Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix IV Segment 17/23
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Throughout this period, there was a simple algorithm to determine which features of the peace plan count. Violations by the United States and the "fledgling democracies" are off the agenda, as is any requirement to which Nicaragua conformed. For example, a central feature of the accords was establishment of a National Reconciliation Commission. Nicaragua alone complied in a meaningful way, selecting its severest critic, Cardinal Obando, to head the Commission. Duarte, in contrast, selected U.S. presidential candidate Alvaro Magaña as the head of the Commission, which did nothing. In the second U.S. dependency, Honduras, there was barely a show of forming a Commission, though it was not entirely inactive. We learn from the Honduran press that the National Reconciliation Commission was supervising the distribution of U.S. supplies to the contras and thus "helping to subvert" the March 1988 cease-fire.107

In accord with the algorithm just presented, the provisions of the Accord with regard to the National Reconciliation Commissions disappeared. Similarly, there is no utility to the unreported conclusion of the U.N. refugee commission (UNHCR) that repatriation of refugees has been more successful in Nicaragua than elsewhere because of the "excellent disposition of the Sandinista government."108 Off the agenda, then, is the "sense of urgency" with which the Central American presidents committed themselves to the task of refugee repatriation in the Esquipulas Accord. The pattern is close to exceptionless.

Pursuing this procedure, the media, early on, reduced the Central American agreements to "two key points" (Stephen Kinzer): (1) Will Nicaragua offer an amnesty to what the U.S. government and the media call "political prisoners"?109; (2) Will Nicaragua agree to negotiate with the contra civilian directorate?

With regard to the first point, few readers would have been aware that in early November, 1987 the CIVS determined that amnesty provisions were to go into effect when the aggression against Nicaragua ceases, and even a real media addict would not have learned that a few weeks later in November, the Nicaraguan National Assembly decreed a complete amnesty and revoked the state of emergency, both laws to "go into effect on the date that the [CIVS certifies] compliance with" the commitments of the accords to terminate the attack against Nicaragua. These laws were formulated in terms of the simultaneity condition of the accords, which Nicaragua, in its naiveté, believed to be operative.110 Thus, by November, Nicaragua had largely complied with the accords as they are actually written. It was alone in this regard apart from Costa Rica, as remained the case.

The U.S. government version of the accords was, however, quite different from that of the CIVS and the text. We can find it in State Department propaganda, or indirectly, in news reports in the New York Times, where Stephen Kinzer describes the contents of the accords as follows: "Under its provisions, no country in the region would be permitted to assist the contras once the Sandinistas establish full political freedom."111 According to this useful version, as long as Nicaragua falls short of a Scandinavian democracy in peacetime, the United States is entitled to maintain its proxy army in the field attacking Nicaragua. Since the accords do not single out Nicaragua for special treatment, it also follows that on the Times-State Department version of the accords, they entitle the Soviet Union to send arms and supplies to the guerrillas in El Salvador with several flights a day from Cuba until a radical restructuring of Washington's terror state has been completed. This consequence, however, is unmentioned.

As noted earlier, El Salvador also declared an amnesty, though in a form that expressly violated the terms of the Esquipulas Accord. The New York Times lauded the decree as the Duarte government's "most concrete step toward complying with the regional peace accord," contrasting this forthcoming move with the refusal of the Sandinistas to comply apart from "tentative" and grudging steps112 -- steps that met the conditions of the Accord, as we have just seen, though the Times never reported the facts. The Toronto Globe and Mail chose different words, describing the Salvadoran edict as "an amnesty for the military and the death squads." This noble gesture was bitterly condemned by human rights groups, not only because it freed the assassins of tens of thousands of people from prosecution (hardly likely in any event, with the government under effective military control), but also, as María Julia Hernández of Tutela Legal observed after several more months of atrocities, because "it made the military feel secure that there would be no prosecutions for human rights" violations in the future. The amnesty "chiefly benefited the military-linked death squads," the Globe and Mail commented accurately.113

With regard to the second "key point," negotiations, the accords did not call for discussions with CIA-created front organizations of the classic Communist Party style. That the contra directorate is exactly that had long been known, and is documented in detail in an important (and unmentionable) monograph by Edgar Chamorro, who was selected by the CIA to serve as spokesman for the front created for the benefit of "enemy territory" at home.114 In a memo released during the Iran-contra hearings, Robert Owen, Oliver North's liaison with the contras, described the civilian front as "a name only," "a creation of the United States government (USG) to garner support from Congress"; power lies in the hands of the Somozist-run FDN, headed by Adolfo Calero, who "is a creation of the USG and so he is the horse we chose to ride," though he is surrounded by people who are "liars and greed- and power-motivated" for whom the war is "a business" as they hope for the marines to restore them to the power they lost.115

Nevertheless, applying the algorithm for interpreting the accords, the media took their key feature to be negotiations between the Sandinistas and Washington's PR creation. The New York Times even went so far as to describe the Nicaraguan government and the contras as "the two factions" who must negotiate and reach a settlement, a difficult task because the government "faction" insists upon "an end to all outside support for the contras" -- as the Esquipulas Accord stipulates, a fact unmentioned.116 Another journalist, surveying the problems of the region, describes the contenders for power in Nicaragua as "the two hostile bands"; in El Salvador, in contrast, the civil war pits "the U.S.-supported government" against the "Marxist guerrillas."117 Appropriate use of language has its role to play, alongside of careful selection, distortion, and outright falsehood.

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107 Editorial, El Tiempo, May 5, 1988; reprinted in Hondupress, May 18.

108 Central America Report, June 17, 1988.

109 Human rights monitors have repeatedly condemned this technique of ideological warfare, but to no avail. See my article in Z Magazine, Jan. 1988, for details.

110 Reuters, NYT, Nov. 9, 1987, citing the CIVS report of November 8 and Latin American officials; Amnesty Law and Bill to suspend the State of Emergency, promulgated in November 1987, Unofficial translation, Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, given to me in December by Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto, who appeared genuinely to believe that the Accord would be permitted to survive.

111 Nov. 18, 1987.

112 Lindsey Gruson, NYT, Oct. 29; LeMoyne, Nov. 29, 1987.

113 Chris Norton, Globe and Mail, Feb. 10, 1988.

114 Chamorro, Packaging the Contras.

115 Harper's, Oct. 1987.

116 Lindsey Gruson, NYT, Dec. 15, 1987.

117 Tad Szulc, Parade Magazine, Aug. 28, 1988.