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Rejecting Peace

December 23, 1987

President Reagan has extracted a high price in terms of aid for the Contras in Nicaragua to enable Congress to recess for Christmas. The price will be paid in new killings in the stalemated guerrilla war, and, if past is precedent, the principal victims will be civilians, the impoverished farms and mines that they tend, and the villages where they live.

With his stubborn threat of a veto, Reagan has now won $8.1 million in new assistance to maintain the war. Of that amount, less than half will be spent on so-called non-lethal aid--including food, clothing, medicine and shelter for the Contras waging war against the government of Nicaragua. The rest will go for a renewed transportation system, including new aircraft, to carry not only the non-lethal aid but also about 750 tons of arms and ammunition stockpiled under previous appropriations. In addition, the Defense Department will lend the CIA $3 million in electronic countermeasure equipment to try to protect the airlift from attack as the planes shuttle from Honduras to clandestine drops in Nicaragua, and the U.S. government will set up a $2.8-million insurance fund in case of airlift accidents.

This is being advertised as a benign compromise. By no measure is it benign. It is a compromise at least in the fact that it is less than the President wanted, and does not include the whole new supply of military aid and training that his national-security adviser had sought. But in the perpetuation of an arms airlift it is a blatant violation of the Aug. 7 Central American peace agreement and a direct, open, arrogant dismissal of the pleas of President Oscar Arias Sanchez, president of Costa Rica and chief architect of the peace plan.

The Democratic Party leadership in the House is taking some satisfaction from the deal in that it will force a direct showdown over the future of U.S. assistance to the Contras on Feb. 3 and 4 in Congress. There will be an opportunity then to end Contra aid. Better late than never.

In the meantime, however, the White House and the State Department are cheering for a military solution, heaping praise on the Contras for opening a new offensive on the eve both of a Christmas truce and of renewed negotiations for a cease-fire. Marlin Fitzwater, the White House spokesman, characterized a Contra attack on a remote mining center as "very encouraging"--words that betray utter insensitivity to the fact that civilians dominate the casualty lists.

Once again both the President and Congress are telling Central America that Uncle Sam knows best, and that peace can best be bought with U.S. bullets and the lives of Central Americans.

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