Nicaragua at a Glance
In a situation into which new variables are entering at a rapid rate, the most important events for Nicaragua in February were:
* On February 9th and 10th the third joint meeting of foreign ministers of the European Common Market and Central America was held in Guatemala, with the foreign ministers of the Contadora and Support groups attending. While US pressure, exerted by Philip Habib, Reagan's Special Envoy to Central America, on his European tour prior to the meeting, bore fruit in the absence from the meeting of 9 of the 12 European ministers, the meeting’s results were favorable both for Nicaragua and for the Contadora peace process. The US objectives for the meeting—the isolation of Nicaragua and the closing off of space for Contadora—were not achieved. European economic aid to Central America will not be increased for the moment, and in fact the sums allotted to most countries will decrease, as Guatemala under Cerezo’s new government is likely to receive more support than in the past. Nicaragua received some $120 million between 1979 and 1986. While European aid to Nicaragua has not increased (except from the Scandinavian countries), neither has it decreased (except in the case of recent developments with the French government).
* On February 15, a meeting of four Central American Presidents was held in the Costa Rican capital with the deliberate exclusion of Nicaragua. The purpose of the meeting was to launch the so-called "San José Peace Plan"—or Arias plan—in an attempt to bypass Contadora. According to the plan, the Central American countries were to commit to a series of proposals and, together, urge Nicaragua to give a response, positive or negative, to the proposals within 15 days.
This attempt at presenting Nicaragua with an ultimatum was thwarted by conflicts between Guatemalan policy, which is more independent of US policy, and that of the three countries of the so-called Tegucigalpa Bloc, as well as by disagreements among the three countries over the commitments contained in the plan. Further discussion of the plan was postponed to a May 15 meeting in Esquipulas, to include the participation of Nicaragua’s President.
A group of US democrats led by Senator Christopher Dodd played a significant role in the drafting of the San José Peace Plan. The draft is a basic document for understanding the turn the US-Nicaragua conflict rapidly seems to be taking as a result of the political weakness in the Reagan administration provoked by Contragate and the growing military weakness of the contra forces. Although some of the plan's proposals require concessions from Nicaragua, it accepted the Arias plan as a valid proposal that should be discussed within the framework of the Contadora negotiations.
An analysis of the content, implications and contradictions in the plan will be included in the April envío's "The Month" section.
- In the context of the launching of this peace plan, three Nicaraguan political parties (Liberal (PLI), Communist (PCN) and Popular Social Christian (PPSC)) along with four abstentionist parties—factions split off from the Conservative, the Social Christian Party (PSC), the Liberal Constitutional Party and the Social Democrats—held a press conference to present a nine-point plan with proposals very similar to those of the San José Peace Plan. The same group also presented this document, along with others, to Cardinal Obando to seek his support for their plan. Within this same series of new political moves, two parliamentary representatives—Virgilio Godoy, head of the PLI, and Mauricio Díaz, head of the PPSC—along with Erick Ramírez, who heads the abstentionist PSC, met in San José with Philip Habib. In some sectors of the PLI and the PPSC, this move on the part of their leaders met with criticism. The three parliamentary parties that did not endorse the nine-point proposal (the Conservatives, Socialists and Marxist-Leninists) called the attitude of the parties making the proposal complicit with US policy. In San José, Habib declared that the US was only partially accepting the Arias plan.
* Another factor to be interpreted within the context of the political-diplomatic turn of events that began with the San José Peace Plan is the restructuring of the contra leadership, in which the most significant change is the departure of Adolfo Calero from the UNO triumvirate. Calero, who will continue to head the FDN, the UNO's main military force, was replaced by Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Jr. Calero’s departure allowed Arturo Cruz and Alfonso Robelo to stay on in the triumvirate, thus introducing what is beginning to be called "the new contras." It is significant that in their early statements Robelo, Cruz and Chamorro supported the Arias plan, while Calero rejected it. The conflict within UNO is nothing more than an expression of the conflict within the Reagan administration over how best to continue its war against Nicaragua. At this point, given the obvious ineffectiveness of their military project, it is crucial to US interests to reinforce the contras’ political facade.
* On February 9th the fourth meeting in the Church-State Dialogue was held. Although monthly meetings had been agreed on from the start of the talks, there had been no meetings since October 20, 1986. The bishops rejected the four dates proposed by the government for December and January, supposedly because of their full schedules of pastoral work.
In the October meeting, the Nicaraguan government presented an agenda of 11 issues which it thought should be discussed with the bishops in order to arrive at the general agreement that is the goal of the talks. On that occasion the bishops did not present their agenda, leaving that for the next meeting, the one held in February. The bishops' agenda was in some ways alike and in some ways different from the government's. The Church-State Dialogue is continuing now with discussion of the points common to both lists. So far, a discrete silence has been maintained as to any tensions or positive steps that the conversations might be producing. Both parties show a willingness to arrive at an agreement that will relieve the tensions in Church-State relations for the good of the people of Nicaragua.
* The third legislative session of the National Assembly began on February 23. The first day included a five-hour debate on the State of Emergency, which the President extended for another year beginning January 9, the day on which the new Constitution was promulgated. (The Constitution requires that any State of Emergency be ratified by the National Assembly within 45 days of being decreed by the President.) The opposition parties argued unanimously but with different emphases that the decree was unconstitutional and should be repealed or at least relaxed. Although the juridical argument of unconstitutionality did not convince the Sandinista majority, 5 of the 13 articles affected by the State of Emergency were modified. For example, the right of habeas corpus still stands, except for explicitly counterrevolutionary crimes. In other business, the Assembly pardoned 572 people accused of various political crimes. This was nearly one half of the 1,192 cases that had been proposed for pardon; the others are pending more detailed consideration.
* On February 20 the Nicaraguan Army captured 7,000 pounds of military equipment—ammunition, grenades, combat boots, etc.—dropped from a DC-6 out of Honduras to the contras who had infiltrated the central part of the country. This was the first contra supply flight detected by the army since Eugene Hasenfus' C-123 was shot down in October. During February, according to a statement from the President's office, 6,000 contrasengaged Sandinista troops after entering the country at a number of points. The figure 6,000—almost the total number of contra troops estimated to have been in Honduras—highlights the contras’ need to abandon their camps there now, given the tensions they've created in that country, and to operate within Nicaragua in hopes of striking a significant military blow.
* The fourth meeting of CADESCA, the Committee for Action to Support the Economic and Social Development of Central America, was held on February 18 and 19. This committee was created in December 1983 at the prompting of the Contadora group to promote peace in the region by means of economic cooperation as a complement to the diplomatic efforts being made toward that goal. The group is made up of 21 of the 26 Latin American Economic System (SELA) countries. According to CADESCA, the regional economic crisis can be seen in indicators such as the following: in 1986 the regional Gross Domestic Product grew only .3%, per-capita production fell for the eighth consecutive year and intra-regional trade is now a third of what it was in 1980.