Until recently a quiet, secure backwater, Central America is now convulsed by revolution, civil war, border clashes, economic disruption, refugee camps and clandestine arms networks. These upheavals are posing difficult but not unfamiliar issues for U.S. foreign policy. Are the origins of the crises essentially indigenous, or the work of outside powers? What U.S. response will minimize the opportunities of the opposing superpower to exploit the situation? Can local forces pressing for change be accommodated, or must they be confronted and defeated? Are diplomatic solutions possible where a high degree of polarization has already occurred? How can the United States prevent disturbances from spreading into more neutral countries? Can other external powers play a constructive role? What measure of resource commitment is commensurate with the U.S. interests at stake?

Behind these questions lies a still more basic issue. In the past, Central America has been regarded as falling within a traditional sphere of influence of the United States. Whether or not that label still applies, its geographic proximity alone makes developments there of special and acute significance to this country. So the most fundamental issue of all is: What manner of political behavior in Central America is the United States willing to tolerate?


The roots of the current turbulence in Central America are political sclerosis and uneven economic development. By traditional measurements, the economies of Central America have performed reasonably well over the last three decades. Annual GNP growth rates averaged over five percent, per capita income doubled, exports rose sixteenfold. Unfortunately, the fruits of this growth have been spread very unevenly. The already yawning gap between the poorest and the richest has been widening.

"Trickle down" has not worked. Wealth was already concentrated, and rapid population growth created an abundant labor supply that depressed wages. Governments heavily influenced by conservative business and military interests hampered the activities of labor unions and failed to provide adequate social services. Then a period of rising expectations was followed by falling incomes, as the burst of globally induced inflation in the second half of the 1970s lowered real wages throughout the region. The classic conditions for revolution were thus created.

In addition, the very process of modernization had created new social classes not content with the political status quo. In the rural areas, the mechanization of export-oriented agriculture replaced the traditionally passive peons of the old latifundia system with more politically conscious salaried laborers. Similarly, new industries in the cities gave birth to an incipient urban proletariat. Their political leadership emerged from the growing universities and the expanding middle class.

During the 1970s, political systems did not adapt to the newly emerging social forces (with the exception of democratic Costa Rica, and, to a degree, Honduras). In 1972, a broad coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Communists apparently won the presidential elections in El Salvador. Similarly, in Guatemala, in 1974, a broad centrist coalition led by General Efraín Rios Montt and Social Democrat Alberto Fuentes Mohr also appeared to have won a plurality of votes. In both cases, however, the armed forces intervened to maintain their hold on power. In Nicaragua, President Anastasio Somoza's first term ended in 1972, and the constitution prohibited his reelection. Instead of stepping down, however, Somoza altered the constitution. Thus, as the 1970s wore on, governments came to rely increasingly on coercion.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the United States did not question the essential stability of these military-dominated regimes. U.S. policymakers apparently failed to understand that the viability of existing political systems was being undermined by economic modernization. Instead, Washington continued to support regimes that froze out newly emerging political groups through electoral frauds and other power grabs. In some cases, the United States condoned such actions, believing that the status quo was the best guardian of American interests.

The turbulence that U.S. policymakers confront today in Central America is the legacy of these regimes. Somoza remained in power just long enough to enable the Sandinistas to capture the leadership of a victorious revolution. Having foreclosed possibilities of peaceful change, the authoritarian regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala produced their counterparts in leftist guerrillas.


In its first major foreign policy initiative, the Reagan Administration argued that Cuban and Soviet aggression was the principal generator of unrest in El Salvador and in Central America generally. To demonstrate American determination to confront insurgencies assisted by the Soviet bloc, the Administration sharply increased military assistance to El Salvador. However, the East-West prism illuminates few options for day-to-day policy in particular countries in Central America; apart from anti-communism the Administration is still struggling to design a comprehensive and coherent policy for that area. Washington suspended bilateral aid to Nicaragua in reaction to Sandinista assistance to Salvadoran guerrillas, but has not spelled out the conditions for aid renewal, and has no apparent strategy for either moderating or removing the Sandinistas.1 It has also identified Guatemala as threatened by "externally supported subversion." Terminating the Carter Administration's criticism of Guatemala's human rights performance, the State Department has announced its inclination to renew security assistance. The Administration appears to have devoted little attention to Costa Rica and Honduras.

Although differences persist within the Administration on some Central American issues, the emerging approach appears to be centering around the following attitudes and policies:

1) Security forces are the most reliable allies in the current environment of unrest. While the incorporation of Christian Democrats and moderate Social Democrats can sometimes strengthen political institutions, political solutions involving broad-based power-sharing schemes are too risky.

2) Social tensions can best be addressed through rising levels of external economic assistance to existing governments, possibly reinforced with trade preferences. (The World Bank can help coordinate aid from the many bilateral and multilateral donors.)

3) Leftist forces are heavily influenced by Cuba, cannot easily be co-opted or accommodated and therefore should be isolated or liquidated. (In Nicaragua, however, they may now be too powerful to confront directly.)

4) Other external powers, including friendly ones, should be discouraged from taking initiatives not congruent with Washington's own policies, and from attempting to build bridges to leftist forces.

This strategy would resemble the one pursued, with apparent success at the time, during the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s. It assumes that the Left is irretrievably hostile, despite evidence that the Sandinistas recognize that Nicaragua's weakness requires compromise. For it to succeed today, several conditions would have to hold. The United States would have to be able to gain control of local security forces; but the Carter Administration, at least, found the political outlook and modus operandi of the Central American militaries resistant to reform. Military-dominated governments would need the domestic legitimacy lent by independent center-right political parties; but in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador such parties have been withering away in their militaries' embrace. Foreign aid would have to produce economic growth; but today's political uncertainties and turbulent global economy compose a less favorable environment than that which existed in the earlier period. The middle powers-Mexico and Venezuela-and the West European nations concerned with Central America (which in that context may be grouped for convenience as other "middle powers") would have to either accept U.S. leadership or retreat. Most important, leftist forces would have to be defeated; yet the Sandinistas are already firmly in power in Nicaragua, and the opposition has grown much stronger in El Salvador and is accumulating force in Guatemala.

In gauging how a policy based upon such assumptions will work, the key questions must be examined in terms of specific settings. Is it the best strategy for containing Cuban influence? Can it produce a relatively favorable outcome in Nicaragua? Will it stabilize the ruling junta in El Salvador? Can it protect Honduras and Costa Rica? How will it affect our relations with our hemispheric friends and European allies?


The Reagan Administration has publicly focused on Cuban and Soviet designs, rather than on the indigenous roots of the Central American crises. Yet the tiny Moscow-line communist parties have been minor players. Moreover, Cuban policy has vacillated over the years, scoring more failures than successes. The Cubans have, however, demonstrated a capacity to take advantage of U.S. mistakes.

The small, Soviet-backed communist parties have generally pursued the strategy of the "peaceful road," but the electoral coalitions they have supported have failed to win or maintain power. Thus, the Salvadoran Communist Party participated in the broad alliance behind Napoleon Duarte in the aborted 1972 elections, and supported the centrist junta that only briefly held power following a coup on October 15, 1979.2 In Nicaragua, the small local Party, long at odds with the Sandinistas, backed the U.S.-led mediation effort in 1978, which tried to replace Somoza with a moderate coalition. Perhaps the main impact of the highly unsuccessful orthodox communist parties has been their propaganda work among the young, many of whom found their elder comrades too cautious and split among themselves to form more militant organizations.

In the 1960s, the Cubans sought to export their "foco" theory, whereby a small band of gallant guerrillas could spark a lifeless populace to revolt. When this failed, Cuba turned instead to improving diplomatic relations with the relatively "progressive" governments in the area-Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico-as well as with the English-speaking Caribbean and some South American states. The Cubans maintained only a low level of support-mainly a safe haven and training-for guerrilla groups, refusing to offer substantial aid to marginal parties that seemed far from victory.

The first insurrection against Somoza in September 1978 caught the Cubans by surprise. Castro initially remained cautious, and advised the Sandinistas against an early attempt at another insurrection. Three factors may have convinced the Cubans to abandon restraint and proceed with a massive arms lift for the second and final offensive against Somoza in mid-1979: the Sandinistas were determined to press ahead; the Cubans became convinced the Sandinistas could win; and other Latin states, including Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela and Mexico, also hostile to Somoza, were willing to condone or even act in concert with Cuban activities.3 Thus, when the United States accused the Cubans of intervening in Nicaragua, before the Organization of American States (OAS), the Mexican foreign minister responded:

When all possibilities of democratic life are closed by a cruel tyranny, armed rebellion is the most genuine expression of a nation's democratic will . . . . Any suggestion that what is occurring in Nicaragua is the result of a plot organized and inspired from abroad would not only be false, but would be an insult to a noble people who have thrown themselves bodily into a struggle for their liberty.

One can only guess at why Cuba was willing to risk involvement in El Salvador late last year. The Salvadoran junta was not as isolated, internally or internationally, as Somoza had been. The Cubans may have been seduced by an insistent Salvadoran Left, and misled by the widespread assessment within the Central American Left that the insurrection could succeed. In addition, Castro may have judged that the lame-duck Carter Administration would not react forcefully, and that the incoming Reagan Administration was going to be hostile to Cuba regardless. Yet Cuban aggressiveness did serious damage to Havana's relations with the Andean states and Costa Rica. Whatever their motivations, the Cubans have had good reason to reconfirm the lessons of previous failures and the Nicaraguan success-external assistance and weapons cannot alone produce victorious revolutions, and to engage in large-scale weapons shipments without a diplomatic shield incurs real costs.

This analysis of Cuban strategy and capabilities points to several suggestions for a U.S. policy aimed at limiting Cuban influence in Central America. The United States should avoid alliances with governments so isolated that other Latin nations will provide a shield for Cuban weapons shipments. Moreover, addressing the root causes of societal discontent might halt the process before Cuban arms can make the difference. Should Havana recklessly provide weapons aimed at subverting governments considered legitimate, other Latin governments will accept U.S. security assistance to the threatened regime. The OAS might even be willing to vote for a reimposition of OAS sanctions against Cuba.

Even when Cuban-backed groups do accede to power, they are not likely to be submissive to Havana. Although leftist groups in Central America may owe an emotional allegiance to Castro, they have basically grown on their own resources. Moreover, they generally recognize that, while Cuba may provide them with weapons during the insurrectionary stage, should they come to power they will need to turn elsewhere for economic and even diplomatic ties. Castro also understands these realities, and while Cuban security advisers are helping the Sandinistas, Castro is counseling the Sandinistas to remain integrated into the Western economic system.

A U.S. policy that supported necessary internal reforms, provided needed security assistance to firmly rooted legitimate regimes, offered economic links to leftist governments, and worked with other Western powers, could compete successfully with Cuba. These policies would not eliminate the Cuban presence already established in Nicaragua, but neither are the prospective policies of the Reagan Administration likely to do so. Indeed, they threaten to accomplish the opposite.


Nearly two years after the revolution, the outlines of the Sandinista design for Nicaragua are beginning to emerge. The economy so far remains open and mixed, although the government sets the guidelines within which private decisions can be made, and the public sector is to be the chief engine of growth. In political life, a variety of groups are still able to influence decisions relevant to their interests, but the Sandinistas plan to retain control of the state and set limits on dissent.

For some Sandinistas, toleration of the private sector is merely tactical. However, most of the leaders, despite earlier Marxist writings, seem to have learned that their deep dependency on the private sector's administrative skills and access to foreign capital make a working relationship with it a strategic necessity. A leading Sandinista theoretician explained to the author in Managua the basis for the alliance and the outstanding problems:

In Nicaragua, the bourgeoisie have always been heavily dependent upon the state and the banks, both of which we now control. They have never demanded political power as a class. In essence, we want to cut the same deal with them that the Somozas did. Our problem is that we have not fully figured out how to relate the bourgeoisie to a popular state. We need to de-politicize their trade associations, or create new ones. Imagine-it will be the role of the FSLN to organize the capitalists to protect their own economic interests!

To win business confidence, the Sandinistas have reversed unauthorized seizures of private factories and farms and suppressed wage demands. Private owners still control 75 percent of manufacturing and 80 percent of agricultural production. Preliminary official statistics show the real wages of both urban and rural workers declined about 20 percent in 1980, while private landowners and the urban middle class fared far better. The private sector-especially the farmers-responded to the plentiful supply of government credit extended in 1980 and real GNP rose over ten percent, while inflation fell. Many businessmen view the Sandinista leaders in charge of economic portfolios-especially Planning Minister Henry Ruiz and Agricultural Minister Jaime Wheelock-as realistic and pragmatic.

Satisfying the domestic business community is part of the Sandinista strategy to retain access to international trade and capital markets. The Sandinistas have agreed to honor $1.6 billion in Somoza-era foreign debts, and have already successfully rescheduled nearly $600 million owed to private, primarily U.S., banks.4 Nicaraguan trade has also remained within traditional channels and the United States retained its pre-revolutionary share in 1980. American businessmen have been impressed by the sincerity of officials currently drafting a foreign investment code, which reportedly will allow entry into all sectors not considered vital for national security, and will even welcome projects with majority foreign ownership. In return, official creditors have promised over a billion dollars in new monies, and at least some commercial banks have indicated a willingness to extend new credits once the reschedulings are fixed.

Despite these conciliatory measures, the Nicaraguan private sector remains anxious about the future. The Sandinistas' "anti-imperialist," "anti-capitalist" slogans contradict an official policy of maintaining access to U.S. and West European markets and of building a working alliance with the local bourgeoisie. The stridency of official Sandinista rhetoric reflects, to some extent, pressures from militant middle and lower level cadres, as well as the absence of a formula that would describe the alliance with business in politically attractive terms. Businessmen remain concerned over post-revolutionary declines in labor productivity, and the undefined state of labor-management relations leaves businessmen uncertain regarding their powers inside their own firms. Finally, the efficiency and coherence of the government agencies engaged in economic management could be much improved.

Nicaragua today is not a fully open society, but neither is it totalitarian. Nongovernmental media, political parties and religious groups have routine access to the state at all levels and are able to express their grievances publicly. At the same time the Sandinistas, as the self-defined vanguard party, retain ultimate control. The opposition's right to dissent has been curtailed, from time to time, by the Sandinistas. For example, in March the most important business-oriented opposition party, the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN) was prevented from staging an outdoor rally by Sandinista militants. National elections have been postponed until 1985, and the Sandinistas have warned that they do not plan to hand over power to "counterrevolutionaries."

The main force within the political opposition is business, and the Sandinistas' plan requires that businessmen accept a subordinate political role in exchange for guaranteed property rights and the ability to affect governmental decisions through such mechanisms as the private sector councils that advise economic ministers, the quasi-legislative Council of State, and the privately held media. The future of the FSLN-business relationship will depend upon the strength of the moderates in each camp, and their skill in institutionalizing the private sector's political participation and in firmly defining lasting rules of the game in the economic sphere. Compromise would seem to benefit both parties. The Sandinistas could probably survive without the private sector, but at great economic cost. If business overplays its hand, its defeat could be total. However, a shortage of foreign exchange could overwhelm even the best of intentions. A scarcity of imported consumer goods could alienate the trained middle class and push the private sector into militant opposition.

A categorically somber picture of Nicaragua's future can be painted by piecing together select elements of the Nicaraguan reality: the large standing army; the 100,000-plus militia; the local neighborhood committees; intolerant rhetoric that seems to question the legitimacy of any opposition; the Cuban influence in intelligence, the security forces and the media; the mutual support agreement with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; the unconfirmed intelligence reports of the arrival from Cuba of several Soviet tankers. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that Nicaragua will necessarily become a Soviet-style Marxist state. Such a conclusion relies on presumed intentions rather than current realities; it ignores the continuing vitality of non-Sandinista forces, anti-Stalinist elements at all levels within the FSLN, and non-Cuban and non-Soviet foreign influences; and it underestimates the Sandinistas' awareness that their international credit and their regional security would both be jeopardized.

The Sandinistas' foreign policy has lacked coherence and coordination, and statements issued by inexperienced traveling FSLN directorate members have tended to parrot the lines of their hosts, whether they be Mexican, Cuban or Vietnamese. In Central America, the one region where Nicaraguan foreign policy can be more than rhetoric, the Sandinistas have maintained diplomatic and commercial relations with established governments. In one of the captured documents released with the State Department's White Paper on El Salvador, the Salvadoran Left complained bitterly that the Sandinistas were "very conservative," and were more interested in "protecting the Nicaraguan revolution" than in fostering revolutions elsewhere in the region. The Salvadorans did note, however, that some Sandinistas were more favorably disposed. The impression left by the White Paper is that a divided FSLN leadership only reluctantly and temporarily yielded to Salvadoran pressures for assistance with arms shipments.

Fidel Castro has urged the Sandinistas to maintain access to international markets and a mixed economy.5 This advice draws on Cuba's own experience, and perhaps also on the thinking of some Soviet intellectuals and policymakers who argue that autarkic socialism is not viable in the Third World.6 Castro's counsel of moderation also probably reflects his desire to avoid either betraying the Sandinistas or having to provide massive, possibly even military, assistance to defend a cornered Nicaraguan revolution-and thereby risk a confrontation with the United States. A senior Sandinista foreign policy adviser assured this writer that the Cubans would "come swimming to defend the Nicaraguan revolution," but Castro would presumably prefer to avoid such a dangerous demonstration of solidarity.

The very low level of Soviet aid to Nicaragua confirms Moscow's reluctance, as demonstrated with Allende in Chile and Manley in Jamaica, to invest heavily in a costly "second Cuba." However, following the U.S. cutoff of food aid to Nicaragua in January, the Soviets announced a donation of about four million dollars' worth of wheat.7 This gesture was probably intended more to embarrass the United States and identify the Soviet Union politically with Nicaraguan nationalism than to signal a willingness to replace Western financial and commodity markets. While Soviet intentions remain unclear and Soviet policies may well be more reactive than planned, most informed observers doubt that Moscow wants to confront the United States in Central America.

During the last days of the Somoza dynasty, the Carter Administration strenuously attempted to circumscribe Sandinista participation in the successor regime. Yet when the Sandinista columns entered Managua, the United States chose a policy of accommodation. Given the strength of the Sandinistas and their control over the armed forces, implacable U.S. hostility would only have radicalized the revolution. Conversely, if both the United States and the Sandinistas behaved rationally, a modus vivendi seemed possible. Unlike the mullahs in Iran, the Sandinistas were materialists who recognized that their small, open economy was dependent upon the West's resources, markets and technology. The United States and other capitalist nations would allow the Sandinistas to retain access to these resources, at the price of a genuinely nonaligned foreign policy and respect for the Nicaraguan private sector.

The policy of accommodation worked reasonably well. Yet, even before the election of Ronald Reagan, the Sandinistas' uncertainty about ultimate American intentions pushed them toward Cuba for military advisers and equipment. Also the unwillingness of either the United States or the West Europeans to offer substantial security assistance on sufficiently concessional terms made Havana the most generous and reliable supplier. The Sandinistas' anxieties were the product of past American interventions in the Caribbean Basin and in Chile under Allende, and were kept alive by the Carter Administration's refusal to accept clearly the Sandinistas' political hegemony.

The Reagan Administration's policy toward Nicaragua has been even more ambiguous. Secretary of State Alexander Haig remarked before a congressional committee that Nicaragua had already been "seized" by the Soviets, implying that accommodation was not possible. However, State Department regional specialists convinced Secretary Haig that pressing Nicaragua too hard right now would only give the hard-line Marxists the excuse to impose a national security state. Now, even if the Administration sincerely intends to seek an entente with the Sandinistas, the dynamics of mutual distrust can lead to a hardening of postures; both ruling parties have their hard-line wings which will be constantly pressing for aggressive responses. Alarmed by the Administration's anti-revolutionary rhetoric, many Sandinistas (themselves only recently transformed from guerrillas to governors) imagine that a "destabilization" campaign is already underway. U.S. bilateral assistance remains suspended, even though the weapons flows to the Salvadoran guerrillas, which sparked the suspension, have been curtailed. Nicaraguan exiles are training at anti-Castro Cuban camps in Florida. Relations have intensified between the internal opposition and the U.S. Embassy in Managua. Stepped-up U.S. arms shipments to El Salvador and Honduras fuel Nicaraguan fears of encirclement at a time when the Costa Rican government has become less friendly and is evicting foreign leftists.

The risks of actually trying to unseat the Sandinistas would be considerable. In the first instance, the Sandinistas would move to protect their internal front by narrowing the scope for dissent and would turn more decisively to Cuba for increased security assistance. As the leading opposition figure, Alfonso Robelo, recently admitted to the author, the Nicaraguan opposition is no match for the well-organized Sandinistas in a showdown. An outright invasion by the armies of Guatemala, El Salvador and/or Honduras, intended to spark an anti-Sandinista rebellion, more likely would allow the Sandinistas to rally nationalist support, while legitimizing Cuban aid. The ensuing chain of events throughout the isthmus would be unpredictable, but pressure for direct U.S. military involvement would be heavy.

Measured against these substantial dangers, how great are the costs of living with the Sandinistas? The answer goes back to whether the United States can accept a nationalist government of the Left within its traditional sphere of influence. As long as the United States is willing to maintain diplomatic and economic relations with Nicaragua, Washington can still impose limits on Nicaraguan foreign policy; here the successful use of U.S. leverage to curtail Sandinista intervention in El Salvador is a good example. A measured and realistic use of this leverage is more likely to be effective and would run fewer risks than an assault on Sandinista political hegemony in Nicaragua.


Regional specialists often complain that their area is not receiving adequate attention from the State Department. The Reagan Administration's elevation of El Salvador to high policy demonstrated the perils of placing a particular region in the sights of senior officials who have little grasp of the local details but are intent upon proving a larger point. The Administration took office just as the Salvadoran guerrilla offensive was faltering, and concerned diplomats were convening in various cities in Europe and Latin America to develop a mediated solution. Secretary Haig, however, was more interested in demonstrating U.S. will to respond forcefully to perceived Soviet and Cuban "risk-taking" in the Third World. Rather than foster talks, Haig chose to rush new weapons and additional advisers to a Salvadoran military that had already deflected the guerrilla challenge.

The State Department's White Paper on El Salvador used the evidence of a Cuban role in arms shipments (the evidence alleging a significant Soviet role was less compelling) to portray the Salvadoran junta as a victim of international communist aggression. In the White Paper's "conclusions," the Administration jumped from the reality of externally supplied weapons to the judgment that the "political direction" of the Salvadoran Left is "coordinated" by Cuba "with the active support of the Soviet Union," that the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) is merely a "front organization" seeking "non-Communist political support through propaganda," and that "indirect armed aggression by Communist powers" is completely illegimate because, until January 1981, the United States had "provided no weapons or ammunition to the Salvadoran Armed Forces."

These conclusions do not flow readily from the evidence presented in the White Paper or elsewhere. The Salvadoran Left expanded during a period of Cuban neglect of Central America, and has resisted Castro's counsel to moderate its tactics and rhetoric. Three of the four major leftist groups are highly critical of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-Cuban relationship (the small Moscow-oriented Communist Party is a junior member of the opposition alliance). Regrettably, the United States has little good intelligence on the personalities, beliefs or even strategies of the Salvadoran Left. The FDR is a "front organization" only to the extent that any grouping of middle-class social democrats and Christians momentarily allied with Marxists qualifies as such. The protestation of U.S. noninvolvement is also misleading: the United States had been training the Salvadoran army and supplying them with "non-lethal" military equipment, including transport vehicles, communications gear and tear-gas grenades and launchers. In addition, the American Embassy has been deeply involved in El Salvador's domestic politics. U.S. allies and other Latin states were providing further security assistance. The White Paper's tone of moral righteousness, the sweeping application of the label "communist," and the inadequate attention to the roots of the conflict were all reminiscent of the cold war.

Having started with blurred perceptions, it is not surprising that the Administration has yet to devise a winning strategy in El Salvador. The regionalists in the State Department and the NATO allies did persuade Secretary Haig that the presence of Christian Democrat Napoleon Duarte in the junta was crucial to the Administration's case that the regime was worthy of external support. Nonetheless, in the military, political and economic spheres the outlook is for stalemate or deterioration.

In their January "final" offensive, the guerrillas failed to spark the necessary popular uprising, but they did demonstrate the capacity to orchestrate a coordinated, country-wide attack. Since then, the security forces have remained near their bases, avoiding costly encounters, and their occasional "search and destroy" sweeps have generally lacked coordination and follow-through. The Pentagon has repeatedly warned the U.S. government that the Salvadoran security forces are too poorly trained, ill equipped and incompetently led to triumph quickly. While the guerrillas cannot hold the towns, they operate freely throughout much of the countryside.

Moreover, U.S. efforts to stem arms flows to the guerrillas can have only limited success. Beyond Cuba and Nicaragua, the guerrillas' many sources of weapons reportedly include the West European and Florida arms markets, the expansive Central American black market, and captures or purchases from the Salvadoran military itself. Weapons reportedly arrive by air or land from the southern United States and the private farms of Costa Rica's northern hinterland, or are allowed to pass through Honduras by corrupt military officers. The Salvadoran Left, wealthy from kidnapings and from fund-raising in Western Europe, has the finances to make these networks work for them.

On the political side, the U.S. strategy of broadening the Salvadoran government's narrow base of support has four elements: the agrarian reform, cleansing the security forces, elections, and inducing centrists to abandon their alliance with the Left. The expropriation of some 280 large estates as well as some smaller holdings has denied the Left potential pockets of support; but the security forces have been partisan in distributing the spoils, and corrupt in administering the reform. While the current military leadership is more aware than some of its predecessors of the need to build a social base, its more ingrained approach to politics is to demobilize opposition through repression. The alternative to the mass terror now practiced by the security forces would be the granting of political rights to the unions, the "popular organizations," and the center and left political parties now considered subversive. In today's atmosphere, and given the army's past involvement in coups and voting frauds, the recent promises of elections ring hollow.

The political prospects of the government are further dimmed by the state of the economy. Massive capital flight, low international coffee prices, and disruptions in agriculture caused national output to decline a drastic eight to ten percent in 1980, despite rising U.S. aid flows.8 Probably 1981 will be worse as the guerrillas systematically sabotage economic targets. Bereft of private investment, the economy is becoming increasingly dependent on injections of official aid. The United States has programmed $219 million in economic assistance for fiscal year 1981-82, plus $61 million in military aid, and is strongly supporting the junta's requests for still larger sums from the multilateral lending agencies.

The underlying social problems, the dismal economic outlook and the widespread hatred of the security forces (which have ruled since 1932) assure the Left of sufficient sympathy to mount a sustained challenge. Yet the Left is unlikely to triumph soon. The military is better armed, and much of the urban population has been intimidated or demoralized. The Left has been slow to overcome internal divisions and to agree on tactics; terrorist acts have alienated potential supporters; and it has failed to reach out to the middle classes until very late.

The prospect under current policy is for a prolonged war of attrition. Does an Administration deeply committed to destroying the Left in El Salvador have other options? The honest answer may be No. Nevertheless, as the high economic and diplomatic costs of the current no-win strategy become apparent, and if congressional and public resistance continue to mount, the Administration might try to achieve a mediated solution.9 Such a process might well accomplish what the Administration's current strategy cannot-the creation of a broad-based government that would consolidate the agrarian and other economic reforms and end the fighting, thus diminishing the opportunities for unwanted outside intervention.

An ad hoc mediation team could be drawn from among those many interested parties in Latin America and Western Europe who have advocated a political solution. More important than the team's composition would be the determination of the key external patrons to force a compromise. The Salvadoran army must believe that the United States strongly supports the mediation. The rising levels of U.S. security assistance could be turned into an effective lever; at present, however, the Salvadoran officer corps seems to believe the Reagan Administration is so firmly committed to it that it need not compromise. Whereas Duarte, the FDR and the guerrillas have all at times indicated an interest in internationally facilitated talks, the army has been saying No. This May Duarte rejected a mediation proposal of the Socialist International but he has favorably entertained similar offers in the past. The United States would have to deliver the army; Venezuela, Costa Rica and the European Christian Democrats would have to pressure Duarte; and the Socialist International, Mexico, Nicaragua and Cuba would have to bring in the FDR and the Salvadoran guerrillas. Other than the United States, all of these key external actors are, for their separate reasons, in favor of negotiations.

The mediation could seek an internationally supervised ceasefire and the formation of a coalition government followed by early elections. External assistance to the provisional government could be conditioned upon its maintaining a genuinely nonaligned foreign policy and its not interfering in neighboring states. In addition, the United States might demand that Cubans be excluded from participating in security and intelligence.

Such a settlement in El Salvador would go far to obviate the Sandinistas' felt need for Cuban security advisers. The Sandinistas now fear that a fortified Salvadoran army could transform El Salvador into a security threat to Nicaragua. Beyond the obvious ideological sympathies, this defensive concern was probably behind the Sandinistas' military assistance to the Salvadoran guerrillas. As it is, El Salvador's ideological conflict, economic contraction and outpouring of refugees are exacerbating tensions both within and between states throughout the region. All in all, a peaceful compromise in El Salvador is an essential precondition for the reestablishment of regional stability in Central America.


The political histories of the Central American states are closely interwoven, and intervention in the affairs of neighboring states is a time-honored tradition. Today, businessmen, political parties, bishops, journalists, right-wing "death-squads," generals and guerrillas join together across borders, in formal organizations and informal support networks. Events in any one country now travel quickly across these numerous channels and affect the mood and political calculations of people throughout the region. Weapons, too, flow easily across long and porous borders.

An initial effect of the Nicaraguan upheaval was to create a political antipode in Guatemala. The Guatemalan military and paramilitary death squads, swelled by Nicaraguan exiles, collaborated to launch a reign of terror against not only suspected guerrillas but against centrists and even moderate conservatives.10 The intention is both to stifle dissent and to leave no alternatives between the regime and the guerrillas.

Guatemala possesses a variety of resources, including modest (some claim substantial) amounts of oil, and Guatemalan entrepreneurs are relatively dynamic. The military is more professional than others in the region. Yet Guatemalans have not been able to devise a lasting social contract since the overthrow of the reformist Arbenz regime in 1954. The old landed families, frightened by Arbenz's agrarian reform, have allied themselves with the military to oppose any further efforts at social reform or political liberalization, and urban industrialists and merchants have been unable to forge a political alternative. Centrist and leftist parties have been co-opted, cowed, destroyed or forced underground.

Past counterinsurgency successes may be blinding the regime to the new realities. The guerrillas have abandoned the delusions of the Guevarist foco theory and have concentrated on building firmer political bases among the salaried workers, the displaced peasantry and the urban poor. For the first time, the majority Indian population is beginning to join the swelling guerrilla ranks. In Guatemala City, the fierce repression, coinciding with falling real incomes, is converting the labor unions and elements of the middle class and the Catholic Church into fertile grounds for guerrilla recruitment.11

Can the regime reverse this deterioration, or is renewal possible from within? The government has undertaken some modest increases in social expenditures, but implementation is slow, leading many observers to conclude that it's too little, too late. Presidential elections are scheduled for 1982, but even if a conservative civilian is allowed to win, the military high command will remain the most important political power. The best hope would appear to be a progressive military coup of the sort which broke the stalemate in El Salvador in October 1979. The required progressive colonels are not yet visible but such tendencies are likely to surface as it becomes more obvious that the current course poses severe dangers to the army as an institution. Indeed, the consolidation of an internationally mediated pluralist regime in El Salvador would probably increase the pressures for such a breakthrough.

Conversely, the renewal of U.S. security assistance, suspended during the Carter Administration, would strengthen the current high command, and the cynical and chauvinistic Guatemalan officers would not take simultaneous U.S. appeals for reform seriously. Moreover, Guatemala has sharply reduced its dependency on U.S. military ties by purchasing military equipment and training from such diverse sources as France, Israel, South Korea, Yugoslavia and Argentina.

The renewal of U.S. security assistance would also have ramifications beyond Guatemala. Nicaraguans would view it as an important signal that the United States had aligned itself with the most militantly conservative forces in the region, thereby giving ammunition to those Sandinistas who see no possibility of accommodation with Washington. The Salvadoran security forces would become more confident of ongoing U.S. support regardless of their behavior. In Honduras, those officers and civilians who argue that democracy interferes with rooting out subversion and advocate confronting Nicaragua militarily would feel fortified. Outside the region, the U.S. moral position on El Salvador and Central America generally would be weakened, and any Cuban countermoves would gain enhanced legitimacy. Mexico would be especially upset at the prospect of a U.S. military presence on its southern border, and might well react by reaffirming its ties to Havana as it did following the Reagan Administration's initial actions in El Salvador.

While U.S. and regional concern about Guatemala's internal conflict rises, Honduras and Costa Rica appear so far to have avoided the extreme effects of the political upheavals afflicting their neighbors. Each will necessarily be affected, however, by the powerful forces unleashed in the rest of the region.

In contrast to Guatemala, the Honduran civilian and military leadership has sought stability by tolerating a diversity of political activity and labor unions. In the mid-1970s, an agrarian reform was enacted that helped preserve a relatively equal income distribution. The military, in power since 1972, convened elections last year for a constituent assembly. The massive and enthusiastic voter turnout demonstrated the Hondurans' desire to avoid being engulfed in the violence around them. Elections for president and a congress are scheduled for the end of this year.

On the other hand, Central America's contracting markets and political jitters have contributed to the deterioration of the Honduran economy. Several thousand former Somoza National Guardsmen, concentrated near the Nicaraguan border, are feeding the fears of Honduran officers that the Sandinista army has aggressive designs. Conversely, some Hondurans fear that the U.S. military equipment pouring into El Salvador, their opponent in the 1969 "soccer war," could tip the regional military balance. Honduras itself has acquired Israeli-modified, French Super-Mystère jets, British Scorpion light tanks, and ten American Huey UHIH helicopters. Honduras is likely to be pulled in the general direction of the region. If center or center-left solutions consolidate, Honduran reformism might prosper, but more extreme or chaotic developments elsewhere could unhinge Honduras as well.

Costa Rica, a middle-class democracy, has historically stood apart from the region. The country consciously dissolved its army in 1948, and its passion for democracy is demonstrated by the impressive voter turnout in elections. The government provides social security, Latin America's best public school system, and public health care that reaches out into the rural areas.

Costa Rican democracy is now being tested by a deepening economic crisis. Buffeted more by the high prices for oil and international capital than by the violence to the north, Costa Rica faces a period of adjustment and austerity. The United States can ease the burden by facilitating bilateral and multilateral aid, but Costa Rica itself must make the painful reforms. Industry must be restructured and made more competitive, agriculture upgraded, the fiscal deficit closed and savings increased.

No significant home-grown groups of the extreme Right or Left are yet active in Costa Rica. Nonetheless, the moderately conservative Costa Rican government is anxious about Nicaragua, and has broken consular relations with Cuba. It is clearly frightened by the prospect of spreading regional strife and has even proposed that the OAS designate a mediation team to facilitate a political solution in El Salvador. If the national economic crisis is not solved and if polarization and violence in the rest of Central America are prolonged, Costa Rica too could be dragged into the maelstrom.


We have already noted the possibility that regional and West European nations might play a useful role in El Salvador. Let us now look more closely at the attitudes of the key countries that are already involved and might be engaged even more. In a sense, Central America could be a testing ground both for the role of prominent regional nations and for the influence of West European nations in an era of renewed East-West tensions. In Central America, in particular, it appears entirely possible, as well as desirable, that such middle powers could help substantially to move the situation in a constructive direction.

Mexican foreign policy was, until recently, almost exclusively focused on the United States. However, Mexico's emergence as a major oil producer, and the decay of the old U.S.-dominated order in Central America, have created the conditions for an historic leap in Mexican foreign policy. Mexico is rapidly defining Central America as a zone of vital strategic and political interest, with potential economic payoffs.

As is often the case for a power bordering on lesser states, Mexican motives are both defensive and offensive. The Mexican military worries about its ability to defend the oil fields which lie just to the north of Guatemala. Less concrete, but no less worrisome, is the concern that ideological conflict in Central America could inflame passions within Mexico. The Mexican political elite is more confident than some U.S. observers are that the Mexican state will maintain its traditional ability either to co-opt or to repress leftist pressures. However, the politicians and technocrats are deeply worried that domestic unrest could justify the strengthening of the Mexican military and security apparatus, thereby diminishing civilian domination of the Mexican polity. The political institutions and the ideology that have made Mexico so stable could then begin to corrode.

Beyond these defensive concerns, Mexico has seized upon the Nicaraguan revolution to extend its influence southward. Itself the institutionalized product of a violent revolution, the Mexican regime believes that the Nicaraguan revolution can be modeled after its own image and, as such, serve as a model for the rest of Central America. President Lopez Portillo dramatically broke diplomatic relations with Somoza on the eve of the Sandinistas' final offensive, and Mexico's presence in Nicaragua now ranks just behind that of the United States and Cuba. It has already extended over $70 million in credits, and may provide an additional $200 million over the next two years. It is also providing Nicaragua with subsidized oil, and is negotiating a $300-million paper and pulp project. And Mexico placed its influence with American banks at the service of Nicaragua by holding the debt rescheduling meetings in Mexico City. A wide range of Mexican ministries and public-sector firms are assisting in education, health, agriculture, industry, mining and energy. Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda regularly visits Managua and President Lopez Portillo has offered to mediate the border disputes between Honduras and Nicaragua, caused primarily by incursions of ex-Sandinista Guardsmen located in Honduras.

The Sandinistas also offer Mexico an opportunity to reduce U.S. influence on its southern flank. At the same time, the Mexicans argue that their activist diplomacy will serve U.S. interests by containing Cuban influence. The Mexicans believe that they are culturally far better prepared than the United States to compete with Cuba for the minds of the youthful and "anti-imperialist" Central American Left.

Mexican popular sentiment lies with the Salvadoran Left, but the government's main objective is to achieve a stable solution which will reduce regional tensions. Mexico has joined Panama and Venezuela in offering joint "good offices" to mediate in El Salvador. Lopez Portillo has repeatedly rejected the Reagan Administration's interpretation of the conflict in El Salvador. During a banquet toast in honor of Venezuelan President Herrera Campins, Lopez Portillo stated:

At the present time, the most serious crises are developing in Poland and El Salvador, and although they are quite different, they do have the common characteristic of being essentially internal conflicts which, because of their effects on bloc politics, are presented as conflicts of external origin. This is an insult to our intelligence, because no reasonably informed person would explain social acts with the methodology of detective work, or confuse collective demands for rights with terrorism.

With regard to Guatemala, their common border makes Mexico cautious, and policy does not extend beyond the hope that a successful outcome in El Salvador might offer new opportunities to bring reform and stability to explosive Guatemala.

Venezuelans agree that the Caribbean Basin is their security zone, but the pro-Sandinista enthusiasm of the social democratic government of Carlos Andres Perez (1974-78) is not shared by the successor Christian Democratic regime of Luis Herrera Campins. Under Herrera Campins, Venezuela and the Carter Administration converged in support of the Christian Democratic/military junta in El Salvador, in preferring the non-Sandinista groups in post-Somoza Nicaragua, and in maintaining very cool relations with Havana.

The politically weak Herrera Campins government has been under pressure from the opposition Social Democrats and from the left wing of its own party to back away from the Salvadoran junta. Moreover, the Reagan Administration's ready embrace of military governments and its aggressive East-West rhetoric are both distasteful and worrisome to Venezuelans.12 As a result, and having already joined Mexico in a $700 million-per-annum oil-price subsidy scheme for the Caribbean Basin, Herrera Campins has now moved closer to the positions initially articulated by Lopez Portillo: support for a mediated solution in El Salvador, and a willingness to finance Nicaragua despite the U.S. aid suspension. Venezuela does not have the institutional or financial potential of Mexico, but it can add weight to multilateral undertakings. Other hemispheric nations, including Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, could also play useful secondary roles in helping to steer Central America through the current period of upheaval and adjustment.

Moreover, to an extent that has surprised many Americans, including the Reagan Administration itself, Central America has become a significant and troublesome issue for Canada and several European governments, including West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Belgium, and to a lesser degree, Great Britain and France. Skeptical of the White Paper's "conclusions," West European governments refused to endorse publicly what they regarded as the Reagan Administration's confrontational East-West imagery in El Salvador. Instead, they have argued that a policy seeking a peaceful political solution would be a preferable approach to civil conflict in the Third World generally, and a better way to prevent the issue of El Salvador from becoming an additional irritant in the Atlantic community.

European interest in Central America predates the current debates over El Salvador. During the last ten years, Central America has become a battleground where Social and Christian Democratic activists struggle over ideas whose edges have been dulled in the material prosperity of Western Europe. Under the influence of its West German and Nordic member parties, the Socialist International (SI) has become very deeply involved in Central America. Principles dear to the European Social Democrats, such as the search for a "third way" between capitalism and Marxism-Leninism and between alignment with the United States and the U.S.S.R., are seen as being at stake. The SI regards Nicaragua as a favorable "test case" for the third way ideal. In El Salvador, the SI has supported its member National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), whose leader, Guillermo Ungo, is head of the opposition coalition. Since centrist forces will be better placed in any solution brought about by peaceful means, the SI has been concentrating its efforts on facilitating mediation in El Salvador.

The SI's weight is essentially moral, and it cannot even commit West European governments that its parties control. West German Chancellor Schmidt has typically sought to straddle deeply divided West German opinion on El Salvador, and has not wanted to confront the United States publicly over Central America. France's Socialist Party has been outspokenly critical of U.S. policy in El Salvador, although it is unclear whether President Mitterrand will want to involve himself in an area of little direct concern to France. Nevertheless, the perspectives of the SI and several Latin governments, including Mexico, on East-West relations, social change in the Third World, and how best to co-opt leftist movements and limit Cuban influence are remarkably similar. The potential exists for an effective coalition.

Whatever regional or West European nations may do will surely be undertaken for the motivations described above. But the practical effect of their actions could be to provide the Reagan Administration with a powerful instrument to attain its major objective in Central America-the containment of Cuban influence. The middle powers could transmit the message to Havana and Moscow that Washington will welcome the presence of the middle powers in Central America only if Cuba exercises restraint. Havana might accede, since it values its relations with the middle powers, and since those powers are likely to foster the development of regimes whose outlook would be less hostile to Cuba.

By themselves, the middle powers cannot resolve the region's problems, but they can reach out to a wider range of indigenous political forces and offer them a new set of non-communist international linkages. They can, for example, reinforce U.S. policies that rely on finance and markets to avoid a hardening of Sandinista strategy. The Sandinistas recognize that while Mexican and West European aid has not carried the exactingly detailed conditions of U.S. assistance, the creation of a Cuban-style state would be unacceptable to the other Western countries as well. The United States might concentrate its leverage on restraining Nicaraguan activities in Central America, while the less threatening middle powers might be more effective in protecting an open society within Nicaragua. Regarding El Salvador, the interested middle powers are pressing for a mediation of the conflict there with increasing intensity. Together with the United States they control the levers behind all the major Salvadoran parties except the guerrillas, and the guerrillas' backers-Nicaragua and Cuba-can be engaged by a combination of pressures and inducements from Mexico, Venezuela and Western Europe. The middle powers could also assist in financing a regime born of the mediation process.

The Reagan Administration has lately been exploring with the middle powers the feasibility of expanding bilateral and multilateral aid programs in Central America, and coordinating them under the aegis of the World Bank. A similar consortium was established in 1977 at the initiative of the Carter Administration to assist the Caribbean islands and Guyana. But as the experience with the Caribbean islands demonstrates, economic aid cannot by itself resolve many of Central America's political problems, nor even guarantee economic growth if private foreign and domestic investors are deterred by unsettled political conditions. External economic assistance can, however, be an important component in a broader plan, and the middle powers are likely to join actively and generously in a common assistance effort only if they participate in formulating and executing the larger strategies.


Central America presents the Reagan Administration with a more complex challenge than it first realized. Having started from questionable assumptions and perceptions, the Administration appears to be turning down a costly and risky path.

The Soviet Union has traditionally considered Central America to be a U.S. zone of influence, although the Soviets may now see opportunities for the emergence of "progressive" regimes. But more rewarding to the Soviets than any increase in their own influence in Central America would be the unearned dividends that await them should the United States become deeply involved on the side of narrowly based, military-dominated governments or in an effort to remove the Sandinistas. Beyond the diversion of U.S. attention and resources, such involvement would lessen the credibility of U.S. accusations that the Soviets are the sponsor of global violence, giving the U.S.S.R. a powerful propaganda ploy in justifying whatever they feel impelled to do in Poland and Afghanistan. It would also discourage America's friends and allies from associating with it in other areas of the world, and create tensions between the United States and the major Latin states. Already, the negative reaction to the El Salvador policy in Western Europe and Latin America is a warning that an unmeasured global containment policy could isolate the United States and open innumerable opportunities for Soviet diplomacy.

What are, in fact, U.S. interests in Central America and how might they be threatened?13 The U.S. economic stake, whether in terms of trade, raw materials or investment, is small, and the depth of these countries' dependency further limits the potential risks. The weak nations of the area can pose no direct military threat, while the United States possesses the diplomatic leverage and, if necessary, the military superiority to deny the isthmus to Cuban or Soviet military forces.14 The United States does have an interest in avoiding chronic political instability, which in the current Central American context jeopardizes two other U.S. interests-protecting basic human rights and preventing conflicts that might compromise regional security. Moreover, the United States has a general interest in forestalling the emergence of truly hostile governments dominated by Cuba or the Soviet Union in the Caribbean Basin. The fundamental challenge is to distinguish between regimes which are less than friendly and those whose interests are genuinely and irrevocably antagonistic to those of the United States.

In defining their interests, Central American regimes are highly sensitive to U.S. policies. Regimes that feel themselves under siege may well turn to the enemy of their enemy for security. A hostile U.S. policy thus risks producing the most unwelcome outcome. In a more normal environment, economic and diplomatic interests of the Central American states will weigh more heavily, and these are the strong suits of the middle powers and the United States. These levers, however, no longer readily allow the United States to finely tune Central American politics, or to stabilize the old order, and the costs of trying to do either are rising. Nor can the United States expect the middle powers to support such efforts. The external powers, coming out of different political traditions, do not share a common vision of exactly what institutional forms are desirable or possible in Central America. The United States and the middle powers do, however, share the common concern that Central American nations not follow the Cuban model.

To sum up the implications arising from the specific cases discussed, this perspective on U.S. relations with Central America suggests an alternative set of policies. The Sandinista government in Nicaragua, while less than friendly, need not seriously threaten the constellation of U.S. interests discussed above. Relying on the West's essential strengths, the United States could seek a dialogue with Nicaragua, whose leadership appears interested in maintaining Western economic ties and avoiding dependency upon the Soviet bloc. The chronic instability in El Salvador, and the consequent dangers of regional conflagration, clearly threaten U.S. interests. The United States therefore ought to encourage the middle powers to help find a face-saving and peaceful way out of a potential quagmire in El Salvador. In Guatemala, the current government offers little prospect for long-term stability, and U.S. leverage in Guatemalan politics is much diminished; the logical approach, therefore, is one of restraint. Together, these policies offer the best hope for keeping Costa Rica and Honduras from being sucked into a vortex of violence.

These policies are also mutually reinforcing. A settlement in El Salvador would remove a central irritant in U.S.-Nicaraguan relations, just as the opening of a dialogue with Nicaragua would facilitate a peaceful solution in El Salvador, by increasing the pressures on the guerrillas to negotiate. If successful, the resulting political systems would enjoy the minimum degree of ideological compatibility needed to defuse regional tensions.

The approach suggested here becomes attractive only if the United States accepts a new definition of tolerable political behavior within its geographic zone of influence. Central America is, indeed, a test case-not really for the Soviets, for whom the region is of marginal interest, but for America's ability to respond with maturity and pragmatism to upheavals in its own backyard.

1 A State Department press release of April 1 admitted that there was "no hard evidence of arms movements through Nicaragua during the past few weeks," but added that "we remain concerned, however, that some arms traffic may be continuing, and other support very probably continues." After noting U.S. interest in assisting moderate forces in Nicaragua, the statement concluded, "We do not rule out the eventual resumption of [U.S. aid] at a later time should the situation in Nicaragua improve" (italics added).

3 At the time, the Cubans denied U.S. intelligence reports that arms were being flown from Cuba to the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), but have since acknowledged these activities.

5 See The New York Times, July 6, 1980; and The Washington Post, June 23, 1980.

7 Prior to the wheat offer, Soviet aid had been negligible, although East Germany had opened a $30-million suppliers' credit. A compilation of foreign assistance to Nicaragua can be found in "Avances de la Revolucion Popular Sandinista," Managua: The Foreign Relations Department of the FSLN, January 1981.

8 As admitted in congressional testimony by John A. Bushnell, Acting Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, May 14, 1981.

9 A Gallup poll conducted in mid-March found that 46 percent of informed Americans opposed any form of aid, 44 percent believed the United States should assist El Salvador, and ten percent had no opinion. Sixty-three percent feared that it was either "very" or "fairly likely" that El Salvador could "turn into a situation like Vietnam."

The Reagan Administration's initial aid package has faced considerable opposition in the House of Representatives. Both the House Foreign Affairs and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees have proposed amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act conditioning military aid upon the Salvadoran government's seeking negotiations with the opposition, among other matters.

10 According to Amnesty International, "Between January and November in 1980 alone some 3000 people described by government representatives as 'subversives' and 'criminals' were either shot on the spot in political assassinations or seized and murdered later." Guatemala: A Government Program of Political Murder, London: Amnesty International Publications, 1981, p. 3.

11 A New York Times article on the growing repression and polarization in Guatemala reported: "Young activists who once would have populated the labor movement, moderate parties, and left-of-center groups are finding that armed revolutionary organizations are all that is left to join. A member of the National Workers' Center, who had reluctantly given up labor organizing after assassinations and bombings permanently closed the group's offices in Guatemala City, said that she now believes only in 'the advanced comrades.' " The New York Times, May 9, 1981. See also articles by Warren Hoge, The New York Times, May 3 and 4, 1981.

12 For a discussion of the recent evolution in Venezuelan views of the region and U.S. policies, see Robert D. Bond, "Venezuela, the Caribbean Basin and the Crisis in Central America," in Central America: International Dimensions of the Crisis, ed. Richard E. Feinberg, forthcoming from Holmes and Meier.

13 For several essays discussing U.S. diplomatic, economic and security interests in the region, see Feinberg, op cit.

14 The worst case, which the United States almost surely could and would prevent, would be the establishment of a Soviet military facility. Even then, from a purely strategic perspective, the facility would probably be redundant, so long as it was governed by the bilateral understanding which limits Soviet offensive capabilities in Cuba. The political effect, however, would be to harden still further U.S.-Soviet relations.



You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Richard E. Feinberg was a member of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department from 1977 through 1979 and is currently an International Affairs Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is editor and co-author of the forthcoming Central America: International Dimensions of the Crisis. His work on this article was supported by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and by a grant from the German Marshall Fund.
  • More By Richard Feinberg