Peace Stalls in Managua—Goes Backward in Region
In last month's analysis, we made some guesses about the options open to the Nicaraguan counterrevolution in light of the commitments they had made in Sapoá on March 23rd. This month our analysis takes place within the context of heightened instability in Central America. Since the third presidential summit in Costa Rica (Esquipulas III, January 1988), most of the moves toward peace in Central America have slumped into slow motion, with the notable exception of the success at Sapoá.
The Esquipulas peace initiative is now threatened by the breakdown in the Duarte Administration's ability to govern in El Salvador and the internal schisms in his Christian Democratic Party there, and by threats to Cerezo's government in Guatemala. In Honduras, it is threatened by the government's growing involvement in continuing illegal aid to the contras, its meddling on behalf of the contras' Bermúdez-led Somocista faction, and the use of Honduran armed forces against the Salvadoran FMLN.
Although the Esquipulas II Executive Commission (made up of the five Central American foreign ministers) has shown itself willing to begin verification of the accords' security sections, Esquipulas II seems on the verge of paralysis. Only success with the Sapoá accords can give it new life.
No other process, even including the international chain of events that favor an end to the conflict and the economic reconstruction of Central America, can replace Esquipulas as the driving force for ending the bloody conflicts draining this region. This remains true at least as long as the Reagan administration drags though its last months, labored but still powerful. In this context, one can see the importance of continuing the indirect dialogue between the Nicaraguan government and the US Democrats and Republicans, as well as the temporary cease-fire.
Shake, rattle and heads rollThe "political earthquake," as Alfredo César called the Sapoá accords, continued to rumble throughout May, threatening the contras' survival.
The most serious cracks appeared on the military front. The conflicts first appeared in April, and by May had developed into open rebellion by some of the most important peasant military leaders against the authority of ex-Colonel Bermúdez. Outstanding among these was Comandante "Fernando" (Diógenes Hernández Membreño). The rebellion was also joined by Comandante "Toño" (Walter Calderón López), like Bermúdez an officer in Somoza's National Guard.
Bermúdez was far from successful in his attempts to isolate these men: supported by "Rigoberto" (Tirso Ramón Moreno), who leads the Jorge Salazar Task Force, one of the biggest and most active contra groups, they went onto the attack, charging in Tegucigalpa that Bermúdez had undermined the Sapoá talks, had personally benefited from the US aid, and was acting dictatorially. Another of the most important contra chiefs, "Tigrillo" (Encarnación Valdivia) was joined by thirty military commanders in a letter denouncing Bermúdez, demanding his removal as commander-in-chief, and supporting Toño, Fernando and other military leaders Bermúdez had removed. The letter put the lie to Bermúdez's claims that the forces in the north are the only cohesive units, since that is precisely where Tigrillo operates.
The struggle festered through the first week in May. Two civilian contras—Donald Lacayo and Alejandro Montealegre, respectively political and financial chief in Honduras—aligned themselves with the rebelling military leaders. The Honduran military was pressured to help Bermúdez, and responded by detaining and then deporting to Miami first the two civilians then five of the six leading military rebels who were in Tegucigalpa. Only Fernando succeeded in eluding capture and made his way to his presumably loyal troops in southern Honduras.
Interviewed by The Miami Herald on his arrival in that city, Lacayo declared that Bermúdez had never intended that Nicaragua should be a democracy and that his eventual victory would mean a dictatorship even bloodier than Somoza's.
Fernando's escape was short-lived. Honduran troops, interested in contra cohesion and faced with the threat that numbers of contra troops would leave Nicaragua for their Honduran camps in order to support Fernando, encircled the camps to control entry and exit. They were helped by a thousand US troops who were shifted south from the permanent force at the base in Palmerola. Honduran officials seem to have trapped Fernando by convincing him to leave his camp to negotiate, though according to another version he was taken prisoner when he and a column of his troops battled Honduran soldiers while trying to get to Nicaragua for sanctuary with other loyal soldiers. If that version is true, there would have been dead and wounded from the battle, as well as Fernando being expelled from Honduras.
The only established fact is that Fernando did follow Toño and the other civilian and military contra leaders deported to Miami. With that, the two most important military chiefs who had put their names to the Sapoá accords were effectively silenced.
Papering over contra cracksMeanwhile, the dissent within the counterrevolutionary leadership worsened. In a meeting in Washington the first week of May, Secretary of State George Shultz tried but failed to prevent widespread publicity about the deep divisions within the contra directorate. His efforts could not paper over the cracks, which run along two lines in addition to those within the military structure itself. First there are the struggles between Bermúdez and members of the contra directorate. Second are the problems between members of the directorate itself, perhaps best captured in the conflicts between Calero and César. These two men represent extreme poles of the political postures of those who came out of a business-owning background and support the armed counterrevolution. Before the revolution, Calero was the manager of Coca-Cola in Managua, in the pay of the CIA and had links to Somoza. César was an anti-Somocista businessman.
The scrabbling amongst the contras over the last crumbs of the congressional humanitarian aid banquet provided a fascinating if meaningless sideshow. Other contra contortions brought on by the prospect of peace have been of more lasting interest, especially Alfredo César's balancing act as he tries to remain the most influential of all those involved in Sapoá. Continually in motion, César has transformed his Sapoá image as a moderate alterative to the long-time reactionary and CIA-tainted Calero and a reasonable negotiator and co-author of the terms on which peace might be built into a picture of solid alliance with Bermúdez. Paul Reichler, the US lawyer advising the Nicaraguan government delegation, described this partnership as a "pact with the devil" that "could ruin" César by linking him with the worst of the counterrevolution, the ex-Somoza National Guardsmen.
César, on the other hand, would probably say that his support of Bermúdez is only temporary, just one of those dirty compromises that politics demands, and is necessary to maintain Bermúdez's involvement in the Sapoá process. The moment of truth, when the Sapoá accords are either broken or carried out, will tell history which game César is playing.
The skill of staying afloat in political storms, however, does not guarantee one an honorable place in the judgment of Nicaraguans, who are quite capable of distinguishing between compromise of principles and negotiation in the game of politics.
What Shultz only half succeeded in doing, the CIA secured, at least temporarily, during a contra meeting over the weekend of May 14-15. According to The Washington Times (an ultra-right daily financed by the Moonies religious sect), Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios called for Bermúdez's resignation in a meeting of the contra directorate in Miami. Arístides Sánchez promptly telephoned the CIA. The CIA agent asked that his conversation with Sánchez be connected to the speaker phone in the meeting room so that the entire directorate could hear what he had to say. They were then treated to a half-hour diatribe during which the agent pressured them to support Bermúdez, splicing into his argument such descriptions of his listeners as "stupid" and "imbeciles." He went so far as to accuse Chamorro Barrios of wanting to "sell out the movement to the Marxist government of Nicaragua" and ended by threatening to have aid cut off if they took action against Bermúdez.
Questioned by the press, Chamorro admitted the accuracy of the newspaper's accounts, but said he was just as insulted when "La Voz de Nicaragua" (a Nicaraguan government radio station) called him a mercenary and that it was not only he who had been insulted, but all members of the contra directorate.
When Sánchez was asked about the call, he responded that "they [the CIA] are the ones who put up the money, they are the ones who chose us."
Thus the havoc of the "Sapoá earthquake" rolled on, this time providing the best proof yet of the CIA's role as choreographer of the counterrevolution. Its role was exposed during the Iran-Contra hearings, but has now been confirmed in an incident that makes the supposed "freedom fighters" look positively ridiculous. Chamorro did not even have the dignity to resign, but, obediently toeing the CIA line, turned up in Managua just days later side by side with Bermúdez in his first appearance on the negotiating team.
Another round of negotiationsThis fourth high-level meeting was in doubt right up to May 25, the day it was scheduled to open. More than once during the month Nicaragua's Vice Foreign Minister, Victor Hugo Tinoco, met with the secretary of the contra directorate, Roberto Ferrey, to try and settle the meeting place and agenda, since the directorate members had been saying they wouldn’t return to Managua ever since the last round of talks finished at the end of April. The government refused to change its position that the meeting should again be held in Managua, and not moved to Sapoá, as the contras proposed. Government spokespeople said it made no sense to reject a meeting place the counterrevolution had been fighting for ever since Esquipulas II had called for meetings to agree on a cease-fire in each country where there was military conflict.
While the contras were threatening to turn up in Sapoá and not Managua, some Democrats met with directorate leaders in Washington. They made it perfectly clear, according to Paul Reichler, who is close to the Democratic House leadership, that "there was no enthusiasm within the House of Representatives for approving more military aid" and that "the only alternative they have to get out of their present situation is through negotiations with the Nicaraguan government."
The contra delegation arrived in Managua on the night of May 25, minus Adolfo Calero, an apparent loser in the internal war. During that month, the indirect dialogue between the Nicaraguan government and some sectors of the US Republican and Democratic parties continued, in which the involvement of Shultz and the CIA send a hard-line signal from the Republicans to the Nicaraguan Government. The Honduran military's actions are also part of that hang-tough message. On the other hand, the message from the Democrat members pushed for negotiation.
Bitter fruit for the contra leadersBehind the Nicaraguan government’s calculated intransigence over the meeting site lies one of the most important political developments of the period since Sapoá. In the two previous meetings in Managua, the contra leaders had experienced one of their major disappointments. Neither for their arrival at the airport, nor during their stay at the Camino Real Hotel, nor in the course of their press conferences—not even when they went to the Bishops' Conference or La Prensa's offices—did the contras find crowds welcoming them as the "saviors" of Nicaragua, as they must have hoped would happen. There were, in fact, never more than a hundred people to cheer them on.
Ten years before, the Group of Twelve, made up of civic and business leaders supporting the Sandinistas during the insurrection, defied Somoza's threats and landed in Managua. More than 10,000 people gave them a memorable reception, despite the presence of state security forces and the dictator's power. The contrast could not have been more striking.
In addition, the contra delegation (80 on the first occasion, 40 the second) had Sandinista relatives and friends who went to see them at their hotel to urge them to give up the war and opt instead for peace. As a result, some even avoided further meetings with family and friends.
And finally, while in Managua the counterrevolutionary leaders had to answer journalists' questions that left them wide open. The Miami spokeswoman for the contras, Martha Pasos de Sacasa, was asked how many of her own children were fighting with the contras and how many children any of the other leaders had out in the field fighting. She was forced to reply that for her and the other women "all the combatants are like our sons."
Managua had thus definitely become bitter fruit for the contra leaders. They arrived at the third session of the dialogue with ex-colonel Bermúdez heading the delegation, and with an agenda designed for provocation instead of negotiation.
Contras issue ultimatum expecting US congressional support Side-stepping Sapoá's accords, the contra proposal demanded, among other things, that the Nicaraguan government, within five days after the signing of a cease-fire, would decree a general amnesty for all those imprisoned for political or related crimes since July 19, 1979, with no exceptions. They also called for suspension of the military draft.
The general amnesty demand directly contradicts article 3 of the Sapoá accords, in which the Nicaraguan government agreed to free 100 prisoners on Palm Sunday (which they have already done) and, of those remaining, half when "it is verified that the Nicaraguan Resistance forces have entered the zones" for a temporary cease-fire, and the other half "after a definitive cease-fire is signed." The only exceptions were the cases of ex-National Guard members, who would be "subject to the decision of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States."
A demand for an end to the draft cannot be considered in good faith when it comes before any verification of the effectiveness of the definitive cease-fire, i.e., proof that the contra forces have entered the zones, disarmed and either re-entered civilian life or been relocated to another country.
The proposal also included a series of new political demands, including "elections for a Constituent Assembly," in which the nation’s executive power would be vested, thus ignoring the existing National Assembly, elected in 1984, and the procedures built into the existing Nicaraguan Constitution for any reform. It also completely sidesteps Esquipulas II, which specifies that each country is to proceed within its own constitutional framework.
According to articles one and six of the agreements already signed in Sapoá, the rest of the contras' political proposals could be discussed within the National Dialogue once their troops had moved to the mutually-agreed zones. They could send as many as eight people to the National Dialogue, representing the various organizations covered by the "Nicaraguan Resistance."
The contra proposal thus completely ignored the already-negotiated accords and tried to reach agreement on an ultimatum that was contrary to the spirit and letter of Esquipulas II. To rub salt into the wound, their proposal ignored even the 16 points from the Nicaraguan government's "Integral Proposal" for a definitive cease-fire, presented at the first high-level talks in Managua and agreed to by both sides in their previous negotiating sessions.
The ultimatum was based on the contras' expectation that the US House of Representatives would vote them some amount of money for military aid, no matter how small. The Republicans proposed it as the "Hyde Amendment," asking that the counterrevolution receive military aid through the CIA from the end of October if they failed to reach an accord of any kind in their negotiations with the Nicaraguan government. The amendment, however, was defeated on May 26, the first day of this round of talks, 214 votes to 190. The mainly Democratic majority was sending a new message in the indirect dialogue with the Nicaraguan government.
The Nicaraguan government rejected the ultimatum, as much because it violated the framework of Esquipulas II as for its pragmatic need to hang onto the results of long hours of difficult negotiations toward peace. On the second day of the negotiations, once the contras—conscious that they had lost the vote in Congress and thus the backup for their ultimatum—agreed to ratify their acceptance of the 16 previously agreed-on points, the government also agreed to accept their proposal as an "input" for the negotiations. That day, an ad hoc commission reached agreement on several of the remaining points.
Given this, Defense Minister Humberto Ortega, head of the government's negotiating team, suggested to the contra delegation that the meeting be extended for some two days so that a complete agreement could be reached. There was no response from the contras until the following day.
Flexible but firm government negotiatingOn the morning of that third day (May 28th) the government offered to discuss point 26 of its proposal from the first meeting in Managua. In its original version, that point covered only article six of the Sapoá accords (incorporation of Nicaraguan Resistance delegates into the National Dialogue once their forces were concentrated in the mutually agreed-on zones) plus a condition that participation in the dialogue depended upon prior verification that the forces were indeed in the cease-fire zones, spelling out the general requirement for verification in article nine of the Sapoá accords. In its new version, point 26 incorporated many of the political demands from the contras' own proposal that they had said were essential.
Comparing this version of point 26 with number 4 of the contra's proposal, both the government's flexibility and its maintenance of fundamental principals are apparent (See details of the two points at the bottom of this article). The flexibility consists of accepting discussion of details of the counterrevolutionaries' political agenda even before the latter demonstrated their unequivocal commitment to putting an end to the war.
Finally, the government's flexibility is clear in placing virtually every point of the contras' list of demands on the agenda, while maintaining the fundamental constitutional principles of Nicaragua's revolutionary process in a number of important points. Where the counterrevolutionary proposal calls for "measures and/or reforms to establish the indispensable legal framework for the democratization and national reconciliation," the new version of point 26 speaks of establishing "necessary agreements for assuring or perfecting the existence" of a series of rights and guarantees that the Nicaraguan Constitution has already stipulated. It refers, then, to points that do not necessarily require a new Constitution or "reforms" to the existing one, but could be accords to be presented to the National Assembly as bills.
That same firmness of principle can be seen in the government's division of one contra point into two new paragraphs in point 26. In their proposal, the contras demand "the separation of the army and the police from all relationships to parties and political activities, and the subordination of these and related paramilitary forces to civil authority." The two paragraphs (e and f) in the new version of point 26 respectively propose to "assure or perfect" "equality of rights and opportunities...of all political parties in Nicaragua" and that "the state institutions and organizations [be] at the full service of the national interest."
Any mention of the army, the police or the so-called related paramilitary forces (the militia is under army command in Nicaragua) disappears, in part because in no country in Central America does civilian power—vested in the office of the President of the Republic—have more authority over the army and the police than in Nicaragua. It also disappears because for a great majority of Nicaraguans service to the revolutionary process is a hard-won right, and can only be fully assured with the defense, security and public order that the armed forces and police guarantee. When talking about dialogue with the counterrevolution, President Ortega has repeatedly maintained that the Nicaraguan people alone have the right to determine, with their votes, whether the revolutionary process is best led by the Sandinistas or by some other government.
Finally, solid commitment to principle is seen in the section of the new version of point 26. Where the contras' version asks for guarantees of "a pluralist and just electoral system... for the election of a Constituent Assembly," the final version of point 26 requires the government to assure or perfect "a pluralist and participatory electoral system" for the municipal and Central American Parliamentary elections and for the general Nicaraguan elections scheduled for 1990. It is expressed this way as proof that the fairness of a Nicaraguan electoral system is judged by real, broad-based participation, a basic principle of the revolutionary process and its contribution to the development of democratic, pluralist processes to which the Central American Presidents committed themselves in Esquipulas II, with the goal of moving towards democratic models that combine electoral representation with popular participation. The remainder of the new point 26 is based on provisions already included in the Nicaraguan Constitution.
Despite everything, however, the counterrevolutionary delegation would not agree to extending the talks for the time necessary to consider the new draft of point 26. According to Stephen Kinzer in the May 29 New York Times, contra spokesman Bosco Matamoros said that point 26 "does not consider all the aspects we proposed," but "the fact that the proposal is partial does not mean it’s not constructive." General Ortega, in agreement, said, "We’ve come a long way. There is a democratic process in our country that the government maintains can be reinforced and perfected."
According to Manuel Espinoza, Nicaragua’s minister of information, when the proposal contained in point 26 was presented to the contra delegation, Azucena Ferry said it was "workable," but that in fact point three in their proposal (immediate and total amnesty, halting of the draft, and unrestricted liberty for communications media and access to them) was the most important point for the contras.
Why did the contra delegation balk? Despite the coming together of moderation and relative optimism, the contra delegation refused to put out a joint statement, confirm in writing the agreements that had been reached or sign an extension of the temporary cease-fire—citing as their reason a previous date with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. They verbally agreed that they would not break the cease-fire before the end of the next meeting in June, but would not even agree in writing to attend that meeting.
Speaking to journalists, Humberto Ortega wondered out loud, "What can they have to do that’s more important than peace for Nicaragua? How can the directorate members, who call themselves lovers of peace and democracy, have more important things to do than to keep working toward peace?"
With agreement on point 26, the Nicaraguan defense minister pointed out, the negotiations could have moved to point 27, which contains a schedule for progressive reincorporation into civilian life of the contras in the cease-fire zones. That would have been the moment of truth, and is precisely where the contra delegation grew obstinate.
Why? Is it because the Republican administration couldn't have President Reagan meeting Gorbachov with his Nicaraguan policy in a complete shambles? Did Reagan expect that the success of the Moscow summit, with an additional sidelight of recognizing the reforms in the Soviet system as real and hopeful, would give him an honorable exit by allowing him to say that the Soviet threat in Nicaragua had lessened?
Or, on the contrary, did he hope that the success of the summit would give his foreign policy such a boost that he would be able to deliver the final blow to Nicaragua, either directly or through intervention in Panama, from which the consequences would flow through all of Central America?
Or was it simply Bermúdez's hope that he would not lose his only sure bet—the war and its profits—and that the rest of the directorate would continue forcing "concessions" from the Nicaraguan government until nothing was left of its basic principles? The complexity of the situation leaves us with no simple answer, for now.
Combining flexibility with a firm stance, the Nicaraguan government managed to keep the dialogue with the contras (and thus the Sapoá accords) alive. Although there have been a number of contra violations of the cease-fire, the costs of the war have decreased, giving Nicaragua a breathing space of relative security to step up production efforts. During the last round of the talks, the US Congress defeated a new Republican proposal to renew military aid to the contras. Every new round with the contras moves the situation closer to the months of July and August, when Congress goes full tilt into the electoral struggle and sets aside its legislative agenda.
Furthermore, as the dialogue continues, demobilization of the contras becomes more viable. "Alfa Lima," a leader of the counterrevolutionary Jorge Salazar Task Force, took amnesty during the fourth session of talks and military chief Enrique Bermúdez has been unable to stop the ongoing talks between the Sandinista army and contra leaders in the field. And last but hardly least, every hour that Sapoá stays alive breathes life into the political framework of Esquipulas II.
The paralysis of Esquipulas IINicaragua's strategic objective has been to keep the Esquipulas II accords alive. Defending Esquipulas II means complying with the accords. The Sapoá agreements must be seen within this perspective. They are an effort to comply with the two basic objectives of Esquipulas II: work out a cease-fire and bring the irregular forces into the country's political life. Seen from the perspective of the revolutionary process, the latter goals mean converting the contras from military to political contenders.
Clearly Sapoa was made possible by combining the decisive military blow dealt the contras in Operation Danto (March 1988) with the Central American presidential meeting held in January in Costa Rica as part of the Esquipulas process, which led the US Congress to deny further military aid (and prove itself incapable of consensus on humanitarian aid). After Sapoá, Nicaragua was able to demand that the other countries with military conflicts comply with their commitments under Esquipulas and that Honduras keep its word by not permitting the contras to continue using its territory, particularly with a cease-fire underway.
Where are Guatemala and El Salvador's series of talks, which should lead to a cease-fire? Where is Honduras showing the slightest good faith? These questions are not hard to answer. Their answers have brought Nicaragua to the point today where it enjoys its best international image since the revolution came to power. Thanks to Nicaragua's strict compliance with Esquipulas II, the world is beginning to believe what Nicaragua has been saying all along: that its political will is to build an original revolutionary model without any shades of totalitarianism.
Now that Esquipulas has been used to force Nicaragua to democratize, understanding "democratization" as the Western model of representative democracy, the main goals of President Arias, the other Central American presidents and the Democrats in the US Congress who assisted in designing the Arias plan before Esquipulas II have been achieved and these people have all lost interest in Esquipulas II. The only exception to this may be President Arias himself, whose prestige as Nobel Peace Prize winner would be tarnished if Esquipulas II bears no regional fruit.
Arias goes against the grainIn a recent interview (in Penthouse magazine), Arias once again stated his agreement with President Reagan "regarding the ends but not the means." But regarding the attitude of the Central American governments, he said: "Nicaragua always agreed with the need for a peace plan.... I asked each government to give written commentaries. Guatemala was basically in agreement. Honduras had some observations to make. And El Salvador sent me a lengthy response with a list of observations, serious concerns and strong reservations. Nicaragua had no objections."
Speaking of the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, Arias said that "no one who sticks to the facts would venture to compare democracy in Guatemala or El Salvador with that of Costa Rica.... El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are emerging democracies. Nevertheless, it will not be possible for them to consolidate themselves as mature democracies until they show that they can satisfy the basic needs of their people."
Arias continued with another kind of comparison: "In El Salvador there is no state of emergency [the interview was concluded before Nicaragua cancelled its state of emergency].... If we could arrange a cease-fire, we could see the publication of a leftist newspaper representing the opinion of the Marxist leftists now in the mountains. However, I think the opposition in El Salvador is in much greater danger than in Nicaragua.... There are no death squads in Nicaragua as there are in El Salvador. I believe that the political leaders who are returning now to El Salvador are running a much greater risk than that faced by contra leaders returning to Nicaragua."
Honduras is the clearest example of the disinterest in several Central American countries in keeping Esquipulas II alive. The Honduran government has consistently opposed the proposed on-site verification of the commitments to prohibit the use of any country's territory to attack other Central American countries and to suspend all aid to insurgent movements or irregular forces.
The history of the verification issueThe problem of verification has a long history. Convinced that Nicaragua would not stand for it, the Reagan administration demanded that the Contadora Peace Plan include a very precise verification clause. The administration's presumption proved wrong when Nicaragua, in September 1984, was the first Central American country to agree to sign the Revised Contadora Treaty, which included procedures for verifying the accords. As is widely known, a document leaked from the US National Security Council confirmed the existence of a Reagan administration directive telling the other Central American countries not to sign the treaty.
Three years later, when a UN technical group traveled through Central America to explore the possibilities of on-site verification of the Esquipulas II accords, it ran up against the unyielding opposition of the Honduran government. That was clear in the reports issued by the technical commission and the International Verification and Follow-Up Commission (CIVS). Moreover, at Esquipulas III, the Central American Presidents, with the exception of Daniel Ortega, were not at all pleased with the CIVS' impartial findings regarding all the governments, so they dissolved the CIVS, which they themselves had created at Esquipulas II only five months before. The verification duties were taken up by the Executive Commission, composed of the five Central American foreign ministers. This commission was charged with finding a new verification mechanism as well as obtaining the assistance of other countries and international organizations.
After Esquipulas III, the issue of verification—a key question for compliance with Esquipulas II—continued to be a point of controversy. Ever since the Contadora process, Nicaragua’s custom has been to immediately and conscientiously work out proposals to get agreements flowing. In keeping with this tradition, Nicaragua drafted a proposal to put into effect "the necessary specific verification, control and follow-up of all commitments contained in Esquipulas II and III." There are 22 such commitments in total. In the context of that draft, the Nicaraguan foreign ministry presented an overview with the intention of indirectly showing the contrast between Nicaragua's compliance and the inaction of the other governments.
Nevertheless, El Salvador, president pro-tem of the Executive Commission, did not call a meeting until February 17, 1988, one month after Esquipulas III. It also reduced the agenda to the matter of reaching the agreements necessary to go with one voice to the March meeting with the European Economic Community in Hamburg. Still, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto managed to introduce the first verification draft and obtain a commitment that verification would be on the agenda for the March 23-24 meeting in Guatemala. He also stated that only effective compliance with Esquipulas II would create the optimal conditions to enable Central America to receive economic help from other countries.
In the Guatemala meeting, Honduras threatened to pull out unless the final declaration contained a paragraph in which Nicaragua would agree to unconditionally withdraw the request for "provisional safeguard measures" that it had just re-presented to the World Court after the 3,200 US troops had been dispatched to Honduras "to strengthen or protect the Nicaraguan insurgents who were struggling against the Sandinista regime," according to US Defense Minister Frank Carlucci. Honduras further demanded that Nicaragua withdraw the suit it had filed with the World Court in July 1986, long before the signing of Esquipulas II. Honduras justified these demands by claiming that Nicaragua had ignored the verification procedures outlined in Esquipulas II and had run to the World Court instead of letting the foreign ministers' Executive Commission take action.
However, in the midst of the crisis provoked by the dispatch of the US soldiers, President Ortega agreed to the urgent call sounded by the Guatemalan government for an immediate meeting of foreign ministers, while Honduras rejected it. Moreover, Nicaragua had opened its doors to a technical commission sent by the UN Secretary General to investigate the border occurrences, while Honduras refused to allow the commission to conduct on-site verification. In such circumstances the Guatemala meeting was unable to produce any results. To avoid a complete breaking in the process, the meeting was declared in "permanent session," with the next meeting scheduled for April 7 in Guatemala.
On April 7, the Executive Commission agreed to ask Canada, Spain and West Germany to help with verification services, authorizing them to get technical help from the UN General Secretariat. At the same time the Honduran government was put in charge of the next Executive Commission meeting. In preparation for that, a formal invitation would be drawn up for the three countries in charge of the verification services, and a Central American Peace and Friendship Treaty would be drafted with a view toward solving any future conflict in the region in peaceful and legal ways, (including having recourse to the World Court).
On March 28, between the two sessions of the Guatemala meeting, Nicaragua’s foreign minister wrote to Honduran President Azcona offering Hondurans a bilateral Friendship and Cooperation Treaty with Nicaragua on the prior condition of compliance with a timetable for withdrawal of the US troops sent to Honduras in March and implementation of on-site verification of border security between the two countries. Upon Honduras’ acceptance, Nicaragua would be prepared to withdraw, according to a timetable, all its legal actions against Honduras in the World Court. The letter asked for a response by midnight on March 30, since the Court had summoned Honduras and Nicaragua to a hearing on March 31 to listen to their oral arguments. Azcona did not respond to Nicaragua's letter. Nevertheless Nicaragua unilaterally withdrew the request for "provisional safeguard measures" once all 3,200 US troops returned to the United States.
Based on the bilateral treaty proposed by Nicaragua, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rodrigo Madrigal suggested drafting a regional Peace and Friendship Treaty. It was agreed that Honduras would call a meeting within 15 days to work out the draft. When 15 days passed with no call for a meeting, Nicaragua, in consultation with the other Central American countries, decided to call the meeting. It could not be held, however, since Guatemala’s foreign minister was not in Central America and did not send a substitute. No meeting of the Executive Commission was held until the end of May, and the Esquipulas II and III processes came to a virtual standstill.
Troubles elsewhere in Central AmericaWith the Esquipulas process bogged down, other things were further aggravating the situation. In the legislative and municipal elections in El Salvador, the Duarte faction of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) lost control of the National Assembly. After much conflict and dispute, ARENA, the far right party, managed to gain legitimacy for its electoral victory and affirm its majority in the new Assembly.
ARENA was assisted in this by an internal split in the PDC which resulted in two PDC presidential candidates. The party’s legislators lined up with Julio Adolfo Rey Prendes (from the corrupt right-wing sector of the PDC) and reached an agreement with ARENA behind the back of the PCN, the only other party that won seats in the Assembly. El Salvador's Vice-President and PDC general secretary Rodolfo Castillo was relieved of his post thanks to a deal made by Rey Prendes’ backers. This agreement was not recognized by the supporters of former Planning Minister Fidel Chávez, the more centrist PDC presidential candidate. As a compromise solution to save his party, Duarte proposed Abraham Rodríguez as a presidential candidate. Rodríguez is a close adviser of Duarte's and was the PDC candidate in 1967. This solution was rejected, and at the end of May Duarte's terminal illness was revealed.
ARENA has been relatively successful in cleansing itself of the bloodstains from its participation in wholesale terror against the civilian population between 1980 and 1984. In naming Alfredo Cristiani as its candidate, it took attention away from Roberto D'Aubuisson, the former major implicated in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980. Nevertheless, the ARENA victory has sparked new death squad activity, once again increasing El Salvador's atmosphere of terror.
The revolutionary organization's specific proposal to hold talks with the government on May 30 and 31 was rejected, although the government spokesperson indicated that the idea of a dialogue had not been. It is clear that the Salvadoran situation has taken a turn for the worse. A period of greater instability seems likely, which does not bode well for continued interest in the Esquipulas process.
In Guatemala, Cerezo's civilian government is also threatened with instability from the right wing and from within the army. At the beginning of the year, the Cerezo government and the Trade Unions United for Popular Action (UASP) made a social pact. This led the Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF), the highest-level business federation, to accuse the government of failing to live up to its agreements by socializing trade and distorting the free market (through moderate price controls and a raise for private-sector workers). CACIF also attacked the government's recognition of the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC) as part of the UASP. CACIF accuses the CUC of being "a violent faction outside the law." The leaders were further enraged when the UASP accepted an increase in electricity rates as definitive and not merely temporary, thus ending its joint opposition with CACIF to the increase.
On May 11, a quickly contained military uprising took place. Troops from two military zones—the southern zone of Jutiapa and the western zone of Retalhuleu—tried to close in on the capital and overthrow Cerezo's civilian government. According to Inforpress (May 12), a TV news program on Guatemala's Channel 3 reported similar troop movements in the eastern military zones of Chiquimula and Zacapa, in Suchitepéquez in the southwest and in El Quiché in the northwest. Defense Minister General Gramajo and other officers of the army's central command were able to thwart the attempt. Gramajo attributed the attempt to "radical civilian elements, enemies of the democratic system" penetrating "some elements of the army" as well as to maneuvers on the part of retired military officers who have been out of the country for a long time—perhaps alluding to General López Fuentes, former chief of staff in the Mejía Víctores government and current ambassador to Italy.
Some days before, the same news program read a proclamation from "officers in the mountains" containing serious charges against top military authorities. Gramajo tossed that off, assuring the public that they were not "officers of the mountains" but rather "civilians of the city." The identity of two jailed officers—presumably those immediately responsible for the troop movements from Jutiapa and Retalhuleu—has not been revealed, but legal charges have been brought against five civilians, among them well-known lawyer and politician Gustavo Anzueto Vielman (tied to the party of ex-President and retired General Arana) and Channel 3 reporter Mario David García. President Cerezo suspended Channel 3’s license until the news program's contract with the channel expires.
Several factors are behind the discontent of the military officers who are fighting the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) in the mountains and must have suffered notable losses in its September 1987 to April 1988 offensive. These factors include the return to Guatemala of members of the Pro-Unity Guatemalan Opposition Representation (RUOG), among them Rigoberta Menchú, and letters from the Bishops' Conference calling for a national dialogue (which the URNG has also been promoting) and a solution to the "clamor for land." The military was also upset by the attempt of Bishop Quezada, president of the Guatemalan Bishops' Conference, to meet with the URNG in May and work for a resumption of government-URNG talks.
In Honduras a number of "nationalist" elements have converged to create a complex and potentially dangerous situation is characterized by a number of converging elements. The government's request for US troops, which had been worked out belatedly to justify their dispatch, made it an object of ridicule among other Latin American countries. This was followed by the uproar created when presumed narcotics trafficker Matta was illegally deported to the United States. Matta's deportation provoked a grassroots explosion, initially met with tolerance by some military and security personnel when US diplomatic installations were attacked. However, the events that followed—repression of student and labor leaders as well as military support for the Bermúdez sector of the Nicaraguan contras—preclude speculation about possible division within the Honduran armed forces. The tolerance of the attack on the US diplomatic mission may well be nothing more than the expression of some military leaders who, hurt by US arrogance, wanted to let off steam but don’t want to lose the benefits brought by their support for the Reagan administration's Nicaragua policy.
The military’s growing servility to Reagan's attempt to keep the contras on a war footing is indicated by the Honduran military incursions into Salvadoran territory against the FMLN, the granting of permission to deliver aid to the contras, and above all the fact that Honduran Foreign Minister López Contreras has asked the World Court to reactivate Nicaragua's suit against Honduras. While Lopez Contreras' petition to the World Court may seem paradoxical, it fits with Honduras' thesis that the Central American countries that turn to the World Court are stepping out of the Esquipulas II framework. Such a petition would be the basis for Honduras to declare its commitment to Esquipulas II null and void.
Popular resentment against the repeated US violations of Honduran dignity (violations blessed by the Honduran armed forces), might have led to knee-jerk nationalism against weaker neighbors, spurring the armed forces to take a more repressive and anti-Nicaraguan course as well as preventive strikes against insurgents, including groups in El Salvador. This markedly increases the danger of border incidents with the Nicaraguan army.
Finally, Panama. General Noriega’s extraordinary ability to resist every US attempt to force him out and the failure of the Kozak-Noriega negotiations have led US officials to speak not only of seeking Latin American mediation (a path already tried in vain) but also of using force. Military occupation of Panama would be disastrous for Panamanians themselves and would have unpredictable consequences for Nicaragua and the rest of Latin America. Contadora can’t function normally until Panama is reinstated as an active member of the group. It should be remembered that Panama was to be the site of the next Contadora meeting with the Central American governments—a meeting to pursue negotiations on security issues not touched in the Esquipulas Peace Accords but left to the mediation of Contadora. This meeting, initially planned for February 1988, never took place.
As long as the power to call the next Esquipulas Executive Commission meeting is in Honduran hands, it's not likely that the commission will meet. There has been no progress in extending formal invitations to Spain, Canada and West Germany to put the Esquipulas verification procedures into effect. The following factors augur bad times for the Esquipulas process: the unstable conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras; the resurgence of the death squads in El Salvador; the fact that the Honduran military is leaning more and more toward the Reagan administration line; Guatemalan General Gramajo’s request for $28 million in military aid—four times the amount received in 1987; and the threat of military intervention hanging over Panama. These factors give Sapoá special importance, not only for ending the war in Nicaragua, but for keeping the Esquipulas political framework alive in Central America.
The economy and politics in Nicaragua todayWith such formidable challenges in negotiating a definitive cease-fire with the contras, the government's attention to the economy has diminished in intensity since the economic reforms launched on February 15. People’s mobilization, the key tool in gaining effective control of prices, has not recovered the steam it had in the last two weeks of February; the only other option for controlling speculative pricing was coercive police action, which is notably ineffective as well as unacceptable for a revolutionary government. The illegal merchants maintained strength in the markets, the intermediaries returned to their habits of preemptive price hikes, and salaries have again lost their buying power.
The official salary scale is proving to be an inadequate economic instrument. It is highly complex, requiring rigidity, advanced organizational skills and correct classification of the working population for its successful application. Several facts of economic life in Nicaragua make it improbable that these elements can be woven into the country's economic structure: the economy’s level of underdevelopment; the tremendous distortion produced by the growth of the informal economy, with the parallel growth of uncontrollable salaries; and the conversion of masses of producers into non-productive consumers because of the military danger in many farming and cattle-raising zones. The cry for a wage increase has been on almost everyone's lips in the last two months.
Meanwhile, the economic policies don’t seem to have a common orientation. Representatives of government sectors mainly concerned about production emphasize the need to provide credit for the producers. On the other hand, representatives of the financial system stress the need to keep a tight rein on credit, making sure that those seeking credit can repay their loans. Without this, they assert, the free-wheeling printing of money will have to begin again, and this will throw the fiscal balance out of kilter again. A similar difference in perspective is seen on the value of the córdoba relative to dollar. Because of the restriction on liquidity, the volume of stable foreign currency on the illegal market is probably quite a bit less than before the reform. Nevertheless, the official exchange rate (12.6 córdobas to the dollar at the end of May) continues to be unreal and therefore discourages exports.
The economy is thus still walking a tightrope between the danger of a strong recession in production and the attempt to prevent an avalanche of inflation. The structural reordering of investments (from long term and high technology to short term, using appropriate technology) has yet to happen. That, along with integrating the defense apparatus into production and distribution, will be necessary in the future to address the present lack of productivity. A campaign for greater production and productivity is the key third phase of the economic reform.
The second phase has been the so-called "compacting" of the state bureaucracy—reducing unwieldy and inefficient ministries and institutions and rationalizing the bureaucracy. The process has meant some unemployment (relatively unusual in Nicaragua, which has historically had a labor shortage), and progress has been slow in encouraging the unemployed to move into productive work, particularly in the countryside. Given the interests that come into conflict each time a state is radically reorganized and the time needed for new habits to effect that reorganization, this process may well be a long time bearing fruit.
Without the February monetary reform, the economic crisis as it was developing would have completely undermined the country's financial system. Yet the reform didn’t succeed in turning around the economy’s most negative trends. Just four months after the reform, rumor has it that the government feels obliged to consider another set of measures—another spoon of bitter medicine before February’s first dose has produced sufficient positive results.
If the new measures turn out to be predominantly monetarist in nature, as the February measures were—once again devaluing the córdoba and further restricting liquidity—it would have a negative effect not only on workers’ real salary but also on public and private business sector incentives. The basic problem is that there has been little forward motion in the second and third phases of the new economic program—reducing the state bureaucracy and increasing production.
These problems of the post-reform period pose a hard dilemma for the government: either restructure the economic package managed by the state or ask people to sacrifice even more by applying merely financial or monetary measures. While the second measure may not be the better one, it may well be required because of the many difficulties in restructuring the state package.
Two strikes initiated on February 23, one by the auto mechanics and the other by the SCAAS, one of the construction workers' unions, were touched off when the salary scale was reapplied to members of these unions (as part of the February 14 economic package), causing significant wage decreases. The strikes never garnered mass support, since in recent years these workers were earning wages far beyond those of most workers. The SCAAS has traditionally been influenced by the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN), which took on Somoza over strictly economic issues. The other political parties (mostly right wing) saw the strike as a good flag to wave and, lacking any social base, took opportunistic advantage of it. The government's hard-line response meant that the strike became highly politicized in a startlingly short time. A labor alliance was formed involving the Nicaraguan Workers Federation (CTN), linked to the Social Christians; the Committee of Labor Unity (CUS), linked to the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), an international (and rigidly anti-communist) organization linked to the AFL-CIO; the CAUS, tied to Nicaragua's Communist Party; and the Independent General Workers Federation (CGT-I), to which the SCAAS belongs, tied to the Socialist Party. This alliance gave rise to the Permanent Workers Congress (CPT).
The new labor alliance got support from La Prensa and from the grouping of rightwing opposition parties known as the Coordinadora. Once the Labor Ministry broke off negotiations, the strike was declared illegal, some workers were fired and new workers were hired to take their places. At the end of April, the strike was radicalized by the addition of a hunger strike. With no government mediation underway, some long-time socialist leaders finally intervened, and the hunger strikers agreed to suspend their action without getting any written commitments on the part of the government. The strike itself continues.
The required mediating agencies apparently did not function in this case. While it seems clear that the majority of workers were not in sympathy with the strikers, this does not eliminate the urgent need for the government to solve the problem of the wage-price relationship, perhaps within new legal frameworks.
As a result of these conflicts, the parties once again suspended the National Dialogue. This decision, in circumstances so serious for the possibilities of peace, shows more tellingly than any explicit statement that the Coordinadora is the dominant force among the opposition parties—all 14 of them, except the Marxist-Leninist Party, which does not make common cause with the others but maintains its far-left and anti-imperialist positions. The fear among the parties outside the Coordinadora of losing both their identity and their real or potential base of support by displaying an image of collaboration with the government and the FSLN is a more powerful factor than their nationalism or their capacity for political imagination to seek alternatives. In the final analysis, they are putting forth no proposals that would be alternatives to those presented by the Coordinadora, whose identification with the so-called "Nicaraguan Resistance," otherwise known as contras, becomes more obvious every day.
War on Atlantic Coast continues to wind down Two key elements on the political horizon have to do with upcoming elections: the first elections for the Councils of Government in the Atlantic Coast’s two autonomous regions and the municipal elections to be held throughout the country. The former, scheduled for the second half of this year, were given a boost with the decision of Máximo Pantin and Francisco González, two chiefs of the armed indigenous movement known as Yatama, to end their involvement in the war. They signed peace agreement with government representatives in Yulu, the site of the first peace agreement in May 1985 with a dissident faction of Misura. Some of the 200 troops involved will keep their weapons and form a territorial militia to defend the indigenous communities along the upper Río Coco, under the auspices of the Nicaraguan army. Others will take their place again in production and commerce, while still others have opted to receive scholarships to study.
In light of all this, it can be said that peace has almost come to the coast region. Although Brooklyn Rivera still claims to have 2,000 Miskitus in his wing of the armed group, researchers and reporters put the number much lower, perhaps at 200. Wycliffe Diego and Osorno Coleman, also in Yatama but allied with the Nicaraguan Resistance, probably control more armed people than Rivera. This peace process must still face the uncertainty created among the coast population by the position Rivera and military leader Stedman Fagoth in the inconclusive talks with the Nicaraguan government. In a maneuver similar to that used by the contras in the Sapoá and Managua talks, Rivera and Fagoth wanted to disregard both the Nicaraguan Constitution and the recently approved Autonomy Law. Rivera is also proposing Miskitu hegemony over the other ethnic populations of the region.
The Nicaraguan government recently presented its bill regulating the upcoming municipal election (by secret and direct vote) of Municipal Councils, which would then elect a mayor from among its own members and take on many of the municipality's planning, budget and political tasks. The Councils would also have the right to remove the mayor, if their reasons were just and legal, as well as modify city limits or create new municipalities. A fair degree of autonomy would be awarded to the new Councils. The government's proposal also calls for the creation of Popular Assemblies (open to all voting citizens of the municipality), to be convened at least twice a year. The mayor and Municipal Council would be accountable to these assemblies, which would have the right to propose the naming of a new mayor, as well as the creation of new municipalities.
With this bill, currently up for debate in the National Assembly, Nicaragua takes another step to strengthen participatory democracy, precisely at the local level where it can be most effective. The Coordinadora has strongly attacked the proposal, claiming that the government will use "mobs" to control the municipalities and pack the Municipal Councils with activists from the Sandinista Neighborhood Committees (CDS).
The Reagan administration, particularly through Eliott Abrams (who has accused the Sandinistas of becoming "more repressive" since the signing of the Sapoá accords), continues to attack the revolutionary process, trying to pressure the OAS secretary general to allow "humanitarian" aid to be delivered to the contra forces—although this clearly violates the peace accords. The administration's official characterization of Nicaragua as "an extraordinary threat to US security" was recently renewed to justify a six-month extension of the economic embargo against the country. The counterrevolutionary delegations come to Nicaragua to talk even as they are torn apart by internal contradictions, and the push to continue the war wins out. In the midst of all this, the Nicaraguan government and people continue to demonstrate flexibility as well as commitment to their revolutionary and national principles, as they wait for Reagan’s long dark reign to end.
The counterrevolution seems to be replaying the 1984 game, when the extreme right wing political forces temporarily took part in the elections just so they could later pull out and accuse the Sandinista government of not having provided sufficient democratic conditions (according to later statements to The New York Times by their then-presidential candidate Arturo Cruz). In this instance, the contras’ initial participation in the cease-fire talks at Sapoá seems to have been less due to any honest effort to end the war than to finding a ruse for pulling out later and trying to paint the Sandinista government as the intransigent party to the unsuccessful talks.
The first half of 1988 has shown that the Central American conflicts, rooted in critical economic and political conditions, are too deep to be solved by economic reformism and the small opening of political space offered by civilian governments. The region’s "emerging democracies" (to use President Arias' term) may not be strong enough to contain popular discontent. All this has a stagnating effect on the ultimate viability of the Esquipulas process. For this reason, Nicaragua continues to insist on each country's compliance with international law. In addition, it is awaiting the upcoming World Court decision regarding concrete reparations by the US for war damage, in accordance with the Court's June 1986 judgment.
The Sapoá Accords are a crucial element in sustaining the Esquipulas Peace Plan, and thus the Nicaraguan government has done all it can to keep the process alive. In addition to Sapoá, however, a three-way indirect dialogue between the Nicaraguan government and sectors of both the US Democratic and Republican parties has already been established. What is still needed is regional on-site verification and a reaffirmation of the delicate independent stance taken by the five Central American Presidents with the signing of Esquipulas II last year.
Comparison of Contra and Modified Government Proposals for “Democratization”
Counterrevolutionary Proposal (point 4)4. In fulfillment of Esquipulas and Sapoá, in the framework of the tripartite national dialogue, and in a period of sixty days from this date, the measures and/or reforms will be agreed upon that will establish the indispensable legal framework for the democratization and national reconciliation process and that must include those that:
a) Guarantee political pluralism, respecting ethnic, cultural and religious values;
b) Guarantee the separation and independence of the branches of state;
c) Assure the equality of citizens before the law, with full respect for human rights;
d) Assure freedom of expression, association, meeting and mobilization, as well as religion and education;
e) Eradicate all coercive force that obliges one to belong to the Sandinista mass organizations;
f) Stipulate the separation of the army and police from any ties to parties or political activities, and the subordination of these and related paramilitary forces to civil power;
g) Guarantee the right to strike and the trade union code;
h) Establish procedural guarantees that permit fair trials;
i) Guarantee a pluralistic and fair electoral system that will serve to convene an electoral process whose calendar will be established in the National Dialogue for the election of a Constituent Assembly, municipal authorities and representatives to the Central American Parliament.
New draft of government plan 26. Once the Verification Commission has issued its verification that the irregular forces of the Resistance are located in the zones, the Representatives of the Political Organizations that make up the Nicaraguan Resistance will be incorporated into the National Dialogue in conformity with Number 6 of the Sapoá Accords.
Within the National Dialogue, the accords will be established that are necessary to assure or perfect the existence of:
a) Political pluralism, respecting the ethnic, cultural and religious values of the Nicaraguan people;
b) The separation and independence of the branches of state;
c) The equality of citizens before the law and full respect for human rights;
d) Freedom of expression, association, meeting and mobilization, as well as freedom of religion and education;
e) The equality of rights and opportunity before the law of all political parties of Nicaragua;
f) The institutions and bodies of the state at the full service of national interests;
g) The right to strike and trade union freedom;
h) Procedural guarantees that permit fair trials;
i) A pluralistic and participatory electoral system on the basis of which free and honest electoral processes will be convened for municipal elections and elections for the Central American Parliament, whose calendar will be established in the National Dialogue, and for the general elections that will take place in 1990.
j) Guarantees and norms for the functioning of the mixed economy, which includes diverse forms of ownership (public, private, cooperative, etc.)