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Citation: Caesar Sereseres, "Case Study: The Regional Peacekeeping Role of the Organization of American States: Nicaragua, 1990-1993," in Managing Global Chaos, eds. Chester Crocker, Fen Hampson and Pamela Aall, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996) pp. 551-562.
In the early 1960s the Sandinistas formed to oppose the Somoza government. The Sandinista rebellion had substantial U.S. support. After years of fighting, the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza regime, and seized power in 1979. Many surviving members of the Nicaraguan national guard fled to Honduras. The Sandinista government then allied itself with Cuba and the Soviet Union. Within the year, the new government's policies provoked domestic rebellion.
By 1982 domestic insurgents had allied themselves with the surviving Nicaraguan national guard who were living in Honduras. The rebels were then known as the Contras, or the National Resistance. The National Resistance had substantial U.S. support. Nicaragua was in a state of open civil war.
In 1987, in the face of regional conflict, Central American nations convened for Esquipulas II, and developed the Arias Peace Plan. The Plan described in broad terms a process for restoring peace to Central America. In March of 1988 the Sandinista government and the National Resistance agreed to a cease-fire, the Sapoa Agreement, though sporadic fighting continued through the early 1990s. The Nicaraguan civil war ended formally in February of 1989, with the Tesoro Beach (El Salvador) Accord, signed by five regional presidents. Part of that accord was the Tela Declaration, which called for the UN and the OAS to supervise demobilization of the National Resistance.
The OAS then established a commission, the CIAV(International Commission for Support and Verification), to oversee the demobilization and disarmament of the National Resistance, and to supervise and verify their reintegration into Nicaraguan civil society. CIAV's mandate came directly from the Central American leaders who had signed the Tesoro Beach Accord.
Nicaraguan elections were held in February 1990. Much to the surprise of both the UN and the OAS, the Sandinistas did not win those elections. Violeta Chamorro was elected president. At this point there was no final peace agreement or cease-fire with the National Resistance. In response to the Chamorro victory, the Resistance began to move their troops out of Honduras and back into Nicaragua, in order to improve their bargaining situation relative to the new Chamorro government. The Resistance movement had by then reformed under peasant leadership, having rejected the leadership of its exiled politicians, and having grown to distrust the U.S.
Thus CIAV was deployed under unexpected conditions. The UN and OAS had assumed that the Sandinistas would win the elections, and that Resistance demobilization would occur outside of Nicaragua. Instead political power had been won by the Chamorro administration, military power remained with the Sandinistas, and National Resistance forces had returned to Nicaragua to be demobilized. In addition, CIAV had significantly underestimated the number of National Resistance troops and supporters who would require assistance and reintegration. Talks between the National Resistance and the Chamorro government resulted in the Toncontin Agreement in April 1990. The National Resistance agreed to end hostilities and relocate within Nicaragua to security zones where demobilization would begin. The Chamorro government agreed to cease hostilities, and to provide care, support and rehabilitation for war wounded, orphans and widows.
Despite the Chamorro government's promises, it fell largely to the CIAV to make good on the Agreement. In order to facilitate the agreement, the OAS agreed to feed all combatants who reported to the security areas. In the end, CIAV found itself responsible for over 120,000 people- more than ten times the expected number. CIAV also found itself placed in the role of a buffer between the Chamorro government and former Sandinista and Resistance combatants.
Sereseres argues that the success of CIAV under these unexpected conditions is due primarily to the flexibility, inventiveness and resourcefulness of the CIAV leadership. Generally the OAS, which was based in Washington, DC, did not interfere with the decision-making of the on-site CIAV leadership. Unfortunately, the OAS did not provide much support to CIAV either. CIAV's activities and operations have been developed in direct response to the local conditions. CIAV sought to integrate their social and development programs with their verification, demobilization and mediation activities, thus increasing the stability of those programs, and the populations they served. Social programs targeted geographical areas, rather than limiting assistance narrowly to mandated beneficiaries, again stabilizing those areas.
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