CONGRESS is having trouble responding to the Reagan administration's several proposals of aid for Central America. The reasons range from genuine disagreement over US goals and tactics, to election-year politics. But two of the reasons recently have been in the forefront:
- Skepticism over the real purpose of bases the United States is building or enlarging in Honduras.
- Doubt about the sudden urgency of approving aid to El Salvador, and to the Contra rebels who are attacking Nicaragua from positions in Honduras.
Three proposals are at issue: $8.7 million for military base construction in Honduras, $93 million in emergency aid for El Salvador, and $21 million in emergency assistance for the Contras.
In all three instances some of the greatest skepticism has come from Republicans who would normally be expected to support the administration's positions in Central America. Some simply do not believe they are getting the full story from the administration - and, until they do, they will be unlikely to support the administration requests.
Obviously the administration's first need is to explain precisely its goals and needs to its own supporters on Capitol Hill.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has already once turned down the Contra aid proposal, and postponed until this week the Salvadorean aid plan. Meanwhile, the Honduran base construction bill is stuck in a House subcommittee.
In the future the administration would make more progress in these areas if it provided members of Congress with more evidence of planning, not only for the long run (as in the Kissinger Commission report), but also for the requirements of the next months.
Several members of Congress are increasingly concerned about the implications of the planning, construction, or expansion of bases in Honduras, especially in view of the long-running US military exercises that have been conducted in that nation. They say the administration has been telling them neither the real purposes of the bases nor the details of base construction.
It is appropriate for Congress to insist on specific information about the bases and their use: Acting as a watchdog is one of Congress's roles. At this point it appears the bases serve three functions: to reassure US allies, to try to gain concessions from the Nicaraguan government through threat of force (there is some evidence this may be working), and to keep US options in the area open. One important question is whether these now-rudimentary bases would be necessary should the US ever decide it needed to intervene directly in Central American affairs - or whether other, nearby bases, as in Panama, would be adequate.
Congress should also check whether efforts are under way to strengthen the Honduran civilian government, as well as the military (with which the US military exercises have been held). This is necessary so that the military does not become strengthened to the point that it can dominate that nation.
Further, Congress should make certain that the US is using creative diplomacy , as well as military efforts, to help solve the many and varied problems with Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras.