Central America caught in wave of violence
Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala are the core of the current revolutionary ferment in Central America. Political assassination and terrorism are part of the daily round in all three countries.Skip to next paragraph
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Over the past 12 months, at least 4,000 people have been killed in El Salvador, and the daily toll there has risen to at least 40. In Guatemala, the total of political murders since this time last year is between 800 and 900. In Nicaragua, the figure for the same period is about 400.
It is in Nicaragua that the leftward revolutionary swing has gone the furthest. Most of the violence that attended the active stages of the revolution is now past. The 400 who fell there were virtually all killed in the tumult following the fall of right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle just over a year ago. So, paradoxically, the currently most peaceful of the three countries is the one that has swung furthest left.
It is this same Nicaragua that is being watched anxiously for the first definitive sign as to whether leftward revolution in Central America can steady itself short of a totalitarianism that would rule out cooperation with the United States.
The bellwether in Nicaragua is the country's middle class. It has so far chosen to stay on and not flee the country, despite last year's victory of the left-wing Sandinistas. If that middle class started to leave in large numbers, it would almost certainly be doing so because it had come to the conclusion that the Sandinistas were going to turn Nicaragua into another Cuba after all.
To the north of Nicaragua, in neighboring El Salvador, the swing has gone from extreme right to shaky center and is being held there with US support.
In Guatemala, the pendulum is still over on the far right. The almost daily violence bespeaks a mainly left-inspired effort to dislodge the pendulum from the extreme position where it has been stuck since 1954. That was the year the US CIA intervened to help overthrow a leftist government and replace it with one of the hard right.
The Carter administration has recognized (in the words of William G. Bowdler, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs) that "we cannot be indifferent to pressures for change" in Central America. Since it broke with Nicaraguan strong man Somoza last year -- too late in the game, some critics of US policy says -- the administration has, in fact, sought to identify itself with change.
Certainly Fidel Castro has better lines of communication than has the US to the nine- man left-wing Sandinista directorate that is the ultimate seat of power in Nicaragua behind the five-man junta that is the official government. (The junta includes two respected non-Sandinista public figures.)
But as an earnest that the US has not abandoned the field, Mr. Bowdler himself was a guest last month at celebrations in Nicaragua marking the first anniversary of the Sandinistas' overthrow of General Somoza. The celebration was also attended by Fidel Castro.