U.S. Help for the Contras

I read with interest two Op-Ed pieces on further assistance to the Nicaraguan armed resistance (Contras) on Jan. 20. The authors, Susan Kaufman Purcell and Jorge G. Castaneda, could not have expressed more divergent views on the important question of continuing our commitment to the Nicaraguan democratic resistance.

While I subscribe to Purcell's analysis of the dangers inherent in abandoning the Contras at this time, I found this stinging debate over the merits of U.S. policy toward Central America to be a refreshing exercise in democracy. Unfortunately, the same could only take place on the pages of one small newspaper in Nicaragua.

In light of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's latest pledge to fulfill his commitments to democratic reforms contained in the Guatemala peace accords, the Administration is going to face a tough fight to get Congress to approve a long-term aid package for the Contras. Despite the haste of liberals in the House and Senate to applaud the Nicaraguan dictator's concessions, I would like to note one important fact: Most of these latest commitments are identical to ones which Ortega first made almost nine years ago. With votes on Contra aid expected in the Congress on Feb. 3 and 4, Ortega saw an opportunity to derail U.S. support for the Nicaraguan resistance and, thereby, to negotiate with the resistance from a position of strength.

Another alarming point that I would like to make is that a U.S. cutoff of aid to the Nicaraguan resistance will not be matched with a simultaneous move by the Soviet Union and Cuba to end military assistance to the Sandinistas. Maj. Roger Miranda Bengoechea, the former top aid to Nicaraguan Defense Minister Humberto Ortega who defected to the U.S. last October, stated that the Soviet Union promised to send large quantities of new weapons to Nicaragua, including MiG-21 high-performance fighter aircraft, despite the new regional peace accord.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has stated, "Without democracy there can be no peace in Central America." The direct negotiations now agreed upon by Daniel Ortega are an important first step to attaining a political settlement which will guarantee the rights of all Nicaraguans. However, only by renewing aid to the Contras can we expect the Sandinistas to negotiate seriously on a timetable for implementing true democratic reforms in Nicaragua.


R-La Verne

Washington, D.C.

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