So far, proposals for negotiations in Central America have focused mainly on the internal problems in El Salvador, on the border clashes and disputes between Honduras and Nicaragua, or on a not-very-well-defined ''regional solution.'' Not much has been said on an issue as crucial as these and related to them: the internal political crisis in Nicaragua.
In El Salvador negotiations have come to mean giving some guarantees, concessions, and legitimacy to the Marxist guerrillas and the Marxist-controlled Democratic Revolutionary Front in order to persuade them to come to the surface. And these organizations' aim is, of course, to change Salvadorean society according to Marxist precepts.
In the Honduras-Nicaragua crisis, what is sought through a possible dialogue is mainly a promise by both countries not to intervene - directly or indirectly - in the internal problems of the other.
The ''regional solution'' calls for accords among all the parties perceived as important in the area. Here governments are given the prime role, and if there has been any talk about other participants the principal ones have been opponents of the Salvadorean government.
So, while in the case of El Salvador negotiations would touch the nature of the political system and the possibilities for changing it according to Marxist demands, in the case of Nicaragua they would relate only to a foreign relations problem, leaving free questions of Nicaragua's political apparatus. And this despite evidence of growing internal dissatisfaction, dissent, and repression, and the existence of opposition groups with the same - if not more - right than that of the Marxist guerrillas in El Salvador to claim popular representation and a role in a possible ''regional solution.''
For those sincerely seeking negotiations as a positive tool of peace, this differentiation is highly dangerous. Given the nature of the Sandinista regime, the sources of conflict with Honduras, and the factors involved in the regional crisis, failure to solve the political crisis in Nicaragua will mean failure to achieve peace on its frontiers and in Central America at large, not to mention failure to fulfill the rights of its citizens to have the kind of democratic regime they were promised during insurrection against Somoza's dictatorship.
The internal situation is becoming so strained and oppressive that the only alternative to totalitarianism or the eruption of violence is an open dialogue including all opposition groups not related to the former dictatorship. In other words, something similar to the Sandinistas' prescription for El Salvador should be applied to Nicaragua.
The Nicaraguan junta and the ruling nine commanders, however, have consistently rejected this option. For months the so-called Patriotic Revolutionary Front, controlled by the Sandinistas, agreed to a dialogue with the Democratic Coordinator, the only opposition coalition allowed to function in Nicaragua. However, there were no results: In October 1982 the coordinator's main leader, Adan Fletes, announced the end of the talks. The reason? The Sandinistas refused even to consider lifting the state of emergency and press censorship.
In December former Sandinista commander Eden Pastora and former junta member Alfonso Robelo, both exiled in Costa Rica, asked for immediate and open talks with the Sandinistas, with the aim of paving the way for elections by mid-1983. Their condition: press freedom, so that Nicaraguans would be informed about the negotiating process. The answer was a heated and sharp accusation against both ''traitors.'' The irony is that Pastora and Robelo's conditions for talks were much more flexible than the ones asked by the Salvadorean guerrillas at last July's press conference in Mexico.
This proves that the Nicaraguan regime rules out any internal dialogue that questions its will to establish a totalitarian society, thus rejecting a negotiated solution. It is a dangerous inconsistency to be asking for internal dialogue in El Salvador and external negotiations with Honduras and other countries.
If the Sandinistas keep refusing to negotiate with the opposition, and at the same time persist in their desire for totalitarianism, there can only be a growing crisis in Nicaragua, with an almost irreversible trend toward violence and a devastating effect on a regional solution.
For analysts concerned with the fate of the whole of Central America, it is vital to consider this factor. And for policymakers, it is time to press the Nicaraguan regime to give serious consideration to the kind of ''negotiated solution'' it has preached for El Salvador.