Miami: a Refuge for the Contras? : If--When--Their War Collapses, They'll Need a New Home

Frank del Olmo is a Times editorial writer

Another public-opinion survey on the political views of this country's 17 million Latinos has come to my attention. While I remain dubious that there is much unity among Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Americans and Mexican-Americans on public issues, this survey gave me an idea that could solve a problem that President Reagan is soon going to face in Central America.

The survey was conducted by Bendixen & Law, a respected research firm based in Washington. Titled "Political Attitudes of America's Fastest-Growing Minority Group," the survey was commissioned by Univision, the new corporation that runs what is left of the old Spanish International Network.

Part of my problem with surveys on Latino political attitudes is reflected in this one's title, which implies that Latinos are a single minority group. While most people of Latin American origin in this country share key cultural traits like some knowledge of Spanish and Christian (mainly Roman Catholic) religious beliefs, one should be careful about lumping them together. Latinos are an extremely varied people. They represent different nations, different economic backgrounds, different levels of assimilation.

Not surprisingly, this results in some dramatically different political views between, say, Chicanos in Los Angeles and Cubans in Miami on key issues, such as whether the United States should send aid to the contra rebels who are trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. The Bendixen & Law survey asked that very question, and the response was notably mixed: 75% of the Cuban-Americans supported contra aid, but only 40% of the Mexican-Americans and 30% of the Puerto Ricans thought that it was a good idea. A follow-up question about whether the United States should break diplomatic relations with Managua drew a roughly similar response.

Clearly the Latinos who most favor President Reagan's consistently hostile stance toward Nicaragua are Cuban-Americans. And their support is found not just in the voting booth. The intellectual ammunition that Administration spokesmen use to rationalize their Central American policies is generated at fiercely anti-communist think tanks like the Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami.

This brings to mind a question that hardly anyone is asking, although it's a logical extension of the contra policy: What should be done with Reagan's surrogate army if--or, rather, when--it loses?

Administration propagandists like Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, claim that the contras are now stronger than ever, both militarily and as a viable alternative to the Sandinistas.

If that were true, the contra leadership would not be tearing itself apart in political infighting. The United Nicaraguan Opposition, the group that U.S. officials created to give the contras a more democratic veneer, has all but fallen apart in the power struggle between hard-liners and moderates.

If the contras were winning, Nicaragua's neighbors would not be preparing for talks with the Sandinistas, as they are under a peace plan proposed by Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias Sanchez.

Most important, if the contras were winning, they wouldn't have to go begging for aid from a reluctant Congress or shady middlemen. Their part in the Iran arms scandal, whatever it turns out to be, has made it highly unlikely that they will get more than the final $40-million installment in U.S. aid this year.

So the contras are losing, or at least nowhere close to winning, which makes Reagan's dirty little war in Central America look more and more like a slow-motion Bay of Pigs. He and other ardent contra supporters may not be willing to accept that harsh reality yet, but the leaders of Miami's Cuban-American community should be, because it is their town that is likely to be the most affected if and when the contra war collapses.

After all, if Reagan really believes in his "freedom fighters," he should be willing to give them the same kind of welcome that President John F. Kennedy gave the Cuban veterans of the Bay of Pigs. And if Cuban-Americans are as supportive of the contras as various surveys indicate, they should be happy to make room for them just as Miami made room for those who fled the Castro regime.

The $40 million in aid that the Senate released for the contras last week could have been put to better use. Instead of prolonging the rebel war for a few more months, why not use U.S. aid to shut down the contras' base camps in Honduras and relocate all the "freedom fighters" who don't trust the Sandinistas' offer of amnesty? They would be most comfortable establishing new lives for themselves in the Miami area--where, after all, their leadership already has its base.

This proposal may cause unhappiness among the non-Latino residents of Florida who fear that their state is too heavily Latino already. But, to hear some Cuban-Americans talk, they control Miami anyway. If so, they're in the best position to help their Nicaraguan brothers.

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