Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 81 | Marzo 1988


Central America

Conclusions: Whither Central America

Envío team

Based on the previous country analyses, it is clear that Esquipulas II, while exerting an influence on all the Central American countries, has done so in very diverse ways both internally and in each country’s international perspectives. This is due mainly to the differing capacities of the social forces in each to make imaginative and energetic use of the opportunities offered by the peace accords.

It is also due, naturally, to the varying influence on these countries of an important common denominator among the Reagan Administration, the Democratic Party and the US mass media. This common denominator is the image of Nicaragua as a country whose government contracted the most obligations under the peace accords, was to pay the most if it did not fulfill them, and was the only one deserving continued application of "pressure"—that euphemism that revives the language of the Vietnam war. (To refer to actions that result in nearly 50,000 victims, of whom more than 22,000 are dead, and billions of dollars in losses, thus directly affecting the country's ability to satisfy its population’s fundamental needs and initiate a development plan as "pressure" is a criminal twisting of reality.) Nicaragua's "satanized" image is the principal success of Reagan's policy, in which valid parameters of objectivity—Nicaragua has opened its doors to any international mission and to thousands of observers of all kinds—have been tossed aside.

Finally, since neither the European countries nor Canada actively opposed the United States by insisting that the peace accords be applied evenly in all Central American countries, Nicaragua had to be the one to which they were targeted most.

Not until mid-January, when the report of the International Commission for Verification and Follow-Up (CIVS) came out, did Nicaragua have its brief moment in the sun. In large measure, the CIVS report reversed the tendency to let the weight of compliance fall almost exclusively on the Nicaraguan government’s shoulders. Avoiding euphemisms, the quickly squelched report stated that "the definitive cessation of... assistance... particularly military, to the irregular forces that operate against the government of Nicaragua... on the part of the government of the United States of America,... continues to be an indispensable requisite for the success of the peace efforts and of the Guatemala procedures as a whole."*
*Comisión Internacional para la Verificación y el Seguimiento, Informe sobre los Progresos en el Cumplimiento de los Acuerdos del Procedimiento para alcanzar la Paz firme y duradera en Centroamérica, January 14, 1988, IV, 15, p.108. (Our translation.)

The challenge that Esquipulas II represented to US domination and the significance for Latin American self-determination of giving verification responsibilities to a commission in which the United States was not present, allows us to raise the debate about what Esquipulas has really been.

Significance of Esquipulas:
A Debate About the Region's Future

Looking at Central America as a whole, there are three possible ways to characterize Esquipulas II. The first interpretation, which is the most cautious and realistic but least encouraging, emphasizes that Esquipulas II was above all the effort of five governments to legitimize themselves, break the economic stagnation of the region and the countries in it, and undermine the legitimacy of political-military struggle in the region, be it revolutionary or counterrevolutionary. In this characterization it is a useful retaining wall against more direct US military intervention and thus, from both the government angle and the revolutionary one, should be maintained at least as long as the Reagan Administration lasts.

The second interpretation accentuates the aspirations of Presidents Arias and Cerezo, together with a group of US congressional Democrats, to domesticate Nicaragua through political rather than military means, and thus avoid regionalizing the conflict. Their scenario was to co-opt the Sandinista revolution, boxing it into a political framework that, compared to the Contadora initiative, put much more importance on Western-style "democratization" than on self-determination and non-interference. Esquipulas II was thus a tool to force the Sandinista revolutionary process and the other Central American revolutionary movements into the ranks of those that accept the rules of the Western democracies' game and bow to their geopolitical strategies—in other words, just a new tool of low-intensity war.

In this characterization, Esquipulas is, in fact, more a political accord than a legally binding treaty; its legal value comes from those principles of social and political justice and the international human rights laws that underpin it. To the degree that this vision is correct, we could expect to see a further eroding of one of the aspects of international jurisprudence that buttress it, i.e., that it is a regional political accord at the highest level—presidential—with the support of the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Contadora and Support countries.

The third, and certainly boldest interpretation emphasizes the dynamism of Esquipulas II as a Pandora's Box in reverse for the authoritarian regimes disguised as democracies and for traditional imperialist geopolitics. If correct, Esquipulas II is becoming a retaining wall not only against more direct intervention but also against the US low-intensity-warfare strategy and the counterinsurgency policies of Central America's authoritarian regimes. The level of dependence on US geopolitics is not the same in Guatemala as in El Salvador and Honduras. Thus the demands of Esquipulas provide a new political framework in the region, They put civilian Presidents up against their military or security forces and organized grassroots sectors in civilian society up against the majority of the states. In addition, its demands for relative autonomy go up against US policy. All these elements can be used, albeit in diverse ways, in each country.

This characterization becomes more valid the more the Contadora and Support Group countries defend the principles of a Latin American solution to Latin American conflicts, and of self-determination and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. Its validity would also be reinforced by the increased participation of Central American civil society in the search for a just peace, constituting what we could call an "Esquipulas of the people" to act—even when not asked by governments to do so—as part of the verification mechanisms of the peace accords. Such a body could work in alliance with US organizations seeking alternatives to US foreign policy toward Central America and with those of the "Group of 8" in Latin America, and could even broaden this solidarity process toward Europe, Canada and the non-aligned countries. To create such an alliance would mean that Esquipulas II's international character and its values of justice and independence would be protected by governments and social sectors that rely more on the force of law than on the resources of bullies.

Finally, this third understanding of Esquipulas becomes more likely if it is not seen as a prima facie contradiction with the interests of the Nicaraguan revolutionary process to legitimize its own state and the needs of insurgent movements in Central America to escape delegitimization, but is conceived of as the dynamism that provides a political framework for the new Central American historical subject* to advance its own development.

*The term “new Central American historical subject” was described in detail in our first annual Central American analysis in January-February 1986 (Vol. 5, No. 55-56). In essence it moves beyond the classic vision of workers and/or peasants as the exclusive motor force of social transformation, to recognize the protagonist role in this struggle currently being played by other poor sectors of society, such as women, indigenous people, the unemployed, organized slumdwellers, etc. The notion of historical subject also implies consciousness of this leadership role, and an unwillingness to continue being used in the struggle of other classes.

Do the conditions in Central America favor any one of these interpretations? The elements are mixed. The Reagan Administration's efforts to undermine the Esquipulas process at the third Central America summit meeting in January did not achieve their main objective, even though the functions of the CIVS were transferred to its executive commission, made up only of the five Central American foreign ministers. Even then Nicaragua maintained its principle that the executive commission cannot do its job alone because it would be both party and judge, and added language that the "cooperation of regional and extra-regional states or bodies of recognized impartiality and technical capacity" should be sought.

In another example, the CIVS recommendation to aid "simultaneous" compliance by creating "an implementation plan and a calendar for fulfilling the commitments" was discarded and the principle of simultaneity itself abandoned in favor of language like "total and inexcusable" fulfillment of "unconditional and unilateral obligations," in which unfulfilled commitments must be dealt with "immediately and in a public and evident form." Naturally this removed the justification for Nicaragua's refusal to lift its state of emergency, apply its amnesty law to prisoners or enter into direct negotiations with the counterrevolution about a cease-fire before the other countries fulfilled their simultaneous obligation to help end the war.

These same obligations, however, apply to the Costa Rican and Honduran governments regarding use of their territories by the contras as "sanctuary" and to the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras regarding increased human rights violations and their failure to allow democratic participation, solicit an end to contra aid from the US government and help establish credible verification mechanisms. And, finally, they apply to all regarding a continuation of negotiations, mediated by Contadora, about armaments, maneuvers and security control.

It should be noted that only Nicaragua promptly complied. President Ortega announced his new measures to the press while still at the summit meeting in Costa Rica. Duarte's press conference, on the other hand, was filled with grandiloquent but empty rhetoric, Cerezo's with measured declarations but no measures, and Arias' with timidity—he even failed to mention the importance of a no-vote by Congress on contra aid scheduled for two weeks hence. Azcona's eloquent silence—he did not even give a press conference—was broken on the eve of that vote, when he opined that passage of Reagan's aid package would not violate the accords because "the important thing was to give political space to Nicaragua and we are doing that." So much for Honduras' compliance.

Almost immediately after the summit, Ortega dispatched government representatives to the eight Contadora and Support Group countries, and he himself went to Spain, the Vatican, Italy, Norway and Sweden. The mission was to offer to be the first country to accept on-site verification whether or not the other Central American countries did so, and to urgently invite these countries to participate in the verification mechanisms. The European countries accepted the invitation on the condition that it be extended by the other Central American countries as well, and the vice foreign ministers of the Latin American countries that were visited exhorted the United States on the eve of the congressional vote to "cease actions aimed at destabilization."

Most who voted against Reagan's package said they wanted to "give peace a chance." House Speaker Jim Wright went even further, reminding President Reagan that he was not voted into office to "be President of Central America but to be President of the United States." Unfortunately this strong phrase has a fundamental weak spot. It comes from one who has been incapable of questioning either the morality or the legality of a vote aimed at helping irregular forces maintain a war against a government with which the United States has diplomatic relations.

From Honduras’ emphatically servile position to Nicaragua’s autonomous one—the only government with enough domestic consensus to be able to comply with the dynamism as well as the letter of the accords—all these events suggest that Esquipulas II really constitutes a political debate about the future of Central America. Closer to the center of the debate spectrum are the governments of El Salvador, which has ambiguously fulfilled the letter more than the intent of the accords; Guatemala, whose President is trying to gain enough international prestige through the success of the process to attract resources to modernize the country even though he lacks the power to do so; and Costa Rica which, for internal reasons, is trying to domesticate Sandinismo, pacify Central America and reactivate the Central American common market.

For the revolutionary movements challenging power in their respective countries—the FMLN-FDR in Salvador and the URNG in Guatemala—as well as for ample grassroots sectors, it is the dynamism, not the letter, that makes Esquipulas important. For the new Central American historical subject, Esquipulas II consecrates the fact that the causes of the Central American conflict are not the East-West confrontation but, as the joint presidential declaration signed in San José in mid-January says, "economic and social"—and, although they do not say it directly, political. In this regard, we refer not only to the emphasis of Esquipulas II on human rights, political pluralism, etc., but to the fact that it is the first gesture of real independence from US geopolitics.

Precisely for this reason the FMLN-FDR and the URNG are demanding political talks without first giving up their weapons, basing their argument on the distinction the accords make between themselves as "insurrectional movements" and the US-financed contras as "irregular forces." In Nicaragua, only the peoples of the Atlantic Coast had, because of the Sandinistas’ initial errors, a reason to rebel; since then, the autonomy process has tried to respond to these just demands, putting the Coast ahead of other regions of the country in achieving peace.

Esquipulas' bottom line:
The opening of a new political space

Having discussed the different interpretations of the character of Esquipulas, let us now take stock of it. The CIVS report put the challenge in a way that can hardly be improved upon:

“It merits recalling that, just as the deterioration of the Central American political, economic and social structure was not produced suddenly, neither can peace in the region be achieved immediately. The factors are by their nature complex and act at several levels simultaneously. Various actors present in the Central American scene are not parties to the accord signed by the main interested parties, the heads of state of the region. The challenge is enormous since it is to put in practice an integral, universally satisfactory, simultaneously executable and verifiable accord, and additionally to commit those who are a party to the conflict but not signatories of the accord.”

Esquipulas II has its positive and negative aspects. On the positive side:

*While making Contadora and the Support Group withdraw to a second level, it removed the so-called Tegucigalpa Group's excuse not to come to political decisions.

*It was an act of autonomy by the Central American governments with respect to the United States.

*It withdrew part of the military forces’ strong leadership role in the conflict in various countries, passing it to the civilian governments.

*It provided concrete measures and well-defined time limits, more than those of any draft previously presented by Contadora.

On the negative side:

*It totally ignored the specificity of the ethnic conflicts that aggravate the level of economic and political conflict, above all in Guatemala. (As the World Council of Indigenous Peoples charged in a February conference in Managua, the Central American indigenous peoples and their Afro-American brothers and sisters were forgotten by the accords.)

* Except in its distinction between irregular forces and insurrectional movements, it ignored the profound differences in the quality of the conflicts ripping apart Nicaragua on one side and El Salvador and Guatemala on the other, thus symmetrically delegitimizing both the Nicaraguan counterrevolution and the FMLN-FDR and URNG.

* It thus fell into a symmetry of national conflicts, capable of creating contradictions between Nicaragua's revolutionary government and the Salvadoran and Guatemalan revolutionary movements, as well as between the Nicaraguan counterrevolution and the armed forces and governing sectors of El Salvador and Honduras.

* The realism noted in the CIVS report cited above is missing in the Esquipulas II text. For this reason, the concept of simultaneity and time limits that were too short became the most serious obstacles to the survival of the accords.

A balance sheet on compliance with each accord by country—too detailed to enter into here—confirms the conclusion reached above: in its levels of compliance and non-compliance, Esquipulas II has shown the character of the contradictions between its text and its dynamic possibilities.

Limiting ourselves to generalizations, the Honduran government has complied least but paid the highest costs in its international image and the decline of its capacity to maintain the social consensus indispensable to governing. Only at the cost of increased repression and deepened dependence on the United States has this government maintained its inflexibility.

Nicaragua is the country that has complied the most, considering both its flexibility toward the opposition (civic and armed) and its diplomatic creativity in putting into high relief what is at stake with Esquipulas II.

Given the value for President Arias of maintaining his opposition to Reagan regarding "the means"—to use Arias' own words—of solving the Central American conflict, the Costa Rican head of state occupies an important place in fulfillment; but this success is tarnished when his intent to force Nicaragua to knuckle under to a limited democratic model is put to the test. In this model, democracy is reduced to representative electoral mechanisms, without taking into account the true participatory essence of democracy, more alive in Nicaragua than in other Central American countries and inserted into the peace accords only at President Ortega's insistence. (In the section on democratization, the accords say: "The governments commit themselves to promote an authentic democratic, pluralist and participatory process...and to carry out in a verifiable manner those measures leading to the establishment...of representative and pluralist democratic systems which would provide guarantees for the organization of political parties, effective popular participation in the decision making process.... emphasis added).

Guatemala is important for having forcefully sustained the life of Esquipulas II when it was threatened by Duarte's unilateral demand for postponement, for defending the need for coexistence with the Sandinista model and for warning of the danger of a US military solution. Cerezo also consistently opposed any arrangement that did not have Nicaragua as a signatory. Nonetheless, his powerlessness and possible lack of political will to truly command the army and security forces, move toward profound structural changes of an economic, political, ethnic nature, and the blank check he gave the army to solve the Guatemalan conflict militarily, moves him low on the ladder of fulfillment of both the letter and spirit of the accords.

El Salvador, given its formalist and rhetorical fulfillment and its show of bad faith in blaming Nicaragua for the supposed failures of Esquipulas, was only one rung above Honduras. Duarte's acquiescence to mortgaging national sovereignty in favor of the Reagan strategy denied him Esquipulas' very essence: the deepening of the region's political independence.

Central America's revolutionary movements, political or insurgent, can also reap advantages from Esquipulas II. The obvious one resides in the unprecedented legitimacy indirectly given their political programs by governments that preside over social systems based on injustice, foreign dependence and repression. For example, the Esquipulas II statement that "we have Central American roads to peace and development" justifies the denunciations in these revolutionary programs of any submission to US geopolitical or economic interests. In the section on democratization excerpted above, the Presidents also committed themselves to promote "[state] sovereignty, the territorial integrity of states and the right of all nations to freely determine their economic, political and social model, without outside interference of any kind."

To the degree that the governments fail on any such points contained in the accords, the existence of the national liberation and revolutionary movements is legitimized. This is particularly true of the Presidents' dedication of the peace process: "...to the youth [and clearly not only them] of Central America whose legitimate aspirations for peace and social justice, freedom and reconciliation have been frustrated for so many generations." This is precisely what the revolutionary movements offer as the fundamental justification of their programs for a new society.

From the tension between the intent to delegitimize the "insurrectional movements" and the recognition of their arguments, it is evident that, thanks to Esquipulas II, a previously unknown political space is opening in Central America for the legitimization of popular aspirations. This has been reflected both in the dialogues between the URNG and FMLN-FDR and their respective governments (for the first time in the case of the URNG, which is an undeniable advance) and in the growing credibility and respectability of the Nicaraguan revolution, the character of which was legitimized by Esquipulas II, even though it differs from the rest of Central America.

One fundamental criterion to use in taking stock of Esquipulas II is that the peace accords have given the Nicaraguan revolution a much greater opportunity for legitimization and survival than it would have had without them. If one accepts that it is precisely the 1979 triumph of the revolution that created a new and favorable juncture in Central America's long struggle for liberation, the balance sheet of Esquipulas II is favorable for the whole region from the logic of the Central American majorities.

If one also agrees with the analysis that Esquipulas offers new political space for the aspirations of these majorities, then the survival of the Nicaraguan process fits without contradiction into the improved horizon for the revolutionary movement in the region as a whole. This, in fact, is what the rightwing oligarchs and bourgeoisie (and more covertly the militaries, except that of Honduras, which has overtly violated the accords) have been denouncing so clearly. This is also what the Reagan Administration has wanted to destroy at all cost, claiming that the accords are "fatally flawed."

Another criterion, then, is to look at what would have happened without Esquipulas II. Without it, there would have been a vote in October or November on the Reagan Administration's request to Congress not for some $50 million (including insurance for planes downed over Nicaraguan territory), but for $270 million. Had this passed, it would have meant bequeathing the policy of a military solution to the Central American conflict to the next administration. It should be remembered that even with all Nicaragua's compliance, the basic ratification of Esquipulas at San José, and even the House's clinching rejection of Reagan's contra aid plan in February, the Senate still voted for it, although by a narrower margin than in the past.

Without Esquipulas II, the approaching meeting of the Central American foreign ministers with the European Economic Community would have much less chance of positive results. Without it, we would be at the point we were in January 1987, when, after the Central American tour by Contadora, the Support Group, the UN and the OAS, the UN Secretary General said in a tone of defeat, "We have not found a will for peace."

In Esquipulas II there is a germ of peace with justice and with new models of development and political participation. But it is not only a Central American phenomenon. It embodies the demands of the small peripheral countries, and above all of their peoples, giving them an important precedent in the political arena and in the international legal sphere. All these peoples of the Third World are faced with the same kinds of crises: of self-determination, of new models of development to meet their basic needs and new models of democracy that allow representation based on a free and respected vote to converge with popular participation and the rescue of their cultures.

If we do not forget—as envío explained in its analysis of January (see Vol. 7, No. 80, February 1988)—that the Nicaraguan process is revolutionary today because it is nationalizing, i.e., is in the stage of constructing an authentically free nation that demands international legal equality and nonalignment, we will not fall into the analytical error of judging as "concessions" what are the cards of a negotiation compatible with the original and strategic features of the process. It differs from the nationalizing processes led by the ascending bourgeoisies in third world countries in that it gives priority to the logic of the majorities and their growing popular participation.

To close this section, the CIVS report's own balance sheet of Esquipulas II says: "The task of this stage is not, therefore, to declare the success or failure of a process that is underway, but to evaluate the progress reached, identify the pending work and suggest ways to continue it.... It would be as contrary to the truth to declare that no advances have been achieved as to proclaim its success."*

Dialectics of the tendencies:
Whither Central America?

We conclude this analysis by reviewing the dialectical set of factors that are influencing this juncture and suggesting where the region is heading.

The Economic Factor: “We ask for an international treaty that guarantees development so that the peace we seek is lasting.” (Esquipulas II). “It is not possible to achieve peace without development.” (Joint Declaration, January 16, 1988)

These emphatic words of the Central American Presidents recognize the grave economic crisis through which Central America is passing. Nonetheless, we suspect that the majority of them do not understand its real character; several have deepened it by their terribly increased dependence on US aid, tied to a military effort to solve the problems.

Consider this scenario, which, if a bit unrealistic, gives an idea of the shifting sands on which the economic survival of the Central American peoples rests today: The United States cuts loose its paranoia regarding the national security threats it thinks it sees in Central America, as well as its imperialist "good Samaritan" complex, achieving its interests precisely by abandoning Central America to its current misery and low development capacity. Other countries in the Western alliance substantially lose interest in such a small market (in 1988 a population of 25 million) once the United States loses interest.

Except for the resistance populations in zones the revolutionary movements control, the new Central American historical subject lacks a real understanding of the value of the only real resource for the creation of wealth—productive labor, particularly that which assures self-sufficient production of the greatest number of fundamental needs for the majorities, as well as their just and effective distribution.

Neither the four non-revolutionary Central American countries nor the Nicaraguan revolutionary process itself have found the key to an economy for their small, developing countries that sets aside the logic of the satisfied minorities and satisfies these fundamental needs of the majorities. The consequent grinding down of the majorities is converted into a huge political and cultural problem. In our judgment, in the last two years the economic factor has come to be determinant in the short run, particularly for its political-cultural repercussions.

New development models are needed, based on true survival economies. The revolutionary task is to design them politically and convert them into a cultural necessity, and it is the task for today, not tomorrow. A truly transforming policy and a cultural revolution is needed to build a routine production ethic, a morality of distribution and marketing, a shared culture of sobriety, realism about the technological possibilities that our peoples’ various education levels permit, and priority attention to food, clothing and housing produced in the region and to health care—particularly preventive and environmental.

Particularly in Nicaragua, defense and production could and should be linked much more structurally as long as the war lasts. Even a smaller peacetime army would acquire new habits related to production and distribution. Otherwise the informal economy will never be seen as a resource of grassroots survival (while it is growing now, it has always existed, because if it had not, our peoples would have already died of hunger, cold and exhaustion). Nor will it ever be possible to prevent the big speculators from subjecting the informal economy to their merciless and corrupt laws. There is no reason to fear the reproduction of an artisan or peasant class, which are in reality the real bases of productive material work in our countries.

The political handling of the economy in Nicaragua and other Central American countries by the rising new historical subject is crucially important. The peace accords can fail not only because of the militarist forces against them; they can also fail if the economic battle does not win the basic needs of the majorities in Nicaragua or in the zones of revolutionary struggle in El Salvador and Guatemala, or is not won by the efforts of the peasant and trade union organizations of all the Central American countries.

Our peoples' political and ideological potential is far greater than their level of economic development and their access to appropriate technologies. By potential we mean their sense of life, of symbols, of strategic common sense, of wisdom, motivations and even a growing awareness of what is at stake in today's "global village." The gap between the two must be breached with strategies that articulate the economy, politics (including military and security aspects) and culture. The challenge is political and cultural, because it is not about economy but precisely about political economy.

The Military Factor: “The intensification of bellicose actions after the signing of the Guatemala Procedures, with the consequent human and material losses, is reason for concern.”
(CIVS report)

If we look at the countries caught up in a political-military conflict, whether of fundamentally foreign origin, as in the case of Nicaragua, or of internal origin, as in the Salvadoran and Guatemalan cases, it is obvious that Esquipulas II has been unable as yet to diminish the intensity of these conflicts.

*In Nicaragua it has been impeded by the Reagan Administration's obstinate clinging to a military solution, seconded by the counterrevolutionaries' desperate efforts to demonstrate an image of military strength to influence the vote in Congress.

*It is impeded in El Salvador by the conviction both of the Christian Democratic government and its armed forces, and of their antagonist, the FMLN-FDR, that they can still gain a lot militarily. This conviction is shared by the United States, although it has already had to modify by eight years its estimate of the time required to defeat the FMLN.

*In Guatemala, although the first dialogue between the government and the URNG has now taken place and various proposals to continue it have been offered, the army has launched an offensive in Ixcán, using 8,000 soldiers and tremendous air power, which has now gone nearly five months and shows no signs of ending.

*In Honduras, after the negative vote in the House of Representatives on contra aid, some in the National Congress have been heard demanding that the US expel the contras to their own territory. Nonetheless, the head of the armed forces has published the supposed plan of a subversive movement supported from Managua, and the civilian government has not distanced itself from this maneuver. (One can also assume that the maneuver presages others to justify armed incidents between the Honduran and Nicaraguan armies and thus resuscitate Reagan's warmongering policy.)

*Even Panama finds its destiny tangled with Central America's. The role of Panama's defense forces has grown, precisely because of the US effort to force the departure of their commander—with whom US governments have cooperated until very recently, despite the corruption they today accuse Noriega of, which is probably true. Many aid missions to the contras depart from the US Southern Command in Panama, and various of its officers have been present in the Honduran maneuvers and have visited the US military advisers in El Salvador. All this violates the Torrijos-Carter treaties, which limit US armed presence in the canal to defending it jointly with the Panamanian defense forces. For this reason, the latter have asked the Southern Command to withdraw. Evidently the State Department's response has been negative.

The greater part of the region is in a peace process, but one burdened by the weight of the military factor. Paradoxically, the new space for negotiations triggers a scramble among the parties to get the best negotiating hand, and one of the most powerful cards is military strength. Without Nicaragua's military strength, Esquipulas II would not have been possible in the first place, but by the same token the missile and communications technology recently put in the hands of the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries by the $100 million approved by Congress has required the Sandinista government to save Esquipulas II with maximum political flexibility. The contras will try to increase their number of sophisticated weapons and impede a cease-fire to see if they can affect the congressional vote and thus the talks.

Finally, it cannot reasonably be expected that a continually growing FMLN and a tenaciously resistant URNG will lay down their weapons without gaining any of their political objectives toward a new society.

Confidence in military solutions caused the open -nded prolongation of the conflict in the first place, and this factor is now forcing the prolongation of the peace negotiations. Without either Contadora's mediation or the Central American governments' will to negotiate disarmament and security questions, fundamental elements to reduce the dominant weight of the military factor are missing from the peace process.

The Subjective Factors: From the viewpoint of the new Central American historical subject, it is more necessary than ever to link economic survival efforts and the military struggle for national liberation and social justice to a political-cultural mobilization of the Central American majorities. Our analysis of Esquipulas II leads to the conclusion that if peace is to include elements of national independence, freedom from misery, promotion of justice and a more egalitarian model of society, and, above all, the effective grassroots participation necessary for it all, it only has a chance—even after Esquipulas II—where massive social forces are capable of exerting pressure and where that pressure is articulated with that of the political-military movements (or, in the case of Nicaragua with the Sandinista government, its armed and security bodies, and with the FSLN.)

Esquipulas II has opened previously unknown political spaces in Central America, not only to negotiate a solution to the conflict but, even more importantly, for popular mobilization to demand that the negotiation follow the logic of the majorities. We are convinced that the best of Esquipulas II is the fruit of the popular majorities' long resistance, their innumerable civil efforts and their use of the last recourse to force—imposed by what we called in the introduction the "triple alliance."

The economic crisis and the prolongation of the war, which profoundly deepens that crisis, risk wearing down the masses and, particularly in Nicaragua, confusing them. Was the revolution not made to increase the well-being of the majorities? And has poverty not been deepened during the revolution? These questions, which also hit hard at those resisting oppression and struggling for popular power in Guatemala and El Salvador, show why the "subjective" factors are of increasingly decisive importance.

These factors are on the one hand the twin expectations of peace and its opposite, the hardening of the war; and on the other the narrowing margins of subsistence and survival. The subjective factor is also assaulted by miracle-working, demobilizing religiosity, which is "informal" because it is weakly institutional and is managed, like the informal economy, by the big "speculators" of religious culture.

From the counterinsurgent and imperialist viewpoint, the political-ideological factor is no less decisive. When the military solution loses prestige at the very least, disinformation, propaganda, provocation and intransigence from these forces increases, as does the effort to combine formal elections with recourse to the specter of terror; in the Nicaraguan case, the demand that it renounce its revolution is increased. In reality, what surfaces is the effort to grind down the majorities and co-opt the revolutionary forces—those in power and those competing for it.

Two very urgent tasks of analysis and political-ideological strategy are thus imposed on the new Central American historical subject today: to clearly understand the projects of the oligarchic-bourgeois minorities in each country and to give the mass media the attention they merit to find ways to win the heated battle between images and the truth of our peoples.

The International Factor: “The fervent desire of the Central American peoples for peace and political, economic and social democratization is hindered by a geopolitical battle that has little to do with them and by hegemonic interests that differ from and are extraneous to their legitimate aspirations.” (CIVS Report)

The greatest clarity about what is at stake has come from Contadora and the Support Group countries, buttressed by the OAS and the UN—in other words, from those experiencing the greatest inability to influence the Central American conflict. The best hope for an international contribution to peace with dignity in Central America resides in defeating the US efforts—still, unfortunately, backed by the majority of the Central American Presidents in Esquipulas—to isolate Central America from Latin America, Nicaragua from Central America, and both from the international organizations where the third world and nonaligned countries have the greatest weight. That is where the interests in national liberation, in a redefinition of national security, of demands for new international economic, political, juridical, cultural and communications orders coincide. That is where the Latin American forces that are still weak due to the tremendous fragility of their economies and their democratic "resurrections" can join forces and be less weak. This is the importance of Nicaragua's insistence that Contadora and the Support group be present in the verification mechanisms and that they mediate to agree on national and regional security in Central America.

The action of the political party internationals, particularly the Socialist and Christian Democratic ones, will have a major influence. The presence of a Socialist International leader, Hans Jürgen Wischnewsky, on Nicaragua's negotiating team with the contras is a notable advance in this international's support to peace with dignity in Central America. The disillusionment that first Duarte's government and later Cerezo's have provoked in the Christian Democratic International will also play a role.

But one thing is parties and another is governments. The Esquipulas process will depend a lot on the Hamburg meeting between the Central American ministers and the European Economic Community. The Central Americans will ask for $430 million from the EEC for an economic emergency plan. Although the EEC countries and Canada see the profound causes of the Central American conflict much more lucidly than the United States, they will also attempt to exchange their support for pressures to make the more peaceful and democratic models of a future Central America less threatening for their values and interests—still very "Eurocentric." Giving, but not giving much, they will try to preserve their recently gained influence.

Finally, there is the problem of US foreign policy. It is not productive to expect that the United States will opt for respectful coexistence with a truly pluralist Central America. It is more likely that the new Central American historical subject will be facing a policy of bare tolerance toward Sandinista Nicaragua, in which economic and even military pressure is used as a weapon for forcing the type of relations the United States wants. Even this, the brightest possible prospect for US foreign policy, presupposes that Reagan, in the months that remain to him, does not succeed in reversing the attitude of the House of Representatives, nor obliges it to compromise with the Senate on the humanitarian aid package the Democrats proposed.

El Salvador, however, will be the real test of how much US foreign policy can change in the coming year. It is there that the emerging policy of a hostile peace with Nicaragua begins to perplex and worry US politicians, because the impasse between the government and the guerrilla forces raises questions about the emerging style of domination in Central America.

* * * * *

Esquipulas II is like the embryo of a regional Constitution, still barely formed but with its shape outlined. Its evolution and development depend on whether peace with justice in Central America is born or aborted. Everyone is now trying to intervene in the process with their own ideas on a kind of political genetic engineering, but the health of the offspring, if it is not stillborn, will depend on the capacity of the people themselves to take seriously what the Presidents formulated—some perhaps only rhetorically—when signing the Joint Document: "...conscious that it will be their peoples... who shall judge their compliance with the obligations undertaken in good faith."

The important thing is to make the Central American peoples' judgment an active one. Only thus can Esquipulas avoid being reduced to either a delaying maneuver to impede direct US intervention and wait out the end of the Reagan Administration, or a tool to co-opt the Nicaraguan revolution and contain all the other processes trying to make profound and needed transformations. Only thus can Esquipulas II realize its dynamic as a nationalizing event to bring greater autonomy to the region. The challenge is to deepen independence and construct the national states in a framework of regional economic, political and cultural cooperation in such a way that the protagonism of the peoples and their demands for dignity and bread are not subtly defeated.

This is what makes Esquipulas II a debate—in actions as well as in words, in cultural terms as well as in political mobilization—about the future of Central America. It is this that gives the process its dialectic character, its potential for failure and its promise of success. The letter of Esquipulas II has fallen behind grassroots aspirations; its dynamism is moving ahead of its concrete means to go forward. What is important is to work hard and with political imagination to force the concrete means to catch up.

Our analysis leads us to the formulation of the strategy that "Esquipulas II must stop being predominately "Esquipulas of the governments" and start becoming "Esquipulas of the People." From our Christian point of view, the Catholic Church and the Protestant ones, and particularly their communities working among these peoples, should vigorously contribute to this because they are also part of the emerging new historical subject in Central America. And this subject has to know how to use Esquipulas to win a dignified and popular peace.

Managua, Nicaragua
February 21, 1988
Anniversary of the assassination of Augusto C. Sandino

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Modernization and Militarism

Military Solution in Crisis

Dependence and the Military

Steps on the Road to Peace

Between Dignity and Submission

Conclusions: Whither Central America
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