New Trouble in Nicaragua

Increased repression in Managua and stubbornness, reinforced by summit preoccupations, in Washington are creating new obstacles for the peace process in Central America. At risk is the effort of the four Contadora nations to develop a plan that will cool the wars being waged in two of the five Central American nations and disengage the massive external interventions that have been mounted by Moscow and Washington.

President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua has rejected a new draft of the Contadora peace plan circulated in September. He said that he is dissatisfied with its provisions regarding U.S. aid to the contras now fighting the Sandinista regime in Managua and because it does not ban, outright and instantly, American military maneuvers in the region. His objections leave the impression that he is more interested in sabotaging the peace process than in ending hostilities. The treaty makes adequate provision to end both maneuvers and external arms, but these are appropriately timed to coincide with agreement on the difficult questions of arms and troop reductions and verification.

Ortega seems equally uninterested in implementing the principles agreed to by his government when it came to power in 1979. The multiplication of violations of those understandings in recent days is alarming. Another reporter for La Prensa, the already heavily censored opposition newspaper, has been jailed. Nicaraguan workers in the American Embassy in Managua have been harassed--some interrogated for long periods, some accused of espionage without any effort to substantiate the accusation. And now Roman Catholic Church workers have been arrested because of the leadership that they gave to a massive demonstration last Sunday for Cardinal Miguel Obanda y Bravo, whose worst sin seems to be his support of peace talks between the Sandinistas and the opposition forces.

There is a new and ominous military threat as well. The Nicaraguan government has said that it will move to upgrade its air force if the United States proceeds with plans to provide F-5 fighters to Honduras to replace older and less effective French-built aircraft.

Each new event supports the wisdom of what the Contadora nations are trying to do in writing a regional peace agreement.

Unfortunately, the policy adopted by the U.S. government only makes matters worse. There has been no official support of the new Contadora draft, itself designed as the basis for negotiations, that might encourage those negotiations. The American government has refused to renew bilateral negotiations with Nicaragua, suspended 11 months ago, until the Sandinistas accept reconciliation negotiations with the contras, and Washington has made reconciliation talks also the price of ending aid to the contras. That posture only deepens distrust in Nicaragua, giving the regime an excuse to increase repression, when the objective of reconciliation could better be handled as a condition of the Contadora peace process.

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