A plan askew

A controversial peace plan for Central America is quietly being debated in capitals there and around the world. It is proposed by the Contadora group, which consists of Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, and Panama. A secondary but related issue is the Nicaraguan elections next month.

The basic question in the Contadora peace initiative remains what it has been from the start: Will a truly effective agreement be developed and signed by all Central American nations, which will bring peace to the area?

A draft proposal by the Contadoras now is under consideration, but it is flawed. It should be redrawn. The current draft would effectively end the US-backed revolt against Nicaragua by preventing the rebels from having sanctuary in nearby Honduras. But its provisions intended to promote more freedom, including free and open elections, in Nicaragua, are sufficiently vague that they might have no practical effect.

Not surprisingly, the United States is seeking to have the proposal rejected by Central American nations, and the likelihood is that Washington has enough clout to succeed. In addition, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica already are concerned that the proposal doesn't reassure them: They seek a treaty that will prevent Nicaragua from sponsoring or supporting any future rebellions against their governments.

Nicaragua's stated willingness to accept the draft treaty has put the US in a difficult position, on the surface making Washington appear to be blocking peace in Central America. Thus in the short run it likely will be Nicaragua that scores public-relations points if, as expected, other Central American nations turn down the treaty. Such a rejection presumably would lead to a re-draft of the proposal, which could give the Nicaraguans an excuse to reject the future plan on grounds that it represented a knuckling-under to US pressure.

However, in the longer run it may be Nicaragua which faces the more difficult problem: It is under intense pressure from several nations that support it, and some that do not, to reach accommodation with chief opposition leader Arturo Cruz in the coming election, set for Nov. 4. Cruz now refuses to participate in the election, holding that as now constituted it is not fair and open.

Both friends and foes of Nicaragua view the Cruz participation as a litmus test of the essential fairness of the election. If he winds up running for the presidency, many will conclude the election was essentially fair; if he does not , they will conclude it was not. At this moment it appears unlikely that the Nicaraguan government will reverse itself and give into the Cruz demands, one of which is for a delay in the election.

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