[news article published in Pomona College's The Student Life, ??? ]
State Department Lecturer Visits CMC
By Alex Linder
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Reilly spoke on U.S. foreign policy in Nicaragua at CMC's Bauer Center last Monday night. Recently returned from El Salvador where he served as Chief of Special Forces, Reilly currently tours the U.S. as a State Department spokesman giving speeches to colleges and other organizations.
Reilly began his speech by saying that he would try to answer two questions: First, how can a little country like Nicaragua be a threat to the U.S.? Second, is Nicaragua likely to become another Vietnam?
Regarding the first question, Reilly referred to the importance of sea lanes to American oil imports and projection of military power.
Cuba takes care of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, while Nicaragua, possessing the largest airfield in Central America on its Pacific coast, allows the Soviets to sail directly from Cam Ranh in Vietnam to Nicaragua in Central America, a region the Soviets see as our strategic rear, according to Reilly. The danger, as Reilly sees it, is that the U.S. has new areas to be concerned about in what used to be uncontested waters.
Shifting from strategic questions, Reilly discussed the nature of the Sandinista regime. Claiming that the Sandinistas have received $2 billion from the Soviets since their takeover in 1979, Reilly mentioned other nations and groups like PLO and Vietnam that give the Sandinistas support because, as Libyan ruler Khadaffi has said, "they fight the U.S. on their own ground."
Regarding the Arias plan, the Sandinistas signed the pact because of contra pressure, Reilly said. He went on to lament that there is nothing in the treaty limiting Soviet monetary support and no way of enforcement should one country not "measure up," save whatever international pressure Costa Rican President and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias can summon.
Returning to his second overarching question, Reilly said that Nicaragua doesn't have to be another Vietnam if America is willing to face the problem now. Backing off, he asserts, will only lead to a higher price we'll have to pay later.
After the speech was over, Reilly fielded a series of questions from the audience, which was roughly split between liberals and conservatives. In response to the question that if Nicaragua was such a great threat we ought to invade it ourselves, Reilly said that most draft-aged men don't want to fight there. He also asserted that an on-and-off approach to contra aid has limited the effectiveness of the contras, whose strength he places between ten and fifteen thousand men.
After the first few questions the atmosphere in the room grew heated, and certain participants began to interrupt Reilly's answers, drawing counterreponses from those wanting to hear Reilly out. Finally, an unidentified CMC man told Pitzer Professor Dana Ward, who insistently demanded a debate, to "grow up." Ward responded over the ensuing ruckus: "I'm speaking the truth to Power; Power sits up there and lies."
Order was partially restored and questions turned to other subjects such as human rights and death squads in El Salvador. Reilly answered with a short history of terrorism in El Salvador and figures portraying a vastly decreased level of death squad activity. He also evinced distrust of certain human rights organizations, such as Americas Watch, many of which he believes are either biased or not allowed by the Sandinistas the freedom necessary for a full documentation of Sandinista abuses. At this point the meeting officially broke up, but several people remained for another two hours to debate informally.
Small groups then formed around Reilly, Ward, and a Nicaraguan refugee in the audience. Reilly made some observations about his receptions at other colleges (frequently hostile) and his dealings with the media when he was in El Salvador (he found them antagonistic at the time, but believes they're "coming around" now).
Other points brought out in this final question and answer period included Reilly's assertion that the Sandinistas have little internal support (29% in a 1981 poll he claims is the most recent the Sandinistas have allowed). Pressed hard on human rights abuses by the contras, he spoke of National Directorate Minister of the Interior Tomas Borge's Special Operations Forces whom he says commit atrocities while pretending to be contras. Further, Reilly opined, "If the Sandinistas were right-wing, this crowd would be hanging 'em."
Last edited by Alex Linder; December 6th, 2013 at 07:16 PM.