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In the new phase of the debate, the right attributes the defeat of the Sandinistas to the contras, while the establishment left claims that the contras impeded their effort to overthrow the Sandinistas by other means. But the doves have failed to present their case as strongly as they might. Let us therefore give them a little assistance, meanwhile recalling some crucial facts that are destined for oblivion because they are far too inconvenient to preserve.
We begin with Lawrence Pezzullo, the leading representative of the left in the Times survey of opinion. Pezzullo was appointed Ambassador in early 1979, at a time when Carter's support for the Somoza tyranny was becoming problematic. Of course no one contemplated any modification in the basic system of power, surely no significant role for the Sandinistas (FSLN). As we have seen, there was complete agreement that Somoza's National Guard must be kept intact, and it was not until June 29, shortly before the fall of the Somoza regime, that any participant in an NSC meeting "suggested the central U.S. objective was something other than preventing a Sandinista victory." By then it was finally realized that means must be sought "to moderate the FSLN," who could not be marginalized or excluded, as hoped.14
As in U.S. political democracy generally, the Carter administration had its left-right spectrum, with National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinski on the right, warning of apocalyptic outcomes if the U.S. did not intervene, and on the left, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Viron Vaky, pursuing a more nuanced approach. Pezzullo's task was to implement the policy of the left, that is, to bar the FSLN from power through the "preservation of existing institutions, especially the National Guard" (Vaky, June 15, 1979). This plan was proposed to the OAS, but rejected by the Latin American governments, all ultra-left extremists, by U.S. standards. Pezzullo was then compelled to inform Somoza that his usefulness was at an end. On June 30, he noted in a cable to Washington that "with careful orchestration we have a better than even chance of preserving enough of the [National Guard] to maintain order and hold the FSLN in check after Somoza resigns," even though this plan would "smack somewhat of Somocismo sin Somoza," he added a few days later. For the "successor government," the Carter administration approached Archbishop Obando y Bravo (in contrast, our religious sensibilities are deeply offended by political engagement of priests committed to the preferential option for the poor) and the right-wing businessman Adolfo Calero (later civilian director of the main contra force); and for head of the National Guard, it considered Colonel Enrique Berm£dez, who later became contra commander.15
At the time, the National Guard was carrying out murderous attacks against civilians, leaving tens of thousands killed. Pezzullo recommended that the bloodbath be continued: "I believe it ill-advised," he cabled Washington on July 6, "to go to Somoza and ask for a bombing halt." On July 13, Pezzullo informed Washington that the "survivability" of the Guard was doubtful unless Somoza left, as he did, four days later, fleeing to Miami with what remained of the national treasury. On July 19, the game was over -- that phase, at least.16
As the FSLN entered Managua on July 19, the Carter administration "began setting the stage for a counterrevolution," Peter Kornbluh observes, mounting a clandestine operation to evacuate Guard commanders on U.S. planes disguised with Red Cross markings. This is a war crime punishable under the Geneva conventions, the London Economist observed years later, when the same device was used to supply contras within Nicaragua (pictures of CIA supply planes disguised with Red Cross markings appeared without comment in Newsweek, while the vigorous denunciation of this violation of international law by the Red Cross passed without notice generally). Within six months after the overthrow of Somoza, the Carter administration had initiated the CIA destabilization campaign, inherited and expanded by the Reaganites. The Carter doves did not give direct support to the National Guard forces that they helped reconstitute. Rather, training and direction were in the hands of neo-Nazi Argentine generals serving "as a proxy for the United States" (Rand Corporation terrorism expert Brian Jenkins). The U.S. took over directly with the Reagan presidency.17
Pezzullo's next task was to "moderate the FSLN." The Carter doves proposed economic aid as "the main source of U.S. influence" (Pastor). The U.S. business community supported this plan, particularly U.S. banks, which, as noted in the Financial Times, were pressuring Carter to provide funds to Nicaragua so that their loans to Somoza would be repaid (courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer). The banks were particularly concerned that if Nicaragua, reduced to utter ruin and bankruptcy by Somoza, were to default on the debt he had accumulated, it would serve as a bad example for other U.S. clients. It was also recognized that aid directed to anti-Sandinista elements in the ruling coalition was the last remaining device to block the FSLN and its programs.18
After Nicaragua reached a settlement with the banks, $75 million in aid was offered, about 60% for the private business sector, with $5 million a grant for private organizations and $70 million a loan (partly credits to buy U.S. goods, another taxpayer subsidy to corporations). One of the conditions was that no funds be used for projects with Cuban personnel, a way of ensuring that nothing would go to schools, the literacy campaign, health programs, or other reform measures for which Nicaragua was likely to turn to those with experience in such projects and willingness to serve. Nicaragua had no choice but to agree, since, as the Wall Street Journal noted, without this "signal of U.S. confidence in the stability of the country" there would be no bank loans, which were desperately needed. Nicaragua's request for U.S. military aid and training was rejected, and efforts to obtain such aid from the West were blocked by U.S. pressure, compelling reliance on East bloc aid as the external threat mounted.19
As these events pass through the U.S. doctrinal system, they undergo a subtle alchemy and emerge in a different form: the Sandinistas
enjoyed American encouragement at first; having helped get rid of Somoza, the Carter administration also gave them $75 million in aid. But when the Sandinistas brought in Cuban and East German military advisers to help build their Army into the region's largest fighting force, conflict with Washington was sure to follow... (Newsweek).20
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14 Robert Pastor, Condemned to Repetition, 107, 157; see chapter 8 on his account from the inside.
15 Ibid., 161; Peter Kornbluh, Nicaragua (Center for Policy Studies, Washington, 1987), 15f. For general discussion, see Holly Sklar, Washington's War on Nicaragua (South End, 1988). Brzezinski, Vaky, and Vance, see chapter 8, section 4.
16 Kornbluh, op. cit.
17 Ibid., 19; see Culture of Terrorism, 86; Bob Woodward, Veil (Simon & Schuster, 1987), 113; Jenkins, New Modes of Conflict (Rand Corporation, June 1983).
18 Pastor, op. cit., 157, 208-9; Susanne Jonas, in Stanford Central America Action Network, Revolution in Central America (Westview, 1983), 90f.
19 Ibid.; Theodore Schwab and Harold Sims, in Thomas Walker, ed., Nicaragua: the First Five Years (Westview, 1988), 461.
20 Charles Lane, another spokesman for the establishment left, Newsweek, March 12, 1990.