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NETTIE LEE BENSON
LATIN AMERICAN COLLECTION
The General Libraries
University of Texas
Gift of the Publisher
E 744 U54 LAC COP . 2
luban-American National Foundation, Inc.
U.S. Policy Options
This is one of a scries of papers on issues of
Cuban concern distributed by the
Cuban American National Foundation
Permission to use this material is granted by the Cuban American National Foundation.
We would appreciate credit when this study is quoted.
Nothing written here is to be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder
the passage of any bill before Congress.
The Cuban American National Foundation, Inc.
U.S. POLICY OPTIONS IN CENTRAL AMERICA
About ihe author:
I dUflrdC Ulthiim is Editor of La Nation. San Josf; Cos-ia Rica.
Two positions have crystallized in the U.S. in regard to developments in the
deepening Central American crisis. Both positions are over-simplified. Neither
provide a true idea of the extent or substance of regional Cuban involvement,
nor the conditions which have permitted the development of this involvement.
One position blames all of Central America's conflicts on the traditional in-
justices and abuses inherent in oligarchic-military governments against which
the people have rebelled. This school of thought believes that while the protest
movements may be linked to external forces (i.e., Castro and, recently, the
P.L.O.), they are fundamentally nationalistic, accepting outside aid only forthe
lack of any forthcoming elsewhere. At any rate, conditions are judged to be so
favorable for the revolutionary movements that external assistance is viewed as
The other view holds an international communist conspiracy responsible for
all crisis and chaos. Any discontent, questioning of the status quo or genuine
attempts at democratic reforms are seen as manifestations of this conspiracy.
The only viable option, therefore, is the use of force; the existing regime and its
supporters must be armed so as to weaken its Communist adversaries.
Many sectors in the United Slates, particularly liberal groups, perceive all
violent outbreaks— from the Nicaraguan civil war and fighting in El Salvador
to a banana worker's strike in H onduras— as popular rebellions against corrupt
Other groups, generally conservative, draw different conclusions from the
same events: in countries where the people are apparently so apathetic, opposi-
tion to the established order must be the product of outside influence.
As a result, liberal groups want the U.S to either remain neutral in Central
American events, or to crusade on behalf of the oppressed. The conservative
groups advocate American involvement, militarily, if need be, to reduce the
threat to friendly governments.
Both perspectives are nourished by a basic misunderstanding of Central
America and its problems. Developments in Europe, Africa and Asia have for
decades been the focus of concern in Washington. Thus, when disturbance in
Central America intensified recently, few were prepared to deal with the prob-
The United States' indecisiveness has been reinforced by the national trauma
it suffered over Vietnam. Its memory has greatly buttressed the "hands off
attitude toward Central America. The desire to avoid "another Vietnam" has so
paralysed the U.S. lhai il finds itsell unable to form any policy beyond proposing
negotiations between the various warring (actions.
Until the United States becomes more knowledgable about the problems of
Central America and frees itself of the bridling memory of Vietnam, it will be
difficult for it to formulate a coherent policy in the region. This policy must take
into account both the systemic injustices that have historically prevailed and a
more realistic consideration of Soviet-Cuban interests and objectives there.
Seen free of distortion, Central America is a convulsed region , for many years
suffering from enormous economic inequity and often-brutal oligarchic dic-
tatorship, making it an excellent breeding ground for violent guerrilla move-
The Communist regime in Cuba, supported by the Soviet Union, sees in the
area's problems an excellent starting point for attacking and eventually over-
throwing the established governments there. By fuelling the existing strife, Cuba
and the Soviet Union are creating conditions favoring their plans of expansion.
Clearly, this strategy runs counter to the interests of the U.S. and other de-
mocracies in the hemisphere. To defend those interests, the U.S. must aid in the
creation of an environment favorable for economic development, social pro-
gress and political democracy. These are crucial responses to the conditions in
which Communists gain support.
It must be remembered that Communist nations support whatever most
weakens U.S. influence in any given region. In Central America, therefore, it is
necessary for the U.S. to aid those sectors struggling for justice and progress,
simultaneously opposing Soviet-Cuban attempts to manipulate these same
aspirations. If the U.S. were to blindly support autocratic regimes, the native
democratic groups would suffer and, eventually, radicalize. If it is not a force
for change and a voice for reform, the unimproved conditions of the people will
continue to provide a breeding ground for Marxist manipulation.
A brief glance at the seven countries comprising Central America— Guate-
mala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize and Panama—
might help clear away some of the existing stereotypes and outline some options
for U.S. policy in the region.
Until the coup of March, 1982, from which General Efrain Rios Montt
emerged as leader, Guatemala had been dominated by a strong alliance of the
political and economic elite and the military.
This traditional alliance began to crack during the elections of 1978, when a
party linked to the status quo, the National Liberation Movement, broke away
to run its candidates independently. The Christian Democrats formed the center
of the legal opposition, while the Revolutionary (PR) and Institutional Demo-
cratic (P1D) parties, together with the Central Aranista Organization (CAO)
of ex-President Carlos Arana Osorio. supported the winning candidate. General
Francisco Romeo Lucas.
Lucas' election, widely thought to have been fraudulent, only served to make
guerrilla activity more propitious. When the government proved to be rife with
corruption, general discontentment and frustration grew. By ignoring its
promises of political freedom, the Lucas regime further weakened the already-
cracking structure of the ruling hierarchy while radicalizing moderate groups.
The political climate thus lent greater justification for violence, at both ends of
the ideological spectrum. These divisions culminated in last year's elections
when the alliance broke into four groups; the PR-PD coalition, which supported
the government candidate; the MLN; Arana Osorio's group, renamed the Cen-
tral Authentic National (CAN); and the Christian Democrats.
Declaration of victory for Lucas' hand-picked successor, General Angel
Anibal Guevara, apparently sparked the final disintegration of the historical
alliance between the oligarchy and the army,
Under these circumstances. Guevara's assumption of power would undoubt-
edly have widened the process of repression and led to increased chaos. For this
reason, the March, 1982 coup and the ascension of General Montt might be
seen in a more favorable light.
Although the Montt government has moved toward a more authoritarian
framework in recent months, the possibility of bringing to prominence more
democratic and reformist elements is still greater than under the previous gov-
ernment of General Lucas.
As Central America's richest country and the one least beset by productivity
and balance of payment problems, Guatemala is in a favorable position to re-
spond to U.S. influence promoting the political participation of more moderate
and progressive sectors. Yet, the other part of the equation remains: the presence
of guerrilla violence and its relation to Soviet-Cuban designs in the region.
Until the beginning of this year, Guatemala's four main guerrilla groups, the
Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Organization of the Armed People
(ORPA), the Armed Rebel KorccstTAR) and the Guatemalan Workers Party
(PGT), were divided, mainly due to questions regarding strategy. But in
February, 1982, with Castro acting as mediator, they agreed to unite and form
the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit.
In Nicaragua and El Salvador, greater Cuban involvement and the unifica-
tion of guerrilla factions stepped up armed action; it is likely, therefore, that
greater violence will follow the Guatemalan unification.
The Rios Montt coup has, for the moment, taken away the trump card— fight-
ing the oligarchic alliance— employed by the guerrillas to justify their violence
in the past. It is probable that they will try to find new opportunities for action,
perhaps by increasing their attacks in order to provoke government repression,
thus, acquiring greater legitimacy and popular support for their avowed goal:
takeover through revolution.
Another danger currently facing the Guatemalan government comes from
within. If a reform process does finally begin, it could be rejected by elements of
the oligarchy who have exhibited their inflexibility in the past. This would re-
duce the government's maneuvering room in promoting reform. Much valuable
time would be lost and those government agencies mandated with controlling
violence as well as those initiating change could be paralysed.
In light of this situation, the U.S. should begin by supporting the most demo-
cratic elements within the government, the Army, and groups that could be
influential in guiding Guatemala toward peaceful change and greater justice.
Second, the U.S. can pressure rightist groups into not boycotting the political
process, urging them instead to direct their opposition through constructive
channels. /Third, the U.S. can strengthen the armed forces so they can simul-
taneously combat the Marxist guerrillas and the right-wing paramilitary groups.
An improvement in the people's living conditions will undermine guerrilla
support more thoroughly than a reliance on military repression or harsh govern-
ment measures. There is no time to wait; sweeping reform must start now.
In this scenario, it is likely that the guerrillas will increase their activities in an
effort to recover what they may have lost in popular support. If the U .S. has built
bridges to the reformist, moderate elements of Guatemalan society, it can count
on a viable democratic and anti-communist resistance to aid its efforts without
simultaneously reinforcing an oligarchic government.
The large voter turnout for the general elections in March, 1982, demon-
strated that the leftist guerrilla forces were isolated from the majority of the Sal-
vadoran people. It also revealed a major fallacy in American public opinion.
Prior to the election, an alliance of the Salvadoran Army and the Christian
Democrats, led by Jose Napoleon Duarte, gave the government the stability
and strength needed to initiate reforms such as the agrarian redistribution pro-
gram. Yet, U.S. opinion generally viewed this alliance as "rightist." For this
reason, it was somewhat of a surprise to many when more conservative elements
were elected in March. What the elections illustrated was that the Duarte Gov-
ernment was unpopular in El Salvador not so much for its supposed rightist
leanings, but for its inability to combat the leftist guerrillas.
One of the great dangers in El Salvador today is that this alliance has not been
replaced and the new government is in danger of becoming too rigid to embark
on needed reforms.
When, on October 15, 1979, a group of young Salvadoran officers toppled
the government of General Carlos Humberto Romero, the country was experi-
encing a period of intense strife. Yet, poorly organized and confined to street
demonstrations in the capital, the dissidencc did not seem to represent a wave of
irrepressible popular protest. The government's inability to cope with the situa-
tion resulted from the corruption and lack of discipline within the security
forces. If the government had been in a position to exert more efficient control
at the time, it might have contained the situation. It failed to do this, however,
leaving the way open for civilian-military rebellion.
The first ruling junta after the 1979 coup issued a proclamation calling on the
guerrillas to join in the political process, at the same time promising dramatic
reforms. As proof of its intentions, the junta lifted the state of siege and martial
law on October 23. On November 1, it announced an amnesty for political
prisoners and ordered an investigation into the fate of missing persons. Sixty
members of the National Guard were expelled for "abuse of authority." These
actions showed that, at least at this time, the more positive sectors of the army
were winning control of the situation.
The leftist guerrilla groups responded with a cynical strategy. Within days of
the coup, they launched a major offensive in an effort to prevent the new moder-
ate officers from resolving the explosive situation peacably. A notable exception
among the dissidents, and one which hailed the junior officer coup as a positive
step toward "democratization" was the Salvadoran Communist Party.
But the guerrillas continued their violent course, which served to strengthen
the junta's most reactionary members. These members found the guerrilla's
intransigence as justification for their arguments for the shelving of reforms as
a top priority.
loaquin Villalobos, a commandani oi the Revolutionary Army oi the People
(1 KTi ;uu1 now ;i nu-iuhrr ol (he Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front
(I'M I.N), explanu-d his act ions muUcr-of-l'uclly in an interview published in the
Mexican newspaper Excelsior on March 6, I9H0: "Regardless of the good inten-
tions of the individuals composing the first governmental junta, our policy con-
sisted in applying constant pressure in order to force the military sector that had
the real power to defend the true plans worked out by the imperialists, the oli-
garchy and their allies."
This guerrilla tactic showed clearly that their strategy was to promote chaos
in order to create conditions more conducive for a complete takeover of power.
In this manner, it might be said that their lactic succeeded, for with the weaken-
ing of the moderate members of the junta and the emergence of the more repres-
sive ones, violence escalated and spread throughout the nation.
In 1980, with the strife intensifying, the junta underwent some transforma-
tions, resulting in the Christian Democrats holding the civilian posts and Duarte
becoming President. The departure of Guillermo Ungo and his Social Democrat
followers was a severe blow for moderate forces, not because they had a large
constituency in El Salvador, but because their support of the armed Marxists,
as well as that of the Socialist International, legitimized the guerrillas interna-
Even before Ungo's new Democratic Revolutionary Front(FDR) allied itself
with the rebels, the different guerrilla factions had united to form the Farabundo
Marti National Liberation Front. Here, the impetus came from Fidel Castro,
who had already learned in Nicaragua that the combining of diverse armed
factions not only eased military success but enhanced Havana's expansionist
designs through greater control of the rebels.
The most impressive evidence of a "Cuban connection" is displayed by the
military capacity acquired by the guerrillas. The January, 1981, "offensive" re-
vealed the abundance of their sources of supply. A rebel force can attempt to
survive off the proceeds of its activities (kidnapping, in El Salvador's case), or
through widespread popular support. But if popular support is very limited, as
it is for the FMLN, as demonstrated by the failure of the offensive and the large
turnout for the 1982 national elections, the guerrillas need external support to
continue their struggle,
If this Soviet-Cuban involvement indeed exists, the U.S. must participate in
its turn. It is imperative to continue providing supplies and training to the Sal-
vadoran Army. While avoiding direct armed intervention in the conflict, cir-
cumstances may demand the lending of logistical support, especially in con-
trolling the nation's unprotected coastlines. Along with this aid, U.S. strategy
must include support for moderate political sectors, the encouragement of
liberal military officers, economic aid, incentives for the continuation of reforms
already begun and endorsements for new reforms.
While Honduras is the poorest country in Central America, the greater flexi-
bility of its leaders, together with the historical division between the National
and Liberal parties, prevented the formation of oligarchic-military alliances
such as those which have characterized Guatemala and El Salvador. These
factors explain Honduras' success in making the transition from a military to a
civilian government, culminating in the election of the reformist Roberto Suazo
Cordova in January, 1981.
This power structure makes the problems of Honduras easier to manage,
despite the economic and social difficulties which have emerged in the last few
months. The major domestic dilemna now is to obtain the resources needed to
carry out promised reforms and to keep the economy solvent at the same time.
Nevertheless, the relative peace in Honduras does not immunize it from the
troubles besetting the region.
Its abutment on both El Salvador and Nicaragua presents a major problem
for Honduras. The long, jungled Salvadoran border has served as a conduit for
the smuggling of guerrilla supplies into El Salvador, many of them presumably
from Nicaragua. On the frontier with Nicaragua, where there have been a series
ol border clashes, there is the predicament of the Miskito Indians who occupy
part of both nations' Atlantic coasts and who have fled into Honduras in great
numbers to escape persecution by the Sandinista regime. Similarly, Salvadorans
have sought refuge in Honduras from escalating violence in their country. The
presence of these refugees has brought with it political implications, as has the
presence of anti-Sandinista groups who use Honduras as a base for armed
operations against Nicaragus.
At present, a guerrilla unit called the "Chinchonero Command" has taken
responsibility for several actions against the Honduran government, including
the recent seizure of the Chamber of Commerce building in San Pedro Sula.
Other groups, such as the Morazanista Front, have been mentioned in the past
If these groups were to follow the example of Guatemala and El Salvador and
unite, they could form an internal force capable of increased violence, making
Honduras* borders that much more difficult to guard.
The U.S. should offer Honduras substantial economic aid so that they can
pursue an effective reform policy thereby undermining support for the guer-
rillas. Nor should the U.S. forego the opportunity to provide better equipment
for an army, which has already demonstrated its political sophistication, to help
in its defense of the new democratic government. It should be kept in mind that
the success of democracy in Honduras will have an important demonstrative
effect on Nicaragua.
If any Central American nation lit the stereotype of the mass uprising of an
oppressed people against a corrupt dictator, it was Nicaragua. Four decades of
dynastic rule created a widening division between the people and President
AnastasioSomoza's regime, a powerful alliance of family, government and busi-
ness leaders, backed by the National Guard.
Despite the unpopularity of Somoza, organized rebellion did not occur until
1978. On January 10 of that year, the editor of the opposition newspaper. La
Prensa, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, was assassinated. This act sparked a process
of deterioration in the regime that, together with a less supportive U.S. policy,
more effective rebel strategies and Somoza's own inflexibility, led to the dic-
tator's fall in 1979.
The basic goal of Carter's policy in regard to Nicaragua — the removal of a
pernicious dictator — might have been well-intentioned, but there was a lack of
perception of the true situation and, above all, an inability to clearly evalu-
ate the extent of Cuba's involvement or, once evaluated, to counteract it ade-
The Administrations that preceded Jimmy Carter's failed because they abided
by the Cold War mentality which dictated support for a strong, friendly govern-
ment, regardless of its political system or its unpopularity with the people. They
failed to apply enough, if any, pressure to bring about a democratic, civilian
solution to Nicaragua's problems while it was still possible.
Carter also failed in this regard, for at the beginning of his term there still
existed the possibility for exerting influence in Nicaragua. He made a major
mistake when he opted to back the rebellion, without pursuing strategies which
might have helped guarantee the strength of the moderates. In view of the iden-
tity of the armed elements and the Cuban influence on them, the idea of letting
the rebellion run its course without U .S. conditions or concern should have been
Currently, the U.S. is confronted with a Nicaraguan regime controlled by a
military-political movement, the Sandinista National Liberation Front ( FSLN),
demonstrating totalitarian tendencies internally, with its systematic campaign
against opposition groups, and an external alliance with Soviet policy interests.
The Sandinistas growing control over the population, economy and all other
sectors of Nicaraguan society, has reduced the political opposition to a decora-
tive role. As occurred in Castro's Cuba, many prominent leaders of the Sandi-
nista revolution have become disillusioned and fled into exile.
Nevertheless, the situation in Nicaragua still holds possibilities for U.S. lever-
age. The radical elements of the three-year-old regime have not yet had the op-
portunity to fully consolidate their authority and the opposition does retain
some influence to veto certain directives. This influence does not seem to derive
from respect for pluralism, but rather from the fact that important sectors of the
economy remain in private hands and that geopolitical conditions are not en-
tirely suitable for a complete commitment to a totalitarian course.
Given the absence oi established checks and balances foi internal influence,
the few remaining means lor affecting Nicaiaguan politics air external ours. In
this, the U.S. could play a chief role. If it were to act in concert with Western
Europe and other regional allies, such as Mexico, this outside action could be
more effective and, without isolating the Sandinistas, serve to moderate the
Nicaraguan regime. Without such collective initiative, however, the task is
formidable, for the Soviet-Cuban bloc have already made great inroads.
The involvement of Cuba and several Soviet bloc nations in Nicaragua is a
fact, symbolized by the stockpiles of arms and military supplies. Further evi-
dence is the formation of an enormous army, threatening Honduras to the
north, even more so, Costa Rica to the south, a situation which could result in
the gradual "Finlandization" of that country. It is becoming increasingly clear
that this Nicaraguan arms build-up is not designed for mere defense or internal
repression but as a not-too-subtle threat to its neighbors.
Faced with this situation, the U.S. should explore peaceful options in its ap-
proach to the Nicaraguan situation. At the same time, it should not commit the
grave error of doing nothing to prevent the domestic consolidation of a totali-
tarian regime in exchange for assurances about the external intentions of the
Sandinistas. If iheU.S. were to allow the Sandinistas to consolidate their power
along Marxist lines, it would be deserting the Nicaraguan people who carried
out the rebellion against Somoza in which many gave their lives, Perhaps more
importantly, it would be accepting a government whose ideology isexpansionist
by definition and which, though it may renounce such activities now for tactical
reasons, might resume regional interference when the geopolitical climate is
The new President of Costa Rica, Luis Alberto Mongcand Korcign Minister
Fernando Volio have both recently denounced Castro-supported Marxist ef-
forts to destabilize their country. In Costa Rica, the oldest democracy in Cen-
Lral America and one of the few remaining in Latin America, the Monge gov-
ernment came to power on a wave of broad support. Consequently, it is a trust-
worthy ally and affords the U.S. the opportunity to carry out an intelligent
policy at little cost and with excellent prospects for success.
The nation's most pressing problems are of an economic nature: a near col-
lapse of the state welfare structure due to an excessive foreign debt, and a decline
in productive capacity. The immediate treatment is to seek a renegotiation of the
foreign debt, increase the flow of capital into the country and implement stabili-
zation programs consistent with the present political realities. Such a policy-
would doubtless demand more resources than those included in the bilateral
and multilateral aid already announced by the Reagan Administration, but it
would be a productive investment, both in terms of aiding the institutional
viability of the nation and as a positive role model for its more troubled neigh-
Still, Soviet-Cuban-Nicaraguan designs must not be lost sight of even in this
case. Costa Rica's northern border with Nicaragua, unprotected and ill-defined
along much of its length, could be a scene of serious conflict. Several violations
of Costa Rican territory by Sandinista forces have already occurred and, al-
though officially repudiated by the Managua government, continue to take
place. In Costa Rica, a country without an army and few resources to integrate
historically-isolated border regions, it is imperative to formulate a policy which
deals with the socio-economic development of these areas.
The U.S. should guarantee aid if the border conflicts with Nicaragua continue
or intensify. Assistance could range from the involvement of the Organization
of American States if Costa Rica were to invoke the InterAmerican Treaty for
Reciprocal Assistance, to different forms of logistical support to direct diplo-
matic pressure on the Managua regime.
European experience proves that democracies are not immune to terrorism;
in fact, terrorist organizations aim to destroy the very basis of democracy. This
appears to be their goal in Costa Rica where terrorism has posed a serious se-
curity problem for the government. Connections between Costa Rican terrorist
units and the guerrilla movements in El Salvador and, thus, to Cuba, have been
uncovered. For the sake of frustrating any Cuban destabilization plans, it is
imperative that the U.S. assist in containing a possible terrorist onslaught. Solv-
ing the economic crisis is a crucial step, but it is also necessary to contribute to
the upgrading of Costa Rican security and police agencies, remaining within
the nation's unique civilian framework.
The Costa Rican government has not had an ambassador in Cuba since 1962.
Consular relations were re-established in February, 1977, but Costa Rica with-
drew its diplomatic personnel from Havana in May of 1 98 1 at the time of the
Mariel exodus. Press reports indicated that the Costa Rican mission in Ha-
vana had been the object of continuing harassment by Cuban authorities. At the
U nited Nations, the Cuban delegation has consistently berated the Costa Rican
In this country, independent from Great Britain only since September, I9K1,
the current problems are of a lesser magnitude when compared to its Central
American neighbors. Contrary to what many observers had expected, its inde-
pendence has not been marked by a great Cuban influence, as has occurred in
other Caribbean nations. Actually, the government headed by George Price
appears to be following a moderate course, in which the presence of British
troops protecting the country from neighboring Guatemala's territorial claims,
is as fundamental as her economic aid.
This important role of Great Britain, however, shouldn't encourage the U.S.
to ignore Belize. The current Administration in Washington seems to under-
stand that Belize needs a great cooperative effort to give the impetus the nation
needs for development and to avoid that any "vacuum" be filled by Cuban "ad-
visors." It is important, for instance, that a well-disciplined security force be
formed so that, when the British troops eventually depart Belize, they can guar-
antee not only the safety of the territory, but its democracy, as well. The U.S.
can also play a key role in the search for a balanced "modus vivendi" between
Guatemala and Belize, to avoid new conflicts or encroachments in the area. If
this tension is not eased, it might conceivably pressure the Price government into
seeking military help from Cuba.
Despite accusations by its detractors, the Belize government has shown signs
of possessing a genuine democratic will. Given the youth of the nation's inde-
pendence and the problems of underdevelopment afflicting it, political solidarity
and economic aid should be immediately forthcoming.
If cannot be forgotten that n despite its peaceful political climate at present,
Belize's geographic location makes is susceptible to involvement in the sur-
rounding area's turbulence. Already, for example, thousands of Salvadoran
refugees have ensconced themselves in the territory seeking security from civil
If this immigration is effectively channeled, it might be of utility to Belize, an
under-populated nation with great agricultural potential. But if what is pro-
duced is an uncontrolled situation, or worse, political agitation, the results
could be extremely serious.
The Panamanian political outlook shifted greatly with the death of General
Omar Torrijos. Under Torrijos, Panama had supported various forces seeking
change in Central America, most notably the Sandinistas in the last days of
Anastasio Somoza's reign. The support of Torrijos was very important to the
Nicaraguan rebels both in gaining them international legitimacy and in supply-
ing much-needed war materiel.
After the Sandinistas came to power, Torrijos began to have second thoughts
about the new government, especially the cojoining of revolutionary strategies
by Managua and Havana. In a report by the Spanish news agency EFE, in
March, 1 98 ! , a high-ranking Panamanian official stated that relations between
Cuba and Panama had sunk "to the lowest levels during the last years."
"In Nicaragua," the EFE report continued, "Castro's answer has converted
the Sandinista militaries into an army with more offensive than defensive po-
tential and with the risk that this example could be multiplied in the region."
With the death of Torrijos in August of 1981 and the recent resignation of
President Royo, the Panamanian internal situation appears to be deteriorating.
Although there still remains the possibility for a democratic understanding
among the various political factions, two main issues are growing in promin-
ence: a time-frame for democratic rule and a concern over official corruption.
Nevertheless, the Marxist left doesn't appear to be very powerful at the present
time and the present government has faced most of its opposition from the con-
servative political parties.
The government party, the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), headed
by President Ricardo de Estrilla, is a "Torrijista" force, a traditionalist, per-
sonalis! party with all the strengths and weaknesses that implies. One important
source of opposition to the government is the Panamanian Party (PP), organ-
ized around 81 year-old Arnulfo Arias. This broad-based front includes the
Liberal Party led by David Salmudio and the Christian Democrats of Ricardo
Panama's domestic problems have encouraged the government in the recent
past to at least rhetorically support an "independent" foreign policy. This, is
reality has lent moral support to the Castro regime. Given the growing role of
the armed forces in Managua, however, the prognosis is for growing Panaman-
ian concern over Cuban involvement and developments there.
The United State's long-term strategy in regard to Panama ought to consider
the Panamanian's need for a foreign policy independent of the U.S., while en-
couraging the development of democratic forces. The Panamanian political
scene is very fluid at this time and elections before 1984 are quite possible. The
events of the next few months are likely to decide whether Panama moves to-
ward greater democratization or toward a traditional military dictatorship.
Examination of these national cases, focusing on their political aspects, makes
it clear that there are no easy choices in Central America and that it would be
unwise for the U .S. government to succumb to stereotypes to define its policies.
The U.S. needs, first of all, a clear idea of what it wishes to accomplish, then,
the fortitude to understand and utilize the resources available for carrying out
those aims in each country.
The aims which would be most beneficial to the United States — political
stability, democracy, justice and progress — are shared by various circles in ah
the nations of Central America. Together, they form an important common
interest for coordinated action.
Within these circles, however, some sectors lack a clear idea of the dangers
of Soviet-Cuban interference or, confronted with agonizing domestic problems,
mistakenly see this interference as a risk which must be taken in order to find a
solution. Moreover, as some of these democratic sectors persist in such alliances
even after other options have opened up, as seems the case with GuillermoUngo
in El Salvador, it should be possible to exert enough pressure for them to define
their sympathies. Simultaneously, if the U.S. strongly encourages intransigent
ruling hierarchies in countries like El Salvador and Guatemala to support
change, it will curb the chances of democratic-Marxist alliances, which can give
totalitarian groups a means of winning international recognition, from forming.
This search for peaceful and permanent solutions to better the living condi-
tions of historically-oppressed peoples must be made without resorting to over-
simplifications. In addition, it must be accomplished with an awareness that for
the Soviets and Cubans, the Central American crisis is only a question of ag-
grandizement and that they are prepared to manipulate each situation to their
advantage, not to further democracy, but to increase their chances of taking
control in these countries. Creating satellites in Central America is an attractive
prospect for the Communist regimes; it would provide them with allies for their
foreign policy and establish new enemies for the U.S. in its own "backyard." The
Falklands-Malvinas conflict is a clear example of how a regional crisis can take
on alarming global dimensions, and of the Soviet-Cuban capacity for exploiting
critical situations in any part of the world to adversely affect U.S. interests.
Understanding the predatory manner of Marxism is an indispensable starting
point in the search for permanent solutions to the problems of Central America.
Equally important is the cognizance that there are ties between just and demo-
cratic objectives in Central America and the United States on one hand, and
discrepancies between these objectives and those of the Soviet Union and Cuba
on the other.
Should the Soviet-Cuban design be countered with several national strategies
or with one for the entire region? Clearly, the answer is with both.
The problems ol each <>l these nations differ, For this reason, solutions must
be tailored with an eye (o each ease. Dm, while a j-rv;,i main of their problems
air domestic, Soviel < nhan Mi a Leg} is regional and il must receive a regional
and international response.
Central America confronts not the danger of war, but war itself. It is a war
fought on a wide front by unconventional means. Militarily, Soviets and Cubans
are using indigenous groups to project their influence. Politically, by enacting
diplomatic maneuvers primarily against the U.S. in international forums, they
have added the use of nationalist groups responsive to Soviet-Cuban interests.
There also is established a large-scale propaganda effort, spread beyond the
confines of Central America to have an effect on the United States itself.
This globalization of the Central American conflicts demands efforts to stem
Soviet-Cuban intervention and create conditions suitable for the growth of
democracy in the region, as well as methods to penalize the Marxist powers for
their persistence in aiding and escalating the conflicts. Awareness and imple-
mentation of this task can work in favor of U.S. policy for it may well create a
situation where the increased costs, financial and/ or political, will prove too
costly for the Soviets and Cubans to continue their interference. The time to
seize the initiative is now.
In Nicaragua, the consolidation of a totalitarian regime will constitute a
permanent danger for the entire region. At the same time, Cuba's continuance
as an expansionist, Marxist state, even if it should temporarily decide that Cen-
tral American intervention is not in its interests, represents a constant threat. It
must not be forgotten that after the guerrilla failures of the 1960*s, the Castro
regime remained relatively passive in the area and even began an attempt to
rejoin the interamerican system. Yet, at the end of the decade, its strategy
changed once again and, with more sophisticated tactics, dedicated itself to the
encouragement of international guerrilla movements.
Greater stability in Central America can not be guaranteed without confront-
ing the activities of the Castro regime. The U.S. should encourage the emergence
of elements willing to confront the Havana government with internal difficulties
which may eventually lead to changes within it. This does not necessarily mean
fomenting guerrilla movements within Cuba but it must be made clear to Castro
that he cannot involve himself in the regional conflicts and stoke the fires of
violence without repercussions. It would also make U.S. policy toward the re-
gion and the entire continent more comprehensive and more consistent.
The costs of Soviet-Cuban involvement in Central America is rising and the
U.S. would do well to pursue its policy with that in mind. Recent positive de-
velopments, such as the establishment of a civilian government in Honduras,
overwhelming popular support for the new Costa Rican administration, the
El Salvador elections and the increased options emerging after Guatemala's
coup, all serve to further the costs and risks for the Marxist elements.
Until now, the Soviet Union and Cuba have lost nothing from their aggressive
conduct in Central America. Even a defeat in El Salvador, Guatemala and other
nations in which they are involved would only constitute a defeat of their strat-
egy, not for their system. For decades, these belligerants have heightened dan-
gers in territories outside the traditional zone of Soviet influence.
It is time for this pattern to change, and for adventures of this kind to repre-
sent potential costs not only for Soviet-Cuban methods bul for theii system
itself. With such a strategy, which can he effected without risk 01 war, the U.S.
will be in a more favorable position to promote in Central America, as well as
elsewhere, the development of democracy and justice, which should be its ulti-
The Cuban American National Foundation is an independent, nonprofit
institution devoted to the gathering and dissemination of data about
economic, political and social issues of the Cuban people, both on the
island and in exile. The Foundation supports the concepts of an indepen-
dent and democratic Cuba.
The Foundation promotes an objective view of Cuba and Cubans, and
an objective appraisal of the Cuban government and its policies.
The Foundation supports a genera/ program to enlighten and clarify
public opinion on problems of Cuban concern, to fight bigotry, protect
human rights, and promote Cuban cultural interests and creative achieve-
Copies of this paper arc available for S2.00
from the Cuban American National Foundation
1625 "Bje" Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006
Other titles in this series are:
U.S. Radio Broadcasting to Cuba: Policy Implications. A study of the pro-
posal for a new U.S. government radio station for broadcasting to Cuba (Radio
Marti), including discussion of the propaganda strategies of the Soviet Union
and the Castro regime. Covers the information environment in Cuba and the
impact of Radio Marti on it. Analyses options Tor administration and pro-
gramming. Price: $1.00
The Cuban Scene: Censors and Dissenters by Professor Carlos Ripoll. This
article describes the mechanisms of intellectual repression under the Castro
government. Outlines the history of the Cubangovernment policy toward litera-
ture since 1959, and of the effects of these policies on Cuban literature. Re-
printed from Partisan Review, Vol. XLVIH, No. 4. Distributed free of charge.
Castro and the Bankers: The Mortgaging of a Revolution by Ernesto F. Betan-
court and Wilson P. Dizard 111. An analysis of the Cuban government's debt
to Western banks and the Soviet Union. Describes the sources and uses of the
Castro regime's foreign debt, and discusses the consequences of a default or
rescheduling. Price S2.00