Peace in Central America?

As 1987 began, the United States was reeling from the revelations of the Iran-contra affair. A series of investigations consumed most of the year and much of the time and attention of the public and government alike. Despite the scandal, during most of the year the Nicaraguan rebels, or contras, continued to receive a $100-million, congressionally approved aid package to escalate their war. The battle over whether to renew such aid promised to be the focal point of the region in 1987. Yet by August all five Central American countries had signed a regional peace plan in Guatemala City.

How did we get from investigations and guerrilla war to "give peace a chance" in just a few months? The surprise conclusion of the pact in Guatemala resulted from extensive maneuverings which took place out of the limelight of the Iran-contra investigations. The Iran-contra hearings starkly displayed how divided Congress and the Reagan Administration were over U.S. policy toward Nicaragua, and this division gave a crucial impetus to the diplomatic effort. But the hearings, while a prominent forum, did not resolve the debate over Nicaragua. They focused on finding out exactly what had been done in the name of the U.S. government by a few National Security Council officials, private citizens and some CIA personnel.

Public support for the contras surged briefly after the televised testimony of former NSC aide Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, but a month later substantially less than half of those surveyed favored continued aid. Public opinion seemed roughly unchanged by the endless testimony, but more Americans did come to know which side their government supported in Nicaragua.

At any rate, the scandal did not cause an immediate backlash against the contras. Congress did not take an opportunity to cut off funding to the rebels in March when it voted on the final installment of the $100 million, for heavy artillery. The Senate vote was close (48-52), but votes on contra aid had been close even before the Democrats won

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