A line of type was inadvertently dropped in a letter from Nicaraguan Ambassador Carlos Tunnermann Aug. 30. The full sentence should have read: "Nicaragua's schoolbooks evolved from the experience of the Nicaraguan people who lived under the U.S.-supported Somoza dictatorship for 40 years, participated in its overthrow and even today suffer and die to maintain their dignity and sovereignty against contra terrorists financed and directed by a foreign power."
Congress and the Reagan administration struck a compromise on Nicaragua policy last week that allowed both sides to claim half a victory and left the Nicaraguan rebels more optimistic than they have been in months.
In a series of cliffhanger votes and late-night compromises, Congress provided $27 million in "nonlethal" aid for the counterrevolutionaries, known as contras, who are fighting the Sandinista government, as part of the fiscal 1986 foreign aid appropriation. The funds have a large number of strings attached; nonetheless, the contras are celebrating.
"It's very important as a political statement because it sends a clear indication of what U.S. policy is," said Bosco Matamoros, the rebels' Washington spokesman. "It means there is a consensus in the United States, first over the threat that the Sandinistas represent in Central America and then in support of our struggle to democratize Nicaragua."
The rebels have said that many potential private donors were waiting for some sign of congressional approval before opening their pockets. That sign has been made and things are looking up, Matamoros said.
The open nature of the new aid marks a major change of status for the contra effort, which began in 1982 as a ragtag operation secretly funded, advised and trained by the Central Intelligence Agency.
As it grew too big to remain covert, congressional critics fought hard to end U.S. involvement in what they saw as a brutal, immoral and illegal secret war to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government. The Reagan administration fought equally hard to beef up the contra "freedom fighters," calling them the only means to induce change in Nicaragua and central to halting the spread of Soviet influence in Central America.
The new aid package gives both sides some of what they wanted, with the administration ahead on fine points. As a result, the contras, now claiming to have 17,000 armed troops and 3,000 awaiting weapons, are gearing up for what may be major new military initiatives aimed for the first time at taking and holding territory in Nicaragua.
White House and Defense Department officials are "impatiently" awaiting signs of major military progress by the contras and resulting internal disarray among the Sandinistas, according to diplomatic sources here. If these events fail to occur over the next 18 months, stronger pressure is likely from conservative elements who consistently have urged more direct U.S. military involvement against the Sandinistas, the sources said.
The Nicaraguan government regards the whole debate as moot. "The vote was a retreat by Congress. It contradicts the spirit of looking for a solution through dialogue and the Contadora process" of regional peace talks, U.S. Ambassador Carlos Tunnermann Bernheim said in an interview. "It provided logistical aid that armed rebels need to continue a war and liberates funds for buying arms."
But it will not enable the contras to defeat the Sandinistas, he said, and so "may possibly lead to a larger involvement of the United States."
The details of the new aid package are important. Congressional critics managed last October to halt covert military aid to the rebels, which had totaled an estimated $80 million funneled through the CIA since 1982. Faced with certain defeat of a renewal effort in February, President Reagan retreated and asked for overt humanitarian aid instead.
He got it. "This is what Congress perceived to be a middle ground," said Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), influential chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "I don't think there will be any immediate reconsideration of the Nicaragua situation in Congress."
The aid debate shifted overnight from whether the rebels deserved U.S. help to the definition of "humanitarian" aid, and to what role, if any, the CIA could have in its distribution. "A lot of these distinctions will be tough to make," Hamilton said. "There are some very fine lines."
In the House-Senate conference committee report accompanying the legislation, humanitarian aid is defined as "food, clothing, medicine and other humanitarian assistance, that . . . does not include the provision of weapons, weapons systems, ammunition or other equipment, vehicles or material which can be used to inflict serious bodily harm or death."
The phrase "can be used to inflict" harm was inserted by the conference to replace the Senate phrase "designed to inflict." But questions remain: Can the aid include trucks? How about helicopters designated for medical evacuation?
"This all has to be worked out in practice. There's no reliable legislative history," said a key House aide involved in drafting the bill.
Similarly, the legislation bars the CIA or the Pentagon from administering the aid and from providing "military training or advice" to the rebels. However, "sharing of intelligence information" is specifically permitted.
Does that mean that in effect the CIA may continue to direct the rebel effort, even if it does not handle the aid? Can the CIA assign operatives to other agencies that handle the aid? No one is sure. The White House is expected to decide shortly on how to manage the program.
A third area of uncertainty involves a provision covering rebel aid that may be given by third countries that also receive U.S. foreign aid, such as Honduras and Costa Rica. Congress barred indirect transfer of U.S. aid to the rebels last year, but the new legislative language, changed repeatedly during final negotiations, is a masterpiece of legalese that even coins a word:
"The United States shall not enter into any agreement conditioning, expressly or impliedly sic , the provision of assistance under this act -- or the purchase of defense articles and services under the Arms Export Control Act -- upon the provision of assistance by a recipient to persons or groups engaged in insurgency or other act of rebellion against the government of Nicaragua."
That means the United States cannot insist that a country give aid to the rebels as a condition for receiving U.S. aid. But the language clearly does not stop that country from passing U.S. aid to the rebels if it wants to.
Reagan has said he intends to ask again for military aid to the contras, and other administration officials said another try will be made on the intelligence funding bill to let the CIA back in the game. The legislative battles are not over, even if neither side tries to slip through loopholes.
"We're not looking for ways to circumvent the intent of Congress," said one senior administration official. "This program will be under the closest scrutiny, and we're going to be back up here" asking for more funds later, he said. "It wouldn't be very smart to do something contrary to what Congress wants."