The Endless War

In 1983 Central America is a land ravaged by a war without any foreseeable end. While the fighting could be moderated, if not ended, by negotiations, the major power involved in the region, the United States, shows no real disposition to negotiate. Instead, Washington has chosen a military approach to the struggle between the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and their exile antagonists—the so-called contras, based in neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica. In the same way, Washington has chosen to support the Salvadoran military in its war against the guerrillas, even though the armed forces demonstrate a wanton disregard for human rights, thus helping to prolong the very war the United States is committed to bringing to an end. The undeclared aim of the Reagan administration is to eradicate the existence of and possibility for “Marxist-Leninist” states in the region. By emphasizing ideological purity rather than the need for workable security guarantees, and by having abandoned diplomacy for military actions, the US has made it virtually impossible to disentangle itself militarily from the region. Even the best-intentioned administration—and there is no evidence that the Democrats offer a significant alternative to the strategy now pursued—will find the task of withdrawal and reconciliation enormously hard to accomplish.

A year and a half ago when I traveled through Central America, I returned believing that there was a reasonable chance for a series of negotiations—between Washington and Managua; between Washington and Havana; and between the contending forces in El Salvador—that could bring about an overall peace settlement. Since then, that opportunity has been effectively closed off by the Reagan administration’s single-minded devotion to military solutions.

This fall I again visited Mexico and Nicaragua, as well as traveling to Cuba, Honduras, and El Salvador, and before and during my trip again spoke with high officials both in and out of government. These included the Mexican foreign minister, Bernardo Sepulveda, Cuba’s vice-president and deputy prime minister, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, and deputy foreign minister Ricardo Alarcón, El Salvador’s president Alvaro Magaña, Honduras’s commander in chief General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, numerous Sandinista officials and military men, as well as leaders of the Nicaraguan exile forces located in Honduras. In addition, I had extensive conversations with US military and diplomatic representatives and visited the contested zones along the Nicaragua-Honduras border.

As the most important power in the region, Mexico is an invaluable starting point for any analysis of the turmoil in Central America. Fearing unrest that might spill over into a wider war, the Mexicans have taken the lead over the past two years in seeking negotiated solutions to the tensions between Washington and Managua and, more generally, in searching for an alternative to the militarization of the region. In particular, Mexico wants peace on its southern border where Guatemalan guerrillas are fighting against the regime and using Mexican territory as a haven. In any case, Mexican intellectuals and government officials—even those most hostile to Marxism—do not believe that Mexico …

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