President Reagan’s proposal to send military aid to Nicaragua’s contra rebels has bogged down in partisan wrangling and parliamentary shenanigans. The only thing to be said for the Democratic ploys and the Republican counterploys of last week is that the delay provides time for rethinking positions on bringing peace to Central America.
An issue as profoundly important as Reagan’s covert war against another American state can only be resolved cleanly and clearly. The ill-advised contra plan should have been put to a straight up-or-down vote last week as it was on March 20, when it was defeated.
Republican leaders, who turned the tables on House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. by temporarily killing aid to the contras, plan to force just such a vote next month. The arguments for prolonging the bloodshed in Central America will be no stronger in a month than they were when the House last said no to the President’s request for $100 million in contra aid. The request must be defeated again.
In the interim, the Contadora Group (Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama) can intensify its effort to persuade Nicaragua’s Sandinista government to join its neighbors in signing a treaty that would silence the guns of Central America.
The Contadora nations and their support group (Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay) have been frustrated so far by Sandinista suspicion and Reagan Administration obstinacy. The Administration refuses to let up on its contra war long enough for the Latin Americans to persuade the Sandinistas to let down their guard.
It is not asking too much to suggest that Administration officials use the same delay to rethink that stubborn strategy, which has received no significant support anywhere in Latin America. In yet another illustration of how Reagan’s contra war disturbs otherwise friendly nations in this hemisphere, Presidents Alan Garcia of Peru and Julio Sanguinetti of Uruguay last week made public a letter that they had written to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega urging him to continue cooperating with the Contadora Group. Significantly, that letter also urges all countries with “interests in the region"--a clear reference to the United States--to refrain from acts that frustrate the Contadora process, especially “support for irregular forces and insurrectional movements"--a clear reference to the contras.
Garcia and Sanguinetti thus joined other knowledgeable observers of Latin America who have urged Reagan to alter his hardheaded and futile strategy of trying to overthrow the Sandinistas, and instead allow peace negotiations to proceed in Central America. Reagan should start listening to that advice. If he refuses, Congress must continue to turn back every effort that Reagan and his surrogates make to get more aid to the contras.