Ever since U.S. military aid to the Contras was cut off in 1987, Republicans and Democrats have been generally divided on the issue of resuming such support. But a rare bipartisan plan for further Contra aid is emerging in Congress. A vote on the measure could come as soon as Monday.
The bill would not give military supplies at this time, but would provide humanitarian aid. The difference with previous plans is that it spells out the release of $16.3 million in military aid - if Congress agrees - without having to wait for budget appropriations.Congress would still have to vote on the military aid issue, a needless delay. It would make more sense to provide the aid now since the peace negotiations in Nicaragua have broken down. But it at least opens the door to the resumption of military support.
That there would be bipartisan support in Congress for a measure that includes even the possibility of military support is a dramatic turnaround from just a few months ago when the issue of weapons for the Contras appeared to be dead.
The Sandinistas have themselves to blame. First, the heralded peace talks collapsed, something for which both the Contras and Sandinistas have been blamed. Then the Marxist government backed away from democratic reforms, arresting political opponents, closing radios and newspapers, and generally acting the part of a totalitarian state.
Even Oscar Arias Sanchez, the president of Costa Rica and a critic of the Contras, is disillusioned by the Sandinistas.
Arias, author of the so-called Arias peace plan that had brought the Contras and Sandinistas to the negotiating table, said this week that the Sandinistas are "bad guys" who have "unmasked themselves" as anti-democratic. He said they deserved to be punished for breaking the Central American peace agreement and failing to adopt democratic reforms required under the peace plan.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega continues to breathe fire, declaring that if Congress gives military aid to the Contras he will launch an all-out war of extermination against the rebels. In addition, he threatened a further clamp down on domestic political opponents.
In the meantime, Secretary of State George Shultz, on a state visit to Brazil, said the construction of major airfields in Nicaragua by the Soviet Union poses a potential military threat to the U.S.
Unfortunately, Congress may stop short of giving military aid, while pointing to the aid package as a sign of being willing to provide such help if required. This would amount to having it both ways.
While that might be politically pleasing to some in Congress, it would leave the Contras without any bargaining leverage with the Sandinistas and Ortega could continue to be as totalitarian as he likes.