Central America, November and Beyond

September 25, 2007

Today, when the word has gone round That these people are bankrupt We on the other continents (which are indeed bankrupt as well) See many things differently and, so we think, more clearly. -Bertolt Brecht "Late Lamented Fame of the Giant City of New York" ' T HE 1984 ELECTION IS ONE OF THE MOST important of this generation. It places no new or dramatic issues on the political agenda: rather, it is a test to preserve democratic rights already won- affirmative action, reproductive freedom, equal rights before the law, the right to organize at the workplace, environmental protection. Internation- ally, it is little more than an elementary test of the superiority of diplomacy over military force. In the months ahead, we face an enormous di- lemma. Reagan is dangerous; Mondale inspires little confidence. The Right is very powerful, the liberals in decline and the Left in disarray. The most dire scenario argues that a second triumph for the Right in November could mean its dominance until the end of the century. Already, Reagan's support among young voters aged 18-25 has grown astonishingly over the last four years. Nonetheless, the long-term challenge is clear enough. It is to defeat the Right and make the ques- tions of justice, democracy and peace central to American life. But defeating the Right-even a suc- cessful effort to minimize the damage it can do in the short term-depends on the development of an alternative strategy, one that genuinely addresses the needs and concerns of working people, women, blacks, Hispanics, other minorities, the poor and the elderly. ONE OF THIS WILL BE EASY. VIETNAM is history, the New Left a footnote. An old dic- tum from the liberal/progressive battles of the 1940s says that the liberals do the politics, while the Left has the ideas. Neither is true anymore. We live in a brave new world, and the political and intellectual imagination of our time is with the Right. REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 50For those on the left of the political spectrum, the decline of Liberalism means a time of searching. The Left's own political skills have atrophied; old analyses, old strategies and old alliances must be scrutinized and, if need be, changed. The question at hand is whether we can re-invigorate the goals of social justice and peace. The fear of repression is real, and not only the kind of repression that derives from the law enforce- ment apparatus. We will also feel the more subtle repressive climate that results from the ideological sway of the Right. The change in the intellectual and cultural climate has already begun; certain ideas and projects appear suddenly unfashionable, dogmatic or antiquated; certain books don't get read or writ- ten. The dual repression of law and ideology is the root of the declining standard of living. It means the impossible burden of medical bills, children who do not receive an adequate education, minorities trap- ped in deteriorating neighborhoods, women without a community of support, workers without the sol- idarity of unions. A ND WHAT OF CENTRAL AMERICA? HOW much will events there be affected by the differ- ences between the two parties? In contrast to so many other elections in the last 40 years, the 1984 contest offers much more than Tweedledee and Tweedledum politics. The positions of the major parties are substantially different. The Democrats focus the Central American crisis within a hemispheric context and downplay-with- out eliminating-its East/West dimension. Walter Mondale has promised to end the covert war on Nicaragua in his first 100' days. The Democrats promise a dramatic reduction in the presence of U.S. troops in Honduras and pledge sincere support for the efforts of the Contadora nations-Colombia, Panama, Venezuela and Mexico-to find a neg- otiated solution to the crisis. The Democrats' posi- tion is less distinguishable from the Administra- tion's on El Salvador, where it promises support to the Salvadorean government if it curbs death squads and human rights abuses and promotes agrarian re- form. 2 Nevertheless, the Democrats' position is a long way from the Reagan Administration's. It does not define the crisis primarily in East-West terms. Nor does it support "democratic freedom fighters" try- ing to overthrow the "Marxist-Leninist" govern- ment in Nicaragua, urge a buildup of U.S. military capability in Honduras, pledge military aid to El Salvador to fight "brutal" guerrillas without regard to human rights abuses, or ignore and cynically SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1984 0 manipulate the efforts of Contadora. Those have been Reagan's positions, and they are reflected in the Republican platform. PPOSITION AT BOTH THE ELITE AND the mass levels has made the Central American issue a major line of division between the parties. Elite debate, as expressed in such journals as For- eign Affairs, Foreign Policy and The New Republic, question the character of U.S. hegemony in the Caribbean Basin. Can the United States live with leftist regimes-as long as they are not aligned with the Soviet Union-or must it exercise more direct control? Does the United States have greater inter- ests at stake in Central America than in the Middle East? Can it defend both? Will involvement in Cen- tral America lead to another Vietnam-style entangle- ment? At a mass level, there is strong opposition to cur- rent Central American policy among the religious community, the black and Hispanic communities, Democratic National Convention. San Francisco. 1984. 31Are the Democrats ADifferent? Are the Democrats Different? South Bronx, New York, 1971 within the women's movement, on the periphery of the peace movement and even within the AFL-CIO. It is based 6n concerns for human rights and domes- tic priorities and on memories of Vietnam. Prodded by this grassroots concern on the issue, Democratic politicians have tentatively defied Reagan-though their defiance has been checked by the president's successful insinuation that the Democrats will be to blame if the United States "loses" El Salvador and Central America. During the primaries, both the Hart and Jackson campaigns adopted positions on Central America to the left of Mondale; so too did some Mondale dele- gates, in defiance of the classic East-West analysis of Central America with which their candidate had started his campaign. 4 The Hart position shared the East-West framework but put primary emphasis on local causes. This largely reflected the position set forth in a report prepared by the Carnegie Endow- ment for Peace and published as the book, Central America: Anatomy of a Conflict. The Jackson position was interesting because it adopted-virtually verbatim-the position of PACCA (Policy Alternatives on the Caribbean and Central America), as laid out in its book, Changing Course: Blueprint for Peace in Central America and the Caribbean. P ACCA WAS FOUNDED IN SEPTEMBER 1982 to build a network of U.S. policy analysts and progressive Latin American scholars, and to bring a new dimension of scholarly analysis and pol- icy backup to activist groups working on the Central America issue. It also suggests a model for integrat- ing intellectual and activist work more effectively into a new progressive movement. PACCA's work is an attempt to develop feasible policy alternatives and to expand the range of political debate to en- compass progressive views. Changing Course, its first major endeavor, was prepared from papers drafted by prominent progres- sive Latin Americanists and policy analysts and was offered in January 1984 as an alternative to the Kis- singer Commission Report. In addition to individual scholars, its authors included analysts from the Insti- tute for Policy Studies (IPS) and NACLA. PACCA sought out the endorsement of more than 500 leaders of the religious, minority, labor, fem- inist and academic communities. Changing Course also received the endorsement of Democratic con- REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 52tenders Jesse Jackson-who adopted it as his formal position-and George McGovern. Those arguing for the anti-intervention plank kept the issue before Democratic Convention delegates through the Central America Peace Campaign, a grouping of organizations working on the region, in- cluding PACCA, IPS, the Coalition for a New For- eign and Military Policy and the solidarity networks. Jackson drew many of his advisers on Central America from the activist community and argued vigorously throughout the campaign for a new Cen- tral America policy. Hart, meanwhile, though more equivocal on questions of Third World nationalism and self-determination, also mounted an effective attack on the Mondale position. Under this strong pressure from his left, Mondale modulated, and eventually dropped the harsh anti-communist tone and the bipolar analysis of his original position. The platform clause on Central America that was adopted in the end represented a compromise among the three candidates' positions, but it leaned heavily toward Hart and Jackson. Grassroots pressure over the Central America is- sue continues to hold the key. It is a constraint on what the Reagan Administration can do, and lever- age against the right wing of the Democratic Party and Mondale's own Cold War proclivities. It is also, of course, a message of hope to Central Americans and an important element in any future mass politics of the Left. The moment is a difficult one. The present Demo- cratic Party is not the Rainbow Coalition, and in this campaign it may not even be able to find a meaning- ful place for Jesse Jackson. But in the event of a Reagan victory, the Rainbow Coalition could emerge as a future alternative to Liberalism. If Mon- dale wins, its existence within the Democratic Party will compel attention to a progressive domestic and international agenda. In either case, the Rainbow Coalition will be a key force in the future course of American politics. N O STUDENT OF U.S. HISTORY CAN BE sanguine about the prospects of the Democ- rats' keeping their platform promises. It is enough to recall Woodrow Wilson's promise "to keep us out of the war" in the 1916 election, or Lyndon Johnson's characterization of himself as a "peacemaker" against Barry Goldwater's mad bomber in 1964. Mondale's anti-communist track record and his support for the Vietnam War suggest he would be a very half-heartedly anti-interven- tionist president. So does the important support he receives from AFL-CIO president Kirkland, long-time Cold Warrior and signatory of the Kis- singer Commission Report. Furthermore, lacking a unified vision and buffeted from within by con- tradictory demands, the Democrats in power may succumb to bureaucratic pressure within the Penta- gon and political pressure from the Right to escalate the Central American war. ' Forcing Central America onto the campaign agenda will not be the problem. Indeed, the Repub- licans seem likely to raise the issue vigorously in an effort to keep the Democrats on the defensive. In July Vice-President George Bush claimed that, "The Democrats have been working on an errone- ous premise about what has been going on in Central America," and promised that the Republicans would use "the Latin issue" in the campaign and denounce the Marxist threat in Nicaragua and the re- gion. 6 His promise was borne out when the Republi- can platform listed Central America as the nation's key foreign policy problem, before the Soviet Union, Europe and the Middle East. T HERE IS A FRIGHTENING CONSEN- sus in Latin America, in Washington policy cir- cles and among Central American experts that a re- elected Reagan Administration will at some time order a full-scale military invasion in Central Ameri- ca, perhaps with air-strikes on key Nicaraguan targets or a troop landing on Nicaragua's troubled Atlantic Coast. 7 For the people of the Central Amer- ican region-indeed, for the whole hemisphere-the 1984 U.S. election may be the most important in history. If Mondale is elected, the initial 100-day "honey- moon" period, in which a new president is allowed a certain latitude to fulfill campaign promises, will be his opportunity to turn the tide of events. During those 100 days, Mondale, as commander-in-chief, could order a withdrawal of most, if not all, U.S. forces from Honduras, end aid to the contras, con- voke a meeting with the Contadora nations and dis- patch his new secretary of state to pursue concrete talks with Nicaragua aimed at ending the undeclared war. But for any of this to be a realistic possibility will mean a forceful articulation of the anti-intervention stance, both within the Democratic Party and in the broader movement. If those committed to reversing the present course of U.S. policy remain silent dur- ing the 1984 election, their fears that an elected Democratic Administration will sell out Central America could all too easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

CENTRAL AMERICA, NOVEMBER AND BEYOND 1. Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956 (New York: Met- huen, 1976), p. 1 7 1 . 2. Democratic Party Platform, July 1984. 3. The Washington Post, August 18, 1984, citing the Republican Party Platform. 4. Speech to Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, March 14, 1984, edited transcript. 5. See Alan Tonelson, "Mondale's G.O.P. Latin Pol- icy," The New York Times, August 24, 1984. 6. The Washington Post, July 24, 1984. 7. For a discussion of possible invasion scenarios, see Allan Nairn, "Endgame: U.S. Military Strategy in Cen- tral America," Report on the Americas (May-June 1984), pp.51-53.

Tags: US politics, 1984 election, US foreign policy, Central America

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