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Central America

Volume 77: debated on Wednesday 24 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent progress has been made towards stability in Central America by the Contadora countries; and what support has been given by the EEC in this respect.

We are encouraged by the resumption of Contadora talks on 11 and 12 April in Panama. We and our European Community partners continue to give firm and consistent support to the efforts of the Contadora group. We gave practical expression to this support at the meeting of European and regional Foreign Ministers at San Jose in September, attended by my right hon. and learned Friend. It has been agreed that a further ministerial meeting will be held in due course.

Earlier, the Foreign Secretary objected to being described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) as an American poodle. Yet is he not just like the dog that did not bark, in that we heard him say earlier today that the American Government were seeking peaceful solutions in Central America when clearly, far from that, they are seeking a warlike solution in Nicaragua? Is it not time that the British Government placed it clearly on the record that we condemn American adventurism in that region?

The hon. Member is totally misguided in his supplementary question. The American Government have stated time and again that they are seeking a solution by peaceful means to the problems of Central America. Indeed, no country would benefit more from a solution by peaceful means in Central America than the United States. After all, the problem is very much at its back door.

I remind the hon. Member, in regard to the earlier part of his question, that our approach in that region is very much one of partnership with our European Community partners. We have together sought a joint approach. That was the attitude at San Jose last year. The same message lies behind the approach of offering European Community aid to the region.

Does not yesterday's decision by the House of Representatives encourage the Government to think again about their whole aid approach to the Contadora countries? Is it not despicable that Nicaragua's aid should be held back, that in Costa Rica aid is 40 times more and in Honduras 100 times more? Surely that is totally unacceptable

I do not think that it is for us at this stage to comment on or get involved in the process of voting that is still going on in Congress. The Senate voted in favour of the $14 million requested by President Reagan; the House of Representatives voted against. As I understand it, there are to be further votes, and the whole matter is still up for debate in Congress.

Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether Cuba interferes in Central America?

Yes. Of course, the answer is that Cuba does interfere in Central America. That is one of the things that greatly worries the United States and should worry us as well

Does the Minister agree that President Reagan's policy on Central America, thank God, is collapsing in all directions, that the Contadora countries have rejected his attempt to give military aid to the Contras and that Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama are all now attempting to achieve a non-military solution to the problem? Does he further agree that the British Government should identify themselves with all those forces inside the American Congress and in the Contadora countries which reject the President's approach to the problem? Finally, does he agree that the British Government should stop licking the President's boots, because there is no reason to do so?

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be obsessed by the metaphor about licking boots. I assure him that no one on this side of the House is licking boots. As he will know, by happenstance he and I were in Washington at the same time earlier this week. Doubtless we read the same editions of the Washington Post, and went to see Members of Congress on the same day, although perhaps different members. He will know, too, that opinion in Washington is very divided, just as it is, for example, in some of the Latin American countries. After all, the President of Colombia has expressed two different opinions about the American offer. I think it only right that we should allow time for the Americans to reach their decision as to how they spend their money in this very important area.

How can the hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of the Government, say in all honesty that the United States wants a peaceful solution when in recent days President Reagan has said on television—I am sure that many hon. Members saw the programme—that the Contras were like the French Resistance? First, there can be no such parallel, and, secondly, that can hardly be described as any idea of a peaceful solution

The hon. Gentleman appears totally to forget the effect of the presence of Cuba in countries such as Nicaragua and the fact that there have been Marxist-Leninist infiltrations into Central America and a spread of arms and violence in Nicaragua. That is what the United States is worried about, just as the hon. Gentleman would be if this country were in the same geographical position to Central America as the United States. That is why this issue gives the Americans such deep concern, although, of course, they want to achieve a solution by peaceful means