A better way in Central America

From testimony before a House subcommittee on the report issued recently by the Inter-American Dialogue, a forum of 48 prominent hemisphere and North American leaders. Mr. Linowitz, former US ambassador to the Organization of American States, helped negotiate the US-Panama Canal treaties.m

The problem of security is today near the very top of the inter-American agenda. While the members of the dialogue differed on some of the intricate and complex questions involved, we all agreed on two important points: First, that the basic roots of insecurity - and the basic problems of security - in the hemisphere are primarily economic, social, and political, not military. Second, that sources of insecurity are mainly internal to each nation, and that external influences are secondary.

We also came to the firm conviction that, even when there is a military dimension to conflict as in Central America, the solutions ultimately lie in economic and social development and political dialogue and not in weapons or military advisers. Even when external support for insurrection clearly is present, as in El Salvador, the underlying problems remain domestic.

Against that backdrop, we examined the problem of Central America today, and agreed on the urgent need for dialogue among all the parties involved in the tragic and widening conflict.

The human cost of fighting in Central America is staggering and increases every week. One hundred thousand people have been killed during the last five years and over a million displaced. Economic damage and disruption are massive and will take many years to repair. Polarization worsens and foreign intervention escalates. The tragedy must come to an end.

Our approach toward the Central American conflict was based on two major premises. First, that most citizens and governments throughout the hemisphere oppose an expansion of Soviet and Cuban military presence in the Americas. Second, that the United States could do much to foster a climate of security in the region by making unequivocally clear its commitment to respect national sovereignty.

It is vital for the US to recognize that the crisis of Central America is a problem not just for the US, but for the entire region; that it is a problem which can only be solved cooperatively and regionally; and that it is esentially a political problem with a military dimension rather than, as too many are suggesting, a military problem with a political dimension.

Accordingly, in our report we strongly endorsed the initiative taken by Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela in the Contadora Declaration, offering their good offices in seeking peaceful solutions to Central America's problems. We urged the US to declare its full support for the Contadora group's efforts and its readiness to participate in the discussions as might be deemed appropriate.

Since the issuance of our report several weeks ago, I am gratified to say, the administration has indicated a somewhat greater respect for the Contadora group's efforts. But the American commitment should be unmistakably clear and recognize that this kind of a regional approach is integral to our own planning for the resolution of the conflicts. In that connection, the efforts of Ambassador Richard Stone, the special negotiator appointed by the President to deal with these issues, should be primarily directed at supporting the Contadora group by assuring them and the other countries involved that the US is ready to cooperate and participate as might be helpful in seeking a peaceful solution to the conflicts.

Beyond this, we suggested exploring the possibility that the US-Soviet understandings of 1962, 1970, and 1979 with respect to Cuba might provide a basis for a wider accord that could enhance the collective security of the entire region.

The heart of the original understanding was that each side would cease actions regarded as aggressive and threatening by the other. The Soviet Union removed strategic facilities from Cuba and pledged not to reintroduce them, and the US pledged not to invade or seek to subvert the Cuban government. In subequent years, these understandings were extended by assurances that the Soviet Union would not use Cuba as a strategic naval base, and that the Soviet forces in Cuba would have only a training and not a combat function. These accords have brought a significant measure of stability to the region for over 20 years.

We proposed exploring whether the basic principle of these understandings could be extended to Central America and the rest of the Caribbean. Our suggestion is not that this be done through formal negotiations or publicly, but rather informally and quietly in order to determine the possibility of arriving at understandings.

Thus the Soviet Union and Cuba might pledge that they would not deploy strategic or conventional combat forces anywhere in Central America or the Caribbean nor change the character of military personnel either may have in Nicaragua or Grenada from a training to a combat function.

They could also pledge not to install facilities or engage in activities that would pose a threat to other states of the Americas.

The US, Soviet Union, Cuba, and all other governments of the region could pledge not to intervene or interfere in the internal affairs of other nations of the area, provided others also fulfill their commitments.

Some have criticized this proposal as suggesting a role for the Soviet Union in dealing with hemispheric problems. But the hard fact is - as we have been told repeatedly by the President - that the Soviet Union is playing a role and is supplying help and support in Cuba, Nicaragua, and elsewhere. It is ironic that some of those most insistent that the Soviet Union is behind much of the current Central American turmoil reject the suggestion that the US discuss their involvement with them to see if there is maybe a mutually agreeable basis for bringing the fighting to an end. By the same token, since Cuba is clearly playing a significant part in the military struggle, the Contadora countries might undertake to examine the possibility of some understanding with Cuba to resolve the conflict.

Any such understandings would ncessarily have to be contingent - and revocable if any party failed to adhere to its pledges. Appropriate procedures would of course have to be established to monitor continued adherence. This would be exceedingly difficult, but should not be impossible to achieve.

Of course, we cannot be sure that such discussions would succeed. But we are sure that the perils and costs of allowing the Central American conflicts to grow would be grave and raise the specter of even wider conflicts. Accordingly we believe that negotiations should be tried.

In El Salvador negotiations should begin at once with the help of the Contadora countries to prepare for free internationally supervised elections on the basis of security guaranteed for all parties and participants. And in the region as a whole, a major effort should be undertaken to find a way to settle the conflicts on a basis that recognizes the vital interests of each party.

In issuing our report we recognized that we are at a time of crisis in the hemisphere. But we also recognized that, when conditions of crisis are perceived and faced imaginatively, special opportunities for progress exist. We believe that such opportunities exist today - especially for the US.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to A better way in Central America
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today