President Reagan's speech before Congress, televised worldwide, emphasized the seriousness with which the president justifiably views the Central American crisis as a threat to the security of the United States.
As he outlined plans to meet the immediate emergency, it was disappointing that he did not also present a long-term program for economic development of the area as a prerequisite for solving the problems of Central America.
Last fall, Ambassador Sol Linowitz and I, deeply concerned with the deterioration of inter-American relations, which had come to a head with the South Atlantic war over the Falkland Islands (a needless clash that aligned the United States and most of the Latin American countries on opposite sides of a war), decided to bring together independent, concerned citizens from throughout the hemisphere to discuss the major issues involved in our North-South relations and how to resolve them.
Our "Inter-American Dialogue," which met in October and again at the end of February, explored the problems in four different areas: economic and financial issues; social and political issues; security and peace-keeping issues, and the task for inter-American institutions.
The problem of deepest concern was the explosive situation in Central America, where Costa Rica is the exception: the only country with a long and consistent record of democracy. All the others have lived mostly under dictatorial rule. The civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala have claimed over 100,000 lives over the last five years, and 1 million people have been displaced. Honduras, which has returned to democracy, has so far been spared this tragic experience.
Although the history of these upheavals may be different in each of the countries, there is one common denominator in the hopes and aspirations of the opposition. In Nicaragua there was a drastic reaction after the overthrow of a family that owned the country for two generations; in El Salvador there was and is a struggle against a small, privileged group with extensive land holdings and great wealth in a small country --one of the most densely populated in the world in fact. In Guatemala, a reactionary government went to cruel extremes in successfully thwarting change. The common denominator among many opposing these various governments has been a demand for social justice, for respect for human rights and for a return to democracy, although there is a danger that the dictatorships of the right could be replaced by dictatorships of the left, such as is the case in Nicaragua.
In seeking a solution to the present situation, Americans should not forget the past history of U.S. involvement in internal affairs in Central America, which is much remembered in Latin America. Any action in the future should be framed within the basic principles of sovereignty, self-determination and non-intervention.
Undoubtedly the situation in Central America is a matter of security concern, whether it is looked at from an East-West point of view exclusively or from a North-South point of view that also includes other considerations.
The problems looked at from a hemispheric point of view are compounded by the differences in perspective between the United States and the diverse countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. What one country considers vital for its defense may well be viewed as threatening to its neighbors. What one country regards as the legitimate protection of its security may be viewed by the affected country as intervention in its domestic affairs and as a threat to its security.
It is evident that security is at the heart of international relations. However, the basic problem of security in the hemisphere is primarily social and political, not military. Even when there is a military dimension to a conflict, as in the case of Central America, the solutions ultimately lie in economic and social development and political dialogue, not in weapons or military advisers. Even when external support for insurrection is present, as in El Salvador, the underlying problems remain domestic.
In dealing with the hostility in Central America, our group recommended dialogues: between the governments in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua and the respective opposition movements in those countries; between Nicaragua and each of its neighbors; between Cuba and all the countries of Central America; between the United States and Cuba and the United States and Nicaragua respectively, as well as between the United States and the Soviet Union, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela (The last four countries, having taken the initiative in offering their good offices in seeking a peaceful solution to the problems of Central America, should be included in these dialogues as may be appropriate.)
This approach, if it works, would serve the interest of all involved. For Latin America as a whole, it would reinforce the tradition of self-determination and non- intervention. For the United States, it would help meet the central security goal of limiting the most threatening forms of Soviet and Cuban activity, including both strategic and conventional military presences. Cuba, Nicaragua and Grenada would gain some assurance that they would not be the objects of external destabilization efforts, provided they refrain from similar activities with regard to their neighbors. For Cuba, there would be the advantage of being an active participant, thus achieving recognition of its international standing in the hemisphere.
The review of the major issues involved in the Central American crisis and suggestions as to how to solve them by the "Inter-American Dialogue" could not be more timely than now that President Reagan has declared his plan of action.