A comprehensive report on Central America, including historical and political analysis of its seven nations as well as recommendations for changes in American policy in the region, will come before the Episcopal Diocese of Washington at its annual meeting here Jan. 29 and 30.
The 100-page document, "Respect for Dignity: Cost and Promise in Central America," was written by a special committee of Washington area Episcopalians that began work on the project nearly two years ago.
The 15-member group traveled throughout Central America and held extensive hearings here with a wide range of specialists as preparation for its task.
In political terms, the report echoes recommendations of several other religious groups, including the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and a recent delegation from the National Council of Churches, in pleading for a negotiated rather than military solution to Central American conflicts.
As have other religious groups, the diocesan committee strongly endorses the Guatemala Accords, the peace plan put forward by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and signed last August by presidents of five Central American nations.
And like a number of other religious groups, the Episcopal committee is critical of the role played by the United States-backed contras in Nicaragua.
Viewing the Nicaraguan war "as the central problem" in the region, the report questions "whether pressure by the contras has been an effective policy tool to force the Sandinistas to the bargaining table."
U.S. aid to the contras, the report suggests, "has diminished U.S. prestige, respect and diplomatic leverage" at the bargaining table.
In travels and conversations throughout Central America and in hearings here, "the committee heard little support for the contras either in Nicaragua or in neighboring countries," the report says. "There is no expectation the contras can overthrow the Sandinistas."
But while calling for an end to contra support, the report counsels caution.
"Since the United States is largely responsible for the contras' existence as an armed force, we have a moral responsibility not to abandon them to an uncertain fate," the report says.
"We must assume the obligation for assuring their safe resettlement, inside or outside Nicaragua."
El Salvador's "forgotten war, with its terrible cruelties and devastating cost," the report says, "is essentially an internal one. Political solutions must first end the violence endemic in the country."
But for outsiders, the committee concludes, "It is time to heed the cry of the people -- 'Don't send us any more bullets' . . . . The U.S. can help in the rebuilding by sending humanitarian aid and encouraging dialogue with the rebels."
The committee defends the right -- indeed the obligation -- of church groups to speak out on the complex issues involved.
"We have assumed that the church has a prophetic role in the basic issues of peace, justice and reconciliation and in the relevance of biblical teaching to these issues," the report states.
In addition to being church members, "We are also citizens, taxpayers, voters, parents -- in short, 'civic persons' properly concerned with the goals and values of what St. Augustine termed the City of Man," the report says.
Washington area Episcopalians are portrayed as having a special responsibility to speak out because "major U.S. policy decisions affecting Central America are made within the geographic bounds of our diocese and these decisions, taken in our name as citizens, have an unquestioned impact on our community."
In addition, the Washington area "includes the second largest group of Central American refugees, most of them undocumented aliens, in the United States," the report adds.
The committee report, while stressing recommendations for political and economic steps to defuse the present tensions in the area, was also developed as possible study document for longer range use.
Separate chapters on Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua highlight the political, social, diplomatic and economic history and present situation in each country.
The document includes such incidentals as the origin of the term "banana republic": When officials of the government of Honduras in 1910 sought to regulate U.S. companies operating in that country, the chief executive of the Cuyamel Fruit Co. "bankrolled a coup d'etat and established a more amiable regime -- one that would not tax his company."
The appendix includes texts of the 1983 Contadora Peace Plan and the Arias agreement signed last year.
Also included is a directory of more than 20 organizations, across the political and religious spectrum, concerned with a variety of aspects of the Central American situation, and a bibliography of selected current articles and books.
Of the 15 clerics and lay persons who drafted the report, six have roots in Central America and the Caribbean and half the members of the group speak Spanish. Several members of the committee have had business, diplomatic or church experience in the region.
"We aimed to reach consensus; we were seldom unanimous," the committee says in its report.
"There was however general acceptance of the conclusions since, in the end, a common Christian concern for peace, justice, reconciliation and human dignity moved us forward in our task."