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Test of Sincerity

October 18, 1987

Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, archbishop of Managua and primate of Nicaragua, has proposed mediating a cease-fire between the Sandinista rulers of Nicaragua and the contra guerrillas. His proposal should be heeded by President Daniel Ortega, who has resisted all appeals for negotiations with the contra guerrilla leadership, and by the contras themselves, who appear interested above all in pursuing the war and sabotaging the Central American peace plan.

The archbishop speaks with a special authority, for he is the chairman of the national reconciliation commission created in Nicaragua under terms of the Aug. 7 peace agreement. Furthermore, his proposal appears to have the strong endorsement of President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica, the primary architect of the peace plan.

Ortega has preferred to impose, without negotiation, unilateral cease-fire arrangements for specific provinces--an initiative that has has had mixed results but inevitably has not inspired significant acceptance of a companion offer of amnesty.

The contra leadership in the United States has demanded full-scale negotiations with the Sandinistas, and now is talking about mounting its own unilateral diplomatic offensive, flying to Managua to force the talks while the war continues. That sort of grandstanding only encourages suspicions that the real contra goal is to sabotage the peace agreement one way or another.

Under terms of the Aug. 7 agreement that was signed by the five Central American presidents, each was to establish a national reconciliation commission to verify compliance with the commitments undertaken in the accord. One of the most important commitments was to achieve "an effective cease-fire within the constitutional framework." The peace accords require amnesty, with a concomitant release by irregular forces of all their prisoners. Further, the agreement calls for "dialogue with opposition groups," requiring each government to "initiate a dialogue with all unarmed internal political opposition groups and with those who have availed themselves of the amnesty."

These terms do not require Ortega to negotiate with the contras so long as they remain at war, refusing the offer of amnesty. But they do not preclude an enlarged role for the reconciliation commission to mediate a broader cease-fire, as proposed by Obando y Bravo. His proposal provides a valid test of the sincerity of both the Sandinistas and the contras and their protestations of support for the peace initiative.

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