Approaching Elections: Successful Diplomacy and Continued Military Defense
In the last fifteen days, Nicaragua has achieved a series of victories on the political and diplomatic fronts. The most important of these, Nicaragua’s unconditional acceptance of the revised Contadora proposal, represents a serious and unexpected blow to US diplomatic strategy in the region. These important victories have come during the final month of Nicaragua’s electoral campaign and on the eve of what many believe will be a full-scale counterrevolutionary offensive to disrupt both the elections and the coffee harvest.
In order to assess the importance of these recent victories accurately, one must view them in light of Nicaragua’s continuous diplomatic, military and economic offensives against the current US aggression. This month we will address: 1) the diplomatic offensive; 2) the military counteroffensive; and 3) the wartime economy. We will conclude by attempting to answer the question of why the Nicaraguan government feels it is so important not to postpone the elections.
THE DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE
A major victory: In the last issue of envío, we carefully detailed those aspects of the Contadora proceedings and proposals that presented problems for Nicaragua, particularly prior to the crucial Contadora group meeting with the Central American representatives scheduled for September 7 in Panama.
Acceptance of the revised Contadora proposal
At that time, the prospects for the efforts towards peace appeared to be in serious trouble. Costa Rican President Monge was noted to have appraised the situation in rather bleak terms: “Contadora is through… It is dangerously approaching its limits.” Accepting this line of thought, some declared that the solution would have to be sought through the Organization of American States (OAS).
The September 7 meeting, designed to secure final approval by all Central American nations for the Contadora group’s peace proposal, got off, after lengthy prior consultations, to an unpromising start. The Nicaraguan and Guatemalan representatives had to wait some nine hours for the Honduran, Costa Rican and Salvadoran representatives, who remained together in San José, finalizing their positions. The meeting itself actually ended rather quickly, with Panamanian Foreign Minister Oyden Ortega announcing that the Contadora group would participate actively in the 39th UN General Assembly and that all Central American nations should help promote the process of achieving peace in Central America. That same day, the Contadora representatives also sent a letter to all Central American heads of state insisting on the need to “given legal authority to the agreements of the peace proposal” and requesting, alluding to the United States, that they “unequivocally demonstrate their support for the replacement of force by political negotiation.” The revised peace proposal (“revision” was the purpose of the meeting) also bears the date of September 7. It was submitted to the various heads of state in final form, not as a draft subject to new amendments.
Already, at the end of this decisive Panama meeting, there were certain clues to understanding what had occurred and how Nicaragua would react.
The key problem Contadora has dealt with throughout the 20 months of its existence has been the US-Nicaragua conflict. The primary objective of its efforts has been to prevent this conflict from turning into a full-scale war that would spread throughout the Central American region. To achieve this, Contadora has assumed a certain autonomy from the US, avoiding subjects that are too delicate, such as discussion of US hegemony in the region as a national security problem or the need for revolutionary transformations in the area. Therefore, to emerge from this latest juncture with some level of success, Contadora would have to: 1) revise the peace proposal considering some of the worries voiced by Nicaragua; 2) somehow demand concessions of the US; and 3) prevent the issue from going to the OAS, where Latin American countries have little autonomy with respect to the US. All the above has been reflected in the revised Contadora proposals.
The Nicaraguan point of view was taken into consideration with respect to the question of internal democratization. Thus demands for “national reconciliation” with the insurgent forces in the different countries were eliminated. This strengthened and further legitimated the Nicaraguan electoral process.
The additional protocol agreement, originally to be signed only by those countries directly involved—the US, the USSR and Cuba—is now open for the signature of all countries of the world. This has strengthened the anti-intervention position considerably.
The proposal has been presented to the United Nations forum as an official document for the 39th UN General Assembly, to be made known and ratified by all member countries. This eliminates the risk that the Central American issue will be brought before the OAS.
On September 21, before the entire Cabinet and Nicaraguan diplomatic corps, Daniel Ortega and Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto announced to the Nicaraguan people and the world the Nicaraguan government’s decision to “endorse immediately and accept in its totality, without modification, the revised Contadora proposal of September 7.”
In the letter in which Ortega announces his decision to the Presidents of Contadora he reminds them of the wartime situation that Nicaragua is suffering and for this reason states that, in accepting, he considers it indispensable that the United States “endorse and ratify the additional protocol of the proposal and, as a result, immediately halt its aggression against Nicaragua.” And that “there be no introduction of amendments or modifications that would require lengthy discussions and thus only serve to delay the attainment of peace.”
Nicaragua was the first Central American country to declare its clear support for the final text. The reaction among Contadora representatives in Europe and Latin America was very favorable. Nicaragua’s acceptance represents the genuine desire for peace of a country that has continually been accused by the US of being bellicose and expansionist. The US government appeared bitterly surprised by this decision. In the days preceding the announcement, its propaganda represented Nicaragua as an “uncompromising” country that was blocking peace in the region and boycotting Contadora. In fact, it was thought that, in his speech to the United Nations, Daniel Ortega planned to explain why Nicaragua could not endorse the proposal. The entire situation thus changed overnight, which explains why, in his “pacifist” speech at the UN, Reagan refrained from even mentioning Contadora and persisted in accusing Nicaragua of being guilty of the crisis in Central America.
To date, the main US reaction to the proposal—apart from recommending some “necessary changes” that would have to be made—has been to pressure the Central American foreign ministers not to endorse it and to propose new amendments. Such stalling tactics would allow the US to revamp its now-unusable strategy. By guiding the position of the Central American countries, the US will slow the proposal process and avoid the embarrassment of having to reject the protocol agreement formally.
On October 2, following his speech to the UN General Assembly, Ortega responded to an Associated Press reporter that the proposal “demands concessions from all concerned parties, and it should not be thought that it was easy for Nicaragua to make the decision it did.”
Why was it not easy? Although some of the rough edges related to internal democratization were smoothed over to some extent in the revised draft, the agreements dealing with arms control and other military aspects were hardly touched. For Nicaragua, which has had to defend itself for three years against increasingly powerful US-backed counterrevolutionary groups, all such agreements are extremely delicate in that they put the country’s very defense at stake. However, the Nicaraguan government, without renouncing its right to self-defense, “ran the risk” of accepting the proposal as it stood, convinced that doing so would further prove its desire for peace and that this desire would be reinforced by the adherence of dozens of countries to the additional protocol agreements. Above all, the Nicaraguan government was convinced that, by signing the protocol, the US would be committing itself to cease its aggression and that by not signing it would provide clear evidence of its role as the main obstacle to peace.
No one has better described US attempts to distort Nicaragua’s foreign policy stance and internal politics with respect to the elections than Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto. The following is taken from Father D’Escoto’s interview with the FSLN newspaper Barricada , on September 28:
“What has happened with the Contadora proposal is very similar to what has happened with respect to Nicaragua’s elections. The Reagan administration has tried to justify its illegal and criminal aggression against our people by arguing that Nicaragua had not held elections. Now that our electoral process is in full swing and we are about to hold elections, the Administration is doing everything possible, by means of its representatives, to postpone the date of the elections.
“Similarly, they have been saying for the last few months that the only way to resolve the ‘Central American crisis’ (as it is called by those who wage war against Nicaragua with the use of mercenaries) would be for Nicaragua to cooperate with Contadora, and they have declared that this is precisely the objective they are pursuing in the bilateral talks in Manzanillo. But now that the hour of truth has arrived and Contadora has presented its formal and official proposal after a long consultation process, and Nicaragua has accepted it with no reserves, the United States insists that the Contadora proposal is deficient and that Nicaragua should be punished for supporting Contadora.
“How can we understand these caprices? Only by realizing that neither honorable negotiations based on the norms of international law nor democracy are what presently interest or have ever interested the Reagan Administration. All it wants is to deny the heroic people of Nicaragua the right to decide their own future, a right that should belong to all independent and sovereign countries.”
Even though these “caprices” will delay Contadora in this last and most-decisive phase of the negotiating process with the Central American countries’ amendment proposals, Nicaragua’s endorsement of the document is, in and of itself, a political and diplomatic victory that provides an important breathing space at this difficult time.
Other important diplomatic battles Daniel Ortega’s appearance in the United Nations (October 2), his emphatic call for the United States to endorse the protocol agreement and his description of the Nicaraguan people’s will to struggle for sovereignty and peace, even in the face of their own destruction, all added warranted drama to the uncertain situation Nicaragua is currently experiencing. His speech, as well as his statements in several US cities—Los Angeles, New York and Boston were heard the most—concerned the sectors of US public opinion that are fighting to block intervention.
In the UN, the Nicaraguan cause received renewed support from the countries comprising the Nonaligned Movement. On September 18, the Coordinating Bureau of the Nonaligned Countries formed the so-called “Group of the President’s Friends,” which will closely follow the Central American situation and act immediately if an emergency occurs. The group is composed of Yugoslavia, Indonesia, India, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Ethiopia, Senegal, Cuba, Guyana, Argentina and Nicaragua itself. It should be noted that, in the last year and a half, the Bureau has denounced US Aggression against Nicaragua four times, the last of which was in this, the 39th UN Assembly.
On his way to the Rio de Janeiro meeting of the of the Socialist International (SI) Bureau, held for the first time in Latin America, FSLN representative Bayardo Arce (the FSLN has observers status in SI functions) met with the president of Colombia and Venezuela to ratify Nicaragua’s decision to endorse the peace proposal and explain the maintenance of November 4 as the date for the elections. In Rio, 200 delegates of 77 political parties (35 of them Latin American) reaffirmed their solidarity with Nicaragua and gave explicit support to Contadora, calling upon the other Central American countries to sign the peace proposal and upon the US to endorse the protocol agreement. The subsequent tour of Latin America by SI President Willy Brandt, including a visit to Nicaragua on October 12—a date from which he said he would not diverge, “even if the US invasion is already set for that time”—was also a clear demonstration of the renewed support from international social democracy.
From September 28 to 30, San José, Costa Rica, hosted a special session for the foreign ministers of the European Economic Community (EEC) and the Central American and Contadora countries. Although economic cooperation projects were the main theme, the meeting’s political nature was evident. Nicaraguan expectations weren’t very high, as it was feared that any economic accord would be conditioned by political demands tending to insolate Nicaragua. As it turned out, a British proposal expressed support for the Salvadoran Christian Democrats and rejected the Sandinistas. US Secretary of State George Shultz gave the same “advice” in a letter addressed to Giulio Andreotti, the president of the meeting, and to other attending foreign ministers. Despite these obstacles, however, the session resulted in yet another victory for Nicaragua, which was included in the EEC economic aid package (a relatively small one: $500 million over ten years for five countries, as compared with the Economic Commission for Latin America’s recommendation of US$1.2 billion). Above all, the session was a victory because the EEC expressed its support for Contadora. France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland all demonstrated their willingness to sign the protocol agreement. Thus, the EEC openly challenged the Monroe Doctrine, an integral part of the new “Reagan Doctrine” on ideological warfare. Europe made its voice heard right in the middle of the US “backyard.” On learning of Shultz’s letter, French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson remarked, “What business does Reagan have in any of this? As far as I know, he is a member of neither the EEC nor the Contadora group nor the Central American nations.”
In early October, the World Court ruled by nine votes to six not to hear a Salvadoran request that would have delayed the proceedings in Nicaragua’s case against US aid for the counterrevolution. Likewise, the Court voted fourteen to one (the vote of the US judge) that the request for the intervention was inadmissible. With decisions such as these, it is very likely that the final decision of the Court, which ordered a halt to US support for the counterrevolution on May 10, will be an overwhelming success for Nicaragua and a serious setback for the US. It was clear that the Reagan government had urged Duarte to intervene in The Hague to delay the proceedings and prevent passage of a resolution condemning the US administration during its electoral campaign.
In the midst of this successful diplomacy, the Nicaraguan government sent a high-level delegation to the Vatican. From September 6 through 12, the delegation held important talks with Cardinal Casaroli, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, and Archbishop Silvestrini, secretary of the Public Affairs Council. The Nicaraguan delegation expressed its positions, based on the desire to establish a constructive dialogue with the Catholic Church hierarchy. At the end of their meetings, the Nicaraguan government and the Holy See issued a joint communiqué, indicating both the achievements and the difficulties that arose during the talks. “The talks have offered both parties the opportunity to examine thoroughly the different problems in an attempt to discover whether or not it is possible to find the ideal criteria and procedures for making the situation less worrisome.”
The final result of all these efforts is extremely positive for the Nicaraguan government, for the electoral process, and for the Contadora negotiations. Of course, Nicaragua’s victories in these battles do not necessarily mean that it has won the war.” Many factors could ruin the hopes and expectations.
THE MILITARY COUNTEROFFENSIVE In his speech before the UN General Assembly, Daniel Ortega stated:
“A military offensive will be ready as of October 15. CIA and Pentagon mercenary forces are already concentrated on Nicaragua’s borders with Costa Rica and Honduras. The US armed forces are ready to bomb and invade Nicaragua. The Central American governments are all prepared to make a formal request for ‘aid’ from the United States in order to extirpate the Sandinista ‘threat’ from the area. The Nicaraguan Paul Scoon has also been chosen: that is to say the puppet who is supposed to be the future President of the United States in Nicaragua. They have the actors in their respective places, with their roles memorized. The number of US casualties has also estimated. The goal is to perform a Nicaraguan version of the shameful act carried out against Grenada.”
Without a doubt, these words were what caused the most impact in the international press. Ortega said nothing, however, as some reporters would have us believe, about the “exact date” of the invasion. He only announced the beginning of what could be an extremely critical period for Nicaragua. Moreover, a large counterrevolutionary military offensive in the second half of October has been expected for some time. The revolutionary leaders have repeatedly declared that only a direct US intervention or a massive counterrevolutionary invasion could prevent the elections from taking place on the scheduled date.
In his September 21 letter to the Presidents of the Contadora nations announcing Nicaragua’s endorsement of the peace proposal, Ortega stated that there were some 6,000 counterrevolutionaries operating inside Nicaragua’s borders. According to Defense Ministry reports from mid-September, some 9,000 counterrevolutionaries are concentrated in Honduras. In the last month, they have been better organized and more successful in penetrating well into Nicaraguan territory. One of their objectives is to take a city like Ocotal (there was an unsuccessful attempt to do so on June 1), Somoto, or Jinotega, where recent ambushes have caused numerous casualties.
How do these counterrevolutionaries receive supplies while operating deep within Nicaraguan territory? In addition to the social base they have been able to establish (See envío No. 36, June page 6c), their basic sources of military and food supplies have been airplanes and helicopters coming from bases in Honduras. Between September 17 and 30, Nicaragua detected 26 violations of its air space, with 21 of the airplanes coming from Honduras and 5 from Costa Rica.
Nicaraguan air defense is very limited. It is concentrated around strategic military and economic objectives but does not cover many of the supply routes that the counterrevolutionary airplanes might use. However, it has succeeded in shooting down two airplanes and one helicopter. Two of the passengers of the latter were US citizens; their bodies were sent home to the US on September 26.
The limitations of Nicaragua’s air defense system have prompted the country’s leaders to consider the purchase of MIGs. The government first mentioned the possibility of buying MIGs—or any equally sophisticated airplanes—on June 10. This month, Daniel Ortega and Defense Minister Humberto Ortega said that Nicaragua needs and is attempting to acquire aircraft to defend its air space.
The US government reacted very strongly and has made frequent use of the MIG issue in its anti-Sandinista propaganda. Some see the MIG controversy as a parallel to the Cuban missile crisis.
Furthermore, the US Administration warned the government of France that relations between the two countries might be jeopardized if France decided to provide Nicaragua with Mirage jets. Without mentioning France by name, Radio 15 de Septiembre, the FDN radio station in Honduras, reflected a similar brand of dissuasion by advising “not to pull on the tiger’s whiskers.”
Despite the potential international and internal political cost, (the opposition parties have asked for tractors and children’s games instead of defensive airplanes), the Nicaraguan government cannot ignore an issue so vital to an effective offensive against the counterrevolutionary forces.
The war is becoming too costly in lives and material resources. The latest official figures are the following:
August 122 battles
143 counterrevolutionaries killed
17 Nicaraguan army soldiers killed and 76 wounded
Source: Daniel Ortega, September 8 speech in Estelí
First 15 Days of September 31 battles
90 counterrevolutionaries killed
40 Nicaraguan army soldiers killed
17 ambushes against civilians
16 civilians killed and 60 abducted
Source: Captain Rosa Pasos, September 18 Defense Ministry report
Second 15 Days of September 49 battles
53 counterrevolutionaries killed and 11 wounded
18 Nicaraguan army soldiers killed and 54 wounded
12 ambushes against civilians
10 civilians killed, 30 abducted and 11 wounded
Source: Lieutenant Luis Angel Martínez, October 4 Defense Ministry report
Ambushes against civilian and state vehicles, abductions of civilians, and the destruction of food supplies have recently increased in frequency: on September 5, five kilometers from Tasbapouni (Southern Zelaya), FSLN National Assembly candidate professor Ray Hooker, zonal FSLN delegate Patricia Delgado, and Santiago Mayorga of the Interior Ministry were all kidnapped while traveling in a motorboat and supposedly taken to Costa Rica. This act was seen as an attempt to influence national and international public opinion in a way that would pressure the FSLN into negotiations with Edén Pastora given that the kidnapping was attributed to ARDE, and Pastora created speculation about a proposal for an exchange of prisoners.) At the heart of this situation is the continual pressure on Costa Rican President Monge to break the fragile neutrality proclaimed by his government, as well as to force the FSLN into some kind of agreement with the counterrevolutionaries.
On September 23, high-powered C-4 explosives destroyed six grain storage silos in Palacaguina, Nueva Segovia, resulting in the loss of 1,760 tons of basic grains when the 25,000 inhabitants of the municipalities of Quilalí and Telpaneca are already suffering the consequences of shortages in rice, corn, and beans. The infrastructural damage was estimated at over $1 million. Considering that the war alone makes it impossible to transport to the storage silos over half of the marketable beans and corn produced in regions I, IV, and VI, one can imagine the impact of additional destruction on peasant incomes and the rural food supply.
On the same day, September 23, counterrevolutionaries ambushed a truck carrying the relatives of young Nicaraguans receiving military training in Pantasma (Jinotega). These relatives were on their way to visit the trainees. Four mothers were killed, along with one young boy and three members of the army; 19 other civilians, 11 of them women, were wounded. The objective of such an attack, which shocked the entire country, is clear: to play upon the feelings of those social sectors that do not fully accept the military draft law. It is achieved not only by attacking the combatants themselves or their military schools—as in the case of Santa Clara, an attack in which US mercenaries participated—but also by targeting the mothers of the boys, for whom such visits provide a more direct understanding of defense needs and serve to calm fears with respect to their children’s safety.
If the Central American countries do not back the revised Contadora proposal, they will be fulfilling the US government’s desire for another pretext for an escalated contra offensive. The upcoming elections, moreover, will encourage the contra forces to aim for even greater levels of destruction and destabilization. Daniel Ortega’s alert in the UN was not simply an “irresponsible alarm.” Indeed, it was a responsible warning and an appeal to the nations of the world in the face of very real danger.
Intense US troop activity in the US Southern Command (Panama), the concentration of counterrevolutionary forces in Honduras, the transfer of FDN Somocistas to Costa Rican (Guanacaste region) to fill the gap left by the disintegration of the bulk of the ARDE forces, the continual violation of Nicaraguan air and sea space, and the persistent aggressive stance of the US Administration in its official statements are all setting the stage for the invasion to which Daniel Ortega referred in his UN speech.
Many will say that Nicaragua has regularly announced interventions and invasions that never come. It is difficult to determine the extent to which this “crying wolf” helps mobilize international forces, which in turn help to prevent actual intervention plans. From the underdog position with which Nicaragua must confront US aggression, international denunciation is a crucial tactical device. The Sandinista government has learned from Sandino, who after the 1927 battle of Ocotal, in which US war planes bombed a civilian population for the first time, said: “We have learned the immense value of informing world opinion, and are now convinced that our main objective should be to continue our protest struggle as long as possible.” These denunciations are tactics that David simply cannot neglect in his struggle against Goliath.
THE WARTIME ECONOMY The imbalance of forces at work in this war is revealed most clearly in Nicaragua’s economic crisis. Nicaragua’s is a wartime economy, and this was precisely how Daniel Ortega described it in his report to the Council of State in May of this year. The stepped-up aggression and shortage of foreign exchange are making the situation increasingly critical. In the context of the electoral campaign, all this has become a political problem.
The claims of Arturo Cruz followers that, with Cruz as President, “the toothpaste shortage will be corrected” are evidence of the populist tactics used in the campaigns of the opposition political parties, which put forth economic themes in their rallies but never really offer any serious analysis. For instance, to supply the Nicaraguan population with toothpaste for just the final quarter of the year would require one million dollars in hard currency, which will simply be unavailable if basic grains are to remain a high national priority.
The scarcity of foreign exchange is presently Nicaragua’s main economic problem. With total exports valued at US$400 million and vital imports at US$800 million, Nicaragua is always in debt. The loans Nicaragua has been able to acquire through its current policy of borrowing from diverse international sources are still insufficient to fill this gap and do not, furthermore, provide the kind of free-floating cash required to purchase so many of the basic items the country needs but cannot produce itself: electric light bulbs, household medicines, batteries, etc. The current situation is testimony to the destructive legacy of an economic and industrial structure built around the requirements of just a few given exports rather than upon the basic needs of the population. This structure resulted from Nicaragua’s submission under the Somoza regime to the framework of the Central American Common Market, designed in 1959 by the Eisenhower administration to counteract the recommendations made by the ECLA.
Considering that 25% of Nicaragua’s budget is now devoted to defense; that much of this sum represents not simply armaments but also clothing, gasoline, vehicles, food, and medicines; that the actual figure is probably higher than the official one due to the continual expansion of the war; and that the slogan “everything for the war fronts, everything for the combatants” is a daily reality for many Nicaraguan families; it is clear that the war has truly resulted in a need for austerity measures and in a noticeable deterioration in the population’s standard of living. This is especially visible in Managua, where over a fourth of the country’s population lives. Traditionally, those living in the capital were more accustomed to greater conveniences and a higher level of consumerism. For example, in Managua many people still do not understand the relation between the war and the beef shortage or late buses. In the entire Pacific region, the war still seems far away, and people live in a state of collective schizophrenia. On the one hand, they cry for sons lost in the war and condemn the foreign aggression that kills them, but, on the other, they have a hard time understanding that the scarcity of toothpaste, hospital facilities and cement for gravestones is also the result of US pressure. Of course, the effects of such pressure are exacerbated when combined with the disorder and bureaucratism inherited from the “old” system. It is extremely difficult to correct these vices while such a high percentage of the country’s resources are absorbed by military priorities.
The strikes: A significant sign On August 6, the Nicaraguan workers’ right to strike, which had been suspended by the economic emergency law of 1981, was reinstituted. This produced various partial and attempted strikes. La Prensa in Managua and various international news media attempted to portray the situation as one of a mass movement that totally rejected the government’s economic and wage policies.
However, workers’ protests were moderate during this last month. The conflict that has closed the Victoria brewery for two weeks ended on August 25. The machine workers’ September 3 strike at Metasa was declared illegal by the Labor Ministry, and preliminary agreements were reached on September 5. There was also a half-day’s work stoppage at the Dismotor plant on September 3.
This month’s labor activity consisted primarily of negotiations and agreements to resolve both previously standing conflicts and some new demands. Activities of this kind took place at the Julio Martínez and Tracsa service shops (sales and repair of spare parts for agricultural machinery), with the Urban Transport Workers’ Union, the National Bus Enterprise, the Barkers’ Union, the Communication Workers’ Union, the Construction Technical Workers and at Shell.
The fact that there had been no strikes in the country since 1981 caused some people to interpret the labor situation as an explosion of repressed discontent. The Supreme Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) and the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN) coincided in their analysis that all the problems were due to the workers’ rejection of the new National System for the Organization of Labor and Wages (SNOTS), in the process of implementation since August, which established 113 job qualification categories to cover all the jobs in the country.
The signs of strike activity, would not appear to respond to a rejection of the SNOTS, but rather to a diversity of sSpecific factors: accumulated and unpaid bonuses at Metasas, the bus drivers’ scheduling arrangements, demands for workers’ cafeterias and commissariats with low prices in some of the factories, fulfillment of promises to assist laid-off Shell workers in their search for jobs, etc.
It cannot be denied that the Nicaraguan working class has suffered a noticeable decline in its purchasing power—even up to 40% in the last year—and the demands for wage increases must be seen as legitimate. It is also true, however, that full application of the SNOTS qualification categories won’t be able to solve the problem as long as the war persists. The wage increases included in the SNOTS measures will put some 5 billion additional córdobas into national circulation. Given the problem of supply shortfalls, due as much to the foreign exchange crisis as to drops in productivity, all this excess currency may well prove to be a problem, especially since the war is also one of the causes of the drop in certain productivity indices.
In any event, the crisis or stirrings of crisis in various labor sectors have brought the issues of unions and workers organization, the training of union leaders and the strengthening of the workers’ movement to the forefront. Both the Right and Left have been exploiting labor issues in their electoral campaigns, although they almost never get to the heart of the problem: it is practically impossible to handle the wage policy fairly while production is dropping, prices are rising and defense against a growing military aggression must remain the top priority. In this situation, workers’ political understanding and willingness to make routine sacrifices in the face of hardship can become crucial political questions.
The Third National Labor Union Assembly (September 8-9), held by the various pro Sandinista unions, which make up the overwhelming majority of the organized work force, closed ranks around the revolutionary project. Higher productivity, greater discipline and better organization were the basic points. Furthermore, there was agreement that negotiated solutions should be sought, since strikes can play into the hands of those who wish to destroy the revolution.
One last piece of information to complete this picture: Nicaragua is about to embark once gain, in the face of greater odds than ever, on the “battle of the coffee harvest.” Nicaragua’s seasonal harvest work force consists primarily of men between the ages of 16 and 30, which unfortunately is precisely the social sector currently most involved in defense of the country. The economic impact of military mobilizations will be revealed most clearly in November, when the harvest begins and some 40,000 volunteer workers, many of them women and fifth and sixth graders, will try to fill the gap, rescuing the beans that bring in up to 30% of Nicaragua’s foreign exchange.
THE ELECTION DATE During the SI meeting in Rio de Janeiro, FSLN representative Bayardo Arce negotiated with Arturo Cruz and other CDN leaders in the presence of well known “witnesses” such as Willy Brandt, Hans Wischnewsky, and Carlos Andrés Pérez. In summary, the subject of the negotiations was the CDN’s participation in the elections. The CDN’s principal condition for participation was postponement of the elections, a request it had been making throughout September. (There are several contradictory versions concerning how long the elections would have been delayed.)
In order to show flexibility and provide for a more-relaxed electoral climate, the FSLN had asked the National Council of Political Parties to restore the legal status the CDN parties had lost by refusing to register its candidates for the elections. The FSLN had also asked the Supreme Electoral Council to authorize a third extension that would enable the CDN parties to register between September 26 and October 1. However, the FSLN remained firm with respect to the electoral date itself, saying it would only agree to a postponement of the elections if the CDN were able to have the main body of the counterrevolutionary forces put down its arms and leave Nicaragua before October 25. (Cruz has said he has friends and contacts among the counterrevolutionary leaders.)
At first, it would appear that the terms of the deal were disproportionate: a simple postponement in exchange for something as important as an at-least temporary end to the war. However, the Sandinista government’s insistence on maintaining the election date at all costs and against all kinds of domestic and international pressure is very significant.
The US administration wants world opinion to believe that the Nicaraguan government doesn’t “keep its promises,” especially with respect to the elections. Elections that are legitimate in the eyes of the rest of the world will not prevent the aggression from continuing, nor will they be able to stop an eventual direct invasion, but they can eliminate a good number of arguments and justifications used by Reagan, who, while probably hoping he won’t have to order an invasion before the US elections, will certainly be more resolved to do so following his near-certain reelection.
More months of wasteful political debate and a strangulating war in a Nicaragua “without elections” would only facilitate whatever aggressive plans Reagan already has. This explains the extreme preoccupation of pro-Reagan propaganda sources with the “need” to postpone the elections. Whereas the administration previously claimed the elections would be invalid due to press censorship, the state of emergency and a lack of political pluralism, the importance of these factors now seems to have dwindled to the point that the only genuine and indispensable formula for electoral credibility would appear to be a postponement. The administration has voiced little concern regarding the length of such a delay.
The non-postponement of the elections reflects the CDN’s lack of credibility within Nicaragua. With unending and ever-changing demands, the CDN revealed that it never had any intention of taking part in the elections and that its only purpose was to attract publicity by boycotting them.
By not postponing the elections, the government will also avoid wasting the millions of córdobas and thousands of dollars already invested in making the campaign possible. Likewise, Nicaragua will be better prepared to face the crucial post-November 4 economic tasks, such as the coffee and cotton harvests, which, like national defense, need many of the human and infrastructural resources that have been devoted to the elections in the last months.
Indeed, flexibility is a small price to pay if it can assure peace. However, it is not at all clear that the achievement of peace depends on an election date, particularly in a situation as complex as that of Central America, where new variables produce }significant changes from one day to the next.
Contadora could fail this time, especially if all the Central American foreign ministers meet face to face without mediators. This would leave Nicaragua isolated against the rest of the Central American countries, as Honduras seems to be recommending. Duarte’s spectacular gesture of offering to engage in dialogue with the FMLN-FDR may have the effect of obscuring the importance of Nicaragua’s surprising move with Contadora, thus reviving US desires to impose “the logic of symmetry” on Nicaragua (i.e. dialogue with the counterrevolutionaries).
Meanwhile, Nicaragua’s economy could be choked to a standstill. Some observers think that this, and not direct military intervention, is the ultimate objective of Reagan’s Nicaraguan policy. According to these observers, such a standstill could provoke chaos or force the Sandinista government into a position of utter surrender.
Faced with a formidable enemy and the threat of new and multifaceted attacks, the Nicaraguan government can only accept a postponement of the elections in exchange for a guarantee that the country’s revolution will be allowed to exist and develop in a context of national sovereignty. This would require that the US-backed counterrevolutionaries lay down their arms prior to November 4. Otherwise, the government will have to maintain the schedule, even at the risk of appearing intransigent.