Nicaragua Says No to Treaty Changes
A brief but revealing drama was played out for the United Nations General Assembly by the Contadora and Central American countries in late November, with backstage direction handled by US Ambassador to the UN Vernon Walters (see News Analysis, this issue). This public skit brought out into the open evidence of the kinds of pressures that have been exerted inside the Contadora process over the past two years.
In September 1984, Contadora presented the “Revised Contadora Treaty,” the product of arduous debate and negotiation over its original proposal. The signing of this treaty by all the Central American countries involved in the conflict, with a special protocol for the United States, would very likely have forced an end to the escalation of the war in the region.
Nicaragua, which was not thoroughly satisfied with the treaty, nonetheless led the pack by opting to “accept it in its totality, and subscribe to the Revised Contadora Treaty immediately and without any modification whatsoever.” Once the Reagan administration recovered from its initial stupefaction caused by Nicaragua’s unexpected position, it began to provide excuses for its Central American allies not to sign; then, through them, to exert pressure on Contadora to qualitatively modify the text. One year later, in September 1985, the Contadora Group offered a new, significantly weaker treaty, the first draft of which also suffered a number of serious “refinements” in the course of debate and behind-the-scenes pressure. Nicaragua took the lead again, this time to announce that it cannot accept the “Treaty for Peace and Cooperation in Central America” in its present form. The mediation process has now entered an impasse, the character of which was symbolized in the UN incident.
The drastic change in Nicaragua’s position regarding the two treaties demands a careful examination of their texts. First we will outline the most important milestones in the period between the two treaties, then make a comparative analysis of the two texts.
Cronology of events occurring between the Revised Treaty (1984) and the Peace and Cooperation Treaty (1985)
September 1984: Nicaragua accepts the Revised Contadora Treaty.
October 1984: Honduras calls a meeting of the Central American foreign ministers. At this meeting called to “discuss peace in Central America,” which Nicaragua did not attend, the countries present propose a new draft treaty to Contadora, thus expressing their fundamental rejection of the Revised Treaty. The US National Security Council commented on the new text, saying “We have effectively blocked Contadora Group efforts to impose a second draft of the revised Contadora treaty. Following intensive US consultations with El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica, the Central American countries submitted a counterdraft to the Contadora states on Oct. 20, 1984 that shifts concern within Contadora to a document broadly consistent with US interests.” (Background Paper used in a meeting of the NSC, October 20, 1984).
January-February, 1985: The US government inaugurates the new year by announcing on January 18 that it will break bilateral talks at Manzanillo. In order to better its political-diplomatic hand, the US continues Big Pine II maneuvers held in the area since February-May 1983. These aggressive operations are the backdrop for the postponement of the Contadora meeting scheduled for February 14-15 in Panama. The meeting is specifically postponed because the Contadora Group is not in agreement with the proposals for the Revised Treaty made by El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica. Tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica also contribute to the postponement of the meeting. Costa Rica uses the Urbino Lara case as a pretext for boycotting the meeting in Panama. (Urbino Lara is a young Nicaraguan who attempted to evade obligatory military service by seeking refuge in the Costa Rican Embassy in Managua. The Sandinista police arrested him under disputed circumstances.)
At the same time, Nicaragua looks for ways to strengthen Contadora. On February 27, following the postponement of the Contadora meeting, Nicaragua unilaterally declares an “indefinite moratorium on the acquisition of new arms systems, such as interception planes required for the country to complete its current anti-aircraft system,” and sends home 100 Cuban military advisors. In the Urbino Lara case, Nicaragua concedes to Costa Rica’s demands so as not to block the Contadora process.
March 15, 1985: Contadora advances in Brazil. The position taken by Nicaragua allows Contadora to proceed with its meeting in Brazil, where small advances are made on the subject of arms verification and control. This was one of the aspects of the Revised Treaty questioned by El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica in their October 1984 meeting in Tegucigalpa.
April 4, 1985: Peace plan. The US resumes its pressure and launches its “peace plan,” involving an ultimatum to the Nicaraguan government to start a dialogue with the counterrevolutionaries within 60 days. It links this ultimatum to aid to the mercenary forces. At the same time, counterrevolutionary groups meeting in Costa Rica call for new elections in Nicaragua. It should not be forgotten that this “peace plan” was launched by the Reagan administration after its efforts to move the Nicaragua question from the Contadora forum to the Organization of American States were frustrated. On March 27, the OAS had supported Contadora, leaving only Honduras, El Salvador and Grenada supporting the US position.
April 11-12, 1985: New Contadora meeting. After Nicaragua’s rejection of the Reagan “peace plan,” Contadora continues its dialogue on the issues of verification and arms control. In June, official US aid to the counterrevolution is passed by Congress.
July, 1985: Nicaragua organizes Latin American support to strengthen Contadora. Nicaragua Vice President Sergio Ramírez undertakes a tour of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador in early July. Among his objectives is the widening of Latin American support for the Contadora Group. As a result, the newly created Contadora Support Group—Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay—holds its first meeting with the four Contadora foreign minister on August 24-25 in Cartagena, Colombia.
September-October, 1985: The US resumes the charge. The US ambassadors to Central American countries, Belize and Panama meet in Panama the first week of September. In the meeting, chaired by US Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Elliot Abrams, with the participation of officials from the Defense Department, the National Security Council and the CIA, it is argued that “the collapse of Contadora would be better than a bad agreement.” (“View from Washington,” document dated September 4, leaked to the press). The US sends roving Ambassador Harry Shlaudeman on a tour of the four Contadora Support Group countries, with the message that the US “supports Contadora” but it will not resume bilateral US-Nicaraguan talks in Manzanillo and Nicaragua must undertake a “national reconciliation” (i.e. dialogue with the contras). This theme is also stressed in the October 1 meeting between George Shultz and representatives of Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica. At the end of that meeting the four sign a call to expand the Contadora Support Group to include Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. The latter is the only Latin American country besides Washington’s Central American allies to have put out a statement officially supporting the Reagan administration’s “peace plan” ultimatum. For his part, the Ecuadorian President made statements depicting Nicaragua’s elections as invalid and calling for a dialogue between the Nicaraguan government and the counterrevolution. Ecuador abruptly broke relations with Nicaragua when its President, Daniel Ortega, noted the coincidence of US and Ecuadorian positions.
Meanwhile, Honduras, Costa Rica and El Salvador prepare a significant series of changes in the section of the treaty dealing with military matters, a section which had been worked out by Contadora in a long and painstaking process of debate.
November: Contadora proposes “Peace Treaty”: Nicaragua rejects the text and Contadora enters an impasse.
This brief summary of the main developments between the “Revised Treaty” and the “Peace Treaty” shows the pressures from the US to impose a neo-Monroe Doctrine on Nicaragua and Latin America, and Nicaragua’s efforts to invoke Simón Bolívar’s aspirations for a truly independent and united Latin America, in this case by strengthening Contadora.
Contadora has oscillated, according to its own interests, between the two tendencies. Within Contadora, Mexico and Venezuela have consistently been the most at odds. This was why the group was unable to come up with a common position on the embargo, and why it failed to condemn the Reagan administration’s request for $14 million for the counterrevolution, even though both violated Contadora’s basic objectives. It was also why the Contadora nations did not jointly call on the US to return to the talks at Manzanillo, and why they agreed to work basic changes into the “Revised Treaty” of 1984, even while still claiming that they would only accept minor modifications, for “refinement.”
Contadora, however, has also played a positive role as a retaining wall: it has provided a bulwark against invasion, against a direct military solution, although not against the intervention that has occurred. This led Nicaraguan Vice President Ramírez to say that “The importance of Contadora should be measured in what it has avoided rather than in what it has accomplished.”
Nicaragua, conscious of this reality, continues its firm support of Contadora’s mediation. It has yielded on many points, as was shown by its acceptance of the “Revised Treaty.” It has sought to strengthen Contadora in the face of US pressure, as in the events summarized above; but it is not prepared to give in on points that attack its sovereignty, as was shown by its rejection of the last proposal by Contadora. Nicaragua cannot continue making concessions without obtaining something in exchange. The US has ceded nothing; on the contrary, it continues to provide more arms to the counterrevolutionary forces (the SAM-7 missiles in the hands of the FDN are the latest example). This general context explains the difference in the text of the two treaties.
Comparison of the texts of the Revised Treaty (RT) of September 27, 1984 and the Peace and Cooperation Treaty (PT) of September 12, 1985
In the comparison of the texts we will limit ourselves to the points that contain the fundamental differences with respect to the commitments on military maneuvers, on armaments and troops, and on foreign military advisor, as well as Part II of the Final Provisions and the Additional Protocols.
Commitments on military maneuversRT: 16. On matters referring to military maneuvers [the parties shall] subject themselves to the following provisions:
a) In the event that national or joint military maneuvers are carried out in areas less than 30 km from the border, the corresponding prior notification should be given to the bordering countries and the Verification and Control Commission, referred to in Part II of the present draft, at least 30 days in advance.
17. [The parties shall] prohibit the carrying out of international military maneuvers in their respective territories. All maneuvers of this kind must be suspended within a period of no more than 30 days after the signing of the present Treaty.
PT: 16. On matters related to national military maneuvers, [the parties shall] subject themselves to the following provisions, effective upon the signing of the present Treaty:
a) In the event that national military maneuvers are carried out within less than 30 km of another state, the corresponding prior notification to the [other] remaining states and the Verification and Control Commission referred to in Part II of the present Treaty, shall be required at least thirty (30) days in advance.
17. With a view to their elimination, [the parties shall] reduce the maneuvers that imply the participation of armed forces from other states.
2) Beginning with the signing of the present Treaty and until their proscription, international military maneuvers must abide by the following previsions: [in summary]
a) Non-intimidating in nature;
b) Notification of the member States and the Verification and Control Commission ninety (90) days in advance.
4) [The parties shall] proscribe international military maneuvers once the maximum limits on arms and troops agreed upon by the parties according to the relevant sections of point 19 in Chapter III have been reached.
The Revised Treaty talks about prohibiting the carrying out of international military maneuvers, while the Peace Treaty says only that “with a view to their elimination” maneuvers must be reduced. Once the Peace Treaty is signed, and until these international maneuvers are proscribed, they will be subject to a series of norms regulating their implementation. They will not be proscribed, however, until a maximum limit on arms and troops has been agreed on by the parties and achieved.
What this means is that the absence of prohibition allows for the continual presence of US forces in the area and the implementation of military maneuvers with their Central American allies. This qualitatively increases the military power of the regional armies, helps prepare the conditions for a direct intervention and keeps Nicaragua in a continual state of alert and tension, increasing the drain on the country’s resources. Nicaragua could obviously make use of such maneuvers in its territory to improve its own defense capacity, but to do so would be to deny its stated commitment to peace, and would only risk provoking a US invasion “justified” by the presence of foreign troops in its territory.
Commitments on arms and personnelRT: 21. [The parties shall] send to the Verification and Control Commission their respective current inventories of arms, installations and armed troops within a period of no more than 30 days from the date of the signing of the present Treaty. The inventories will be drawn up in accordance with the definitions and basic outline agreed upon in the Annex and Point 22 of the present section. Upon receiving the inventories, and in a period not greater than 30 days, the Commission will make a technical study which will serve to determine the maximum limits of military strength for the countries of the region, taking account of national security interests, and to control the arms buildup.
The First Stage: After the respective inventories have been delivered, the parties will have to suspend all acquisition of military equipment. The moratorium will be in effect until limits are established in the next stage.
The Second Stage: The parties will, within a maximum period of 30 days, establish limits on armaments.
The Third Stage: Once the previous stage is concluded and within a period of not more than 30 days, limits will be established on military personnel as well as installations with possible bellicose applications.
22. In this determination of the levels of military strength of the Central American States, studies should be done which include the following aspects in a comprehensive form: geographical characteristics and situation, and geopolitical position.
PT: 19. From the date of the signing of the Treaty, [the parties shall] suspend all acquisition of war materials, except resupplies and parts, and not increase their military troops while the maximum limits on military strength are being established, within the period stipulated for the second stage.
c) Within the 60 days following the signing of the Treaty, the Verification and Control Commission will conclude technical studies and will suggest to the Signatories the maximum limits of their military strength.
Second Stage: After 60 days following the signing of the Treaty, the parties will establish, within the next 30 days:
a) The maximum limits on the types of armaments.
b) The maximum limits on military personnel at each party’s disposal, and the schedules for their reduction on removal.
c) If the parties do not reach an agreement on the above-mentioned maximum limits and schedules, those suggested by the Commission and its studies will be provisionally in effect. The Verification and Control Commission will assist the parties in continuing negotiations in an effort to reach an agreement.
In examining the texts, three differences are particularly clear:
1) In the 1984 draft, the moratorium on arms acquisition takes effect after the delivery of inventories, which itself takes place within 30 days of the signing of the treaty. In the 1985 draft, the moratorium takes effect at the moment of signing. On the other hand, the period for increasing military personnel is extended to 90 days in the 1985 draft.
2) In the event that the parties do not reach an agreement, under the Revised Treaty the parties themselves would solve their differences in a sovereign manner, while the second draft introduces the Verification and Control Commission as the final arbiter.
3) In the 1984 draft, it is established that in order to determine the levels of military strength, it is necessary to take into account the “geographical characteristics and situation and the geopolitical position.” These criteria are not mentioned in the 1985 draft.
All this puts Nicaragua at a disadvantage with respect to the other military forces in the area and reduces its ability to resist an eventual direct US invasion.
Commitments on Foreign Military Advisers:RT: 27. [The parties shall] establish a gradual schedule with a view to the elimination of military advisers and other foreign elements, which includes the immediate withdrawal of those advisers working in operations and training. To this end the studies and recommendations of the Verification and Control Commission will be taken into account.
PT: 27. [The parties shall] withdraw military advisers and other foreign elements capable of participating in military, paramilitary or security activities with a period of 180 days from the signing of the Treaty in accordance with the Verification and Control Commission’s studies.
The 1985 draft introduces a new concept by adding to the withdrawal of military advisers, the withdrawal of “other foreign elements capable of participating in military, paramilitary or security activities.” This addition lends itself to evident confusions and contradictions by being extremely vague and imprecise. It is not coincidental that this phrase, like others referred to earlier, appeared in the Tegucigalpa treaty draft drawn up by El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica in October 1984. It was these inclusions which led the Reagan administration to congratulate itself for having “effectively blocked” the work of Contadora.
Final provisions and protocolIt is significant that in the final provisions of the Peace Treaty, despite the fact that it is a legal instrument, no system for lodging grievances is established. This is singularly important in that a country’s non-compliance with its obligations threatens the national security of the country or countries affected by the non-compliance.
All these elements indicate that the Contadora Group has yielded on substantial points. Above all, Protocols II and III as they appear in the Peace Treaty demonstrate that Contadora has not been able to overcome its fear of demanding that the United States stop attempting to scuttle any peace agreement. The United States would not assume any formal obligation in the event that the Central American countries eventually reach an accord.
The differences between the Revised Treaty (1984) and the Peace Treaty (1985) taken as a whole provoked Nicaragua’s negative response and explain Contadora’s impasse. Only greater resolve on the part of the Latin American countries, in the tradition of Bolívar, will be able to confront the Reagan administration’s arrogant application of the Monroe tradition. In the meantime, Nicaragua presses forward with its successful attack on the US mercenary forces, in order to make a future dialogue with the US possible on a dignified footing, and thus to be able to forge a true peace treaty that will change the course of the Central American region.