The week befare my most recent visit to Ann Arbor was a week full of speculations about the creative imagery side of Mr. Reagan' s war. Since the contra aid vote was coming up again soon we all knew and expected (as did the rest of the non-U.S. world): "The Incident." Always surrounding the contra aid vote we are treated to an incident, sometimes just befare the vote to swing it, sometimes just after the vote to embarrass those who voted against Mr. Reagan' s hit men. The streets of Managua were abuzz with predictions and speculations of what the incident would be this time. Those of us in Managua who regularly discuss the international political scène are acutely aware of the dual nature of such discussions. On the one hand the real political maneuvers, inside and outside of Nicaragua, are fascinatingly complicated and occassionally unfathomable, despite a great deal of readily available information. On the other hand there is the imagery created by the Madison Avenue branch of the Reagan Administration. When I am in residence in Managua I only hear of these extravaganzas second hand and I respond mostly the way everyone else does down there - "does he really expect anyone to swallow that?" The week before my most recent visit to Ann Arbor was a week full of speculations about the creaü've imagery side of Mr. Reagan's war. Since the contra aid vote was coming up again soon we all knew and expected (as did the rest of the nonU.S. world): "The Incident." Always surrounding the contra aid vote we are treated to an incident, sometimes just before the vote to swing it, sometimes just after the vote to embarrass those who voted against Mr. Reagan's hit men. The streets of Managua were abuzz with predictions and speculations of what the incident would be this time. How "bout Sandinistas invade Honuras! No, that's been used before and didn't work too well. How "bout Sandinistas invade Costa Rica? No, same problem. How "bout Nicaraguans train Libyan hit men? No, too much has been invested in trying to créate the opposite imagery (i.e. Libyans train Nicaraguan terrorists). The public would be too confused. How "bout Libyan terrorist base camp discovered in Nicaragua? Actually that was my favorite candidate. The Libyans do opérate a farm north of Lake Managua and some of the equipment (e.g. large center pivot irrigation systems) would makc dandy images on those grainy satellite photos. But when I arrived in Ann Arbor I was disappointed and shocked at the lameness of their first attempt: New arms shipment from the Soviet Union. Come on now guys, we know you can do better than thaL We know that you know that we know that the Soviets have been shipping arms to Nicaragua for seven years. If there's any doubt just ask any Nicaraguan, including their president who has so stated publicly many times. This ludicrous bit of chicanery hardly made page one for even a day and didn't even require a democratie response. What a disappointment, I thought. I found myself subconsciously rooting for the Libyan terrorist base camp. At least that would have been novel. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the incident. Right in the middle of their attempts to keep the new Soviet shipment on the front pages, the Germán incident explodcd in Mr. Reagan's face. It couldn't have happened at a more inopportune time for him. Eight West Germans had been kidnapped by the "freedom fighters" and were being held hostage. The Kohl government was beginning to feel the heat, being engaged in some difficult elections at home. The fact that the U.S. was effectively holding West Germán citizens hostage and Mr. Kohl was doing nothing to pressure the Reagan Administration to release them, apparently was threatening the entire conservative backbone of the Kohl administration. Kohl was forced to teil Mr. Reagan to release those hostages or else face the possibility of a massive loss of support for West Germany's participation in the U.S. military buildup in Europe. Reagan thus told the contras to release the hostages, which they of course did. The unfortunate thing for Reagan's image-makers is that this hostage crisis emerged at exactly the time they were trying to créate the Soviet shipment incident. Instead of photos of crates or MIGs or Soviet ships on the front page of our nations' dailies, we saw the Germans. Instead of Tip O'Neil agreeing that "If there are really offensive weapons in those shipments we may have to take them out," we had Mr. Kohl begging for the release of the hostages. Instead of TV editorials mouthing their usual pap (e.g. well, Mr. Ortega has done it again), liberal commentators were gaining the day pondering whether kidnapping was jusüfïed in this case. In short, the incident was stillbom. But as I write, a new incident is being created. The Soviets are flying reconnaissance flights in Nicaragua. Once again, their lameness is getling downright embarrassing. Even if it were true (apparentjy it isn't), so what? Does anyone really want to suggest that the U.S. is the only country who should spy in Nicaragua? Even in Peoría it's going to look silly. Personally I'm frustrated. Maybe I should cali the President and suggest the Libyan terrorist base camp. In many ways the U.S. public should be sufficiently sophisticated to see through this propaganda barrage. But the Reagan Administration for some time has been engaged in this advertising blitz. Through information leaks, press briefings, and major policy speeches, we are being bombarded with a "line" about Nicaragua. The message for the most naive is simply that Nicaragua has "gone to the communists," each incident reinforcing this simplemindedness. But for more sophisticated Americans, the packaging must be slightly more palatable. Those who recall how many Western governments have used the communism boogyman as an excuse for all sorts of atrocities, from the excesses ol McCarthy to the horrors of the Holocaust, are not likely to lock-step to such simplistic sloganeering. For them th imagery must be more complex. The creative imagery of the Reagai Administration about Nicaragua is triad - Nicaragua is a totalitarian stat Nicaragua is a threat to its neighbors, a Nicaragua is a Soviet puppeL While three accusations are ludicrous to anyc who knows anything about Nicaragua, th use by the sophist is impressive. Examp are numerous. Flash - crates carrying M! have been discovered on their way Nicaragua (Soviet puppet ploy). When i eventually noted that no MIGs were in crates in the first place, flash - Nicaraj. cracks down on opposition newspapei (Totalitarian state ploy). When it : eventually noted that war-time pres censorship in Nicaragua is probably th least severe ever in this hemispherc flash - Nicaragua harbors intematiom terrorista at terrorist base camps (threats tt its neighbor ploy). When the so-called base camp turns out to be a sugar refinery flash - new arms build-up from Sovic: Union (Soviet puppet ploy). And on an on. The intention of the Reagan Administration is obviously to continue its campaign, probably along the same line.' switching from ploy to ploy as eaa accusation is answered, hoping evcntuallto embed an overwhelmingly negativ image of Nicaragua in everyone's mind, an providing those critical incidents at thos critical times to improve his chances i Congress. Judging from their most recer attempts, they are running out of credibl incidents - or perhaps the American peopl are waking up.
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