From an editorial in the Financial Times March 19:

According to President Reagan, Nicaragua has become a Soviet toehold in Central America: if not checked, the contagion will spread, damaging not just the vital interests of the United States but those of the West as a whole. The reality is far more mundane and less alarming.

With a population of fewer than 3 million, Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. It is being impoverished further by the crippling cost of the war against the contras. The Soviets and the Cubans have stepped in with military aid, but the Soviets in particular have been extremely cautious. There is no evidence they are willing to confront the Americans over Nicaragua. . . .

The commitment to upgrade the contra forces locks the Reagan administration into a classic spiral of escalation.

Fears that the situation could get out of hand have led Central American governments, prodded by their colleagues elsewhere in Latin America, to reassess the flagging Contadora peace initiative. This is the plan for a Central American peace treaty, proposed by Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela and now backed by Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay. The first fruit of the revived Contadora process came last week with Costa Rica and Nicaragua signing an agreement for joint supervision of their border to prevent contras using Costa Rican territory.

The Contadora approach is an excellent one, provided that the group can deliver more than good intentions. The Contadora countries need to assume more responsibility in order to have more influence.