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Central American Defense Council
(Consejo de Defensa Centroamericana) CONDECA

Like most other regions, with the exception of Western Europe, the Americas have not been very successful in building strong regional organizations. Central American Defense Council (Consejo de Defensa Centroamericana) CONDECA was a cooperative joint command of US and Central American forces (excluding Costa Rica, which had no armed forces) from the following republics: EI Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Panama, also located in the Central American Isthmus, is not historically identified with Central America-although Panama has participated in CONDECA-sponsored exercises.

From the colonial period has come the idea of a unified Central America, for from 1523 until 1821 the area was a political unity under the Governor of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, except for a short time when the government was centered in El Salvador. From then until the present there have been champions for the cause of unification. Ethnically and socially there should be no problem, for the background of the people of Central America is primarily Spanish or a mixture of Spanish and Indian (Ladino), their religion is primarily Catholic, their primary language is Spanish, and their customs and traditions are basically the same.

On 1 June 1823 the United Provinces of Central America declared their independence from Spain, Mexico, and all others who might claim the area. But the Federation was dissolved in 1838, and it was not until 1885 that a movement for political unity was again made. In February of 1885 the President of Guatemala, General Justo Rufino Barrios, invited the other states to join in the Union of Central America. Barrios was killed, though, in April of 1885, and the movement ended. Since then there have been other tentative overtures for union-in 1887, 1895, 1898, 1907, and 1921. The 1921 attempt, victim of political disagreements on the part of member states, was the last effort at federation by the Central Americas.

But it was not the last attempt at joint action, for the Organization of Central American States (ODECA) was formed on 14 October 1951 at a meeting in San Salvador. The Charter of San Salvador was ratified by all the governments of Central America, and on 18 August 1955 the foreign ministers held their first meeting at Antigua, Guatemala. There ensued the Declaration of Antigua, Guatemala, which decreed that subordinate organizations should be formed under ODECA, to help establish systems of organization and procedure so there would be no restrictions to free intercourse, to economic cooperation, to better sanitary conditions for member nations, and to continued progress in the "integral union" of the Central American nations. The importance of the member nations' working together to "assure defense against common dangers" was also stipulated.

As a result of the first Central American Defense Ministers' Conference, held in Antigua, Guatemala, in January 1956, the concept of a Central American Defense Council was finally voiced. The Central American Defense Council convened for the fIrst time from 23 to 27 June 1964 in Guatemala City, its permanent location. Its permanent working staff (COPECODECA) began operations in September of the same year, with representatives from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua holding office.7 The ODECA charter was finally ratified by all of the republics by 9 March 1965. It automatically went into effect, and El Salvador and Costa Rica became members of CONDECA on the same date.

CONDECA's structure and activities were designed to maximize contacts among the armed forces in Central America, in order to reduce political rivalries, to increase cooperation on all levels, and to reinforce a sense of common purpose. Historically, the Central American countries had often served as bases for overthrowing each other's governments-recent examples being the 1954 ouster of Arbenz (which involved Honduras and El Salvador. The first concrete act of cooperation was aid from Guatemala and Nicaragua to the Salvadoran military in putting down a coup in March, 1972. Incorporating Costa Rica was of particular concern, as it has been and remains a sanctuary for political refugees from the rest of Central America. The charter of CONDECA was amended in 1966 to include security officers, so as to make it possible for Costa Rica to participate.

Operation Halcon Vista has become an annual joint/combined exercise to train the countries of the Caribbean area in coastal surveillance and intercept operations. The 1965 exercise was participated in by Guatemala, EI Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the United States. Operation Central America had its origin at the first meeting of CONDECA, by means of Directive No. 001, dated 3 June 1965. It was completely planned by COPECODECA and executed by the Central American armed forces and the Republic of Panama. The U.S. Southern Command was invited to send observers to the operation. A joint military maneuver was held in Guatemala in January of 1973, and Arana made several references to the need for a "Central American Army" to be used in case of emergency. During most of the 1960s, CONDECA was primarily a bureaucratic institution, and most counterinsurgency and civic action campaigns were carried out by each Central American country separately.

The role of CONDECA weakened after war between El Salvador and Honduras in 1989. Honduras withdrew from CONDECA. In 1979, before Somoza left Nicaragua, he asked CONDECA to support him. As El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala had already voted against him in the OAS, they denied his request. Since the fall of Somoza CONDECA had not been mentioned. CONDECA was reactivated on 01 October 1983, weeks before the Grenada invasion, by El Salvador, Honduras, Guatamala and Panama. Gen. Paul Gorman, US Southern Commander, was in attendance. CONDECA military leanders met 22-23 October 1983 to discuss pacification of Nicaragua.

1983-84 saw a major expansion of U.S. military presence in Honduras, with as many as 300 military advisers and up to 7000 U.S. troops participating in maneuvers near the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan borders; border skirmishes and sea-air attacks common along Nicaragua-Honduras border, some involving U.S. forces.

CONDECA reproduced in Central America the Cold War view, a view eliminated by a new vision of democratic and regional security contained in the framework treaty on democratic security. CONDECA ceased to exist and has been replaced by new democratic institutions. Those efforts led to negotiations that culminated in the submission, on June 6, 1986, of the final version of the draft Contadora Act for Peace and Cooperation in Central America, the legitimate and undeniable predecessor to this framework treaty on democratic security.

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