In the wake of a Senate debate on new aid for Nicaraguan contra rebels, Bill Moyers considers the Reagan Administration’s contrasting policies toward the ruling Sandinistas of Nicaragua and the government of South Africa.
BILL MOYERS: The government of Nicaragua is a bad government; it jails dissenters, censors the press, harasses clergy of conscience and rules by force. So does the government of South Africa. It goes Nicaragua one better; South Africa has written racism into its legal code. The white minority uses racist laws and brute power to subjugate the black majority. Yet, towards South Africa, the President urges moderation. He says we shouldn’t withdraw Western business, but involve it more deeply as a force for change–plead, bargain, coax and woo the Afrikaaners until they see the light and agree to share power. Sanctions, says the President, will only cause the whites to draw their wagons in a circle and bring the country down in flames. He takes the opposite tack toward Nicaragua. There he cuts off American trade and sanctions violence against the government, violence American taxpayers are being asked to pay for, $100-million in the next year alone. We pay in cash, the Nicaraguans in blood.
The President rejects sanctions against South Africa because they would harm the people we aspire to help, the blacks repressed by their own government. But the violence America sponsors in Nicaragua has also made victims of bystanders. The rebels, the contras, believe they can bring down the government by crippling the economy, so they’ve waged war on people’s livelihood, attacking their sawmills, tractor farms, storehouses and co-ops. It’s meant even harder times for the people; but, coupled with the American boycott, it’s enabled the Sandinistas to consolidate their hold on power with patriotic appeals against a sworn enemy. This is exactly the result the President says will occur in South Africa if the West imposed sanctions and encouraged violence against the government.
There is a double standard here. Mr. Reagan wants both governments to change course and embrace democracy, but he does to hard-core Marxists what he will not do to hard-core racists. One gets a war, the other a slap on the wrist. It’s as if we walked in the world contorted, creatures with one eye only, seeing but a single evil.