In an article yesterday about Mexico's position on Nicaraguan peace talks, Colombia's ambassador to the United States was misidentified. He is Alvaro Gomez.
The Mexican government has balked at endorsing President Reagan's proposal for peace talks between Nicaragua and antigovernment rebels, marking an apparent split between Mexico and Colombia, the two most prominent members of the Contadora group seeking a negotiated settlement in Central America.
Colombian President Belisario Betancur praised Reagan's initiative last week as "constructive" and sent his foreign minister to Cuba and Nicaragua to urge them to take advantage of the U.S. proposal. Despite a telephone call yesterday from Reagan to Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid, however, a Mexican communique issued afterward made it clear that Mexico was withholding its support from the U.S. plan on grounds that it did not want to intervene in Nicaragua's internal affairs.
"It was a diplomatic way of saying no," a Mexican official said.
The deputy foreign minister of Panama, another member of the Contadora group seeking a peace settlement in Central America, signaled that his country was lining up with the Mexicans. Panama has not yet issued a formal comment, however.
The fourth Contadora member, Venezuela, said officially that the Reagan proposal should be "carefully studied and analyzed" and called for the Contadora group to take "a united position" on it. A Venezuelan source in New York, where President Jaime Lusinchi has been meeting with bankers, said the president had canceled all of his "media events" today because Venezuela's position on the Reagan proposal had not been determined. The source said Reagan called Lusinchi Monday to request his support. "Venezuela is going to see how we can help Mr. Reagan, but we don't want to do it alone," he said. "We feel somewhat uncomfortable," he added, saying he could see the truth in Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto's description of the proposal as, "Drop dead, or we'll kill you."
The Contadora group, which has been trying to negotiate a Central American settlement for more than two years, has run afoul of U.S. policy in the past. Last autumn Washington pressured its Central American allies to reject a proposed regional treaty drawn up by the Contadora group because the United States felt the pact favored Nicaragua.
The rewriting of that treaty has barely begun, although the Contadora group and the five nations of Central America plan to meet Thursday and Friday in Panama to continue the effort. The Reagan proposal also will be a topic for discussion at the Panama meeting, according to officials of several Contadora countries.
National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane said Friday that Reagan's proposal had the backing of Colombia, Venezuela and Panama but not of Mexico.
Reagan proposed a cease-fire between Nicaragua's Sandinista government and antigovernment rebels battling it who were organized by the CIA and financed by it until last summer. Reagan also proposed that the two sides hold negotiations to be mediated by the Nicaraguan Roman Catholic Church, and that Nicaragua should hold internationally supervised elections.
Reagan made the proposal in large part to win congressional support for $14 million that he wants to provide to the rebels, who are called contras. For the first 60 days of the peace talks, Reagan said, none of the $14 million would be used to buy guns, ammunition or other armaments. If the contras decided after 60 days of talks that they needed more weapons, however, the money would become available for those purposes.
Nicaragua has rejected the proposal.
The Mexican communique, issued by de la Madrid's office, broadly supported the goal of a negotiated settlement in Central America and said that Reagan's proposal for a Nicaraguan cease-fire "can constitute a step forward in the solution of this delicate conflict." But the communique stopped short of endorsing Reagan's plans for holding peace talks between the Nicaraguan government and the rebels, asserting that the Contadora group had no right to intervene in the internal affairs of Nicaragua.
"President de la Madrid signaled that the internal processes of international reconcilation and the corresponding dialogues among the groups inside each Central American country are questions that are outside the responsibility of the Contadora group," the communique said.
Mexican officials in newspaper reports indicated that Mexico, while favoring peace talks in Nicaragua, objected to the pressure that Washington was seeking to apply to the Sandinistas to come to the bargaining table.
Panamanian Deputy Foreign Minister Jose Maria Cabrera, saying that he could only offer a "personal" opinion, echoed the Mexican position. He called the Reagan proposal "a matter of interference in the internal affairs of a Central American country."
Colombian Ambassador to the United States Andres Lloreda cited several points in Reagan's proposal as "positive" from the Contadora perspective. These included the extension until June 1 of an April 20 deadline previously set by the contras for starting talks, the U.S. encouragement of negotiations and the blocking of U.S. military aid to the contras for at least 60 days while talks go on.