The Contradora Group And The Central America Crisis
SUBJECT AREA General
THE CONTADORA GROUP AND THE CENTRAL
by LtCol Antonio Sandoval
Last January, the members of the Contadora Group
celebrated their 2nd year of existence. Contadora is an
example of a process of pacification. The formation of it
was the result of the highest ideals and proposals of the
President of Colombia, Dr. Belisano Betoncourt, with the
help of the Presidents of Mexico, Venezuela and Panama.
They formed a group with the principal goals of finding a
peace solution to the conflicts in Central America with
special emphasis on El Salvador and Nicaragua, Guatemala and
Honduras and the roles of the United States and Cuba.
Contadora's main objective still has not been fully
realized. In spite of all the studies and petitions and
cooperation by the respective governments in question, there
has been very little concrete results. There are many, many
factors that contribute to this failure but without a doubt,
the most influential factors comes from the failure of the
two main protagonists--Cuba and the United States. They
have not given their total support to the Group, which would
help them arrive at a viable solution that would free
Central America from its constant state of alarm. The dream
of peace should not only exist in the mind, but should
materialize in fact within the protagonists on the other
hand because the well placed intentions like the Contadora
Group looks for a solution in the convulsed area.
The beginnings of the Contadora Group surged forth in
January of 1983. The seeds were planted by the Colombian
Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
Alfonso Garcia Robles from Mexico, Nobel Prize winner, Alba
Myrdal and Sweden's Prime Minister, Olof Palme. They called
for the Presidents of Colombia, Mexico, Venezeula and Panama
to act as mediators in the Central American conflict.1
Contadora is an alliance that does not advocate a
direct formal involvement by its members, but rather pursues
a policy of self determination and non-intervention for the
peaceful solution of conflicts within the Central America
region. To do this, it receives very limited power by the
governments in question to obtain a workable arrangement
that will put them all on the road to a viable solution that
is compatible with all of the nations of the area.
1"American Central Enre Contadora y Managua," El
Universal de Caracas, Jan. 19, 1983. Glosas. p.4-B.
It is characterized as being a unique and peculiar
diplomatic species or coalition that acts as a transitory
element which under specific circumstances works to
influence events that it will directly affect. The national
interest of each of the member nations works in an area
considered by the United States as being part of its primary
hegemony region where North American as well as Latin
American interests are coming into play in a classic
The main obstacle facing Contadora radiates from its
lack of a decisive power base which then obligates it to
stay well within a finely defined line of non-partisanship,
which impedes its ability to define its politics in favor of
one part or another. However, each of the member nations
continues to pursue its different geostrategical interests:
Venezuela, its petroleum; Colombia, its difficult situation
in the Carribean Sea (San Andres); Panama, its strategic
location and Mexico, its close proximity to the United
The first formal meeting between the leaders of Panama,
Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela was fully realized on the
Isle of Contadora (Panama) at which time the four ministers
2"The Contadora Process," (letter, July 26, 1983).
R. Reagan. Dep. State Bull. p. 83, Sep. 1983.
reviewed the political and economic situation in Central
America. This led to a specific detailed plan for the
formation of the Contadora Group, putting into effect major
strategic provisions which produced an interesting and
positive combination of Presidential diplomacy.
The visit of Belisario Betoncourt to Mexico, Venezuela,
Costa Rica and Panama was instrumental in the elaboration of
a Central American peace plan, and this signalled to the
world that Contadora was primarily in the area to solve the
fundamentals of the social and economic problems in Central
America. It is Contadora's belief that the economic
recovery throughout Latin America is hampered by high United
States interest rates and protectionist measures. This, in
turn, puts the region in a highly volatile situation because
of its many internal as well as external points of
In the declaration of Cozumel, the presidents of the
nations which make up Contadora conceded that the problems
of Central America would not be solved militarily and called
for an immediate withdrawal of all foreign military
advisors, the suspension of all military shipments to the
3"Declaration de Betoncourt en Cozumel," El Espectador
de Bogota, Ab 10, 1983, p. 10-A.
region and the stopping of all logistical support by all
foreign governments.4 This declaration proved favorable to
the Cuban-Soviet Bloc because of the subversive way in which
they export them for other countries in the area; their
support is often disguised by Nicaragua while American
military help has been out in the open.
Because of the recent tensions along the Honduras and
Nicaragua border, the Group asked the advice of the O.E.A.
and agreed to a petition in order to postpone the debate.
The Contadora group agreed to send a group of 8 observers, 2
for every member nation to the border of Nicaragua and Costa
THE CENTRAL AMERICA CRISIS
The actual situation in Central America is conflictive,
complicated and is not new. Its newest facet is the
dangerous relations which now exist between neighbors in the
Central America nations because of the volatile current
4"Betoncourt pide respecto a autodterminacion," El
Tiempo, Db 10, 1983, p. 2.
crisis which has its beginnings in the political, economic
and social climiate and in the influx of foreign forces in
It's a reality that political interests and actions by
foreign powers affect the current situation in Central
America, but also it is true that these reasons are not
sufficiently adequate to fully inflame the area. We must
also take into consideration the deprived socio-economic
conditions, because "at the bottom of all crises there
exists many more profound motives that relate directly with
the problems of injustice that have been predominate
throughout the region."6
During its life as Independent Central America, it
always had been an area of conflicts, from the time of
independence from their Spanish overlords which came about
because of frontal battles as did other nations of the same
epoch. The intention of Morazon to unite a solid and unique
nation came to nothing due to regional interests and the
intervention of Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United
5"Why the Crisis Will Deepen," Bus Week, May 23, 1983,
pp. 58 -59.
6Rodrigo Lloreda, Contadora (Bogota: Gente Neuva
editorial, 1984), p. 1.
These political interventions, instability, the
precarious regimes and the alliances and frictions between
neighboring nations have been an important fctor. With the
exception of Costa Rica, the democracy in Central America
has been weak and sporadic, with some short periods of peace
and stability. In recent years, that political instability
has been accompanied by the influence of external factors,
sometimes by the United States and more recently the
intervention of other nations such as the Soviet Union and
Cuba, which have used this region as a breeding ground for
the spread of their Communist Revolution.7
At the end of the Second World War, the dictators in
power allowed democratic reforms which clearly showed the
misery and backwardness of the ara. Politics, economics,
and obsolete governments impeded advancement.
In the socio-economic camp, the sitaution in Central
America presents special characteristics. As a whole, the
region's countries' per capita income went up 5% between the
years of 1950-1980, and its exports increased from 250 to
3200 million dollars. After 1980, because of international
7"Peace Process in Central America," UN Mon Chron,
Mar. 21, 1984, pp. 9-12.
inflation, one begins to see a negative index that clearly
affected the political climate and, as a result, can be used
as a reason for the current crisis.8
Central America's growth in the recent years has not
modified or helped its economic structures, it is calculated
that 35-40% of the population live below the accepted
The desire of the population to rise above the poverty
level took Honduras and Costa Rica through different paths
of economic reform from those of El Salvador, Guatemala and
Nicaragua. This was due to their different social norms and
their superior equilibrium within the sectors of their
political and economic structures which explains the reason
why these last three nations are the center of the conflict,
and why they are the key to the peaceful solution to the
It is clear that Central America as well as the
Carribean Sea represents to the Soviet Union a clear
strategic point in dealing with the United States that would
permit it to extend Cuban influence through the region.9
8Germau Castro, El Problema Centroamericans. (Bogate:
Brequera,1983), pp. 10-15.
9Rodrigo Lloreda, Contadora (Bogote: Gente Nueva,
editorial, 1984), p. 5.
The Soviet Union is conscious of the strategic freedom
of the United States in this part of the world depends a
great deal on a stable Carribean.
As well as the political socio-economic situation
crisis, we must add bilateral conflicts which constitute
external problems between all involved, like the existent
crisis between: Guatemala and Belice; Guatemala and Mexico;
El Salvador and Honduras; Honduras and Nicaragua; Nicaragua
and Costa Rica and the pretentions of Nicaragua toward
As a consequence of the political phenomenon and the
international economic situation tht have been particularly
cruel to fledging nations.
Central America is going through a very difficult time
characterized by the lack of incentives to private
investment, exportation of money, the great external
national debt and commercial deficit which surpassed 430
million in 1977 to 1400 million in 1982. This demonstrates
that the political causes so many times repeated are not the
major cause of the problem, but rather the socio-economic
troubles which should be taken into consideration in order
to fully gauge the extent of the problem.
10"La Existencia de 'Contadora' impidio conflictos en
la region", El Universal de Caracas, Feb. 10, 1984, p. 5.
THE PRINCIPAL OBJECTIVES OF THE CONTADORA GROUP
The principal objectives of the Contadora Group in
reference to the situation in Central America and the rapid
deterioration of democracy, excalation of violence,
increased tensions, internal conflicts and the imminent
danger of conflagration within their boundaries are the same
ones that are established by the international right, which
are also set forth by the United Nations Charter, and which
if fully realized, can greatly contribute to the solution of
the conflict. The Group has established a general program
for Central American nations that adheres to the strict
rules and regulations that affect international relations
and laws that are conducive to a firm control of the current
arms race among area nations; the elimination of foreign
influence; the creation of a demilitarized zone; the
eradication of arms trafficing and the termination of all
intervention by foreign powers.
Another set of objectives is the establishment of a
stronger socio-economic base, taking into consideration that
the member nations tend to favor a democratic way of
government and consequently, are interested in finding a
democratic political structure that permits participation by
all nations involved.11
11Rodrigo Lloreda "Contadora" (Bogote: El Gente Nueva,
1984), pp. 5-6.
The Group realizes that Central American nations need
to be directed toward democracy by the means of a well
calculated process as not all of the nations share the same
political structure and all should find a common group
between the nations involved and the participation of the
people in popular elections.
In closing, the Group's main goal is the repulsion of
arsenals and standing armies of the Central American nations
who, in the last years, have received large amounts of
military supplies disproportionate to their basic needs,
spending large amounts of their deteriorating budgets on the
training and equipment of the regular armies. Also, the
Group wants the total elimination of all foreign advisors
whose presence contributes to the conflict. In Nicaragua,
there are Cuban advisors as well as other nationalities; in
El Salvador and Honduras one finds North American advisors.
The Central American nations have accepted the fact that the
elimination of these advisors is important but that
elimination of these advisors should be organized under
agreements between the nations in question and super powers,
who are the main suppliers of armaments and advisors.12
12"La Existencia de Contadora Impidio Conflictas en la
Region," El Espectador de Bogote, Feb. 10, 1984, p. 10.
Much has been said and written about Contadora's
political position compared to the other nations' especially
when compared to Cuba and the United States. Some say that
it protects Nicaragua from a possible invasion by the U.S.;
others say that it is a secret organization of the
Department of State of the United States.13 Inspite of
these positions, neither of these extremes holds true, but
is best expressed through a Latin American point of view
which is confirmed by the government's manifestations of the
world. As a result, the Group coincides with some of the
United States' points of view such as the establishment of
democratic governments and the effort for peace and social
and economic reform. But at the same time, the Group as a
whole is not in agreement with the overall strategic U. S.
point of view, as the United States insures its national
security by backing insurrectionists in Nicaragua.14
This is the reason that the Kissinger Commission stated
that the action of the Group: "Is not a substitute of
American foreign policy in the area."15 Neither does the
13"La Guerra encubierta contra Contadora," E. Collani
and R Cribi Bs. As. Ed. 1983, p. 20.
14"La via Militar no es Solucion para Centroamerica,"
El Espectador, Botote, April 19, 1984, p. 2.
15"El Informe Kissinger." Nueva Frontera, January 30,
1984, pp. 27-29.
Group's policies coincide with the policies of Cuba or the
Soviet Union. These nations are working on expansion and
are looking for strategic military bases to create
difficulties for the United States. They also seek to
consolidate Latin American governments into their
communistic power block. This logically is rejected by
Contadora as this implies a new and perhaps a more profound
form of dependence.
In summation, Contadora aspires to a far reaching
political system for the future of Latin America and to show
to the world that: "We are capable and have the capacity in
finding our own solutions to our own problems."16 without
Contadora celebrates international backing that is very
important. At the beginning, it was surrounded by an air of
incredulity and the super powers and international
organizations thought that it would be another impotent body
that would be as ineffective as all of the Latin American
policies. This non-belief has been defeated through the
strength of the member nations to overcome great obstacles
such as the United Nations' motion to disband the Group by
16Rodrido Lloreda "Contadora" (Bogate, Ed. Gente
Nueva, 1984), pp. 7-8.
presenting to the International Security Council that the
problem in Central America was not a local problem, but
rather a global problem and, therefore, should be handled as
such, thus negating the need for a group like the Contadora
Group. In spite of this, the motion did not succeed and the
Group was revitalized and its proposals of peace have
received international backing.17
After two years of existence, the Contadora Group
results have been many and varied, some of which have been
in the way of security, towards contributing to the
reescalation of a possible conflagration within Central
American boundaries. It is commited to the slowing down of
the arms race and the withdrawing of some foreign advisors
from its countries. In the political front, it has
collaborated with Guatemala to increase popular elections;
in El Salvador, it helped to introduce an electoral process;
in Nicaragua, it helped in realizing the promised elections
with hopes of normalization of the political process.
17"Quien rechazo a Contadora?" El Mundo, July 31,
1983, p. 8.
On the economic front, various projects have been
initiated. The Kissinger Commission, though not clear
politically, shows great promise politically in that it
wishes to pump large amounts of money into the region.
The Latin American nations have united behind the
Contadora Group and are initiating a program of cooperation
such as: Mexico and Venezuela who sell their petroleum
under very favorable conditions; Colombia initiated a plan
of credits with low import export rates and scholarship
In the political front, it has great hopes in internal
peace and reconciliation of the Central American nations.18
In closing, the development impulse of the social-
economic life is structurally vital for peace, as is
understood by the industrialized nations. It is hope that
these ideas will establish themselves into concrete facts.
In conclusion, Central America represents a great
challenge. What happens today and in the future will
influence the future of all of Latin American countries. We
cannot ignore this fact. One should act today and do it
right. This is the main objective of the Contadora Group--
for all of the brother nations of the continent.
18Rodrigo Lloreda "Contadora," Bogate, Edit. Gente
Nueva, 1984), pp. 10-11.
"America Central entre Contadora y Managua." Universal de
Caracas (Jan. 19, 1983), Glosas, p. 4.
"Betancourt pide respeto en Cozumel." El Espectador.
Botota, Colombia (Db. 10, 1983), p. 10-A.
Castro, Germon. "El Problema Centroamericano." Bogota:
Bruguera, edit. 1983.
Collani, E. and Cribi, R. "La Guerra encubierta contra
Contadora," Bs. As., edit, 1983.
"Declaracion de Betancourt en Cozumel." El Espectador,
Bogota, Colombia (Db. 10, 1983), p. 10-A.
"El Informe Kissinger." Nueva Frontera Mag (January 30,
1984), po. 27-29.
"La existencia de Contadora impidio conflictos en la
Region." El Universal, Caracas, Ven (Feb 10, 1984),
"La via militar no es solucion para Centroamerica." El
Espectador, Bogota (Db. 19, 1984), p. 2.
LLoreda, Rodrigo. "Contadora." Bogota: Gente Nueva Edit,
"Peace process in Central America." UN Mon Chron (Mar 21,
1984), pp. 9-12.
"Quien rechaza a Contadora." El Mundo, Cali (July 31,
1983), p. 8.
Reagan, Ronald. "The Contadora Process." Letter. Dep State
Bull (July 26, 1983), p. 83.
"Why the Crisis will Deepen." Bus Week, (May 23, 1983),
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