While Congress debates giving $100 million in aid to the forces trying to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that country's national park service director is quietly touring the United States to promote his nation's environmental programs.
This sidelight to international affairs emerged during the weekend as environmentalists from several countries converged on the UCLA campus for a conference aimed at teaching their American counterparts the theory and practice of effective political action.
Called "International Green Movements and the Prospects for a New Environmental/Industrial Politics in the U.S.," the UCLA gathering also drew much of the top leadership of West Germany's Green Party--the coalition of environmental, peace and feminist activists that captured 27 seats in that nation's 1983 parliamentary elections and is now West Germany's third largest party--as well as one member of the Japanese Diet.
Nicaragua's plans for expanding its environmental protection projects came from the director of that Central American country's park service, Lorenzo Cardenal, a 26-year-old ecologist now on a two-week visit to this country.
In an interview, Cardenal said he will be visiting eight U.S. cities--including New York and San Francisco--to meet with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. In those meetings, Cardenal said he will be promoting Nicaragua's environmental plans, including a proposed 2,700-square-mile national park along the Atlantic coast and border with Costa Rica. The park, he said, would protect a big chunk of Central America's tropical rain forest and the migratory birds that winter in the region.
Speaking through an interpreter, Cardenal said he was given permission to come here only if he restricted his activity to meetings with environmental groups. Asked why he thought he was given a visa despite tensions between the United States and Nicaragua, he replied, "I imagine that they thought I wasn't dangerous, that environmentalists aren't political. But in Nicaragua environmentalists are very political."
Cardenal, who said he is not a member of the ruling Sandinista Party that overthrew the Somoza regime in 1979, added Los Angeles to his itinerary when he learned of the UCLA conference.
Until the war with the contras, the U.S.-backed group battling the Sandinistas, is resolved, Cardenal said, his country's environmental plans are not likely to make much headway. However, Nicaragua will go ahead with conferences with other Central American nations about establishing "biospheres" along their common borders, he added.
"We consider that peace is an indispensable prerequisite to obtaining ecological equilibrium in the region," he said, charging that the contras have set fire to forests, destroyed equipment and "murdered or kidnaped" about 78 natural resources workers in their war against Nicaragua.
The forum the UCLA conference provided for Cardenal and others drew about 400 persons from a wide range of domestic environmental groups who sought more effective political expression of their views. Many participants seemed disenchanted with the Democratic and Republican parties and a few expressed distaste for traditional politics.
As a model, the West German Greens were the major attraction. Party leader Petra Kelly--a member of the country's parliament, the Bundestag--and Eva Quistrop, one of the founders of the Greens and a member of its executive committee, spoke at several meetings on how their party became an umbrella for factious groups that had spent as much time fighting each other as their political rivals.
But despite its aim of promoting more effective political action by environmentalists, the conference was overshadowed by the United States' bombing last week of Libya, an issue that sometimes submerged purely ecological concerns.
For instance, during a press conference, Kelly attacked the bombing, labeling it an act of terrorism itself. In her statement, she also gave a thumbnail sketch of her vision of what the "Green idea" is all about.
"The Green Party is also a human rights party and (supports) the idea that human rights--economic, political and social human rights--are the most basic things to ecology," she said, adding that skepticism of all governments is the ideal attitude for a true Green.
"We have realized that we must meddle in the affairs of all countries," she said. ". . . We are never a 100% hurrah party for anything, we always question. . . . The Green Party has to learn to stay uncomfortable. If they don't stay uncomfortable, if they don't stay restless on these issues, I think they would end up becoming corruptible. That's probably the most important thing we must prevent."
Kelly also suggested that Green Party members of all nations may have to put themselves at risk to stop violence. "I think we must decide what we can do nonviolently in being present in places which might be intervened upon," she said. "I think we have to put ourselves, probably, at risk and we have to learn to do that. It's a horrible thing to say but I think we have to start doing things like that."
As for practical politics, Eva Quistrop told one meeting that the West German Greens have succeeded partly because they make time for hearing out all ideas and constituencies. A typical Greens meeting, she said, is one in which "everybody can speak and everybody can argue for hours."
In an interview, she explained that the Greens have learned that tolerance and building local movements are keys to developing national political strength.
'Rooted in Local Regions'
"The ecology movement, the peace movement can only be effective if they are rooted in local regions and if they are rooted in the history of their country and they have to always find their own ways to influence the policies of their countries," she said. "I think perhaps people from other countries can learn from the type of coalition building we had to learn. It was a long process . . . we had to bring together people from different movements, people from different generations, people from big cities and people from the countryside."
Lutz Mez, a Berlin research analyst, reported at one meeting that the West German Greens can potentially muster 15% of the vote. But, he added, in the last parliamentary elections in 1983 the Greens actually got about 6%, or 2 million votes. Two-thirds of Greens voters are less than 34 years old, he said, noting that the party has many more students and unemployed supporters than other parties.
Difficult to Copy
In analyzing the United States, many speakers seemed skeptical about copying the Greens model.
Margit Mayer, a faculty member of UC Santa Cruz who has studied the German Greens movement, declared that the situation fostering that movement was "unique" and that "clearly, we cannot import that whole complex of factors."
There seemed to be a consensus among several speakers, however, that the environmental movement in this country ought to change its tactics. A common theme was that environmentalists should learn how to participate directly in the democratic process rather than working on the fringes through lobbying and litigation as it does now.
A position paper, prepared by Bob Gottlieb and Margaret FitzSimmons of the UCLA Urban Planning program, which hosted the conference, declared that environmentalism ought to shed its "image of elitism" and that "environmentalists (should) end their isolation from other social movements, working with labor to plan for jobs and a good environment and with consumers to lower prices and pollution levels." The paper also said that "environmentalists should recognize that women and minorities are leaders of the spontaneous environmental movement . . . though its institutions are dominated by white men."