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Arias plan: local support is key

ONE aspect of the debate over Costa Rican President Oscar Arias S'anchez's peace plan for Central America which has received little attention is its strong inter-American and international base of support. The plan approved by the five Central American presidents early this month was not improvised at Guatemala. Rather, it was the product of months of travel and consultation by President Arias. Visits to Washington, where he talked with State Department officials and members of Congress, were followed by a tour of European and Latin American capitals as well as consultation with officials of the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and other international bodies. Additionally, in the week preceding the presidential summit in Guatemala a preparatory meeting of isthmian foreign ministers was convened in Honduras, which was joined by the foreign ministers or their senior deputies from the Contadora nations - Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela - who have been working on peace initiatives for the area for several years. This latter group also carried the representation of the other major Latin American democracies - Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Peru - who make up the Contadora support group.

Thus, for Latin America the Arias plan carries the imprimatur of not only the five countries directly involved but also has the support of the major nations of the hemisphere and of the international community.

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If the security of the hemisphere is the concern of the Reagan administration, it would seem reasonable that attention should be paid to the views and concerns of the nations with whom we share this part of the world. This is particularly so in view of the present state of disarray of our inter-American relations in the aftermath of what is seen throughout Latin America as United States arrogance and disdain for Latin points of view on such matters as the Falklands/Malvinas crisis, the Grenada invasion, the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, and the subsequent World Court decision condemning this.

To many observers the national security of the US would be enhanced much more by this sort of hemispheric cooperation than by the installation of another right-wing, anticommunist military government such as a contra victory would bring to Nicaragua.

The Arias proposal is far from perfect. Its flaws, however, are outweighed by one salient fact. It is a Central American plan, the product of the desires and aspirations of the nations of the area, whose people are suffering the ravage of a savage and bloody war. That it is not as strongly pro-democratic and anti-Soviet as its early drafts is probably due to the last-minute appearance of the hastily improvised and heavy-handed, if possibly well-intentioned, ``Reagan-Wright'' plan. To ensure the integrity of their own proposal and to refute accusations of bowing to US pressures, the presidents of Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala undoubtedly had to make unplanned concessions to President Daniel Ortega Saavedra of Nicaragua. The specter of US intervention is still a powerful negative force on any inter-American agenda; appearing to give in to US pressure would have hurt the presidents politically.

The democracies supporting the Arias plan undoubtedly have reservations about the Marxist-Leninist character of Sandinista rule in Managua. But they obviously also feel that this plan promises positive movement toward democratization in the isthmus. The plan offers the US an opportunity to work in concert with other democracies of the hemisphere to bring peace to Central America. It offers the opportunity to help revive the badly damaged inter-American system. Support of this initiative could also accelerate the long and difficult process of reestablishing the reputation of the US in Latin America as a nation dedicated to the rule of law in the international field. Let's not miss this opportunity.

Hewson A. Ryan, Murrow professor at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, has served as principal deputy assistant secretary for Inter-American affairs and ambassador to Honduras.

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