Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 35 | Mayo 1984



Full-Scale Baffle against Destabilization

Envío team

American presence in Central America and the Caribbean peaked during April with the launching of three overlapping military maneuvers: “Granadero I,” “Ocean Venture 84” and “Guardians of the Gulf.” These maneuvers confirm Reagan’s vision of Central America as “vital to our interests and security” (radio speech, 1/4/84). With no less than 33,000 US troops occupying the most strategic points in the region, this military presence provides the logistical base for the mining of Nicaraguan ports, constant espionage flights and supplying counterrevolutionary groups to shore up their current offensive.

However, the consolidation of this military strategy has provoked strong international criticism, as well as contradictions and conflict within the United States. Faced with Nicaragua’s claim against the US government before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, the Reagan administration refused to recognize the court’s jurisdiction. This decision sparked domestic criticism and further strained the bipartisan consensus sought by the Kissinger Commission.

Consequently, Reagan launched a new two-pronged diplomatic offensive against Nicaragua, an attempt to pressure and paralyze Contadora through the joint position presented by El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica—regional allies of the United States—and an effort to further deteriorate relations between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. This would justify greater US military presence in Costa Rica in the future and fence Nicaragua in further.

In the April 30 Contadora meeting, Nicaragua tried to counter this attack, following official visits to Mexico by Comandantes Núñez and Ruíz and Foreign Minister D’Escoto. In an effort to defuse artificially explosive relations with Costa Rica, Nicaraguan authorities proposed on May 4 an urgent dialogue between the two countries.

The threatening US military presence in the region and the latest diplomatic offensives were accompanied by continued contra attacks. This offensive, launched in March, has had ever more serious consequences in both human and economic terms for Nicaragua. Domestically, political parties held fast to the conditions they had stipulated for their participation in the electoral process. Within this framework the pastoral Letter of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference further intensified an ongoing debate and hindered national unity.

In the face of a global strategy to force Nicaragua to “surrender,” the FSLN and the government warned that stricter measures would be taken against the “internal front’s divisionism, obscurantism and economic speculation. They announced the possible implementation of a war economy, which would fight against destabilization.

The three regional maneuvers and the mining of the ports

Much of Central America and the Caribbean is presently occupied by US military maneuvers. “Granadero I2, taking place in two important areas of Honduras, will enter its second and most dangerous phase May 23-25, when the “exercises” will be conducted only 8 km from the border with Nicaragua. “Ocean Venture 84,” to be launched off the small Puerto Rican Island of Viesques, east of Cuba, will begin to take place May 20-24. More than 30,000 soldiers from all branches of the US military will participate, together with numerous warships and 250 aircraft. Neither the fishermen’s reactions nor demonstrations by Puerto Rican independence activists to oppose the maneuvers had much effect.

The “Guardians of the Gulf” maneuvers began unexpectedly on April 26. These maneuvers in the Gulf of Fonseca—common waters in the Pacific to El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua—heightened Nicaragua’s concern. Participating together with the US destroyers Deyo and Reid, are Honduran troops stationed on the Isla del Tigre and at the Ampala base. Also participating are Salvadoran soldiers, at La Union Port. For the past several months, the US government has contended that the Gulf of Fonseca is Nicaragua’s channel for sending arms to Salvadoran guerrillas. However, even with the powerful US radar installed on the Isla del Tigre, and round-the-clock surveillance from US ships, the accusation has never been proved. These are publicly presented as an attempt to detect the alleged arms flow.

“Guardians of the Gulf” is particularly significant, not so much because of the number of soldiers involved—which are relatively few—as because of the strategic importance of their location. Already one of the tensest zones in the region, certain factors have increased the tension even more: a) the maneuvers were not scheduled, b) they were not previously announced, c) they were very hastily assembled and d) there is little difference between a “training exercise,” and a “military operation” in the event that something unforeseeable should arise in the region. Referring to “Granero I,” American ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte stated on April 10 that “the maneuvers are intended as a message for neighboring Nicaragua and insurgents in El Salvador.”

Some of the consequences of the semi-occupation promoted by the Reagan administration include a show of force through the maneuvers, the bases and supplies to remain in the region, reconnaissance flights (especially of the U-2 aircraft) and logistical support for the contras (for example, the March 23 crash in Costa Rica of the Douglas DC-3 that was supplying ARDE forces).

The evident CIA involvement in the mining of Nicaraguan ports drew world attention in March as another example of this policy. On May 2, the Nicaraguan fishing boat Pedro Araúz exploded in the Corinto harbor upon hitting a mine. It is nuclear whether this was a new mine or one of the 600 placed during February and March.

The Nicaraguan diplomatic offensive in March included a renewed appeal to Contadora and a denunciation in the United Nations Security Council. This continued at the beginning of April, along with a third phase: the claim brought against the US government at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The fact that a small Latin American Country used all means available to protest American aggression was accompanied by a wave of international repudiation, if only rhetorical. This represented a temporary diplomatic setback and domestic political cost for the Reagan administration. Polls such as that of The New York Times (April 27) indicated increased domestic opposition to Reagan’s policies toward Central America.

The April 10 communiqué signed by Shultz, Weinberger, Casey and McFarlane stating that the US government was not planning or preparing an invasion of Nicaragua or any Central American country exemplifies some defensiveness on the part of the executive branch. Nevertheless, the communiqué drew the extreme conclusion that only two options remain for Central America: “communism” or current American policy. This document was a response to extensive criticism of Reagan by major US newspapers and debates and dissension in Congress about Central American Policy.

After the resignation of Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Senator Moynihan in protest of CIA misinformation, the committee and Casey reconciled their differences, on the condition that the CIA provide more detailed information on covert activities.

Reagan’s Central America policy caused him some difficulty in April. Within the United States and abroad, however, he launched new offensives to ratify his strong stand in the region. In mid-April, two important spokespeople for the Administration—Kirkpatrick and Kissinger—refuted criticism of the United States by attempting to justify the mining of Nicaraguan ports. Kirkpatrick affirmed that “the action is legal because Nicaragua is carrying out armed activities against her neighbors.” She added that the US should not alter this policy just when “the mining is beginning to disrupt the Nicaraguan economy.” Kissinger criticized those who do not realize that Nicaragua could become “another Cuba.”

This policy of “attacking to defend” partly explains the rejection of Nora Astorga as Nicaragua’s ambassador to Washington, a rejection based on Astorga’s involvement in the killing of a Nicaraguan CIA collaborator during the insurrection. The same “offensive” also sheds light on the harsh criticism of France for offering to help sweep the mines from Nicaraguan ports. The premature publicity given to French Foreign Minister Cheysson’s letter to Columbia, outlining the offer, diminished its diplomatic effectiveness.

Attempts to divert public attention away from Central America, in part by President Reagan’s widely-publicized trip to China, did not succeed. This led the administration to change its strategy from avoiding the debate to initiating it. The administration placed critics and opponents on the defensive with arguments such as that found in The Wall Street Journal on April 10: “Can the United States remain quiet while Central America turns toward totalitarian communism?”

Concerned that it would be questioned for convoking the War Powers Act to intervene militarily in Central America (as happened in Lebanon), the Reagan administration presented a bill to combat “terrorism,” that would authorize “preventative” actions against possible terrorist activities by striking at their points of origin. If approved, this law would allow unlimited action to be carried out anywhere at any time.

The administration’s warmongering in Central America peaked in April with the escalating US military presence in the region. Considering all Central American countries, including Panama, its national territory, the administration is attempting to justify military deployment, aid to “friendly” groups and governments and the mining of Nicaraguan ports, all to defend “national security.” This ideology sharply conflicts with Nicaragua’s concept of “national sovereignty” and “self determination.” Based on this confrontation, Nicaragua has appealed to the International Court of Justice for an end to the aggression.

International repudiation of the mining together with Nicaragua’s diplomatic offensive at The Hague have heightened certain contradictions between Congress and the CIA, between Reagan and the CIA, between Reagan and the press and between Reagan and his allies (as seen in Margaret Thatcher’s critical statement in parliament). Because of common interests and bilateral agreements between the US and many of these countries, however, these points of difference with European allies did not lead to concrete support for Nicaragua.

Nor did the contradictions mentioned above prevent the administration from taking new initiatives. Although still on the defensive, the administration launched new counter-attacks, devising a Central America policy against Nicaragua using regional allies.

US diplomatic counteroffensive in the region:
The anti-Nicaraguan proposal to Contadora

Nicaragua’s special appeal to Contadora during March was a major factor in assuring that the nearly cancelled April 30 meeting actually did take place. According to the original schedule, a regional peace treaty was to be signed at that meeting. Even though it seemed unlikely that a treaty would be signed, this meeting was perceived as very important for advancing the dialogue for peace.

An emergency meeting of the four Contadora foreign ministers was held April 4 in Panama. This came at the urgent request of Nicaragua, which asked that special actions be taken in light of the worsening regional situation. The four ministers agreed that the region’s relations were rapidly deteriorating and condemned this mining of Nicaragua’s ports. They called for countries with ties and interests in the region to “demonstrate concretely their expressed support for Contadora” and asked the countries of the region to speed up the last phase of the commissions working to present proposals, studies and recommendations for the 30th. In an April visit by Mexican President De la Madrid to Venezuela, President Lusinchi proposed a meeting of the heads of the Contadora nations. This proposal was never taken up. Various news agencies announced days later that during the meeting between the Mexican Foreign Minister and Secretary of State George Shultz, the latter proposed a postponement of the April 30 meeting. This is not surprising considering the cold international climate toward the US caused by the mining of Nicaraguan ports. The meeting, however, was confirmed for April 30.

Faced with the failure to paralyze the Contadora process by postponing the meeting, a new tactic was employed: the public presentation of a document signed by the foreign ministers of El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras, all three US allies in Central America. Days later, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister D’Escoto defined the document as “a desperate step by the US,” adding that “Nicaragua was the only country to have presented concrete proposals before the meeting. Now, all of a sudden, these three countries presented a joint proposal formulated outside the framework of the talks in progress.”

The Group’s document has three sections: political, security and socioeconomic issues. It repeatedly stresses the need for Nicaragua to seek “national reconciliation,” indicating that Nicaragua should demonstrate its commitment to representative, pluralist and participatory democracy, recognizing the rights of all opposition groups, whether armed or not, to participate in a free and honest electoral process….” It urges Nicaragua to “create favorable conditions for citizens to participate in political, economic and social affairs” and to grant “amnesty that includes the pardoning of political crimes.” In addition, the document advocates “complete freedom of the press without prior censorship,” “the prohibition of a one-party regime and close ties between the party and state, the armed forces or paramilitary police units.” The last political demands made of Nicaragua are “that independent electoral organizations be established to guarantee individual rights.” Another series of “recommendations” addresses military and socioeconomic questions.

In this group’s position, there are formal elements and other more basic arguments. On the formal level, what is most surprising is that this document was presented parallel to the joint efforts of the five Central America nations. In effect, the document ignores months of work and progress by presenting a rigid and indisputable position. At the level of political rationale, it fails to take into account any of the steps taken by Nicaragua toward the elections. It ignores efforts made to set up effective independent electoral structures and to achieve peace in the country. The latter measures include amnesties granted to Miskitus and rank-and file counterrevolutionaries who lay down their arms.

Many of the demands the three Central American nations made on Nicaragua are similar to points in the December 1983 document by the Democratic Coordinating Body (the coalition of opposition political parties, trade unions and business associations in Nicaragua). Similarly, the theme of “reconciliation” coincides with the Pastoral Letter of the Bishops’ Conference, published three days earlier. None of the above declarations or documents take into account the aggression Nicaragua is enduring much less the origins of that aggression. The question remains, with what moral or political authority do regimes such as the Honduran or Salvadoran ones place conditions on Nicaragua’s domestic affairs, taking up the proposals of opposition sectors within Nicaragua?

The document presented by Nicaragua’s neighbors attempts to brake Contadora and partially turn back steps already taken by all countries in the region. This would demonstrate to the world that there is no diplomatic solution to the crisis; thus, the only recourse for Central America would be a military solution. Immediately following the document’s release, Comandante Carlos Núñez traveled to Mexico, followed days later by Comandante Henry Ruíz and Foreign Minister Miguel D’ Escoto. Although not stated publicly, these trips were presumably an attempt to reinforce Contadora, given efforts to undermine the process, and to ensure that the meeting scheduled for April 30 would actually be held. To achieve this, Nicaragua turned to the country that is its most sympathetic mediator in regional problems. While in Mexico, Núñez had a wide range of meetings: with President De la Madrid, the Mexican Congress (which issued a formal statement of support for Nicaragua) and leaders of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). These meetings seemed to consolidate political support for Nicaragua in Mexico. Foreign Minister Sepúlveda’s criticism of the three-nation document presented to Contadora coincided with Nicaragua’s view of the negotiation process.

When the April 30 meeting finally took place, consensus was reached on most of the points discussed (about 75%, according to some sources). Other aspects such as arms build-up and control in each country and military inventories were left open for further study and debate. It was decided that the Contadora Foreign Ministers would bring a peace proposal to the Central American nations on May 28. In the meantime, they would hold separate talks with Cuban and American leaders.

Tensions increase dramatically between Costa Rica and Nicaragua

The deterioration of relations between Costa Rica and Nicaragua reached unexpected levels at the beginning of May, when Costa Rican officials alluded to the possibility of breaking diplomatic relations. Relations between the two countries up until then had been normal, to the extent that a joint commission was working to resolve bilateral problems. It is thus hard to believe that the tensions actually originate from conflicts between those two countries.

Everything would indicate that the accelerating deterioration is in large part artificial and outside of the diplomatic relations and interests of the two countries, as indicated in the chronology of events. The tense climate, although not yet irreversible, appears to be part of a global strategy for regional destabilization that seeks to isolate Nicaragua.

This strategy has the backing of important sectors in Costa Rica who favor breaking that country’s commitment to “perpetual neutrality.” It is possible that this conflict was provoked by the series of events over the last month, which revealed the involvement of Certain Costa Rican government officials in the war being waged by ARDE against Nicaragua (the crash of the DC-3 aircraft, the attack on San Juan del Norte and the exposure of bribes that appeared in major US newspapers). The heightening diplomatic tension served to cover up the responsibility of certain sectors and provide further justification for their anti-Sandinista activity.

This degree of tension between the two neighboring countries is less puzzling if we ask who would gain from deteriorated bilateral relations. Nicaragua, constantly battling international isolation, perceives this “new conflict” as a new aggression. This tension could be used to justify the accelerated militarization of Costa Rica, which would greatly tighten the stranglehold on Nicaragua. Costa Rica’s “democratic and peaceful tradition” could be manipulated to present an image of a “country under attack,” fitting in with the international media campaign against Nicaragua.


4/4: Daniel Ortega responds to President Monge’s letter of March 27 in which the Costa Rican President questions Nicaragua’s position with respect to Costa Rica. “Since September 1983, mercenary forces have launched attacks against Nicaragua from Costa Rican territory, behind the government’s back.”

He lists as examples 11 major military operations carried out by anti-Sandinistas using Costa Rican territory, including the announced mining of a section of Lake Nicaragua. These actions constitute “an attempt to jeopardize Costa Rica’s neutrality, while simultaneously seeking to erode relations between the two countries.” Ortega proposes that dialogue be resumed within the framework of the joint commission.

9/4: An aircraft is reported to have crashed in northern Costa Rica, 20 km from the border with Nicaragua. The seven crew members killed (four of whom American) were transporting supplies to ARDE forces. Costa Rican Public Security Minister Angel Solano claims to have heard about the accident from press reports. The newspaper La Prensa Libre states that American and Costa Rican officials had been trying to track the plane for several days.

11/4: The Nicaraguan government sends two letters to its Costa Rican counterpart protesting the increased use of Costa Rican territory for anti-Sandinista operations. The missives refer to attacks against San Juan del Norte and call on Costa Rican authorities to regain control of that part of their border zone by disarming the aggressors.

14/4: Announcement that US warship NA-USS McInerney will arrive at Costa Rica’s Puerto Limón—very close to San Juan del Norte, where fighting continues. It is rumored that the ship will carry out “civilian tasks” in Costa Rica.

17/4: Nicaragua strongly urges Costa Rica not to allow “the US government and CIA to continue compromising Costa Rican territory and neutrality.”

23/4: The Costa Rican government accuses Nicaragua of two violations of Costa Rican territory in the region of La Pimienta. Nicaraguan Foreign Minister D’Escoto, refutes the charges. The New York Times publishes a report revealing bribes from anti-Sandinista groups to Costa Rican government officials. This sparks widespread public debate in Costa Rica.

24/4: ABC TV reports that CIA agents in Costa Rica have tripled in the last few days.

25/4: Nicaraguan soldiers captured in San Juan del Norte and taken to Costa Rica return home. Comandante Hugo Torrez criticizes Costa Rican officials for their lack of cooperation in facilitating the soldiers’ return.

26/4: Nicaraguan Deputy Foreign Minister José Talavera denounces Costa Rican government officials implicated in anti-Nicaraguan activities. Among them, Deputy Minister of the Interior Enrique Chacón is accused of being the liaison between the CIA and anti-Sandinista groups in Costa Rica.

27/4: The concluding document of the “International Conference of Labor Unions for Peace,” presented in Managua denounces the presence in Costa Rica of armed groups that enter Nicaragua to kill and destroy. Viewing this as proof of the lack of political will by the Costa Rican government to exercise its proclaimed policy of neutrality, the document calls for the expulsion of these bands. It also urges Costa Rica to deny entry to American military engineers, scheduled to arrive in November to begin work near the border with Nicaragua.

28/4: Costa Rican Public Security Minister, Angel Solano, denounces the dangerous presence in his country of sectors who are trying to create a climate for war. (La Nación of Costa Rica).

30/4: The Nicaraguan Ministry denounces the concentration since April 26 of mercenaries on the Costa Rican border and condemns attacks from Costa Rican territory against El Castillo and Cárdenas.

1/5: During May 1 ceremonies, Comandante Jaime Wheelock, referring to American military presence in the region, states that “there are four occupied countries: Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador.”

3/5: Incident at the Peñas Blancas border crossing. Costa Rica accuses Nicaragua of initiating the attack, while Nicaragua claims it was a “self-attack” by Costa Rica.

4/5: Regarding that conflict, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister D’Escoto notes the attempt to make Costa Rica into another Honduras: “We are not saying that this will occur or that it is President Monge’s desire, but that it is what the (US) administration would like to happen.” Nicaragua urgently proposes talks with Costa Rica.

5/5: News cables report that the first shipment of military aid from the US to Costa Rica was unloaded in Puerto Limón at the end of April. This shipment included 13 patrol boats, 30 jeeps and other material. The provisions are expected to total 80 vehicles, 2 helicopters, 25 patrol boats and assorted military equipment.

The Reagan Administration’s diplomatic offensive is trying to slow down or even paralyze Contadora’s efforts, which had been stepped up at Nicaragua’s request. The anti-Nicaragua regional coalition constitutes a serious provocation and is increasing the risk of war. Similar attempts made previously, such as the Central American Democratic Community and the Forum for Peace and Democracy, failed. There is currently the risk, however, that this type of regional action could undermine more serious peace efforts that are highly esteemed internationally. The coalition is trying to make Nicaragua appear the cause of discord in the region. Guatemala’s refusal to participate in these maneuverings, and the reiterated position of Mejía Víctores not to convoke CONDECA, are viewed as positive signs for Nicaragua. However, the electoral results in El Salvador and Panama may further consolidate the pro-American position, not only in the region but also within Contadora. To what extent will these maneuvers by the coalition interfere with peace efforts? How far is Contadora willing to go? How will Costa Rica react in the coming days to the attempts to increase tensions with Nicaragua? Will bilateral relations remain open, or have they irrevocably deteriorated? These questions, which will gradually be answered over the coming months, are closely related to the possibilities for peace or war in this conflictive region.

Nicaragua’s domestic situation:
The continuing anti-Sandinista military offensive

In the context of a complex regional situation and a notable deterioration of relations with the US administration, the Nicaraguan domestic scene was dominated this past month by further efforts at destabilization and the consequent governmental response.

The local press reported that part of the attacking forces had been defeated and that the contras had suffered at least 200 casualties over the last 30 days. The Nicaraguan army, however, did not claim to have completely neutralized this offensive, characterized as the largest in the last two years. The contra operations continued to be centered in the regions indicated in last month’s envío . A few operations, however, were highlighted, because of either their real importance or the international press coverage they generated. The recent taking of San Juan del Norte, a small town on the southeastern tip of the country, was presented to the international press as an overwhelming military victory. This fit into both Pastora’s publicity drive and the diplomatic offensive Robelo tried to achieve with his trip to Europe. A few days after the penetration of the 500 contras, however, the Sandinistas recovered the town, which had no economic or strategic importance. For this reason and because the area is only accessible by water, the town had been evacuated a few months earlier. All that remained was a small military base with some 70 soldiers and militiamen.

A few days later, Stedman Fagoth’s forces attacked the new Miskitu settlement of Sumubila and kidnapped 39 of its inhabitants. They did not manage to control the area, however, because they encountered stiff resistance.

A series of attacks were carried out in northern and southern Zelaya, as well as in Nueva Guinea, in the mid-eastern part of the country. Unofficial sources claimed that attempts were made to cut the highway between Managua and El Rama. Contra activity also continued along the road from Matagalpa to Puerto Cabezas. All this led to speculation that there would be an attempt to separate the Atlantic Coast from the rest of the country. Despite the intensity of the contra military offensive involving no less than 6000 troops, the Nicaraguan army responded effectively and foiled their plan.

Toward the end of April, and coinciding with the Gulf maneuvers, combined forces of Somocistas and Honduran soldiers resumed hostilities in the northwestern region of Chinandega. This region had not experienced heavy fighting since the beginning of the previous offensive.

The counterrevolutionary operations, with fighting in the Cerro de Kilambe, Cerro Helado, El Cua, Waslala, Wiwili, Yali, etc., reveal new elements:

a) The change in the operative structure of the contra forces. From 1979 to 1981, these groups sometimes included disgruntled peasants led by Somoza Guardsmen. These groups, which throughout 1982 and 1983 became “task forces,” have been transformed into “regional commands” over the last few months. A regional command is made up of 3 to 5 task forces, each of which contains 250 to 300 men.

b) The contras’ greater organizational force, demonstrated through an increased ability to regroup itself. Until the end of 1983, contra retreats were extremely chaotic; now they are better organized, which allows them to regroup and resume combat formation quicker.

c) The use of more sophisticated arms and supplies as a result of greater military support by the US administration; for example the powerful T-25 (M-15) land mines planted on the road between Puerto Cabezas and border towns and the use of chemical warfare in phosphorus mines. This was publicly denounced in Costa Rica when two Miskitu members of ARDE were hospitalized following the accidental explosion of one such mine that they were carrying.

d) The progress in military coordination between FDN and ARDE forces. Operations are now planned for the five regional FDN commands: “Segovia,” “Rafaela Herrera,” “Nicarao,” “Dirangén” and “Jorge Salazar”, the three task forces in northern Zelaya (mostly Miskitus led by Fagoth) and some 6 ARDE columns of 100 men each along the Río San Juan.

In mid-April, during the closing ceremonies of the first Congress of Judges, Comandante Tomás Borge stated, “They say there are many war zones here. There is only one; it’s called Nicaragua.” This view is shared by other top leaders who have reiterated the seriousness of this month’s military situation.

The political-ideological confrontation

Opposition political parties and other groups in the Democratic Coordinating Body (CDN) continued their demand for appropriate conditions to participate in the electoral process. Statements by some of the leaders, such as Ramírez of the Social Christian Party (PSC) or Huembes of the Nicaraguan Workers’ Confederation (CTN), reaffirmed criticisms, questions and conditions in line with the abstentionist tendency that seeks to delegitimize the November elections. The Democratic Conservative Party’s “legitimist” faction, which is in the opposition but not part of the CDN, presented a document outlining eight basic conditions for its electoral participation. The document, made public on April 9, challenged the government to respond by May 4.

Apart from the abstentionist tendency, a number of contradictions between the opposition forces have surfaced in the last few days. On April 24, Clemente Guido, leader of the legitimist faction, stated that at least one of the CDN parties would be inclined to take part in the elections. This would provoke a crisis within the CDN. The opposition newspaper La Prensa announced an April 30 meeting of the CDN to define its position. No conclusion was reached for lack of consensus.

Given that the opposition parties had withdrawn from the Council of State following the discussion of the Electoral Law in March, it is striking that the Social Christian Party (PSC), Social Democratic Party (PSD), and Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) were present at the Council’s opening session May 4. It was also surprising that the representative of the Confederation of Labor Union Unity (CUS), which also belongs to the CDN, was elected as third secretary of the Council’s directorate.

The recently adopted positions of the CDN’s associations become clearer as the stages of the electoral calendar are defined. The first draft was submitted for consideration to the National Assembly of Political Parties in the first week of May.

April was basically a period of “transition” for CDN parties, which did not feel obliged to come out with definitive positions. Throughout the month, they pressed to have the State of Emergency lifted by the beginning of the Council of State’s¬ fifth legislative period. Their expectations were dashed when no mention was made of this point in the inaugural session. This could serve as a pretext to fortify the abstentionist tendency within the opposition sectors. In the context of the contra military offensive and abstentionist political positions, the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference Pastoral Letter of April 22 reiterated much of the polemic.

The basic line of this document is to request a dialogue involving “all Nicaraguans, in or outside the country, regardless of ideology, class or political position. We think that even those Nicaraguans who have taken up arms against the government should participate in this dialogue.” The letter portrays dialogue as the road to “reconciliation” and asserts that the country is immersed in a “bellicose situation between Nicaraguans” that has painful consequences for different sectors of the population—peasants, indigenous peoples, youth, adults, the family, etc. The letter identifies a sector of the Church that “has abandoned ecclesial unity,” subjecting itself to “the guidelines of a materialist ideology” that “sows confusion in and outside the country.”

This document was considered predominantly political, not theological, by many sectors of the Nicaraguan population (Christian base communities, youth and peasant communities, political parties in the Revolutionary Patriotic Front, grassroots organizations, the government and the FSLN). It is political not only for what it says, but also for what it omits: the aggression Nicaragua is suffering and the consequent need for defense.

Within the Church, the strongest criticism arose around the failure to include the aggression in its analysis and the attempt to impose a disputable political position by disguising it in religious terminology. The letter renewed a sharp ideological debate, but it was overplayed by the Nicaraguan press. The CDN political parties, labor federations and business associations expressed their approval of the document while sectors that support the revolution, including Christians, strongly criticized it. The letter seems to have heightened the contradictions within the Church and further strained Church hierarchy-government relations.

The struggle against the “internal front”

A number of problems that have increasingly been affecting different aspects of Nicaraguan life over the past few months took on particular importance in April. Examples include the concern of parents and relatives of the young men currently doing military service when no news is received from them and the shortage of basic products such as toilet paper and toothpaste. These problems the Nicaraguan people are currently enduring must be explained in the context of the attempts to destabilize the country. Several religious groups tried to turn the discontent over the recruitment issue into a major controversy.

Many small storeowners or distributors of basic goods have resold what they hoarded at enormous profits of up to 300%. At the end of April, Managua’s neighborhood communities confiscated three ENABAS (National Supply Company) outlets where there were irregularities in food distribution. Those in charge were fired.

“We are under attack, so we’ll have to put up with the shortages for some time. Speculation has sprung up around the whole problem of shortages, however,” noted Comandante Wheelock in his May 1 speech. The main problems have their roots in the destabilizing attacks, but many of them have been worsened, falling into black market, speculation, artificial shortages, ideological confusionism, diversionism etc. “Throughout this period, the domestic allies of the contras and imperialism have systematically tried to undermine our morale. They have also sought to portray the attacks from outside as part of the ‘internal front’s’ operations. This facilitates an interventionist policy, which would likely involve direct military intervention,” noted Comandante Daniel Ortega in the inauguration of the firth legislative period of the Council of State.

The fight against this internal front, systematically announced these days by revolutionary leaders, reflects a major shift in the current setting. The May 1 celebrations could be summed up in the slogan, “that’s enough of the reaction.” These tough words reflect a decision to oppose anything that might cause a split within Nicaragua, and thus to undertake a new form of anti-interventionist struggle.

It is clear in the leaders’ statements, however, that the real economic problems caused by the aggression must be resolved. “In the last months, the escalating attacks have been directed at economic targets like the ports, energy supply and agricultural projects. This is why our economic policy must move toward a war economy,” said Daniel Ortega in an address to the Council of State on May 4, 1984). The effects of the economic attacks are highly visible. Damages to the economic and social activity of the state and cooperatives amounted to 2.2 million córdobas in 1981; 235.1 million in 1982 and 659.5 million in 1983. Material damages in 1983 totaled US$128.1 million, equivalent to 30% of export earnings for that year. The mining of ports alone caused $9.1 million in damages.

These figures from the Government’s Report to the State (like the State of the Union address) illustrate the scale of this destabilization war. Last year, the country was forced to spend 25% of the national budget on defense, up from 18% in 1982. The destruction and defense needs arising from the war oblige this small country to consider greater sacrifices as it finds itself on the threshold of a war economy. This economic response will not contradict an all-out fight against speculation and the black market or efforts to reorganize salaries and stimulate production.

International solidarity with Nicaragua is having to face new challenges given the efforts at destabilization. In this sense, the International Conference of Labor Unions for Peace—convened in Managua in late April, with representatives from over 50 countries—and the Solidarity Meeting in Lisbon at the beginning of May constitute considerable obstacles to the interventionist tendency.

Where are Nicaragua and the region headed:
For a worsening or easing of the crisis?

Nothing indicates that US hostility toward Nicaragua will be reduced in the short term. Although it is likely that the US will “reorganize” its Central American policy now that the Salvadoran elections are over, it will not radically alter its militarist strategy. This political vision could continue to cause new domestic and international problems for the US administration. As the sought after “bipartisan consensus” wears thin, the region’s problems will possibly take on more importance in the US electoral process.

In this regard, relations between US regional allies and Nicaragua will become particularly important over the coming months. This month has seen a regional offensive highlighted by the document presented by the three Central American nations to Contadora and by the conflicts between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It is likely that there will be efforts to deepen these and create other similar tensions, which entail very little domestic cost for Reagan. Will Honduras continue to be absorbed by its partially resolved military crisis? Will the tendency in Costa Rica toward “accelerated conflict” and a “climate of war against Nicaragua” be stopped by the clear internal contradictions in that country? Will Guatemala remain distanced from the “anti-Nicaragua” alliance?

The coming months will be decisive for Contadora. Its international prestige could be tarnished if it does not achieve concrete results and tension in the region continues to grow. Contadora no longer just seeks, as in January 1983, to promote a regional dialogue. It has become the only “diplomatic alternative” to military intervention. Contadora must be analyzed on two levels: the continuing efforts to undermine it and the dynamic of the group itself and of each of the four member countries.

The Nicaraguan process will experience great difficulties in May and over the coming months. Two contradictory aspects will predominate: the continuation of the electoral process and the worsening of the war of attrition.

The opposition’s expectations that the State of Emergency would be lifted were not met because of the severity of the regional situation, the latest contra offensive and the “internal front’s” attempt to build up its forces. The interventionist line aims at blocking the consolidation of the electoral process to preclude the holding of the elections scheduled for November. Times will be very hard for Nicaragua, which considers the elections part of the overall defense of the revolutionary process. The degree of hardship will vary directly with the scale of the war of attrition the country is confronting.

This war also has grave consequences for the country’s economy. It obliges the freezing or reduction of the social programs that constitute the essence of national reconstruction.

The Nicaraguan people will need a high level of political awareness to understand this situation and the consequent sacrifices it will entail. If the less informed sectors do not come to understand this, they could be incorporated into the internal front led by social and political forces that openly oppose the revolution.

The war economy definitely requires greater control over the distribution of basic goods. Although the government announced that this was a top priority, it is very difficult to implement. The country needs a larger supply of rationed goods, more control by the grassroots organizations over small storeowners, etc.

April was thus a month of “transition” toward a stronger answer to an ever more destructive aggression. The greatest challenge facing Nicaraguans is overcoming the pending hardships.

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