Kirkpatrick on Nicaragua

Statement by Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in the Security Council, in Right of Reply on the Complaint by Nicaragua, May 9, 1983

Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, I, too, should like to begin my remarks by congratulating you on your accession to the presidency of the Security Council, and express our confidence in your sense of fairness and your skill in the conduct of the affairs of this Council.

Mr. President, it is an extraordinary experience to hear the representative of Nicaragua’s harsh dictatorship invoke the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, the Charter of the United Nations, and other international laws, and accuse the United States of invasion. It is an extraordinary experience to hear the representative of Nicaragua’s harsh dictatorship speak of the rule of law, talk about American public opinion polls, quote American media and even American elected officials. I am especially struck by the invocation of the principle of non-intervention by Nicaragua’s dictators. Since they have come to power they have been busy fomenting war in the region, destroying the peace and the possibility of progress in El Salvador and Honduras and other neighboring states, forcing militarization on the region.

Mr. President, the United States does not invade small countries on its borders. We do not have 100,000 occupation troops in any country in the world, least of all on our borders. Our neighbors need have no such concerns. I thought, however, since the representative of Nicaragua has relied so heavily on American media this morning in his presentation to the Council, the record ought to be set straight. I thought I might have recourse as well to some American media concerning events in Central America and the respect which the government of Nicaragua habitually shows to the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of its neighbors.

The current Time magazine, for example, has a very interesting article, which I recommend to the members of the Council. It is entitled, “How the Salvadoran Rebels Order Outside Help for Their Revolution.” It begins by saying, “the building of a Nicaraguan arms link to El Salvador began almost as soon as the victorious revolutionaries took power in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua in July, 1979.” It has maps with arrows which describe supply routes — they’re not quite as good as our government maps, but they’re not bad. They are good enough so that the members of the Council can get a general impression about the regular flow of arms from Nicaragua through Honduras into El Salvador.

The article itself describes various arms infiltration routes. One, for example, it says “hugged the Honduran Pacific coast between Nicaragua and El Salvador, then angled into the remote areas of El Salvador where Marxist rebels hold almost undisputed sway. U. S. analysts estimate that 15 to 20 such land routes exist across Honduras.” One wonders about Honduras’ right to be free of infiltration by its neighbors. The article goes on to say, “Other military shipments come in by air and sea. Sandinista smugglers have been known to move supplies directly across the 20¬mile-wide Gulf of Fonseca. When the going is safe the Nicaraguans make night-time forays from the Pacific gulf port of Potosi aboard small fishing boats equipped with false bottoms, or 50-foot frame canoes. That practice has now been curtailed because of the patrols of U. S. electronic surveillance ships in the area and the greater vigilance of the Salvadoran and Honduran navies.” One can readily understand why neighbors engaging in such practices would not want any electronic surveillance in their region.

The article continues: “At night the Jiquilisco region is also known as a favorite destination of arms-laden helicopters (from Nicaragua) and light fixed-wing aircraft … an important alternative air route for the smugglers (from Nicaragua) is from the former British colony of Belize into Guatemala. After that, the rebels and their supplies filter south into Salvadoran rebel strongholds.” Apparently the Government of Nicaragua has a bit of a problem respecting the right of the Government of Guatemala to be free of infiltration across its borders as well.

The article is very detailed. It sums up its point about the extent and detail of the supply route between Nicaragua and El Salvador with a line which it also uses for its title: “Like a Sears, Roebuck Catalogue.” It says that rebels in El Salvador can order from Nicaragua whatever they need. One unit may say I need candles, boots, batteries, diarrhea medicine, bullets and mortar rounds. If they don’t get what they want, they complain. The fact that they complain shows they have a pipeline they think they can depend on.

The consequence, of course, of this gross violation of the principle of non-intervention in the life of neighboring states by the Government of Nicaragua is the destruction of peace in the region. It is especially tragic for the society of El Salvador where the economy has been deliberately targeted and deliberately destroyed.

I pointed out not long ago in a discussion of this same issue that some 34 bridges and 145 electrical transmission towers had been destroyed in El Salvador last year, that some 180,000 Salvadorans and been put out of work by this destruction. The President of the United States spoke two weeks ago to the Congress and pointed out in his speech, and I quote: “Tonight in El Salvador because of the ruthless guerrilla attacks much of the fertile land cannot be cultivated. Less than half the rolling stock of the railways remains operational. Bridges, water facilities, telephone and electric systems have been destroyed and damaged. In one 22-month period there were 5,000 interruptions of electrical power, one region was without electricity for one-third of a year.” Thus the consequences for one of Nicaragua’s neighbors of Nicaragua’s respect for the principle of non-intervention.

The distinguished representative of the Government of Nicaragua has referred repeatedly to the debate now underway in the United States, among Americans, about what American policy should be with regard to the area. He is quite right, of course. There is a debate. And the debate is on the question of whether the United States should help the people of El Salvador and the people of Nicaragua to defeat the effort to impose upon them totalitarian dictatorships with the assistance and by means of arms filtered to them by a ruthless, terrorist international. There is a debate in the United States about whether the United States should leave small countries powerless, small peoples helpless, without defense against conquest by violent minorities trained and armed by remote dictators. Such a debate is underway in the United States. It is not complete and we will continue that debate in our own way. We will continue it not by the method of lies but by the method of democracy.

The method of democracy relies on discussion. We will make our decision at the end of our debate and we will make that decision by democratic means. We very much wish that the Government of Nicaragua would join us in such a democratic decision process. We very much wish that there could be debate in Nicaragua about the public policies of that government. We very much wish that the people of Nicaragua, its journalists, its political leaders were free to make their arguments in public arenas, to discuss the questions before that people, to criticize their government, to rise in legislative arenas and state their criticisms freely. We wish that the people of Nicaragua had the opportunity to be polled by honest and objective public opinion organizations. We wish that the people of Nicaragua had the opportunity to settle their discussions and decisions and debates by voting. We in the United States will live by the results of our democratic processes. We can wish nothing better for the people of Nicaragua than that they be given a comparable opportunity.

The relationship between the Government of Nicaragua and its people is, of course, at the heart of much of the discussion here. What is the nature of this problem? What is the nature of what the Nicaraguan representative calls an “American invasion”? Needless to say, there is no American invasion of Nicaragua. It is a fact that there is fighting in Nicaragua. It is a fact that there is very widespread unhappiness, indeed misery, in Nicaragua. It is a fact that the Government of Nicaragua has a problem. The nature of that problem is, of course, not international. The nature of that problem is national. Nicaragua’s problem is with Nicaraguans. In Nicaragua today Nicaraguans fight other Nicaraguans for the control of their country’s destiny.

I thought since the representative of Nicaragua had brought to the attention of the Council so many items from the American press, I might impose on the Council a second item from yesterday’s Washington Post which was referred to by the representative of Nicaragua. (Demonstrating the advantages of free discussion, by the way, you can find a lot of different kinds of evidence in our newspapers.) The item that I would like to bring to the attention of the Council is a column by Jack Anderson, who is a well-known liberal columnist in the United States, not a reliable supporter of the administration that currently governs the United States.

The column is called “A Popular Force,” and I would like to read from it briefly.

While the Congress debates the Reagan administration’s clandestine operations in Nicaragua, the American public is beset by conflicting information about exactly what is going on there … to get some reliable, firsthand answers to these crucial questions, I sent my associate, Jon Lee Anderson to the troubled region. He has just returned from a week-long foray into northern Nicaragua with anti-Sandinista guerrillas. They belong to the Nicaraguan Democratic Forces (FDN), the major group of … insurgents.

He traveled with a well-armed, 50-member guerrilla band led by a commander whose nom de guerre is El Gorrion — The Sparrow. Their base camp was deep in the rugged mountains of Nicaragua’s Nueva Segovia province, near the Honduran border.

It quickly became obvious that the guerrillas had the support of the populace. They were fed and protected by local peasants at every step. Traveling on foot and only by night to avoid detection by government troops, the guerrillas spent the days hiding in ‘safe houses,’ often within shouting distance of government-held towns. If the peasants had wanted to betray them, it would have been a simple matter to tip off the Sandinista militia to their hiding places. The peasants also provided The Sparrow with up-to-the-minute intelligence on the whereabouts, movement and strength of the Sandinista forces.

The anti-Sandinista military prowess is not so clear-cut. My associate discovered this to his dismay when he accompanied The Sparrow’s band on a planned pre-dawn ambush of government troop carriers along a country road….

The guerrillas were themselves surprised by sniper fire from hilltop positions above them and were forced to pull out. The retreat was carried out skillfully, however, and two nights later the guerrillas avenged their defeat with an attack on the hilltop sniper’s nest. The FDN commandos treated the snipers to a half hour barrage of rockets, grenades and machine-gun fire, before returning satisfied to their base camp.

Most of the FDN guerrillas -the column continues- were local peasants, not Somocista exiles. But there were also former National Guardsmen, and they tend to be in command because of their military experience. Still, the core of The Sparrow’s group consisted of locally recruited peasants. In fact, on my associate’s last day with the rebel band, he witnessed the arrival of 50 new recruits, all of them peasants from the neighboring province of Madriz. One of the new recruits was a defecting Sandinista army instructor. There were other ex-Sandinists in the guerrilla troop. One was Dunia, a star graduate of the Sandinista’s post-revolution literacy campaign. Dunia did so well she was rewarded with a junket to Cuba. She is now the camp medic for The Sparrow’s band.

The rebels and their noncombatant collaborators cited a variety of reasons for their disenchantment with the Sandinistas: enforced food rationing, expropriation of the farmers’ markets, enforced organization of peasant co-ops, the Sandinistas’ anti-religious policies and harassment of the Catholic Church. The Sandinistas themselves indirectly aided the guerrillas’ recruitment of at least a dozen of the new arrivals. They said they had been under increasing pressure to join the militia. Forced to take sides, they chose the ‘contras.’

Still, it was not an easy choice for many. They expressed genuine anguish at being forced — one way or another — to fight against fellow Nicaraguans. ‘We don’t want to fight our Nicaraguan brothers,’ they said. The ones they’re after are the Sandinista leaders and their Cuban, East German, Bulgarian and other foreign advisors.

That’s not the end of the column; there are two paragraphs left for anyone who is interested.

I would like to reiterate to the Council that the United States Government has repeatedly, throughout the brief history of the Sandinista dictatorship, sought to establish constructive relations with that government and, during the period of its destabilization of the area, sought to work with others in the area to achieve regional peace.

In August, 1981, on a special mission to Managua, Assistant-Secretary of State Thomas Enders presented a five-point peace plan to the Sandinistas to reduce regional tensions. Based on the termination of Nicaraguan support for guerrilla groups, the plan called for a U.S. pledge to enforce strictly laws governing exiles activities in U.S. territory, reaffirmation, of non-intervention and non-interference by all parties, limits on arms and military forces, resumption of U.S. economic assistance to Nicaragua which had been very substantial and a U.S.-Nicaraguan cultural exchange program. The Sandinista government made no substantive response.

On April 19, 1982, U.S. Ambassador Anthony Quainton delivered an eight-point peace proposal to the Sandinistas that called for an end to Nicaraguan support for guerrillas in neighboring countries. It called for limits on arms and foreign military advisors, a joint pledge of non-interference and non-intervention, arms limit verification measures, resumption of U.S. economic assistance, implementation of cultural exchange programs and the reaffirmation of Sandinista commitments to pluralism, free elections and a mixed economy. The Sandinistas made a non-substantive response that did not even address the U.S. plan. They presented only rhetorical counterproposals.

On October 19, 1982, eight regional democracies, including the United States, set forth the essential conditions for peace in Central America, again including verifiable limits on arms and foreign military advisors, national reconciliation through the democratic process, a halt to support for insurgent groups, mutual respect for pledges of non-intervention and respect for basic human rights. The countries asked Costa Rica to discuss these conditions with Nicaragua. That, too, came to naught.

In addition, the Sandinistas have rejected other proposals put forth by their neighbors. As late as 1983 they refused to meet with Costa Ricans, Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans in multilateral discussions supported by the Contadora Group, but you’ve already heard about this.

The Sandinista insistence on bilateral rather than multilateral talks under lines its desire to resolve its external problems while avoiding the issue of its export of revolution, war and misery to its neighbors. The record speaks for itself. I should just like to close these remarks by reminding members of the Council that in his speech to the joint session of the U.S. Congress, President Reagan asserted, and I quote, “To support these diplomatic goals in the region, I offer these assurances,” and I should like to offer these assurances again to the Council on behalf of the Government of the United States.

“The United States will support any agreement among Central American countries for the withdrawal — under fully verifiable and reciprocal conditions — of all foreign military and security advisors and troops.”

“We want to help opposition groups join the political process in all countries and compete by ballots instead of bullets.”

“We will support any verifiable, reciprocal agreement among Central American countries on the renunciation of support for insurgencies on neighbors’ territory.”

“And, finally, we desire to help Central America to end its costly arms race and will support any verifiable, reciprocal agreements on the non-importation of offensive weapons.”

Finally, I would like to say to members of the Council that every nation in the United Nations, especially small nations, especially nations with powerful neighbors, should ponder carefully this case, should think well about what is being demanded once again of this Council by the Government of Nicaragua. The Government of Nicaragua has once again come to us demanding of the United Nations international protection while it destabilizes its neighbors. It is claiming that a people repressed by foreign arms of a superpower has no right to help against that repression. That is a principle that I should suppose every member of the United Nations who is, in fact, committed to principles of national independence, self-determination, and non-intervention would do well to think hard about.


  • Jeane J. Kirkpatrick

    Jeane Duane Jordan Kirkpatrick (December 19, 1926 – December 7, 2006) was an American ambassador and an ardent anticommunist. After serving as Ronald Reagan's foreign policy adviser in his 1980 campaign and later in his Cabinet, the longtime Democrat-turned-Republican was nominated as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and became the first woman to hold this position.

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