Another Run at Peace

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The campaign by Latin American diplomats to draw up a peace treaty for Central America has been given up for dead many times in the last three years, but only in the United States. Latin political leaders understand the consequences of continued warfare in Central America better than their counterparts in Washington.

In the next few weeks there will be several important meetings in Central America that may bring the Contadora Group (Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama) closer to its goal of a comprehensive peace treaty between the revolutionary government in Nicaragua and its neighbors in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. The first was Thursday’s gathering of Latin American leaders in Costa Rica for the inauguration of that country’s new president, Oscar Arias. The informal discussions that occurred at Arias’ inauguration will be followed by an official Contadora Group meeting May 16 in Panama. Then on May 24 Central American presidents will hold a summit meeting in Esquipulas, Guatemala.

Latins hope this spate of diplomatic activity will produce enough momentum to carry the Contadora Group toward a pivotal meeting June 6. That is the target date set earlier this year for signing a regional peace treaty. But chances that a Contadora treaty could be signed by then are slim, because recently Nicaragua’s Sandinista government has become more difficult. The Sandinistas insist they will sign no peace treaty until the Reagan Administration stops aiding the contras fighting to overthrow them . The United States says it will not let up on the Sandinistas until they agree to more democracy in their country.


Convinced they will not change President Reagan’s stubborn stance, leaders of the four Contadora countries and their new support group (Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay) may try to convince Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega to budge instead. In exchange for signing a draft peace treaty, the Contadora countries may offer Nicaragua support in case of a confrontation with the United States. Peru’s President Alan Garcia has already promised to break diplomatic ties with any nation that attacks Nicaragua. If other Latin presidents did the same, Ortega might sign a treaty and maybe even Reagan would get the message.

But whether Reagan goes along with Contadora or not should make no difference to the Latin Americans. The president is so obsessed with the Sandinistas that he proceeds against them even without the support of Congress or the American public, and despite a lack of success on the battlefield. It is clear that if a peaceful way out of Central America’s crisis is to be found, it must come from Latin America rather than Washington. Even if no Contadora treaty is signed by June 6, the Central American peace process must continue. There is no other option.