From Estelí to New York: A Call to Conscience
"...We would like to be speaking of the aggression in the past tense, dedicating this moment to speak of production, to speak of education, of health; but the reality is that the aggression is present, it's not disappearing, and it threatens to become greater.
—President Daniel Ortega, Estelí, July 19, 1986
"On March 25, 1982, exactly four years, four months and four days ago today, I came to New York to explain the prevailing situation in Central America to the Security Council, the highest body charged with overseeing peace and international security, and to discuss the grave consequences that President Reagan's policy toward Nicaragua was having for the region and for the whole international community.... At that time, we expressed our willingness to make all efforts necessary to avoid a catastrophe. But the history of these four years has confirmed our fears.”
—President Daniel Ortega, New York, July 29, 1986.
The war continues to be with us and is indeed tending to become greater. Nicaragua’s perspective remains as bleak as it was last month given that the doors to the aggression have been opened wide to the CIA. All of the revolutionary forces, tensed, are preparing themselves for whatever eventualities—military and otherwise—appear on the horizon following that decision.
In the midst of this tension, Nicaraguans celebrated the seventh anniversary of their revolution on July 19 in the northern city of Estelí. Given the proximity of the Honduran border, the event's success was proof of the Sandinista army's control over the region. The celebration was also a call to the conscience of the Nicaraguan people to prepare to face a new aggravation of the conflict.
In the midst of this same tension, Nicaragua's President convoked the UN Security Council. Speaking there on July 29, he appealed to international conscience, asking all countries to support the decision of the International Court of Justice as a way of halting the war. The appearance of the Sandinista leader was a diplomatic success for the Nicaraguan revolution, another demonstration of its moral force.
President Ortega's eight-point proposal, offered in Chicago at the end of his US visit, was an effort to leave open avenues of dialogue and hopefully put a brake on the military consequences that can be envisioned as a result of the Reagan administration's stubborn determination to opt for war.
The aggression threatens to increaseVarious elements must be considered in order to understand the foreseeable aggravation of the war. Throughout this month, the Nicaraguan government's highest political and military leaders have provided data and interpretations to back up their conclusions in this regard. Their effort is to heighten national and international awareness of the danger created by the new situation.
because the CIA is now in charge
The placing of mines in Nicaraguan ports in April 1984, for which the CIA itself later acknowledged responsibility, caused an international scandal and led Nicaragua to take its case against the United States to the International Court of Justice. To some degree, both the scandal and Nicaragua's reaction contained the CIA’s terrorist activities and deterred the direct involvement of its agents in the counterrevolution’s activities. It should be added that decisions on CIA actions such as the mining were taken independent of the counterrevolutionary structures themselves.
The seriousness of the current situation lies in the fact that in the bill approved by the House on June 25, the CIA recovers all its freedom of movement, now with "legalized" impunity. This leads to the expectation that there will be more sophisticated terrorist activities than those the contras could have pulled off on their own. Air attacks against strategic objectives (bridges, ports, airports, factories, etc.) and attacks against coastal targets with "piranha" speedboats could be among these activities. Now they will not only be directed by the CIA, but could be executed directly by the CIA's own agents.
These ominous perspectives are not the fruit of paranoid imagination. On July 14, the US State Department confirmed that the CIA and Defense Department will control the counterrevolutionaries and "daily management" of the war in Nicaragua. That this is the case and was announced publicly indicates a qualitative change in the war because there’s no legislative control over the activities of the CIA and the Pentagon. The US government—both executive and legislative—has placed the highest stakes ever on defeating the Sandinista government, and has put its most uncontrollable and heavy-handed apparatus openly in charge.
"I believe that these next two years will be especially dangerous for Nicaragua and for the world," declared President Ortega to international agencies. "The CIA is analyzing the need to send US advisers to the region, and given the dynamic that the aggression is assuming, one must expect that North Americans will die in Central America. Whether they come as advisers to the counterrevolution or as invaders, we, for our part, are going to kill them."
The contras will be better armedIn the long years of grinding war against Nicaragua, the counterrevolutionary groups have been armed and rearmed by the United States. In the House-approved bill, they would receive a series of sophisticated weapons with which to try to alter the course of the war in their favor. If the Senate backs the House vote in August, planes, helicopters, surface-to-air rockets, artillery and high-tech communications and intelligence equipment could be provided by the CIA to the contras starting in September.
Referring to Nicaragua's proposal to eliminate offensive armaments and regulate or control defensive ones, President Ortega declared after the vote that “of course, the proposal we made to Contadora must be carefully reviewed to come up with a formula that makes some sense in the moments we are living now.” Leaders of the Nicaraguan army also stated this month that Nicaragua is studying the possibility of acquiring interceptor planes (Migs or Mirages) given the indiscriminate provision of aircraft to the counterrevolution.
A new stage in the Vietnamization The contra aid package contemplates sending US advisers to direct and participate in the anti-Sandinista military activities in the region, openly and with no outside controls.
As Democratic Senator Alan Cranston, among others, pointed out, three of the four stages of the US war against Vietnam have now been reached in the war against Nicaragua and against the Salvadoran FMLN. 1) The economic aid used to sustain "friendly" governments in the area is being maintained and has even increased; 2) US control of the war has been assumed and 3) the war is being conducted through US advisers. Only the fourth and final stage is lacking: the sending of US troops to combat the enemy.
"Why do you say Reagan wants another Vietnam in Central America?" a US journalist asked President Ortega at the United Nations.
"Because he wants a rapid military solution in Nicaragua, and because he believes it’s possible. But it won't be possible, because if he sends troops, they'll get bogged down. And then Central America really will be another Vietnam.
Growing militarizationThe militarization of Central America is a fundamental option of the Reagan administration to preserve its hegemony in the area, defeat the Sandinista government, shore up the Duarte government against the FMLN and assure, through force, that there will be no other effort at revolutionary change in the region.
Although the recently approved aid bill doesn’t include any spending for military infrastructure, this is taken as assumed. It will continue growing, as it has up to now, insofar as deemed necessary to achieve the desired objectives, the immediate one of which is to tighten the encirclement of Nicaragua.
This encirclement is ever more sophisticated and permanent. The naval encirclement is achieved with frigates and radar-equipped speedboats. A frigate, a spy ship and a high-resistance US Coast Guard ship remain permanently just outside Nicaragua's territorial limits. The United States has invested $20 million in outfitting a special boat to intercept all Nicaraguan army communications. For their part, the contras now have their own naval base on the Salvadoran island of Meanguera.
The air encirclement is made through the constant violation of Nicaraguan air space. In the first six months of 1986, a US RC-135 spy plane capable of capturing all telephone communications and the country’s entire radio transmission spectrum, made 47 spy flights. Another spy plane, the TR-1, made 13 flights in this same period. (This plane, even when flying at great heights, is said to be able to determine if a person on the street is clean shaven or not.) In addition, a radar-equipped spy balloon flies over Nicaragua, controlling all ships and planes that enter or leave the country. Together with these more sophisticated means, there are also other violations of air space: in the first six months of the year there were 313 violations to supply the FDN contra organization or for military espionage on its behalf. Of these flights, 161 came from Costa Rica and 152 from Honduras. The contras also openly receive training and aviation courses and repair their aircraft in El Salvador.
The land encirclement is implied by the US military maneuvers in Honduras and the rest of the region. It is calculated that some 100,000 US troops, including some 14,000 Marines, have participated in these unending joint maneuvers since 1981. To this must be added the construction of El Murciélago military base in Costa Rica, the construction of military roads in the north of that country and the rapidly increasing militarization of the Costa Rican rural and civil guards.
Just as General John Galvin, head of the US Southern Command in Panama, was announcing this month that military maneuvers in Honduras would continue throughout the rest of 1986, The New York Times revealed that almost $288.5 million has been spent since 1981 constructing an impressive military infrastructure in Honduras, and another $188.8 million is earmarked for the same purpose next year alone.
Given this spending, together with the $400 million in covert aid provided to the Nicaraguan contras between 1979 and 1984, the $400 million more that US media have revealed will be provided by the CIA and the overt aid previously supplied by the Reagan administration with or without Congressional approval, the latest $100 million in official assistance is obviously only the tip of an iceberg.
"The dimensions of the military infrastructure built in the region over the past five years by the United States—including the construction of military bases and training camps and the introduction of war material never seen in this region before, all under the guise of huge military maneuvers—goes far beyond the immediate goal of overthrowing the Nicaraguan revolution.
"The military presence of the United States in the region is not only aimed at undermining the sovereignty of these countries, but also at establishing precedents that endanger the integrity and independence of the Latin America and Caribbean nations."
—Denunciation by President Daniel Ortega to the UN Security Council
A new and very important element to take into account is the relation between this growing militarization and the anti-drug fight that President Reagan has launched as the Great Crusade of the end of his mandate. Between May and July, 160 US military personnel provided with six helicopters have been in various departments of Bolivia making public their direct military intervention. Bolivians who are aware of what this intervention—justified as stopping drug traffic—means for their country’s sovereignty have charged that the US pretension is to keep its troops there permanently, converting the poorest country in South America into the "Honduras of the Southern Cone." Many observers of this intervention, which is trying to camouflage itself in coca leaves, analyze it as a kind of "political test" to measure the reactions of neighboring countries to such an intervention.
The Reagan administration is militarizing Central AmericaBetween 1980 and 1984 the Reagan administration conceded $901 million in economic aid and $1.68 million in military aid (not including the Nicaraguan counterrevolution) to "friendly" countries in Central America.
The military assistance provided just in the last four years of the Reagan era equals 89.2% of all US military assistance given to Central America in the previous 34 years (1950-84), including, naturally, the assistance Somoza received.
The process of militarization is also reflected in the growth of the armed forces of the Central American countries allied to the United States.
Growth in Central American Armed Forces (1977-1985)
The case of Costa Rica, the "country without an army," is most noticeable. In 1977, there were 5,000 guardsmen in the "Switzerland of Central America." In 1985, there were 19,800. Today there are even more.
Source: Data offered by Comandante Bayardo Arce in the keynote speech of the Meeting of Youth and Students of Latin America and the Caribbean for Peace and Non-Intervention, July 16, 1986.
The situation is becoming even more worrisome given that the Costa Rican government this month asked the US government to send troops to its country to combat the drug traffic, too; a request the Reagan government will honor. The “drug fighters” will undoubtedly be a good backup for the “freedom fighters” and could be an advance party of direct intervention. It must not be forgotten that the US government has more than once accused the Nicaraguan government of being an active agent of international narcotics traffic and has even presented “proof” of this accusation.
Wearing away the counterrevolutionOne cannot discuss the perspective that the war will worsen without considering that the counterrevolution has been suffering a strategic defeat for over a year. This obliges the United States to try to rapidly turn this disadvantageous situation around, without discarding the eventuality of sending US troops. The “strategic defeat” or systematic wearing away of the FDN is expressed in these indicators:
• For the past six months the counterrevolutionaries have initiated no combat with the Sandinista army;
• In 1986 the army has significantly reduced the counterrevolution's area of operations, obliging the contras to fall back to virtually unpopulated zones where they have no possibility of developing any strategic plan and they even lose the tactical initiative;
• The number of counterrevolutionaries infiltrated inside the country has also been reduced in 1986. The 5,000 still inside have been newly regrouped into task forces with no other project than to strike out at the civilian population and against economic objectives, thus returning to 1983 conditions;
• The FDN’s last large strategic plan, which the Jorge Salazar Regional Command in Region V (Boaco-Chontales) was to have carried out, has been totally broken up by the army, leaving the contras battered, dispersed and pushed into militarily disadvantageous territory;
• The contras’ capacity to reposition themselves has become tougher. If at one time peasants allied with the contras in strategic zones, this is no longer the case. Instead the FDN is suffering defections by peasants who are taking advantage of the government's amnesty law,* leaving it no option other than forced recruitment in the low population zones into which it has been pushed. Between January and July 1986, for example, 2,745 contras (an average of 13 a day) were killed, some 1,000 wounded and 300 captured in pursuits by the army. In this same period, the contras were only able to incorporate 259 men into their ranks, and this by forced recruitment.
*This month the amnesty law, which went into effect in December 1983, was extended for another year. According to this law, any counterrevolutionary, even a leader, can be fully reintegrated into his community if he turns in his weapons.
Note in the table below that the civilian casualties caused by the contras are greater than those inflicted on the Sandinista army. The terrorist aggression against peasants and other civilians is a characteristic of the war and increases to the degree that the counterrevolution’s military incapacity increases. Ambushes against non-military vehicles, mines placed in mountainous roads where passenger vehicles travel and attacks against small towns, settlements and peasant communities have multiplied throughout July.
In these six months the contras have destroyed the following economic objectives: 14 electrical posts and towers, 2 electrical plants, 23 civilian and construction vehicles, 2 agricultural cooperatives, 9 agricultural production units, 3 tobacco sheds and 54 peasant homes
Six Months of Counterrevolutionary War
Short-term plansIn his speech in Estelí during the celebration of the seventh anniversary of the revolution, President Ortega synthesized in four points of the short-term US plan for the counterrevolution:
1. Significant escalation of military activities throughout Nicaragua, including attacks on the capital;
2. More disciplined combat, with fewer civilian victims or human rights abuses;
3. A growth of contra forces and a fortification of the internal opposition;
4. An attempt to create cracks among the Sandinista leadership and thus provoke a split in the FSLN.
We’ve already discussed the first objective. To achieve it, the CIA will openly participate in the counterrevolutionary war and will provide the FDN with new and sophisticated armaments. Attacks on the capital have been under careful consideration for some time. The Fort Bragg, North Carolina, military complex, for example, houses a huge, fully detailed mock-up of Managua, on which can be planned any kind of attack on the capital in equal detail.
The second objective seems far beyond the contras reach. This month two new terrorist actions occurred on the same day, July 28. In the morning, a contra ambush in Zompopera, Jinotega, left two Nicaraguan civilians and three international cooperants dead and three more Nicaraguans wounded. The three cooperants were Bernd Koverstein, from Germany, who was working on a potable water project; Joel Fieux, from France, a typographer; and Ivan Claude Leyvraz, from Switzerland, who was involved in a housing project in the zone.* That same evening a counterrevolutionary group attacked the peasant settlement of Panalí in Nueva Segovia with mortars. In the attack on Panalí’s 600 inhabitants, 6 people died (3 children, a woman and an old man who was a veteran of Sandino's army) and 26 more were wounded, among them 9 children.
*The murder of the three cooperants—another five have already been killed in these years of war—shook the hundreds of international cooperants lending their services in Nicaragua. On the afternoon of July 29, the US flag was burned in front of the US Embassy in Managua where more than 2,000 cooperants gathered in a demonstration. On the same afternoon Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramírez, presiding over the burial of the dead cooperants in Matagalpa, sent a message to the governments of the European countries: "Don't isolate Nicaragua. What must be stopped is the hand of the assassins and not those of the cooperants who want to come to Nicaragua! This revolution doesn’t belong only to Nicaraguans but to all the men and women of good will in the world.
The third objective is made harder for the contras by their serious loss of a peasant base in the last year and a half. US propaganda claims that the FDN is "the largest peasant army that has been seen in the history of Latin America," but to turn this lie into the truth, the administration has been forced to hire more and more mercenaries.
On the other hand, insofar as an effort is made to strengthen the internal counterrevolutionary opposition, it will come up against strict application of the state of emergency. Following the temporary expulsion of Bishop Vega and Father Carballo and the equally temporary closing of La Prensa, there have been no further applications. According to a declaration by Vice President Sergio Ramírez this month: "We are in no way breaking with overall respect for public freedoms. Only when we determine cases in which there is an attempt to rupture institutional order through deeds will we apply these measures in order to strengthen internal institutionality, and then through the resources provided by the state of emergency. It’s not that we have a black list of political or religious leaders and can now apply the state of emergency in a preconceived way, but rather that in each case we will react against those who want to introduce elements of internal destabilization from the enemy's side."
Nicaragua's Vice President also helped clarify the sense of the fourth objective: "One of the most cherished dreams of the CIA, of the Reagan administration, of the enemies of the revolution, has been to divide the Sandinista leadership, to divide the Sandinista Front. Before the war, we passed through a painful period of division here. The cost of division had thus already been paid before the revolutionary triumph, and there’s clear awareness down to the last militant of the FSLN that without unity we can’t prosecute this war. The awareness of the need for unity is the cement that keeps the FSLN unified. But even more important than this, it’s unified around a single idea and a single leadership. This idea is the country’s independence and sovereignty; it is revolutionary change. This has no cracks. Nor does the question of how to make revolutionary change. Therefore, the least fear we have is that some fissure will sometime be produced among the Sandinista leadership.... When the CIA speaks of provoking cracks in the FSLN, what it’s talking about, simply, is assassinating the leaders, because they calculate that by killing one of the leaders of the revolution they’re going to provoke internal divisions."
This in broad strokes is the situation of the war and these are the perspectives. The war to wear down Nicaragua is indeed wearing it down, bringing human pain and material destruction; it has already produced 31,200 Nicaraguan victims and provoked losses of over $2 billion. It is a "cruel and imposed" war, as President Ortega described it to the international community in the UN Security Council. The war could become even crueler starting with the 180-degree turn in its conception implicit in the entry of the CIA and of sophisticated weapons, all of which carries with it the unstoppable militarization of the area.
In addition to being cruel, it is a war out of all proportion to such a small country. This month a German writer, Heinz Dieterich, published some suggestive articles about Nicaragua in the Mexican daily, Uno más Uno. In one he engages in an exercise of imagination to give people in the United States get a better idea of the proportions of this war: "If we extrapolate the scene of the Nicaraguan war to the American Union, taking into account the different population proportions and financial capacities, we get the following profile of the aggression against the United States. From the North (Canada) 1,200,000 mercenaries would attack the country (taking as a base the existence of 15,000 counterrevolutionaries in Honduras). Another 64,000 would do the same from the south (Mexico). The land attacks would be complemented by air and maritime aggressions, both in the Atlantic Coast and in the Pacific. The Washington airport would have suffered serious damages in one of these air attacks and numerous boats trying to enter the ports of San Francisco and New York would have been sunk by the mining of these harbors. At the same time, in a sea attack, the greater part of the coast’s oil reserves would have been destroyed.
"In 1985 alone, the US army would have suffered more than 90,000 deaths in combat (1,143 of the Sandinista Popular Army in that year). In other words, the US Army would have lost more men in one year than in the entire Vietnam War or the Korean War. These mercenaries have been consistently supported by the greatest power in the world and just received $100 million dollars in open support [in a vote by the House of Representatives] and will be given $400 million in covert aid. This sum is, in gross terms, equal to the Sandinistas’ entire annual defense budget, which in turn represents almost 50% of the country’s total budget. This would thus equal, in terms of the federal US budget for that year ($1 trillion), $500 billion in military assistance by the aggressor to its mercenary bands."
Estelí—a military victory... The Nicaraguan government had decided in April to hold the revolution's seventh anniversary celebration in the northern city of Estelí. This was to honor the Segovias, the area of the country with the strongest tradition of struggle since Sandino’s time. The area has also had the most suffering and shown the greatest strength in the current war.
Buoyed by the US House of Representatives' approval of the $100 million, the contras made every effort to force the Nicaraguan government to move the site of the celebration from Estelí to Managua. They planned acts of sabotage and from neighboring countries intensified their radio broadcasts aimed at intimidation.
Before July 19 various terrorist plans were deterred: an attempt on the life of President Daniel Ortega; acts of sabotage against three strategic economic targets—the Sébaco Agroindustrial Complex, the Carlos Fonseca hydroelectric plant and the Momotombo geothermal plant. Less dramatic plans for mining roads, carrying out ambushes and kidnappings were also detected.
In the end, 80,000 people came to Estelí without incident; most of them peasants from the cities, towns and villages of the Segovias. To carry out an event like that in a war zone demonstrates the extent of the government's military control. (Estelí is barely 35 km from the Honduran border and the outlying areas have been subject to contra attacks for several years.)
...An appeal to national conscience...In the main speech of the Estelí celebration, President Ortega underlined once more the war’s human and material destruction. His major point was to appeal to the conscience of the Nicaraguan people; to ask them to fight against and win not only the military war but also the economic one. That means putting in longer hours at work and making every possible effort to produce more and distribute better the little there is:*
*In just one year, there has been a 25% reduction in the availability of basic goods for the Nicaraguan people, according to President Ortega.
"We face not only a criminal military war by the United States, but also a criminal economic war. The US blocks loans to us; it blocks international aid. It does what it can to keep aid from arriving in Nicaragua. It does this so the people will suffer, so they will then resent the situation and say that the revolution only means hunger and misery. It hopes they’ll then renounce the revolution and be willing to receive the Yankee soldiers along with the mercenaries and the Somoza’s old National Guardsmen.... But are we Nicaraguans going to be defeated by hunger? [Public: "No!!"] Are we going to give up because we have distribution problems, because we have food shortages? [No!!] We must strengthen our will to resist even the worst conditions, to take up arms in the face of the aggressor and in defense of the revolution. For here in Nicaragua we’re defending a bastion of democracy in Latin America.
...And to Honduras and Costa RicaAn essential part of the US war strategy is to "bribe" the Central American governments to isolate Nicaragua and use their territory and political diplomatic influence in the service of the US-backed war. In the contra aid package approved by the House, $300 million was included for economic aid to the other four Central American countries.
In the present likelihood of a worsening crisis, Nicaragua can be expected to be more assertive toward the governments in the region, especially the neighboring countries of Costa Rica and Honduras whose common borders with Nicaragua have become war zones. In Estelí President Ortega appealed to Costa Rican and Honduran conscience, challenging the governments of those countries to "compete for peace" rather than become "instruments of the interventionist US policies against Nicaragua." If the latter happens, President Ortega warned, "their own people will judge them."
Noting that 41% of the land in Costa Rica is in the hands of large landowners, and that peasants who demand land are "turned over to the Costa Rican Guard to be beaten and even killed," President Ortega invited both governments, if they want to compete with Nicaragua, "to compete with us in the area of peace, compete to see who gives more land to the peasants."* He also challenged them to compete in the areas of health, education and housing. "In that way we’ll be making democracy."
*Ortega said that Nicaragua has given 1,971,831 hectares of land to 100,000 families since 1979, while the other four Central American countries combined have only turned over 1,400,000 hectares in their entire history. On July 16, the Nicaraguan agrarian reform minister announced that by the end of 1986 the impoverished and isolated Río San Juan region would be declared "free of landless peasants."
This month the Nicaraguan government took another important and pragmatic, to say nothing of surprising, initiative to challenge the conscience of these two governments: it brought suit at the International Court of Justice at The Hague against them for their "grave complicity" in the US war against Nicaragua, which the same court has already condemned as illegal.
Nicaragua's suit against Honduras and Costa Rica was presented to the Court on July 28. The same 15 judges who rendered the verdict in Nicaragua's suit against the US will hear this case. As a gesture of courtesy, the Nicaraguan government had previously sent a formal note to the neighboring governments informing them of the impending legal action.
Initial reactions from Costa Rica and Honduras were contradictory. A few days after the notification, Honduras announced that it would not recognize the Court's jurisdiction in this case, thus repeating the US position regarding Nicaragua's suit against it. This poses a dilemma for Honduras, however, since it has a border dispute with El Salvador it has agreed to let that Court settle.
The Costa Rican government, on the other hand, did recognize the Court's jurisdiction in the matter, although it denied Nicaragua's allegations, noting that "neutrality" has always been a basic principle of Costa Rican foreign policy. The Arias government announced that it will file a countersuit against Nicaragua for alleged violations of air space and other attacks it claims to have suffered.
The Nicaraguan government gave the following explanation for its decision to bring the matter before the International Court:
• So far all bilateral initiatives begun during the past several years to resolve problems with these two countries have been fruitless. (This includes meetings, agreements for mixed commissions and proposals for demilitarization or joint border patrols.)
• A World Court judgment could help defuse the bilateral conflicts, preventing them from further provoking the generalized conflict.
• A peaceful resolution of the disputes would reinforce the peace efforts of Contadora's multilateral proposal. (The Contadora initiative doesn’t deal with bilateral conflicts between Central American countries, but it encourages bilateral dialogue and accords as a way to strengthen its own regional initiative).
In the normal Court procedures to will be observed in the coming weeks, the Court will meet with legal representatives of the three countries involved to set the dates on which Nicaragua will present documentation to support its claim, and Honduras and Costa Rica will present their respective documentation in response. The Nicaraguan government says it has sufficient proof to show both Costa Rican and Honduran intervention in Nicaragua's internal affairs as well as their use of and threat to use force in their relations with Nicaragua. Nicaragua will request indemnification from both countries.
Nicaragua insists that its decision to appeal to the Court is not an unfriendly act toward its neighbors, but rather a considered measure in the face of a precarious situation that calls for urgent action. It hopes through legal proceedings to impede military confrontation.
"Nicaragua’s lawsuit against Honduras and Costa Rica is another reaction to the same problem—US policy," President Ortega told reporters at the UN. "That policy has, in fact, even been imposed on those countries, on their own governments. All bilateral proposals have been blocked by the US. What was left for us to do? Appeal to the Court once more. We even believe that bringing the case to the Court can help the other Central American countries."
An appeal to international conscienceIn his July 19 speech, President Ortega announced that Nicaragua would give the US until July 27 to accept the World Court verdict, which had been delivered on June 27. If it did not do so, Nicaragua would call an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council.
On July 22, Nicaragua did just that, basing its action on the procedure outlined in the UN charter in case a Court decision is not observed. On July 29, President Ortega addressed the 15-member Security Council for 45 minutes, for the second time. (The first was on March 25, 1982, just after Nicaragua decreed a state of emergency following the first serious acts of aggression in the war. He has spoken to the UN General Assembly on four occasions.)
On the day before President Ortega's address, the Permanent Bureau of the Non-Aligned Nations issued a statement asking that the US "strictly and immediately" comply with the Court decision, following an address by Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto.
"What convinced Nicaragua to go to The Hague was the invasion of Grenada," Father D'Escoto told the Permanent Bureau. "Not just the invasion, but the reaction within the US. The United States was calling for a redefinition of international law and of the very concept of intervention. It isn’t just the violation of international law that’s so serious, but also the justification of that policy."
Nicaragua addressed the Security Council on behalf of the non-aligned and other small countries which, though they may have moved beyond political colonialism, haven’t yet gained economic independence. For all such countries, respect for international law is fundamental if their rights as independent and sovereign peoples are to have value. After the verdict of The Hague, in which for the first time ever an international tribunal condemned a superpower, Nicaragua's suit has maximum significance. The world has been shown that violating the rights of a small nation with impunity puts the whole concept of international law in crisis.
The Security Council debate lasted until August 1. More than twenty countries spoke in favor of Nicaragua’s position. Only US Ambassador to the UN Vernon Walters, who walked out of the Council during President Ortega's speech, spoke against it. He said that in the present conflict, "Nicaragua is the Goliath."
The representative from Zimbabwe insisted that it was not a question of "sympathizing with" Nicaragua, but of respecting law. "We cannot speak of peace and security in a world where there is no respect for the authority of the law. That is the world of Rambo, and Rambo belongs in the jungle."
Similar sentiments were expressed by a Nicaraguan worker following the special live broadcast of President Ortega's speech (excerpted at the end of this article). "If Reagan continues to do whatever he feels like doing, the world won't be fit to live in."
After the debate, the Security Council 15 members cast their votes. Eleven voted in favor of Nicaragua's proposed resolution, 3 (Thailand, France and Great Britain) abstained and, as expected, the US exercised its right to veto it.
Although the UN debate has officially ended, the debate over the US war against Nicaragua is timelier than ever in light of the World Court decision.
President Ortega didn’t limit his US visit to the defense of international law within the confines of the UN. In three cities—New York, Denver and Chicago—he appealed to the conscience of the US public. The greatest hope of stopping the war and preventing a US invasion lies with the US people and their capacity for honesty and resistance. "We must knock on all doors until the truth of Nicaragua's position is heard," observed Ortega, adding on another occasion, "I am here to prick the US conscience with the truth."
Peace will depend on whatever alliances of solidarity can be formed between small countries, all peoples and governments and the US people along with the honest US political sectors.
With that in mind, Nicaragua put forth a new proposal in Chicago on August 2, after conversations between President Ortega and Democratic leader Reverend Jesse Jackson. The eight points of the Chicago Proposal (presented at the end of this article) are a renewed search for dialogue and a renewed appeal to the conscience of the various forces involved in the conflict upon whom the achievement of peace depends. The Chicago Document raised eight questions to which those addressed must respond.
Extracts from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s Speech to the UN
"I have come here today to address an issue that concerns not only Nicaragua and each one of the members of this Council, but all the members of the United Nations. I have come to address the very survival of the international legal order and international law.
"Today the survival of international law is threatened; it is up to the nations of the world, especially the members of this Council, to defend and preserve it.
"International law guarantees each state the right to self-determination, to freely choose its own economic, political and social structures without interference or intervention by any other state. It guarantees each state its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence and prohibits any foreign interference with these basic rights.
"International law prohibits the use of armed force by one state against another, the only exception being the right to self-defense against an armed attack. It makes no distinctions with respect to the size or geopolitical position of the states involved.
"Without it, fundamental rights would disappear; there would be no justice; might would substitute right; bloodshed and human suffering would proliferate and our small states would be entirely defenseless.
"The existing international legal order is fragile. There is no executive authority or permanent international police force empowered to enforce international law. In practice it is difficult if not impossible to force a state to fulfill its international legal commitments.
"If international law is not respected, if we reject the law and the obligations it imposes upon us, any state will feel tempted to follow the bad example and international law will be on its way to extinction. Each time a state rejects or ignores international law, it reinforces the dangerous tendency to replace international law with the law of the strongest, the law of the jungle.
"When the highest legal body of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, issues a ruling and defines international law or applies it to a specific case, it must be the responsibility of all the states interested in preserving the international legal order to support this decision.
"The 15 judges of the Court represent a wide range of the world's legal systems and constitute a body of eminent and respected scholars and experts in the field of law. They are highly moral and objective men; their decisions are not only legally binding for the parties that appear before them; their findings and interpretations of the law ought to be respected by all nations.
"The International Court of Justice has rendered its verdict in the case of Nicaragua and the United States after 26 months of hearings. Based on evidence and careful deliberations, the Court has issued its findings on the merits of the case. That decision now forms part of international law...."
President Ortega then reviewed the Court judgment section by section, going over the Court's response to the various justifications the US uses for its war against Nicaragua.
"The most important paragraph of the Court's decision states that the United States' dissatisfaction with Nicaragua's political, social and economic system does not give it the right to intervene in the Nicaragua’s internal affairs. The strong and eloquent affirmation of the principle of state sovereignty was expressed by the Court in the following manner: ‘Whatever may be the definition of the Nicaraguan regime, the adherence of any state to a given doctrine does not constitute a violation of international customary law. To interpret otherwise would render meaningless the principle of sovereignty of a state, a principle upon which rests law and the right of a state to choose its own political, social, economic and cultural system. The Court cannot accept or permit the creation of a new rule that gives one state the right to intervene in another on the basis that the latter has chosen a particular ideology or political system.’
"We do not seek confrontation, nor have we come to the Security Council to hurl insults against the US government, but rather to seek peace and respect for international law; to seek a peaceful and honorable solution to our differences, to offer the government of the United States another opportunity to reconsider and adjust its conduct to the principles and norms of international law.
"Recently we heard President Reagan say that the imposition of a trade embargo against the odious apartheid regime in South Africa was an immoral act because it would harm the South African people. Nevertheless, President Reagan has imposed a trade embargo against Nicaragua that harms the Nicaraguan people.
"President Reagan must recognize that the state terrorism his administration is conducting against the Nicaraguan people is immoral. President Reagan must recognize that this path is leading to another Vietnam in Central America....
"The duplicitous policy that the US administration has implemented with regard to Contadora has consisted in giving rhetorical approval while effectively boycotting the process through pressures and blackmail and military actions in the area. This duplicity confirms the disdain the administration has for the search for political and peaceful solutions.
"The US government must correct this. Such a change would not bring it humiliation but rather honor and the achievement of international respect and recognition. I repeat, the US government must change. That will not bring it humiliation but rather honor and the achievement of international respect and recognition.
"Nicaragua is prepared, immediately, to begin negotiations with the US government to overcome existing problems and normalize relations....
"Nicaragua is not seeking condemnation of anyone. We only ask for a declaration of support for the International Court of Justice, respect for law in international relations. We are sure that the Security Council will give its total support to the international legal order, to the United Nations Charter, to the International Court of Justice and thus will defend justice, peace and self-determination of all small countries such as Nicaragua."
The Nicaraguan government is willing to immediately initiate constructive, frank and regular talks with the Vatican to address the relationship between the [Catholic] Church and the state.
1. With the aim of resuming the dialogue with the Bishops' Conference of Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan government invites it to a meeting this August to promote a settlement and propose, if necessary, the creation of an ecumenical mediating body.
2. The Nicaraguan government urgently calls on the countries of Central America to immediately rejoin the Contadora negotiations so that the Peace Agreement may be signed this September 15, the 165th anniversary of Central America's independence from Spain.
3. The Nicaraguan government invites the owners of La Prensa to conform their conduct to the legal institutional framework and break their ties with those who direct and finance the war against Nicaragua. Under these conditions "the temporary measure [of closing the newspaper] would be reconsidered."
4. The Nicaraguan government invites the government of the United States to abide by the June 27 ruling of the International Court of Justice and thus honor its international obligations.
5. The Nicaraguan government urgently calls on the United States to initiate bilateral talks to promote the prompt signing of a new peace and friendship treaty. Both parties would commit themselves to respect each nation’s legitimate security interests as well as international law, in particular the principles of nonintervention, the nonuse of force and a peaceful settlement to conflicts.
6. The Nicaraguan government calls on the countries of Central America to create, under the auspices of Contadora and the Support Group, a demilitarized peace zone with international recognition and protection. It proposes specifically to the governments of Honduras and Costa Rica the establishment of joint border patrols with the participation of Contadora and the Support Group under UN auspices.
7. The Nicaraguan government invites the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, to visit Nicaragua.