Threat to Peace

President Reagan's new package of aid for the Contras' war against the government of Nicaragua places at risk the Central American peace plan, which already has accomplished more in six months than bullets did in seven years. We urge Congress to reject the package.

The new aid proposal is being promoted as both modest and mild. It is neither. The $36.25-million total for four months is less than the shocking $270 million for 18 months that was talked about before the President came to appreciate how heavy the congressional resistance was. But it would still be the second-largest assistance appropriation in the seven years that Reagan has been backing the Contras. And the $3.6 million in ammunition and Redeye ground-to-air missiles would be no more benign just because the President proposes keeping it in escrow till the end of March. That is nothing more than a device to assure the continued flow of bullets while appearing to be supportive of cease-fire negotiations.

The fundamental flaw of Reagan's proposal is that it ignores the wishes of the five presidents of Central America and the peace proposals that they have devised, and imposes the President's own concepts, with customary arrogance. The worst of those is his commitment to a military solution in deliberate defiance of the basic provisions of the Aug. 7 peace agreement. Reagan argues that the Contra guerrilla war has won what progress there has been, but that is not supported by evidence from the region. There it is clear that it is the peace plan itself that has brought the change.

Reagan has said that he will personally consult with the presidents of Central America before sending more arms. There is a cynical ring to that. If he consulted right now, he would hear their opposition to exactly what he is doing. Furthermore, he is committed to handing over the new arms unless he can certify that Nicaragua has taken "irreversible steps to democracy"--a condition that no Central American nation except Costa Rica can meet.

To talk now of continuing external support of guerrilla forces in the region is to prolong the agony of war and to postpone the reality that ultimately there is no alternative to negotiations. The Central Americans understood that when they contrived the peace plan.

They know the risks. The Marxist ideologues among the Sandinistas may be able to use the process to consolidate their control over Nicaragua. The extreme right in El Salvador may be able to frustrate the negotiations between President Jose Napoleon Duarte and the leftist guerrillas, throttling the country's fragile democracy in the process. And the military in Guatemala may succeed in blocking the kinds of reforms that could help pacify the insurgency there. But the greater risk is to destroy with arms shipments the diplomatic process that already has produced a surprising degree of constructive change, particularly in Nicaragua. The concessions of the Sandinistas have been grudging, slow in coming, perhaps intended only as negotiating maneuvers. But each new concession reinforces the reform process. It will not be easy for the Sandinistas to reverse course, to take back the freedoms that they have been restoring day by day, unless they are given the excuse of a prolongation of the Contras' war.

The confidence of Oscar Arias Sanchez, the president of Costa Rica and the principal architect of the regional peace plan, must not be ignored. His is the historic and authentic democracy of the region. His is the commitment to eschew military solutions and to negotiate the restoration of democratic freedoms. His appeal, as he received the Nobel Peace Prize in December, is equally valid today: "Let Central Americans decide the future of Central America." Arias reaffirmed his opposition to further U.S. arms on Wednesday.

On the eve of the Central American summit meeting a fortnight ago there was a crucial report from the peace verification commission made up of the foreign ministers of the region and officials of the Organization of American States and the United Nations. The report concluded that many things needed to be done by many nations. As to the United States, it affirmed that a "definitive halt" of U.S. military aid is "an indispensable requirement" if the peace plan is to succeed. So it is.

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