Nicaragua’s right to defend itselfJust a few hours after the House approved the $l00 million for the contras and the $300 million to "buy off" the Central American countries, the US media leaked the story that the CIA would give the contras $400 million more in "covert aid." While the seriousness of the House vote should not be gauged only according to quantitative criteria, and while, moreover, these figures may even seem very small in the eyes of people of the industrialized countries, it is worth recalling that Nicaragua's export earnings in l985 came to less than $300 million. The contra aid approved by Congress plus other forms of aid, which Congress has blessed by opening the doors to CIA involvement, amounts to more than $800 million. The figures show how unequal the contending parties are and how out of proportion this war being suffered by such a small country is.
and its duty to respond
While the approval of the $100 million itself did not take Nicaragua entirely by surprise, the context and details of the vote led to a certain tone of "unexpected emergency" in the government's interpretation of the vote as a "declaration of war"—which had always been seen as a possibility and now, on June 25, l986, seems to have become a reality.
Two days after the vote, the same day the World Court verdict became known, the traditional “Repliegue” was celebrated in Managua. In the last days of the insurrection against Somoza in l979, Sandinista combatants led people from Managua's beleaguered barrios to Masaya in a tactical withdrawal (repliegue) that proved decisive in the final confrontation with Somoza's National Guard. Every year on the anniversary, thousands of people retrace the same 30-kilometer route, walking throughout the whole night at a brisk pace over the same paths and trails.
In his address to the more than 50,000 marchers, President Daniel Ortega, who would soon be walking at the head of the line, said that the aggression had reached a new stage of seriousness: "In these circumstances is it possible for the country to function normally? Can we continue to act tolerantly and flexibly toward some people because they have hierarchical or civil rank or office? Those who love Nicaragua—the country, the people—let them stay; and those who love Reagan, let them go to Miami! No, we are not going to accept the civic struggle, because there’s no such thing here as a civic struggle; what we have here is war, and it can only be met with war!"
In a communiqué issued the previous day, just a few hours after the results of the House vote became known, the FSLN National Directorate had dramatically indicated the seriousness of the moment. The decision of the US Congress, says the communiqué, is a blow against the Contadora Group and the Support Group that "seeks to be a death blow" and "changes the international and domestic perspectives in which our revolution has developed."
The communiqué contains various general statements that will be the basis for new measures to defend the people and the revolutionary project against the war declared by the US government. This "change of perspectives" does not imply—and this could be seen in the very first days after the announcement—a radicalization of the revolution in the sense of abandoning the model of political pluralism, mixed economy and nonalignment. Rather it means that previous abuses of political pluralism—including freedom of expression—and the mixed economy, which were intentionally undercutting the revolutionary project itself in moments as delicate as these, will no longer be treated with flexibility.
The revolution has taken a firmer hand, and will continue to do so to better guarantee the well-being of the majorities and national sovereignty itself during this difficult survival stage in which Nicaragua must dedicate itself to resisting the escalation of US aggression.
On the diplomatic front: Strengthened by the World Court decision, which ratified the truth and justice of its cause, Nicaragua will continue to go to all international forums and play a positive role in Contadora in order to insist on a negotiated political solution. At this serious moment, the leaders of the revolution are issuing a call to the world to "stop this resurgence of fascism which tries to ignore the legal order and international law."
Defend international law
On July l, Nicaragua once again convoked the UN Security Council, to denounce the new situation brought about by the House vote in favor of the war. In the three days of debate, there was unanimous rejection of US policy and of the Reagan administration's plans, with the exception of the Salvadoran representative's statement and, naturally, the US statement by General Vernon Walters. One of the first promoters of the counterrevolutionary ideology, Walters tried to show with maps more than with strength of conviction that Nicaragua was fomenting a "war of aggression" against its Central American neighbors.
In the final declaration that brought the debate to a close, UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuellar expressed the international body's support for the political solution proposed by Latin America through the Contadora Group. The position expressed by Venezuela in the name of Contadora and that expressed by India in the name of the Non-Aligned Movement were particularly critical of US policy.
Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramirez, having foreseen the possibility that the House vote could be very negative for Nicaragua, traveled for almost a month through Western Europe, including Algeria and East Germany, to strengthen international support for Contadora. His visits turned out to be very positive and are especially useful given the new state of affairs, in which Nicaragua needs to fortify once again the international anti-Reagan consensus in order to buttress US public opinion. The latter, still largely opposed to intervention, is at this time the only brake on direct intervention.
On June 24, the Vice President, having returned to Nicaragua, gave this evaluation of the West European positions:
* On the level of Presidents, ministers of state, parties and public personalities, there is "overall support" for l) a negotiated solution that would block the way against aggressive solutions and 2) respect for Nicaragua’s sovereignty and self-determination. Thus all forms of aggression, whether covert, hidden or overt, are rejected.
* Among these sectors there is "unanimous support" for the efforts to give an institutional framework to the revolutionary process. In the present stage, these efforts take concrete form in the discussion and approval of the Constitution.
* In most sectors of opinion, there is a "broad range of support" for the revolutionary project, "with various nuances." Only the ultra-right sectors in each country maintain a position in favor of the military solution.
"Europeans are upset over the Central Americans' attitude of depriving Contadora of legitimacy," noted Ramírez. "That attitude shocks people, because it is to wipe out the approach of negotiations and not arrive at any kind of agreement."
The Soviet statement, for its part, addresses the grave implications of the House vote on the world scene, asserting that "this course of events bears harmful consequences, and not just for the Latin American continent. It will inevitably affect the general world situation and cannot help but have repercussions on Soviet-US relations.... Those who think they can confront the world with an act of international barbarity, those who are so bold as to think they are allowed to do anything, are wrong."
As the conflict becomes sharper and US intransigence becomes more evident to all, a key question begins to emerge: At what point will governments allied with the US or governments whose underdeveloped economies are very dependent on the US manage to come together to take a clear stand against US policies in Central America in the name of international law? Will such stands be expressed concretely in joint declarations, leaving no room for doubt? And might these governments go even further, beyond declarations, and join together to organize effective acts of pressure?
On the military front: Preparing for interventionThe contras’ terrorist activity against Nicaraguan civilians, which has characterized their "military" activity for many months, reached a new level as soon as they learned that the US was "not abandoning them," as Alfonso Robelo put it. Just a few hours after the House vote, FDN forces attacked a production unit in Boaco, killing four children, wounding three others (from 2 to l2 years of age) and killing their father.
On July 3, while the most splendorous fireworks display in US history was being prepared to celebrate the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, and the Chilean torture ship "Esmeralda" arrived in New York harbor to pay its respects to US independence, 32 Nicaraguan peasants (including l2 children, some newly born, and l4 women) were blown to pieces. They were the victims of a mine detonated by a gang of "freedom fighters" that took aim this time at a civilian vehicle taking passengers to San José de Bocay. Eighteen members of the Castillo López family died that day. One woman, a relative of some of the victims, wept as she said: "We don't even have the consolation of being able to see our dead asleep. When they kill them this way, there are only pieces left, and there’s no consolation in looking at them."
The victims of this totally unjustifiable massacre were buried in the same simple cemetery where the Basque medical worker, Ambrosio Mogorron, had been buried a few weeks before. He had died in similar circumstances, the victim of an anti-tank mine that blew up a civilian vehicle. In Nicaragua the peasants are wondering how many anti-tank mines the "freedom fighters" will be able to buy with $l00 million.
Those who tuned in to the Voice of America, the official US government radio station, were shocked to hear, on the same day as the massacre, a message from the US ambassador to the OAS claiming that if General Augusto C. Sandino were alive today he would be a " freedom fighter." This indescribably offensive statement was part of a letter sent to the OAS to justify the US ambassador's absence from the ceremony in which the OAS placed a bust of General Sandino in the gallery of Latin American heroes.
The escalation of contra terrorism is a grim foreboding of the cruelty that a direct intervention would entail as it would try to drown the Nicaraguan revolution in blood. Facing this, the revolutionary government has begun to step up its plans to recruit youth for military service and adults for the reserves, with a view toward "persuading the US not to intervene or, if there is an intervention, to crush it," as some here put it.
Short of that eventuality, the war goes on and the contra ranks continue to be depleted. While 6,000 contras were killed or wounded in all of l985, the contras have already suffered 4,000 casualties in the first five months of l986. In his speech at the start of the symbolic repliegue, President Ortega gave new figures concerning the total human losses in this war. The number of victims has now risen to more than 29,000, of whom 16,416 are dead. Of those, 4,303 died defending the revolution; and 12,103 died fighting against it, having been dragged into the ranks of the US-financed counterrevolution.
This month two Cuban exiles who had lived in the US, members of the group known as "marielitos," were presented to the international press. They belonged to the FDN and had been taken captive by the Sandinista army. They confirmed that the FDN included Cuban and other Latin American mercenaries, recruited in the US, and gave other interesting pieces of information about CIA connections with Honduran and Costa Rican authorities. "Now they are talking about hiring Hispanics, because the well has run dry for them in Nicaragua," noted Comandante Bayardo Arce, analyzing this new look that the FDN may increasingly show.
While the tendency in the current military situation is to deepen the strategic defeat of the counterrevolution, the House vote points toward intervention and, even if it does not get to that point, toward increasingly destabilizing terrorism. The latter is possible to the extent that the contras are trained in how to use the new and sophisticated weapons that have been put into their hands. More serious acts of terrorism, such as the CIA's mining of the harbors in l984 or "surgical" bombing strikes as in Libya, are possibilities in this new escalation of the aggression.
On the economic front: Insure survivalFor a long time now the Nicaraguan economy has been going through an increasingly critical phase in terms of its primary components: material production and the supply of vital products. Congress' declaration of war came just before the Nicaraguan government took action to correct some problems, such as prices that were running out of control, corruption and bureaucracy in the state structures, worker inefficiency, deterioration of the infrastructure, waste of limited resources, etc. The Sandinista Assembly (the FSLN's consultative body) began to meet this month to study new economic measures. (In coming issues of envío we will give ample coverage to these measures and to the economic crisis in general.)
The FSLN communiqué on the occasion of the House vote underscores civic virtues—e.g., work, productivity, efficiency, conservation, honesty and responsibility—which will permit a strategic victory in the "economic war." These are important challenges today for all sectors of the Nicaraguan people.
A "new economic doctrine," according to most analysts of the Nicaraguan situation, could help to structure an authentic economy of resistance and survival, bringing greater equality to the society and deepening the alliance between the "patriotic" private sector—which produces efficiently—and the mass sectors. These analysts agree that if the revolutionary government can bring this about, the Sandinista revolution will have successfully overcome the political objectives of the US-promoted war, which is intended to "wear them down."
These objectives are none other than to mar the attractiveness of the Nicaraguan model in the eyes of the world, making it nonviable, eroding people's confidence in their own project and in the leaders' capacity to move it forward, and weakening political consensus by causing delays in the improvement of conditions for the majority. The latter, of course, is the essential goal of any revolution.
On the political front:The FSLN National Directorate had already discussed and approved various plans of response should the $100 million be approved. Their essence is contained in the decision to "strictly and severely apply the state of emergency, which has at times been applied with excessive flexibility in an effort to ease internal and regional tensions."
Strict application of the emergency law
Upon learning of the House decision, President Ortega declared in his July 25 press conference that "whoever tries to make it appear that the problem is an internal one will be acting as an accomplice of the US government's terrorist policy." A journalist followed that up with a question about the situation of Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo and Bishop Pablo Vega, respectively president and vice president of the Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference. Both had been quoted by President Reagan during his campaign in support of the $100 million.
On May 12, The Washington Post published an op-ed by Cardinal Obando referring to the Sandinista government as a "terrible dictatorship," in which there existed a "continual violation of human rights." Exhorting Congress to listen to the "clear voices" about Nicaragua, President Reagan cited the Cardinal, a "good man," as one of the most qualified, and quoted directly from the Washington Post article to describe the internal situation in Nicaragua.
Bishop Vega, for his part, had gone to Washington at the beginning of March at the invitation of the Heritage Foundation, an organization committed to the defeat of the Sandinista regime. There Vega met with contra leaders Adolfo Calero and Enrique Bermúdez, the latter an ex-colonel of the Somocista National Guard and currently military chief of the FDN. Vega returned to Washington at the beginning of June, invited this time by PRODEMCA, denounced repeatedly as a facade for administration propaganda and money. On this occasion Vega defended the counterrevolutionary war as a "human right," an argument never used by Reagan before now, but which appeared in his recent speech, on the eve of the House vote. "Reverend Father," said Reagan referring to Vega, "we have heard you, because we Americans believe, just as you do, that even the most humble peasant has the right to be free."
To ask Daniel Ortega on June 25, the night of the vote, what would happen to the bishops, was to ask if they would be punished in some form for having contributed with their statements to
the triumph of the military option. "People like Cardinal Obando and Monsignor Vega will have to define themselves before the people," President Ortega responded. "Starting today, they have the opportunity to show themselves clearly and say whom they support or to remain silent. The people will be the best judge."
These words herald the beginning of a new situation, which some are calling "the hour of definition," brought about by the approval of the $100 million. On June 26, in accordance with the previously agreed plans, the Interior Ministry’s Office of Communications decided to "indefinitely suspend" publication of La Prensa The reasons for the decision were given in an official communiqué: La Prensa, functioning as a voice for the interests of the aggressor power, has been increasing its levels of provocation and disinformation, trying to justify the US aggression, denying the Contadora group’s validity as the only possible solution for peace in Central America.... At no time has it fulfilled its social, ethical and professional responsibility, or has it acted as the reflection of Nicaraguan society's common objectives as demanded by its role as a source of information for the people.... It has habitually violated and failed to respect directives issued by this Office, reproducing and distributing expressly unauthorized material.
The editorial from the June 26 edition that did not hit the streets laid out La Prensa’s position regarding the vote for the $100 million. It qualified the war in Nicaragua as "a prolonged civil war" and the congressional vote as nothing more than "another disconcerting element." It suggested that the US has "always felt insecure with the regime installed in 1979," that "Contadora always avoided the theme of internal democratization" and that the Sandinista government has "not wanted to promote a change in its image." Finally, it said that the vote should be interpreted as "an open door to last-minute negotiations."
The subtle coincidence of these ideas with those of the administration is evident. It is not the first time that these coincidences have occurred, but it is the first since the US legislature drew the dividing line by its declaration of war. The closing of La Prensa—a serious measure—indicated the seriousness of the new political climate.
The news did not have a very large impact among the readership at large. For one thing, the conviction that this measure would eventually be taken has existed for some time. For another, the problem of the war and the daily difficulties in this economic crisis worry the majority of the population much more than ideological problems. This is not to say, however, that La Prensa does not have a defined public that has always reads it, is accustomed to its yellow journalistic style of communication and remained traditionally faithful to the paper even after its sharp swing to the right in 1980.
The information in La Prensa—apart from its notable technical and journalistic deficiencies—was a permanent provocation for the government. For more than six years La Prensa declined to report on the most important ceremonies or visits of personalities, or on and meetings, congresses or other events of international character taking place in Nicaragua that indicated support for the revolution. The paper refused to publish anything regarding the mass organizations in Nicaragua, even, for example, when they played a central role in saving lives and property during the May 1982 floods. A daily that is otherwise prone to grisly and sensationalist topics, La Prensa gave very little space, if any, to news about contra atrocities continually committed against civilians. It espoused the cultural values of US capitalist society and constantly reproduced international affairs articles and even articles about Nicaragua written from the Reagan Administration's point of view, on occasion using material from the US Embassy or CIA sources. It became the open mouthpiece for the parties that boycotted the 1984 elections, refusing even to print the government's public service announcement listing the voter registration and polling places. It was, in short, the equivalent of a pro-Nazi newspaper being allowed to publish in the States during World War II.
Many visitors to Nicaragua have recognized that the censorship applied to a paper of this nature, and under such exceptional circumstances as the existing state of war, was quite flexible, and at worst uneven. If, under normal circumstances, La Prensa had a place in Nicaragua, its information policy became a potential danger in this new phase of declared war. To this must be added the attitude of impunity that it had been assuming with its actions.
On the day following its closing, President Ortega indicated that the government was not confiscating or destroying the paper, but was closing it indefinitely. "If Reagan wants to have a mouthpiece in Nicaragua," said Ortega, "he should stop the aggression." It must be kept in mind when analyzing this and other measures taken in the following days that they are preventive, transitory steps, but also clear warnings: the limits of pluralism and freedom of expression in Nicaragua—ever present themes on the liberal agenda around the world—depend on a negotiated solution in Nicaragua. This in turn depends on the US government's decision to abandon the military solution.
The "strict application of the emergency" continued. On June 28 Catholic priest Bismarck Carballo, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Managua, to whom Cardinal Obando gave the honorary title "Monsignor" in 1984, was returning from a trip to Europe and the US, during which he had added to his already long list of public statements against the Nicaraguan government. The government advised the airline bringing him back to the country that he would not be able to enter Nicaragua; his right to reside in the country had been temporarily suspended. Throughout the years of the revolution Father Carballo has been involved in all the main confrontations between the Managuan hierarchy and the revolutionary government. Among the recent events in which he has figured prominently are those leading to the closing of the newspaper Iglesia (October 1985) and Radio Católica (January 1986).
On July 1, three days later, Comandante Bayardo Arce, a member of the FSLN National Directorate and a former journalist once published in La Prensa’s pages when it had an anti-Somoza line, spoke about the new situation to journalists at an International Press Club breakfast. "La Prensa will circulate again and Carballo will return," he said, "when the aggression stops." Following the approval of the $100 million, he added, statements signifying support for any kind of enemy power would no longer be tolerated in the name of freedom of expression.
The very next day Bishop Pablo Vega was invited to a similar Press Club breakfast. Speaking in his habitual convoluted style, Vega said that the aggression, and even an eventual direct invasion by the US, were justified by Nicaragua's "alignment," once again placing the war that the country faces in the context of the East-West conflict, a vision that contradicts Contadora and a great part of the international community: "I cannot criticize only the $100 million when there are other thousands of millions that are being given by the other side as well. One cannot speak of one while not speaking of the other.... We would not really want these cases [i.e., the $100 million] to occur, because there is no reason why we should arrive at this point in Nicaragua. Both powers would have to measure the results that this is producing for an unnecessary holocaust of the people.... The invasion from one side finds its reason in the invasion that is being made from the other side. And in not taking into account the decision of the Nicaraguan people. Those who are to blame for this are those who have taken these decisions to lean on and support themselves in one bloc, in order to, as some say, provoke the other. This is the fault of those who make these decisions, not ours.”
Taking up an argument already used in the US by President Reagan, Vega also said that the contra war in Nicaragua is nothing more than the defense of a human right of the peasants in the face of Sandinista aggression: "This is a military aggression of the Sandinista army. This is what brings the people to decide.... These people are defending their human rights. And it is the aggression of an ideological system, the snatching away, as they tell it, of their sons, the desire to impose on them some things that are not their own, that takes them to this decision.... If a population is tormented, if a population is defeated, liquidated in its human rights, in its lives, in the access to its own homeland, as if it were stateless, then there is no other solution for this population...."
Contradicting the opinion of the entire international community with the exception of the US government, Vega went on to pronounce the World Court decision unacceptable. "A court can have the concrete facts at hand or it can only have some of them. In that case, its judgment would be partial, according to how the news comes to it. I am not a specialist in this area, I don't know much, but I am very aware that a court of an international character is not situated in a more universal plan, such that it can see things from the angle of the rights of man and not just from the rights of parties or governments. I believe that it is also worthwhile to study the aggression that we are suffering thanks to a military imperialism also from the East.... So that if we see one we also see the other. If not, we do not make verdicts, we make partialities. A verdict is not to be partial, but to seek justice and not seek prepotency or the preponderance or the hegemony of one bloc over another. In this sense, in my way of looking at it, I believe that a broader vision of the problems is lacking.”
Bishop Vega, in his broader vision of the problem, never once mentioned the solution proposed by Contadora, promoting yet again the US plan for a "dialogue of internal reconciliation" as the only way out. The Bishop, who also made no mention of the crimes against civilians that characterize the contra activity, stressed that his position was impartial, "as Christ passed it on" to him. He ended by glossing over his political lobbying in Washington with the counterrevolutionary leaders as if it were a right: "There was the same surprise when my photograph appeared chatting with Fidel Castro. And he is of the extreme left. And here with our government, which is of the extreme left. So, if I have talked with them, I don't see why I can't, why I don't have the right to also chat with those others."
Bishop Vega got his answer on July 4. What follows is the central part of the official government communiqué: "Bishop Vega has carried out a range of criminal work that makes him an accomplice of the policy of terror and crime that has meant the suffering, death and pain of thousands of children, women, old people and youth who in our country are the victims of the US government's terrorist policy.
"As a consequence, given the repeated anti-patriotic and criminal attitude taken by Bishop Vega, the lack of respect for the laws of the Republic and the people of Nicaragua, the decision has been taken to:
"Indefinitely suspend the right to remain in the country of someone who, like Bishop Vega, does not deserve to be Nicaraguan and whose place can be found alongside Reagan and the mercenary bands, assassins of children. This decision will be effective as long as the US government aggression against Nicaragua is maintained.
"Bishop Vega is in Honduras, where he will have the opportunity to be nearer to 'his brothers,' Reagan’s brothers: the criminal Somocista guardsmen.
"The Government of Nicaragua continues to guarantee the right of people to exercise with absolute freedom their religious beliefs and practices, which have been and continue being a vital part in the revolutionary transformation that Nicaraguan society is experiencing."
Even before a helicopter took Bishop Pablo Vega to the border with Honduras, the state media carried the denunciations of dozens of people who accused him of being an accomplice of the counterrevolution. It was only a day earlier that the 32 civilians mentioned above were killed by the explosion of a mine, and tempers were high.
Vega’s expulsion from Nicaragua, and to a much lesser degree that of Bismarck Carballo, has returned the always tense relations of the Catholic hierarchy with the revolutionary government to a particularly critical state. This time, however, the possibility of a "rupture" seems unlikely. The international polarization provoked by Reagan's aggressive policy against Nicaragua and the realistic road proposed by Contadora obliges Vatican diplomacy to move more cautiously than in previous moments of crisis. This does not mean that many Bishops' Conferences and the Pope himself, who was visiting Colombia when these events occurred, have not shown their displeasure with the decision of the Nicaraguan government and asked that it be reconsidered. But as the former bishop of Cuernavaca, Méndez Arceo, correctly pointed out, this was "an instinctual reaction of the ecclesiastical body."
The Vatican also appears to be taking into account the fact that the strategic defeat of the counterrevolution leads logically to new, uncontrolled terrorist actions and to an eventual direct intervention, given the military solution imposed by Reagan. There are signs that the clear support given to Reagan’s policy by certain sectors of the Nicaraguan hierarchy worries the Vatican. As a sign of the easing of tensions, Pope John Paul II, on June 19—before the expulsion of Bishop Vega—received Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramírez. The Vice President characterized the half-hour meeting with the Pope and the meeting of more than an hour with Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli as a "very positive step forward in relations with the Church."
"I have communicated to the Pope," said Vice President Ramírez on his return to Nicaragua, "our desire that the relations established in the future between the Catholic hierarchy and the revolutionary state be through constructive dialogue. For our part, I have assured the Pope that in our political Constitution, the state will define full respect for religious freedom and will offer guarantees to the Church. It is on this basis that we want to build a constructive relation with the Nicaraguan Catholic Church."
This encounter, highly valued by the Sandinista government, and the next arrival to Nicaragua of the new papal nuncio, Paolo Giglio, are elements to consider in analyzing the resolution of relations between the hierarchy and the revolutionary government in this new period of crisis.
At bottom it is a question of the Vatican's perception at this time about the reversibility or consolidation of the revolutionary government. This question is directly related to opting
for Reagan's military solution or that of Latin America's negotiated political solution through Contadora. Hoping that Pope John Paul II would add his influence to the international support for a negotiated solution, Colombian Foreign Minister Augusto Ramírez Ocampo presented a text of the third peace treaty to the pontiff on his first night in Colombia, stressing to him that the treaty "is framed within the pontifical doctrine of constructing a new society of love, based on peace with social justice in which neither hatred nor rancor nor an arms race has any place."
In this regard, the almost absolute silence and the virtual inexistence of any efforts by the Vatican or the Latin American bishops to support the Contadora initiative is increasingly noticeable. The Church hierarchy is today offered the challenge to support the Latin American Contadora proposals effectively to thus accredit its will for peace and its option for the life of Nicaragua's people.
Seven years of revolutionThe Nicaraguan revolution arrives at its seventh anniversary at a moment in which the conflict is particularly acute as a result of the US legislators' vote for war. Although successive hardenings and easings have characterized the five years of war, the persistent intransigence of the US executive, endorsed now by the legislature, together with the conceding of open CIA participation in the war, mean that we must speak of a new phase, in which there has been a shift in the plans of military aggression against Nicaragua and in the growing regionalization of the conflict. This occurs at the very moment in which El Salvador’s FMLN has, through its attack on the San Miguel military barracks, proven its continuing military capacity.
The intensification of the counterrevolutionary war will also intensify the wearing down of the Nicaraguan economy and will put to the test the negotiating capacity of the Latin American countries and the international community in their defense of Nicaragua's self-determination. In this new phase of the war, Nicaragua will hasten its steps, better preparing itself for military defense (new weapons), economic defense (new measures) and political defense (new tolerance limits). Bold measures, in counterpoint to the Reagan Administration's own bullying ones, will result.
The next months will be decisive. Legislative elections will be coming up in the US, by which time the contras will be already trained by their newly legitimized advisers and armed with their new arsenals. In Nicaragua a national unity based on loyal love of the country and the will to work for a peace with dignity is being forged. Those who do not share at least these values will be excluding themselves from the historic process.
Comparative contexts for treaty drafts I and III
September 7, 1984 Treaty Contadora proposes a text by consensus and sets forth to Central Americans that it will only admit "refinements." US pressures are turning these refinements into important modifications in the initial Contadora proposals, delaying the negotiating process.
The counterrevolution is not yet in such an evident strategic decline and the US military solution has some perspective.
The treaty is signed by four countries of Latin America.
The treaty ignores the current context of the US war of aggression against Nicaragua and Contadora projects the image that the signing of the treaty will bring peace.
June 7, 1986 Treaty Contadora proposes a text by consensus and sets forth to the Central Americans that it is the last version of the treaty, since it has reached the ceiling of what would be acceptable in a negotiation and mediation process. Even though Contadora has been backing off from its initial proposals, the treaty still includes the fundamental principles that respect each country's right to self-determination.
The counterrevolution is strategically defeated in Nicaragua, and there is growing urgency in Latin America to find a political solution.
The treaty is signed by eight Latin American countries. Latin America’s will to find a political solution has grown.
The treaty is accompanied by the Panama Declaration, which, taking up the principles of Caraballeda, formulates the context, or "atmosphere," that is necessary to achieve peace and without which neither the text nor the signatures have any meaning. Latin America's clarity in identifying the characteristics of the conflict has grown.