An international commission, rebuffing the Reagan Administration, said Wednesday that a "definitive halt" of U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan Contras is "an indispensable requirement for the success of . . . peace efforts" in Central America.
The commission, which included the foreign ministers of the five Central American nations, also said that the regional peace agreement is deadlocked by the continuing U.S. support for the Nicaraguan guerrillas and by non-compliance on the part of four signatory nations.
In a detailed judgment of the peace accord signed Aug. 7 by Central America's five presidents, the 13-nation verification commission set up to monitor the agreement urged the leaders to negotiate "a plan of execution and a calendar of compliance" to advance the peace process beyond this week's deadline.
The commission's generally upbeat report, more than 150 pages long, is to be delivered to the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua as they meet Friday in San Jose, Costa Rica, to evaluate the accord.
The Reagan Administration has been pressing Nicaragua's four neighbors to declare the peace plan a failure and to focus blame on the Sandinista government in order to bolster a White House bid for new aid to the U.S.-backed Contras. A delegation led by Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, President Reagan's assistant for national security affairs, last week visited the capitals of all four countries to press the Administration's views.
Although the peace agreement itself called in general for an end to outside support for insurgent groups in the region, the verification commission's report specifically named the United States and pointedly urged the termination of Contra aid. This was the first time that Nicaragua's four neighbors had joined in such a stance.
The report, drafted here in two days of meetings, detailed violations of the accord by El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, as well as by Nicaragua, and avoided the overall comparison of their responsibility for the region's continuing guerrilla wars. Only Costa Rica was spared serious criticism.
"It would be contrary to the truth to declare that advances have not been achieved or to proclaim the accord a success," the report concluded. "The task now is to identify the work to be done and suggest ways to continue it."
Challenge to U.S. Policy
The Central American peace plan focused world attention on the region and brought its author, President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica, the Nobel Peace Prize. It posed a direct challenge to the military solution pressed by Washington against the Marxist-inclined Sandinistas and offered an opportunity to end leftist insurgencies in Guatemala and El Salvador.
But Central American officials say they are worried that the agreement is breaking down. "We are far from achieving the success we had hoped for," Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rodrigo Madrigal said Wednesday.
The accord set a 150-day deadline for specific steps to increase political democracy and negotiate an end to guerrilla wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. It required the lifting of state-of-siege laws and the granting of amnesty to political prisoners. It also called for the termination of all outside aid and sanctuary to guerrilla groups and sought negotiations to demilitarize the region.
The verification panel represents the so-called Contadora Group of eight Latin American states, the United Nations and the Organization of American States, as well as the five Central American countries.
Its report, based on the commission's tour of the region last week, was not made public, but a copy of its conclusions was obtained by The Times. Among the conclusions:
- The failure of cease-fire negotiations is "cause for deep concern." The report blamed neither the guerrillas nor the governments in any of the three war-torn countries, but it asserted that the desire for peace among Central Americans is being frustrated by a "geopolitical struggle" of foreign interests. While condemning U.S. aid to the Contras, the report did not mention Soviet and Cuban support for Nicaragua's growing army.
- Democratization "is difficult to achieve in just five months in a region characterized by historic turbulence." Nicaragua, despite the war, "has taken concrete steps" toward this goal. The report noted the Nicaraguan opposition's demand for an easing of one-party Sandinista control over the army and the state.
- All five countries have named national reconciliation commissions to monitor the peace process, but only Nicaragua's adequately represents government foes. Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have decreed amnesty laws, and El Salvador has let a state of siege lapse. Nicaragua has refused to grant a broad amnesty or lift its siege laws until outside aid to the Contras ends.
- El Salvador accused Nicaragua of aiding Salvadoran guerrillas. The Sandinistas accused Honduras of harboring Contra bases and asserted that the rebels broadcast from El Salvador and Costa Rica. The accused parties have denied the charges, and the commission said it cannot learn the truth until it is given authority to make on-site inspections.
- All parties agreed on the need for such inspections. They agreed to ask the U.N. and OAS secretaries general to send a technical mission to the region to set up "mobile" inspection teams. However, Honduras declined at the meeting to sign a letter requesting that such a mission come at once.
- Talks on limiting the size of Central American armies, begun last month, will continue in February.
- Although the five nations agreed in August on the principle of "simultaneous" compliance--that, for example, Honduras would stop harboring Contras just as Nicaragua granted a general amnesty--disputes over who must act first pose a major obstacle to peace. The presidents should now negotiate a chronological plan for the major steps.
No Specific Timetable
The report suggested no specific timetable. Madrigal, the Costa Rican foreign minister, said he does not favor "a long and slow process of negotiation," but he predicted a difficult summit.
Costa Rican officials have said privately that the Sandinistas must make the most concessions. But other delegates to the meeting here said the report appears to strengthen Nicaragua's position by urging an end to U.S. aid to the Contras and by declining to single out the Sandinistas' non-compliance.
"Contrary to Washington's view, the report shows that other nations are also to blame for the strife," one participant said.
It was not clear what impact the report will have on the summit, since the presidents are free to set their own agenda. The Contadora Group is less critical of Nicaragua than its neighbors are, but it will not take part in the summit, leaving Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega potentially more isolated.
President Jose Napoleon Duarte of El Salvador declared last week that he would go to the summit and "tell Ortega directly that he hasn't complied."
Indeed, the Central Americans often traded bitter accusations in the meetings here. At one point, Honduras and El Salvador, the two closest U.S. allies in the region, threatened to break away and file a dissenting report less critical of their governments.
But in the end, they worked toward a "consensus document" that toned down the most serious charges and balanced them against each other.
For example, the Salvadorans agreed to the call for an end to Contra aid only after it was coupled with their accusations that the Sandinistas have aided the Salvadoran rebels.
A proposal by Peru to condemn Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala for summarily executing prisoners was changed to accuse "different countries, to differing degrees," of the practice. Governments accused of lesser wartime abuses by government security forces, including those of Nicaragua, were not named in the report's conclusions.
"It's not a matter of favoring anybody," said Ricardo Acevedo Peralta, the Salvadoran foreign minister. "The presidents needed a consensus document, and we gave them one. This is a great achievement."
Sandinista Bias Seen
Privately, however, Salvadoran, Honduran and Costa Rican officials criticized the Contadora nations as biased toward the Sandinistas and said they wanted a verification commission made up entirely of Central Americans.
The Contadora nations--Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela--failed after nearly four years of negotiations to end Central American conflicts. At the Sandinistas' insistence, the Arias peace plan gave them a monitoring role.
Arias, whose demilitarized country is the region's only stable democracy, appeared to be in violation of the accord until Tuesday, when he announced that three top Contra political leaders based in Costa Rica must renounce armed struggle or go live elsewhere.
Alfredo Cesar, one of the three, said Wednesday that he would leave Costa Rica. He said he hoped that Arias was acting to strengthen his authority to demand steps toward democracy in Nicaragua.
The other two Contra officials, Alfonso Robelo and Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, have not said what they will do.