The agreement by five Central American nations to disarm the Nicaraguan guerillas caught the United States napping and may bury forever its failed policy of bankrolling the Contras.
But American supporters of the rebels may be right in already scoffing publicly at Nicaragua's promise of open elections in return for dismantling Contra bases in Honduras.But American supporters of the rebels may be right in already scoffing publicly at Nicaragua's promise of open elections in return for dismantling Contra bases in Honduras.
The agreement also calls for an estimated 11,000 rebels--many of them with families--to be repatriated to Nicaragua or resettled in third countries.
The United States assured Honduras last year that it "accepts responsibility" for rebels living in camps there.
So the ultimate destination for many of them almost certainly will be Miami, a city already afflicted with an unwanted influx of Nicaraguans.
If they come, acknowledged Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, "A lot of people would scream bloody murder, sure."
While the rest of the Bush administration was trying to decide whether to go along with the pact, resist it or seek changes in it, Vice President Dan Quayle sounded off.
On free elections in Nacaragua, "We need to see actions rather than words," said the man some see as the administration's point man on Latin American affairs.
Quayle said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had failed to keep promises to hold elections.
On a radio call-in-show hosted by conservative commentator Cal Thomas, Quayle was asked if the pact signed by the presidents of Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador would destroy the Contras.
"I wouldn't describe it as a death warrant," Quayle said.
He said the administration does not now plan to renew military aid to the Contras, adding that it "is going to go along with the diplomatic route for a while" until it sees whether Ortega delivers on promises of democratic reforms.
Contra leaders sought to put the best face possible on the agreement--a setback for them that could end forever their eight-year struggle. Their cause already had been crippled by the U.S. military aid cutoff last year.
An American official in San Salvador spoke volumes about the U.S. policy vacuum in Washington when he complained to William Branigin of The Washington Post, "Events are moving very quickly in Central America, and nobody is telling us what to do."
Provisions in the agreement for the U.N. teams to patrol the region's borders would make it difficult for the United States rearm the Contras even if they are not disbanded.
Honduras-based rebels crossing the border to fight in Nicaragua would violate U.N. rules, as would the United States if at asked Congress to renew military aid for the Contras.
Ronald Reagan, the most promonent booster of the Contras he called freedom fighters, once hinted darkly that Harlingen, Texas, was threatened by Sandinista hordes.
Now the former president is back at the ranch and the undercherished Contras may have to leave the jungle and settle in Miami. Ollie North faces trial for his efforts to supply them secretly. Sandinista hordes have not breached the Rio Grande.
The Stars and Stripes still waves over Harlingen.