Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 26 | Agosto 1983



U.S. Military Exercises Threaten Central American Peace

On its fourth anniversary the Sandinista revolution finds itself in one of its tensest moments in the last four years. The most important cry during the celebrations was the struggle for peace, which is to say, the struggle for survival. NEWS ANALYSIS: JULY 5 - AUGUST 5, 1983

Envío team

The fourth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution was celebrated amid great joy and extreme tenseness. While the slogan for the day was “To the people… the arms!”, the theme was the search for peace. As the revolution begins its fifth year, the situation is critical. The search for peace is in a much broader sense a search for survival.

The six-point peace plan offered by the FSLN on July 19, which contained several important concessions, can thus be seen as a dramatic effort by Nicaragua to avoid a regional war. It was also the first concrete response made to the Contadora group’s declaration after the meeting in Cancun on July 16-17.

Cancun seemed to indicate a “resurrection” of the Contadora group. However, the following meeting at the end of July in Panama proved that to be an overly optimistic assessment. The other Central America countries, following U.S. dictates, did not demonstrate the same determination to seek peaceful solutions as did the Contadora group and Nicaragua.

Honduras and the U.S. have assumed complementary positions. The Honduran government minimized the role of the Contadora group and rejected the FSLN proposal. The U.S. pays lip-service to the Contadora group and disparages the FSLN proposal, trying to discredit it with references to Nicaragua’s violation of “contracts” with the OAS.

In addition, when the administration named Kissinger to head the newly formed bipartisan commission, it was a strong signal that a national consensus was sought for a military solution in the region.

But it was the arrival of the warships in the waters off the coasts of Central America that sent the clearest signal. These, combined with the initiation of massive joint U.S.–Honduran military exercises in Honduras, would appear to be the first steps toward a direct U.S. military intervention.

Neither the passage of the Boland–Zablocki bill in the House of Representatives nor the voice of opposition in the Senate, led by Senators Kennedy, Hart and Markey, have succeeded in changing the course the course of the Reagan administration’s policies.


On this Fourth Anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, the almost childlike euphoria of the First Anniversary was gone. Nor were there announcements of new legal organizational measures or social changes such as in 1981, when the government announced the Agrarian Reform and the Decapitalization Laws. Also absent was any structural reorganization such as the 1982 decentralization project, intended to bring better planning, less bureaucracy and more dynamism to government structures.

This July 19 was fundamentally different. It centered around an intense but mature and well thought out peace proposal for the region. "War is imminent" had been heard for several months. "The war is beginning" was now being said. Four years after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship, the principal concern of the Nicaraguan government and the people was how to stop this war and cling to peace.

The 600 Nicaraguans who have died on the northern and southern borders so far this year as a result of contra activities represent a tremendous loss to the country. What would a war with Honduras and/or a prolonged resistance against a direct U.S. military intervention mean?

In contrast to previous anniversaries where the focal point of the festivities was the most pressing social demands, this year the demand was survival and the fight for that survival.


Before the meeting in Cancun, there had been a visible decline in activities generated by the Contadora group. In addition, anti Nicaraguan statements by General Paredes of Panama, as well as increased U.S. pressures on the Contadora countries, indicated that the group's days were numbered.

In the middle of July, after returning from a trip to Spain, the Dominican Republic and Panama, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto appealed to the Contadora group to step up their efforts because of the imminent danger that a regional war would obliterate their mediating and peace making role.

In a somewhat surprising move, the President of Mexico, the country that leads Latin America in support of Nicaragua, called for a meeting of the presidents of the Contadora nations (rather than the foreign ministers) for July 16 17. The results of the meeting indicated a "momentary revival" of Contadora. The final declaration was an explicit challenge to the international community, especially the Central American countries most directly involved, "to support and strengthen the road to political understanding in a decisive manner by encouraging constructive solutions or to sit back and watch the factors which could lead to even more dangerous armed confrontations increase."

The Cancun document also called for:
+ Observing the principles that govern international relations;
+ Reaching agreements to control the arms race in Central America;
+ Eliminating foreign advisors;
+ Creating demilitarized zones;
+ Prohibiting the use of the national territory of one country to be used for political or military destabilizing
activities by another country;
+ Eradicating arms traffic;
+ Prohibiting other forms of aggression or interference in the internal affairs of countries in the region.

In order to accomplish this, the Contadora group proposed ten different types of agreements and commitments.


In response to the Contadora's proposal the FSLN centered the anniversary speech on July 19 around some rather surprising proposals. In addition to accepting multilateral negotiations as a vehicle for resolving the regional crisis (modifying their earlier insistence on bilateral negotiations), the FSLN set forth six key points toward implementing the Contadora group's plan.


1- The immediate signing of a non-aggression pact with Honduras.

2- The absolute cessation of all arms shipments by any nation to the conflicting forces in El Salvador, so that that nation can resolve its problems without outside interference.

3- The cessation of military aid to the opposing forces of any Central American government.

4- The absolute respect for the self-determination of the Central American peoples and for the non-interference in the internal affairs of each country.

5- The cessation of aggression and of economic discrimination toward any Central American country.

6- The prohibition of foreign military bases in Central America as well as the suspension of military exercises in the area in which foreign troops participate.

Once agreements are reached through the assistance of the Contadora group and signed by the respective nations, compliance should be supervised by the U.N. Security Council, as it is the highest international organization for insuring world peace.


Earlier, Nicaragua had conditioned any move toward negotiations on the insistence that they be bilateral: between Nicaragua and Honduras and between Nicaragua and the U.S. Although in various international forums, Nicaragua continued to demonstrate its willingness to participate in any type of dialogue in the search for an effective peace, its decision to accept multilateral negotiations within the framework of the Contadora group represented an important departure from previous positions.

Another important point was the absolute cessation of all military aid to the forces in conflict in El Salvador. The continual accusation, although never substantiated, by the Reagan administration that Nicaragua supports the guerrillas in El Salvador militarily has hung like Damocles’ sword over hopes for regional peace. Even though Nicaragua has repeatedly denied this military assistance, this explicit position of the FSLN can be seen as a "concession" in an attempt to calm the explosive regional situation.

“We have proposed peace, in other words, we are willing to discuss whatever is necessary to salvage peace,” said Tomas Borge in a public speech on July 24. He added, “The National Directorate spent an entire week discussing the measures presented by Daniel Ortega on July 19, until we reached the sensible conclusion that it was necessary to take bold steps in the area of negotiations.

“Out of that came the proposal regarding multilateral negotiations and the matter of the supposed arms flow to El Salvador. … Proof has never been presented that the Nicaraguan government sends arms to the revolutionaries in El Salvador. We are not going to insist that they present the proof. We simply include it as a point for negotiation, since apparently it is what most irritates the sensibilities of the U.S. government. But let no one believe that we are condemning the Salvadoran revolutionaries to isolation. They do not need nor will they need arms from Nicaragua. As even those in primary school in this country know, revolutions are not exported. … We are and will be unfalteringly supportive of the efforts for victory and peace of the El Salvadoran people.”


Some analysts might see the new Nicaraguan position as an indication of a certain weakness in the revolutionary process. However, the fact that these points were announced before 150,000 persons, in a country which is well organized and mobilized, as well as prepared for the worst possible aggressions, invalidates that assumption. What was paramount in the decision was the serious conviction that it could be the last chance to avoid war in the region. In addition, these concessions eliminate the excuse or the justifications that could be used as a pretext for an intervention. The situation is too tense and war is too likely for Nicaragua to risk any appearance of responsibility for initiating a war that it does not want.


Multilateral negotiations could have negative repercussions for Nicaragua. The revolution in El Salvador could be presented as similar to the counterrevolutionary attacks against Nicaragua. The FMLN could be equated with the groups of Somocista ex National Guard. Hasty and meaningless elections, such as those being pushed in El Salvador, could be insisted upon, even though since the end of 1981 Nicaragua has been preparing for representative elections in 1985. What could be even worse is that Central America's problems could be united in such a way that, if the negotiations failed, one solution – U.S. military intervention in the region – would be justified.


The speed with which events happened this month moved the political ball from one court to the other in rapid succession. Until the middle of July, the Reagan administration had the diplomatic offensive. Then the Cancun and FSLN proposals switched the ball to the other court. Now the U.S. and their regional allies must reassess their plans in light of the new situation.

The Foreign Ministers of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras met on July 19 in Guatemala City. The only outcome of the meeting was individual statements by some of the participants which criticized the Contadora and treated the FSLN proposals with disdain. Apparently, the meeting was held to solidify the anti Nicaraguan bloc and to prevent vacillations in light of the new proposals. The first concrete expression of this solidification was the position which these Foreign Ministers took at the following meeting of the Contadora group at the end of July. The lack of any significant progress there resulted in large part from the closed attitude of those four countries toward concretizing plans or deepening discussions. Upon his return, D'Escoto said that this attitude faithfully represents a submissive and obedient position to the decisions of U.S. foreign policy. This is the basis for a rather pessimistic assessment of any real possibilities for peace.


In addition to allowing its territory to become the site of a new U.S. military base in Central America (the new Panama?), Honduras's actions reflect the high level of dependence on the U.S. mentioned earlier.

After rejecting the FSLN proposal, Honduras sent an official high level delegation on a trip through the Southern Cone seeking political support from the dictatorships of that region. In Chile, one member of the Honduran delegation mentioned the possibility of invoking the Rio Treaty (TIAR) to resolve the Central American conflict.

On July 26 in Tegucigalpa, John Vessey, head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was decorated by the Honduran government. On that occasion, Honduran President Suazo Cordova stated that "at this critical time in Central America" the collaboration between the armies of Honduras and the United States is "necessary and urgent for the sake of peace, democracy, security and economic and social progress."

A few days earlier, the Honduran representative in the OAS, Martinez Ordoñez, had severely denounced Nicaragua and reiterated the proposal that regional problems be dealt by that organization


What has characterized U.S. policy toward Nicaragua and the region most recently has been a quantitative and qualitative increase in diplomatic and military aggression.

The ManeuversIn the third week of July, after the Contadora group and FSLN proposals, U.S. naval movement toward Central America began. A few days later, President Reagan confirmed these military maneuvers in a press conference. Administration officials hastened to insist that the actions were "routine" and that they did not constitute intervention in Central America.

More than 20,000 U.S. military personnel and 17 warships (including aircraft carriers with 70 planes each) will be in Honduras or off the coasts of Central America from August to January (some reports say March) of 1984. The joint maneuvers will include a series of naval and land exercises, some of which will take place barely 20 km. from Nicaragua.

The most common hypotheses regarding these maneuvers are:

+ They constitute the first step in an incipient intervention – a taking of positions;

+ They are only a show of force to intimidate Nicaragua and the liberation movement in El Salvador;

+ They are an effective way to impose the conditions of the Reagan administration for negotiations;

+ They are a barometer to measure international receptivity or rejection and to calculate the political cost of a later, more open intervention;

+ They are a means to prove the Moscow-Cuban-Managua-Salvadoran guerrilla axis.

The hypotheses all have a common denominator the Reagan administration's move toward more direct involvement in Central America. Each hypothesis includes the premise that the administration will not accept any questioning or setbacks in its efforts to restore the regional hegemony which it considers vital to its geopolitical security. "If we cannot handle Central America, it will be impossible to convince threatened countries in the Persian Gulf and other areas that we know how to handle the world balance of power," affirmed Henry Kissinger recently to Public Opinion.

Diplomatic PostureThe risks and possible negative costs, both domestic and foreign, that would arise from the commitment of troops demand that the administration find diplomatic justifications to accompany and soften such actions.

At the same time that the administration expressed "support" for the Contadora Cancun declaration and sent Special Envoy Richard Stone to Central America, it rejected the possibility of establishing peace in Central America while the Sandinistas remain in power in Nicaragua. Asked about regional stability while the Sandinistas remain, President Reagan replied, "I think it'd be extremely difficult because I think they're being subverted or they're being directed by outside forces." (New York Times, July 22, 1983).

The Contadora group bases its efforts for peace in the area on cooperation between governments. The U.S. conditions it on the overthrow of the Sandinista government, which certainly subverts the Contadora group's efforts.

In an attempt to discredit the six points of the Nicaraguan proposal, the Reagan administration began a "new and creative" propaganda campaign against Nicaragua. "How can we trust the Nicaraguan proposal if in four years the Sandinistas have not fulfilled the contract they made with the OAS in June of 1979?" asked U.S. official Nestor Sanchez on the Voice of America. This accusation was repeated several times during the week of July 20 27. This "failure to fulfill past commitments" would invalidate the present peace proposal, according to that logic. The commitments referred to were the results of the l7th meeting of the Permanent Advisory Board of the OAS on June 23, 1979. The resolution called for the immediate and definitive replacement of the Somoza regime and the installation of a government which represented all Nicaraguans, the search for a climate of respect for human rights and the celebration of elections as soon as possible. The Nicaraguan representative, a Somocista official, voted against the resolution.

The Government of National Reconstruction did not sign this agreement, as Somoza had not yet been overthrown. Dan Cento, OAS press officer, refuted the charges of President Reagan and others in the administration. Cento was subsequently "placed on special leave."

A little more than a year ago, during the Malvinas conflict, the U.S. opposed the OAS role, dismissing the organization's support for Argentina. The U.S. attitude in that moment caused the most serious crisis in the inter American organization in the last twenty years. It is thus quite significant that the administration now resorts to supposed "commitments contracted in this organism" in order to discredit Nicaragua.

The U.S. is presently trying to convert the Contadora group into an appendage of the OAS, even though the U.N. Security Council in its meeting in May, 1983, recognized unanimously the validity of dealing with the Central American crisis within the U.N. On that occasion, even the U.S. representative voted in favor of that resolution.

Kissinger: A "New" Face for an Old PolicyAnother development during the past month was that Reagan named Henry Kissinger to head a "bipartisan" commission to formulate a long range policy for Central America. Reagan's severe criticism of Kissinger during his electoral campaign was forgotten.

Kissinger is known principally for his role in international politics, most recently in Vietnam. His commission will include both Democrats and Republicans. one of the chief advisors will be Harry Schlaudman, U.S. official during the Allende years in Chile and former Ambassador to Argentina during the Malvinas conflict.

It would appear that the primary purpose of the Kissinger Commission is to establish and promote a bipartisan consensus for the implementation of Reagan's policies in Central America policies which are increasingly bellicose. If the purpose had been what was stated to look for a better understanding of Central American problems the commission would have preceded the military maneuvers. The consensus being sought appears to be domestic backing for a military option.

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people,” expressed Kissinger in 1970, referring to Chile, before President Nixon’s “40” Committee on National Security.

According to some observers, Kissinger's Commission will also work out a type of Marshall Plan for Central America, such as was implemented in Europe after World War II.

Criticisms from international public opinion and from the press have multiplied since the creation of the Commission. The New York Times stated on July 20, “If the former Secretary of State is wanted to supply a sense of global perspective to two years of panicky military responses, a lot of Reagan rhetoric and C.I.A. plotting are going to have to be artfully buried. If, however, he is wanted mainly to polish up a failing policy, he will again provide only the verbal gloss for a destructive foreign venture."

The military maneuvers, the rhetorical treatment of the Contadora group, the unreasonable rejection of the Nicaraguan proposal and the characteristics of the Kissinger Commission demonstrate that the Reagan administration's hard line policy is gaining momentum.

The passage of the Boland Zablocki bill shows a House of Representatives which is not united and, at present, critical. But neither it nor the Senate bill proposed by a group of Democrats can stop the move toward intervention. They represent the position of those who want to disassociate themselves from a bloodbath in the region, but neither group has sufficient strength in the U.S. power structure to be decisive.

The many indications of war cannot be dismissed and the incubation period of the war is already a sad reality.


What are the effects of this incipient war inside Nicaragua?. How are the different social sectors reacting? How does the effort for peace reconcile itself with preparations for combat? In other words, does this budding war consolidate or weaken national unity? The answers to these questions are essential to understand the present situation.

At a working class levelThere has been a great deal of mobilizing activity in the last few months. In rural areas, there have been two distinct and complementary areas of emphasis: the increase in the giving over of land through the Agrarian Reform, and the demand by campesinos that the national financial system eradicate their debts. Both of these have increased organization and participation at the grass roots level.

Among urban workers, the principal activity has been the discussion of proposals which would eliminate the unjust salary scale, which particularly jeopardizes productive sectors and favors service workers. Within this framework, the active resurgence of the Nicaraguan Union Coordinating Committee is important.

At a neighborhood and village level, the activism which was evident around July 19 was expressed in new organizational proposals. Beginning in August, the CDSs will be organized along the geographic lines that exist in the state apparatus. This will simplify the present organizational structure and will insure, according to CDS leaders, the ability to confront quickly major problems such as shortages of basic foods, control of public offices, etc.

Regarding military structures, the creation of territorial militias, with the formation of the first three battalions in Managua, is a significant advance. This new program will organize the militias geographically. A factory worker who formerly was incorporated into the factory militia will now be integrated into his/her neighborhood militia. The factory will be guarded by militia from the local area. Along with this reorganization, the proposed Patriotic Military Service Law will be presented to the Council of State on August 10 and will also be aimed at consolidating defense. The decision to fight for peace, yet prepare to defend it, is an ongoing Sandinista theme.

Other Sectors.In the third week of July, the opposition Ramiro Sacasa Coordinating Committee (which includes two union confederations, three political parties and some business organizations) after a long period of silence spoke out against the U.S. military maneuvers. At the same time it praised the common points in the proposals by the Contadora group and the FSLN.

Similarly, the opposition Confederation of Professionals commented on the potential war: "There would be neither winners nor losers. The winner would gain a country totally destroyed physically and socially." It rejected anything that would lead to such a war and supported the Contadora proposal.

On August 5, the Social Democratic party (part of the Coordinating Committee) called for a restructuring of the Government Junta and the Council of State. Interestingly, it was other opposition parties, among them the Conservative Democrat party, which led the criticism of this petition, calling it an attempted coup and discrediting its validity.

On the ecclesiastical level, there were condemnations of aggression against Nicaragua from various Christian groups and communities, both Catholic and Protestant. However, these condemnations were not echoed within the Catholic hierarchy, which continued its absolute silence regarding attacks on the country.

In the legislative area, in spite of regional tensions, the debate on the Political Parties Law continued and is nearing passage. There are indications that work will begin soon on the Electoral Law.


While in some sectors of the U.S. public, there is a growing concern over the possibility of a repetition of Vietnam, in Nicaragua, for the most part, different sectors are coming together in defense of the national sovereignty. Defense of one's country and nationalism subjugated here for so many centuries becomes primordial in time of outside aggression.

The political, labor and business opposition are now expressing their opposition to the threats. A war would affect them along with the rest of Nicaragua. The bullets and bombs would not distinguish between Sandinistas and opposition. The costs, as CONAPRO pointed out, will be paid by everyone and a new reconstruction will be very hard to implement.

Thus national unity has been strengthened as a result of the aggressive policies suffered by the country. And that unity has also caused difficulties among the more reactionary opposition, which finds itself at a difficult crossroads.

In the midst of external preparations for war by the United States and Honduras, Nicaragua has visibly demonstrated its willingness to negotiate. All the elements which the Reagan administration insisted upon have been laid out for discussion. The Contadora group is prepared to mediate. Warships and troops have been Reagan's answer. Nicaragua's hope is that somehow it is still not too late to change the course upon which the Reagan administration has embarked.

Print text   

Send text

<< Previous   Next >>


U.S. Military Exercises Threaten Central American Peace

Honduras: From Banana Republic to U.S. Military garrison a Visit to Puerto Castilla's military center

Agrarian Reform in El Salvador and Nicaragua Pacification or liberation?
Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America