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  Number 70 | Abril 1987
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Nicaragua

Players in Motion as Reagan Defends His Goal

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Beginning in May, 50,000 US troops will conduct maneuvers in Honduras just as the counterrevolution is implementing certain tactical changes, hoping to make a greater impact on the Nicaraguan population. The military attacks against Nicaragua are continuing, but when the events of February and March are analyzed, one sees that the country's economic crisis and the public discontent with this crisis are not translating into anti-Sandinista political sentiment. The Church, in its dialogue with the government, and the main opposition parties show signs of moving away from Reagan's plan to create an "internal front" that would act in concert with the ongoing military aggression. Yet the creation of a new form of internal front still cannot be ruled out.

Internationally, the Arias plan—coming from Costa Rica, a traditional US ally—has put Reagan in a delicate spot; Contadora, in a complicated balance of power, is strengthened by its solid grounding in the national and Latin American interests of the countries involved in the process. However, as he enters the final phase of his last term in office, Reagan refuses to be swayed from his position towards Nicaragua.

The European Economic Community and the Third Ministerial Conference

On February 9 and 10, the third ministerial conference was held in Guatemala with representatives from the European Economic Community, the Central American countries and the Contadora group. The meeting took place with no illusions on the part of its participants. Moderate gains in both the political and economic arenas had been made in the first two conferences, held in San José and Luxembourg, respectively; this third conference was no exception. However, this one also clearly demonstrated the struggle between three different proposals: Reagan's, the Contadora alternative—supported in large part by Nicaragua—and the Arias plan.

Despite the internal political turmoil resulting from the Iran/Contragate scandal, the Reagan administration has stayed its militaristic course against Nicaragua. Elliot Abrams, the State Department's point man for the region, said in an interview with the USIS early this year that the great setback of 1986 was that "Nicaragua is still on its feet," and suggested that the military campaign against Nicaragua would escalate. For this reason, the Reagan administration was determined to obstruct the European Economic Community, which has traditionally supported the peaceful, political solution advocated by the Contadora group. Philip Habib traveled to Europe as Reagan's personal envoy at the end of January 1987, and was able to chalk up several successes. First of all, he was able to assure that most European ministers would not attend the third ministerial conference, thus diminishing its impact. Only four foreign ministers—from Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Holland—attended the meeting, while the other eight countries sent low-ranking representatives. In the second place, he made sure there was no mention of the United States as being directly involved in the conflict. Just one month before, after the Contadora trip through Central America (in which the ministers were accompanied by the Contadora Support Group and the General Secretaries of the UN and the OAS), the negotiating team had mentioned the United States by name, calling for its direct participation in a Central American dialogue. Claude Cheysson, responsible for strengthening relations between the European Economic Community and Central America, described the situation this way: "My North American friends... have made diplomatic progress. The letter sent to the European ministers in San José [for the first ministerial conference] was written in unacceptable terms. On this occasion [Habib's visit], they wanted to communicate their sentiments to us and they did so in a more intelligent manner."

For its part, the Contadora group—with Nicaragua's support—was also trying to exercise some influence in the ministerial conference. They asked that the joint political declaration make mention of the obstacles threatening the signing of the Contadora peace agreement and sketch out some possible solutions to the problems. In the opinion of the Contadora group, this would be the greatest contribution that the conference could make to the Contadora process. However, the proposal was unable to go forward due to the resistance of the "Tegucigalpa Bloc" (Honduras, Costa Rica and El Salvador). As compensation, the Contadora solution was reflected in 12 of the political declaration's 23 points, including support for the Caraballeda accords, which emphasized the self-determination of all peoples. Yet in one troubling example, the tenth point of the Declaration characterizes the Contadora and Support Group actions as "continuing to be the only current viable path towards a political solution." The original version read "They continue to be the only viable path." The Tegucigalpa Bloc insisted on giving a temporary character to the Contadora initiative, thus laying the groundwork for a third option: the Arias plan.

In November 1986, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias put the finishing touches on a proposal, the first version of his plan, which had the support of Honduras and Costa Rica. In 1986 the Tegucigalpa Bloc didn’t show as great an interest in backing the United States in its military confrontation against Nicaragua as it did in politically confronting and pressuring the Sandinista government to obtain the same ends. Guido Fernández, Costa Rican ambassador to the US, stated in January 1987 that his country was trying to form an "alliance of democratic countries," made up of European, Central American and South American countries. The alliance's goal would be to pressure Nicaragua into "substantial negotiations" with the counterrevolutionary forces. These negotiations would lead to new elections in Nicaragua and, in return, the Reagan administration would suspend aid to the contra forces. On March 7, in Miami, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rodrigo Madrigal Nieto presented the plan to Elliot Abrams, his assistant William Walker and the special envoy to Central America, Philip Habib. They supported this first version of the plan. In reality, it was just one more variant on Reagan's plan.

The Arias plan, along with those put forward by the United States and the Contadora group, made some gains in the third ministerial conference. The plan's backers were not able to override Contadora and replace it with an "alliance of democratic countries," but assisted by the Tegucigalpa Bloc they excluded the Support Group from the conference and, as we have shown, opened the way to possibly replacing the Contadora initiative with the Arias plan. Although they didn't go so far as to propose that the Nicaraguan government dialogue with the counterrevolutionary forces, they tipped the scale in the contras' favor by adopting the contras' position on when and how elections should be held and by downplaying the issue of national self-determination. Spanish Foreign Minister Francisco Fernández summed up the debate this way: "Two philosophies are confronting each other here... and both are coherent. One says: until there is peace, there will be neither economic growth nor political stability, and that's true; the other philosophy says: until there's democracy and political stability, you can't have either economic growth or peace—and that's also true." The final document of the political declaration takes in both positions but gives priority to "democracy" over national self-determination, peace and the inviolability of national borders. Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Father Miguel d'Escoto pointed this out in his official statement: "It doesn't contribute positively to the search for peace... for governments of the region to release official statements that inappropriately call on Contadora to pressure the Nicaraguan government to ignore the sovereign will of its own people and adjust its conception of democracy to one that suits Washington and some of the governments of this region."

In making concessions to all three proposals (Reagan's, Contadora and the Arias plan), the third ministerial conference ended as the two earlier ones had: with a very circumspect political declaration. The Joint Economic Statement was relegated to a backseat position, but economic aid to Central America would soon start to flow, as the Cooperation Agreement signed 15 months earlier in Luxembourg was ratified at the conference. The third ministerial conference revealed the balance of forces in the region.

Revamping the Arias plan

On February 15, President Arias held a meeting in San José to explain his plan to all the Central American Presidents—excluding Nicaragua. On the 13th, two days before the San José meeting, the Salvadoran and Honduran governments came out publicly in support of the plan. Salvadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Acevedo even spoke of an initiative by his government to apply political and diplomatic sanctions against Nicaragua if it did not accept the plan. Elliot Abrams and National Security Council advisor Frank Carlucci had traveled to Central America at the end of January reaffirming, among other things, their approval of the plan. The Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry interpreted the San José meeting as an act "of US neocolonies in Central America who spend their days counting the virtues of a democracy that they will never achieve until they regain their sovereignty."

Nevertheless, on February 13, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Madrigal Nieto traveled throughout Central America—again excluding Nicaragua—with yet another new plan. But Honduran President José Azcona Hoyo then stated that his government wouldn't be able to endorse a plan of this sort, given the commitments it had "already made" with the United States. According to Central American Inforpress, Salvadoran President José Napoleon Duarte had to call an emergency meeting with the High Command of the Armed Forces, who in no uncertain terms told him that he had no authorization to make commitments that would jeopardize the progress of the war.

Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo, who had been vacillating about attending the San José meeting, breathed a sigh of relief: the new plan wouldn't compromise his neutrality policy. The Arias plan had been transformed from a variant of the Reagan plan into a variant of the last revision of the Contadora plan, which the Tegucigalpa Bloc had rejected in June 1986.

The revised plan that was presented to the San José meeting can be summed up this way:

1. National Reconciliationa) General amnesty for political and related crimes in those countries with armed insurgencies for 60 days after the signing of the document. A commission composed of the government, the internal political opposition, the Catholic Church and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights will guarantee the validity of the process.

b) Open dialogue with all the unarmed groups of the internal political opposition.

2. Ceasefire to take effect as the dialogue begins.

3. Democratization a) In the 60 days following the signing of the document, complete freedom of radio, television and print media should exist.

b) During that same time frame total political pluralism must be in effect.

4. Free Elections

a) Elections for the Central American Parliament, to be supervised by the OAS, should be held during the first half of 1988.

b) Later, under the same supervision, municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections should be held as constitutionally established by each country.

5. Suspension of Military AidAll Central American governments should ask any non-regional government that aids insurgent or irregular forces to suspend that aid.

6. Prohibition of the use of Central American territory to attack or permit an attack against other Central American states.

7. Arms ReductionSixty days after the signing of the document, negotiations concerning arms reduction and control should be initiated. These negotiations would include the number of armed forces in each country and the disarming of irregular forces.

8. National and International Supervisiona) A supervisory committee should be set up, composed of the general secretaries of the UN and the OAS and the foreign ministers of the Contadora and Support Group countries.

b) The Central American governments would support and facilitate the work of the supervisory committee.

9. Evaluation

The Central American Presidents will meet in Esquipulas within six months to evaluate the progress made.

10. Final ConsiderationsEach point in this document is part of a coherent and indivisible whole.

This version of the Arias plan was not signed by the Central American Presidents who met in San José. El Salvador and Honduras opposed it. In its place, they approved a rhetorical document entitled "The Hour for Peace,” which included a reaffirmation of very general principles and praised the work of Contadora, the Support Group, the UN and the OAS. Facing an impasse in this presidential summit, President Cerezo of Guatemala proposed a new meeting in Esquipulas within three months, this time with the participation of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The proposal was approved. It seems clear that strong pressures will be brought to bear at the Esquipulas meeting. In fact, President Arias declared to journalists that "we'll have a very arduous task in the coming weeks and it will be very difficult to arrive in Esquipulas with a consensus among the five governments of the isthmus."

The key pressures will come from the Reagan administration. William Goodfellow, director of the Center for International Politics in Washington, pointed out that the US government opposes substantial parts of the new Arias plan and will do everything possible to try and modify it. According to Goodfellow, these are the principal areas in which they hope to see significant changes:

- Call for a cease-fire only after negotiations between the Nicaraguan government and the counterrevolution. The internal political opposition cannot replace the contra forces in these negotiations.

- Assure that new elections in Nicaragua would be held immediately rather than in the time frame established by the Nicaraguan Constitution.

- Avoid the problems that would confront El Salvador (as a result of the general amnesty) and Honduras (for allowing its territory to be used by the contra forces).

- Assure that the Tegucigalpa Bloc continues to push for the marginalization of the Contadora and Support Group countries from the Central American negotiating process.

For its part, the Nicaraguan government, in an official statement issued by the Foreign Ministry and in declarations made by President Ortega to The New York Times, described the new Arias Plan as "constructive." The document itself in no way presumes that Nicaragua will renounce any of its principles. Nevertheless, the plan contains no reference to the US aggression against Nicaragua, or to the existing mechanisms for resolution of this problem (i.e., the decision of the International Court of Justice at The Hague). In accepting the invitation to the upcoming meeting in Esquipulas, Nicaragua was adamant that it not signify an abandonment of the Contadora process. This warning is necessary in order to counter those who would argue that the very fact that the presidential meeting takes place is an indication of the ineffectiveness of Contadora.

What were the factors that led President Arias to change his position? There are four key elements. The first is the relative weakness of President Reagan in the context of the ongoing Iran/Contragate scandal. Second, there is a generalized perception that the counterrevolution is being strategically defeated—in addition to being undercut by the ongoing power struggles within the contra leadership—and therefore regional strategy towards Nicaragua should be based on other premises. Third, it has been hard to get the European, Contadora and Support Group countries to dismantle the Latin American negotiating process, replacing it, as the first Arias plan had envisioned, with a so-called "alliance of democratic countries" that would politically pressure Nicaragua. Lastly are the activities carried out by Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd (supported by one faction of his party) who met with President Arias and insisted upon a new formulation of the issue, making changes that could gain support in the new US Congress.

In March, the US Senate supported the new plan in a 97-1 vote, and 107 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Reagan stating their support for the plan. The tensions between the Congress and the President mounted when Sen. Dodd, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, clashed head on with Secretary of State George Shultz when he appeared before the committee. Dodd accused Reagan of trying to undermine the Arias plan by pressuring Honduras and El Salvador not to support it.

However, in spite of President Arias' change in position for the aforementioned reasons and the resignation of US Ambassador to Costa Rica Lewis Tambs due to pressure from Arias, the continued counterrevolutionary activity in Costa Rica puts its policy of "neutrality" in a tough spot. More contra presence in Costa Rica came to light in February and March. In the Rohrmoses residential section of San José where President Arias himself lives, a small "hospital" was discovered in a house, where 40 counterrevolutionaries were convalescing from their injuries. The contra 1 forces hold well-publicized assemblies in centrally located hotels where they discuss their strategy to destroy the Nicaraguan government. The Tower Commission Report revealed the construction of an airstrip used in sending arms to the counterrevolutionaries. The number of US military advisors in Costa Rican territory has increased recently. According to Costa Rican analysts, they are there to construct bridges and facilitate the transport of US troops based in Panama to Nicaragua in the event of direct US aggression.

Arias reacted to these revelations and to UNO's attempts to gain control of all the contra forces' arms and money by announcing that he would not permit them to carry out their activities in Costa Rica, as this constituted a violation of the country's neutrality. Nevertheless, reality hasn't often fallen in line with such protestations of neutrality. On March 18, Nicaraguan President Ortega told journalists that although the Reagan administration cannot achieve its objectives against Nicaragua and Central America, none of the different peace proposals for the region can go forward if President Reagan refuses to budge.

Reagan: No signs of change

Since January 27 of this year, Reagan has persisted in continuing his policy of military aid to the counterrevolution. "We support diplomatic efforts," he said to both houses of Congress, "but these efforts can never succeed if the Sandinistas win their war against the Nicaraguan people.... Some in this Congress may choose to depart from this historic commitment [to stop the spread of Communism in the Western hemisphere], but I will not.... Nicaraguan freedom fighters have never asked us to wage their battle, but I will fight any effort to shut off their lifeblood and consign them to death, defeat or a life without freedom."

On February 26, the Tower Commission, selected by President Reagan to investigate the Iran/Contragate scandal, issued its report. The report minimizes the President's responsibility, distributing the criticisms among his closest advisers. Despite the fact that the scandal has apparently strengthened the position of the "pragmatic" vs. the "ideological" factions within the Reagan administration, the position against Nicaragua has not wavered. On March 11, the House of Representatives approved 230-196 a Democratic proposal to suspend for six months the $40 million earmarked for the contra forces as part of the $100 million approved in June of last year. President Reagan announced that he would veto any such vote. He didn't need to use his veto power, as the Senate voted down a similar resolution 52-48. Thus on March 19, the CIA began to send mortars, land-to-air missiles and other unspecified armaments to the counterrevolutionary forces. In spite of this, the narrow margins of the congressional votes obliged the Reagan administration to postpone its new request for $105 million to the contras until September or October. This opens a period in which the US government will, of necessity, have to intensify its direct military harassment against Nicaragua, improve the contra forces' capabilities and neutralize the peace proposal for the region, in any of its variants.

50,000 soldiers "on maneuvers"

On March 23 the Pentagon announced that the largest US maneuvers ever held on Central American soil would be carried out in April and May. They were called "Solid Shield" and followed the Ahuas Tara 87 and Terencio Sierra 87 maneuvers. Fifty thousand US soldiers participated in the maneuvers. According to Pentagon sources, the maneuvers simulated a response to a possible future request by Honduras, asking the US "to send immediate military aid to the contras given the danger of an imminent Sandinista invasion of their country." Solid Shield culminated in the Pegasus exercise (April 1-May 10) in which six A-10 Thunderbolt planes, eight OA-37 Dragonfly planes, four Hercules C-130 transport planes and an E-3A (AWAC) participated. A large-scale attack on the Honduran Atlantic Coast took place alongside this "air assault."

The maneuvers can be interpreted as an attempt by the Reagan administration to show its force in Central America after a period of relative weakness. They are intended to pressure Nicaragua, strengthen the position of Honduras and El Salvador, advise Costa Rica and Guatemala of the non-viability of their nascent "neutrality" and demonstrate to the Contadora Group the real limits of its negotiation proposals. According to the Nicaraguan government, these pressures eventually could include attacks ("surgical strikes") against strategic economic objectives in the country. Moreover, the maneuvers will culminate with the creation of all the military conditions necessary for an invasion of Nicaragua.

Tactical changes in the counterrevolutionary forces

The maneuvers are combined with the reactivation of the counterrevolutionary forces. Captain Ricardo Wheelock, Chief of Nicaraguan Military Intelligence, estimated the number of contras operating inside Nicaragua since March at approximately 5,000. Almost half of them entered the country quite recently, while the others entered last November. Only 1,000 or 2,000 remain in their rearguard in Honduran territory. Contra activity frequently increases in the dry season (November-May) but on this occasion the increase in their activity is due more to their need to present an effective image to bolster the Reagan administration's proposals on their behalf.

In its March 19 edition, The New York Times revealed that the CIA, in addition to supplying the contra forces with better weapons, was directing them towards a new type of campaign consisting of sabotage against electrical and port installations, reservoirs, bridges, telephone lines and other economic objectives inside Nicaragua. In the second half of March a high voltage electrical tower located in a Managua neighborhood was damaged by a C-4 explosive and high voltage towers were blown up in the northern department of Estelí and near Peñas Blancas on the Costa Rican border. At the same time, attacks against the civilian population, particularly anyone associated with the Sandinista government, have increased in the rural areas.

In the second half of February, the contra camps in Honduras were relocated to two places: the first, bordering the dividing line between the Nicaraguan departments of Nueva Segovia and Jinotega, aimed towards the central region of Nicaragua; and the other bordering Chinandega, focused on Nicaragua's Pacific Coast region. A third group continues to operate, as it has for a long time, from Honduran territory, ready to attack the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast region. This geographical shift is apparently in line with both US efforts to improve the contra forces' strategic position and its goal of minimizing the number of contras in Honduras to avoid growing criticism from the Honduran population affected by their presence.

A connection between the US maneuvers in Honduras and the counterrevolutionary terrorist actions in Nicaragua could come in the form of border provocations in the months ahead. In the first half of March, Honduran artillery units attacked the small Nicaraguan border town of Santo Tomás del Nance for five consecutive days. Three dead, including two children, and a considerable number of wounded civilians indicates the serious nature of the attack.

Conflicts in the contra command

The tactical changes that the counterrevolution has begun to implement in hopes of reversing its strategic decline have political as well as military limitations. In February and March, the internal divisions within the contra forces deepened. There have been bitter disputes both for control of the "donations" made by the United States and for political control of the organization. When President Arias revealed his plan in San José, the struggle intensified; the civilian sector, not weakened by the plan, accepted it; while the military sector rejected the plan as it would have limited their power.

With his threats to resign from the UNO, Arturo Cruz was able to force Adolfo Calero's resignation from his position in the UNO leadership triumvirate formed by Cruz, Calero and Alfonso Robelo. Elliot Abrams, after numerous attempts to reconcile them, had to inform Calero that his resignation was a political necessity. Nevertheless, Calero remains a leader of the FDN, the strongest counterrevolutionary armed group, which incorporates the ex-Somocista forces. Calero was replaced in the UNO by Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios. Then on March 9, in an assembly held in Costa Rica, Cruz had to resign from his position. He had tried to broaden the UNO by incorporating more elements that supported him in order to gain definitive control of the organization, but the Somocista majority present at the meeting blocked that. Cruz also failed in his proposal to remove Enrique Bermúdez, who had been a colonel in Somoza's National Guard, from his position as head of the FDN. Cruz’s resignation assured that Calero and the FDN maintained control over 17 of the 25 participants in the UNO Assembly. On February 21 and 22, Brooklyn Rivera and Fernando "El Negro" Chamorro, both extremely weak in military terms, also announced their resignations from the UNO.

The third ministerial conference at the beginning of February, with the European Economic Community in attendance, revealed the deepening struggles among different sides in the Central American conflict. February and March brought clear evidence of these battles. The Arias Plan was transformed from a variant of the Reagan line into a variation on the Contadora proposal. In the meantime, Contadora has continued its difficult search for peace. The Contadora and Support Group ministers met in Argentina from April 3-7 to deal with issues of interest to their countries and to discuss a possible meeting of the Presidents of Contadora and Support Group countries to further the search for a solution to the Central American conflict. "We have very clear positions regarding both the arming of mercenary bands and the free self-determination of countries," were Peruvian President Alan García's words before the ministers' meeting in Argentina. On March 29, Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo, host of the Esquipulas meeting, visited Nicaragua. In a statement issued jointly with President Daniel Ortega, both leaders expressed the need for a peaceful process, with the assistance of Contadora, to resolve the crisis in the region. After his return to Guatemala, President Cerezo met with Philip Habib, while the US presence in Honduras increased in preparation for the maneuvers and Nicaragua strengthened its "revolutionary vigilance" of targets the contras may strike at in this new phase of sabotage actions.

Internal front in Nicaragua?

It has not been possible to create a consolidated internal front inside Nicaragua despite the somewhat favorable conditions for such a move given the difficult economic situation facing the country. On February 2, Nestor Sánchez, one of the architects of the counterrevolutionary strategy and former US Under-Secretary of Defense, said that although the contra forces may not be able to militarily defeat the Sandinistas, they only need to establish "a viable alternative around which the Nicaraguan population can mobilize and thus cause a popular uprising." Nevertheless, the country's economic crisis (see "Plan 87" in this envío) and the population's discontent with it has translated into anti-Sandinista political discontent because most Nicaraguans identify US policy as the cause. At the same time, important political forces—the Catholic Church and the opposition political parties—are taking different directions than that followed by the counterrevolution.

Church-State dialogue

On September 27, 1986, the Church-State dialogue was reopened. Another meeting was held on October 20 and meetings continued to be held monthly through February. The church representatives on the dialogue commission were Bishop Paolo Giglio, the Papal Nuncio, and Nicaraguan Bishops Carlos Santi and Bosco Vivas. The government was represented by Minister of the Presidency René Núñez and Minister of Justice Rodrigo Reyes. In its February 9 meeting, according to statements made by Bosco Vivas to the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario, the Bishops Conference of Nicaragua presented a list of concerns as a contribution to a comprehensive agreement that would govern Church-State relations, a sort of code of behavior that would establish the "rules of the game" between Church and State, based on mutual recognition of each other's sphere of activity. On February 8, Núñez confirmed to Barricada that the government had presented its own 14-point proposal during the last Church-State meeting in 1986. "The comprehensive agreement," Núñez explained to El Nuevo Diario on February 11, "could come out of the points common to the two proposals."

Bishop Vivas also recognized that the two documents have some common ground. By agreement of both parties, the documents were not made public. Núñez told El Nuevo Diario that he was hopeful both sides could come to an agreement regarding those common points in their next meeting.

In declarations that appeared in the February 22 edition of Panorama Católico, published biweekly by the Catholic Church in Panama, Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo stated, "The Nicaraguan Church has put forward as its first points to initiate a dialogue for the entry of Bishop Bismarck Carballo, director of Radio Católica and Vicar of Social Communications for the Archdiocese of Managua and Bishop Pablo Antonio Vega, Bishop of Juigalpa." The church also wants Radio Católica reopened.

This was apparently one of the points taken up by the Dialogue Commission in its March 2 meeting. After this meeting, Minister René Núñez stated to journalists that "Our formulation, made both to the Nuncio and to the Bishops' Conference, is that the government and the Church have been discussing very specific points. But the problems arise again and we get caught in a vicious circle. We believe that to make progress towards building a more positive and stable relation, a comprehensive agreement is required to definitively resolve each specific matter. The cases of Carballo, Vega and Radio Católica will be solved within the context of this overall agreement." For his part, Dr. Rodrigo Reyes stated to Barricada on March 4 that the government had broadened its conception of the points to be covered with the goal of reaching an overall agreement.

The following and most recent meeting, held on April 1, apparently produced some important advances. Alluding to the conflict between discussing an overall agreement or focusing on the more specific points that had arisen in the previous meeting, Bishop Vivas told Barricada on April 2 that the Church has agreed to discuss a comprehensive accord. René Núñez also confirmed that "several important points of agreement in the overall accord had been defined," and Vivas said they would be "discussed with the corresponding authorities." Núñez added that the government had proposed the formation of a sub-commission to deal with the more specific issues (Radio Católica, Vega and Carballo) and that they were awaiting a response to this proposal. Bishop Carlos Santi stated that a comprehensive accord could be signed this year and the papal nuncio said he was "very optimistic" and believed that "today a very important advance has been made." The next meeting was scheduled for May 4. The Catholic Church's own current policy of seeking recognition as a legitimate force within Nicaragua doesn't favor the creation of the internal front hoped for by the Reagan administration. Neither the easing of tensions achieved in the six months since the dialogue began nor the direction in which the Church now seems headed lead to the Reagan option.

The internal opposition

For different reasons than the Catholic Church, the opposition political parties also are either unable or unwilling to constitute an internal front. In the first week of February, seven parties issued a nine-point proposal. The document was signed by a gamut of parties ranging from the Communist Party to the abstentionist and pro-US parties of the Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinating Committee. The points, which according to the signers will contribute to peace in Nicaragua, are:

1. Formation of a national peace commission, which will initially work on arranging a cease-fire.

2. Full exercise of political, economic and social rights recognized by the Constitution signed into law on January 9.

3. Building of a patriotic consensus for the defense of the country and of the democratic, national revolution.

4. Development and implementation of a complete national plan for the reconstruction of the country.

5. General amnesty for political and related crimes.

6. Development of a schedule for elections at all levels to be held within one year after the signing of a national agreement.

7. Establishment of a permanent national dialogue process.

8. Joint efforts to encourage international cooperation for the country's reconstruction.

9. A public signing of a national agreement, with official representatives of the UN, the Contadora Group and international political institutions in attendance.

One possible interpretation of the nine-point plan reveals fundamental areas of agreement between it and the first version of the Arias plan, which was still viable at that time and enjoyed Washington's support. The national peace commission would have to approach the contras to propose the ceasefire to them; this act in itself would acknowledge them as a legitimate force and the negotiations would lead to new elections in a tacit rejection of the elections that brought the FSLN to the presidency. In addition to giving new life to the contra forces, the plan would eventually incorporate them into the electoral and political process in Nicaragua. A general amnesty for political and related crimes completes the picture. The UNO published a statement in some Central American newspapers on February 8 in which it "pledged to contribute its part to a ceasefire, enter into negotiations with the regime in Managua… and participate in free elections in Nicaragua." This perspective may imply the forming of an internal front inside the country. Recognizing this, certain opposition parties—the Democratic Conservative Party, the Popular Action Movement and the Nicaraguan Socialist Party—harshly criticized the document.

Nevertheless, the Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC) and the Communist Party signed on to the nine points, rejecting the above interpretation of the document. For Mauricio Díaz of the PPSC, the peace commission doesn't imply a dialogue with the counterrevolution as the cease-fire could be arranged through peace organizations operating within Nicaragua, and could include a dialogue between the Nicaraguan government and the US. According to Díaz, the plan's acceptance of the new Constitution implies a total recognition of the new order in Nicaragua. Díaz left it up in the air as to whether or not the electoral dates were negotiable: "We're not holding a gun to the government's head." For Eli Altamirano of the Communist Party, only one point of the nine points is crucial: "Patriotic unity for the defense of the revolution." The other points are "demands made by some of the national sectors and we should incorporate these points precisely because it's important to involve [those sectors] in these great national tasks." The silence of the four abstentionist parties of the Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinating Committee, which also signed the nine-point plan, was interpreted by the majority of Nicaraguan analysts as a sign of their loyalty to the Washington line. For its part, the Independent Liberal Party maintained a rather ambiguous position between the two groups of signers.

It is doubtful that the seven parties will move beyond merely signing a document that means different things to its different signers. Their ideological heterogeneity, along with the diversity of proposals that are now competing in the international arena, will not permit coherent political action. Nevertheless, the seven-party document demonstrates the possibility that some or all of the signing parties could reconstitute themselves as a new kind of internal front. If these positions are consolidated, this front might be able to win support from backers of the second Arias plan and the new Central American policy developing within one wing of the Democratic Party. The internal front could become part of a two-pronged attack: political pressure from within linking up with continued military pressure from the Reagan administration. It would also provide a formula for a change in the context of an eventual failure of Reagan administration policy in Nicaragua. Certainly, the potential for a new and complex realignment of forces is appearing.

Little by little the Reagan administration is being forced to go it alone. It has failed to mount an internal front in Nicaragua. The Democrats and the Costa Rican and Guatemalan governments have begun to test out their own new alternatives, which may eventually find support within the Nicaraguan political opposition. Meanwhile, the Contadora process continues. In the background appear the strategic decline of the contra forces and the fallout of the Iran/Contragate scandal. But Reagan stubbornly insists on a militaristic solution. The maneuvers of his 50,000 troops in Honduras and the attempt to change contra tactics indicate that more blood will be spilled. Peace efforts are going forward, but peace itself is not at hand.

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