Ivan's Place
In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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The International March for Peace in Central America
December 10, 1985 — January 24, 1986


  • Nicaragua — Because of the rather large number of photographs, I've broken the Nicaragua leg of La Marcha into sections. (Return to this Introduction to access each section; I do not provide links on the different pages.)

(Return to this Introduction to access each country page; I do not provide links on the different pages.)

Why a March for Peace in Central America?

In January, 1983, representatives of Panama, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela decided to take a big risk: the active promotion of a Latin American, negotiated alternative to President Reagan’s contra war against Nicaragua. Their over-riding concern was to prevent a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua, and the region-wide conflict that would certainly result from such an invasion. The four countries became known as the Contadora group, after the Panamanian island on which they met. Later, the Contadora four would be supported by the Lima Support Group — Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, and Argentina — and their efforts to build a regional peace plan would be hailed around the world. Quoted material following is from various Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reports on the Contadora peace process.

The Contadora group's earliest plan was “a three-tier approach that may offer something to all sides:

* A twin set of bilateral talks (Nicaragua-Honduras and Nicaragua-US).
* A trilateral meeting (Nicaragua-Honduras-Salvador).
* A multilateral meeting with all the Central American states represented (under the auspices of the Contadora group).” [CSM, May 11, 1983]

In late October, 1983, Contadora persuaded the five Central American nations—Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Costa Rica—to sign “a 21-point agreement of basic principles for peace...” This success gave “new prestige to the Contadora groups as a forum in which further efforts for peace in the region might be achieved. ... The 21 points represented a breakthrough, because for the first time all parties to the Central American conflict, including Nicaragua, had agreed on general principles for a settlement. The principles call for: verifiable arms reduction, patrolling of borders to stop the flow of guerillas and arms, withdrawal of all foreign advisers, respect for human rights, and the establishment of democratic governments in all countries.” [CSM, January 4, 1984]

Talks continued toward forging the 21-points into a peace plan that all countries could live with, but, as I understand it, the Sandinistas refused to accept certain demands that they felt encroached on their sovereignty. Then, the Sandinistas surprised everyone:

“Junta coordinator Daniel Ortega Saavedra says Nicaragua is ready to ‘accept in its totality and sign immediately’ the Contadora group's regional peace plan — if the United States ‘halts its aggression against Nicaragua.’ He said on Friday night that there will be no peace in the region until the US signs the Contadora plan, and until then, Nicaragua will continue to ‘take the necessary measures’ to defend itself.

“The 21-point plan calls for the demilitarization of Central America and an end to outside interference. It has been approved in principle by El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua. But they have not agreed on specifics.” [CSM, September 24, 1984]

Well now. What’s a super-power to do when caught off guard like that? Put pressure on its client states to find flaws in the plan, of course. And that's just what the "Washington three" did:

“US seen as responsible for the slowdown in Contadora peace talks"

“The Reagan administration scored a victory for itself in Central America last week when the Contadora peace talks bogged down.

“For weeks it had seemed that only minor modifications remained to be made on the draft regional peace treaty. But at a meeting of most of the interested parties last Friday, representatives of three countries - Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica - suddenly said extensive changes were required before they could accept the plan.

“The three countries' objections came after a short but intensive lobbying effort by the Reagan administration, say several United States and Central American diplomats and analysts.” [CSM, October 26, 1984.]

For its part, the State Department proposed the knee-slapper that it had not been following the negotiations with enough diligence to catch these flaws ahead of time. Predictably, the objections by the “Washington three” successfully derailed the peace process:

“The Central American peace negotiations known as the Contadora talks have suffered a sharp setback.

“The indefinite postponement of the Contadora meeting planned for Thursday and today has put the whole peace process into deep freeze for at least several months, according to well-informed foreign policy analysts here.”


“In October, El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica came up with a counterproposal at a Contadora meeting in Honduras. This called for the withdrawal of Cuban advisers before the withdrawal of other advisers in the region.

“The counterproposal also called for verification to be carried out, not by the Contadora four, but by the Central American countries themselves.   ...   Nicaragua, as was expected, refused to sign the revised agreement. So the Contadora process entered a period of stagnation.

"During the winter ... the Contadora four ... urged the US allies to modify their stand and accept a compromise agreement more acceptable to the Nicaraguans. However, ... the Central American countries, supported by the US, refused to budge." [CSM, February 15, 1985. Note the phrase "supported by the US," instead of the more truthful "forced by the US."]

La Marcha Por La Paz En Centroamerica is born

It was during this period of stagnation that La Marcha was conceived. The idea was to show international support for the Contadora process through a high-profile, six-week journey from Panama City to Mexico City. (In truth, we would "march" mostly in the cities and towns, between which we would ride in buses. Oh well.)

The inspiration for La Marcha was the launching of a peace ship from Norway to Nicaragua in July of 1984. The idea itself was suggested by a Norwegian Central America expert. After successful discussions between Norwegian peace activist Torill Eide and her Central American counterparts, December 1984 - January 1985, the official committee was formed in Norway in March, 1985. During June and July, other Norwegian organizers went to Central America to begin work on the logistical details.

There were enthusiastic peace communities in every Central American country except Guatemala, where it was simply too dangerous to be openly supportive of such an effort. Even so, Salvadoran and Honduran activists were not blasé about their situation. To march organizers' expressed concerns that the presence of international peace activists might put them in danger, they said "we're in danger anyway; we want you to come."

Along with support for Contadora, La Marcha would stress two other themes: Self-determination for all the nations of Latin America, and Solidarity with, and between them. It was hoped that hundreds of international peace activists would sign up for the March, and planning for an unknown number of participants was a major effort. As of October of 1985 it was not clear that La Marcha could effectively go foward, but the organizing committee heroically pulled it off.

For those who might want to learn more about that era, I recommend the Christian Science Monitor’s archived reports on Contadora. The Monitor charges less for its archived articles than do the other mainstream papers.

Below I've included a few photos to introduce some of the members of La Marcha, and to show a small fraction of the people in the Los Angeles area working for peace and self-determination in Central America. On the country pages (to be developed), along with additional information, I try to show the profound decency and humanity of los marchistas; a decency and humanity utterly lacking in the Reagan administration, and nowhere to be found, of course, in CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia.

Even though President Reagan was ultimately successful in sabotaging the Contadora peace process, La Marcha at least caused his minions some uncomfortable moments. (These same minions, of course, made sure that no cloud of truth ever cast a shadow over President Reagan's sunny dispostion, although most of us in the peace movement cannot accept the excuse made for him that he was not aware of the monstrous, even pathological cruelties he had sanctioned against the poor of Central America.)

Rarin' to go Not long before we leave for Panama, a few prospective marchistas pose outside the headquarters of then Santa Monica-based Office of the Americas(OOA), the peace organization founded by Blase and Theresa Bonpane.

(On these pages, I try to use full names only for those who at the time were somewhat "public" figures—for example, directors of publically active organizations such as the OOA, or those who later published their experiences, or those whose current activities toward the enduring goals of la marcha are available through the Internet.)

Blase is a former Maryknoll priest who had worked in Guatemala as liberation theology began to take hold in the Western Hemisphere. If memory serves, Theresa had also worked in Latin America as a Catholic nun. Blase and Theresa continue to provide dynamic leadership for the peace and justice community through the OOA.

By virtue of the the OOA's superb organizational structure, and of the Bonpanes' extensive experience in Central America, OOA would coordinate the North American contingent of La Marcha, and Blase would be co-leader, with Torill Eide, of the march as a whole.

Attorney Peter Holding, sitting at far left; Penny O'Donnell, standing just to his right; and Tony in the tree represent the Australian contingent, here in the states to work out some of the details.

I want to say that the woman in the green shirt standing behind Peter is with the British women's peace organization Greenham Common, but I'm not sure.

The smiling redhead in the center is Kelly Holland, who will produce Viva La Paz, one of the two video documentaries on La Marcha. (The Canadians will produce Paz Si, Guerra No.) Gary, sitting just below Kelly, will cut his teeth as a future filmmaker by assisting the filming of Viva La Paz.

Aurora, standing at far right, went to her native Guatemala to find what support might be available for our stay there. Not a task for the faint-hearted, considering Guatemala's human rights record.

Bill, standing in the white marcha t-shirt on the right, became our banker when we ran out of money. I'm in the dark shirt, standing next to him. Tragically, Bill died not long after we returned home.

Steven Zrucky, with the beard just left of center, worked at the time with farm workers in California's Central Valley. Today, he is the director of Inquilinos Unidos, a tenants-rights organization in Los Angeles. Francisco, a farm worker whom Steven invited to join the march, stands behind him on the right.

At 77, Ollie, standing far left in the back, was our oldest marchista.

Somewhat hidden to Ollie's left is Mike Emery, then chair of the Journalism Department at Cal State Northridge. Mike and I met in 1974, and spent many hours together working to help Cesar Chavez get a fair deal for farm workers. I think the man in deep shadow next to the tree is Roberto, who would travel again to Central America, with Mike, to gather more information about U.S. aggression there. We lost Mike to cancer in 1995.

After returning home from La Marcha, Eve Anne, sitting in the blue-green jacket, went right back to El Salvador as a witnessing presence in defence of a Salvadoran activist who had been arrested by the notoriously vicious Salvadoran security forces.

Blase Bonpane stands in the back between Mike and Francisco.

Would that I could remember everyone's name, but the loving presence of every marchista will be with me always.

Fundraiser at Office Of the Americas A typical fund-raiser at the Office of the Americas. OOA's office was at the Episcopal Church in Santa Monica.

Sabia The nueva canción (new song) quartet SABIÁ was a major force in the peace movement.

This evening, flautist Francisca Wentworth substitutes for SABIÁ founding member Cindy Harding. Cindy's sister Libby, on ukelele, was SABIÁ's main songwriter. Ericka Verba on the guitar, and Marie Riddle on drums. Gary Johnson at the keyboard. Bass player Cesar Torres on the right.

I was totally, head over heels in love with these four women. I even wrote something like a poem for their 10th anniversary concert booklet:

"If we think about it long enough, we find that those who work for peace with justice—the public form of love, as it has been called—more than speak the truth; they are the truth. Whether known or obscure, they are themselves refutations of the lies of the violent; thus they are dangerous—many have paid the ultimate price.

"Truth takes other forms, too—hope and joy being those which renew us in the struggle, and song to remind us of those who have gone before.

"And so, dear SABIÁ, you are also the truth. Your messages of peace and love have guided me on my own journey, and for your being in the world, I am profoundly grateful."
June, 1988

Work on these pages continues apace. I will post the country pages ("to be developed") in the order shown below, so please continue to check in. The narrative I present is derived from memory; my notes; Blase Bonpane's February, 1986 REPORT ON THE INTERNATIONAL MARCH FOR PEACE IN CENTRAL AMERICA; then-OOA Board member Mel Fiske's December 30, 1985 report; Kelly Holland's video documentary Viva La Paz; the Canadian video documentary Paz Si, Guerra No; and some Internet research.

I use the OOA last-minute roster of las marchistas to help me identify those whose names I give, but I do hope for the input of other marchistas to make the name/face correlations I have forgotten.

On a more strictly journalistic note, I was not as diligent as I should have been in recording names, locations and dates. Nevertheless, I am confident that regardless of my oversights and lacunae, there is fairly good correlation between all of the sources I use, and that the errors I make do not detract from the overall sense of what La Marcha was all about.

To supplement my notes, Blase Bonpane has given me permission to post the entire chapter on La Marcha from his book Guerrillas of Peace on the Air. (See La Marcha table of contents.) The book is available through the Office of the Americas.

Unless otherwise designated, all photos on this site were taken by me.

Finally, I would like to create a section devoted to the recollections, retrospectives, and photos of other marchistas, so I urge any marchista who might visit this site to contact me. (See below.) Together, we did something really very grand, and I think the world should know something about it.

Thanks for visiting.

  • Nicaragua — Because of the rather large number of photographs, I've broken the Nicaragua leg of La Marcha into sections. (Return to this Introduction to access each section; I do not provide links on the different pages.)

(Return to this Introduction to access each country page; I do not provide links on the different pages.)

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Page last updated December 18, 2005