The International Factor: Coexistence or prolonged conflict?
The Sandinistas’ “Patria Libre o Morir” is none other than the famous cry, “Give me liberty or give me death,” from Patrick Henry’s March 23, 1775, speech to the Virginia parliament.
Patrick Henry, in one of the classic revolutionary speeches of American independence, maintained principles fundamental to the current revolution in Central America. “Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation…? They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry has been for so long forging.… There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery. Is life so dear or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? … For me, give me liberty or death.”
After more than two centuries, this consciousness of the limits of tolerance is again being voiced, this time to a new imperial ministry. The cry is made no less valid by the fact that the once oppressed has become the oppressor. Two centuries of national liberation experiences have not passed in vain.
Two very different attitudes could be taken toward the basic Central American demand for “bread, a roof, work and dignity.” The first would be to recognize the changes in consciousness and in organization of the great majority of Central Americans, who believe that economic survival and an end to their own and their nation’s subjugation can come about only by social and political change. This could have been achieved, certainly not without difficulties, by adapting US policy to the reality of this change in consciousness and in power relations taking place in the region. Had the US government of the 1980s demonstrated a pragmatic political vision, peaceful coexistence would have been possible.
Broad US sectors supported this position in the Carter administration, but lost their voice with the arrival of the new administration. US ambassadors in the region who recommended it to the Reagan team were ignored and they themselves were pulled from their posts or resigned. Lawrence Pezullo and Anthony Quainton in Nicaragua, Robert White in El Salvador and Wayne Smith, head of the US interest section in Cuba, all suffered this fate. A significant number of high Reagan administration officials who opposed the new Central American policy have followed them.
Important groups within US public opinion, and even within the establishment itself, repeatedly insisted on the need for a flexible, pragmatic and realistic policy. The Inter-American Dialogue, for example, comprising more than 20 US opinion makers and a number of Latin American colleagues, have in their three reports recommended negotiations, suspension of the militarist policy and a recognition that social and political changes in the region are necessary for democracy, social stability, peace and inter-American relations. The Carnegie Endowment, Atlantic Council and Miami reports, representing a wide variety of currents in US society—government officials, business and banking interests, academics and others—express the view that the current policy won’t not resolve the Central American crisis and will endanger relations with Latin America and with US allies and US interests in the area. Democratic presidential candidates Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson incorporated the essence of these proposals into their political platforms.
More advanced and progressive proposals, which coincide fundamentally with our analysis, are ever more frequent in academic, church, liberal political and trade union circles, women’s organizations and those of Hispanics, Native Americans and blacks. This thought is represented in publications such as “Changing Course,” by the group of intellectuals called PACCA (Policy Alternatives for the Caribbean and Central America); the February 1985 report by five AFL-CIO union confederations and the analysis of the Latin American Studies Association, the grouping of US academic experts on Latin America. The proposals suggested by this broad and organized thinking offer a socio-political base for coexistence and accommodation with the new Central American political subject and its demands.
One must ask why the Reagan administration has taken the other approach toward the changing Central American reality—an inflexible and militaristic one. Its policy, with its high-intensity symbolism, presents the Central American crisis, and particularly Nicaragua, as affecting “vital” US interests.
It is hard to explain and even harder to justify declarations of high Reagan administration officials who say things like: “The national security of all the Americas is at stake in Central America. If we do not defend ourselves there, we cannot expect to prevail anywhere else. Our credibility will collapse and our alliances crumble” (Reagan, April 27, 1983). The Kissinger Report, which tried to achieve bilateral consensus, called Central America the “geo-strategic crossroads of the world with global dimensions, making (it) a test for US credibility.” Secretary of State George Shultz has said repeatedly that “Nicaragua is a cancer that must be eradicated.” Ex-US Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick stated unequivocally that “Central America is the most important spot in the world to the United States.” President Reagan himself, in the Bonn summit conference, went so far as to compare the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries to the founding fathers of the American Revolution, the European resistance fighters and Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar.
These interpretations have been embraced in editorials of principal US newspapers, one example of which is the November 15, 1984 editorial in the Wall Street Journal: “Central America is the number one priority on the foreign policy agenda. Neither arms control, the MX missile, nor even star wars and the defense strategy are more important than controlling the totalitarian expansion that is currently taking place in Nicaragua. There can be no peace in Central America until the Sandinistas are eliminated.”
This ideological barrage has escalated to more extreme forms with the recent declarations of Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Elliot Abrams, who charged on December 12, 1985, that Nicaragua is a “new international center for terrorists.” Five days later President Reagan called the Sandinista leaders “bandits” and “bullies” and solicited more aid for their overthrow.
Even if Nicaragua truly threatened the United States and Central America were really an area of vital interests for its northern neighbor, these charges would be disproportionate. As it is, numerous studies have demonstrated that the charges lack any objective basis. By verifiable US statistics, US investment in Nicaragua never reached $100 million and combined US investment in the five Central American republics is on the order of $1.3 billion—in other words, some 0.4% of total US investment in Latin America. At a military level, the disproportionality between the Sandinista Army and those that could make up an alliance against Nicaragua in the event of a crazy interventionist adventure by Nicaragua against a neighbor is greater than ever, particularly if one includes the increased direct military capability of the US in the region (Honduras and Panama) and the defensive ring provided by the military bases of Puerto Rico, Guantanamo (Cuba), the Bahamas and the US Rapid Deployment Forces in Key West.
Where are vital US interests and national security threatened? Nicaragua has guaranteed, subject to international verification, that it would not permit foreign military bases to be installed on its soil, has offered a moratorium on military acquisitions and even a regional demilitarization process to include the withdrawal of foreign military advisers. It could perhaps be said that the intensity of the Sandinista threat is based on nothing more than the fact that it has reacted to the aggressive and inflated tone of the Reagan administration discourse with the same level of rhetoric.
The strategy of Contadora and the group of European foreign ministers, on the other hand, has been to establish a discourse that basically permits the search for a pragmatic and negotiated way out of the impasse. The US has gone so far as to oppose this procedure officially in a National Security Council document (Washington Post, October 30, 1985) and in the so-called “Ambassador’s document” from the secret Panama meeting in September 1985.
This rigidity by the United States demonstrates a total lack of political will to negotiate a peaceful and democratic solution that would respect the changes taking place and the obvious pluralism that exists among the diverse countries of the region. This unnecessarily and dramatically prolongs the conflict.
Central America:In Central America, the crisis is not born of en ideological attraction for socialist society. The structure of dependent and peripheral capitalism and national subordination in Latin America has prevented the great majority of the population from achieving a sufficient level of survival or respect for its right of self-determination and national sovereignty. The struggle against underdevelopment and social and political oppression at home and domination from afar are the age-old basic components of the Central American peoples’ demand. It is fundamentally a demand for “bread, a roof, work and dignity.”
An East-West struggle?
The socialist project appears later in the process of struggle, as an alternative to the failure of capitalism and imperialism to satisfy this demand for the citizenry and for the nation. In other words, it’s not an anti-capitalist struggle because it has a Marxist ideology, but because it has experienced the limits of tolerance. The revolutionary praxis that grows out of this long struggle is assimilating other peoples’ methods and experiences, evaluating their successes and failures and constructing through practice its own theoretical formulations.
The recent history of liberation processes has demonstrated that any effort at transition that threatens the logic of capitalist relations and its pretensions of global legitimacy will suffer unlimited institutional and military violence. War and economic and political destabilization are permanent features of all such processes, anywhere in the world. The failure of all means of peaceful change converts armed struggle and the taking of state power into both inevitable and natural outcomes.
The very intransigence of imperialism, which prefers to respond to these obvious demands with war, consolidates the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist vision and logically induces the most rational and just alternative offered by socialism. This phenomenon is typical of Latin American Marxism. It has shown itself capable of integrating Christian and nationalist motivations with diverse third world socialist experiences into an organic whole, product of the struggle for individual and collective survival.
The Central American crisis takes on a special importance because it bares the more structural components of imperial logic to international scrutiny. US hegemonic presumptions appear in all their rawness.
The fundamental difference between Patrick Henry’s independence struggle and the current one in Central America is the lesson learned by generations of suffering poor: to break out of the web of submission and alienation, it is necessary also to break out of dependent capitalist relations. This, however, requires as a necessary condition the realization of a national project that permits the emancipation of the oppressed majorities. This in turn obliges a direct confrontation with the imperial project of indefinitely maintaining the region as its “backyard,” by whatever means.
The viability of this direct confrontation with the empire by the new Central American political subject will depend largely on three factors: the international legitimacy of its proposal for a new society; its Bolivarian project of representing a test for Latin American self-determination and its capacity to associate itself in a stable and diversified way with the international community.
The dilemma posed by the internationalization of the Central American conflict is located between two poles: on the one side the aggressive and intransigent unwillingness of the United States to accept change and find a negotiated means of coexistence, and on the other the fact that the aggression itself forces the revolutionary project toward more rigid economic and political forms in order to guarantee its defense and sovereignty. The international response is decisive if the aggression is to be prevented from provoking domestic rigidity and a tight alignment with the Soviet bloc; it can also assist the search for greater international legitimacy of the project with more original forms of participation for the majorities. Necessary socioeconomic transformation combined with the creation of domestic structures is the preferred option for the process of transition and survival.
Latin American and international solidarity is a determinant factor in the character of the transition of small peripheral countries, especially if they are located in the vicinity of the hegemonic power.
Era of the small peripheral countries There have been three great revolutionary projects of modern times: the French revolution, the decolonizing revolutions and the socialist revolutions. It could be said that in Central America and the Caribbean a fourth era of revolutions is being initiated—that of the small peripheral countries. These modern revolutions are part of a process of maturation of humanity progressively surpassing old mechanisms and structures of domination and estrangement.
The French Revolution signified the demand for the rights of man with respect to the state. Its fundamental utopia was to wrest these rights from the absolute monarchies. Its limitation was that its vision was restricted to “individual rights.”
The decolonizing revolutions extended from 1776 to our times. Their decisive moments included the American Revolution, the Latin American wars of independence and the series of national liberation revolutions following the Second World War. These processes were often restricted to electoral formalities without giving authentic participation to the citizenry. The implementation of their second great demand, the rights of the peoples impoverished and dominated by the old colonial or neo-colonial power is still at issue.
The social revolutions are also continuing as the third great wave of revolutions in modern history. This wave has profound roots in Latin America with the Mexican revolution which, together with those begun by the October 1917 Soviet revolution, led to a different system of societies. These revolutions seek to re-establish the social rights of the exploited masses within each country, and make their call to the exploited of the world. These revolutions, too, have an unrealized utopia, which remains hampered in its resolution by the international capitalist system’s siege against them. In large measure they have been unable to move toward a decrease in the trusteeship of the state apparatus over domestic social groups.
In the small countries of Central America the utopias and historic demands of all three of these great revolutions converge. The Central American revolutionary projects stress their political demand for sovereignty and self-determination, their social demand for full participation of the new historic subject and their economic demand for a new international order that would allow them and the other peripheral countries to be active subjects in the international community.
This fourth era of revolutions in the small peripheral countries is understood in very different ways by the international community. For Mexican intellectual Gustavo Esteva, “Central America is not only the crossroads of the continents or a strategic space in which multiple conflicts of interest have been at stake throughout history. The region is beginning to be thought of as an intersection of different routes of history. The suspicion is being fostered that here a new way might be opening up, even if in a helter-skelter fashion, to make possible changes unforeseen before now.”
US intellectual Noam Chomsky has said, “The smaller the country in question, the greater the US savagery and the more absurd its pretexts. There is a reason for this. The weakest country represents the greatest threat, because the greater the adversity under which the revolutionary success is achieved, the more significant the result.”
Sandinista commander Bayardo Arce has challenged, “Is what is happening in Nicaragua communist terrorism? Isn’t the true threat of what’s happening in Nicaragua and Central America that the small, poor, underdeveloped countries are offering a new term of reference to all of the third world? How are the new social changes made that are needed by two-thirds of humanity so as to reach a minimum level of life and survival, while at the same time retrieving the dignity, respect and self-determination that as independent nations our peoples are demanding now at the end of the 20th century? These questions aren’t rhetorical. They are attempting to raise a whole problematic: what we have called a challenge for the peoples of Central America, the peoples of Europe, the international community and its institutions, and very particularly the North American people.”
The Central American crisis is analyzed by the administration as a threat to national security as well as an opportunity to contain the advance of the “evil empire,” a credibility test and a possibility of strengthening a moral rearmament project and recovering international hegemony. By smaller but growing groups it is seen, on the contrary, as an opportunity to adapt to the profound changes occurring in the world, to define an international policy of coexistence and overcome the old “Pax Americana.”
For Secretary of State George Shultz the Central American crisis could well transform the United States into the “Hamlet of nations,” by having to face the opposition of its own allies, adverse US public opinion and strong contradictions and indecisiveness within the administration itself. The Central American question is a test, a challenge and a responsibility, not only for the region’s peoples, but also for the international community.
Character of the international crisisThe long-gestating Central American crisis finally erupted with the Nicaraguan revolution in 1979, at a moment of grave international convulsions. Neither the crisis in general nor the Nicaraguan revolution in particular could go forward independently of the international correlation of forces with all their contradictions; both implied for their resolution a certain agreement of desires, values and interests at an international level. An understanding of the nature of these international contradictions is thus fundamental to any analysis of how Central America might find a way out of its own crisis in the midst of them, be served by them and even contribute to their democratic, just and peaceful resolution.
There is great insistence on the economic nature of the international crisis, but it may even prove to be much more determinant. What is immediately significant about this international crisis is that the great powers are no longer its only political subject, as in the past; nor is it even limited to intermediate powers. In addition to the tensions and contradictions within and between capitalism and socialism, played out at the level of the advanced countries, the North-South contradictions of the third world are emerging as the central axis of the crisis. This means that the small peripheral countries are now political subjects as well.
The phenomenon of these countries is represented in the crisis of the Middle East, Central America, Africa and the Philippines. In these regional crises the “wretched of the earth”—as exploited classes, ethnic peoples, genders and nations—begin to be and insist on being subjects of their own history.
We are thus faced with a crisis in which, in addition to the traditional economic, political and geopolitical motivations, the actors are also motivated by values, world visions and national identities. From the perspective of peoples faced with the power, order and values of the established systems that made them into the wretched of the earth and maintained them thus, “peace,” “liberty” and “democracy”—frequently repeated concepts within the Reagan doctrine—have diametrically opposed content and value.
Peace, for them, is perceived as the product of profound change and of the transformation of domestic social relations and international relations. Democracy and human rights are now not only seen as civil and political rights but as individual and collective economic rights as well. The human rights that are demanded by ethnic groups, genders, classes and nations have today a qualitatively different dynamic than those codified internationally following World War II. This distinct appreciation of peace, democracy and human rights clearly implies a different conceptualization of the content of liberty, especially for those countries in which their majorities have never known it in any of the above aspects of their being.
The established national, regional and international order is being challenged more profoundly than in previous revolutions, because what is being demanded is a modification of world order that upsets the principle of superiority and inferiority among its peoples. The very rights of peoples and democracy between nations are at stake. In this sense the current crisis could have a repercussion as profound as that of 1914-1945, which, by the time it was over, had produced two World Wars, the transference of Great Britain’s world hegemony to the United States, numerous socialist revolutions, the Spanish Civil War and the economic crisis of the 30s. There is no question that those three decades opened up a new era; the 1960-90 period could bring a world restructuring that is just as fundamental.
The imperialist response of the US is to try to transform the North-South contradictions into East-West ones, delegitimizing the third world demands, ideologizing the conflict and polarizing international relations, all so as to permanently subordinate these real contradictions experienced by the third world.
The complexity of these problems, only schematized here, points out once more the interrelation between the Central American crisis and the character of the current world crisis. The interest of so many governments and social groups in Central America is neither accidental nor momentary. The conflictive nature of the internationalization of the crisis is what could transform it into an East-West battlefield, into a platform of dispute between the Socialist International and Christian Democracy, and even into a Caribbean basin in which Mexico and Venezuela fight out their spheres of influence as sub regional powers. How can these international contradictions be shifted from a potential military battlefield to an arena for the negotiated resolution of conflicts, served by the very internationalization of the crisis itself? Is this a utopian question or does it make political sense?
The smallness of the region’s countries is in many respects a handicap, but it could also be converted into a comparative advantage because less resources are required for the resolution of their problems and because they offer a greater margin of flexibility. In the geopolitical confrontation between the United States and Nicaragua, for example, it would be easier for the powerful neighbor to show magnanimity and accept a face-saving “accommodation without surrender” than it would if the opposing country were Mexico or Brazil. If, on the other hand, the US is using the confrontation with Nicaragua as an object lesson or a demonstration effect for other countries, the real imperialist motives will be laid bare, transforming the conflict into a regional one with the characteristics of a new Vietnam. It will also become an international boomerang, because Central America represents not an isolated phenomenon but a test of the whole package of demands being made by the small peripheral countries.
The alternatives are still open. Will Central America be another Vietnam? Will Central America and Vietnam be different alternatives for conflict resolution? Or, if the resolution of its issues is postponed by repression or insufficient solutions, will Central America become a permanent Vietnam?
The character of the international crisis demands that in Central America the international community not permit the obvious demands of the small peripheral countries to be mowed down or ideologically distorted into an East-West conflict, but rather that new terms of resolution conflict be initiated within the system of North-South contradictions.
Crisis of the “spheres of influence”At Yalta in 1945 the world was divided into two systems with two spheres of influence. The emerging nations don’t count in that definition. Today they are questioning it based on the struggle of their peoples to find a way out of impoverishment, humiliation and subjection.
The novelty of this phenomenon is particularly well represented in the Non-Aligned Movement, broader now than first defined in the 1960 Bangkok meeting as a result of events that have occurred over the last 25 years. While the United States views this emergence of the third world as a threat to national security and its global hegemony, the Soviet Union and the socialist world, the Scandinavian countries, Canada and a good number of European countries support these processes as the natural results of historic growth and of the increasing maturity of humanity.
Central America is one of the focal points of this third world movement. To try to reduce the Central American issue to a conflict of spheres of influence is a distortion that is a insult to intelligence, to the aspirations of these peoples and to the very emancipating dynamic of the history of humanity.
These processes can be paralyzed only by force, and then but briefly. The dominant US culture, however, hasn’t been able to understand or contemplate new relations with them. Its efforts to confront and distort the justified demands of a civilization in crisis and in the midst of profound change have thus been illegitimate.
The Reagan doctrine, moreover, has thrown off the trapping of the trilateralist project, opting to control the cracks in economic leadership at the center of the capitalist system through a unilateral globalism. This unilateral globalism doctrine seeks to avoid concessions to any emerging third world demands that could affect the order and established interest within the system while simultaneously muffling working class demands in the capitalist countries themselves. In the face of demands it considers unabsorbable by the current crisis-ridden system, it aims to relaunch the savage US capitalism of the 1880-1920 period, in order to later be the hegemonic power over a more unified platform of international capitalism.
Reaganomics has succeeded in alarming the Europeans and in convincing Japan that the major threat to its economic progress is the Soviet Union. The electronics revolution, furthermore, gives this unilateral aspiration an advantage over the socialist world (thus the obsession with “Star Wars,” for example).
Within the United States the propagation of this doctrine has caused significant sectors of the middle classes, technocrats and transnational capitalists to accept the idea of new military investment (“Star Wars” again) and a strong decrease in social services and in the living standards of the minorities and new immigrants.
The application of unilateral globalism to manage the international crisis has, in the Central American case, been taken to pathological extremes. Twisting the nature of the crisis to make it appear an East-West conflict and converting it into an aggressive “test” of US credibility leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy by provoking defense mechanisms that seek support from the antagonistic bloc. It also leads to distortions in the original national liberation projects, in which they must harden to resist the prolongation of a war that insists on placing them within the struggle for spheres of influence in the global project. The international community and its representative institutions should analyze this dangerous phenomenon carefully because the social and democratic transformations held as genuine historic demands by the peoples of the third world and particularly of Central America could be hardened still further.
Afghanistan comes to mind in much of this analysis. The principles we are suggesting for the resolution of the Central American crisis could also serve to resolve that conflict, so obviously different but also trapped in a prolonged and increasingly internationalized crisis.
The solution isn’t to be found in typical “trade-offs” between powers, such as were proposed, apparently by Brzezinski, for the Geneva summit meeting. Gorbachev rejected the debate and thus any such barter over the “regional crises,” including, among others, Nicaragua and Afghanistan. The solution requires recognition of the indigenous roots of most third world movements. That some of these movements coincide with the so-called “zones of influence” should not artificially bipolarize the world.
It will be interesting to see if Gorbachev, in the next meeting with Reagan, promotes a proposal for Afghanistan that could serve to induce a negotiated solution for Central America too. Even if the “regional crises” were artificially introduced by Reagan into the Geneva agenda as a prelude to greater aggression against Nicaragua, that doesn’t mean that these conflicts should be absent from the peace negotiations, given the character of the international crisis.
The multipolar nature of the current world, owing to the transnationalization of economic production and circulation, the technological revolution of the means of communication, the multipolarity of atomic power itself and the demands that people’s rights be respected, doesn’t permit the maintenance of spheres of influence in which the world is divided between the superpowers that emerged after the two world wars. The multipolarity of today’s world and the increasingly genuine phenomenon of nonalignment call the concept of spheres of influence into question in the name of peace and of the rights of peoples.
The international projectThe test of originality of the new Central American political subject’s international project is to be found in how it meets the challenge of multipolarity, nonalignment, the disassembling of the “zones of influence,” respect for international pluralism and the capacity to maintain stable and friendly relations with all countries, diversification of economic relations and a new insertion into the international market, together with a genuine alignment with Latin America and its postponed Bolivarian project.
of a new Central America
It is a tough test and a difficult challenge, to be sure, under the current conditions of regional and international crisis. It becomes more difficult still when confronted with the Reagan doctrine of unilateral globalism and determination to transform Central America into a test of US credibility and a demonstration effect of its recovery of global hegemony.
The dilemma today for Nicaragua, and a potential one for the other Central American peoples, is the need to solicit assistance from and tighten relations with the socialist countries in order to survive, while still maintaining the originality and genuine non-alignment of the Sandinista project. For the socialist countries, the challenge is to offer generous and efficient economic aid and, during the aggression, military aid, while continuing to respect that very originality and self-determination of the Sandinista revolution, without trying to push it into a traditional socialist model or into its own sphere of influence.
At stake here is what has been considered the “fate” of third world revolutions, which have generally ended by bending to the influence of one of the blocs, depending permanently on its aid in order to survive. The strengthening of the identity of the Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Nicaraguan processes permits the expectation that this dilemma can be overcome by their own internal historical, ideological and class character. An active and independent role by Europe, Canada and Japan, together with a particularly strong and committed relation with Latin America, would unquestionably help foster an easier solution to this challenge.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, arriving in Madrid from his trip to Moscow, where he had gone to assure an oil supply that neither Mexico, Europe nor Iran had been able to guarantee, said, “We only wish to be treated in Washington with the same respect with which we have been treated in Moscow.” It was a very significant remark. At the exact moment in which the Soviet Union guaranteed an essential element for the survival of Nicaragua, so brutally attacked by Washington, President Ortega reaffirmed his country’s nonalignment, his desire for cordial relations with the United States and a demand for respect for Nicaragua’s self-determination.
In the high-intensity war of images unleashed against Nicaragua, the administration has been trying to give the impression that the dilemma has already been resolved. In such propaganda Nicaragua is portrayed as a “betrayed revolution” and as the continental platform for Soviet expansionism.
The international project of the new Central American political subject is not only tolerable, but desirable for international peace and for overcoming the world crisis.
Relations with socialist countriesMore than six years of real experience, in the midst of a growing economic, political, ideological and military aggression against Nicaragua by the United States, offers enough historic perspective to see whether the Sandinista revolution has struggled to realize an independent international project or has turned into a Soviet satellite. A country as extraordinarily open to international observation as Nicaragua couldn’t hide such a determinant fact. The campaigns organized by the domestic opposition and some members of the Nicaraguan Catholic Church hierarchy have tried to create this international image, but it hasn’t stood up to serious analyses of Nicaraguan reality, such as those carried out by numerous international delegations.
It should go without saying that this doesn’t pretend that the project has been fully realized or that there have been no errors or contradictions within it. Insofar as this is the case, however, it is due in large measure to the extremely difficult situation Nicaragua has been put into by the aggression.
There is, to be sure, a growing collaboration and friendship of Sandinismo with the socialist countries, particularly with Cuba. After six years only someone uninformed about reality or who approaches it perversely could maintain that Cuba and Nicaragua are similar revolutions. In their economic, political, institutional, academic and religious orders, Cuba and Nicaragua have very differentiated processes, of which both the Cubans and the Nicaraguans are proud. They learn from each other, correct each other and maintain a wide margin of debate about points of difference.
This does not obviate Cuba’s generous and self-sacrificing support for Nicaragua or its encouragement that the Sandinista revolution make Nicaragua not another Cuba, but a “New Nicaragua.” Also true, and ever more evident and acknowledged by the Cuban leaders themselves, is the impact of the Sandinista revolution on Cuba in cultural, political, religious and international relations aspects.
This cross-fertilization of experiences, expanding the achievements and shrinking the errors, has been positive for both peoples and for Latin America as a whole. The “reintegration” of Cuba into Latin America and the Caribbean was patent in August 1985, at the foreign debt conference held in Havana, as well as in the whole process of Cuba’s diplomatic and economic relations with the new democracies of the continent and with the Church. This process is parallel to that experienced in the Soviet Union with Gorbachev, which both Newsweek and Time openly recognized in their mid-November 1985 international editions. The changes taking place in the highest levels of Soviet power are surprising. A new generation has replaced the “elders” in the Politburo (8 to 13, leaving only 3 from the Brezhnev era).
These new realities would seem to open possibilities for international dialogue and objective negotiation. History will drastically judge those responsible for not having used the classic “carpe diem,” taking advantage of this historic opportunity.
The Central American crossroads can become a veritable intersection of diverse historic experiences, in which dogmatism could be overcome and new possibilities of co-existence and worldwide collaboration opened to permit a way out of the crisis and towards conditions for real peace.
Crisis in an atomic eraThis is the first crisis of the atomic era (which was itself ushered into this region with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis). The effort to involve Central America’s problems in an East-West conflict is to increase even more the dangers of a nuclear conflagration. Only aggressive, ideologized positions could attempt to expand the area of tensions into a nuclear arena. The possibility of maintaining genuine nonalignment in the Central American and third world processes is therefore of vital importance for these countries and for world peace.
The links between the emerging third world demands and the question of peace is a theme that not only socialists, but also the world’s peace movements have begun to make more strongly. The “deadly connection” between conflicts in the third world and the eruption of a third world war is seen today as a dramatic possibility.
The connection and the coincidence between the Central American crisis and world peace is reaffirmed by the fact that the international peace movements centered their attention on the Central American crisis in their annual meeting (Amsterdam, July 1985), named a commission to open a peace office in Managua and organized a Peace March in Central America over Christmas 1985. (The Peace March, attacked and expelled from Costa Rica and prohibited in Honduras and El Salvador as these lines were written, could by the end of its trip be a good international test of some of the theses proposed here.)
Respect for the autonomy of the Central American process and that of other third world countries is fundamental to avoid any incident in the regional conflict, whether accidental or provoked, that could be an atomic detonator.
International law and institutionsCentral America’s crisis coincides with and is in part demonstrative of the current crisis of international law and of the international institutions. In addition, it uncovers the contradiction between current US policy and one of US democracy’s most significant contributions to the human legacy.
The US Constitution incorporates international treaties as an integral part of that supreme law of the land. This novel fact dating from the origins of US democracy is confronted today by the reality that US foreign policy is being increasingly questioned in its own courts and in the world institutions that oversee international law and accords.
The newly independent United States viewed international law as a legal protector to prevent it falling into the hands of the superpowers of the day (England, France and Spain). The case of Nicaragua and Central America reflects that same condition of nascent independencies—though much weaker ones—that seek protection for their rights and respect by the powers in international law. The US people might benefit from a review of their own history to better understand the Central American phenomenon. After doing so, the counterrevolutionaries would appear much more like Benedict Arnold than like the founding fathers.
As the United States began to emerge as a power in the 1820s, the Monroe Doctrine demonstrated the first dispositions supported not in international law but in the power of the US Marines and Army. In the current crisis, as third world countries begin to try to use international law to defend the legitimacy of their demands, that law and its institutions come into crisis with their progenitors, who had created them to defend “their” rights.
The depth of the crisis is reflected in the recent condemnation of the United States by a large majority of the judges in the International Court at the Hague and the subsequent US rejection of the Court (in which eight of the judges represent countries in military alliances with the United States, three are nonaligned and four are socialist). It had already been manifested in the condemnation of US policy toward Nicaragua in such specialized bodies as GATT, UNCTAD, SELA, OAS and the UN Security Council. In the latter case the US vetoed the resolution, as it did the resolution condemning its October 1983 invasion of Grenada.
Even more significant is the fact that the US embargo against Nicaragua, also condemned in most international forums, most recently by the UN General Assembly itself, is considered unconstitutional by a large number of US jurists, both in its May 1985 promulgation (without approval and breaking an existing treaty with Nicaragua) and in its extension in November 1985 (without the required presentation and congressional vote for its prolongation).
The importance of this crisis of international law goes beyond the topic of a set of tiny Central American countries to a debate about much more fundamental values and interests. What is at stake here is nothing less than the historic process of humanization; by affecting the rights not only of individuals but of peoples, it consequently affects the humanization of the exercise of power by empires. The struggle for the consolidation of national and continental democracy in Central and Latin America is thus taking place at a moment in which international democracy is also being fought for.
The demand is for international democracy based on a New International Economic Order, as well as renewed respect for and adherence to international law to guarantee peaceful coexistence and a negotiated solution to conflicts. The reconstitution of the international bodies for this phase of humanity, surpassing the institutionalization created after World War II and the bipolarization of the world after the Yalta accords, is today an even more fundamental demand given the dangers posed by the greatest military buildup in history and particularly the accumulated atomic power.
The call for the democratization of such international bodies as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Security Council itself, is a demand for democracy at an international level so as to be able to create more representative leaderships, equality of opportunity and cooperation, all essential for international coexistence.
The Central American question and the third world demands for a New International Economic Order are accompanied as well by a demand for respect for international law and a democratization of the international organizations.
Nicaragua, focal point of the crisisThe triumph of the Sandinista revolution made Nicaragua a testing ground for the viability of the social and national aspiration of Central America’s people. The originality of this new “reference point” for achieving national liberation, structural transformation and democracy in what Bayardo Arce noted is a simultaneous process has made it even more the focal point of Latin American and world interest.
As we enter 1986, Nicaragua is also the focal point of the Central American crisis, around which the regional and international political alliances are polarizing. The way Nicaragua’s crisis is resolved will establish parameters of resolution for the rest of Central America and for other regional conflicts in the world for some time to come.
If the United States continues to promote a militarist solution and provoke new contradictions that increase regional polarization more each day, it will carry the region’s countries into a wide and unpredictable regional conflict. By applying its “domino theory” logic to try to prevent a wave of revolutions that it fears might roll up into Mexico or even the US itself, the administration’s policy toward Central America could, ironically, spread the eruption of the crisis that is now limited to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala to Honduras, Costa Rica and even Panama.
For example, events of the last few years in Panama—the “strange” death of Torrijos in an airplane accident, the departure of three Presidents in a period of four years, the divisions in the armed forces, the deterioration of political and social conditions in the country—are all indicators of a “perverse Central Americanization” of Panama. IMF inflexibility regarding the adjustments it wanted to impose on President Barletti, for example, certainly helped in his fall. Not even the former vice president of the World Bank could apply the anti-social policies of this institution.
The case of the Panama Canal treaties, presented by President Carter as a model of the “New Era” and the successful resolution of tensions between the United States and Latin American countries could be transformed by Reagan into a part of the Central American crisis as well. Reagan administration violations of the Panama Canal treaties, such as using the bases and troops in the Canal Zone for intelligence operations and military maneuvers in various countries of Central America, salary discrimination against Panamanian workers and under-compensations to Panama, clearly indicate that Reagan as President continues to refuse to accept the canal treaties that he so vehemently opposed as governor of California. In general, then, Panama finds itself in a social and political crisis that could erupt if the crisis in the region continues being prolonged and extended.
Costa Rica is also in profound, if little known, crisis. Its character is different because it is between the upper and middle classes with little popular participation, but it is one in which the social democratic model of this so-called “Switzerland of Central America” is at stake. The impact of the international economic crisis plus the bankruptcy of the Central American Common Market have provoked an effort by the most backward sector of Costa Rican capital to dismantle the “Tico Model” initiated in 1948, by turning the public area (state banking and enterprises) back into private hands and drastically reducing the highest social budget in all Latin America. Divisions between the National Liberation Party and the parties of the Left permitted Christian Democracy to launch a “new economic model” based on the creation of export platforms, taking advantage of the Caribbean Basin Initiative.
The United States manipulated this domestic crisis economically and politically to get Costa Rica to a) use its democratic prestige to become an ideological platform against Sandinismo; b) initiate a Taiwan-like transnationalized economic model; c) break with its traditional neutrality; and d) transform its police forces into a military apparatus trained by the United States and Israel, while at the same time permitting the contras to operate from its own territory, all to provoke Nicaraguan concern about its southern flank.
A highly ideologized press and TV, the growth of the ultra-Right Costa Rica Libre and the appearance of fascist-like paramilitary groups have all helped transform Costa Rica into a country that is not only anti-Sandinista, but also anti-Nicaraguan, provoking an identity crisis in this country to the south of Nicaragua. This geopolitical manipulation of a domestic crisis by the Reagan doctrine could provoke the self-fulfillment of the domino prophecy in Costa Rica as well, drawing it into Central America’s domestic and regional polarization.
The Reagan administration’s manipulation of Honduras is better known internationally due to the high profile of its ambassador and its huge military presence resulting from the creation of new bases and the military maneuvers taking place on a permanent basis in this country directly north of Nicaragua. The open and official support for the contras in Honduras by the highest levels of the Reagan administration and Congress requires no further comment since it has been amply reported internationally, particularly in the US.
The denationalization of Honduras has reached levels only been achieved previously in Honduras’ traditional banana republic years. Additionally, the old tension between that country and El Salvador continues unresolved, and even worsened, since Honduras now has to contemplate whether the quadrupling of the Salvadoran army and the sophistication of its air force is not perhaps more dangerous than the Sandinista army, which has no offensive air force or navy and has never had economic interests in or conflicts with its neighbor country.
The Reagan administration said it would “draw the line” against the new political subject in El Salvador. This has provoked limitations and contradictions for the Duarte government since, by not being able to negotiate with the guerrillas, it finds itself involved in a prolonged civil war that it’s not winning. On the other hand, the social reforms it promised cannot be carried out. The Duarte government, in short, is being steadily chipped away at in full view of the Salvadoran people, to whom the promises were made; the military which considers it indecisive; the international community, which had confidence in its promised human rights policy; its own party and the Christian Democratic International, which must watch its regional project fail.
In Guatemala, the military has had to recognize its failure to govern and cede government, though not power, to Vinicio Cerezo and Christian Democracy. Behind the throne are concessions and retreats at a moment in which the economic crisis is sharpening for a country that had once had the most stable economy in the region. Social demands have been taken to the streets (September 1985) and the revolutionary forces have unified politically and militarily, leaving the new civilian President little room to maneuver.
The Reagan administration’s obsession with Nicaragua appears to blind it to these regional phenomena. The whole US policy in Central America turns on the administration’s project of destabilizing and destroying the Sandinista revolution, with little concern for the increased polarization and contradictions it is creating for the other countries. The domino theory could be self-propelled in this region by a policy that refuses to adapt to these processes or respect their real identity and dynamic.
If only the political will existed in the United States, Contadora’s revitalization, Nicaragua’s renewed political will to reach a dignified and negotiated peace and presidential changes in early 1986 in Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica could all become a focal point of solution and not of conflict in the coming year.
Contadora—its force, its symbolism and its contradictionsGiven the depth and prolongation of the crisis and its increasing internationalization, the role of allies closest to the United States could be a determining factor in creating the conditions to transform the US political approach toward the region.
Contadora and the Lima support group are made up of eight countries allied to and friendly with the United States. At the same they represent a renewed Latin American self-consciousness following the Falklands/Malvinas war, in the face of the Organization of American States’ shameful weakness in that war. Contadora symbolizes the possibility of Latin America’s political self-determination. It also represents a test for the Cartagena group and the possibility of economic self-determination on the foreign debt issue and finally the possibility of a new project of Latin American integration to face the worst economic crisis in the continent’ s history.
Contadora was born after the Malvinas, during a democratization of some Latin American countries, and, despite all that, the danger of US intervention. That Nicaragua is the focal point of Contadora’s work explains the strong US pressures to “neutralize” Contadora. Vacillation in the face of such pressures is explained by the fact that Contadora’s leaders are tied precisely to the debt and to economic relations with the US. Contadora and the foreign debt meeting in Cartagena are thus parallel manifestations of the confrontation between the Bolivarian and Monroist visions for dealing with Latin America’s problems.
Contadora has had a great deal of international support—the United Nations, Europe, nonaligned countries, the socialist bloc and, of course, Latin America. At least formally, it has also been supported even by the United States. Contadora’s legal and political contribution is an historic fact that cannot be diminished; its continued survival as a negotiator, however, is in question today. Contadora represents the national sovereignty claim of every Latin American country, but this fundamental North-South contradiction becomes most evident when it appears, as it has at this moment, between the most powerful and rich country and those that are the smallest, poorest and most underdeveloped.
David versus Goliath here takes on all its geopolitical nature. Contadora represents the witness and the symbol of Latin American consciousness in this confrontation. It is at the same time a test of the validity of Bolivarianism versus Monroism regarding the continent’s political, economic and democratic self-determination.
The role of Europe and CanadaThe active role of the nonaligned countries in the Central American crisis, both in the UN bodies and in their specific activities, is well known. The countries of the Non-aligned Movement have frequently reiterated their defense of Nicaragua’s self-determination and that of the region’s other countries, their support for Contadora, their condemnation of the interventionist US policy, particularly regarding the mining of the ports, the economic embargo and the US government’s aid to the contras. This clear attitude implies a confrontation between the US and the majority of the Non-aligned, as became clear in the Managua declaration of the Movement’s Coordinating Bureau in January 1983, with 43 member, 8 observer and 14 invited countries present.
Such solidarity is not surprising because these countries are interested in the negotiated resolution of this kind of conflict and the elimination of interventionist practices that affect the right of self-determination of peoples. The intrusion of countries such as Canada and those allies in Europe who have military accords with the US into the Central American scene in opposition to US policy is more surprising. The September 1984 meeting in San Jose of European foreign ministers with the US not present and their refusal to consider the Shultz letter imply a rupture of the Monroe Doctrine. The European Community policy to increase economic aid to Central America without discriminating against Nicaragua and to recognize the structural factors causing the crisis imply a rupture with Europe’s ostracism of the region.
The November 1985 meeting of the EEC in Luxemburg advanced further in some specific aspects, such as creating a mixed commission, fixing a “framework accord,” setting annual meetings between the EEC ministers and Central America, offering decided support to Contadora and noting Europe’s role as a “balancing element” to overcome the bipolarization of the conflict through the search for negotiating space.
An important impact of Europe’s role was its creation of an ad hoc group of Central American governments that, by common accord, worked up a joint proposal to overcome political and economic discrepancies. The proposal, which would have meant $500 million in European aid and the inclusion of Central America as “associated states” in the Lome accords, was not accepted, however.
Within the limitations of these accords was the explicit proposal to remove the Central America conflict from the exclusive influence of the United States. Colombia’s foreign minister, Augusto Ramirez Ocampo, representing Contadora, emphasized in his inaugural speech the significance of the European role when he spoke of “the declining power of the Monroe Doctrine” and of the “subjection of the fortunes of the hemisphere to only one power.”
Since 1983, the region has become one of the most debated themes in Europe. Various documents and declarations have emerged from that debate, such as one by more than 600 European deputies (“The Central American Crisis: A European Response”) given to Reagan in 1985. Seminars of political parties and analysts have produced papers such as “European Alternatives to the Central American Crisis” by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also published in 1985. Europeans at a non-governmental level are even more decided to play a determinant role in the crisis.
In Canada, the Central American crisis is provoking a distancing from and open opposition to the Reagan policy towards the region. This phenomenon is even more significant given the cultural and political affinity, the economic dependence and the military alliance that unite Canada to the United States.
During the previous Liberal government, the declarations of Canadian policy toward the region were clear. “Central America’s fundamental problems are the consequence of a long history of political, economic and social repression,” said Secretary of State Allan MacEachen in June 1983. “Stability cannot be restored until the forces of change have been accommodated, until social and economic progress eliminates the explosive pressures of popular frustration.” Prime Minister Trudeau told the House of Canons in February of the same year that “with respect to the objectives and the historical analysis of events in Central America, Canada is not in agreement with the United States.”
The current Conservative government has been even more explicit, increasing economic aid to Nicaragua and accepting its commercial office in Toronto, after the imposition of the US economic embargo forced the closure of its Miami office. Canada has also offered financial and technical support to Contadora treaty verification efforts. An alternative that Canada is studying together with the Scandinavian and other European countries is the possibility of establishing a “third group of countries,” in addition to the Lima Group, to support Contadora.
Canada, admittedly slowly, and with a certain vacillation given pressures from the US, seems to be starting to implement the policy of a parliamentary subcommittee when it recommended that “Central America be converted into a priority region in Canadian foreign policy.”
The position of the closest US allies—Europe and Canada—could be a determining factor to avoid direct US military intervention in Central America, create a willingness to negotiate within the Reagan administration and create international conditions that favor the originality and nonalignment of the Central American revolution and the beginnings of a regional development project.
International “co-solidarity” We have previously said that this international crisis has aspects of a crisis of civilization. What is at stake in Central America is a new logic that responds to these values pursued and comprehended by the great masses and prioritized to their rhythm. This logic of the majorities has a whole series of coincidences with the logic of the majority of humanity in the third world, the socialist world and among non-dominant sectors of the capitalist world.
and US “democracy”
The common interest in world peace among the vast majorities of humanity could be converted into the central link among the new political subjects of all these countries. It is necessary, therefore, to discover the common interests and values that are fundamental for peace, coexistence and mutual and balanced development.
This mutuality of interests and values could set in motion a phenomenon of co-solidarity to confront the world crisis. Co-solidarity is, in other words, a genuine solidarity, which is always a reciprocal process.
This co-solidarity is needed to find a way out of the crisis in a nuclear era without provoking worldwide conflicts. When that need is pathologically perceived as a threat to national security, the danger is the concentration of the world’s conflictiveness into what are called “regional dangers,” particularly in Central America where the demonstration effect could be the strongest.
Given the values and the subjects pitted against each other, the regional conflict has an international character within itself that cannot be extinguished by regional military intervention or the postponement of its resolution. In this sense, the Central American crisis is also a rebirth of civilization. Despite the pain of this birth, of its possibly long labor, the force of the values and the identity on which this conflict is based creates an unusual capacity for resistance which makes the region—for many, a region without a future—into the beginning of a future for the rest.
In this sense, the Central American challenge is also to the conscience and historic memory of the US people. The conditions of a “new Vietnam” are being created in Central America and the possibilities of a long and friendly coexistence between neighboring regions are being stained with death and resentment. Within the United States, the Central American crisis could begin to awaken the consciousness of its people, themselves imperialized in a different way. The very nearness of the crisis and the intercommunication between the two neighbors makes possible the opportunity to create a special project of new North-South relations that could begin in an experimental way in Central America, opening up the possibility of new kinds of relations with the third world that are more mutually constructive and just.
If this cannot happen, if the Reagan doctrine persists as the basis of relations with Central America and the third world, democracy and liberty in the United States itself will be endangered. President Wilson used coercion against US society to sustain his utopian pacifist interventionism. Truman, immediately after his intervention in Korea, complacently participated in the witch hunts of McCarthyism. Johnson, during his Vietnam escapade, saw the defeat of his domestic war on poverty. Nixon, after intensifying the war in Vietnam and extending it to Cambodia, ended by spying on his own citizenry, to the point that he was thrown out of the presidency for it. Today Reaganism is reproducing the same dynamic so destructive of US democracy and freedom.
To compare the counterrevolutionaries to the founding fathers of US society is not only a threat to Nicaragua but to the people of the United States. Those groups within the United States that disagree with the Reagan doctrine are accused of pro-communist radicalism, weakness toward the Soviet Union or starry-eyed idealism. For just this reason, the growing “pledge of resistance,” the Sanctuary project and all the other conscious solidarity acts, no matter how small, represent resistance both to the exercise of domination over other peoples and to the threat to freedom and democracy in the United States.
Few times in US history have sectors as characteristic of US society as churches, the academic world, women’s organizations, black and other minority organizations, and even growing sectors of organized labor manifested their opposition to this kind of foreign policy as has been the case with Central America.
This framework of the international crisis can help us understand why solidarity with the peoples of Central America could be converted into co-solidarity, in which the common rights, interests and values of the peoples of the region and in the US itself are being defended.