Approaching a New Stage of the War
On November 4 and 6, the two primary antagonists in the Central American conflict, the FSLN and the Reagan Administration, were electorally certified by their respective populations. Daniel Ortega, the FSLN candidate, received 67% of the valid votes cast, while Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party candidate, received 59%.
Both were counting on electoral victories and had geared their policies with these victories in mind. Both were also striving to obtain a better position for the next four years of conflict. The almost simultaneous victories raise a question as to what shape the conflict will take in the near future. All signs seem to indicate that we’re now undergoing and will continue to witness an active reorganization of forces in the months ahead.
Both sides on the moveThe Reagan Administration tried to secure strategic maneuvering room prior to the elections on two principal fronts: (1) the attempt to block Contadora and the bilateral talks in Manzanillo; and (2) the effort to discredit the Nicaraguan elections.
Both of these objectives are perfectly clear in the “Background Paper” prepared for Reagan’s October 30 meeting with the National Security Council. Regarding Contadora, the US Administration appears satisfied with the results already obtained. Concerning the Nicaraguan elections, the Administration considers that it’s on the offensive, and is planning further action.
“We have effectively blocked Contadora Group efforts to impose the second draft of the Revised Contadora Act. Following intensive US consultations with El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica, the Central American countries submitted a counterdraft to the Contadora states on October 20, 1984. It reflects many of our concerns and shifts the focus within Contadora to a document broadly consistent with US interests… We have succeeded in turning the public and private diplomatic focus back on the Nicaraguan elections…; efforts continue to press the Sandinistas to postpone the elections. We will encourage Europe and Latin America to ask that they (the counterparts) make public statements criticizing the Nicaraguan elections.”
Of course, this political and diplomatic strategy did not cause the Reagan Administration to lose sight of its principal means of pressure and assault: the armed counterrevolutionaries’ war of attrition, which intensified noticeably in the months just preceding the elections.
Nicaragua was also on the move during the preelectoral period. It had to defend itself militarily against daily armed aggression while it also prepared for and conducted an electoral process open to international scrutiny. The elections have been described as clean, honest and technically proficient by all but the Reagan government. The electoral results clearly demonstrate the genuinely pluralistic nature of the revolutionary process. Within five days, then, half of the “Background Paper” was already obsolete. The Nicaraguan elections quickly frustrated any attempt to turn US popular opinion against Nicaragua with claims of an electoral sham. In fact, the elections accomplished just the opposite, winning support for the revolution.
Nicaragua also tried to win time in the realm of international relations. Its two primary initiatives prior to November 4 were the acceptance of the revised Contadora agreements (in September) and the continuation of efforts in the World Court, which handed down a second decision in Nicaragua’s favor on November 26. (The first had been announced on May 10.)
Nicaragua readjusts is forces:During the first three weeks of November, the effects of the military emergency were felt throughout Nicaragua. An intense period of military preparation followed the enactment of the state of alert on November 7 and the decision by the FSLN’s National Directorate to have 20,000 young people remain in Managua for defense purposes rather than go off to the coffee harvest.
The state of alert and a closer look at the “MIG Crisis”
Once each on the 9th and 10th, and twice the next day, US supersonic SR-71 “Blackbird” spy planes flew over Nicaraguan territory, breaking the sound barrier and thus creating loud explosions in several cities.* On the 12th, the Defense Ministry declared a state of alert for all the nation’s armed forces, called upon Managua’s population to activate existing civil defense networks, and visibly stationed over thirty T-55 tanks in the streets of the capital. The following day, the papers published the addresses of 43 militia houses where volunteers could register. “We’re not just talking about the fate of a political party, or that of a particular political program, even that of a social class. We’re talking about the very fate of Nicaragua itself.” (Jaime Wheelock in his November 8 speech)
*Between October 31 and November 11, Nicaragua heard six SR-71 flights. In fact there were a total of 40 SR-71 flights during November, however, the majority detected only by the Nicaraguan antiaircraft defense radar. Forty such reconnaissance flights cost $10 million. The total number of spy flights in November, including those in RO-135 and U-2 planes, was 67.
On November 9, Nicaragua expressed its fear of imminent US aggression to the UN Security Council. This was the eighth time since March 1982 that Nicaragua had convened the Security Council to warn the world of US plans. Meanwhile, high-level White House officials were discussing various measures to be taken against Nicaragua: 1) a naval quarantine; 2) interdiction of all arms shipments headed for Nicaraguan ports; 3) heightened efforts to get Congress to approve more economic aid for the contras; 4) increasing the frequency and expanding the scope of US military maneuvers in Central America and 5) recalling the US Ambassador in Nicaragua.
In a US television interview on November 13, Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister, Father Miguel D’Escoto, announced that the boxes supposedly concealing MIGs actually contained Soviet MI-24 helicopters; he offered no further details. These helicopters are to be used for counterinsurgency offensives in areas with difficult terrain.
Immediately following D’Escoto’s statement, Adolfo Calero, the leader of the counterrevolutionary Nicaraguan Democratic Forces (FDN), announced that if Nicaragua used such helicopters, the FDN would sabotage strategic economic targets. With a bit more theatrical flourish, Edén Pastora claimed that “his men” were already heading towards the Atlantic Coast port of El Bluff to destroy the helicopters being unloaded there.
The “alarming fantasy” (New York Times) created by the Reagan Administration regarding the MIGs, combined with deliberately confusing news reports, produced yet another “fantasy”: Nicaragua is storing weapons in preparation for an invasion of Honduras and El Salvador. This ploy did not enjoy as much success as that of the Migs. In all the “statistics wars” disputing the respective military strength of the Central American nations, it was revealed that El Salvador and Honduras both posses far more highly sophisticated arms than Nicaragua. In particular, the comparisons revealed the strength of the Honduran Air Force and the weakness of its Nicaraguan counterpart. The Migs that Nicaragua supposedly received are 25 years old and of a strictly defensive nature.
The Mig crisis came as surprise, although it was in keeping with the latest turn of events. On the evening of November 6, the Reagan Administration dropped its emphasis on the Nicaraguan elections, which had not afforded it appropriate means for its anticipated propaganda offensive against Nicaragua. Talk of Migs immediately replaced ant-Nicaraguan electoral rhetoric.
We can interpret the Mig crisis in two non-contradictory ways:
1.- The crisis created a climate for intervention at an especially opportune time: that of Reagan’s landslide victory, combined with the nationalist feelings aroused by a presidential election. A weak response by US and international public opinion or, more partuclarly, a poor civil defense and military response in Nicaragua would have indicated the potential success of a short-term intervention.
2.- The crisis strengthened the option of the counterrevolutionary war, while simultaneously imposing maximum military and psychological pressure on Nicaragua. The methods used to create the crisis were also geared to pressuring Congress and the American people to pave the way for the March 1985 debate concerning renewed aid for the counterrevolution. Thus, the implicit message the Administration intends to convey to the US people with this crisis and those to come is that aid for the contras is preferable to direct confrontation with the Soviet Union in Central America.
These two strategies (a direct air blitz and a low-intensity war of attrition) are in fact rather complementary. However, members of the Reagan Administration may be divided over which of these “solutions” to apply.
The Reagan Administration has immense confidence in the counterrevolutionaries. It doesn’t believe that they will succeed in overthrowing the Sandinista government but rather that they will wear the country down, thus facilitating the work of US troops in the event of a direct invasion. The next four years will allow Reagan ample time to choose the right moment for an invasion.
Until then, Reagan will have to rely on the counterrevolution to continue the low-intensity war that began in March 1982. To do so, he will have to depend on bipartisan congressional support and US public opinion. Until the next congressional vote on aid for the contras, Reagan will resort as often as needed to artificial crises like that of the Migs to reinforc US paranoia that communism can creep up and attack at any moment and to frighten people with the Soviet threat.
Such scare tactics make support for the “freedom fighters” appear ever more urgent and reasonable. We are thus sure to witness many more spectacular but ambiguous unfounded and claims aimed at creating a favorable climate for war*.
* Upon finishing this analysis, one such new accusation had already been brought to our attention: The State Department has declared that Nicaragua has been receiving bacteriological weapons for several months. Such arms supposedly prove the Cuban and Soviet influence in the country.
A wave of reaction worldwide Nicaragua has made numerous appeals to the international community, requesting solidarity in the face of US aggression. Never before, however, had these appeals met with such a strong response as during the “Mig crisis.” In fact, the overwhelming response from the international community—governments, political parties, humanitarian organizations, church workers, and grassroots movements—was a warning to Reagan that he cannot consider his reelection a carte blanche for his international policies.
Various statements of support and solidarity arrived throughout the month. This reaction was probably motivated by: 1) renewed US aggression and 2) the success of the Nicaraguan elections, which were observed by hundreds of foreigners, including various official European delegations.
From the many statements, we’ve chosen three:
* The statements by the Spanish government and governing party, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), were significant in that both had recently seemed to distance themselves from the Sandinista revolution. The Spanish government reaffirmed its stance “against all political pressure on Nicaragua, such as that observed in recent days.” The PSOE criticized the “disregard for the norms of international law,” referring to US violations of Nicaraguan waters and air space. The PSOE also expressed “total opposition to all types of intimidation, pressure and aggression employed by the US against Nicaragua.”
* The Chinese government has been striving for close relations with the United States, yet its officials news agency declared that “the US acted shamefully by showing signs of reconciliation before and during the presidential elections only to recur to military threats as soon as the elections were over. Its displays of force against a tiny country and its disrespect for international law will anger all the peace-loving countries of the world, especially those of the third world.”
* Anselmo Sule , the vice president of the Socialist International, called for concrete acts of solidarity: “Solidarity must now be demonstrated with economic and financial aid and assistance. It is not indulging in ‘subjectivism’ to say that the FSLN has been supported by 70% of the people and is suffering direct aggression at the hands of the United States.”
Meanwhile, Mexico introduced a resolution to the UN General Assembly. It was signed by 69 other countries and called on the nations of the world to “continue contributing to the reconstruction and development of Nicaragua.” This resolution was cosponsored by Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Solidarity efforts also reached new levels in the United States this month. One of the more significant events was the decision by solidarity committees to begin to engage in civil disobedience now rather than wait until the US actually invades Nicaragua or El Salvador. The solidarity committees feel that US involvement in the two countries is already great enough to warrant this intensification of organized activity. As the US solidarity movement continues to grow, such activities may well create problems for the Reagan Administration’s plans.
On November 10, a group of 120 US citizens living in Nicaragua ventured out in a small fishing boat to meet one of the US warships just outside the port of Corinto. They carried a banner that read “Don’t rescue us; we’d rather die with the Nicaraguans.”
Preparing for Invasion: US Military Maneuvers The Mig crisis enabled Reagan not only to measure the potential political costs of an invasion but also to boost military preparations without much political cost. Using both US and Nicaraguan sources, we’ve been able to reconstruct the following list of US troop exercises and military maneuvers that took place during November and some of the major maneuvers planned through March 1985.
Previously unannounced military exercises were revealed by Pentagon spokesman Michael Burch during the Mig crisis and were published by The Washington Post on November 14. (Those taking place inside the US were all related in some way to the Central American conflict.)
* November 7-20: 120 military engineers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, built military access roads and air strips in Palmerola, Honudras.
* November 7-20: 150-180 infantry troops at Fort Hood, Texas, trained in patrol duties.
* November 7-20: A medical company from Fort Stewart, Georgia, trained hospital personnel at the Palmerola military base in Honduras
* November 8-19: During the second phase of the “King’s Guard” maneuvers in the Gulf of Fonseca, which included navy personnel from the US, Honduras and El Salvador, 12 US specialists trained Salvadoran personnel in leadership and control.
* October 28-November 17: An unspecified number of Pennsylvania National Guard A-37 fighter planes and U-2 spy planes from Howard Air Force Base in Panama engaged in aerial exercises in Honduras.
* Special counterinsurgency forces from Fort Bragg and Fort Gullick (Panama) trained Honduran forces. (No information was provided as to the location or the numbers involved).
* In late September, three teams of 12 soldiers each, with special training in preventive medicine, began two-week shifts at the Palmerola military base.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon confirmed the presence of 25 warships in Caribbean waters for naval maneuvers that took place November 1-19. Nicaraguan leaders also revealed the following major maneuvers planned for the coming months: “Computex” (naval maneuvers off the coast of Puerto Rico); “Filtex-85” (air and naval, off the coast of California); “Rapid Thrust” (air and lands, in Fort Stewart, Georgia, including 15,000 men); “Readex-85” (air and naval, in the Caribbean); “Kindle Liberty” (land and naval, in the Panama Canal Zone); “Ahuas Tara III,” in Honduras; and “Granero II,” in Honduras. These maneuvers will include some 90,000 US soldiers
Military reports indicate that US bases in Honduras, Panama, Puerto Rico, Guantánamo (Cuba), the Bahamas, Antigua, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and California have been in states of continual activity since the year began and that the 13 US military bases in Puerto Rico have been particularly active in recent months. According to these sources, permanent US forces in the area are presently: 9000 in Panama, 3,500 in Puerto Rico, 2,300 in Guántanamo, 3,500 in Key West, 1,000 in Honduras (although Nicaraguan sources estimate two-and-a-half times that number); and between March 1983 and February 1984, there has been a monthly average of 5,000 soldiers in Honduras.*
*In the first four months of the Reagan Administration , the following units have trained for military activity: the 28th Marines Unit, the 18th Airborne Corps, and the 4th Psychological Operations Corps from Fort Bragg; the Air Tactics Command from Langley, Virginia; the Air Transport Command from Scott, Illinois; the Norfolk Special Naval Operations Group; the 10th Special Forces Group from Fort Devons, Massachusetts and a navy group composed of an aircraft carrier with 85 planes, 350 boats and 30,000 soldiers.
It is increasingly difficult to obtain precise information concerning the different US military maneuvers and exercises currently taking place in the Central American and Caribbean area. It is not difficult, however, to see that these maneuvers are: 1) increasingly common; 2) helping create and strengthen the material, logistical and human infrastructure (both US and Central American) that could make a direct intervention more possible and efficient; 3) financed by the Pentagon, so that neither Congress nor the US people have any control whatsoever over the expenditures. This “impunity” could quickly turn the maneuvers into the first stage of a direct invasion.
Fighting in Managua to defend NicaraguaAlthough the high level of tension that arose from the Mig crisis has decreased somewhat, the state of alert that went into effect in November has not been interpreted here in Nicaragua as a mere tactical response but rather as a permanent alert in the face of the dangerous conditions resulting from Ronald Reagan’s reelection. The Nicaraguan government believes that the primary deterrent to direct US intervention is a strong military defense, including military training for the civilian population. Defense preparation within the framework of the state of alert has been designed to respond to both a direct US attack and counterrevolutionary aggression.
With reference to direct intervention, special emphasis has been placed on the defense of Managua. It would appear that US strategy is oriented toward avoiding entanglement in an endless conflict. This strategy calls for rapid and spectacular victories. A prolonged war would mean a higher number of US casualties and unfavorable reactions by US and international public opinion. Such reactions could force the Administration to withdraw its troops without having achieved a victory.
The most spectacular US victory would be the taking of Managua, the seat of the Sandinistas’ power and home to one fourth of the country’s population. Even though thousands of Nicaraguans would continue to resist the invaders in mountainous regions throughout the country, a US conquest of the capital would have strong psychological effects on both Nicaragua and world opinion.
In order to succeed in this undertaking, the US would have to carry out heavy aerial blitzes on strategic objectives (energy sources and airports) and on the civilian population to try to provoke chaos and paralyze the country. The bombings would be followed by a massive invasion of marines. According to the latest analyses of a possible US-Nicaraguan conflict, this kind of attack on Managua would require 16,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division. A triumph in Managua would give the US a strong bargaining position if the two countries were to sit down at the negotiating table.
Consequently, Nicaragua’s strategy involves bogging down an eventual US attack and causing the highest possible number of US casualties. Preparation for this military strategy entails an endless number of organizational tasks: light arms training, the organization of territorial defense in every neighborhood, learning to deal with different sorts of bombing attacks, building bomb shelters, training in first aid and fire fighting, providing for a lack of fuel and the distribution of weapons. Preparations such as these began last month.
If the entire population of Managua knows what to do in case of an attack, the US has little chance of attaining a rapid victory with minimal casualties. On the contrary, a well-organized defensive response would provide the rest of Nicaragua and the rest of the world with an effective example, thereby making the political cost of such an attack extremely high for the US Administration.
The armed forces plan to incorporate 40,000 Managua militia soldiers into permanent combat units in the near future. Civil defense preparation has accelerated, with the training of specialized brigades in first aid, evacuation, prevention of epidemics, grave digging, transportation without gasoline, etc. Other plans include maintenance for the 1,500 bomb shelters built during the November 1983 emergency period, as well as the construction of 80,000 more such shelters. “The will to resist is not enough; resistance must be organized,” said Interior Minister Tomás Borge recently. All possible means are being used to prevent the element of surprise from taking its toll on the population in the event of an attack.
Last week, when US Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger spoke to the Washington National Press Club about the six conditions necessary for the involvement of US combat troops on foreign soil, he was implicitly referring to a rapid and thorough attack. He also explicitly mentioned the need to avoid gradual involvement, which would mire the US as in Vietnam and result in a military defeat. According to US wire services, the six conditions are the following.
1.- Troops should not be committed “unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies.”
2.- “The clear intention of winning” must exist, and there must be no hesitation with respect to the use of force. A clear decision must be made, as in the case of Grenada on October 25, 1983.
3.- The political and military objectives must be “clearly defined.”
4.- The relationship between the amount of force and these objectives “must be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.”
5.- Before the US commits combat forces abroad, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress.
6.- Finally, the commitment of US forces to combat should be a last resort.
The main goal of the counterrevolutionaries now is to obstruct the harvesting of coffee, Nicaragua’s most important source of foreign exchange. This year’s crop promises to be one of the best ever, and the November 8 decision to keep the 20,000 harvest volunteers in Managua should not be interpreted as an abandonment of the coffee harvest.
Both volunteer and traditional harvesters are already at work in all the nation’s coffee regions, and measures have been implemented to ensure that at least 80%of the crop will be picked: volunteer workers headed for the most active war zones are receiving thorough military training before their departure, and the professional pickers, who are far more productive than the volunteers, have received a 100% pay raise, which should provide them added incentive.
On November 14, 300 volunteer harvesters left Managua and traveled to Region VI (Matagalpa and Jinotega). Half of these were state employees and half were university students who had been members of the group of 20,000 that is going to stay in the capital for defense purposes. The remaining 18,500, all secondary students, began to receive their military training. The first group of US volunteer harvesters arrived in the country in late November. Some 600 US citizens are expected to participate in this year’s harvest. Many volunteers will also be coming from Western and Eastern European countries.
The counterrevolutionaries have already begun to attack the pickers. On December 4, 200 FDN contras ambushed a group of volunteers, the majority of whom were state telecommunications workers. They were riding in a truck, practically unarmed, on their way to the coffee plantations where they were going to work. Of the 31 people in the truck, 22 were killed. The contras burned alive 17 of those who remained in the truck. The survivors gave a detailed account of the cruelty displayed by these “freedom fighters.”
The coffee infrastructure has also suffered counterrevolutionary attacks. During the first two weeks of November, the facilities at seven large private coffee plantations were totally destroyed. The most serious of this month’s attacks on state farms took place on November 14 at La Sorpresa in Jinotega, where the farm was completely devastated. 14 peasants were killed (2 of them children) and 4 were wounded. Material losses totaled 2.5 million córdobas. La Sorpresa was the best organized and most productive state farm in the area. (Since the beginning of 1984, 24 of Nicaragua’s state farms have been attacked by the counterrevolutionaries.) According to this month’s military reports, approximately 4,000 contras are presently operating in regions I and VI, where most of Nicaragua’s coffee is produced. Their priority is to stifle the coffee harvest by killing workers and burning plantations.
Defense Ministry figures show that the contras suffered 446 casualties in November. According to State Security Chief Lenín Cerna, the counterrevolutionaries’ short-term objective outside the coffee regions is to land a “spectacular blow.” A possible target is Puerto Cabezas, on the Caribbean Coast, which might be attacked by Stedman Fagoth’s Miskitu contras (MISURA), allies of the Nicaraguan Democratic Front (FDN) in Honduras. Comandante Luis Carrión has stated that MISURA has a maximum of 2,000 men.
The economic and political situation: Just as military plans have been readjusted to deal with the war of attrition and an eventual intervention, the country’s economic and political forces have also undergone changes designed to improve their capacity to resist counterrevolutionary hostilities.
The war economy and long-range development
On the economic level, the basic trend for 1985 is to postpone development for four more years in order to fend off the counterrevolutionary aggression and attain peace. The government will reduce subsidies, while increasing salaries to try to compensate for lost purchasing power, as it did this year. It will reduce investments and raise taxes. Significant budget cuts will affect all governmental ministries. In the 1984 budget, priority was placed on defense, health and education, in that order. Of these three, education, especially on the post-primary levels, will bear the brunt of the budget readjustments. In general, the government will continue large and small development projects already underway but will not begin new ones. In the field of education, for instance, no new schools will be built, as almost all the country’s construction resources will be earmarked for defense needs. Forecasted growth in Nicaragua’s 1984 gross national product is 1%. The goal set at the beginning of the year was 2%. The fact that this figure is not negative, despite the country’s extremely difficult economic situation, reveals the strength and stability of Nicaragua’s economy.
With respect to food supplies, the priority will be basic grains. Because of an insufficient harvest of beans and corn in Regions I, V, and VI (war zones), problems have been foreseen for 1985.
The lack of foreign exchange will continue to be the country’s main economic difficulty. Hard cash is especially needed to purchase imports for the health sector. At this point, the government has assured 70% of the foreign exchange needed for the 1985 budget in this and other sectors. Half of 1985’s oil imports have also been assured.
It is expected that 1985 will bring deteriorated living standards of Nicaragua’s tertiary sector, which makes up 40% of the country’s economically active population. The government is planning to make great efforts to explain the nation’s economic woes to the workers, who have shown an increasing capacity for debate and response through their unions.
As regards longer-term plans, Nicaragua is currently developing relations with the COMECON countries. Until recently, both the Arab and COMECON nations had primarily provided Nicaragua emergency aid and favorable prices for its export products. Cooperation with these countries was mostly circumstantial. Now it appears to be a question of establishing a solid foundation for capital accumulation and production over the next five years. Nicaragua presently sells 15% of its exports to the socialist countries. The government plans to increase this figure gradually in order to reach approximately 30%. It is hoped that the Western European nations will complement the support from the COMECON nations by providing Nicaragua with capital and technology. Nicaragua’s electoral process and results will probably help an improve trade relations with the Western world, even countries, such as West Germany, that had distanced themselves from Nicaragua.
The economic situation in 1985 will be difficult. Nicaragua will have to endure increasing hardships in the face of the war, but there are no signs of economic collapse. To a large extent, the country’s capacity to deal with the challenge of greater austerity will depend on the debate and explanations between leaders and workers. In reality, the crisis being faced by Nicaragua is not self-generated. It is principally the result of the need to divert resources to the war effort.
The new National Assembly The elections clarified and consolidated the domestic political scene, legitimizing both the revolutionary government and the opposition parties that took part in the electoral process. The elections also confirmed the revolution’s pluralist nature. All these factors have solidified Nicaragua’s capacity to resist the political pressures that accompany the counterrevolutionary war.
The Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinating Committee (CDN) “lost a magnificent historical opportunity,” said former Venezuelan President Herrera Campins during a visit to Managua. With their abstention, the CDN parties have removed themselves from institutional politics in Nicaragua. The temptation of armed opposition may thus become very strong for them. In contrast, the opposition parties that did participate in the elections assured themselves of some influence in Nicaragua’s political future. They are now preparing to present their positions in the new National Assembly.
On December 4, the Council of State held its last session. For five years, this legislative body represented the different social forces of Nicaragua. At the end of its final legislative period, 52 people were representing 31 national organizations. In five years, the Council of State passed 319 laws, 151 of which were introduced by the Government Junta and 168 of which were presented within the Council itself. These laws can be classified as follows: political (109), administrative (65), social (56), economic (36), cultural (34), judicial (10) and military (9). Some of the most important laws passed in the Council of State were: the Agrarian Reform Law, the Electoral Law, the Political Parties Law, the Patriotic Military Service Law, the Family Relations Law and the Consumer Protection Law. Delegations from the Council of State visited 21 parliaments in Europe and Latin America and attended sessions of the World Interparliamentary Union on 8 occasions.
The Council of State has permanently adjourned, and the Constituent National Assembly will be inaugurated on January 9, 1985. For approximately the next two years, the Assembly’s chief task will be the drawing up of the new Constitution. The National Assembly will thus be the center of political and ideological debate.
The CDN parties will be restructuring their alliance and a new directorate in December. They have stated that they plan to “form a nimble, active and initiative-taking opposition” and to “recover the initiative we took away from the FSLN for several months.” However, it is difficult to image where, outside the National Assembly, they could carry activity. Their only two possibilities seem to be La Prensa and international channels.
The Independent Liberal party (PLI) appears to remain hesitant and deeply divided with respect to whether it should participate in the National Assembly. Some observers have called the PLI’s uncertainty its “second abstention.” The decision by PLI vice presidential candidate Constantino Pereira to defy the abstentionist line supported by his running mate Virgilio Godoy was a key factor in the November 4 elections, actually winning the PLI nine seats in the Assembly. The party’s National Directorate, however, has not yet decided whether to accept these seats, for doing so would contradict its October 21 abstentionist resolution. The PLI’s Executive Committee severely punished Pereira’s dissidence, suspending him from the party for 18 months. The PLI’s National Directorate confirmed this sentence on November 25.
The new political climate created by the elections was obvious in the National Dialogue sessions that took place this month, as well as in the November 30 consensus decision to discontinue this forum indefinitely. The rightist organizations—the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) and three CDN parties—never returned to the dialogue sessions following the elections, making it clear that they had only attended the three preelectoral sessions in an attempt to have the elections postponed. Almost all their comments during these three sessions related to that aim.
The only rightwing groups to remain in the dialogue until the end were the Social Christian Party (PSC), the Nicaraguan Worker’s Confederation (CTN) and the Association of Nicaraguan Journalists (APN). The active and demanding participation of the PSC in the National Dialogue confirmed the fact that it was the CDN member most negatively affected by the alliance’s decision not to take part in the elections. It would seem that neither the party’s base nor its leaders have completely assimilated the decision to abstain. Therefore, the possibility of a split in the PSC cannot be ruled out.
The PSC’s demanding and unilateral approaches were precisely what catalyzed the indefinite suspension of the National Dialogue on November 30. Two points in particular caused the disagreements that led to the end of the dialogue: 1) the PSC described the war on Nicaragua as a “political and economic conflict” and condemned not US aggression but rather “the interference of world powers in Nicaragua’s domestic affairs”; 2) The PSC demanded new executive and legislative elections in 1986 and municipal elections in December 1985.
However, the seven participants in the October Political Parties Summit had agreed that municipal elections would be held after the new Constitution was passed and that the authorities elected on November 4 would remain in office for six years. The PSC’s analysis of the war situation and its electoral demands made continuation of the dialogue impossible.
Although the National Dialogue gradually wore to a halt with the approach of the inauguration of the National Assembly, it did represent a new attempt to consolidate national unity in the face of US aggression.
Moving toward autonomy for the Miskitus In October, Brooklyn Rivera, leader of the armed Miskitu group MISURASATA, visited Nicaragua. Both Rivera and the Sandinista government defined the talks held during this visit as positive. Since then, two significant events have occurred.
On November 22, Rivera traveled from the United States to Honduras to participate in a meeting convened by the Miskitu People’s Council of Elders in the Department of Gracias a Dios. The purpose of the meeting was to strive for an agreement between Rivera and MISURA leader Stedman Fagoth. During the meeting, Rivera was also to report on the results of his trip to Nicaragua. Although the Honduran army had agreed in September to permit this meeting, Rivera and 11 people traveling with him were arrested upon their arrival in Honduras, held in solitary confinement for 33 hours, then deported to Costa Rica, where Rivera’s organization, MISURASATA, has its base. Honduran military sources justified their arrest and deportation alleging that Rivera “did not request the necessary governmental authorization for this meeting, which compromised the neutrality policy observed by Honduras in domestic questions opposing the Central American nations.”
In reality, the reason for the expulsion was the change in attitude that Rivera first evidenced by accepting the Sandinista government’s invitation to visit Nicaragua and engage in talks with government officials. “Neutral” Honduras did look favorably on the significance that Rivera’s change of mind would have with respect to the reunification of the Miskitus. In San José, Costa Rica, MISURASATA issued a communiqué denouncing “the partiality of the Honduran army” and accusing both the FDN and the Honduran army of “blatant interference” in the affairs of the Miskitus.
This incident revealed once again that Miskitu affairs have been manipulated for some time by the FDN, the armed counterrevolutionary group that moves freely throughout Honduras and enjoys the Reagan Administration’s unconditional support. As soon as Rivera took a step in opposition to the counterrevolutionaries, giving Miskitu demands priority over the US objective of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, he stopped being their friend and became their enemy.
However, the most important event for the future of the Miskitus occurred only a few days later. On December 5, the Sandinista government officially established a National Commission responsible for preparing a statute that will guarantee autonomous rights for the ethnic groups of the Atlantic Coast region (Miskitus, Sumus, Ramas and Creoles). The National Commission is presided over by a member of the FSLN National Directorate, Luís Carrión. Two of the commission’s five members are from the Atlantic Coast region and three are from the Pacific. All five have a thorough understanding of the problematic situation on the coast. It is hoped that the Commission will have prepared a draft of the statute by January so that it can soon after be passed by the National Assembly and made law.
Comandante Willíam Ramírez, the Government Junta’s delegate in the Department of North Zelaya, has suggested two explanations for this extremely important government decision. First of all, the government has gradually acquired a better understanding of the Coast’s reality, which is totally different from that of the rest of Nicaragua. Secondly, the Miskitus’ armed struggle, despite its subjection to a certain degree of outside manipulation, has made the Sandinistas reflect very carefully on the demands of the Miskitu population.
Nicaragua on the international sceneIn the emergency situation created by the reelection of Ronald Reagan and the hardening of his line on Central America, the Nicaraguan question was put before the UN, the International Court of Justice and the Organization of American States.
Nicaragua’s convening of the UN National Security Council was mentioned earlier in this article. After presenting its opening declarations, Nicaragua did not request any discussion of or voting on resolutions. Its intention was only to alert the world community to the danger of direct intervention in Nicaragua.
On November 26, the International Court of Justice, or World Court, ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case brought before it by Nicaragua, formally accusing the US government of mining its harbors. The Court voted 15 to 1 against the US argument that it had no jurisdiction in this matter. The decision represented a second victory for Nicaragua in The Hague.
Nicaragua initiated the lawsuit on April 9 with a request that the Court put an end to the US administration’s “covert war,” the most recent sign of which was the mining of Nicaragua’s ports. Two days before Nicaragua presented its case, the US had stated its intention not to recognize the Court’s jurisdiction for a period of two years in matters related to Central America. However, when proceedings on the suit began, the US chose to appear for the first round of presentations, which concluded on May 10 with an interim decision to accept the examination of Nicaragua’s claim. At that time, the Court ordered the US to suspend any aggressive activity against Nicaragua while arguments regarding its jurisdiction in the case were being studied. This order was to remain in effect until a final decision was announced.
In October, the Court rejected the Salvadoran government’s claim (which supported the US position) that Nicaragua could not be justly defined as a victim of aggression because the mining of its harbors was a defensive measure designed to counteract Nicaraguan backing for the Salvadoran rebels in their struggle against the legitimate government of El Salvador. Subsequently, the Court began to hear the arguments of the US and Nicaraguan representatives concerning its jurisdiction. The US attorneys pointed to their government’s declaration that it would refuse the compulsory jurisdiction of the court in any dispute involving Central America for two years. The US lawyers also contended that Nicaragua had never deposited instruments of ratification with the Court, confirming acceptance of its jurisdiction. Furthermore, the US described the Nicaraguan dispute as a political problem that had led to an armed conflict. Therefore, the US representatives argued, the UN Security Council, and not the World Court, was the appropriate forum for its discussion.
The Court rejected all three US arguments. First of all, notification of non-acceptance of jurisdiction must be given at least six months before it is to take effect. Secondly, Nicaragua had acknowledged the Court’s jurisdiction during a regular UN vote. Thirdly, the judges determined that Washington and Managua are bound by a 1956 “treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation” to take diplomatically unresolvable disputes to the World Court.
No one was surprised by the votes of judges from Nigeria, Poland, Syria, Brazil, Argentina, the USSR, India, France, Algeria or Senegal. Neither was the US vote unexpected. However, many observers had not anticipated votes in favor of the Court’s jurisdiction on the part of judges from Great Britain, Italy, West Germany and Japan.
Within three months of the Court’s latest decision, Nicaragua must present the Court with a document substantiating the charges made on April 9. The US will have the same period of time to prepare its defense. It the US refuses to do so, it will be tried in absentia and possibility sentenced by default. The decision could be announced near February 28, the date after which the US Congress may once again vote on aid for the counterrevolutionaries.
As for the Organization of American States, 31 foreign ministers or deputy foreign ministers attended the 14th OAS General Assembly in Brasilia from November 12 to 16. The central topics of discussion were Latin America’s foreign debt problems and peace efforts in Central America. Following the October 20 meeting in Tegucigalpa, at which three Central American countries proposed substantial changes in the Revised Contadora Act of September 7, the entire Contadora process was at a standstill.
US Secretary of State George Shultz and Nicaraguan Deputy Foreign Minister Nora Astorga were in the spotlight from the start of the Assembly. On November 12, Astorga spoke to the press about a leaked National Security Council document in which the US government boasts of having blocked the Contadora process. It is not just a question, she said, of financing the counterrevolutionaries, but also “a general strategy of destruction.” Moreover, she described the Reagan Administration’s “freedom struggle” as a policy of “terrorism.” Shultz attempted to denigrate the Nicaraguan elections, referring to them as a “simple plebiscite.” He also ridiculed the Nicaraguan alert, attributing it to “invented fears that are totally unfounded.” Nevertheless, he did not refrain from announcing that the Reagan government would repeat the solution it used in Grenada if similar conditions arose. In her November 14 speech to the OAS Assembly, Nora Astorga again asserted that the US is only awaiting “the opportune time and a suitable political excuse” for intervening in Nicaragua. However, she affirmed, the Nicaraguan people “will fight to the death” against such intervention.
The Contadora foreign ministers were especially active, and the fruit of their efforts was a resolution of at least great symbolic importance presented to the Assembly by Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Jamaica, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay. The resolution mentions the obligation to resolve Latin America controversies “exclusively by peaceful means”; proclaims support not for Contadora in general terms but expressly for the Revised Act of September 7 (the version Nicaragua has offered to sign); and urges “all states, particularly those with ties and interest in the region, to promote the signing of the Act, to respect whatever engagements are approved, and to adhere to the Act’s Additional Protocol.” On November 16, the Assembly passed the resolution by consensus, although the US, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica found themselves in the embarrassing situation of having to express their “reservations” concerning the sections quoted above.
According to Venezuelan Foreign Minister Morales Paúl, Contadora made “some progress” in Brasilia. Of course, neither this resolution nor the Contadora process itself can impose peace on the different Central American governments. However, it is significant that the OAS, traditionally compliant with US policy, has defeated important US proposals three times in the last five years: (1) On June 17, 1979, the US was unable to muster the necessary two-thirds of the organization’s votes to send an inter-American peace-keeping force to Nicaragua and prevent the insurrection from being victorious; (2) in April 1983, several countries sponsored a successful initiative to refer the question of negotiations on the Central American conflict to the recently formed Contadora Group; (3) at this last meeting, unanimous support was offered to the Contadora negotiating efforts while no similar backing was given to the positions put forward at the October 20 Tegucigalpa meeting.
Meanwhile, Nicaragua has insisted on continuing the bilateral talks with the US in Manzanillo. During the eighth round of talks on November 19 and 20, Nicaragua unsuccessfully tried to move from the stage of conversations to that of negotiations. The ninth round should take place in mid-December, but there is no indication that the nature of the talks will vary in the immediate future. The US Administration has made no official reaction to President-Elect Daniel Ortega’s offer to meet with President Reagan at any time.
The US government has two major alternatives: to intervene directly or to continue its low-intersity war of attrition. In the face of these two basic alternatives, the month following the Nicaraguan and US elections was characterized by active preparations by the forces involved in the conflict. On the military level, Nicaragua has responded to US saber rattling and intensified military maneuvers with a state of alert and a move to combine defense in the mountains with the protection of Managua. Economically, the government has established clear priorities (defense, self-sufficiency, and health care) for the country’s wartime economy. In addition, international solidarity, strengthened by the elections, is striving to transform moral support for Nicaragua into guarantees for the supply of fuel products and health inputs, as well as for the creation of a solid foundation for long-term development. In the political arena, those forces that took part in the electoral process are preparing for their new role in the Constituent National Assembly. The National Dialogue has been indefinitely postponed due to a lack of interest on the part of some sectors and to irreconciliable differences on the part of others. Finally, still hovering over peace efforts in Central America are the Contadora stalemate and Reagan’s attempts to pave the way for a congressional vote in favor of renewing aid to the contras.