Day by day, new information emerges to prove how cynically the Reagan Administration is lying when it claims it had nothing to do with a rebel supply plane shot down in Nicaragua.
Only the most naive can now have much doubt that the U.S. government was behind the Oct. 5 flight that carried arms destined for the contras fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government. Administration spokesmen continue to deny any U.S. government ties to the contra flight, and insist that the three Americans aboard were private citizens who wanted to help a struggle against communism. Yet in the last week new information has made those denials seem at best ludicrous and at worst contemptuous of the good sense of the American people. A brief sampling:
--Eugene Hasenfus, who was the only member of the plane's crew to parachute to safety before it crashed, told a news conference arranged by his Sandinista captors that he had flown aboard several flights in support of the contras. The flights were coordinated out of El Salvador and Honduras by two Cuban-Americans who work for the CIA, and Hasenfus said that as many as 25 American civilians worked in the endeavor.
--Times correspondents Doyle McManus and William R. Long reported that one of the CIA men Hasenfus referred to is Felix Rodriguez, a Miami resident who is a veteran of 25 years of clandestine operations for the agency. They determined that Rodriguez has been fighting the Sandinistas since at least 1981, using the \o7 nom de guerre \f7 Max Gomez. During this time he has had private meetings with such high-ranking U.S. officials as Vice President George Bush and Edwin Corr, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador.
--An investigation by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has concluded that a former congressional aide, Robert Owen, and a staff member of President Reagan's National Security Council, Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, played pivotal roles in setting up a network of private support for the contras after Congress cut off formal assistance to the Nicaraguan rebels in 1984, when it became known that CIA operatives, and not the contras, had mined Nicaragua's harbors.
Hasenfus will be put on public trial Monday, and the Sandinistas will milk that show for all the anti-U.S. propaganda it is worth.
Congress has now voted $100 million for the contras, but they will need more, and soon. They are expected to use most of their new money to try for quick, dramatic victories against the Sandinistas during Central America's dry winter season. Then the President will ask the new Congress for even more money early next year.
The Administration's tragic comedy in Central America is further evidence that Reagan has no intention of finding a peaceful way of out the bloody mess in Central America, despite the sound advice of the United States' friends in Latin America, who are trying to negotiate through the Contadora group, and despite the doubts of the vast majority of the American people, who want nothing to do with another dubious jungle war in the Third World.
So it will be up to Congress, when it returns, to demand a full accounting of the shadowy U.S. role in Nicaragua.
When it does, the embarrassing and troubling revelations of the last week may prove only the tip of a very dirty iceberg.
Perhaps then Congress will get up the courage to stop funding the contras, once and for all, and demand that the President use the power and influence of the United States not to increase the bloodshed in Central America, but to find a negotiated solution to the region's troubles.