Perspectives on Central America

Speaking to the Inter-American peace conference of 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt said, ''Democracy is still the hope of the world. If we in our generation can continue its successful application in the Americas, it will spread and supersede other methods by which men are governed and which seem to most of us to run counter to our ideals of human liberty and human progress.'' The dream of democracy throughout the Americas reached a historic milestone when the Bipartisan Commission on Central America, chaired by Dr. Henry Kissinger, published its findings.

The report makes clear that the security interests of our Central American neighbors and of the United States are a seamless web: a threat to one is a threat to all. The Sandinista slogan in Nicaragua - ''a revolution without borders'' - confirms this political fact of life.

The report repeats that there can be no trade-off between human rights and security, or democracy and peace. One of the crucial principles underlying the commission's work is that human rights and security must advance simultaneously.

The key to the report is the concept that the US must align itself with the indigenous, democratic revolution, with the struggle for human rights, economic freedom, and opportunity. This legitimate struggle has nothing in common with that other, false revolution based on Soviet/Cuban penetration of the hemisphere. These two revolutions are opposites - as opposite as freedom is from despotism. Commission members saw that supporting the popular revolution means opposing Soviet/Cuban aggression, which is an immediate threat to us and to the peoples of Central America.

The real centerpiece of the report is its bipartisan consensus on the need for private-sector-led economic growth in the region. It offers groundbreaking proposals furthering this goal: an economic summit conference to revive the Central American Common Market and liberalize international trade policies; a study of tax policies to strengthen work, saving, and investment incentives; a regional currency union to help stabilize exchange rates. The commission's rejection of IMF-type austerity policies, which trade tax increases, currency devaluations, and import restrictions in return for debt assistance, was unprecedented. So was its call to complete the land reforms by giving the campesinos full title to newly acquired lands, and justly compensating prior landowners. These are essential recommendations in a program designed to restore , and possibly surpass, the region's economic growth compared with the vigorous levels of the 1960s and '70s.

The complementary findings on security assistance are controversial. Yet the commission's support for a $400 million security assistance increase for El Salvador (compared with overall additional economic aid recommendations totaling anti-democratic rebels in violation of El Salvador's democratic processes, and its support for continuing pressures on the Marxist Sandinistas from the contras and elsewhere, are fully consistent with the commission's principle of supporting democratic reform. The report's language linking military assistance to human rights progress, in the light of that principle, cannot be interpreted to mean that the cause of human rights can be furthered by abandoning Central Americans to anti-democratic right- or left-wing forces. Security assistance is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for advancing human rights, peace, and freedom.

Although the commission set forth a comprehensive grand design, it is far from perfect, and I do have some reservations about certain aspects. Still, taken as a whole, the commission's work has resulted in a strategy to provide a basis for renewed hope for the Central American people. It marks another step forward in this nation's implementation of policies recognizing the rights of all the people of the Western Hemisphere. The report's recommendations realize that the people must be allowed to make their own decisions concerning their political and economic future. It is proposing the possibility of a genuine alliance for democratic prosperity as the solution to social injustice and external aggression - a proposal Democrats and Republicans can support.

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