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No Confidence in Contras

September 12, 1986

President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica has made it unanimous. Not one of the four democratic nations that President Reagan is trying to "save" from Nicaragua wants to cooperate with the United States' surrogate invaders, the contras , in their campaign to overthrow the Sandinistas.

In an interview with the New York Times, Arias vowed to prevent the contras from operating in Costa Rican territory as anti-Sandinista rebels have done in the past. And, in particularly caustic and insightful remarks, Arias warned that the $100 million in aid that Reagan has asked Congress to give the contras for the coming year would be counterproductive.

"You can't overthrow the Sandinistas with $100 million, or even with two or four hundred million," Arias said. Then, referring to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, he added, "The more you give the contras, the more Ortega gets from the Soviets. The aid to the contras was supposed to oblige Ortega to change, to become more tolerant and flexible. But what has actually happened is just the opposite."

It is sad that such plain-spoken common sense about the crisis in Central America has not been heard either in the White House or on Capitol Hill lately. On the contrary, Reagan this week sent a leader to Congress urging it to give final approval to his $100-million contra aid request "as quickly as possible." Unless enough members of Congress have found new courage and wisdom, both of which were notably lacking when narrow majorities voted to approve the contra aid package recently, Congress is likely to go along with the President's demand. Clearly Reagan is committed,beyond logic and reason, to his current course--either making the Sandinistas "say uncle" or helping the contras "have their way and take over" if the Sandinistas refuse to budge. And just as clearly Congress does not have the will to stop him.

That is why political leaders like Arias, who are next-door neighbors and will have to live with Nicaragua long after Reagan is gone, are now distancing themselves from a military policy that they know is virtually doomed. Arias and other regional presidents, including El Salvador's Jose Napoleon Duarte and Guatemala's Vinicio Cerezo, have no illusions about the Sandinistas. But they also have no illusions about the contras. Reagan's surrogate army has no chance of overthrowing the government in Managua on its own, and a U.S. military intervention that could defeat the Sandinistas would create as many problems as it would solve.

That is why all of our friends and allies in Latin America have urged the United States to use diplomatic pressure, rather than military might, to contain the Sandinista revolution. Reagan has refused to cooperate, so Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama began their own peace effort through the Contadora Group. They have been unsuccessful so far, mainly because Nicaragua will not let down its guard as long as the United States continues to support the contras. But the Contadora process must be kept alive, however precariously. At least then it will be in place when the failure of the Administration's Nicaragua policy becomes as evident in Washington as it is in Central America, and when diplomatic channels are needed to talk peace.

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