The Contras: New Bottles, Old Wine
On May 8, the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), the contras' political/military umbrella organization, met in Miami and gave itself a new identity, as the Nicaraguan Resistance. After a series of dramatic resignations and power struggles over the control of leadership and US dollars, the newly renamed contras are trying to score military, political and diplomatic advances in the last days of Reagan's reign.
The "new" contras are trying to create a new image in order to reach their objectives. But there are holes in the new facade, through which their old self appears: a group incapable of building a social base or an internal front, pursuing President Reagan’s same militaristic policies.
The military option: The defeat of the contras continuesThe Nicaraguan Resistance has chosen the military option in its struggle against the "totalitarianism of the FSLN." This is the same path chosen in the past by UNO. With the recent signing of the Miami "Patriotic Accords," the Nicaraguan Resistance Army, composed of the former National Guards' FDN and the remaining forces fighting on the southern front, is declared "irrevocably" established. As one of its basic principles, the Nicaraguan Resistance has decided to adopt "a single fighting strategy," which, in its own words, "implies a refusal to negotiate with Managua." (And should one of the new leaders fall prey to the temptation to negotiate, he will be held back by the rule that only all seven members of the Nicaraguan Resistance's ruling body, unanimously, can sign any treaty with the Sandinista government.)
By stressing the military option, the Nicaraguan Resistance follows the line set by President Reagan, a policy being questioned by many in the Democratic Party in the United States and by US allies in the Central American region, such as Costa Rica and Guatemala. The ineffectiveness of this policy and the illegalities that have accompanied it, as revealed during the Iran/Contragate hearings, have left Reagan in a weakened position. But the "new" contras continue to be allied with him after he once again promised that he will never abandon them or alter his militaristic course.
Before the Iran/Contragate hearings began in Congress on May 5, President Reagan wanted to make perfectly clear that whatever the results of the hearings, they would not change the tenor of his Nicaraguan policy. Speaking to the National Association of Newspaper Publishers, Reagan's anti-Soviet rhetoric was more virulent than ever, as he defended his support for the contras. "I am determined to confront the Soviet challenge and to contribute to securing the future of this region, which should be chosen by its own peoples, not imposed by Communist aggressors." To abandon the contras and "lose" Nicaragua, he continued, "would be the biggest victory for Soviet foreign policy since the Second World War."
The President stated categorically, "As long as I am President, I have no intention of withdrawing my support for the Nicaraguan people, who are trying to achieve their liberty and their right to choose their nation's future." (This "support for the Nicaraguan people," is, of course, military and political aid for the counterrevolutionaries to continue the war.) He went on to predict that contra aid would be a central theme of the 1988 electoral campaign and insisted that the vote over a new $105 million in contra aid coming up before Congress in September would be "the most important vote in 1987 and probably the most important vote in the political careers" of Congress members. Reagan promised not to leave the case of Nicaragua up in the air for his successor.
Some days later, Frank Carlucci, the new national security adviser, explained to the press that the President's words referred as much to the upcoming June meeting of Central American Presidents in Guatemala as to the debate over the $105 million. In other words, it was a warning both to Congress and to the Central American allies that there would be no let-up in applying a military solution to the Nicaraguan problem.
But the military defeat of the counterrevolution, a process that began in 1985 and continues today, offers solid grounds on which to challenge Reagan's policies. Two reports released by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Defense speak for themselves: from May 1 to May 13, the contras suffered 240 casualties; from May 19 to 27, 199 contra casualties were reported. Confronted with these military defeats over the past two years, the contras are in urgent need of a quick victory in order to influence the congressional vote on a new $105 million. They must justify the Contragate scandal by proving that, if they haven't respected the law of the land, at least these violations were in the cause of a politically workable policy. The "new image" of the Nicaraguan Resistance requires rapid results.
From this point of view, creating a "liberated zone" within Nicaragua continues to be the contras' main objective. To have secured such a base before the beginning of the Central American rainy season would have been strategically ideal. (Once the six-month rainy season begins in May, military advances are more difficult to achieve.)
Despite all past failures at achieving this goal, the contra forces tried one more time. Since February, hundreds of FDN soldiers began to infiltrate, passing by the Nicaraguan side of the Río Coco where the Bocay and Amaka rivers flow together on the border with Honduras. In this isolated, mountainous jungle area, they started establishing bases and military infrastructure. On the Honduran side of the river they built a base to provide logistical support and from which to fly missions to airdrop supplies. Among those who infiltrated Nicaragua were the contras' crack troops, led by the most experienced leaders of the FDN: Mike Lima, Toño, Renato and Aureliano. The US government made it possible for many major US media journalists to take an "information trip" to the area. For several weeks, there was a lot of talk of the "triumph" of the counterrevolution on the major networks and in other important US media.
On May 10, the Sandinista Army began a combined land-and-air operation—using a broader range of technology than in any previous maneuver—to push out the contra forces based near the river. Three thousand Sandinista soldiers participated, including 1,600 rapid-deployment troops. In 36 hours of fighting they achieved their goal, forcing the majority of the contras to flee across the border to Honduras. The use of Soviet-made helicopters (24 MI-17s and 12 MI-24s) was decisive in the operation, both for the attack itself and for the rapid transport of Sandinista troops. One MI-17 was shot down by contra fire.
Eight Sandinista soldiers were killed in the Bocay operation, including four in the downed MI-17. At first count after the battle, the contras were known to have at least 30 dead on the Nicaraguan side of the border.
The Bocay operation was a success for the Sandinista Army, quickly undermining a plan that had been laboriously prepared by the CIA. This success was all the more notable because the CIA plan was not only to establish a liberated territory, which had always been a principal part of the contras' strategy, but also to provoke a border incident between Honduras and Nicaragua, just as the US forces in Honduras were completing the extensive military maneuvers known as "Solid Shield." This goal of provoking a border incident and inviting US intervention also proved a failure.
On May 13, when the contra forces were already pushed out of Bocay, the US maneuvers in Honduras came to a close with an amphibious landing of 3,000 Marines and Air Force troops on Puerto Trujillo, in a simulated operation to liberate an occupied territory.
Over 50,000 US troops participated in the set of maneuvers in Caribbean waters, Honduran territory and the rest of Central America that have formed part of "Solid Shield," the most extensive military maneuvers ever to take place in the Central American region. The continued use of such maneuvers as a way to pressure Nicaragua and the other countries of the region and reinforce the military actions of the counterrevolutionary forces based in Honduras is a clear indication of the Reagan administration's preference for a military rather than a negotiated solution.
Attempts to check the economic declineAt the same time that it is advancing on the military front, the Nicaraguan government is redoubling its efforts to construct a plan to deal with the economic crisis, including spiraling inflation, brought on in part by the war. Although they neglect to mention this in their Patriotic Accords, the contras' military tactics are more than ever directed towards economic sabotage. Having failed to win the war on the battlefield, the contras' use of these tactics is an attempt to intensify the economic crisis, eroding the Sandinistas' base of support. CIA trained and equipped contra sabotage units have stepped up their activities considerably. As could have been predicted, Congress in effect approved the CIA’s direct participation in the war by approving the $100 million aid package. But this CIA-advised war has found the Sandinistas prepared.
In May the principal acts of economic sabotage were:
May 1, 1987: A Nicaraguan Resistance unit destroyed a barge carrying a large quantity of vegetables and medicines on route from Managua to Bluefields. The provisions were destroyed, leaving the residents of Bluefields with serious shortages.
May 8, 1987: In the early morning hours, 50 contras attempted to destroy the water pump supplying the mining town of Siuna and its new power plant. Five hundred members of the local militia prevented the sabotage by engaging the contra units. Twelve contras were killed in the fighting.
May 10, 1987: A contra unit tried to destroy the Polycasa plastics factory in El Rama by setting fire to it. The local militia prevented the fire, which destroyed parts of the factory, from spreading to toxic chemical containers. Had the containers exploded, the lives of 10,000 people would have been placed in jeopardy.
May 24, 1987: Fifteen Nicaraguan Resistance members tried to knock out an electrical post, which would have interrupted traffic on the Pacific Coast highway to El Rama. The Sandinista Army prevented this sabotage, killing five contras.
May 25, 1987: A contra unit destroyed an electrical tower near Sébaco, leaving nearly all of the three departments of Region I (Madriz, Nueva Segovia, and Estelí) without electricity for two days.
Given this economic sabotage and the social impact of the economic crisis, directing the war effort on the economic front becomes a top priority. The message to workers at this year's May Day celebrations and the announcement of a new system of enforcing price controls were two important attempts to involve the working class in these efforts on the economic front. During May Day events in cities across the country, the formation of volunteer work brigades was encouraged. In certain industries, work brigades made up of socially responsible workers labor beyond their scheduled work hours. These teams are a challenge to the negative attitudes towards work that have arisen as a result of the crisis. Moreover, they are an attempt to address the problems of a low level of individual productivity and sagging overall economic output. The need to overcome undisciplined work habits, inefficiency, dull routine, bureaucratic slowness and the black market was the main message given to the Nicaraguan working class on May Day.
The Assembly on Price Controls held its first meeting in Managua this month with the goal of encouraging neighborhood organizations, cooperative members, unions and other groups to collaborate in maintaining price controls as well as in dealing with the problem of shortages. Eight hundred members of various groups participated in the assembly. During the meeting, it was announced that the goals for the 1987 Economic Plan would not be met as anticipated. For example, there would be lower production levels of sugar, sorghum and oil than expected previously.
However, the government will guarantee that every permanent resident of Nicaragua will be able to buy three pounds of rice, four pounds of sugar, half a liter of cooking oil and a bar of soap each month at low prices. Although the government will guarantee that a large percentage of the 43 other products categorized as "basic" (e.g., meat, chicken, salt, beans, toothpaste, matches, rope, shoes, etc.) will be under price controls monitored by workers' supermarkets, some of the goods will have prices determined by the free market. Only salaried workers—factory and rural workers in the formal economy as opposed to the informal and black market economies—will be able to shop in most of these stores. Along with the opening up of other workers' stores within certain factories, this policy gives preference to workers in the productive sectors of the economy. Also announced at the assembly were policies to give periodic wage readjustments and to promote initiatives towards self-sufficiency by growing grains, fruits and vegetables in communal gardens, at an individual, community and institutional level.
Agricultural Minister Jaime Wheelock said in a speech at the Assembly on Price Controls, "All poor countries are finding themselves in very difficult situations. Costa Rica and Honduras, like Nicaragua, are experiencing inflation, lower production rates, and the loss of consumers' buying power. The revolution is our one great advantage. The peasants in other countries have been abandoned. They have neither food to eat nor land to till. And the workers are desperate. They are out of work. Their families are out of work. Here at least there is land and work... The situation is difficult. We may have an energy crisis, with problems of gasoline and diesel supply. We may have to enact some extraordinary measures at the workplace and in the organization of the work itself to put up a fight against Reagan in his last year. Under all these difficult conditions, we must still put up a fight."
In this last year of Reagan's term, the new economic measures announced in June and attempts to deal with the energy crisis are part of the war effort through which Nicaragua hopes to emerge victorious.
The "new" contras: The facade of legality
In the testimony of retired General Richard Secord and former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, the two principal witnesses of the Iran/Contragate hearings held in May, it became clear what was at the root of the present scandal. The Reagan administration was formulating and putting into operation foreign policy outside the legal boundaries of the US Constitution. In an attempt to justify this unorthodox policy, President Reagan asserted that he had full knowledge of all that was occurring, but that the Boland Amendment, which prohibited aid to the contras from 1984 to 1986, was applicable to the CIA but not to the National Security Council or to the President himself.
The myriad of illegal activities uncovered in the hearings has helped undermine the credibility of key figures in the Republican administration. Nevertheless, the hearings have yet to undermine Reagan’s policy towards Nicaragua. Moreover, since all testimonies presented at the hearings have begun with denunciations of the Nicaraguan government, usually described as a "threat," "totalitarian," or a "source of subversion," Congress members have found it difficult to bring the policy itself into question. Rather, the hearings have turned into a vehicle for justifying the Reagan administration’s interventionist policies.
However, given the length of the hearings as well as the possible uncovering of new damaging facts, the investigation may still lead to a serious questioning of not only the policymakers but the goals and purposes of the policy as well. What is certainly clear is that the loss of credibility by some policymakers has had a significant impact on the contras, worsening the FDN's already tarnished image. Of all the contra leaders, Adolfo Calero, who was called before Congress to testify this month, has been the most seriously damaged by the investigation. Yet despite his close connection to some of the major players in the scandal, he continues to lead the "new" contras.
The statements of the different witnesses who have testified before the Congressional committee presented a far from pretty picture of the contra forces, which are described as factionalized, greedy, lacking any kind of fiscal responsibility and manipulated in their important military and political decisions by the figures implicated in the Contragate scandal. Furthermore, testimonies such as those given by the parents of Ben Linder, a US engineer killed by the contras on April 28, highlight a key element of the contras' ugly reputation: they are willing to use cold-blooded violence against civilians.
Other accounts, which have not surfaced in the hearings but are recorded periodically by human rights organizations, reveal that the contras are involved in far more than just economic sabotage. Rather, following the CIA manual to the letter, they kill teachers, health-care workers, agricultural specialists, peasant leaders and others addressing basic needs in the countryside. They kidnap young peasants to enlarge their ranks and attack rural settlements at night. For example, this month the contras attacked the rural settlement of Mancotal in Jinotega. A young boy and an adult man were killed, and eight civilians, including a pregnant woman, were wounded. As a result of the attack, twelve houses, the local school, the health center and storage houses for food were all destroyed by fire.
To improve their image, the "new" contras will need to undo a tremendous amount of damage. For this reason, the contras attempt to project an image of legality, honesty, and humanitarianism in the Patriotic Accords signed in Miami. To change their reputation of irresponsibly managing millions of US dollars, the document states, "The Executive Council [of the Nicaragua Resistance] is the only administrative body authorized to make decisions in matters of financial and material resources...." To clean up the contras' well-earned reputation for brutality, they pledge that "all units of the Nicaraguan Resistance Army... will follow a military code, already in effect, which guarantees the strict observance of international human rights norms as established for armed conflicts by the Geneva Convention."
The facade of pluralismAt its May inauguration, the Nicaraguan Resistance made a special effort to present itself as a pluralistic organization. Its organizational structure will consist of a 54-member assembly: 6 Conservatives, 6 Liberals, 6 Social Christians, 6 Social Democrats, 6 from the Atlantic Coast, 6 from the Southern Opposition Bloc, 6 from private enterprise, 6 from labor and 6 from the agrarian sector. It was this assembly's task to elect a 7-member Executive Council that will have the highest authority. On May 13 the following members were elected to the council: Adolfo Calero (Conservative), Alfredo César (Southern Opposition Block), Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (Social Democrat), Alfonso Robelo (Social Democrat), Aristides Sánchez (Liberal) and Azucena Ferrey (Social Christian).
The "news" on this council was the presence of Alfredo César, the well-known businessman who until 1982 was a staunch collaborator in the revolutionary government, and who evidently harbored personal ambitions within the Sandinista government. Another change was the presence of a woman, Azucena Ferrey, a member of a Social Christian Party faction in the Democratic Coordinating Committee that withdrew from the 1984 elections but remains active in Nicaragua.
How representative of their parties are the people who make up the political front of the armed counterrevolution? The social democratic tendency in Nicaragua is very widespread, but the party founded with its name in 1979 represents only a small minority. The other parties represented in the contras' new council—Conservative, Liberal and Christian Democrat—have the majority of their members working within Nicaragua, having clearly chosen to remain as part of the legal internal opposition.
Within Nicaragua, the Conservatives and Liberals, with 14 and 9 seats respectively in the National Assembly, continue their political activity within the normal limits of influence of any parliamentary minority—and show the fighting spirit typical of such minorities. They express their disagreement with the FSLN, the majority party, and try to present a common front on certain issues with other minority parties, as well as to achieve unity within their own parties. Among the other parties represented in the National Assembly—the Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC), the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN), the Nicaraguan Communist Party (PCdN) and the Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement (MAP-ML)—the most active is the PPSC. Its leader, Mauricio Díaz, works actively at the forefront of the opposition as a whole.
Having withdrawn from the 1984 elections, the Social Christian Party is not represented in the National Assembly, but it remains active within Nicaragua and, in light of the upcoming municipal elections, is trying to legitimate its status as an opposition party. During the recent World Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference held in Managua, the Social Christian Party was able to gain the support of the international Christian Democratic movement. PSC director Antonio Jarquín pointed out that Azucena Ferrey's decision to serve on the Executive Council of the counterrevolution effectively separated her from the Social Christian Party, which has opted for the legal route in its opposition to the FSLN.
The political representativeness of the figures who make up the counterrevolution’s Executive Council is fundamentally called into question by the genuine pluralism of the revolutionary model. While limited by the state of emergency, the Nicaraguan political system has been able to produce more concrete results than those offered by the empty acronyms of parties represented on the Nicaraguan Resistance Council, which until very recently designated themselves "in exile" and have now dropped that suffix to give themselves the appearance of a broader base. So barely representative are they that even Calero himself at first took the position of refusing to allow these forces into the contra leadership, calling them mere "armchair organizations."
The bulk of the opposition to the FSLN—which ranges all across the political spectrum—is in Nicaragua and carries out its work there, participating in internal and international forums from a critical perspective. While opposing many aspects of Sandinista leadership, these parties share nationalism as their common denominator. They condemn the US policy of aggression against Nicaragua and the military route of those who carry out this policy and live off its dollars.
It should also be pointed out that the seventh member of the Nicaraguan Resistance's Executive Council, proposed to be a representative from the Atlantic Coast, was not chosen in May, an indication of maneuvers and possible realignments among the remnants of the Miskitu armed groupings. The three organizations are in disarray given the radical changes that have taken place on the coast in the past several years. The ongoing dialogue between the Sandinista government and the Miskitu troops that have chosen to return has encouraged others in Kisan, Misura and Misurasata to lay down their arms. The presence on the coast of the armed "Kisan for Peace" group, working with the Sandinista Army; the near collapse of Misura and Misurasata; and the clear link between a reduced Kisan "pro-war" and the Somocista FDN are some of the key elements that tell the story of the rapid military, social and political decline of the counterrevolution in this strategically situated territory covering half of Nicaragua.
The autonomy project, which was celebrated this month in the "Mayo-Ya" festival—part of a traditional month-long cultural celebration of local food, dance, and song on the Atlantic Coast—and the return to the area of hundreds of Miskitu families from refugee camps in Honduras are contributing to the stabilized situation, which may prefigure real peace on the Atlantic Coast.
This month, the repatriation of thousands of Miskitus who have been refugees in Honduras for many years began via an air bridge between Puerto Lempira, Honduras and Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, promoted by the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). A scheduled 300 people per month will return by this route. According to UNHCR figures, that organization officially repatriated 2,340 Miskitus, 504 Sumus and 863 mestizos to Nicaragua between February 1984 and March 1987. There is a marked increase in the repatriation figures: while in 1986 a total of 2,000 were requesting return to Nicaragua, there were 1,200 in the first four months of 1987. Thousands of others have returned across the river border on their own. There are estimated to be 20,000 Nicaraguan Miskitus in Honduras. According to testimony of those who live in the refugee camps, armed groups of Kisan pro-war and Misurasata are threatening them in attempts to block their return to Nicaragua.
The month saw another return of sorts on the Atlantic Coast, this one with an ironic twist. In 1982, 700 Miskitu and Sumu families from the Coco and Bocay rivers in Jinotega were resettled in the cold mountains of Matagalpa. (Their place of origin is where the major Bocay military operation mentioned above took place.) Now they have moved again, this time by choice. As a first step toward an eventual return home, they decided to occupy houses in the Tasba Pri resettlement of northern Zelaya, abandoned by those Miskitus and Sumus who returned to their part of the Río Coco nearly two years ago.
The religious facadeThe Nicaraguan Resistance is projecting a new image of pluralism, but hasn't given up the old tactic of attempting to secure religious legitimization of their war. With the Church-State dialogue in progress since September 1986, and with periodic meetings between the bishops and the government having considerably relieved tensions and opened up new prospects for understanding, it's now harder to make this tactic work. But there are some backhand ways of reaching the same goal, and popular religious practices and beliefs offer an opening.
May 8, 1987, the day the Patriotic Accords were being signed in Miami, was the seventh anniversary of the alleged appearances of the Virgin Mary to Bernardo, a peasant from the small town of Cuapa in the Chontales region. In March 1981, the opposition paper La Prensa presented this event not only as miraculous, but as a portent of "a change" about to take place in the country. For some months an unnecessary amount of controversy was stirred up as a result of the government's errors in dealing with the situation. Miguel Obando, Archbishop of Managua, and his auxiliary, Bishop Bosco Vivas, along with the Bishop of Juigalpa, Pablo Vega (in whose diocese Cuapa is located) promoted devotion to the new "Virgin of Cuapa." "Don't just ask for peace, build it," was one of the central messages of this Virgin in 1981. A message this general is open to many different interpretations, according to the various understandings of reality that exist. And so this ambiguity has persisted in the devotion shown to the Virgin of Cuapa over the last several years. Now, just as the "new" contras are being born, a new religious devotion is also surfacing, this time to "The Virgin of Victory," who has appeared to the same Bernardo.
On May 8 in a parish church near El Crucero, 30 kilometers from Managua, Bosco Vivas, the capital city's auxiliary bishop, staunch collaborator and right-hand man of Cardinal Obando, celebrated a Mass in which he announced the miracle, giving Mary's message: "Mary has said that in all our homes we must burn evil books, books where God is denied, where sin is taught. These books must not be in your homes, because they are true agents of Satan. Our Lady doesn't want us to have the enemy in our homes and we must do what she has told us through Bernardo."
As a beginning, Bishop Vivas announced that he had already made the first bonfire the night before the Mass, and another had burned in Cuapa. Bernardo, present at the Mass, recounted his vision and emphasized that the Virgin had said, "It's wrong to burn the sinner, but the sin can be burned." The Virgin also asked that there be many baptisms in the parish, that the parish undertake a conversion and "return to the traditions of the Church and to holy water," recommending that Bernardo promote "devotion to the whiplashes on Christ's back."
It is remarkable for a Catholic bishop to legitimate a supposed apparition so quickly, given the prudence with which the Church usually handles such cases. It is also curious that Radio Liberación, the station of the "new" contras broadcasting from El Salvador, and September 15th, the old contra radio station in Honduras, are advertising this new devotion. "The Virgin wants Bernardo to pass on her message," it was announced over contra airwaves, "and this message has come to us to tell us: 'I say to Nicaraguans that soon you will be happy... Suffering people of Nicaragua, very soon you will have a new life, full of joy.'"
The Arias planOn the diplomatic front, the Arias plan and the upcoming meeting of the five Central American Presidents in Guatemala, where the Arias plan will be the central topic, are the two issues on which to evaluate the possibility of arriving at a negotiated solution to the Central American conflict while Reagan is in power. They are also key to evaluating to what extent the Republican administration and the "new contras" are isolated in their pursuit of a military solution.
The United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), through Adolfo Calero, took a position against the Arias plan when it was first made public in February. This was to be expected, as one of the points in the plan is an end to aid to the contras and a cease-fire. The effect of another point in the plan would be that the contras would have to stop using Honduras and Costa Rica as bases for their military attacks against Nicaragua. But the Nicaraguan Resistance, in its pursuit of a new image, can't take a position of outright opposition to the peace plan put forward by the Costa Rican President, who until recently had been one of its best allies. In its Patriotic Accords, the Nicaraguan Resistance says that it "welcomes the initiative of the President of Costa Rica." But it goes on to add, "The Nicaraguan Resistance has already expressed its points of view on various concrete aspects of said initiative to the Presidents of the Central American democracies, and considers that, if they are taken into account, this initiative will become the best instrument for democratization and peace in Nicaragua." It doesn't take much imagination to suppose that these "points of view" on the peace plan are very similar to those of the Reagan administration and that they are in fundamental contradiction with a negotiated solution.
Seeking international support for his constructive but fragile initiative, the Costa Rican President traveled throughout Western Europe this month. Meanwhile, a delegation from the Costa Rican government visited all the Central American countries to discuss the Arias plan with their governments, arriving in Nicaragua on May 14. After two days of bilateral talks, Rodrigo Carrera, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry’s general foreign policy director, stated in Managua, "With Nicaragua we have had more agreements than differences. We've only found 'philosophical differences,' which can be overcome through communication between our countries."
The new Costa Rican Ambassador to Nicaragua, Farid Ayales, arrived in Managua on May 19. Since 1984, when the then-Costa Rican Ambassador was withdrawn from Nicaragua over border incidents at Las Crucitas in which two Costa Rican Civil Guards died, Costa Rica's diplomatic representation in Nicaragua has been maintained at a minimal level. Improvement in Costa Rican-Nicaraguan relations—which involves a certain distancing of the Arias government from the Reagan administration's position—has continued in recent months. But Costa Rica and Nicaragua have still not been able to reach an agreement that would guarantee stability on Nicaragua's southern border, nor has Arias' government achieved effective neutrality. For these reasons, Nicaragua has not yet withdrawn its case against Costa Rica in the World Court.
If Arias is encountering internal as well as international difficulties in putting forward his peace plan, the Guatemalan government, which is also seeking a negotiated solution to the Central American crisis, is coming up against someertain limits as well. For example, it was revealed this month in a Pentagon statement that President Cerezo himself requested three US Chinook CH-47 helicopters from the US fleet at Palmerola, which made 12 trips carrying some 300 Guatemalan soldiers belonging to a battalion of elite troops to fight Guatemala's guerrilla forces in Playa Grande, a few kilometers from the Mexican border, and in the Petén region. With this act, the Reagan administration’s involvement in Central American internal conflicts was officially extended to Guatemala for the first time and the limits of Cerezo's "neutrality" were revealed. It is limited both by the exigencies of the government's struggle against the URNG (a confederation of political-military organizations), which is more militarily active this year, and by recent changes in military leadership, which now includes officers with a more pro-US outlook.
The contras and the Reagan administration are taking advantage of all the limitations that the Arias plan has at the outset to obstruct a political solution to the Central American crisis and especially to the US-Nicaragua conflict. Contadora, supporting the Arias Plan within the context of the negotiation that has been underway for more than four years, gaining so much international prestige, hopes to counteract all this bad faith that seeks to prolong the war.
It would be difficult for the Nicaraguan Resistance to make advances on military terrain at a time when its army is suffering a decisive defeat. In this regard, the results of the operation in Bocay speak for themselves. It would also be difficult for the Nicaraguan Resistance to make advances in the international political arena, given its preference for a military solution—despite its facade of pluralism and legality. A possibility now exists that Reagan's militaristic stance will grow increasingly more isolated and that the Democratic Party along with Costa Rica and Guatemala may forge a negotiated alternative. The "new" contras are still the same old contras, with a military agenda and an image that the Republican administration created to serve its own interests. They're the same old contras because Reagan, their principal creator, continues to be the same old Reagan in spite of the scandals. They're the same old contras because, most importantly, they are still incapable of carrying forward a political project that would allow them to create a social base within Nicaragua.