Courtesy Reuters

The Choice in Central America

The controversy over Nicaragua took a dramatic turn in early August. It had seemed as the Iran-contra hearings ended that the issue of aid to the Nicaraguan resistance would be the dominant debate after Labor Day, as the White House and Congress confronted the September 30 deadline when aid for the rebels would lapse. The Administration, exploiting the temporary increase in popular support for the rebels after the testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, had planned to submit a request for $150 million over 18 months. A major showdown loomed.

Then, suddenly, the focus shifted to the diplomatic dimension with the surprise announcement by the White House on August 5 of a new American peace plan, drawn up by Speaker of the House James Wright (D-Tex.). Two days later, however, the five Central American presidents, meeting in Guatemala, in effect rejected the Wright proposal and signed a treaty of their own-a modified version of the initiative launched last February by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. The Reagan Administration gave the initiative its tentative support, but it was clear that many serious questions would have to be addressed and resolved by the Central American signatories as well as by Washington.

From the outset the United States has maintained that its aim is a peaceful settlement, in a regional context, that advances the prospects for democracy and protects the interests of the Nicaraguan rebels as well as the strategic interests of the United States. The leverage to achieve these aims has been U.S. support for the Nicaraguan resistance movement and the determination of the Administration to resist a settlement that left the Sandinistas with undiminished political power.

Washington faces a potentially long and difficult process to achieve these goals. Peace in Central America is by no means assured; it will depend on the resolution of a number of significant ambiguities in the revised Arias plan. It will also depend on the political temper in the United States, and, in the end, on whether there are any

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