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Beware the Myths Behind Central America

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UNITED STATES policy on Nicaragua has yet to take definitive shape. But a key element in the policy appears to be persuading the Soviet Union to pressure the ruling Sandinistas to undertake democratic reform. If so, the Bush administration may be unwittingly relying on a set of wishful myths regarding the nature of the changes affecting the communist world. The relaxation of superpower tensions, developments in Afghanistan and Angola, and the communist bloc's grudging acceptance of the bankruptcy of Marxist economics are reshaping the West's view of East-West relations.

It's now assumed that we are moving into a period of ``economic interdependence'' rendering traditional approaches to the conduct of foreign affairs obsolete. This presumes that the communist bloc's domestic and international behavior is now determined by economic imperatives. In other words, the reasons for the cold war are over. Moreover, it is believed that the same economic determinants pushing the Soviets to ``reform'' will move the Sandinistas to seek accommodation with the internal opposition.

Upon closer scrutiny, it becomes clear that a US policy based on such myths would add little to advance peace and democracy in the region.

Myth No. 1: Economic pragmatism has replaced Stalinist ideology as the driving force behind communist intentions.

True, socialist regimes have rediscovered the efficiency of the market and the creativity of private initiative. This should not be confused with power-sharing, however. Perestroika (restructuring) is intended to loosen the most stifling aspects of centralized economic control, as Soviet leaders have stressed time and again. This pragmatism (like Lenin's New Economic Policy of the 1920s) lies in strengthening socialism, not in fostering liberal democracy.

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