THE WIDER WAR: Nicaragua

September 25, 2007

Amid falsehood and sophistry we have reached the extreme in which the campaign against Nicaragua is carried out in the name of democracy. It is no small paradox that the destruction of a democratic re- gime is proposed in order to save it from future risks or that an attempt is made to create a chain of peripheral dictatorships to maintain the welfare of the central democracies. Mexico's President Jose Lopez Portillo' Mornings before work or on weekend after- noons-once a week-thousands of volunteers gather in Managua's many open fields. Practic- ing with old World War I rifles or wood make- believe ones, they learn to march, to run with a rifle, to hug the ground, to shoot straight. The new recruits to the Sandinista Popular Militia tease each other lightly as they form into practice o squads, taking particular aim at the veteran guerrilla fighters among their ranks. "Hey, companero, did you come just to get off all that weight you've put on with your soft desk job?" The laughter isn't because they don't feel the gravity of their commitment, but because they do. It was only two years ago that Nicaragua fin- ally drove Somoza and his National Guard from the country-at a cost of 40,000 dead, an equal number of children orphaned, 100,000 wounded, 200,000 families left homeless and 750,000 dependent on food assistance. 2 Homes, fac- tories, hospitals, schools, roads, croplands, whole cities were destroyed. Now with astound- ing resilience, 100,000 Nicaraguans all over the country are preparing to have to fight again. Volunteers of all ages join Militia to defend revolution. When asked, they aren't sure where the inva- sion will come from, but they are sure it will come. It might be just the counterrevolutionary groups training abroad, with logistical support from Honduras, or it might, as we have seen, be the Honduran Army itself. Some are convinced the United States will intervene directly. Building for the Roll-Back The Republican National Platform brazenly promised to "roll back" the Nicaraguan revolu- tion. But the route to this reversal is still being charted by Reagan's new team. Nicaragua is no 25NACLA Report Chile. The opposition has no access to state mili- tary power; at most, certain sectors have links to one of the myriad counterrevolutionary groups outside the country. (Last November, Jorge Salazar, acting head of the private sector's um- brella organization, the Superior Council of Private Enterprise, was killed in a shootout with Sandinista security forces. He and other mem- bers of the private sector were accused of con- spiring with counterrevolutionaries in the ex- terior.)4 In spite of its show of military force, the Sandinista government is actually weak and could be overthrown by a determined, coordinated and sharply focused effort. Cleto DiGiovanni, Department of State Consultant 3 The Sandinista government, in contrast, has the loyalty of an experienced, politically con- scious and highly motivated military force, the 40,000-strong Sandinista Popular Army. 5 It also has the allegiance of the majority of its people. Implicitly acknowledging their own weak- ness, counterrevolutionary leaders admit that their strategy is contingent on gaining massive support inside the country (". . a popular in- surrection similar to the one that toppled the Somoza regime") as well as military support from neighboring countries to the north. 6 But such a goal is the stuff of which pipe dreams are made, and the presence of ex-National Guards- men within their ranks is hardly a political asset. Nonetheless, Reagan's strategy must include chipping away the Sandinistas' popular base of support. One aspect of this campaign is to intensify the already active propaganda machine that plays on the anti-communist legacy of Somoza's reign. Particularly effective on wavering middle-class sectors, it is being carried out with fervent self- interest by the opposition parties, the reactionary press and sectors of the religious hierarchy (see Update article, this issue). On the predominantly English-speaking. Atlantic Coast (which for the most part remains an historically isolated and politically troubled area), the Voice of America resonates with the Reagan line. A second aspect is aimed at the most vulnerable point of the revolution, an economy still ravaged by the effects of civil war. "Economic strangula- tion," however, is not an end in itself, but another means. It presupposes that persistent economic hardship will significantly erode support for the Sandinista project. It is perhaps best summed up by recalling a cable to Henry Kissinger from then U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry: "Once Allende comes to power in Chile we will do all in our power to condemn Chile and Chileans to the utmost deprivation and poverty; a policy de- signed for a long time to come to accelerate the hard features of a communist society in Chile." 7 In February 1981, the United States suspended economic aid to the Nicaraguan government. For this to have the necessary impact, however, Reagan must extend his offensive to the interna- tional arena, to dissuade other countries from fill- ing the financial gap. There too, the Administra- tion faces an uphill battle. Nicaragua enjoys sup- port not just from the socialist countries, but western capitalist governments as well. And last year, the member parties of the Socialist Interna- tional (SI) formed a solidarity committee which pledged to "avert foreign intervention in Nica- ragua's internal affairs by outside powers" and to respect Nicaragua's "right to self-determina- tion."8 Thus far, Reagan's major public initiative to undercut Nicaragua's popularity internationally has been to link the country to his "communist ex- pansionism" theory. First the Nicaraguan govern- ment was accused of supplying Soviet and Cuban weapons to the revolutionary forces in El Salvador, a charge the Nicaraguans have consistently denied. Next the Administration had 100 Nicara- guans invading El Salvador in a wooden boat. Ambassador White himself had to backtrack on that one. Now the State Department is claiming, again without offering a shred of evidence, that heavy Soviet T-55 tanks are being shipped to Nicaragua "under camouflage"(!) from Cuba. This one has even produced skeptics within the State Department itself. James Cheek, awaiting reassignment, noted merely, "The intelligence community has reported this half a dozen times. One day they'll be right." 6 Another observed pointedly that Honduras had recently received about 20 medium-weight British tanks, better suited to the border terrain between the two coun- tries. The accusation also produced a rapid and terse response from Nicaragua. Refusing to dignify it with an affirmation or denial, Comandante Humberto Ortega, Minister of Defense, declared Nicaragua's right to defend its national sovereign- ty and the revolution.'o The propaganda spinoffs of this "accusation by assertion" campaign are many. Nicaragua is 26MaylJune 1981 not only an "agent of international terrorism," but it is also under Marxist-Leninist "domina- tion" and, hence, fast becoming a "totalitarian state." Reagan's train of thought isn't the least derailed by the apparent paradox that La Prensa, Nicaragua's reactionary daily, remains free to make equivalent accusations. On the diplomatic front, the effort to black- ball Nicaragua has found little if any echo. Pres- ident Jose Lopez Portillo of Mexico, undaunted by a visit from White Paper drum-beater Ver- non Walters, pledged that, "Mexico will defend the cause of Nicaragua as its own."" France's new Socialist president, Francois Mitterand, of- fered a similarly strong pronouncement. Economically, the Administration has had no better results. Immediately following the U.S. an- nouncement in April that it would continue the suspension of aid indefinitely, a series of new bilateral loans and donations were announced, demonstrating the serious and complex foreign policy contradictions unleashed by Reagan's assault. In its first year and a half, the Sandinista government had been very successful in securing new bilateral credits and technical assistance from diverse sources. (Western Europe and Canada ex- tended over $100 million in economic aid, 13% of the total, and Latin American countries provided nearly $200 million, or 23% of the total. Social democratic countries and the Soviet bloc nations provided primarily technical assistance and per- sonnel.) In April, European countries pledged a total of $30 million; Libya, $100 million; and Cuba, $64 million in technical assistance. 2 Other countries, such as Canada, reaffirmed their com- mitment to future aid and assistance, and still others rushed to fill the gap left by the cutoff of U.S. wheat credits. (The Soviet Union, Bulgaria and Sweden donated a total of 38,000 tons, East Ger- many has pledged 70,000 and Canada is begin- ning to supply wheat in June, albeit not at the favorable credit terms provided by the U.S. food assistance program.) 1 3 Pressuring the Weakest Point The Nicaraguan economy is still dependent on large injections of foreign aid, resulting at least in part from Somoza's policies in the final years before the FSLN victory. As the end neared, Somoza compensated for massive capi- tal flight with increasing foreign indebtedness, ultimately contracting government debts on his own properties in order to liquidate his assets and place his wealth abroad. The new gov- ernment inherited a staggering $1.6 billion debt, with only $3.5 million in foreign exchange left in the Central Bank. Furthermore, the war itself caused $480 million in material damages, not including the revenues lost from the paraly- sis of economic activities during the war, par- ticularly in agriculture."1 In short, "The economic disaster inherited by the Government of National Reconstruction has no precedent in Latin America." 1 Last year, the United States was the largest single donor and second largest lender after the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), pro- viding $118.5 million in donations and loans through November (14% of Nicaragua's total foreign aid for the period). Thus, the U.S. boycott is significant. Only as long as Nicaragua can continue to count on diversified lending sources will it not be critical. Apart from $53 million in proposed U.S. aid for fiscal 1982, credits to the government currently affected by the cutoff include the $15 million balance of the original loan package, $10 million in PL-480 food aid and $11.4 million for rural develop- ment, education and health.' 6 Not affected are grants for the private sector and U.S. private institutions totalling $10.6 million. Two beneficiaries of these include the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), a major opponent of the govern- ment, and the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD). In fact, AIFLD's average anntial budget of $100,000 per year for its Nicaraguan programs was more than tripled by the Agency for International Development in 1981. A major beneficiary of its 16 years of labor training and project assistance has been the Confederation for Trade Union Unity (CUS).' 7 Together with CTN, a Social- Christian oriented union confederation, CUS joined several bourgeois parties and COSEP last year in withdrawing from the Council of State. (AIFLD, it should be noted, was also one of the few organizations funded by AID during the destabilization campaign against the Allende government.) The Sandinista government is for the most part only seeking loans on soft terms available either bilaterally from other governments or through in- ternational lending agencies. Therefore, one of the most important questions is whether the United States will next use its power to block concessional loans to Nicaragua. In both the IDB and the 27NACLA Report World Bank, the United States exercises veto power, and at present Nicaragua has 14 loans totalling $300 million pending before these two in- stitutions. According to sources at both agencies, no overt signs of pressure have yet been evident. The U.S. Export-Import Bank, on the other hand, provided $8.9 million in credits for commercial foreign sales during the final year of Somoza's rule, and dropped that figure to $40,000 in the first year of the revolution.'" This cutback affects, among other items, much-needed spare parts. The Internal Contradictions If they are trying to destabilize us, to weaken our resolve and, finally, to clip the wings of the Sandinista Revolution, these dangers will disappear to the degree that the working class unites, the national sec- tors unite, and their unity becomes strong and consistent. Comandante Henry Ruiz, Minister of Planning, January 13, 1981 It is a truism that economic conditions gener- ate political responses, but the nature of those responses depends on myriad other factors. In the Nicaraguan case, it will depend on how peo- ple decide to balance their own short-term eco- nomic demands against the longer-term goal of rebuilding a solid productive base in the coun- try; the degree to which various sectors perceive that the current revolutionary process is func- tioning both well and in their best interest; the way in which they assess other threats or op- tions; and the extent to which the popular base of the revolution understands and is incorpor- ated into the decision-making process itself. Reagan's roll-back strategy assumes that all these factors are moving in his favor. The revo- lution, we are told in the press, is rapidly losing support, and the "near-bankrupt" economy is hastening the rout.19 Edmundo Chamorro, leader of a Nicaraguan exile group, the Nicaraguan Democratic Union (UDN), picks up the theme, claiming that 80-85% of the Nicaraguans now oppose the Sandinistas. 2 0 A leader of the UDN's paramilitary wing, the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARN), adds, "We have the support of the democratic groups [sic] right now. When we get started, the people are going to come with us."' 21 The Sandinistas themselves make no secret of the economy's continuing difficulties, nor of the grumblings that result. But the government ap- parently feels sufficiently confident of its revolu- tionary support to continue a program of eco- nomic reactivation that does not contemplate caving in to consumerist palliatives that could guarantee immediate political support at the cost of future economic viability. Nicaragua is richly endowed and, given its small population, has great economic potential. It only needs time to rebuild from the war damage, reduce the foreign debt, and reactivate industrial and agricultural production. According to a Ministry of Planning sum- mary, production reached 99% of its overall projection for 1980-that is to say, nearly 1978 levels. 22 Production was marked by serious un- evenness, with agriculture surpassing the mark by 11% and industry missing it by 20%. There were also major social achievements, such as the Literacy Crusade and advances in health, hous- ing and consumption of basic goods. Due main- ly to increased employment and salary increases for the lowest paid workers, the latter rose 23% in 1980.23 The goal for this year is 1977's production level-higher than war-distressed 1978. "Plan 81" calls for increased investment and employ- ment in priority productive sectors and energy, and a 9% increase in productivity. 2 4 Unparal- leled increases in oil prices and debt service, which together will require 67% of export reve- nues, as well as deteriorated terms of trade (im- ports cost 15% more while the price of coffee dropped), will mean a serious restriction of "non-essential imports." The plan, officially called the Plan of Auster- ity and Efficiency, is just that. It contemplates a maximum inflation rate of 20%, and projects equivalent adjustments in real salaries only for workers in the productive sector. 2 5 While Plan 81 "guarantees basic consumption for the popu- lace at all cost," and in fact projects a 12% growth in this sector, the government is not oblivious to the sacrifice and hardship it implies for people whose economic expectations are now high. In a recent conference, a Planning Ministry official identified three main areas of political tension that are expected to arise.26 The first is that the middle class, in particular those in- volved in domestic commerce, will feel the con- sumption restrictions most, and are least ideo- logically prepared to accept them. Second, the increase in labor productivity creates contradic- 28MaylJune 1981 tions for the working class. Quite apart from the opportunities for agitation this gives opposition trade union confederations such as the CUS and CTN, it also demands discipline and a long- range view from a working class with limited political experience. The FSLN and the workers must come to terms with the conflict between the growth of militant and democratic trade union- ism and the stringent constraints on workers' economic demands. Further exacerbating the situation, a substantial portion of Nicaragua's productive capacity is still in private hands, thus alienating workers from full participation in financial and productivity discussions. The third tension, it is obvious, stems from the international political conjuncture within which the Sandinistas must function-the all- out determination of the Reagan Administra- tion to put an end to revolutionary efforts throughout the region, including the re-isolation of Cuba. Most recently, the United States warned that it would cut Nicaraguan beef imports if Nicaragua goes ahead with its plans to purchase breeding stock from Cuba. While the rationale is the possible spread of aftosa (hoof and mouth disease), the Brazilian Aftosa Institute and other organizations discount the existence of that disease in Cuba. 2 7 Thus, the motivations are clearly political. As if in confirmation, the United States is also threatening to stop export- ing the resin used in making polyvinyl chloride, necessary for myriad Nicaraguan plastics manufactures, presumably because Nicaragua might sell its surpluses to Cuba. 2 8 The beef issue has aggravated differences between the Sandin- ista government and the private sector involved in beef production. But it doesn't end with political and economic attacks. There is also the ominous and pervasive counterrevolutionary threat, punctuated, lest anyone sleep too easily, with new deaths in border clashes. The Sandinistas are loathe to divert scarce reconstruction funds to military spend- ing-according to junta member Rafael Cor- dova Rivas, still only 1% of the gross national product -but energies are certainly diverted. 2 9 The U.S. government has given money to Honduras, and at least comfort and encourage- ment to independent groups, some ten of which are training in Miami and Last winter, dissidents in the Carter Administration were already claiming that, "U.S. intelligence has been in contact with Nicaraguan exile groups in Guatemala and Miami.... No attempt has been made to restrict their mobility in or out of the country or to interfere with their activities." 3 1 Nicaraguans are not moved by Reagan's ex- planation that the groups are training on private property and therefore untouchable. "How would the American government react," asked Daniel Ortega, "if suddenly in Nicaragua... it should occur to some ranch owner to loan his pro- perty to train Puerto Ricans to fight for the in- dependence of their country?" 3 2 In earlyJune, Jose Francisco Cardenal, polit- ical leader of a Miami exile group,* made com- mon cause with the leader of a counterrevolu- tionary movement on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast by accompanying him in a vitriolic press interview held in Miami.32 Steadman Fagoth, head of the indigenous organization, Misurasata, until his arrest in February for plot- ting separatist actions, was in Miami to unite all exiles "in a common effort against the ag- gressors in our lands." 3 3 An apparently charismatic personality, Fagoth had opportunistically used the powerful historic demands of the indigenous people who represent some 60-70% of the Coast's popula- tion to spread disaffection with the revolution. The Sandinistas, he claims, only want to "force the nearly 200,000 Misurasata members to ac- cept communist rule." In the days following his arrest, the govern- ment released documents from intelligence ar- chives showing that Fagoth had been an inform- er during the 70s, denouncing Miskitos who collaborated with the FSLN. (The Miskito are the largest of the three indigenous groups on the Coast.) After Fagoth's provisional release in mid-May he fled to Honduras, where he was joined by an estimated 3,000 Miskitos. A second purpose of his Miami visit was to get food, clothes and medicines for these supposed "refugees from Sandinista repression," who have already been rushed such supplies by the Honduran government. The Sandinista government last year declared the integration of the Atlantic Coast a priority. Despite advances such as developing the Literacy Crusade in English and Miskito, improving health and transportation services and developing new agricultural projects, it *Jose Cardenal, now a member of the Nicara- guan Democratic Union paradoxically fled to Miami last year after being selected vice president of the new Council of State by the government. (See NACLA Report on theAmer- icas, "Nicaragua's Revolution," May-June 1980.) 29NACLA Report has been hampered in its objective by limited economic resources as well as cultural animosities that date back to the colonial period. (The Coast was colonized by England which helped its inhabitants successfully fight Spanish incursions for almost 400 years. Costeilos still refer to people on the Pacific side as "the Spanish.") The Sandinistas have apparently redoubled their efforts to work with the new pro- visional leadership of Misurasata to reduce the tensions. Aggression Accelerates Unity U.S. aggression, however, has had the countervailing effect of pulling some sectors closer together. The private sector, divided on the question of aid cutoffs, is participating albeit warily, and slowly, in preparations for a forum to explore ways to further national unity in the face of U.S. actions. Four pro-Sandinista parties, which last sum- mer formed the Patriotic Revolutionary Front, played a major role in preparing the agenda for these meetings, and suggesting active forms of solidarity against aggression. Another pro- Sandinista group participating in the meetings is the new Nicaraguan Trade Union Coordina- tion Committee (CSN) established last Novem- ber. Representing all union confederations ex- cept CUS and CTN, the creation of this Coor- dinating Committee culminated unity discus- sions begun last April. In their initial confer- ence, some 200 delegates to the CSN heatedly discussed the difficult issues facing workers in the coming period. 3 4 Another new organization, the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG) has just taken its two seats on the Council of State. This newest of the Sandinista mass organiza- tions represents the interests of more than 100,000 small and medium landowners, mostly producing basic foodstuffs for the domestic mar- ket. 3 5 The consolidation of UNAG is an im- portant advance in providing the campesino base of the revolution with its own voice and enabling the government to help them increase much-needed food production. Previously, they were represented either by the organization of large capitalist growers (which joined the Coun- cil of State walkout in November) or by the Association of Rural Workers (ATC), neither of which addressed their real needs. After the wheat cutoff, the FSLN launched a worldwide protest campaign called Bread for Nicaragua, which has highlighted the violation of basic human rights inherent in the act of using food as a political weapon. And finally, an esti- mated one million Nicaraguans-nearly half the population-have been marching with their neighborhood defense committees to polling sites to sign a Letter of Dignity which expresses their unity in the face of aggression. The letter will be sent to governments all over the world, most pointedly to the United States.

NICARAGUA 1. New York Times, May 8, 1981. 2. EPICA Task Force, Nicaragua: A People's Revolu- tion, Washington, D.C.: EPICA, 1980). 3. Intercontinental Press, April 13, 1981, p. 352. 4. Inforpress Centroamericana, November 27, 1980; In- tercontinental Press, December 1, 15, 1980. 5. New York Times, April 2, 1981. 6. Ibid. 7. Isabel Letelier and Michael Moffitt, Human Rights, Economic Aid and Private Banks: The Case of Chile (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Policy Studies, 1978). 8. "Socialist International Nicaragua Solidarity Committee Meets," Socialist International Press Release, 21/80, December 6, 1980. 9. New York Times, June 3, 1981. 10. Diario Las Americas, June 6, 1981. 11. New York Times, May 8, 1981. 12. Inforpress Centroamericana, April 9, 23, 30, 1981. 13. Ibid.; Diario Las Americas, June 10, 1981. 14. Economic Commission for Latin America, Nica- ragua: Economic Repercussions of Recent Political Events (New York: United Nations, September 1979), p. 43. 15. Agence Latino-Americaine D'Information (ALAI), Vol. 5, No. 13 (April 3, 1981), p. 150. 16. In These Times, April 15-21, 1981. 17. NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. XII, No. 6 (November-December 1978), p. 9. 18. In These Times, April 15-21, 1981. 19. Washington Post, May 9, 1981. 20. Ibid. 21. Miami Herald, February 4, 1981. 22. ALAI. 23. Avances de la Revolucion Popular Sandinista (Mana- gua: International Relations Department of the FSLN, January 1981), p. 13. 24. Programa Economico de Austeridad y Eficiencia '81 (Managua), 1981. 25. ALAI. 26. Ibid. 27. Central America Report, May 23, 1981; Latin America Weekly Report, May 15, 1981; Inforpress Centroameri- cana, May 21, 1981. 28. Latin America Weekly Report, May 15, 1981. 29. Diario Las Americas, June 7, 1981. 30. New York Times, March 17, 1981; Parade Magazine, March 15, 1981; Washington Post, May 19, 1981. 31. "Dissent Paper on El Salvador and Central America," DOS 11/6/80 (DM-ESCA #80-3), November 1980, p. 11. 32. New York Times, April 21, 1981. 33. Diario Las Americas, June 11, 1981. 34. Intercontinental Press, December 1, 1980. 35. Intercontinental Press, April 20, 1981.

Tags: Nicaragua, Sandinista army, Counterinsurgency, economic sanctions, Ronald Reagan

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