From January 1983 to June 1986, the governments of Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela unsuccessfully worked to find a Latin American solution to the contemporary Central American crisis. Their effort became known as the Contadora peace process. This volume on that peace process is the result of a two-day conference held in February 1986 at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. While the majority of these well-researched essays are linked by their criticism of the Reagan policy toward Central America, all point to the complexity of the debate regarding the crisis.

Because the Reagan administration asserted that the Central American crisis threatened U.S. security, it became necessary to first ask whether the Contadora process provided for that security. Yes, argued Margaret Daly Hayes and Jack Child, pointing out that peace provides the environment for appropriate social and economic change to take place. In contrast, Alan Sternberger claims that Soviet designs on the region necessitate an American military presence there until the required structural changes eliminate the causes of conflict within Central America.

If the Contadora process failed to bring peace to Central America, the Reagan administration bears responsibility because it deliberately worked to undermine the effort, charge William LeoGrande and Wayne Smith, an allegation that is too narrowly focused for Richard Nuccio and Cynthia Arnson. They suggest that the congressional failure to reach a consensus on whether to support the administration policy only exacerbated the tenuous peace effort. In Managua, the Sandinista leadership proved to be as myopic as its counterpart in Washington, Roy Gutman explains. The Sandinistas failed to agree on responses to various U.S. initiatives that opened the way to possible compromise.

Finally, Susan Purcell and Bruce Bagley present more fundamental problems that plagued the Contadora process. Purcell points out that the Contadora nations were anticommunist from the start, and that their attitude toward the Sandinistas stiffened as they tightened their control over Nicaragua, but that they still refused to come to grips with the question of an enforceable solution. In Washington, the administration’s determination to rid Nicaragua of the Sandinistas contributed to its rejection of any solution short of that objective. Bagley suggests that Reagan’s only option thus became a military one. In January 1989, the new president of the United States will be confronted with the same issues that confounded the Contadora process, and with the Iran-Contra episode now past, will the only option remain a military one?