How to help Nicaragua?

John Hughes's column ``Nicaragua's travail,'' Oct. 28, on the hurricane disaster in Nicaragua could not have been more slanted if it had been written by the CIA or its lackeys, the contras. While Mr. Hughes accepts the opposition's criticism of the government's handling of the relief effort, he ignores the need for emergency powers during a natural disaster, especially since the hardest-hit area is one in which the contras are active.

Instead of accepting these unfounded charges, Mr. Hughes should be reminding readers that it was the United States-backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza, who pocketed the 1972 earthquake relief funds. His description of shortages could apply to any poor country, especially when there is a trade embargo against it.

Rather than calling for assistance, Mr. Hughes cites the government of Nicaragua for failure to comply with the peace plan. When he describes the government as an ``unrepresentative ruling regime,'' he conveniently forgets that it was elected by 63 percent of the voters in 1984 and includes members of opposition parties from the left to the right. D. Anthony White, Santa Rosa, Calif.

This column about the ``economic anguish'' in Nicaragua fails to mention the contributing factors of the US-sponsored economic embargo against Nicaragua and the lack of economic assistance generally offered to ``developing third-world nations.'' Mr. Hughes fails to mention that the former dictator and friend of the US government, Anastasio Somoza, destroyed as much as he could of Nicaraguan industry and took a great deal of the country's wealth with him when he fled in 1979.

Mr. Hughes castigates the Sandinistas' use of the hurricane to advance its political purposes. The lack of US response to this disaster in Nicaragua bears close scrutiny. If the US doesn't trust the Sandinistas to use the relief funds properly, money can be filtered through internationally recognized neutral relief organizations - such as the International Red Cross or Oxfam International - rather than through ``private groups'' with questionable political ties.

Does the US respond to the needs of suffering people only on the basis of their political beliefs, the very thing it condemns other governments for doing? Toby Mailman, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mr. Hughes seems almost delighted with Nicaragua's plight. He mentions that many countries are sending aid, ``including some that despise the Sandinista regime but are tugged by concern for the Nicaraguan people.''

Apparently the government of the United States is not concerned for the people of Nicaragua, for there has been no lifting of embargoes to allow ``humanitarian aid'' from the US to go into the country. What hypocrisy! Donald C. Scott, Plains, Mont.

Regarding the book review ``US-Contra policy: litany of errors,'' Oct. 31, reviewing Roy Gutman's ``Banana Diplomacy: The Making of American Policy in Nicaragua 1981-1987'': It is certainly true that the contra war has crippled the Nicaraguan economy, significantly undermining the Sandinistas' base of support. But how can we believe that military force is the way to prevent communism from spreading through Central America when this strategy has failed so often in the past? The only truly productive solution is one seldom articulated: Actively encouraging economic development in Nicaragua in order to show the Nicaraguan people - through concrete actions rather than land mines and political rhetoric - that capitalism can improve their quality of life. Alex Raksin, Los Angeles

Search for $170 billion The editorial ``Willful negligence at Fernald,'' Oct. 28, states that the ``cost of cleaning up, modernizing, and running all of department's weapons production plants would exceed $170 billion.'' This fact poses serious questions.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union have large budget deficits. Both countries need to reinvest in domestic priorities, and both Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush have stated that their goal is a nuclear-free world.

The Soviet Union halted nuclear testing for 18 months and challenged the US to do likewise. The US failed to seize this opportunity to reduce nuclear weapons. With its nuclear weapons production plants now shut down, the US has a golden opportunity to challenge the Russians to do likewise.

If this doesn't happen, it will be interesting to see how President Bush can find $170 billion without a big tax increase or without sacrificing every federal program on the altar of military waste. Samuel Stokes, Alstead, N.H.

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