Plain Talk Behind Closed Doors in Central America

Distorting history is one of the most common tactics of Leninist governments: According to their doctrine it is justifiable to lie about history to advance the cause of the state. It may be in part the regularity with which such people as Miguel d’Escoto, Nicaragua’s foreign minister, bend history that explains why they are not more often called to account.

During a session of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America in Managua, Henry Kissinger asked the foreign minister why the Sandinistas had supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and decided to look to the Soviet Union for foreign policy, ideology and financial aid, and why they had embarked on a massive military buildup. Father d’Escoto (he is a Maryknoll priest) claimed that Nicaragua’s turn for support to the Soviet bloc was a result of U. S. aggression.

A U.S. legislator and member of the Kissinger party responded:

“Mr. Foreign Secretary, I met you a few years ago in Washington just before we voted to send money to your country—more money than in all the 20 years of your former dictatorship. I believed you when you said you were bringing in democracy. We arranged loans and financial aid to your government—through the IMF—and the World Bank. And we voted $117 million (for Nicaraguan aid) ourselves. We believed everything you told us. You looked me in the eye as one Catholic to another and said there had been no freedom in Nicaragua for five, 10 or 15 years. With the basic respect I had for you and your social concerns and your being a priest, I believed you when you promised freedom. But there is no freedom for working men in Nicaragua. I tell you, Father, speaking as a Roman Catholic, you lied to us then and you are lying to us now.”

We then saw a man’s internal lie detector go off. Father d’Escoto lost control for several minutes. Nervous tics rippled through his face when he found that he was before people who knew the facts and were not going to let him distort the historical record.

The U.S. did not force the Sandinistas into their military buildup. The U.S. did not encourage the Sandinistas to censor the press, install block committees, forbid free labor unions, imprison and harass their opposition and ultimately hold a sham election. We in the U.S. should not reproach ourselves for forcing the Sandinistas into Marxism and militarism—for we did not. Our error was in failing to perceive that after the revolution the Leninist Sandinistas who had the guns would set up a dictatorship and blame their betrayal of the revolution on us.

Did observers understand what, it meant when Castro spoke for three hours at Daniel Ortega’s inauguration? President Ortega disappeared in the shadow cast by the architect of Cuba’s cruel and increasingly discredited revolution. The Nicaraguan future can be seen in the Cuban past and present: an ever-expanding military draft, service by its young men in the Soviet “Foreign Legion,” an ever-worsening economy, increasing censorship and internal spying, and tightening control of all aspects of personal life.

M any citizens of the U.S. are still reluctant to accept the realities of the situation. Central Americans, on the other hand, are acutely aware of the threat on their doorsteps. When members of the Kissinger Commission met in private with high-ranking civilian leaders in Central America, we were told of their deep concern over the military buildup in Nicaragua and the massive Soviet-Cuban presence there. Without exception, these leaders agreed that the government of Nicaragua is determined to export revolution, that it imposes an increasingly repressive dictatorship on the people of Nicaragua, and that its purposes and orientation are Leninist.

In Panama, the leaders made it clear to us that the Panama Canal may well be under attack within three or four years if nothing is done to contain the situation in Nicaragua. Yet publicly, the leaders of Panama have been reluctant to speak of such a possibility.

Costa Rican leaders, both of the ruling National Liberation Party and of the major opposition party, have spoken of economic and political subversion caused by Nicaraguan infiltrators in Costa Rica, of an international Sandinista propaganda campaign against Costa Rica, and of the inability of the Costa Ricans to match Nicaraguan military might in order to defend their country from Sandinista adventurism. Yet these leaders, too, have been reluctant to speak frankly about their concerns in public.

President Suazo Cordova of Honduras spoke with the Kissinger Commission of the necessity of supporting El Salvador and of the threat to his country from Nicaragua. He has, since that time, been outspoken in his position; there is no essential difference in what he says publicly or privately. He told us:

“As far as peace negotiations are concerned, …how can you have rational negotiations between a belligerent and hegemonous nation—greatly superior in arms—and four nations who are militarily weak?…Mark my words, if El Salvador falls, Honduras and Guatemala will fall. And if that happens, one day your own capital will face the bombs of the terrorists of international communism.”

Much of the distortion, confusion and misunderstanding that take place between the U.S. and Latin America could be overcome if all the democratic leaders of Central America and Latin America would speak publicly as they speak in private. If leaders would speak publicly of what they know to be true, they would certainly not find themselves alone. They would be part of a growing awareness throughout all of Latin America (and even in the U.S. Congress) that communism, because of its totalitarian intent, is the primary threat they face.

Octavio Paz, the internationally celebrated Mexican poet and diplomat, has been a severe and longtime critic of capitalism. However, Mr. Paz spoke recently in the pages of Partisan Review magazine of the “Sovietization of Nicaragua.” In the article he contrasts the evils of capitalism with those of communism:

“Communism is a new form of material, political and economic domination, more cruel and more absolute than oligarchic capitalism. It is a more complete, more savage despotism than any traditional dictatorship. Capitalism has coexisted with democracy. It has deformed democracy, but it has never suppressed it. Russian communism has rooted democracy out and thus eliminated itself as a vehicle whereby all mankind might achieve freedom.”

It is difficult to evade the cogency and authority of this succinct diagnosis by Octavio Paz. If, despite the natural differences that inevitably arise among free peoples, the democratic leaders of Latin America and of the U.S. can speak with a single voice on issues that go to the survival of democracy itself, the citizens of all our countries will benefit.


  • John R. Silber

    John Robert Silber (1926 – 2012) was an American academician From 1971 to 1996 he was President of Boston University and from 1996 to 2003 Chancellor of the University. From 2003 until his death he was President Emeritus.

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