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The `democratization' trap. White House rhetoric and contra aid

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NICARAGUAN compliance with the major terms of the Arias peace plan should finally persuade wavering Democrats to throw their full support behind the United States obligation under the plan to cut contra aid. But many Democrats are still needlessly caught in the administration's skillfully built rhetorical trap designed to make aid critics take the fall for ``losing'' Nicaragua. Breaking out of the trap demands more than simply voting no: They must take the offensive against the administration's distorted rhetoric and dangerous principles. The administration has fashioned its trap by co-opting and twisting the Democrats' own advocacy of human rights and democracy in Central America.

First it defined democratization as the central issue, marginalizing other legitimate, and perhaps prior, concerns with security, peace, and development.

Then it distorted the language of democracy by calling the contras the ``democratic resistance,'' despite evidence of their brutal terror tactics, corruption, and authoritarian tendencies. Then it exaggerated the admittedly serious problems in Nicaragua (press censorship, people's courts) at the same time it played down the far more brutal actions (torture, disappearances, death squad killings) officially sanctioned in the military-dominated ``democratic regimes'' in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Finally, it baited the trap with the notion of guarantees: Will the Arias plan guarantee democracy in Nicaragua - or in more rhetorical terms, can Daniel Ortega Saavedra be trusted?

The Arias plan, of course, can offer no such guarantee - especially if the litmus test is the abdication of power by the Sandinistas. Nicaragua is undergoing a social revolution. The major reforms threaten historic privilege and property rights. There will continue to be reluctance to give opposition groups the power to block such reforms. No matter how much more humane and pluralistic the Nicaraguan government is relative to its three northern neighbors or compared with other leftist revolutionary regimes, the Sandinistas will always fail the administration's test.

When the Arias plan fails to guarantee ``democratization,'' the trap promises to spring shut, threatening Democrats who cut aid with the responsibility for having ``lost'' Nicaragua.

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