Central America: Danger and Hope

Against the Current, No. 15, July/August 1988

The Editors

THE CONTINUING NICARAGUAN cease-fire represents an important-though still fragile-victory for the Sandinista revolution and the Nicaraguan people. As Against the Current goes to press the maintenance of the cease-fire is tenuous. Yet the strategic defeat, lack of unity and political isolation of the contras may well make it impossible for them to be the United States’ military option. While nothing is certain, there is real hope today that Nicaragua has won-at a terrible cost, the contra war.

The military defeat of the counterrevolution is, of course, only a phase in a larger struggle. Now U.S. funding of contra operations will shift to the political sphere: funding the rightist parties the contras will establish and bankrolling a “private” television for the non-stop dissemination of U.S.-orchestrated propaganda. The contras and their North American patrons are depending on the shattered state of the Nicaraguan economy, to which their terrorist operations have so greatly contributed, to provide fertile ground for destabilization.

The key political demand raised by the contra leadership is that the revolutionary government relinquishes control of the army, turning it into an “independent” institution. Presented with a straight face in the name of “democratization” — a truly Orwellian usage of the term-this scheme would open the way for a Pinochet or a Suharto to assume control of the armed forces, leading to a Chilean or Indonesian-style catastrophe. The opposition’s demand for an “independent” armed forces has nothing in common with socialist aims of revolutionary pluralism, with competing parties and grassroots control of all social institutions.

While resisting the demand that they surrender the revolution’s means of physical self-defense, the Sandinistas must also resume the even more difficult tasks of national reconstruction, the social programs and empowerment of the masses for which the revolution was made in the first place. All this, of course, is predicated on the optimistic scenario that the cease-fire holds and becomes a full truce. While the strategic defeat of the contras is a reality, there is every possibility that their leaders will prefer another round of murdering villagers and blowing up clinics to accepting that reality.

Recent currency reforms and necessary though painful economic adjustments have averted a total collapse of the Nicaraguan economy — but barely, and perhaps only temporarily, as the new round of devaluations in June illustrates. As the extensive analysis in the monthly journal, Envio (May 1988) shows, the only available economic strategy for Nicaragua entails both popular mobilization and sacrifice — always a difficult combination-and the subordination of longer-term development projects to short-term survival.

In these circumstances it is imperative that the U.S. anti-intervention movement in no way slacken its activities, but intensify and politically broaden them. Not only in opposing all contra aid, but calling for ending the U.S. economic embargo against Nicaragua. This is key to breaking Washington’s strategy of “Chileanizing” Nicaragua — a bipartisan strategy that will continue and deepen in either a Bush or Dukakis administration.

While the present moment is hopeful for Nicaragua, its security and development depend ultimately on a Central American revolutionary process. Thus the escalating confrontation in El Salvador between the U.S.-backed government and the mass popular movement take on exceptional importance.

The right-wing takeover of the Salvadoran National Assembly, in an election where the left could not run, with over sixty percent of the ballots spoiled according to reports, reflects what the Salvadoran left is calling an “institutional vacuum of power.” The virtual collapse of the Christian Democrats, combined with the growing challenge mounted by the urban unions and other organizations of the UNTS (National Unity of Salvadoran Labor), has been accompanied by a new round of assassinations and abductions of union leaders.

In response, the popular movement is developing its capacity for self-defense. At the same time the FMLN­ FDR (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and Revolutionary Democratic Front) is expanding both military activities and political organizing. Some observers feel that a revolutionary crisis is on the horizon. This would be the worst possible time for the anti-intervention movement to sink its energies and invest its hopes in the outcome of the U.S. election in November. The movement has shaped popular &opinion ­- which solidly opposes contra aid and military intervention — through its grassroots activism, mass mobilizations and educational work A Democratic electoral victory in November would affect some of the forms of U.S. intervention in Central America, but not its substance or its goals of political-military domination.

At this moment of profound hope and danger for the people of El Salvador and Nicaragua, the U.S. anti-intervention movement must expand its activities, block the administration’s efforts to wreck the Nicaraguan peace process and prepare to stand with the Salvadoran people as they confront the military force of their own rulers as well as that of the Colossus to the North.

July-August 1988, ATC 15

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