President Bush has acted with reassuring promptness to lift the embargo on trade with Nicaragua and to establish a new Fund for Democracy for Central America. His commitment to democracy is obvious even if the adequacy of the fund is not.
In his comments to the press on Tuesday, Bush placed the emphasis on assistance for Nicaragua, where results of a free election promise new economic and social freedom, and for Panama, struggling to create an open democracy after the overthrow of the Noriega regime by American troops. There is a third urgent priority that he did not mention: Facilitating peace talks between the government of El Salvador and the rival Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which is now encouraging negotiations.
Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, has allayed fears that he and his Sandinista forces might somehow defy the outcome of the free election. He assured Vice President Dan Quayle that he would hand over power on April 25 to Violeta Chamorro, leader of the opposition coalition that won the election.
Bush has proposed $500 million in assistance to Nicaragua this year and next, including $45 million to assist with relocation and resettlement of the Contra forces that had been funded by the United States. To this he added $500 million for Panama, where the pervasive poverty was compounded by the devastation of the U.S. invasion. Given the dimensions of the problems, that is not all that much money. For Nicaragua this year, it would be equivalent to what has been promised to El Salvador, though for Panama, it presumably would double the $530 million already earmarked for this year.
The adequacy of the funds is but one question that Congress will need to examine. In looking at Central America, Congress needs to examine the $121 million committed to Guatemala at a time when death squads continue to prey on political critics. Congress also needs to look at the $210 million committed to Honduras, where the American preoccupation has been with creating military bases rather than addressing the terrible impoverishment of the people. And Congress needs to make sure that continued aid to El Salvador--now almost $1 million a day--in no way retards peace talks with the FMLN.