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Meeting of Latin American leaders gives impetus to regional peace effort

A series of meetings of top Latin American leaders here has breathed fresh life into the faltering Contadora peace pro-cess. The gathering of presidents and foreign ministers centered on Tuesday's inauguration of Guatemalan President Marco Vinicio Cerezo Ar'evalo. He is Guatemala's first democratically elected President in three decades.

But the week's most important development seemed to be what one analyst called ``a wave of emotion and of Latin American solidarity,'' evident in:

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A consensus among the Latin leaders to keep talking. The renewed dialogue comes after several months during which it seemed that the Con-tadora peace efforts might collapse altogether. The Contadora process, begun in 1983, aims to present a Latin American, rather than a United States, diplomatic solution to Central America's conflicts. The leaders plan to meet in May to discuss signing a Contadora peace treaty.

The signing by officials of five Central American countries of a statement supporting the basic Contadora principles, which were repeated by the Contadora Group in Venezuela last week.

Both outcomes are due in part to a shift in the position of Nicaragua, largely as a result of pressure from other Latin American countries. This leaves Nicaragua -- the main focus of Contadora efforts -- now backing the initiative. The US is the main unofficial opponent.

Nicaragua announced its willingness to sign the Contadora peace treaty in a surprise move in the fall of 1984. The treaty was negotiated by Contadora -- Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela -- along with five Central American countries -- Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

This willingness puts the US in the position of having to pressure its Central American allies -- El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica -- to stop the signing of a treaty it found unacceptable.

Through most of 1985, the Contadora process seemed increasingly stalemated because of US opposition. It became clear to most regional analysts that the US wanted either to overthrow or seriously modify Nicaragua's Sandinista government and was not interested in arriving at any negotiated solutions with Nicaragua mediated by Contadora unless these solutions led to profound changes in the Nicaraguan government.

``One of the main advantages of Contadora from a Latin point of view is that it forced the US to show its hand and made clear to world opinion that Reagan did not want a negotiated settlement with the Sandinistas,'' said a Foreign Ministry official from a Contadora nation.

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By the end of 1985, Nicaragua seemed to have given up on Contadora. It publicly and privately stated that the group was not paying sufficient attention to US aggression against Nicaragua.

Western diplomats and other regional analysts say that several aspects of the Contadora treaty are problematic for Nicaragua, such as the call for democratization, national reconciliation, troop limitations, and the verification procedures connected to them.

Privately, Nicaragua started dragging its feet in talks, say high Contadora officials. Publicly, it called for all Contadora meetings to be suspended until the inaugurations of newly elected governments in Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica are completed in May.

Intense Latin political pressure convinced Nicaragua to make concessions, diplomatic sources say. The Sandinistas agreed to participate in negotiations this week, during the Guatemalan inauguration. They agreed to sign a statement, along with the other Central American countries, supporting the Venezuelan declaration for the process made by Contadora and the Lima Support Group -- Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, and Argentina.

``The very fact,'' said one Western diplomat, ``that Nicaragua signed a declaration of general principles for the first time since the autumn of 1983, in spite of possible reservations on certain points, shows that it has made concessions as a result of Latin pressures.''

Although events emerging from the Venezuelan and Guatemalan meetings seem to be keeping Contadora alive, at least for a few months, most analysts here say the process is no closer than it was to reaching a regional settlement. Most analysts say that the US does not want a Contadora settlement that allows the Sandinistas to remain in power. The US would not sign such a treaty, and Nicaragua will sign only if the US does.

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