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Central America Sights a New World : Its Five Countries Are Poised for Peace if U.S. Allows It

September 08, 1987|XABIER GOROSTIAGA | Xabier Gorostiaga, SJ, is a Panamanian economist who was an adviser to Omar Torrijos in the Panama Canal negotiations, and from 1979 to 1981 was the director of economic planning for the government of Nicaragua. Dr. Gorostiaga is currently the president of CRIES (Regional Institute of Social and Economic Research) and a member of the Inter-American Dialogue, which is meeting this week in Washington.

MANAGUA — The year 1992 will mark the 500th anniversary of the date on which Columbus arrived in the "New World," bringing with him the medieval political and economic system that was then prevailing in Spain. Remnants of that system still exist in Central America, defended by a series of U.S. Administrations fearing that any significant change could threaten U.S. hegemony in the region. The peace agreement that was signed by the five Central American presidents on Aug. 7 in Guatemala breaks with that system. The shape of what replaces it will depend on Washington.

Two scenarios for 1992 are possible. The first is of a Central America torn apart by war. It begins with the Reagan Administration's boycott of the 1987 Guatemala peace accords. Within a year, the United States has invaded Nicaragua and established a new government in Managua. Nominally headed by a civilian politician but controlled by the contras , it is unable to govern; repression of the pro-Sandinista populace is intense. A guerrilla army of tens of thousands, organized by the Sandinista National Liberation Front, is fighting U.S. soldiers throughout the country. The Nicaraguans have formed a regional alliance with Guatemalan and Salvadoran guerrillas, prompting the United States to intervene militarily in those two countries as well. Latin and North American brigades have joined the Central American resistance.

The U.S. military had estimated that the initial invasion of Nicaragua would cost $16 billion and the lives of up to 15,000 soldiers. That has proved optimistic as U.S. troops get bogged down in regional jungle warfare. Deaths in the region have skyrocketed from 200,000 in 1987 to 1 million in 1992. Three million refugees fleeing war and repression have joined the 2 million refugees and hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens who "invaded" the United States in the 1980s. Other regional conflicts in the Third World have escalated as well, and the deadly connection between regional wars and the superpower conflict is now an actual threat to world peace.

The other possible scenario for 1992 is peace. It grows out of a new Central American logic rather than the prevailing military one. It is a logic of regional autonomy, economic revitalization, political pluralism and anti-interventionism.

Regional autonomy originates in the visions of Simon Bolivar, Jose Marti and Augusto Cesar Sandino of transforming these dependencies of Spain and, later, of the United States into viable and independent nations that are part of a larger nonaligned Latin American policy.

Economic revitalization is based on regional integration. The 30 small developing countries of Central America and the Caribbean, with 70 million people and a regional gross domestic product of $80 billion, located in the strategic center of hemispheric commercial routes, have an immense potential for growth and development. From 1950 to 1978 Central America had the highest growth rates in the world, albeit overshadowed by a military-oligarchic alliance that created one of the worst income-distribution and poverty scales imaginable.

The concept of regional political pluralism grows out of the recognition that Christian democratic, social democratic and socialist governments can coexist in peace. And, finally, the new regional system is framed by international law, the principle of nonintervention and the sovereign right of each nation to determine its own destiny.

Faced with these two very realistic scenarios, we must go beyond objectivity, revealing our values. These are mine: As a Christian I am committed to a preferential option for the poor and oppressed, the largest sector of our populace; as a Central American I am committed to "the new logic," through which sovereign and independent nations overcome poverty and social and economic injustice. My goal in writing this article is to touch the moral honesty of the United States' people, provoking deeper levels of communication and understanding.

The new logic is not a threat but an opportunity for the United States and Central America. It is an alternative to the history of human and economic underdevelopment created by the triple alliance of oligarchies, the military and U.S. Administrations. There is no historical space for a military solution in Central America, nor can a solution come from outside the region. The only viable solution to Central America's problems is based on political negotiations to solve the military conflict and the socioeconomic problems at the root of the crisis.

I am convinced that the people of the United States desire to align themselves with the scenario of peace and development, in opposition to the first scenario, which is evolving from the policies of the Reagan Administration. For that reason we in Central America propose that the U.S. elections of 1988 become the point of departure for a U.S.-Central American coalition for peace, democracy, economic development and security within the region, united by our common values and mutual interests. Then, with complete commitment and collective effort, we can build a a new model of relationships suitable for celebrating in 1992.

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