April 16, 1986 | Lecture on American Leadership
THE U.S. AND NIdARAGUABRUCE WEINROD: I am Bruce Weinrod, Director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at The Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation and its Spitzer Institute for Hemispheric Development are very pleased to welcome you here today for our conference on Ni c aragua and U.S. policy. All of you know how important this subject is, and all of you need merely glance at this morning's papers to see that we are currently in the middle of an important debate. Indeed, we are rapidly reaching a crucial moment, a fork i n the road, regarding U.S. policy toward Nicaragua. The Congress soon will make a fateful decision and the result will determine whether the U.S. will be limited to a policy of rhetoric alone, or whether the U.S. will be able to combine that rhetoric and d i plomacy with support for the democratic resistance in Nicaragua. To explore these important issues surrounding U.S. policy in Nicaragua, The Heritage Foundation has assembled what I think is an outstanding group of experts, including individuals with firs t hand involvement and interest in the current situation. I might note that, in addition to those mentioned in the program, we have invited Bishop Pablo Vega, Bishop of auigalpa and Vice President of the Episcopal Conference in Nicaragua, who happens to be i n Washington,Ito give us some thoughts on religion and the situation in Nicaragua. Now, before moving into the panel discussions, we are pleased to be able to call on a man with substantial expertise on the topic of today's conference, a man, indeed, who w as intimately involved in the diplomacy regarding the U.S. and Central America for some time, former Senator Richard Stone. Senator Stone served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later was appointed by President Reagan to be special envoy and n egotiator for our U.S.-Central American policy. We are delighted to ask him to open the conference with a few thoughts. SENATOR RICHARD STONE: Ladies and gentlemen, before addressing the current situation, may I take the liberty of going back a few years to
This day-long seminar took place in the Lehrman Auditorium at The Heritage Foundation, March 5, 1986.
ISSN 0272-1155. Copyright 1986 by The Heritage Foundation.
1. Bishop Vega's remarks are available separately.put the current issues in some pers pective. At the conclusion of the Carter Administration, the Sandinistas, operating in broad front--and that is to say, with many non-Marxist, non-Communist leaders associated in the leadership of the Sandinista broad front--had succeeded in taking contro l of the government of Nicaragua. In the course of that, they made promises and assurances to the people of Nicaragua, to their neighbors and to the Organization of American States. Briefly summarized, they promised free elections and pluralism, and a free press, and freedom of religious practice. Immediately thereafter--and I may also point out a striking similarity to the Philippine situation--towards the very end of the Somoza regime operating for decades, the U.S. Administration did its best, after all t hose years of support, to urge and push Somoza to leave, which he did. Immediately following that departure and the coming into power of the Sandinista broad front, the Carter Administration sought political support, moral support, and financial support f rom the American people and specifically from the U.S. Congress. I was in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the first delegation of Sandinista leaders came to visit to support the then Administration's request for substantial financial aid. I opp osed that aid, because it seemed to me that the parallel with the Cuban experience was too vivid to be ignored. That is to say, something that starts as a broad front is fairly quickly winnowed down to a Marxist-Leninist leadership, whereupon the earlier promises during the insurrection are promptly forgotten and an authoritarian regime of the Marxist persuasion takes place. I well remember a meeting in which one of the Ortegas and several other Sandinista leaders answered questions from Senate Foreign Rel ations Committee members, and in which I had the opportunity to inquire whether any of them had been trained by Castro's forces. They denied that, but thanks to members of the Cuban exile community in Miami, I had some details, as to when and where and by whom they had been trained in Cuba. That led to a somewhat embarrassing situation, but not to the rejection of the financial assistance. It is appropriate to remember that during its last year the Carter Administration prevailed in obtaining substantial f i nancial assistance for Sandinista-led Nicaragua and it went in the first year of the Reagan Administration. Not just direct aid, approved by the Congress, but votes in multilateral banking and aid institutions which led to very substantial aid. During tha t same period, the Sandinistas signed agreements in Cuba and Moscow, multiple agreements, not one but many, linking them on paper to the Soviet bloc. So that was the response to the support and financial aid during that initial period. The members of the b road front who were not
... .........M arxist-Leninists were shaved away leaving the Marxist-Leninist commandantes in power. That brings us, then, to the period in which unsuccessful insurrections against the government of Guatemala, some against the government of Honduras, and the main one against the government of El Salvador, were supported by the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Apart from all the questions over how much material can be trac ed over land or over water from or through Nicaragua, there is no question that then and now, the radio and command and control facilities set up in safe havens in Nicaragua to assist these insurrections, particularly in El Salvador, go on to this minute. Protestations by the Sandinistas and their supporters that it is all a big lie cannot very well be sustained. If one has any form of a monitor and directional equipment, you can just tune in on it, for example. When I was asked by the White House, first t o be the President's personal representative regarding Central America and second, to be Ambassador-at-Large to conduct negotiations there, I felt it was paramount to focus on truly free elections. I believed, and I still believe, that all of the freedoms and opportunities and options that we support and which we value so highly in the Western democracies in general and in the United States in particular, can be crystalized in one major event, a free election, an election which is not corrupt, which is not stolen, which is not muscled by either military or forces of the left or right, which allows candidates and their organizations free access to the voters, both physically and on radio and television and in the print, and which results, then, in an honest count. That was what I was pushing for in El Salvador, in Guatemala, and in Nicaragua. That is what we have seen in El Salvador and in Guatemala and in Honduras and in Costa Rica. That is what we have not seen in Nicaragua. There was a parallel in Nicaragua within the last year to the Philippines. There was a dishonest election, that is to say, one which was muscled and which was not allowed to proceed. The Philippine people could not stand it, and that is why they rose. They had enough freedom to get to the polls. They did not have enough freedom to have their count honestly made. In Nicaragua, they did not even have enough freedom to hear the view of the contending forces and candidates and, therefore, they lost their chance at a free election. In El Sa lvador, in Costa Rica, in Guatemala, and in Honduras, on the other hand, they had those chances, with very good results for all concerned. To carry this analogy a little further, what is the parallel today with the Philippine situation? It is that when there is any
3chance at a free election, the people's voice will end up victorious. I can report to you that my main effort in negotiating with the Sandinistas was to ask them to have an open election, which they would not do. I even asked them to negotia te not directly with the so-called Contras, but with a respected Latin American President for an open, free chance of elections, which is what the Sandinistas promised the organization of American States to get Somoza derecognized and themselves recognize d. And why is it that Mr. Arturo Cruz, now one of the main leaders of the Contras, did not conduct his presidential campaign when he was tapped by most of the opposition forces within Nicaragua to do so? -Because negotiations, conducted by Willy Brandt and others, to try to get free and open election rules failed, were rejected, by the Sandinistas. And what is that the Contras promised openly, in my presence, both in Miami and Panama city, Panama? They promised that they would put down all weapons and ceas e all fighting if they could come back to Nicaragua for an open election. An open election connotes the chance of the Catholic Church to go on the air with their Masses, or with their human rights committees reports, or whatever they wish to say; with oppo sition candidates able to go on the radio and television with equal time to the Sandinistas; with La Prensa and other newspapers able to print the view of all candidates. And so I say that the issue facing the Congress today is: do you wish to support tho se who would fight until they get an election rather than those who fight until they have total power? Because that is really the issue. We do not have, in the Contras situation, simply power seekers. In fact, I would not be a bit surprised to see others not prominent in their leadership win in a free and untrammelled election. But I have my doubts as to whether the Sandinistas would, if they will never allow one. Let me conclude by encouraging us all to pay attention to those who have direct knowledge, and who will be speaking to us today, to look at the Nicaragua situation in terms of reality, in terms of the actual facts. Instead of having a religious leader for the Mideast, from the central part of the United State, to list e n to about what was the situation facing the religious community in Nicaragua, today we have a religious leader from Nicaragua itself, an existing religious leader, not one in exile, he is there. Obviously, he knows more about it than those who do not liv e there. And, similarly, we have people here addressing us today who really have participated, and I think that, when all the chips are down, when the Congress comes to the end of its deliberations--and that does not necessarily mean the first round--I am confident that the Congress, with the help of Mr. Ortega, whose latest trip was yesterday, to Havana--the last one he made was to Moscow and it helped
4the Congress decide significantly last year. This year, he is helping the Congress decide by going right now to Cuba, and that is where he is right now. When all of that is done, I do believe that the assistance to those who seek a chance for the people to voice their feelings and then to choose themselves, will prevail with increased assistance. I thank The Heritage Foundation for organizing this meeting today and I know that it is going to be enlightening and useful to us all. Thank you very much. MR. WEINROD: Thank you very much, Senator stone, for joining us and sharing your thoughts. I am going to turn the discussion now over to Esther Hannon, a Policy Analyst for Latin America who will moderate the first panel. ESTHER HANNON: On this panel, we are going to be discussing the domestic and policy situation in Nicaragua. Our guests are Humberto Belli and Alberto Gamez. Humberto Belli is now Director of the Puebla Institute in Michigan. He is the author of two books on Nicaragua. Breaking Faith is his most recent book; Christians Under Fire is his first. Mr. Belli was the editorial page writer for La Prensa, the independent but heavily censored newspaper in Managua. He left because of the censorship. He was also a member of the Sandinistas, a former Marxist-Leninist. He also has spent most of his work discussing the problems of the church and the rel igious struggle in Nicaragua. Alberto Gam.ez is the human rights spokesman for UNO, the United Nicaraguan Opposition. Mr. Gamez was Vice Minister of Justice for the Sandinistas--and left Nicaragua in July 1983. I will start with Mr. Belli, who will discuss the political and economic situation in Nicaragua today. HUMBERTO BELLI: In regard to the economic situation of Nicaragua today, there is not so much discussion as to how bad the situation is as to whom should be blamed for it. I think there is a common agreement that the economic and social situation of the country has been deteriorating over the past five years, and I just want to give you some statistics. It is very often claimed by the experts who go to my country for two or three weeks, not even kn owing the language, and who come back with glowing reports about what is going on in Nicaragua, that the Sandinistas have been building a lot of medical clinics, health facilities, vocation centers, and housing for the poor.
5The statistics provided by independent sources, and even by the Sandinista regime itself, in some instances, show a very different and depressing story. The purchasing power, or the economic situation, of the Nicaraguan poor is much worse nowadays than it was five or six years ago. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America in Sao Paulo, in 1982 there was a net decline of 12.9 percent in the average income of the population of Nicaragua, and then in 1983, there was a 25.4 percent decrease in average income for the Nicaraguan population at large. As we analyze a few statistics compiled by COSEP, the Superior Counsel of Private Enterprise in Nicaragua, we also find that from 1979 to 1985 the purchasing power of peasants in Nicaragua declined by two-and-a-half times. What they did to figure this out was to assemble a market basket that would include all the items that their peasants usually consume at government prices, to figure out how much it would cost for a peasant to buy it, an d how much time it would take him to earn the money he needs. They found that in 1979 he was able to purchase the average food basket with the work of one-and-a-half persons a month. Usually, this includes the peasant working full-time plus his wife and so metimes some of the kids. But in 1985, he needs three-and-three-quarters months work to be able to make up the same basket. So prices since 1979, according to the government, have increased 1,738 percent, 1,700 percent roughly, whereas salaries have increa sed 650 percent, so the cost of living almost has tripled. Recently, members of the CUS, the National Confederation of Labor, one of the few remaining free labor institutions in Nicaragua, stated that a worker family in Managua averaging about five to sev en members--Nicaraguan families are much larger than families in the U.S.--needs around 30,000 cordobas a month. However, they are getting 7,500 cordobas a month as the average income. So they are facing the worst economic situation in the past thirty or forty years. In fact, real income in Nicaragua today approaches the level of 1960, so it has been a twenty-five year retrogression in income. Some workers have been able to deal with this situation by getting rationing cards, a special rationing card provi ded by the Sandinistas for those workers who join the Sandinista-controlled labor union, the CST. Those workers who do not join the CST, however, are left with a rationing card that only enables them to get about two or three days worth of food for a week . There is great pressure on many workers to join the Sandinista-controlled Confederation of Labor, just to survive, because that is the only way they can get a rationing card that enables them to buy enough food for their families. When it comes to the explanations, the Sandinistas very often insist that the factors that have caused this economic decline have
6been the war against the Contras and the U.S. trade embargo. However, the U.S. trade embargo took place in May 1985 and the data I gave you from the United Nations refer to 1983 and 1982. An economic decline and shortages of basic foods were already occurring in 1982 when sugar and several other items began to be rationed. Before I left Nicaragua in April 1982, my wife was sick with a sinus conge stion and needed some antibiotics. I had to spend two days full-time looking around the city for a drug store where I could find the four shots that I needed. I found the two last remaining ones in one drug store, and then two more in another, but as I to ld you, I spent two full days looking, and I was able to got around in the city only because I had a car; most Nicaraguans do not. And since 1982 the situation of medical and basic supplies has worsened a lot. Again, the Sandinistas blame the Contras and blame the lack of economic support from the United States for the economic decline. It is very easy to refute those excuses. You know, when Somoza left the country, he left a foreign debt of $1.1 million. Now the Sandinistas have acquired an almost $5 bill ion foreign debt, meaning that in six years they have received foreign resources that far exceeded anything that Somoza ever received. The Sandinistas have received far greater loans and grants and help than has Costa Rica, and, I would say, more than any other Central American nation. The international community has been extremely generous to Nicaragua. They got oil on very good terms from Mexico and Venezuela, and just in the first month in power, they got $527 million. In 1980, they got $687 million. In 1982, they got $500 million. And so, by 1984, the foreign debt had risen to $4.2 billion and now, as I said it is surpassing the $5 billion mark. So there is no way to say that the Sandinistas have not received eno ugh help. They have received plenty, far more than Somoza ever dreamed of. Western Europe has been one of the greatest providers, and Libya has also granted the Sandinista funds; even the United States, when the Carter Administration was in power, provide d the Sandinistas with the biggest package of foreign aid among Western nations. To measure the damage that the Contras have done to the Nicaraguan economy, I would like to quote the data provided by a Nicaraguan economist who was a member of the Sandinista regime in the Ministry of Planning and then Ambassador of Nicaragua in Geneva. He said that the war did not become significant until March 1983. In 1981--and this is government statistics--the Contra war cost $272,000. In 1982, $8.4 million. About the t rade embargo, as I said, it just took place last year, May 1985, and even though it is doing
7some damage in terms of making it difficult for some factories in Nicaragua to get the spare parts, Nicaragua had a very marginal trade rate with the United States to begin with. When we got to the policy situation, we could see how in 1985 there was kind of political resurgence of internal city groups. There was renewal in political life in Nicaragua in spite of all the restraints that had been imposed. But o n October 15, 19850 the Sandinistas decreed a state of emergency, which meant the end of the little political leeway and freedom that this group might have. Not only did the Church see its printing facilities confiscated, the Catholic Church's only .radio station was indefinitely shut down on January 1 of this year. Campus Crusade for Christ had its headquarters taken over by the military. The National Director, Jimmy Hassan, escaped from Nicaragua in December 1985. The political parties have been restrai ned. The conservative party had its newsletter confiscated, and the Sandinista police told them that they could no longer print it, thereby depriving the party with the only link it had with its membership. Then members of COSEP, the private business assoc iation, and INDE, the private agricultural union, have been rounded up and jailed by the Sandinistas several times since October. The Sandinistas have told INDE that it can no longer conduct its program of cooperatives in the countryside because helping t he peasants and organizing the peasants is the prerogative of the Sandinista government only. Also labor leaders have been arrested over and over again, twenty-two leaders in October, and about a hundred Christian leaders since October on the grounds that they were, in a way, working to destabilize the revolution. So never has the history of contemporary Nicaragua been so dark in terms of freedom for the Church, for labor unions, for the business community, and for independent labor parties. The Nicaraguan Church has already become a silenced Church. I think that Nicaragua is closer than ever in reaching the classic pattern of totalitarian regimes. Thank you very much. MRS. HANNON: Now, we can have ten minutes of questions before we go to Mr. Gamez. QUEST ION: I have seen reports that La Prensa may have to close because the government has increased their production costs, they have increased the salaries, and increased the cost of their newspaper. Do you have any current reports on whether it is going to b e able to continue publishing? MR. BELLI: Well, they will not be able to continue unless La Prensa gets a generous grant from some other country or some other sources.
8They have done it in the past. Venezuela helped La Prensa survive in 1982 by providing it with $50,000 worth of paper, but now the situation keeps getting worse every day, and the costs of La Prensa keep increasing. The paper takes a big economic loss almost every day that it is published, because i t is published very late because of the censorship. You know, La Prensa is not sold on the basis of subscriptions. Nicaraguan papers are sold by the street vendors on a day-to-day basis, so if you print the paper too late after rush hour time, your circul ation might decline by 50 percent and sometimes more, and La Prensa has been having an average delay of five hours every day. When I was at La Prensa, we had to take dummies of the paper every day to the Ministry of Interior where they would revise it and they would eliminate what they did not like. Then we would have to take it back to La Prensa, replace the censored material, and take it back to the Ministry of the Interior. Six times in six weeks we were completely unable to print the paper, and we had, at that time, and average of three to four hours delay. Now it is getting worse. QUESTION: Bishop Gumbleton said on TV last night that Cardinal Obando does not represent the real Church in Nicaragua, the real Church was the People's Church. MR. BELLI: We ll, I wish that he would go to Nicaragua. I witnessed when the Cardinal draws the people--humble people--in great numbers. The renowned so-called liberation theologians, or revolutionary preachers in Nicaragua are unable to assemble even a small fraction of the people that the Cardinal gathers. In 1981, 1 participated in a survey that really showed that Cardinal Obando was the most popular person in Nicaragua by a large degree. QUESTION: Could you address the support that the Sandinistas are getting from Western democracies, in terms of both economic and political support, whether you have seen any decline or change in their support for the Sandinistas? MR. BELLI: Their support has been significantly decreasing over time, especially over the past two years . West Germany decided not to give any more support to the Sandinistas because of the persecution of the Christian Democrats and some other reasons in Nicaragua. Then Venezuela stopped giving credit to Nicaragua for the easy buying of oil. Even Mexico has been demanding from the Sandinistas payment that Nicaragua owes for oil. There is still some money coming from the Scandinavian countries, but it is not too much; a little bit from Italy, a little bit from France. But not too much.
9MRS. HANNON: Let me just add that I was told recently, and I was a bit surprised, that Canada gives more economic aid to Nicaragua than it does to other Central American countries. QUESTION: Could you tell me which economic policies you think are most destructive for the economy of Nicaragua? MR. BELLI: Well, in Nicaragua the government attempt to centralize the economy has been very destructive. The state created ENABAS which is an institution which has centralized all commerce and the buying and selling of agricultural p roducts and eliminated the market. ENABAS has been disastrous in Nicaragua. Also, there has been massive confiscation of privately owned lands and factories. Some of them belonged to the Somoza family, but many of them belonged to people who were making them produce in a very efficient way. Almost everything that the state has co nfiscated has gone bankrupt. The government has stopped in 1981 from releasing its statistics about the economic performance of their own units because it was very obvious that they were already subsidizing the largest state-owned sector of the economy. Al so, they went into the creation of a lot of social programs when they did not have the revenue to finance it. So these three things have hurt Nicaragua's economy. And also, there is no investment climate in Nicaragua, so the people who could invest have either been fleeing the country or if they stay, are afraid to invest when they have no safeguards of any sort. QUESTION: When was the last time you were in Nicaragua? MR. BELLI: I left by the end of April 1982, although ever since I have been very much i n touch with the constant flow of people-who -are coming out of the country, and since they know my mission of informing, especially about the Church situation, I keep receiving a file of documents and keep relating with people who are still in the countr y. QUESTION: Is your family here? MR. BELLI: My immediate family is with me, my wife and four kids are with me, living now in Michigan. My parents are still in Nicaragua, but they are protected in a way, because I have a sister who happens to be a member of the Sandinista party. We have many divided families in Nicaragua. QUESTION: Could you discuss Eastern European economic support in recent years?
- 10 -MR. BELLI: The Eastern European economic support is difficult to measure because you do not get a money figure for that. It is estimated that Soviet support, in terms of military aid, runs annually between $500 million--that is the Department of State estimation, which is conservative--to $2 billion. A good deal of help from Eastern Europe comes in t erms of advisors, technicians, and sometimes exchange of merchandise, but I do not know to what extent they are providing hard currency. Libya has been the country outside the Western camp that has provided hard currency to Nicaragua. QUESTION: During the recent crisis in the Philippines, the Catholic Church played a critical role in the elections, apparently with the Vatican's backing. Do you think that might set a precedent for Nicaragua and, if so, what role can Cardinal Obando play in unifying the opp osition? MR. BELLI: This is a very interesting point. You know, the Church in Nicaragua has played a critical role for the past twenty years. They began playing a critical role under Somoza. I mean, in some ways, the bishops are still playing a critical ro le under the Sandinistas, although they have been much more restrained than under Somoza. The Pope has encouraged them to continue asking for reconciliation and he has encouraged the Church to resist the continuous attack that it is receiving from the government. The interesting thing is that you find a lot of people in this country who tend to belong to what we can call the liberal camp--who support people like Bishop Tutu of South Africa because of his stand against apartheid, and Cardinal Sin in the Philippines because he denounced the Marcos regime. When it comes to Nicaragua, they try to explain away what the Sandin istas are doing against the Church, claiming that the churches in Nicaragua have been meddling in politics. MRS. HANNON: Thank you,, Mr. Belli,, for your excellent presentation. Thank you for being with us today. We are going to have translator for Mr. Gamez. ALBERTO GAMEZ: I am here representing the Commission for Human Rights of UNO. This Commission was created as an autonomous organization for the protection of human rights of the people of Nicaragua. our main purpose is to humanize the whole conflict occurring in Nicaragua while serving all sides and monitoring what is going on, both on the battlefield and in the negotiations. We have established a code of conduct based on the Geneva agreements concerning human rights and humanitarian rights in war.
The Commission is structured by a directive council. It is presided by Israel Reyes who has been the President of the Red Cross in Nicaragua, who was a distinguished and outspoken leader against the Somoza government.
To establish a human rights arm of UNO, we asked for advice and recommendations from other human rights organizations as to the best way to conduct our cause of human rights.
The problem of human rights violations in the Nicaraguan armed conflict has been tremendous, particularly by the Sandinista government but also by members of the rebel forces. Many of them have come from broken families and some have had a violent past.
UNO has been providing training to ensure the protection of human rights and more than 5,000 individuals have already been part of this training. Thanks.
QUESTION: As we all know, Congress is now considering military and humanitarian aid to the Contras. It seems that the number one problem in getting that aid through Congress is the question of human rights and the repo rts from many persons and organizations saying the Contras are frequently violating civil rights. What can be done about that and is it already being done?
MR. GAMEZ: The purpose of the Commission is to stop the violation of human rights by members of the rebel forces. Part of the problem is we are not dealing with educated people. We are dealing with peasants who sometimes resort to violence in reaction to Sandinista repression. we are sorry to say that there have been some violations by members of the r ebel forces. However,, these violations are not systematic. We do not organize any kind of human rights violations.
LYNN BOUCHEY: My name is Lynn Bouchey. I am President of the Council for Inter-American Security.
It is my pl easure and privilege to introduce to you Colonel Larry Tracy of the Office of Public Diplomacy at the United States State Department. Colonel Tracy has, among other things, served as a U.S. military attache in Bolivia. He has wide knowledge and experience of the region. He will discuss the military situation in Nicaragua.
Colonel Tracy was one of the principal authors last year, together with Miss Kay Stephenson of the Department of Defense, of a volume entitled The Soviet-Cuban Connection in Central Ameri ca and the Caribbean, which will be followed by a second volume soon.
COLONEL LARRY TRACY: I would like to recast the strategic view. That is, what will happen, what could happen, if there is an expanded Soviet military presence in the Western Hemisphere. Encouragingly,- 12 -
there is a widening consensus in the city that the Soviet Union simply cannot be permitted to expand militarily in the region. The shared concern is that if we do not provide help to the resistance movement to stop that expansion, a more dire circumstance could result, such as the use of U.S. troops. We are very much at a watershed in our situation. An expanded Soviet presence in the region, for one thing, forces the U.S. much more closely to its own shores, limits its readiness, w illingness, and ableness to project its military power to the crisis areas of the world. The Soviets are outspending us greatly in this region. Over the last five years, it has spent over $4 billion in military equipment that has gone to Cuba and Nicaragu a . our military assistance to the entire region during this period of time has been less than a billion dollars, so there is a 4, almost 5 to 1 ratio. In economic assistance, the Soviets have provided to Cuba alone over $20 billion since 1980. our economic assistance to the countries of Central America has been about $4 billion. Why is a very rational political actor like the Soviet Union, itself under intense economic pressures, making such large investments in the area? It is to neutralize the U.S. in an area that the Soviets had long considered the strategic rear. They have also used the term where they would not be able to put pressure on the U.S. Until now, they simply did not have the ability to project their force to a then unreceptive Latin America.
Well that has changed dramatically in the last several years. I think we have to assess the consequences for the future if, indeed, we have a series of Soviet bases. We are already doing this. Admiral McDonald, our Commander in Norfolk wrote an article ab o ut the Cuban factor, and he pointed out how he must dedicate certain military assets to that region now, because of Cuba, which he would much rather dedicate to the North Atlantic and other areas. With Cuba's military buildup into the largest military in L atin America, larger even than Brazills, we now have a significant military threat that could at least be a nuisance and cause the U.S. to spread itself rather thin. We compound this greatly once we add Nicaragua on the mainland, with the ability of Punta Huete, the air base that has been built near Managua to be able to support Soviet operations, to be able to support any aircraft in the Soviet inventory. Right now, it is being used tactically by the Sandinistas for their gunship operations, but the runwa y is 10,000 feet long. It has about a meter thick strip and it could, in fact, support Bear aircraft, or even greater, the reconnaissance.- 13 -
The infrastructure is possibly in place. Ports are being constructed by the Soviet Union as well, which coul d certainly give an anchor for the Soviet fleet both in the Caribbean and on the Pacific. And we know how the Soviets have burgeoned in their Pacific operations over the years.
There is an old Lenin description that you probe, and when you find mush, you continue to probe. When you probe and you find steel, you find someplace else to probe. Well, although the resolve has strengthened considerably, there is still a considerable amount of mush, so that the Soviets can continue to probe in this area. We must be able to send a clear signal to the Soviet Union that this adventurism simply is not going to be tolerated.
The most important problem that we are confronted with now is the momentous vote coming up in the next few weeks on assistance to the resistance force. If the resistance movement does not get the military assistance, they simply do not have the capability to go against a very heavily armed military with virtually unlimited supplies from the Soviet Union.
Let me just talk a bit on the tactical situ ation. I will just make this general statement, and I think Colonel Bermudez will be able to amplify this. A criticism that is frequently made of the resistance movement, the FDN in particular, is that it has not captured an inch of territory. If one look s at the firepower that they are facing, I would believe, from a military standpoint, it would be ludicrous for them to capture a large enclave and declare that, in some way, a liberated territory, because then the Sandinistas would be able to pound that a way.
The best thing for them is to constantly fight guerrilla warfare, constantly moving and keeping the Sandinistas off balance. This tactic is quite logical when you look at the relative combat power they are facing.
The Sandinistas have brought in T-55 tanks that remain a battle tank in many of the Warsaw Pact armies. Cuba continues to use and receive the T-55 tank. Experts in tanks in the U.S. Army consider the T-55 as an ideal fighting vehicle for Third World countries because of its durability and e asy maintenance. The T-55 also provides a psychological threat against neighboring countries that do not have tanks. Costa Rica and Honduras do not have anything that could go against the T-55.
The Hondurans have British Scorpions and SaladianB which are basically reconnaissance vehicles that were never designed to go against a heavy tank like the T-55.- 14 -
The resistance is also up against helicopters with the MI-8, the HIP helicopter, whi ch is both a troop transporter and can also be configured into a gunship. Then, of coukse, there is the MI-24, which is very solidly underarmed--armorplated on the bottom--which makes it relative impervious to machine gun or small arms fire. You need a su rface-to-air missile to bring that down.
The Mujahadin in Afghanistan, as you know, have done an effective job with the Hind, because they have been able to lure it into valleys and then been able to fire down on its soft spot. The terrain in Nicaragua does not lend itself to that.
The Sandinista military has now grown to 75,000. The frequent argument is that it grew to that size as a result of the resistance forces. However, the Sandinistas in 1980--before the end of 1980--had already achieved the largest army in the history of Central America. They had about 25,000 men in their army at that point. That gave them an army somewhat larger than Guatemala's army which has a population three times as great. By the end of November 1981, the Sandinista army had increased to over 40,000 active duty, plus their reserves.
Now, Ambassador Carlos Tunnerman, who is the Nicaraguan Ambassador here in Washington, wrote a letter to the Washington Post on March 30, 1985, blaming all the woes of Nicaragua on the United State s in general and on the Central intelligence Agency in particular. I read the letter and I thought there was something strange. I read it a second time and then it jumped out at me like it was in neon lights. He said, "By November 198111--the date that he ascribed to a decision to fund the resistance movement--"all we were confronted with on our border were a few hundred ex-national guardsmen whose principal occupation was extortion and cattle rustling."
So in a sense, I would say, this is the Sandinistas' threat perception as of late 1981--a few hundred cattle rustlers. But they had a posse of 40,000 already.
So the idea that this is a cause and effect, that they have built this large army because of the resistance movement, is simply false on the structu re of that military. In building their military, the Sandinistas follow a pattern that has developed in virtually every Marxist-Leninist government around the world.
An article in the Wall Street Journal in early April by Professor James Payne from Texas A&M gave a comparative analysis of Marxist-Leninist governments around the world, and it pointed out that of the 34 self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist governments, every one has a far higher percentage of people under arms than do their neighbors, whether o r not the country has a legitimate threat to face. So building a large military is certainly a means of social mobilization.- 15
What we see in this conflict is a lightly armed but well organized resistance with high morale going against a military that is heavily armed but with rather questionable morale. There are defections from the Sandinistas. I think increasing the pressure on that military could, indeed, cause significant problems within their own ranks.
The idea is that this is the Somoza Nation al Guard in a new uniform is, of course, preposterous from a straight mathematical analysis. Somoza had 7,000 in his National Guard up until the final year when he doubled it to about 14,000 with a lot of cannon fodder that he brought in. Many of those re main in prison right now in Nicaragua.
The resistance movement is approximately 20,000, with the majority of them about 18 to 20 years of age, which means that they were about 12 years of age when the Somoza National Guard disintegrated. of the leadership, there is an almost equal division between former Sandinistas and former Somoza National Guardsmen. Indeed, there are some former Somoza National Guardsmen in the Sandinista army itself, so membership in that, certainly even by the Sandinistas, is not con sidered an automatic negative.
Colonel Bermudez, I would remind you all, when he was the military attache here in Washington, was considered by the Carter Administration as the man that could clean up the National Guard. A possibility Somoza natu rally rejected. During the Carter Administration, this Colonel Bermudez was not identified with any of the abuses of the National Guard in its final years in power. He was here in Washington. He was an engineer, a technical man, and has an extremely clean record.
MR. BOUCHEY: I would like to ask you all to welcome Colonel Enrique Bermudez. As Colonel Tracy mentioned, Enrique Bermudez spent some time here in Washington. It is widely known amongst people who have followed the Central American situation, alth ough it has been little reported, that one of the reasons that Colonel Bermudez was here in Washington was because certain people back in Managua thought that it was politically safer to have him here rather than there.
This is a gentleman who has committ ed himself to the democratic principles, and who is leading in the operation sense, the democratic resistance inside Nicaragua. It is thus a pleasure for me this morning to ask Enrique Bermudez to share with you his analysis, his perception, of where thin gs stand in the struggle and precisely how we can, perhaps, assist that struggle. Colonel Bermudez.
COLONEL ENRIQUE BERMUDEZ: Thank you. Good morning to all of you. I will apologize because I am not so fluent in English, but I will try- 16
to do my bes t. If, on any occasion, I cannot express myself in English, I will say it in Spanish, and we have a translator here. Well, we in the liberation movement do not have enough time to prepare our statement. My feelings, my personal opinion, is that our moveme n t has been misunderstood and the American opinion is not very well informed. We are a democratic movement. We are fighting a war against a totalitarian regime. Few people are aware of what is going on really in Nicaragua. We, in our movement, the anti-San d inista movement, seek to establish democracy in Nicaragua. We are trying to achieve a unified front. our principle has been expressed in many brochures or papers that we have published in the past. Since 1983 we have clearly established what we are fighti ng for, what we want for Nicaragua.
We are not a political party, we are a movement for democracy. We are not seeking personal power. We want the Nicaraguan people to have the opportunity to express themselves through free elections.
We ex ect from the Un ited States an understanding of our p struggle. We expect you to support us in the same way that President Reagan supports democratic forces or popular forces in the Philippines now and participates also in the establishment of a democracy in Haiti.
QUESTION: Sir, I have a three-part question for you. One, what do you see as the biggest problems for your forces? Two, what kinds of equipment do you see as necessary to achieve for success on the battlefield?
And three, there are some apparent command and co ntrol problems with the forces. What are you doing to rectify those? COLONEL BERMUDEZ: Let me explain. We have been a very dynamic movement. We have pushed for a unified front. But, as you know, in this type of struggle, historically, always there are man y divisions. In association with your third point, we have been willing all the time to get together with all the anti-Sandinista groups, to find the way to solve our problems, establish a procedure and go together in this fight, because it is necessary to stay together. No one single movement will have the capacity to defeat the Sandinistas. Our main problem, and this you must understand very clearly, is the United States. In 1984, there was a good momentum. We were pressing hard on the Sandinistas. The po l itical parties were pressuring the Sandinistas as was the Church and all the Nicaraguan sector. When funds were cut off, the Nicaraguan people were very disappointed with the U.S. Anything that Washington does or Congress does affects not only the politic al sphere but also the labor sector,1 7
the Church, and the whole Nicaraguan population. The United States has lost prestige as a trusted ally.
Let me give you an example. Many countries--and I have heard the opinion of many military personnel in Centra l America--do not trust the United States. They think the United States will abandon them, as they have abandoned other countries. So our main problem is the decision of the United States. People will not get involved against the Sandinistas if they do no t see the U.S. support the resistance.
The Sandinistas have exploited that. They have paraded the military apparatus to intimidate the people. You know, they bring the tank through the cities. They bring the helicopter, the artillery. They make a show of the military forces. So any citizen will think twice before he goes to join us.
I remember when we started this struggle with no aid from anybody, we had groups, very badly dressed with shotgun or with 22 calibre rifles. And the people did not pay any attention to us. So when we started to receive funds, we emphasized good uniforms, good equipment, and that provoked a very enthusiastic reaction in the population. And this is the reason why we grew up so large and so fast .
Now we are running out of supplies and funds, people are becoming disillusioned. They will be more conscious of Sandinista repression and the Sandinistas, of course, have taken some measures such as forced relocation. They have taken repressive action ag ainst those people who they suspect were sympathizing with our forces.
You have heard about the relocating people from the rural areas, to collective farms, in order to control areas they suspect are supportive of us.
QUESTION: If the President were to get his $100 million through Congress, would that be enough for the Contras?
COLONEL BERMUDEZ: Yes. Well, our logic is this. We have been able to resist and to keep this pressure on the Sandinistas with almost no help at all. With $100 million we are sure we are going to defeat the Sandinistas very fast.
Of course, we need some anti-aircraft weapons. Definitely, the MI-24 have influenced the tactical situation. For instance, we are operating in Esteli, Jinotega, and Nuevo Segovia, Madriz and Chinandega, wh ich are very well-cultivated lands, and have no dense vegetation to protect forces on the terrain. In that place, the helicopter is very effective.- 18 -
We have to move our forces from that insecure area to more secure areas, which is why we abandoned our presence in this very important area of Nicaragua. QUESTION: Colonel Bermudez, could you discuss the Honduras border and how it figures as a Contra sanctuary with all the political aspects?
COLONEL BERMUDEZ: Yes. This is a very sensitive issue. Let m e say this. Any guerrilla movement against a totalitarian regime like the Sandinistas are creating is totally dependent on internal sources of support. And let me give an example. Let us make a comparison between the leftist guerrilla in El Salvador and d e mocratic guerrillas in Nicaragua. A guerrilla in El Salvador--which is not a police-controlled population--can change to civilian clothes, go to the city, go to a movie, go to a restaurant, have a good rest. Next day, he will go downtown to a shoe store a nd he will ask to buy 200 pairs of boots.
The owner of the store will try to convince him to buy 500 and will give him a special price. That has happened with medicine and any article. In Nicaragua, which is totally controlled, you have a rationing card, y ou have neighborhood committees, so you cannot do that. First of all, there is no medicine in Nicaragua. Medicine is controlled by the government. All the boots are controlled by the government for the army.
You have to make a written requisition--request --if you want to buy two pair of boots. If you want to buy two pair of boots, you immediately are under suspicion as a Contra and you have to explain why you want the second pair of boots. So in Nicaragua, the guerrilla cannot get supplies.
QUESTION: As y ou know, one of the chief arguments used by those who are opposed to aid to the Contras is that a majority of the top officers, including yourself, are former members of the National Guard. I wonder if you could give us some ammunition to use against this argument. COLONEL BERMUDEZ: Frankly, this has been a good achievement of the Sandinista propaganda. We have a voluntary army. This is not a conventional army. People do not receive any pay at all. They have their own motivation to fight. Our leadership is not politically appointed. The regional commanders, the task force commander or small unit commander, are not leaders because somebody appointed them to be a leader. They have gained that leadership fighting. It is not a vacation. They have been fighting against Sandinistas, risking their lives.- 19
We have 71 commanders. We have 17 regional commanders, which are the higher commander. Next is task commander commanding between 200 and 400, a battalion size. Then the unit commander and then groups, which is about between 60 and 100.
We have commanders that were members of the National Guard, we have nineteen. Most of them were soldiers. Some of them were lieutenant, second lieutenant. Two were cadets, and the only colonel is myself.
I have been living in the United States since 1975. This year, I will be eleven years living out of my country. I came from Washington where I was living in 1975 to Central America because, as a Nicaraguan, I feel compelled to something for my country.
The former members of the National Guard have their own motivation. I ha ve a list here of 20 who were in the Sandinista army. And I have a list of 32 who were called from different sectors, peasants, most of them, farmers, businessmen, professional, student, and so forth.
So the participation of former members of the National Guard is voluntary. They were not closely associated with the Somoza regime. They consider themselves professional military persons. A legal instrument that was submitted and approved by the Sandinista junta, by the U.S. government, and by the majority o f the democratic members of Congress, it was called the Plan for the Consolidation of Peace was sent by the Sandinista junta before they took power to the OAS. In that plan, they established the new national army will be composed by Sandinistas and Nationa l Guardsmen based upon the principle that not all the members of the National Guard were bad. Now they are exploiting and saying that all the members of the National Guard are bad.
MR. BOUCHEY: Let me stop on that question and turn to our next panel member , Dr. Joachim Maitre, who is Professor of International Relations and Journalism at Boston University. He is a foreign affairs editor for Strategic Review and has recently completed a documentary dealing with the Contras.
DR. JOACHIM MAITRE: In that parti cular movie on the Contras, which is running for 28 minutes, you see daily spots in television in this country. Right now I asked Commandants Bermudez about his strategic aim inside Nicaragua and I asked him a provocative question, primarily, are you goin g to march into Managua any time soon? It took him about a minute to recover from this question and he said, "Well, we would like to, but we have other things to do first."
He defined his primary aim inside Nicaragua as cutting the country into two halves. By cutting the Rama Road, which is the main- 20
supply artery from El Bluff on the Atlantic Coast into Managua, he hoped to achieve a political breakthrough. That particular step has not been taken and, in order to pour, perhaps, some vinegar into the wine, cannot be achieved very quickly because another dramatic development is occurring in the south of Nicaragua hardly reported in this country at all, namely, a peace treaty between Costa Rica and the Sandinistas.
We--and primarily the Reagan Administ ration--can take pride in having achieved over four years the democratization of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and, clearly, has also helped free elections again in Costa Rica. There are, however, negative ramifications, in particular in the north in H onduras and, of course, in Costa Rica. Those countries wish to live in peace with their neighbor, Sandinista Nicaragua.
The editor Eduardo Ulibarri from the largest paper in Costa Rica, La Nacion, predicted approximately a year ago in a column printed in t he Wall Street Journal that increasing and continued American reluctance to help the Contras with real aid would have to result almost automatically in, number one, the Finlandization of Costa Rica; number two, militarization of Honduras.
Not being a member of the FDN, or of any organization within Nicaragua, I think I am free to talk a bit about Honduras. The $27 million in humanitarian aid voted by Congress last year has not been spent or, if they have been spent, the wares have not been delivered to the FDN through Honduras because I would claim the State Department there and other institutions in this country have failed to make Honduras into a proper strategic ally.
Most of the stuff is still sitting in New Orleans. Whatever has been sent is still in Tegucigalpa or in other depots within Honduras. This is primarily responsible for the drying up of supplies for the FDN.
When going into Nicaragua, in order to produce the television movie I just talked about, we took off from an airfield inside Honduras, with a C-47 to be airdropped into Nicaragua. That airfield is no longer available for supply runs into Nicaragua. How do you, then, supply a fighting force of about 20,000? You do not. That is the prime reason for the number of fighting C ontras inside Nicaragua having dwindled to, I guess, about 6,000 to 8,000 right now.
The assessment of the strength of the Contras? We should attempt to listen to a few Americans. Let me give you quotes from Americans you know very well, even if you do not like them.
"The government forces are well-funded. There are 60,000 troops ready; another 60,000 waiting. The Contras are a rag-tag army of 20,000.11 This, of course, is Tip O'Neill.- 21 . ... ..... .
Since the government troops are so well-funded,. why help the underdogs? Run away. Be with the winners. He says, "It would be nothing but a slaughter and a humiliation for the Contras to equip them for war." But in order not to dump on the Democrats, let me also criticize, or rather mention, at least, with a negative note, General Gorman, former SOUTHCOM Commander in Panama, who said,, "It will take the Contras years, if at all, to overcome the Sandinistas."
Another famous American, "There is no chance that they will be able to overthrow the government. In the resistance, you have perhaps 15,000 members, rifles scattered around the open, unpopulated part of the country. They can't go into the cities, which the government is protecting with tanks, 75,000 men in the army, the militia and the security--in other words, the Contras may just as well give up.', This was--you may be surprised--William Casey.
General Nutting who was also rather negative about the prospect of the Contras' victory should remain unmentioned with a quote.
And here a Senator, a Repub lican, who says, "In order to defeat aid for the Contras, Contra aid is only one-three thousandth of the overall military spending plan, but for every Contra we supply with a new gun, countless elderly Americans will go without meals."
And the final asses sment, this time from a liberal, I should almost say a former liberal, who wrote a series in the Boston Globe about a week ago where he says--and this is a very important quote, because the country is changing, I claim, although Senators and Representativ e s here in Washington remain behind the power curve--' Sheehan says, "I arrived in Central America with the conventional liberal wisdom that the Contras, through their past links to the Argentine Colonels and the CIA were so many ex-National Guardsmen as t heir Commanders, were a reactionary right wing force. After nearly one week with them, I modified this preconception. I see them now more as actors in a terrible national tragedy of civil war, as actors bearing a legitimate grievance in Nicaragua."
He talk s about the Somozistas. Did not see many of them. But he says, "The remaining Comandantes are heterogeneous, including some ex-Sandinistas. The troops are an army of simple, Nicaraguan peasants, no ideology save their ardent Catholicism. Some are in their early 20s, but many are much younger boys and girls who have barely reached puberty. "My heart went with them, for I knew that in facing such massive Sandinista firepower, so many of these children will be killed. I- 22
consider the military Contras an authentic national liberation force." That is a liberal, but not in Congress. Just a few remarks about the strategic situation within Nicaragua. I think we have to admit that the resistance on the Atlantic Coast is not ver y strong any longer. There is sabotage on a daily basis, but I do not believe that the Contras can rely on the Indian warriors on the East Coast, numbering roughly 1,500, as reliable allies. There are many reasons for this. Operations in central Nicaragua, I said, primarily in Centalis had to be curtailed because logistic lines are not secure or safe. Sandinista strength is, of course, overpowering, but I see Contras not being capable of keeping territory under control. I went into one particular base insid e Nicaragua roughly 30 kilometers away from the nearest road. This particular camp could be safe. It was in the forest of Nuevo Segovia. However at that particular time, an aerial attack by the Sandinistas took place, 02, so-called "push-pull" attack aircr a ft that could easily have been defeated by regular 50 millimeter machine guns which were not available. If I claim simple equipment such as surface-to-air missiles could be given, it would be the first step in the securing of territory within Nicaragua. I consider the step crucial for improvement of their situation, because then, at least, the continents would no longer be dependent upon neighboring states as they are now. They are, of course, in a fix because Honduras' good will is a key to future operati ons.
Let us remember that no anti-communist insurgency has succeeded anywhere in the world so far. We must remember this all the time. Savimbi in Angola has come close, primarily on account of very strong support given by those criminals in South Africa. V ictory in Angola today is clearly prevented by American reluctance to aid Savimbi. In Nicaragua, given the totalitarian nature of the regime, one primary objective cannot be achieved, namely support through the general population, what you would call toda y an uprising. How do you rise up if you cannot even get organized as a group of three people?
So the Contras' task is formidable, yet I come from East Germany. I took part in 1953 in an uprising as a young Communist--at least I was in the uniform of a Com munist. We had no chance because we could not get organized properly. In 1956, 1 was in Hungary when the Hungarians rose. In Hungary, three army divisions mutinied against the Soviets.
So wearing a Communist uniform is no guarantee for loyalty towards the system. Such a change is possible in Nicaragua, and I do not think I am being overly optimistic. How do you exploit the- 23
dissatisfaction clearly existing in the Sandinista army? By inflicting upon the armed forces a few humiliating defeats.
One of the Hinds has already been shot down. There are twelve, plus a number of HIPs that can also be reached. The HIPs carry primarily counterinsurgency forces--very good troops, by the way; we should not denigrate their value.
These troops--I met two of them who had been taken prisoner by the Contras--did not impress me as Communist in that sense, as fanatics. They are fighting right now the government side, which is normally the winning side. That particular trend can be defeated, I believe, again, by the de livery of weapons which are heavier, more advanced, than what the Contras have today.
We could also, perhaps, learn a lesson from what is happening in Afghanistan. Last summer, in July, two crews of MI-24 Hind helicopters defected while on a mission toward s the Pakistani border. Now, when remembering that these helicopter crews are very carefully picked and trained and supervised, one has to wonder how they managed to make that decision. Well, they did. Both helicopters were not, by the way, returned to Af ghanistan.
The Contras have a price on the Hinds. The first pilot who comes out of--I understand Soldier of Fortune has promised--will receive, what, half a million, one million dollars? And I know from one refugee, rather, a deserter from the Sandinista f orces, that they have posters out at the airfield, that anybody caught attempting to persuade anybody or getting prepared himself will be shot without a trial, so the Sandinista leadership command does not seem to be too confident of their people's loyalt y to the people. Thank you.
MR. BOUCHEY: Thank you. Sorry to have to cut you short, but I would like to allow us at leas