A Victory and Danger: Comment on the Central America Peace Plan
by Barry Weisleder
The defeat of President Ronald Reagan’s demand for $36.2 million in aid to the contra mercenaries by the U.S. House of Representatives on February 3 represented a temporary victory for the Nicaraguan Sandinista government and for its efforts to negotiate and implement the Central America peace accord signed in Guatemala last August 8.
Contrary to what was argued in this space in the last issue of Socialist Challenge, the accord, otherwise known as Esquipulas II, with [sic] neither a blunder nor a sellout by the revolutionary leadership of the Nicaraguan workers’ state.
It was a risk—but a risk that has yielded important dividends, while containing considerable ongoing dangers to Nicaragua and liberation struggles in the region. The important thing to recognize is that the risks are inherent in the situation of war and revolution in Central America. The question is how to respond to these risks.
Given Nicaragua’s small size, population and abject poverty and underdevelopment, it has no military or economic weapons to use directly against the source of its misery, the United States. Revolutionary Nicaragua has militarily stymied the contras who, after seven years of terrorist attacks, have been unable to establish a territorial base inside the country. But the war continues to devastate the Nicaraguan economy and people, usurping over 50% of the national budget, and undermining the social gains implemented after the 1979 revolution.
To adopt the attitude that the Sandinistas must launch a ‘fight to the finish’ against heir numerous U.S. sponsored enemies in the region, coupled with abstractly correct calls for “spreading the revolution throughout Central America” (why not the whole world, given the impossibility of building socialism on one continent, let alone one impoverished region?) is in fact to advocate doing very little indeed.
Fortunately, the revolutionary socialist Sandinista leadership took up another available weapon in the fight for peace—diplomacy. The objective was to internationally isolate U.S. foreign policy in the region—to make Washington pay the maximum political price possible for its aggression, and if possible, to block U.S. government backing for the war.
The signing of Esquipulas II by the presidents of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala came as a major blow to U.S. efforts to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. It recognized the Nicaraguan government (which at one time was excluded from regional peace talks). It required an end to U.S. financing of the contras. It demands an end to contra bases in Honduras and Costa Rica. And it was a “made in Central America peace plan,’ a symbolically important political fact that helps to unite and marshall the anti-imperialist sentiment of the immense majority of Central and South Americans (not to mention world opinion) against the U.S. war makers.
These facts were not lost on Washington, which tried to sabotage Esquipulas II by issuing its own plan on the eve of the conference, including in it the demand that the Sandinistas hand over political power, that new elections be held, and that Nicaragua give up its right to defend itself with weapons provided by the Soviet Union, that it release Somocista National Guardsmen, and negotiate with the contra leadership.
Although not required to do so by the vaguely worded Esquipulas peace accord, Nicaragua recently decided to accede to the last two demands. Why?
Firstly, the Sandinista leadership is operating from a position of relative internal political strength. As FSLN leader Bayardo Arce explained to a January 22 rally of 70,000 in Managua, concessions can be made “because the revolution is strong, because hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans support it arms in hand.”
Secondly, although the contras don’t deserve amnesty or release, although their leaders don’t deserve recognition or direct negotiations, because of the weakness of the workers’ movement in the United States, the Sandinistas were and still are compelled to take further initiatives to exploit differences within U.S. policy-making circles in order to win a breathing space for their revolutionary process.
Nicaragua’s economic problems cannot be solved internally until the war is halted. The biggest problem, which contributes to the 1,400% inflation and stems from the breakdown of Nicaragua’s primitive industrial capacity, is the burgeoning ‘informal sector’ of the economy (the black market). This problem cannot be wished away or overcome by illusions of nationalizing the street vendors, taxi drivers and petty artisans. The drought that destroyed last year’s bean crop and the sabotage that wreaks havoc with roads, bridges and electricity are impervious to legislation. This is precisely where the peace accord enters onto the scene as a potential political tool.
Without any illusions in the murderous, U.S.-client regimes surrounding it in Central America, Nicaragua entered into negotiations and a peace accord with the other four states to expose U.S. blame for the war, and to expose the hypocrisy and repressive nature of the other regimes signatory to the accord. The whole world recognizes that only Nicaragua has complied with the terms of the agreement, in fact that Nicaragua has exceeded these requirements in the quest for peace. And this is precisely what has Washington so annoyed.
Without a doubt, Reagan will see to it that the contras get aid through private channels (in the wake of the Iran-contra aid scandal, direct violations of U.S. law by surreptitiously providing government funds presents a problem). A “humanitarian” aid package is being negotiated with Democratic congressional leaders. The contra leaders claim they have sufficient supplies to continue fighting into the spring—by which time the White House will be launching renewed appeals for military aid.
But none of these factors suggest that things would be any better had the Sandinistas not entered the peace accord process. Quite the contrary; they might now be facing war with fully and continuously armed contras, but also with all of the other regimes in the region. Recent statements by Panama’s leader general Noriega, who revealed that the U.S. tried to blackmail him into invading Nicaragua last year, certainly point in this direction.
With a gun to its head, Nicaragua has no intelligent choice but to negotiate the best deal it can, with any power that can influence the course of events. It cannot be criticised for negotiating with enemies on the basis that its enemies will try to extract unreasonable concessions, and fraudulently try to claim the role of ‘peacemakers,’ interested in promoting human rights and democratization. But working people the world over will be in a position to judge the real motivations and the real results.
But the tasks facing the opponents of the war in Central America here are not exactly the ones facing the embattled peoples of the war-torn region. Our task is to oppose all forms of U.S. intervention, and Canadian government and corporate complicity unconditionally!
Central Americans may be forced to make concessions to imperialism. We don’t help them by demanding support for peace accords which incorporate or even imply concessions. That is a flagrant violation of their right to national self-determination. If one sees a neighbor being robbed at gunpoint, one doesn’t endorse the thief’s demand that the victim should hand over the money. But nor do we, from a safe distance, denounce the victim for failing to fight off the well-armed aggressor with his/her bare hands. All our efforts must clearly be directed at disarming the thief. Hands off the Victim!
Unfortunately, much of the Central America solidarity movement has failed to adopt this elementary democratic position, instead opting to ‘promote the peace plan,’ which includes promoting the concessions, not to mention the plan’s equation of the contra terrorists with the popularly based liberation movements in El Salvador (FDR-FMLN) and Guatemala (URNG).
Though unfortunate, it’s perhaps not surprising to see liberals, social democrats, and the Communist Party promoting the accord, seen through rose coloured glasses. It’s a bit more disturbing to see groups like the Revolutionary Workers League, whose predecessors took the opposite and principled “U.S. Out Now” position in the movement against the war in Vietnam, now opt for a view that flies in the face of their own political legacy.
This concessionary approach weakens the anti-intervention movement, and thereby the struggle in Central America, in at least three ways. Firstly, it renders the movement relatively passive as many activists are wrongly led to believe that the peace process by itself will bring peace with social justice to Central America. Only the Central American social revolution, defended by a massive and active anti-war movement in the imperialist countries, particularly in the U.S. and Canada, can win meaningful peace.
Secondly, it needlessly introduces programmatic and analytical divisions into the anti-intervention movement, reducing its capacity to unite the broadest sectors of the population in protests against the war.
Thirdly, it opens the movement to the illusion that our imperialist government can play any kind of useful role as a mediator or provider of ‘peacekeeping troops’ to the region. When we place demands on our government, we should demand not that it intervene, but that it call for an end to imperialist intervention, that it cease aid and trade with repressive regimes, and that it increase no-strings-attached aid and trade where it will genuinely benefit the majority of the people—revolutionary Nicaragua.
Those are the ideas and demands socialists and anti-intervention activists should advance in building the protests planned for April 30 and June 19 World Economic Summit in Toronto.
That’s the best contribution we can make to augmenting the gains of the Central American revolution in the face of continued aggression by U.S. imperialism.