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History Shows the Sandinistas Can Keep Word

June 15, 1986|Wayne S. Smith | Wayne S. Smith is former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. His book on U.S.-Cuban relations, "The Closest of Enemies," will be published shortly.

WASHINGTON — The Contadora process goes on, but any agreement is blocked by the Reagan Administration's insistence on continuing the contra war against Managua. At their recent meeting in Panama, the Contadora countries--Mexico, Venezula, Colombia and Panama--decided to drop their previously announced June 6 deadline for signing an agreement, and instead said they would continue negotiations indefinitely. Nicaragua has said it would sign an agreement, but only if the United States ceases the contra war. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, in turn, has emphasized that even if an agreement were signed, the United States would go right on funding the contras. Indeed, the Administration is even now pressing Congress for more such aid, thus further impeding a Contadora agreement.

This simply confirms what has long been obvious: Even though U.S. security concerns could be resolved through a negotiated settlement, the Administration and its ultraconservative supporters do not want one. Why? Because their goal is to get rid of the Sandinistas, not to restrain them. No settlement that left the Sandinistas in power would be acceptable to them. It is bad public relation to say so outright, however; hence, they must come up with other reasons to explain U.S. opposition.

One of the favorites is the assertion that the Sandinistas don't keep their word. Like clockwork, spokesmen on the right produce as evidence the Nicaraguan junta's cable of July 12, 1979, to the Organization of the American States. "Given that the Sandinistas broke all the promises they made in that cable," the argument goes, "why should we trust them to keep promises under a Contadora agreement?"

The immediate answer is: We wouldn't trust them, nor they us. Any agreement would have to be fully verifiable in both directions. But beyond that, the argument itself is false. The promises made in the July 12 cable were not broken. Those who say they were obviously hope no one will take the time to go back and read the cable. When it was sent, the OAS was afraid there would be a blood bath in Managua--that the rebels would march in and stand hundreds of Somoza soldiers and supporters against the wall. In the cable, the new junta promised that would not happen. Rather, it said, those who were guilty of no crime and who wished to leave the country would be allowed to do so under the supervision of international agencies. Those charged with war crimes or malfeasance would be tried in civil courts. By and large, those promises were kept.

The cable also said that elections would be held. In November, 1984, they were. They may not have been all we would have wished, but an American delegation of observers, led by former Ambassador Ben F. Stephansky, pronounced them reasonably fair and an important step toward democracy. Arturo Cruz, the leader of the main opposition group, was pressured by the United States not to participate. He now says he regrets not taking part.

Finally, the cable promised to establish a "broadly-representative democratic government." What the Sandinistas have established may not suit the United States, but Nicaraguans say that since their government was elected by over 60% of the voters, it is broadly-representative and is democratic.

The United States may be disappointed with this limited definition of democracy, and it is legitimate for us to urge them to broaden it. But it is quite another thing to claim they have so blatantly ignored their promise to establish a broadly-representative government that we can no longer believe anything they say. Indeed, if the July 12 cable is the best evidence of Sandinista duplicity (and it is always the Administration's "exhibit A"), our case is too weak to take to court.

In an effort to bolster that case, spokesmen on the right point to the 1962 John F. Kennedy-Nikita S. Khrushchev understanding as another instance of the communists not keeping their word. Former Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, for example, recently declared: "the Soviets and Cubans have violated all its provisions."

That also is false. Khrushchev agreed to remove all offensive weapons systems (i.e. missiles and bombers) and not to reintroduce them. That agreement has held. Subsequent Soviet leaders tested its limits--as in 1970, when Leonid I. Brezhnev tried to establish a submarine base in Cuba--but never ignored them. When, in 1970, the United States insisted that a submarine base would violate the understanding, the Soviets backed down and dismantled the facility. In this and in various other episodes, the 1962 understanding has proved its worth. No Soviet nuclear-missile submarine has entered a Cuban port since 1964. No Soviet bombers fly out of Cuban airfields. There are no nuclear weapons of any kind in Cuba.

If anything, the Kennedy-Khrushchev understanding represents proof that diplomatic arrangements can work, as long as they are verifiable. Rather than denigrating the 1962 understanding, the Administration should be trying to come up with something half as successful. That it has not says far more about the ineptness of its diplomacy and the fatuousness of its analysis than about the difficulties of negotiating with communists.

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