Washington dispute: how to deal with Nicaragua
IS there really a new consensus in Washington with respect to Central America and what to do about it? Spokesmen for the Reagan administration insist that there is, and as proof point to what they see as growing agreement on Capitol Hill that the Sandinistas are taking Nicaragua toward Marxism-Leninism, that Nicaragua should not become a Soviet base, and that any assistance the Sandinistas may be giving to the Salvadorean guerrillas ought to be stopped. In fact, there is broad agreement on those points, but the agreement isn't new. The debate has never been over whether or not the Sandinistas were Marxists or even if they were nice fellows or not. The overwhelming majority of those who strongly disagree with the administration's policy have all along recognized that Managua has a closer relationship with Moscow and Havana than the United States can be comfortable with, that the Sandinistas have been guilty of human rights violations, and that they are not democrats. In short, they represent a problem with which the US must deal. Up to that point, there is broad agreement -- and always has been. The disagreement comes over how best to deal with the problem.Skip to next paragraph
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The administration insists that we must keep the pressure on the Sandinistas by helping the ``contras,'' but it cannot point to a single way in which helping them has improved the situation. It concedes that there are more Soviet and Cuban military personnel in Nicaragua now than before the contra operation began, and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams has recently charged that those personnel are participating in combat. On that score the contra war has resulted in the opposite of what we would have wanted: in a greater Soviet-Cuban problem rather than in a reduced one. It has also resulted in a larger Nicaraguan Army, not a smaller one.
Given the paucity of evidence presented by the administration, it is difficult to judge independently whether the alleged arms flow from Nicaragua to El Salvador has increased, or even continues. The administration insists that it continues unabated. If so, clearly contra pressure has been ineffective on that score as well.
Certainly there has been no progress in terms of opening up the internal process, nor should we have expected any. A long-accepted rule of international politics is that you do not bring about internal liberalization by mounting an external military threat. The result is almost always the exact opposite, and so has it been in the Nicaraguan case. The Sandinistas are less open to internal dialogue now than a year ago, and much less open than two years ago. They have recently imposed a state of siege and cracked down more vigorously on opposition newspapers and radio stations, something the administration has, as it should have, roundly condemned. The implications are clear: In terms of pluralism and internal liberalization, contra pressures have helped not a whit. If anything, they have made things worse.