Page 23


The Past is Always With Us BY RICHARD RYAN Washington, D.C. IMAGINE HOW you’d feel if the raven of arbitrary temporal divisions came to you in the early hours of the year and, perched upon your mantel, croaked, “The ’90s are the ’80s . The ’80s are the ’90s. WRAAK!” The blackbird has become my constant companion, reminding me of things I’d rather not know. Our public life has faded into a stale continuum; the predictable cycles of technology and the rhythms of the media have reduced history to a monotonous, post-industrial consistency. Quoth the raven, “Evermore.” 1992 is 1984, almost by definition. Once again we’ll have an outrageously dumb president with a lo-calorie grin and a complete detachment from policy, running on a platform of imagery. Once again mainstream economists will be predicting a major financial contraction and once again massive military spending and huge amounts of foreign borrowing will keep the illusory economic expansion going. Once again Jesse Jackson will be running. Once again he’ll get fewer votes than Gary Hart or Ted Kennedy in their respective presidential bids, and once again his supporters will demand despite the Reverend’s mediocre showing and dereliction of substantive accomplishments that Jesse be given “what he wants.” Once again I will think good thoughts about some drab liberal once again will betray me by running an utterly vapid, centrist campaign. For the 17th year in a row the only radio worth listening to will be local college stations, despite the fact that they devote huge sections of their broadcast day to zoning commission meetings and Chilean flute music. If that’s not enough to make your skin feel like a colony of lizards, just reread a newspaper. Any old newspaper; one from seven or eight years ago will do just fine. The Central American news is especially durable. An unsteady leftist government reigns in Nicaragua, complaining about U.S. “nonmilitary aid” to its otherwise insignificant opposition; a massive rebel offensive is underway in El Salvador; corrupt, U.S.-backed military regimes grind on in Guatemala and Honduras while the Richard Ryan writes about politics from .Washington, D. C. Democrats in Congress wring their hands and let the Administration define the terms of the policy debate. How can the situation in one of the world’s most volatile regions remain so static? Easily enough, if the United States, still the wicked landlord of the continent, refuses to alter its alignments. On February 13 and 14 the five Central American presidents convened in Tesoro Beach, a Pacific coast resort in El Salvador. On the table were the continued hostilities along the Nicaraguan/Honduran border. In previous agreements the presidents had hammered out broad principles respecting each other’s mutual sovereignty and pledging noninterference in one another’s politics. What made the Tesoro Beach accords potentially revolutionary were the specifics on which the parties resolved. The Sandinistas agreed to permit “unrestricted” political activity by the opposition from late April to late August of this year. In the fall a political campaign will get under way, culminating in presidential and legislative elections on Feburary 25, 1990. In exchange for these guarantees from their southern neighbors, Hondurans agreed to direct the contra army based in their country to lay down its weapons and return to Nicaragua. This sensible approach, the latest in a series of regional diplomatic breakthroughs that began with the so-called Arias accords of 1987, has been quickly undermined by the “bi-partisan” agreement struck between Secretary of State James Baker and the Democrats in Congress last month. The Baker plan, which will provide $4.5 million a month to the contras, through the Nicaraguan elections, essentially pays the Honduran-based terrorist opposition to continue its border piracy. \(A cease-fire between the contras and the Sandinistas has been in effect for several months, though at which Central American leaders agree the contras should be demobilized and repatriated, the United States continues to prolong the agonies of Nicaragua. While investigating the genealogy of the Baker plan, I met with an aide to the House leadership who retraced for me the events leading up to the State Department’s new sado-gringo exercise. He told me that in the early stage of the Congressional negotiation the House delegates stood firmly against renewed contra aid of any sort. The White House only prevailed after Senate Democrats including Connecticut liberal Chris Dodd \(an invertebrate who also voted for Baker’s side on the issue of nonmilitary support. The House leaders involved with the negotiations had to go back to the Democratic caucus and squelch liberal opposition to the scheme. The plan is being called bi-partisan because it allegedly represents Baker’s pragmatic desire to see some sort of negotiated settlement to the Nicaraguan conflict. In fact, since the chance of getting military aid for the Nicaragua opposition was shaving the hair off nil, the Administration has skillfully kept alive its “contra option” despite the patent failure of the contras themselves. Baker managed to work language into the agreement which presses for a renewal of military aid in the event that the February elections are held to be “fraudulent.” \(What fraudulent means here and who has the privilege of defining it are issues that have not been worked out, though you can bet the Administration will be looking for some excuse to start the arms warriors and interventionists have found a vehicle for pursuing policies that should have been shot down with Eugene Hasenfus. Nevertheless, House liberals still have an opportunity to yank the Administration’s chain on this one. The authorization for the contra funding will be working its way through the relevant committees over the next several weeks, and while it’s almost sure to clear them, righteous members can still put some significant conditions on the delivery of the aid. By establishing a threshold of acceptable conduct for the contras no cross-border raids, no attempts to disrupt the Nicaragua elections legislators who know a band of mercenary cutthroats when they smell them can put a leash on the Administration’s dobermen. Jim Matlack of the American Friends Service Committee in Washington has been monitoring the contra aid pipeline for a number of years. He recently obtained a copy of an internal report by the Agency for International Development, which now handles the disbursement of funds to the contras. In addition to distributing prepaid supplies at the contra refugee camps in Honduras, in the past AID has also given “cash-for-food” to the thousand or so 4 APRIL 28, 1989