United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA) records processed

ARMS has completed the processing of fonds AG-076, United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA). Please access the finding aid here. Once we have updated our search engine, you will also be able to search the files through search.archives.un.org

The United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA) was established through United Nations Security Council Resolution 644 adopted on 7 November 1989, in order to observe and report on compliance to the Esquipulas II Agreement by the Governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. ONUCA operated from November 1989 until 17 January 1992. 

ONUCA was created following a request by the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua for assistance in implementing the Esquipulas II Agreement, also known as “A Procedure for the Establishment of a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America” or the Guatemala Procedure. Under its original mandate, ONUCA was charged with conducting verification of compliance, specifically the “cessation of aid to irregular forces and insurrectionist movements; the non-use of the territory of one State for attacks on other States, and preventing the establishment or use of facilities for radio or television transmissions for the specific purpose of directing or assisting the military operations of irregular forces or insurrectionist movements in any of the five countries.” When a complaint against one Government was registered with ONUCA, its practice was to communicate the complaint to that Government and ask that their full cooperation be extended to ONUCA in an investigation. The results of the investigation were then transmitted to both Governments concerned.

In December 1989, an advance team established ONUCA’s headquarters in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. By June 1990, ONUCA was operating at full strength, with liaison offices in each of the five capitals as well as verification centres in smaller cities. Key roads and border crossings were monitored by mobile Operational Patrol Posts (OPPs) of up to seven United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs), and daily patrols were conducted by UNMOs by land, air, and sea. 

On 12 December 1989, the five Central American Presidents issued the Declaration of San Isidro de Coronado in which they requested ONUCA’s mandate be expanded to include verification of the cessation of hostilities and voluntary demobilization of the Nicaraguan Resistance. Following the elections in Nicaragua, an agreement was reached on 15 March 1990 between the Nicaraguan Government, the Government-elect, and the United Nations, and ONUCA’s mandate was formally expanded through Security Council Resolution 650 adopted on 27 March 1990. This expanded mandate increased ONUCA’s size and added an armed battalion from Venezuela (VENBATT) to the mission. 

After intensive negotiations, the Nicaraguan Government and representatives from the Nicaraguan Resistance signed a series of agreements, including a ceasefire beginning on 19 April 1990 and established eight security zones, in which members of the Nicaraguan Resistance were demobilized by unarmed UNMOs and armed VENBATT troops. The Nicaraguan Government forces withdrew from the security zones allowing members of the Nicaraguan Resistance to assemble there. The parties requested ONUCA’s support in monitoring the ceasefire and separation of forces, and the mission’s mandate was expanded three times over the course of the demobilization through Security Council Resolutions 653 (1990), 654 (1990) and 656 (1990).  

ONUCA’s participation in the demobilization of the Nicaraguan Resistance within Nicaragua and Honduras, known as Operation Home Run, included the establishment of temporary assembly points; the handover of weapons, military equipment, and military uniforms; and collaboration with the International Support and Verification Commission (CIAV) in repatriating and resettling the demobilized forces. Although logistical difficulties and distrust between the Nicaraguan Government and the Nicaraguan Resistance slowed the process down, the demobilization process was successfully completed on 5 July 1990 with the demobilization of 22,773 armed and unarmed members of the Nicaraguan Resistance and a total of 17,883 weapons handed over to ONUCA. 

Upon the completion of the demobilization of the Nicaraguan Resistance, ONUCA reverted to fulfilling its original mandate to verify compliance with the Esquipulas II agreements and to patrol areas where violations were most likely to occur in the five countries. The mandate was extended three more times through Security Council Resolutions 675, 691, and 719, with corresponding reductions in the mission’s size. Over the course of the mission, ONUCA was led by three Chiefs of Mission (CMO): Agustín Quesada Gómez (November 1989 – December 1990); Lewis MacKenzie (December 1990 – May 1991); and Víctor Suanzes Pardo (May 1991 – January 1992). 

On 28 October 1991, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council that the situation in the area had greatly improved, and the five countries were making efforts to adhere to the commitments agreed to in the Esquipulas II agreements. ONUCA’s mandate was terminated by Security Council Resolution 730, dated 17 January 1992. As part of Operation Paloma Blanca, 131 ONUCA military observers were transferred to the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) on 24 January 1992, while other ONUCA staff members supervised the closing of the mission and were retained and phased out over a period of three and a half months.