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Trouble ahead for contra aid

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FOR a growing list of sound reasons, the Reagan administration's plan to pump continuing aid to Nicaragua's contras is in big trouble. Congress is unlikely to give the White House any more green lights on funding. The result could be positive: a welcome revival of interest in a negotiated end to the conflict. Why Congress's growing caution?

Much of it relates to the swirl of still unanswered questions rising from the Iran arms sale affair, in which profits were apparently diverted to the contras. The precise role of the executive branch in everything from the secret flights that supplied weapons to the contras to the soliciting of funds from other nations and private sources has yet to be spelled out. Questions of legality, propriety, and defiance of the intent of Congress, which had banned military aid and barred CIA involvement in contra matters for much of the last two years, must be addressed.

The contra forces continue to be dogged by charges of corruption, disunity, and human rights abuse. Based largely in southern Honduras, the rebels have so far demonstrated little ability to garner any popular support within Nicaragua. Much of the $27 million in United States humanitarian aid given the contras in 1985 is still unaccounted for, and contra chiefs insist they know nothing about the vast sums presumably diverted to them from Iran arms sales.

Nicaragua's neighbors are increasingly eager to keep contra bases and operations off their soil. Costa Rica has shut down all contra operations. Honduras says it wants the contras out by April.

Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans have long wanted to end the flow of US aid to Nicaragua's resistance fighters. Their caution stems from no particular idealism about Managua. The Sandinistas' repressive moves against the press, religious figures, and political parties, as well as its broken promises for democracy, have been well publicized. Rather, many Americans have real qualms about the wisdom and legality of trying to force another nation's government to change in what has essentially become a proxy war. There is no appetite for involvement in another Vietnam. The capture in Nicaragua of such Americans as Eugene Hasenfus, pardoned last week, and Sam Hall, soon to be tried, only underscores the danger of such involvement despite the best efforts of Congress to keep US personnel far from Nicaraguan borders.


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