New Internationalist

The Facts

issue 130

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CENTRAL AMERICA [image, unknown] Facts

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The FACTS

Central America
Nearly 25 million people inhabit the isthmus of land stretching from Guatemala south to Panama. They are a mixture of native Indian, Ladino (descendents of Spanish colonizers), mestizo (mixed race) and black. Agriculture is the backbone of the region, yet hunger and landlessness are increasing as commercial farming expands. And the recent militarization of the region has further disrupted daily life.

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[image, unknown] NICARAGUA

POLITICS — The 1979 revolution led by Frente Sandinista (FSLN) replaced the Somoza family dictatorship. Power now rests in the hands of the nine-member National Directorate of the FSLN. Attempts to initiate local involvement through neighbourhood committees, cooperatives and trade unions have been made. Elections are scheduled for 1985.

THE WAR — Prime target of US-backed war efforts in the region. Over 6,000 counter-revolutionaries, trained and outfitted by the CIA and led by ex-Somocista national guardsmen, make forays from their bases in Honduras. 150 covert CIA agents are involved — the largest CIA operation since Vietnam. Fighting has not undermined popular support for the Sandi nistas.

HUMAN RIGHTS — Sandinistas have admitted ‘errors’ in their early dealings with the Moskitos Indians but stand by their right to relocate 8,000 Indians from the border war zone. Political parties permitted; few cases of torture, disappearances or political murder; press censorship is still in operation.

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[image, unknown] EL SALVADOR

POLITICS — 1982 elections vaulted right-winger Maj. Robert D’Abuisson into power with Alvarado Magana as figurehead president. The main opposition force, the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), boycotted the elections because of death threats to its leadership by right-wing groups. Guerrilla forces have proposed direct negotiations with the US and Salvadoran govemments to achieve a political solution.

THE WAR—Guerrilla forces were formed in the early 1970s. Farabundo Marti National Liberation Fmnt (FMLN) is a tightly-organized fighting force of an estimated 10,000. Government troops armed, trained and advised by the US, which has poured almost a billion dollars into the country in the last four years.

HUMAN RIGHTS — Atrocities, deaths and ‘disappearances’ by right-wing death squads and army make El Salvador a human rights nightmare. Civilian killings continue at 400-500 a month. The murderof four US nuns remains unsolved.

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[image, unknown] HONDURAS

POLITICS — Pres. Roberto Suazo Cordova elected in 1981 after 18 years of military dictatorship. Real power is still vested in the army led by Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, a hardline right-winger. Power behind the throne is US Ambassador. John Negroponte, who oversees the US military build-up.

THE WAR — Main base of US action against the Sandinistas and Salvadoran guerrillas. Air strips, radar stations and new troop training facilities are being built. There are more than 300 US military advisors and technicians, 125 Green Berets and 150 CIA agents in the country. Contras operate freely inside Honduras.

HUMAN RIGHTS — ‘Human rights are an invention to protect terrorists’ says army leader Gen. Alvarez. Violations by armed forces have increased since 1982 with outspoken govemment opponents targetted for murder.

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[image, unknown] GUATEMALA

POLITICS — Ruled by military dictators since US-assisted coup overthrew the democratic govemment of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. Most recent coup ousted Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, a born-again Christian considered too liberal by the country’s oligarchy. Current leader is Brig. Oscar Mejia Victores — a hard-line anti-communist.

THE WAR — Scattered guerrilla forces have fought from mountain strongholds since late 1950s; peasant support and government repression have accelerated since late 1970s. The army is the largest and most sophisticated in Central America, trained in counter-insurgency techniques by US advisors. Recent military aid will help Gen. Mejia escalate the armys campaign against the guerrillas.

HUMAN RIGHTS- More than 100,000 civilians have been murdered by govemment forces in the last decade. Rule of law non-existent. Church workers estimate up to 1 million intemal refugees and 100,000 more in Mexico.

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[image, unknown] COSTA RICA

POLITICS — Led by the centrist govemment of Luis Alberto Monge with a tradition of legitimate electoral politics since 1948. Its reasonably independent foreign policy is coming under sway of US as the economy deteriorates.

THE WAR — The only Central American country without standing army is being pressured by Washington to beef up intemal security. Small force of Nicaraguan contras operates near Costa Rica’s northern border.

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[image, unknown] BELIZE

POLITICS — Belize, the only English-speaking country in the region, gained independence from Britain in September 1981. Led by George Price and his People’s United Party, Belize has yet to be dragged into the Central American maelstrom.

THE WAR — Guatemala claims Belize as national territory and occasionally rattles its sabres in that direction. This threat is serious enough to keep 1,600 British troops there after independence at the govemment s request

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[image, unknown] PANAMA

POLITICS — Power of the country’s oligarcy, reinstated under the presidency of Ricardo de Ia Espriella after the resignation of the liberal Aristides Royo. Elections scheduled for 1984 are expected to strengthen the right-wing.

THE WAR — Part of the four-country ‘Contadora Group’, Panama has played an important role in trying to bring a negotiated settlement to Central America. Panama contains headquarters for Pentagon’s Southern Command, where approx. 10,000 US troops are stationed.


AID AS A WEAPON

The US has been pouring massive amounts of aid into the region since 1980 in a desperate attempt to shore up beleaguered regimes in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Military aid to Honduras jumped 650% from 1980-83 while economic aid to Guatemala rose by over 500% in the same period. Soviet and Eastern Bloc aid is increasing in Nicaragua. Moscow has supplied obsolete trucks and other weapons to the Sandinistas. But the amount is only a fraction of the US effort. Without US dollars in hard-hit treasuries countries like El Salvador would be unable to survive the onslaught of guerrilla forces.

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* The annual cost of the US covert war against Nicaragua was estimated at $30 to $50 million for 1983. The CIA wants $80 million for 1984 to support 12,000 to 15,000 contras.


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