Fighting With Burnings Hearts, Negotiating With Cool Heads
NEWS ANALYSIS: NOVEMBER 5 TO DECEMBER 5, 1983
What happens in El Salvador will have great influence in the whole region. It is not easy to separate the Salvadoran situation from the continuing military and political hostility against the Nicaraguan revolution, which will end either in a clear negotiation under bullets or in a new escalation of the intervention.
On November 10, President Reagan’s itinerant ambassador for Central America, Richard Stone, said that the following three weeks would be “crucial” for Central America, and especially for Nicaragua. On this point, at least, the Nicaraguan and U.S. governments agree. Nicaragua is clearly in the midst of a crucial period, though how long this period will last depends to a great extent on maneuvers of the various political and military forces in the region.
In our previous News Analysis article, we noted that throughout the month of October, counterrevolutionary forces had undertaken military attacks that could be seen as part of a long-term war of attrition or as a preparation for a full-scale war in the near future. The most important of these attacks was the October 10th destruction of various fuel tanks at the port of Corinto. We also noted that the U.S. administration was proceeding with its efforts to reactivate CONDECA and that joint U.S.-Honduran military maneuvers would enter their most intensive phase during the months of November and December. All these factors, combined with the lack of progress in the Contadora peace process and the successes of the FMLN in El Salvador, brought Central America to “the threshold of invasion.”
Central America has lived through several particularly critical periods since Ronald Reagan took power. On a few occasions, the interaction of national, regional, and international factors made a full-scale invasion of Nicaragua seem probable. Such situations led Nicaragua to alert the national and international communities. The fact that up until now no invasion has followed such alerts does not mean that Nicaragua has been “crying wolf.” The popular mobilization inside Nicaragua and the international solidarity that these alerts promoted may have served at least as a temporary deterrent to the Reagan administration. It is important that Nicaraguans and those in solidarity with Nicaragua not be frustrated by these apparent “false alarms,” for they might remain inactive at times when a strong response is essential.
Almost three years after taking power, the Reagan administration has not yet been able to score an important political or military victory in Central America. The administration’s interventions have been frustrated by the successes of popular military forces and by intelligent diplomatic efforts supported by the solidarity of broad sectors in the international community.
As President Reagan moves into the final year of his first term, his options in Central America are decreasing. The U.S. administration might attempt to put Central America “on hold” during 1984, thus postponing “ultimate decisions” about strategy in the region. On the other hand, the progress of the FMLN in El Salvador may make such a course unfeasible. In addition, the White House may find that it needs some form of victory in Central America as it enters the election campaign.
The history of past U.S. election campaigns suggests that any significant escalation of U.S. involvement in Central America will have to come soon if it is to occur at all before November 1984. Thus, it is not surprising that both Washington and Managua view the present period as crucial.
This News Analysis article will split the month of November into two periods, with the dividing line between the periods being government coordinator Daniel Ortega’s mid-month visits to the presidents of the four Contadora nations. During the first half of November, tensions present in previous months continued to grow, and fears of an invasion were at their height. In the second period, there was a possibly temporary relaxation of tensions. We may see a new period in December, the nature of which will depend upon the responses of the various parties involved to Contadora peace proposals.
EARLY NOVEMBER: THE STRUGGLE INTENSIFIES
In the first two weeks of November, a series of clashes took place between Nicaraguan armed forces and FDN counterrevolutionaries. The most important fighting occurred in the Jinotega and Northern Zelaya regions, both of which are key to the Contras’ military strategy. The departments of Jinotega and Matagalpa extend into the heart of Nicaragua. If the Contras were successful in establishing themselves there, they would be able to strike at the coffee harvest and could constitute an important front in the event of a full-scale war. Northern Zelaya, though isolated, is important in that the Reagan administration seems to have chosen it for the establishment of a provisional government.
Contra forces, however, suffered heavy losses in these two regions over the past two months. In November, Sandinista troops engaged the Contras in battle throughout Jinotega, in Las Condegas, in the area around San José de Bocay, and near the Ayapal River. They also destroyed what appears to have been the Contras’ main camp in the region, in the hills of Kantayawás. This camp, which had been set up to provide training and rest periods for task forces in Matagalpa and Jinotega, was equipped with a helicopter landing pad and signals for supply planes. The attack on the camp resulted in more than 100 Contra casualties and forced many of the rest to retreat into Honduras, despite orders to remain in Nicaragua at all costs. The destruction of the camp also reduced the Contras’ capacity to hinder the coffee harvest.
No new information is available on the military situation in Northern Zelaya, though unofficial sources claim that government military operations there have continued to weaken the Contra.
Though they have not been able to make progress, FDN forces have maintained pressure on Nicaragua. In early November, there was fighting in Ciudad Antigua and Murupuchí, in Nueva Segovia. At the same time, the Contras tried once again to sabotage Nicaragua’s energy supplies, as planes flew over the Momotombo geothermal plant and the port of Corinto. Anti-aircraft fire repelled the attacks. On November 8, Commander Víctor Tirado announced that several thousand counterrevolutionaries were gathered within Honduran territory close to Nueva Segovia and at other points along the border.
A week later, the U.S. Marines’ 28th Amphibian Unit arrived in Honduras for a new phase in the Big Pine II maneuvers. This group is considered to be the spearhead of any air and sea invasion of a defended coastline. The Amphibian Unit is responsible for securing a beachhead and for carrying out operations deeper in the invaded territory in coordination with other military units. In joint military operations with Honduras, these other units would be the Honduran First Infantry Battalion and the U.S. Marines’ Sixth Infantry Regiment.
This phase of the Big Pine II maneuvers is quite similar to the tactics used in invading Granada. At the time of the maneuvers, 6375 specialized U.S. troops were present in Honduras, more than three times the number that initially attacked Grenada.
According to official Pentagon magazines, amphibian units of the type used in the maneuvers include twelve CH-46 helicopters that can transport 500 soldiers each, six CH-53 helicopters for transporting supplies and personnel, and four UH-1H helicopters for transporting command officers. For the ground invasion that accompanies an aerial attack, these units use five M-60 tanks and twelve amphibian armored cars. Air-to-surface and surface-to-air weapons include eight AH-1 helicopters equipped with TOW missiles, 81-mm. and 60-mm. mortars, and Dragon rocket launchers. Although not used to their full potential, six U.S. warships also took part in the maneuvers.
This phase of the maneuvers obviously increased the U.S. presence in Honduras. Even before the newest phase, however, this U.S. presence included (according to a public-relations bulletin published by the office of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense): 1) Palmerola General Headquarters, with sophisticated means of satellite and laser communication and a high capacity for coordinating joint maneuvers; 2) the 43rd Support Group, trained in Fort Carson and responsible for war logistics; 3) the 96th Air-Transported Engineering Battalion, whose special vehicles can be dropped from parachutes into any region; 4) the Green Berets, specialists in counterinsurgency and operations in jungle terrain; 5) the Aviation Battalion of the 101st Airborne Infantry Division, which belongs to the Rapid Deployment Forces; 6) members of the 56th Naval Construction Battalion, known as “Sea Bees”; 7) members of the Special Warfare Group, who are experts in electronic warfare.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether so much sophisticated equipment, which could be reinforced by Rapid Deployment Forces, would be capable of defeating a well-organized people whose morale is high and who have favorable geographic conditions on their side. In any case, the concentration of advanced military hardware in Honduras added to the seriousness of the mid-November situation.
The stepped-up Big Pine II military maneuvers, the concentration of FDN and Honduran troops along the border, and reports of Guatemalan troop mobilization led Daniel Ortega to comment on November 11 that “only an immediate pretext for invasion is lacking.” A series of minor attacks against Nicaragua seemed calculated to provoke a response that might serve as the sought-for pretext. On November 7, Nicaragua presented a formal protest to the Honduran government concerning an attack against a Nicaraguan fishing boat that was burned in Nicaraguan waters and whose crew was “presumably abducted by the Honduras navy.” A protest was also issued the same day over the violation of Nicaraguan air space by three Honduran armed-forces T-33 war planes.
But while U.S. and Honduran forces performed their sophisticated maneuvers, another type of maneuver was taking place in Nicaragua on a vast scale. These maneuvers involved no foreign power and used little advanced military hardware. Instead, they involved Nicaraguan citizens who were doing all they could to prepare for a probable invasion.
On November 7, thousands of militia members began an accelerated combat-training program, which was built upon their previous training. In Managua alone, 36 camps trained citizens for 20 consecutive days, with two-hour evening classes from Monday to Friday, as well as Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning classes. Part of the training consisted of long weekend marches aimed at building up stamina. Men and women participating in the territorial militias were assigned high-powered G-3 rifles during this same period. “Our objective,” stated Daniel Ortega, “is not only to have 200,000 armed citizens, but to arm all the people so that they can defend their revolution.”
Using free time in the evening and on weekends, people in cities and towns throughout Nicaragua began to build combat trenches. In Managua, for example, trenches were dug in concentric rings around the city in order to organize a “circular-defense” structure. Each battalion and company has been assigned its location in time of battle and shown where its rear guard and third and fourth defense lines will be.
Trenches were especially well developed along the roads leading into Managua. Even U.S. embassy personnel looked on with curiosity as territorial militia members set up defense lines close to the embassy at the southern entrance to the capital. “We are responsible for digging 2400 meters of trenches,” said the person in charge of these operations. Along with trenches dug for circular defense and beside roads into the city, other trenches were prepared near important economic centers and around fields that might be used for paratroop landings.
Civil-defense activities were also in full swing. Volunteers dug bomb shelters for children and the elderly. Many of these shelters are collective, while some family shelters have been built in private yards. Civil-defense members also practice first aid, fire fighting, and rubble removal. The more than 200 civil-defense brigades located near the strategic points in Managua, such as the international airport, important factories, or the oil refinery, have the most work. Preparations similar to those in Managua are being carried out throughout Nicaragua, except in areas where this type of work was already done several months ago.
Besides doing military training and civil-defense work, Nicaragua is preparing to function in a situation of decentralized guerrilla warfare. For some time now, the country has been developing a decentralized governmental and military structure. There are six administrative regions in the country and three special zones, all of which enjoy considerable leeway in making internal decisions within the framework of general guidelines established by the central government. Similarly, each region is divided into zones that also exercise some autonomy. If the Nicaraguan armed forces were to revert to a guerrilla form of warfare in the face of an invasion, these decentralized structures would play a key role in managing the country.
During November, many Nicaraguan women registered for voluntary military service. While official figures on the extent of this registration are not yet available, it is significant that 48% of members in the territorial militias are women. (A related statistic, outside the sphere of defense, is that 55% of coffee harvesters from urban areas are women.) Information released on October’s registration of young men for military service indicated that total registrations had reached 90% of the target, despite the opposition of certain religious sectors.
The agrarian reform was accelerated in November, helping to consolidate the government’s base of support and strengthening the desire of campesinos to resist counterrevolutionary aggression. While 292,000 hectares (722,000 acres) of land were affected by agrarian-reform laws from October 1981 to mid-November 1983, 70,000 hectares (174,000 acres) will be affected from mid-November to the end of December alone. Thus, a full 25% of families who will have received land through the agrarian reform program between October 1981 and the end of 1983 will have taken title to the land in the last 45 days of 1983.
There has also been progress in the rescheduling and, in some cases, canceling of campesino debts, owed mainly to Nicaragua’s National Bank. While all these measures benefiting campesinos reflect an overall economic policy, there can be no doubt that they will also strengthen campesino support for the revolution.
While the U.S. administration was coordinating military moves that pointed to imminent action against Nicaragua, and while the Nicaraguan people prepared to meet the threat, Washington’s concern for the situation in El Salvador was also deepening. According to official statistics, 2292 government troops were killed from July 1982 to June 1983, a 114% increase over the previous twelve-month period, despite increased U.S. support. The total of dead, wounded, and missing in the twelve months up to June 1983 was 6815, a full 25% of the Salvadoran armed forces.
Government casualties have increased in the last few months during the FMLN’s successful military campaigns, “Independence, Liberty, and Democracy for El Salvador” and “Yankees out of Grenada and Central America.” Meanwhile, the government remains divided by strong debates within the Constituent Assembly on economic questions. The paramilitary death squads have become more active lately, attacking religious, university, and union leaders. Thus, the difficult military and political situations, combined with a divided army, created the expectation of a coup d’état.
Events throughout Central America in early November made it clear that the awaited meeting of the Contadora and Central American foreign ministers on November 17 would take place in an atmosphere of extreme tension. Would this be the end of Contadora and the beginning of a regional war? Was there a possibility of avoiding such a conflict? While preparations for war continued, attention focused once again on the Contadora process.
LATE NOVEMBER: THE DANGER OF INVASION RECEDESOn November 17, what had been expected to be a decisive meeting of the Contadora and Central American nations ended almost before it began, with a simple resolution to meet again on December 14 and 15, following talks by Contadora’s technical commission on December 1 and 2. What happened on November 17? Had the U.S., with the cooperation of some Central American government, been able to stall the Contadora process in order to have a free hand in the following weeks? If so, why did Nicaragua not denounce the delay? And if so, why did some Contadora foreign ministers mention an at least temporary “détente”?
The Contadora negotiations have been surrounded by strict secrecy during the past few months. Thus, it is necessary to analyze the statements made by all those involved in order to reconstruct at least the general lines of the Contadora process. The results of such an analysis can only be hypothetical, and errors are possible in the interpretation of particular points, if not in the overall interpretation.
In their September 7th to 9th meeting in Panama, the Contadora and Central American nations signed a 21-point “Declaration of Objectives.” (See appendix.) The five main themes of the document are peace, democracy, national security and sovereignty, economic progress, and human rights. An examination of the statements of participants in the Contadora process, however, shows that the topics of democracy and national sovereignty are paramount.
The fact that the early-September agreement did not list the 21 points in order of importance allowed various parties to highlight different aspects of the Declaration of Objectives. Nicaragua’s October 15th peace proposal reflected the position that only after the U.S. and the Central American nations have agreed upon a mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty can questions of internal politics be worked out by each nation. However, the U.S. Special Ambassador to Central America, Richard Stone, speaking in Venezuela, expressed his government’s position that problems of national security are “symptoms, not causes, of the problem.” Following the U.S. lead, the other Central American governments, three of whom have had some form of elections, have taken the position that “democracy” – apparently as practiced in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala – is necessary to assure national security in the region. Among the Contadora nations, Mexico is closer to Nicaragua’s position, Columbia and Panama fluctuate between the two positions, and Venezuela has supported the position of the other Central American nations (though this may change after the December 4th election).
As we noted in last month’s News Analysis article, on October 15 Nicaragua presented a four-treaty package aimed at “guaranteeing peace and security” in the region. The proposals were termed “insufficient” by U.S. representatives. On November 4, Richard Stone declared that Nicaragua’s proposals were vague and that he preferred those of the Contadora group. This statement was interesting in that it suggested that the Nicaraguan and Contadora proposals were opposed to one another, whereas Nicaragua had presented its peace package as a concrete expression of the Declaration of Objectives. Or was Stone referring to a subsequent Contadora proposal? On November 5, the Panamanian Foreign Minister, Oyden Ortega, reported that Contadora’s technical team had drafted a “Central American Peace Treaty.” Was this the proposal that Richard Stone preferred to that of Nicaragua?
In his November 5th announcement, Oyden Ortega said that the draft of the peace treaty would be sent to the Central American foreign ministers so that they could offer their comments on it before work began on the drafting of a final document, which was to be presented at the November 17th meeting. While the Central American governments were studying the peace draft, Richard Stone was visiting each country in the region, except Nicaragua, and expressing optimism regarding the direction that Contadora had taken. Although it has not yet been publicly released, there is no doubt that the draft prepared by Contadora’s technical group was somewhat conservative and “tilted” towards U.S. interests in the region. Thus the draft of the peace proposal brought Nicaragua closer to a critical situation. If Nicaragua were unable to secure amendments to a pro-U.S. draft, refusal to accept such a treaty could be used to justify an invasion. The thus critical nature of the upcoming November 17th Contadora meeting was accentuated by the perhaps coincidental escalation in the Big Pine II maneuvers planned for November 18.
The pressure on Nicaragua was increased by Richard Stone’s November 10th visit. Asserting that he was working in accordance with the Contadora process, he sought to promote “internal dialogue” between the Sandinistas and the Somocistas. Well aware of the government’s persistent refusal to partake in such a dialogue, Stone seems to have been looking for a pretext to accuse the government of stubbornness and obstruction of the Contadora process.
Following visits to the other countries in the region, Stone traveled to the Contadora countries. During these visits he commented frequently on possible U.N. and O.A.S. resolutions on Central America. The Reagan administration had unsuccessfully tried to prevent the inclusion on the U.N. agenda of the Central America problem, though it approved of an O.A.S discussion.
Contadora officials feared that the differences between the Central American nations would only be exacerbated in these international forums. The U.N. and O.A.S. discussions, however, strengthened the Contadora process. The strong opposition expressed by the Latin American nations in the O.A.S. may have hindered U.S. or pro-U.S. efforts to weaken regional negotiations. Neither the U.N. nor the O.A.S. produced resolutions allowing room for the kind of conservative interpretation of the Declaration of Objectives that the technical commission’s draft was offering. The U.N. implicitly supported a progressive interpretation of the Declaration of Objectives. The U.S. and its regional allies decided to accept this resolution, though it was generally unfavorable to their interests, in order to avoid a more significant and explicit defeat in the U.N. The U.N. resolution was originally presented by Nicaragua.
Nicaragua’s situation was also helped by the Contadora governments. After their meetings with Richard Stone, both Venezuelan President Herrera Campins and Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid energetically opposed intervention in Central America. In the week preceding the November 17th Contadora meeting, Daniel Ortega made a whirlwind tour of the Contadora nations, meeting with their presidents. It is probable that Ortega presented Nicaragua’s position on the technical commission’s draft and proposed alternatives. It would seem that Nicaragua’s concerns were well received by the Contadora presidents and influenced their positions on the draft of the peace treaty.
U.S., Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Costa Rican officials kept their silence after Ortega’s tour. Honduran Foreign Minister Paz Barnica, however, sent a diplomatic note to Mexico accusing its government of being “partial” to Nicaragua. (Following his meeting with Ortega, Mexican President de la Madrid once again took a strong stand against intervention.) In its response to Honduras, the Mexican foreign ministry reiterated the principles of its foreign policy and presented the recent U.N. resolution as a “categorical demonstration” of the objectivity and fairness of Mexico’s Central America policy.
Political observers were amazed by the Honduran protest and noted that Nicaragua has been much more restrained in its dealings with Venezuela’s Herrera Campins government, which publicly supported political, religious, union, and press opposition figures in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua’s concrete response to the Contadora technical commission’s peace-treaty draft was the proposal, expressed several times by Daniel Ortega, Tomás Borge and Henry Ruiz, that all foreign military advisors be removed from the region and that there be a freeze on the build-up of weapons. Such a proposal could not have been included in any pro-U.S. draft peace proposal, as U.S. military support sustains the governments of both Honduras and El Salvador, while Nicaragua’s government does not depend upon foreign military support.
In late November, a number of Cubans working in Nicaragua, the majority of them teachers, returned to their country. While some observers felt that the departures were routine because the academic vacation period was drawing near, others argued that the move served as proof of Nicaragua’s willingness to take its own proposal seriously (though that proposal dealt only with foreign military advisors).
Meanwhile, the government engaged in important meetings with different social sectors: the Catholic hierarchy, La Prensa, private enterprise, and opposition parties. Subsequent to these talks, the government once again ratified its intention to hold national elections in 1985. The exact date of these elections will be announced in early 1984.
The relaxation of the domestic political situation was also advanced by a considerable slackening of press censorship and by the December 1st decree granting amnesty to all Miskito prisoners. The decree was interpreted as an attempt to correct mistakes in the handling of the Miskito question and thus to promote national unity. The decree was also an endeavor to weaken the international ideological campaign against Nicaragua, which uses frequently false information concerning the situation on the Atlantic Coast.
A further move towards national unity occurred on December 4, when the government decreed an amnesty for all Nicaraguans who have taken up arms against the government, with the exception of former members of Somoza’s National Guard and Contra leaders who have been responsible for terrorist attacks or who have encouraged foreign intervention in Nicaragua. This decree was aimed above all at campesinos who may have joined the Contras because of fear or deceit.
Why did the invasion expected in early November not occur? A combination of international, regional, and national factors helped delay the invasion. On the international level, Nicaragua’s diplomatic efforts, supported in one way or another by the Contadora nations and by the U.N., presented a serious obstacle to the Reagan administration.
In addition, contradictions already present in the regional situation came to a head in this period of extreme tension. A split became evident within Costa Rica’s ruling National Liberation Party, with the moderates gaining the upper hand over the conservatives, at least for the time being. The ascendancy of the moderates led to Costa Rica’s proclamation of “perpetual, active, and unarmed neutrality” on November 18 and to the resignation of Foreign Minister Fernando Volio. A few days earlier, Costa Rica’s ex-Minister for Public Security, Juan José Echeverría, had stated that the U.S. was pressuring President Monge to accept joint military maneuvers near the border with Nicaragua.
Several factors rendered the Guatemalan army temporarily incapable of engaging in an invasion of Nicaragua and thus weakened the capacity of the CONDECA alliance. Tensions within the armed forces and between the military and the private sector, the opposition of some Church and university sectors and of the guerrillas, and a worsening of the government’s relations with the U.S. Congress kept the Guatemalan government focused on internal problems.
Finally, national factors may have been fundamental in delaying any invasion of Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan people’s massive participation in military and civil-defense preparations sent a message to the U.S. administration – if it was not already aware of the fact – that no quick victory can be won in Nicaragua. The people of Nicaragua continued to repel FDN and ARDE attacks and prevented the Contras from gaining a foothold inside Nicaragua.
Thus, the Nicaraguan people in arms have repelled the Contras, served as a powerful deterrent to invasion by regional or U.S. armies, gained the time needed for Nicaragua’s diplomatic efforts to bear fruit, and strengthened, by their example, international solidarity in North America, Latin America, and Europe.
The Reagan administration was seeking to invade but lacked the international, regional, or national support that it would have needed for such an operation. Thus, for the time being, the U.S. will have to pursue the alternative of negotiations, while maintaining military pressure on Nicaragua and the popular forces in the region.
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUESThough the preparation of the Nicaraguan people, along with regional and international factors, held off an invasion during the month of November, the possibility of such an invasion can still not be discarded. The U.S. administration would certainly take advantage of any change in the Central American situation that might favor its plans. Even if conditions do not change, the near future will be extremely difficult. Important demands will be made in the negotiation process, and the Reagan administration will seek to use military and political pressure in order to gain a better bargaining position.
On December 4, in a speech during which he announced a series of measures regarding the electoral process, Daniel Ortega also defined several positions with respect to the Contadora negotiations. Basing our analysis on these positions and on the probable U.S. response, we can form an approximate idea of the points with which the Contadora group will have to deal at its next meeting.
First of all, Nicaragua maintains that the U.S. is a party to the Central American conflict and that, as such, it must make a formal commitment to cease its belligerent conduct in the region. A peace agreement involving only the Central American nations would allow the U.S. to act as it pleased. The Reagan administration has never accepted Nicaragua’s demand for a clearer and more formal definition of the U.S. position.
Secondly, there will be various disagreements on military matters. Nicaragua proposes an immediate withdrawal of foreign military advisers. In light of the situations in El Salvador and Honduras, the U.S., acting through a Central American country, will attempt to defeat or postpone such a proposal. Nicaragua also proposes an immediate ban on foreign military bases, schools, and maneuvers. The U.S. will also try to have this proposal delayed or rejected, as it would take pressure off Nicaragua and have an adverse effect on the other Central American governments. The U.S. will also oppose Nicaragua’s proposal for an immediate end to the acquisition of weapons from whatever source. U.S. opposition reflects its concern over the present weakness of the Salvadoran armed forces. Thus, U.S. allies in the region can be expected to introduce a destination between weapons used for maintaining “internal order” and those used for other purposes, though it is obviously impossible to ensure that weapons will be only used for one specific purpose.
Nicaragua is proposing that limits be placed on the number of regular military troops in each country. U.S. allies will seek to shift the discussion from the number of regular army troops to the number of armed civilians in an attempt to weaken the Sandinista civilian militia. There will also be conflict over the choice of the international organization that would be empowered to monitor an eventual Central American peace treaty. Nicaragua will seek U.N. supervision, while the U.S. will be working for O.A.S. involvement.
Thirdly, there will be differences over the question of democratic processes. No country, with the possible exception of Guatemala, is in disagreement with the general idea of holding elections. All the countries in the region, again with the exception of Guatemala, have set dates for their elections or at least taken steps in this direction.
Regarding each country’s internal political system, however, Nicaragua follows accepted international practice in maintaining that the people of each nation are the only ones entitled to determine what form of political system they will live under. Thus, such questions cannot be made subject to international agreements or supervision. The U.S., on the other hand, can be expected to insist on O.A.S. or Contadora supervision of national electoral processes.
As can be seen, the problems involved in the Contadora negotiations will not be easily resolved. Thus the negotiations will probably be long, and it is likely that the FDN and ARDE will continue to launch armed attacks in order to disrupt the peace process. Such attacks were reported in the first few days of December. It is possible that the counterrevolutionaries who were concentrated along the border with Honduras in mid-November will step up their attacks. There has been new fighting in Northern Zelaya, Nueva Segovia, and Jinotega. The Jinotega fighting, in particular, may point to a Contra attempt to penetrate farther into Nicaragua and interfere with the coffee harvest. On the southern front, there were unsuccessful mid-November attacks on Cárdenas and other points. These were certainly intended to embarrass the Monge government as it prepared to announce its perpetual neutrality on November 17. There have since been reports that the Contras are regrouping in Costa Rica.
Thus the military situation will continue to be difficult. Several recent incidents have provoked increased tensions with Honduras and Costa Rica. The $24 million approved by the U.S. Congress for “covert” activities against Nicaragua will help the Contras prolong their attacks. Finally, it was reported that the Big Pine II maneuvers will be extended to the Pacific Ocean and that, once “ended” in March 1984, they will continue as “Big Pine III.”
An examination of the problems facing the Contadora process would not be complete without consideration of the situation in El Salvador. Nicaragua proposes a negotiated solution, a position with which the FMLN-FDR is in agreement. The U.S. and the Salvadoran Foreign Minister will oppose any Contadora move towards general negotiations in El Salvador. Richard Stone has already stated that “the revolutionaries are not yet mature enough for that.”
The crisis in El Salvador is more serious today than when President Reagan took office. The popular forces have once again taken the initiative, and the struggle within the ruling power block persists. Faced with this situation, the Reagan administration began to promote a series of short-term measures in the last ten days of November. Elections have been set for March 1984. Besides providing the U.S. and Salvadoran governments with more room to maneuver in the Contadora negotiations and an improved international image, the calling of elections could allow for the temporary suspension of the struggle within the ruling block. The relative strength of each of the different rightist factions after the elections will help define more clearly the nature of this ruling block.
Secondly, the military leadership was reshuffled. Each of the two factions within the ruling block received a sizable share of military power, and their jurisdictions were marked out. These measures contributed to avoiding a coup.
Thirdly, there has been an attempt to postpone discussion of economic-policy questions that have tended to exacerbate conflicts within the ruling block. However, such solutions have several shortcomings. They clearly resemble those used prior to the March 1982 elections, which were entirely unsuccessful in resolving the power struggle.
Washington’s fundamental problem, of course, continues to be the progress of the FMLN. Toward mid-1983, new U.S. military tactics were being used. These tactics, which had begun to be implemented in mid-1982 over the objections of sectors of the Salvadoran military, were aimed at adapting weaponry, troops, and command organizations to the varying conditions of guerrilla warfare. From June to August of this year, the FMLN went through a relatively slack period, the result of logistical problems and internal divisions. The FMLN campaign begun in September, however, demonstrated the capacity to deal successfully with the government forces’ new military tactics.
The FMLN’s successful adaptation to the new government strategy and the overcoming of internal conflicts recently led U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to observe that the Salvadoran military situation had “deteriorated.” Weinberger’s comment may have been intended to pave the way for a direct U.S. intervention.
It is noteworthy that Weinberger, in analyzing the Salvadoran military situation did not make the ritual comments about Nicaraguan arms trafficking. This omission may reflect the U.S. administration’s awareness that it has yet to provide proof of Nicaraguan involvement in providing arms to the FMLN, but it also reflects the fact that the FMLN already possesses an impressive number of weapons taken from Salvadoran government forces. During the 15 months previous to its latest military campaigns, the FMLN had captured approximately 3500 rifles and 100 heavy weapons, including mortars and machine guns. Taking into account weapons acquired through the international black market, weapons seized in the military campaigns of the last few months, and the FMLN’s “home-made” arsenal, one can understand how the 6000-strong guerrilla army has achieved a high degree of self-sufficiency in arms supplies.
The progress of the FMLN and the lack of unity within El Salvador’s ruling classes presents the Reagan administration with a difficult situation in which it has three basic alternatives. The first would be to negotiate. The U.S. administration has shown great reluctance to choose this option, though Richard Stone has made a few steps towards negotiations, perhaps just for show. The Salvadoran oligarchy has also opposed negotiations, but it will be interesting to see what position is adopted by the faction that wins the March elections.
The second option, in the face of an imminent defeat of the Salvadoran government forces, would be an invasion, either directly involving U.S. forces or using CONDECA armies. In the latter case, the CONDECA armies would have to overcome their present difficulties and would require U.S. logistical support. An invasion of whatever type would be extremely costly for the Reagan administration, though the President may be more concerned about the political costs of an FMLN victory, particularly during an election period.
The third option would be an intermediate one. The U.S. government would seek to contain the guerrillas by increasing military aid without intervening directly. At the same time, unity within the ruling block, and greater U.S. control over that block, would be promoted. These measures could allow the Reagan administration to make it to the November 1984 elections without having to face either direct intervention of a guerrilla victory. If reelected, the Reagan administration could then take drastic action, with more time at its disposal and under less political pressure. The administration could also begin negotiations after the 1984 elections, though it would have lost ground in the meantime.
Of course, the military progress, as well as the political and diplomatic efforts of the FMLN-FDR and of the Salvadoran people in general, will play an important role in the U.S. administration’s decision to use one or more of these three options. Whatever happens in El Salvador will have important repercussions in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America. Likewise, any advances or consolidation in the Nicaraguan revolution will influence events in El Salvador.
In any event, Nicaraguans will continue to fight with burning hearts and to negotiate with cool heads.