Why They Paint ‘Yanqui Go Home’

''Yanqui Go Home'': The forgotten slogan is once again being painted on the walls of Latin American cities. For democratic Latin Americans like myself, it is a nightmare - and we blame both the United States and Nicaragua for their intransigence and dogmatism.
Diego Arria.

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”Yanqui Go Home”: The forgotten slogan is once again being painted on the walls of Latin American cities. For democratic Latin Americans like myself, it is a nightmare – and we blame both the United States and Nicaragua for their intransigence and dogmatism.

The democratic superpower and former banana republic are heading for a confrontation that could shake the entire hemisphere. Listen to Humberto Ortega Saavedra, Nicaraguan Defense Minister and brother of the President. He declared recently that if an invasion of Nicaragua took place, ”Friends of the Nicaraguan people would begin a campaign of generalized violence against United States’ interests in Central America and elsewhere.”

Observing that the United States would lose the war against his country, he went on: ”While Sandinista forces resisted invading troops, pro-Sandinista forces and sympathizers throughout Latin America and in the United States would be active in various ways. A direct intervention by the United States would be very difficult to confine to our territory. It would logically have to extend itself to neighboring countries. Popular forces in Latin America will unleash their violence. The outcome will not be determined only by military power.”

How, we must ask ourselves, have we reached this situation in which the defense minister of a tiny third world country can threaten the strongest democracy? What is happening in our part of the world that the Sandinista Government dares to call hidden terrorists to arms? And, perhaps most perplexing, can the Sandinistas really expect the democratic governments of Latin America to support them in their opposition to a United States intervention? In fact, Managua would in all probability get such support.

In part, obviously, the blame is Nicaragua’s. The nature and magnitude of these threats are clear for all to see – and extremely serious for both the United States and the region as a whole. The Sandinista Government has in effect incriminated itself, admitting that it may have already organized an international terrorist campaign against the United States.

Beyond this, there is little question that the Nicaraguan Government is moving toward greater repression and inflexibility. It was, of course, not always thus. In the beginning, in the late 1970’s, many democratic Latin American leaders – men like President Omar Torrijos of Panama and President Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela – strongly supported the Nicaraguan revolution. They, along with some of the most prominent democratic leaders of Western Europe, were encouraged by the Sandinistas’ promises and the seemingly broad base of the revolution. But they watched and waited as the months and then years passed and still the Sandinistas failed to fulfill their promises – and by the end of this period of wait-and-see, the Sandinistas had firmly entrenched themselves and weakened all internal opposition.

There has been no lack of evidence, but the Sandinistas’ intransigence was finally confirmed when they refused to allow the opposition leader Arturo Jose Cruz to participate in last fall’s national elections. It apparently didn’t matter to the Sandinistas that they would probably have won the election anyway. Nor did it matter that leaders of the Socialist International – proved friends of the Nicaraguan revolution – struggled to obtain approval for his participation. The episode was a clear indication that the most radical of the Sandinistas were in full control.

But the United States is hardly free of blame for today’s impasse. In part, its responsiblity is historical: It was, after all, the United States that allowed the dictatorial regimes of the Somoza family to abuse Nicaraguan dignity for decades. Washington also kept the Somozas in power until the bitter end, thus allowing the relatively radical Sandinista forces to triumph over the other groups participating in the revolution.

Yet the United States’ responsibility continues today, and it is no accident that the Sandinistas – who represent themselves as David challenging Goliath – have been able to win the struggle for international public opinion.

The near-contempt that the United States Government has shown for the peace-making efforts of the Contadora countries – Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama – has contributed substantially to the further deterioration of the situation. True, the Sandinistas have shown little interest in creating a genuinely democratic state. But a negotiated settlement pushed by the Contadora group with the total support of the region could have made – and still could – a significant difference in Nicaraguan politics. It would, for one thing, have made it crystal clear that the other Latin American countries opposed the Sandinistas’ course. Nicaragua would have been exposed as a totalitarian state and would have none of the moral and political support it now enjoys.

No one can seriously prove that Nicaragua is a threat to the security of the United States. One thing is certain, however: If Nicaragua were invaded, Humberto Ortega’s predictions would probably come true. Latin America would again become the center of anti-Americanism, arousing and inflaming violent forces just beneath the surface.

We Latin Americans do not deserve this. (Nor do the citizens of the United States, who could well experience violence on their own territory.) Nicaragua does not have the right to blackmail our region with threats. It does not have the right to involve us in an unending spiral of violence. Nor does President Reagan, leader of a great and democratic nation, have the right to blunder recklessly in Nicaragua. He does not have the right to ignore the Contadora group and the Organization of American States. Certainly, if Nicaragua is indeed a threat to United States security, then Washington should inform its natural allies – the Latin American countries – whose security would also be jeopardized.

Before it goes further, the Reagan Administration should stop to consider what happened to the hostile graffiti on our walls. If in fact it disappeared for some years, this was not because it was painted over. It disappeared from our walls, and our hearts, thanks to the attitudes of more understanding American administrations and to the arduous efforts of those Latin Americans who struggled to establish democracy in our region. President Reagan must not be allowed to undo those efforts. He must not be allowed to gamble away the future of Latin American democracy. That is the real ”transcendent moral issue” in Latin America today.

Diego Arria is former Minister of Interior of Venezuela and former editor of the daily newspaper El Diario de Caracas.
A version of this article appears in print on June 30, 1985, Section 4, Page 23 of the National edition with the headline: Why They Paint ‘Yanqui Go Home’.

Published in nytimes.com Tuesday September 7, 2021.

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