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Let Contadora Do It

Congress in April rejected the Reagan Administration’s request for a special appropriation of $14 million for the Nicaraguan contras . Now it has before it three new proposals for contra aid. Each is deeply flawed, for each would be taken by the Administration as running room to keep on trying to overthrow the Sandinistas.

By saying no to all three, Congress could force the Administration toward the only approach that has a plausible chance of success. By acquiescing, as is predicted, in some form of contra aid, Congress would be condoning a policy direction the logical outcome of which is the invasion of Nicaragua.

One aid plan, supported by Democrats critical of President Reagan’s Central American policies, would allocate $14 million for Nicaraguan refugees living outside the country. To ensure that the money would not be diverted to military use, the International Red Cross or the United Nations would administer the funds. Two proposals written by Administration supporters would give the contras $25 million to $40 million through 1986, also for non-military purposes, with the money administered by the Reagan Administration.

These proposals are attempts at compromise. But it is too risky to compromise with Reagan on the contras. The President and his rigidly ideological advisers are obsessed with the Sandinistas, and are determined to overthrow them. Their past actions against Nicaragua indicate that they will use every chance they are given to strike out at the Sandinistas, hoping that each blow will be the punch that finally makes them cry “uncle.”

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But there is little evidence that the Sandinistas are going to collapse under indirect U.S. pressure. It is most likely that only direct military action would bring them down. An invasion would be a political, diplomatic and human disaster. Because war with Nicaragua is the logical resolution of Reagan’s fervent campaign against the Sandinistas, Congress must do all that it can to restrain him.

To do so does not imply that Congress approves of the Sandinistas and the Marxism that they are imposing on their nation, only that Capitol Hill understands better than the White House that there are more constructive ways of containing the Nicaraguan revolution. The most hopeful alternative to Reagan’s belligerence remains the effort by the Contadora countries--Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama--to arrange peace agreements between Nicaragua and its neighbors in Central America. By holding Reagan back, Congress would give the Contadora Group important time that it needs to carry on its peacemaking efforts without U.S. interference.


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