DOES ANYONE remember Nicaragua? Where U.S.-backe rebels that former President Reagan likened to our Founding Fathers were fighting communism? "Our side" won, but the average Nicaraguan is no better off, and U.S. indifference is partly to blame.
That is what prompted President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro to come to the U.S. [last] week on her first visit since being elected in 1990 -- to remind President Bush and Congress that her country is still desperate for U.S. aid. But does anyone remember Mrs. Chamorro? She's the widow of a martyred newspaper editor whose 1978 assassination set off a popular revolution that overthrew the long Somoza dictatorship. That revolution was, in turn, commandeered by leftist ideologues known as Sandinistas. Reagan, in turn, tried to overthrow them using right-wing rebels known as contras as his surrogate fighters.
The contra war was a dirty little episode that ended only after elections were held and Chamorro surprised everyone by defeating Sandinista President Daniel Ortega.
As far as most North Americans were concerned, that was the end of it. But as Chamorro repeatedly emphasized during her visit, things are still very bad in Nicaragua and will only get worse unless the United States is as generous as it can be. The Bush administration has requested $530 million in foreign aid to Nicaragua, but $300 million is still in the pipeline between Washington and Managua. At the very least, Bush should order the aid be speeded up.
But even after that tidy bundle gets to Managua, Chamorro's going to need more help. Because Nicaragua's economy, weak and underdeveloped to begin with, has to recover not just from 11 years of civil war and a decade of Sandinista mismanagement, but more than 40 years of Somocista corruption before that. And this country has a moral obligation to help, not just because it sponsored the contra war, but because Washington tolerated the Somozas far longer than it should have.