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The Case Against Aid

February 02, 1988

A desperate Ronald Reagan is still at the drawing board a day before the critical vote in Congress on aid to the Contras fighting in Nicaragua. He is revising and remodeling his package with fresh blandishments for a reluctant House of Representatives, apparently ready to do almost anything to get a majority on his side. Almost anything, that is, except the right thing.

The point that the President misses is that any military aid at this point in the troubled history of Central America will serve only to handicap the peace process that the Central American presidents put together Aug. 7 and which already has brought more progress toward peace than seven years of shooting by the U.S.-armed Contras.

There is only one appropriate thing for the United States to do at this moment, and that is to heed the advice of President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica, the man who was the inspiration behind the peace agreement. He has asked for no more aid to the Contras. And he has been supported in this by the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

They are not soft on communism. They are not naive. They are not tools of a foreign conspiracy to build bases for Moscow. No. They are realists. They have seen the fruitless toll of guerrilla warfare in three of the five Central American nations. And they have seen the futility of spreading warfare. They have learned that a negotiated settlement, implementing the Aug. 7 peace accord, holds the most promise to consolidate the gains for democracy that already have been made.

A majority in Congress recognizes that there will be obligations to provide food and clothing and shelter for the Contras during the transition that lies ahead. President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua himself has recognized that and made what appears to us a reasonable proposal for assistance to flow through international agencies as the cease-fire takes hold.

But President Reagan has always trusted guns more than diplomacy for settling Central America's problems. "Peace and freedom come through strength," he said again Monday, reaffirming his conviction that the Contras are "freedom fighters." The Central Americans would say it differently. Peace and freedom come through negotiations, not at gunpoint.

Congress, by killing Contra aid, can give the Central Americans time to test the peace agreement they have constructed. On that, virtually every Latin leader agrees. They are right.

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