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JIM LEHRER: Good evening. In the headlines this quiet Wednesday after Christmas, the Iranians bombed a supertanker in the Persian Gulf, their second such attack in two days. President Reagan condemned the continued Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and a Republican senator condemned Mr. Reagan's efforts to help end that occupation. Robin?
ROBERT MacNEIL: This is our table of contents for tonight's NewsHour. After the news summary, a major focus section on the war in Afghanistan examines U.S. aid to the rebels. Is it enough? Can it help? Then a documentary from Nicaragua on how one provincial town is feeling the war with the contras. Should colleges offer scholarships for merit or only for need? We have a debate. And we close with a profile of the new man in charge of Boston's prison, himself a former prisoner.News Summary
LEHRER: President Reagan took out after the Soviets like old times today in a harsh statement about Afghanistan. Mr. Reagan said the continued occupation of Afghanistan constitutes a serious impediment to the improvement of bilateral relations with the Soviet Union. In a written statement released at the White House, he called for a prompt negotiated end to what he called "this brutal conflict." Well, Mr. Reagan was not the only one in Washington to mark the fifth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire held a news conference to say a few things, too, including some words of criticism for Mr. Reagan's administration.
Sen. GORDON HUMPHERY, (R) New Hampshire: The freedom fighters remain critically, tragically and scandalously short of the weapons and supplies they so desperately need. And so I question the management of the American aid program. I suggest that there is no effective accountability in the expenditure of these funds. It appears that most of our aid is being lost in the pipeline, and I suggest the intent of Congress is being subverted by the apparent bungling of the administration of the intended aid program.
LEHRER: Senator Humphrey and others will be with us for the lead focus section on Afghanistan in a few minutes. Robin?
MacNEIL: Another tanker was hit in the Persian Gulf war today; the Spanish vessel Aragon was attacked by an aircraft launched rocket in the same area where an Indian supertanker was hit yesterday. Shipping sources said the attackers were Iranian. The area is 200 miles south of Iraq's declared war zone around the Iran oil terminal at Kharg Island. The Spanish reported no casualties.
On the border between Cambodia and Thailand, Vietnamese troops continued their offensive against camps housing Cambodian rebels. The Thai foreign ministry spokesman described the attacks launched yesterday as cruel, savage and brutal. He said the Vietnamese troops used artillery and tank guns against civilians, including children. The fighting caused 61,000 Cambodians to flee into Thailand and they watched today's fighting from across the border.
LEHRER: In Israel, a member of Parliament was prevented by police from entering an Arab village northeast of Tel Aviv. The man was Rabbi Meir Kahane, the American-born extremist who wants all Arabs expelled from Israel. Yesterday Israel's parliament voted to limit Kahane's parliamentary immunity. Graham Shenton of Visnews reports.
GRAHAM SHENTON, Visnews [voice-over]: Just 24 hours later, he defiantly gathered with supporters to ride to the Arab town of Tiber.[?] He tried to go there last September, but on that occasion police stopped him from entering. This time the rabbi was adamant that the visit would go ahead.
Rabbi MEIR KAHANE, Knesset Member: There is no such thing as an Arab village. It's a Jewish village that's temporarily populated by Arabs.
SHENTON [voice-over]: Police moved in and jostled with Kahane and his supporters. They again succeeded in preventing the trip, but Kahane is adamant that he'll fight the Knesset and the restrictions. He will, if necessary, take the action to the country's supreme court. It's the first time the Knesset has stripped a member of any of his preferential rights as a legislator before any action had been committed. But in such a tense country, Kahane's actions and extremist views can only lead to increased strains.
LEHRER: And in India another local political figure was shot and killed by his opponents. The Reuters news service said at least 25 persons have now died in parliamentary election violence. The week-long voting is done on a phased, region-by-region basis, and will end on Friday. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his party are expected to win a parliamentary majority. It is the first national election since he became prime minister after the assassination of his mother in October.
MacNEIL: In Orangeville, Utah, they began holding memorial services today for the 27 miners trapped in a local coal mine by a fire that continues to burn. Individual services for many of the dead miners were held by different faiths, and a top official of the Mormon Church led a service for all the miners, 26 men and one woman. Here's a report from Jeff Sengstack of station KSL, Salt Lake City.
JEFF SENGSTACK, KSL [voice-over]: Seventeen hundred friends, neighbors and family members of the 27 miners killed in the Wilberg Mine gathered this morning in a Castledale, Utah, high school. The service was conducted by Gordon Hinckley, the number-three man in the Mormon Church's hierarchy.
GORDON HINCKLEY, Mormon Church: I have only one desire, and that is to bring some measure of comfort and reassurance to those who have suffered so tragic a loss. Our hearts reach out to you in sympathy and love.
SENGSTACK [voice-over]: While this coal-mining region has a lower percentrage of Mormons than the rest of the state, the church's influence here is still very strong. Additionally, assistance offered by the Mormon Church is intended for every family affected by the accident.
Mr. HINCKLEY: Word of your tragedy has gone across the world. The whole church grieves for you and prayers rise in your behalf in many towns.
SENGSTACK [voice-over]: Many miners here who did not lose family members in the fire may also soon be in need of financial assistance. There's a chance up to 400 miners may be laid off. Emery Mining, the operator of the ill-fated Wilberg Mine, is awaiting permission from federal mine safety investigators to reopen a number of nearby mines. It's not clear when that may be granted. Meantime, methane-fueled fires flared up in the Wilberg Mine today, making it even more difficult to extinguish the blaze here. Emery Mining officials say they intend to seal this mine, probably permanently, in an effort to put out that fire. That action will effectively entomb the bodies of the 27 miners who lost their lives here. U.S. Aid: Is it Any Good?
LEHRER: We focus first tonight on Afghanistan, that small, poor, harsh land in the mountains of Asia which until five years ago was mostly ignored by most of the outside world.
[voice-over] In December, 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan to bolster the leaders of a Moscow-backed coup. Now, five years later, the Russians are locked in a ferocious guerrilla war that has devastated the land and driven four million of Afghanistan's population of 18 million from their homes, most to meager refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan. Today the Soviets have an estimated 110,000 soldiers inside the country and another 40,000 poised on the northern border. They control the country's few major cities, including the capital of Kabul. The guerrillas, fiercely independent tribesmen who call themselves the Mujahedeen, or Holy Warriors, control moutainous areas in the harsh country.
Earlier this year the Soviets, determined to wipe out the guerrillas' strongholds, launched saturation bombing attacks. High-altitude jets and helicopter gunships devastated many villages and destroyed livestock and crops. The Mujahedeen kept up their hit-and-run attacks and ambushes, occasionally raiding even Kabul. But their sniper rifles, mortars and captured Soviet ground-to-air missiles cannot match the Russian airpower. U.S. aid to the rebels, which flows through Pakistan, has totaled more than $600 million since 1979. The Reagan administration says it will request $280 million more next year. But recent government reports have questioned how much of that aid is actually getting to the fighters and the refugees, and it also questions the quality and type of military equipment involved. The continuing flood of refugees into Pakistan is straining that nation's capacity to provide for the Afghans without causing severe internal economic and political problems.
As the war enters its sixth year, both sides appear determined to fight on, even into the next generation. Refugee camps in Pakistan have become military training centers for boys and young men.
[on camera] And the Soviets are also reported to be sending thousands of young Afghans to Russia for study and indoctrination so they can be Afghanistan's pro-Soviet leaders of tomorrow. Meanwhile, the rest of the world watches and complains. For five years presidents and Congresses of the United States have been the leading complainers. Today President Reagan issued another strong presidential statement of condemnation. It was matched by one from Senator Gordon Humphrey, Republican of New Hampshire, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who believes the United States is not doing enough to help the other side in Afghanistan.
Senator, your statement today was tough. You said that our aid is being lost in the pipeline because of mismanagement. What do you mean there specifically?
Sen. HUMPHERY: Well, that's right, Jim. Every first-hand report that I've encountered -- and I've talked to reporters who've spent weeks inside Agfhanistan and who've recently returned, military analysts and others who've been there -- every first-hand account I've been able to uncover indicates that only a trickle of the aid is coming out of the far end of the pipeline in contrast to what we're putting in at the front end here in Washington. And for years we've been increasing -- the Congress has been increasing the level of funding for this program because there's a broad and deep support in the Congress, bipartisan, across every kind of dividing line, to aid these valiant people. It's such a compelling cause. And we've increased appropriations year after year.And yet today, despite all of that aid, five years later, despite, as noted on your news clip a moment ago, the expenditure of hundreds, hundreds of millions of dollars, the rebels today are poorly armed, poorly equipped. Most of them still don't have proper footwear. They're still making sandals out of used tires. They don't have ammunition for their larger weapons, which are the only weapons effective against the Soviet weaponry, and have very few of those weapons to begin with, and not what they really need. Just to give you one example, Jim, one of the reporters I spoke with the other day, this weekend in fact, who just came back, related an experience he had -- I believe it was in Paktia Province, which is that just across the border from Peshawar -- and he discoverd that one of the commanders, one of the important commanders in that province, didn't even have a professionally drawn map of the area for which he was responsible. This commander was using a hand-drawn, crude and inaccurate map. So the reporter gave him, gave the commander, a commercial map that he had brought in, and this commander, according to the report, was just childlike in his delight at having a basic tool.
LEHRER: Where does the fault lie, Senator?
Sen. HUMPHREY: Well, I believe it lies in the administration of the program. I'm glad to hear President Reagan has once again issued a statement of support, but the problem is we keep encouraging the freedom fighters, and sort of implying that help is on the way, and yet it doesn't arrive. The fault, I think, fundamentally, is that we have taken a hands-off policy. Our people in Peshawar and in the --
LEHRER: When you say "our people" who do you mean?
Sen. HUMPHREY: Americans.
LEHRER: Americans, employees of the United States government?
Sen. HUMPHREY: Americans, yes. As I'm told, are forbidden to have anything to do with the freedom fighters in the refugee camps and the headquarters around Peshawar. And so it's all done through intermediaries, and apparently with no procedures at all for accountability or for accounting for these weapons.
LEHRER: So are you saying the stuff's getting ripped off?
Sen. HUMPHREY: I can't say for sure where it's going, but we know almost with a certainty that very little of it's getting through, despite increased appropriations year after year.
LEHRER: Is it your belief, Senator, that if this aid was getting through to the right people, that the war would be going differently than it's going?
Sen. HUMPHREY: I think so. I don't claim that the freedom fighters can win a military victory over the Soviets. But remember our official policy is to force a negotiated settlement which would lead to the withdrawal of the Soviets and the reestablishment of an independent and free Afghanistan. That's our policy. But we're not even providing the freedom fighters with enough weaponry and equipment to accomplish even that. What we're doing instead -- the effect, I'm afraid to say, is rather cynical. We're providing them with enough, just barely enough to stay active and to get shot to pieces but not enough to force the Soviets out.
LEHRER: And actually helping the Soviet position more than we are our own, is that what you're saying?
Sen. HUMPHREY: Well, I'd say that we're playing into the Soviet strategy, not only for the reason that we're not getting these weapons through because of bungling in the administration, poor design and poor execution, but also in the design of the program. We need to do far more internal to Afghanistan in the way of providing economic assistance, so people will stay instead of leaving and going into the refugee camps, which, as I say, plays into the strategy of the Soviets.
LEHRER: Thank you, Senator.Robin?
MacNEIL: An official administration view now from Phyllis Oakley, the State Department officer who monitors U.S. policy towards Afghanistan on a day-to-day basis. A career foreign service officer, Ms. Oakley has spent the last two years serving as the State Department's Afghan desk officer.
Ms. Oakley, how do you respond to the Senator that only a trickle of U.S. aid is getting through to the freedom fighters?
PHYLLIS OAKLEY: Well, I think I will use the word that Under secretary Michael Armacost used in his on-the-record press briefing on December 20th, and that is you have to look at the empirical situation on the ground in Afghanistan. After five years of fighting, and that in itself is an incredible story of an indigenous resistance movement that had begun in 1978 and following the Soviet invasion in 1979, this movement has grown and spread and today become so effective that it has been successful in keeping the certainly heavier-armed and -equipped army of the Soviet Union from achieving its objectives in Afghanistan. And first of all, I would like to say I welcome this attention to the question of Afghanistan and am delighted to be here to discuss this. But let's look at the fighting in 1984 against an increasingly aggressive military posture of the Soviet Union that began in the seventh Panjsher offensive in April and May, moved west to Herat around Kabul and now in the eastern part of Afghanistan, where heavy fighting still continues. The Soviets have not been able to achieve their objectives, and we think perhaps have slightly lost some ground. I'm sure you all are aware that the question of what any country might be doing to supply assistance to the refugees and to the Mujahedeen is considered an intelligence question and I can't comment on it. But you've got to look at the situation on the ground and what the Mujahedeen have been able to achieve.
MacNEIL: Well, can you comment on this? Would you say that the U.S. can -- the administration can point with pride to success of the resistance and claim some credit for it?
Ms. OAKLEY: Well, I would phrase it a little differently. I would point with great pride to our relationship with the government of Pakistan and what the government of Pakistan has done in these past five years of standing up to the Soviet threat, to welcoming the refugees -- the between two and three million refugees who have poured into Pakistan. and who have, with us, sought a negotiated political settlement, as the Senator pointed out. And I think that we can point with great pride to what the combined support of these two countries, as well as the vast majority of the world, as witnessed by the vote at the U.N., a recent vote of the Islamic Conference, and that together -- and this is not just an East-West, Soviet-U.S. problem, but what we with the vast majority of the countries of the world have been able to do to show our admiration and moral support for the Afghan freedom fighters.
MacNEIL: Well, I know you're in a difficult position, and you can't because it's an intelligence question comment on the flow of this support to the freedom fighters directly, but let me ask you this. Are you satisfied that the program, however clandestinely it's being administered, are you in the State Department satisifed it's being well-administered and that it's having the effect intended by the Congress?
Ms. OAKLEY: Well, let me answer that in a very broad term. I'm not going to be satisified in Afghanistan until the Soviets troops are out, and that's the goal of U.S. policy. And I agree with the senator that we have not sought a military victory. And certainly we have never said that the Afghan Mujahedeen are going to be able to oust militarily the Afghan resistance. We seek a political settlement, and the military pressure on the ground is certainly an important part of that pressure. It's not enough. The Soviets have not yet negotiated, and we aren't going to be satisfied until we can bring them to a settlement that gets the Soviet troops out.
MacNEIL: Well, would you say, again on this point that he raised, that his charge that this is being scandalously mismanaged, this program, is an unfair charge?
Ms. OAKLEY: That gets very close to a difficult situation that's hard for me to answer. But I would go back to the empirical situation. If there is a program and it's so badly managed, how can the Afghan Mujahedeen continue to thwart Soviet objectives in Afghanistan? The Soviets have not been able to wear down the resistance. They've not been able to capture the loyalty of the people. They have not built an effective Afghan army and they have not increased popular support for the Soviet ruler, Babrak Karmal. I think you have to look at the total picture. And the Soviets are not winning in Afghanistan.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Senator, how do you respond to that?
Sen. HUMPHREY: Well, I especially disagree with the last statement. The Soviets in fact are winning.They're not winning militarily because they haven't sought to win militarily. They know that they would have to commit enormously larger numbers of troops and wealth than they have already to defeat a guerrilla force. That's just in the nature of guerrilla warfare, especially in rugged terrain and with a determined foe, as the freedom fighters are. They're not seeking a military victory. What they're seeking is what they sought and achieved back in the '20s and '30s when they subjugated other regions of the USSR. They're seeking to drive out the population. They're seeking to, and succeeding in, depopulating Afghanistan. They've already killed off all the doctors and the intelligentsia, with the exception of those they could subvert into their own orbit. They're carpet-bombing. they're fostering famine. They're destroying crops. They've destroyed the medical facilities, as I've stated, such that if you're wounded today as a combatant or as an innocent victim, you're dead. There's no medical care in Afghanistan. They have a deliberate campaign to drive out the population as a way of --
LEHRER: And it's working.
Sen. HUMPHREY: Yeah, and they're going to win.
LEHRER: Your position is that it's working.
Sen. HUMPHREY: If we don't change our policy.
Ms. OAKLEY: Well, I wouldn't agree with you on that, and I think, though, the discussion that we're having highlights one of the gravest problems of dealing with Afghanistan, and that is the question of really knowing what is going on in the country. Very few people can get in. The reporters that go in have to trek in. You talk with people who have come from the east. It is a very spotty picture, and it's a problem for all of us. Not only you, but certainly for those of us in the department. So I think you have to weigh the individual reports with the policy of the entire government. Certainly in the east these efforts have resulted in depopulation. This is not true of the entire country. Certainly the Panjsher Valley is now deserted, but it's not true of the northern plains where there is still a sufficiency of food. And part of this, as I say, the problem is just knowing what is going on and what we can do to be effective. I don't think the story of Afghanistan is over.And I'm not going to throw in the towel, and I'm going to keep up my admiration and support for the Afghan resistance.
Sen. HUMPHREY: Nor am I, and that's why I'm issuing this criticism. The Soviets are going to win because they are in fact succeeding in depopulating the country. They've already driven out a quarter of the population.
LEHRER: Is it your position, Ms. Oakley, that that's not what the Soviets want?
Ms. OAKLEY: I think the Soviets certainly have used the technique of depopulation and driving out the civilian population in certain areas that are of strategic importance and which are known for strategic support of the Mujahedeen. But I don't believe that it is true in the entire country. Certainly on the areas bordering the road up to the Soviet Union, certainly in the Panjsher Valley and the area Logar and the area over close to the border. This has often been the result of such policies, but again it is not completely countrywide.
LEHRER: All right. Well, neither of you go away. We'll be right back. Robin?
MacNEIL: Would more U.S. aid help end the fighting, or will it have to end by negotiation? To discuss that we have Selig Harrison, one of the foremost American experts on Afghanistan. A senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, Mr. Harrison just returned from a trip to the region. He's written extensively on the war. His most recent article, "Afghanistan: Self-Determination and Soviet Force Withdrawal," was published in the current issue of the Journal of the U.S. Army War College.
Mr. Harrison, Senator Humphrey just said the Soviets are going to win. Is he right?
SELIG HARRISON: I think as long as aid to the resistance is provided, the resistance will fight. They'll fight even if aid isn't provided, some sections of it. But to say that the Soviets are going to win, it seems to me, is not the way to look at it. The Soviets are building a stronger and stronger position, and they're certainly not going to be driven out. So we're at a situation now where the war is escalating, the Soviets have now got 150,000 men in the country at any one time. I have just -- I've just been in Pakistan; I've talked to intelligence people in the Pakistan government and the Indian government who have access to what's going on it Afghanistan. The Soviets have more men in now than ever. We have been escalating during the past two years; a great deal of assistance has been getting in. I strongly disagree with Senator Humphrey. Certainly some of the aid has been going off into the black market. Certainly the Afghans are very disunited. They don't have a well-coordinated military operation and they don't have any political followup, so that when they win a battle they can't consolidate their control over the territory where they won the battle. So we're on kind of a treadmill. A lot of the aid is being dissipated. But certainly it's an escalating upward curve in which heavy artillery, heavy machine guns are getting in. I think the most important criticism that the Senator could make to the administration is that the management of the ammunition inputs and programs that would keep the weapons that are going in operational certainly could be improved. But basically this situation can't go beyond a certain point. The aid has to go in through Pakistan. It's a country of 100 million people. It's a very important country to the United States and to the stability of that region --
MacNEIL: More important than Afghanistan to the United States?
Mr. HARRISON: Well, I think you have to look at the region as a whole. If the war in Afghanistan escalates beyond a certain point, the Soviets, as they've indicated recently with their bombing raids into the border areas of Pakistan, with their continuing threats to destabilize, through supporting the ethnic insurgents in Baluchistan and in the Sind and in the northwest frontier, escalation is a very dangerous thing for Pakistan.
MacNEIL: Let me ask you -- sorry to interrupt. Just let me ask you this, finally. Is U.S. policy, as you understand it at present, do you think it's realistic in working towards or encouraging the negotiated settlement that Mr. Reagan reiterated today Washington wants?
Mr. HARRISON: No, I don't. I think that we are correct in providing aid to the freedom fighters. But we've got to accompany that with a very flexible approach to the U.N. negotiations currently going on. They're going to resume on the 13th of February in Geneva. We haven't convinced the people of that south Asian region I just visited, and I don't think we've convinced most of world opinion that we are prepared for a settlement that will get the Soviet forces out,unless it also provides for a change of regime in which the Soviet regime that is now there would have to be replaced by a completely different type of regime, which most of world public opinion, I would argue, doesn't necessarily consider necessary. And there's a big difference between a settlement that gets the Soviet forces out and a settlement that insists on a basic political turning of the clock back.
MacNEIL: Okay. Jim?
LEHRER: Ms. Oakley, what's your comment on that?
Ms. OAKLEY: Well, I would certainly agree with Selig and we've often talked about this, that the role of the United States in the negotiation, that our goal is negotiated political settlement. We feel that we have made every effort to lend our support to the Pakistanis in their indirect negotiations with the Afghans and with the Soviets there as observers. The problem in the negotiations is Soviet willingness to negotiate the withdrawal of their forces. They claim that the problem of Afghanistan is outside interference.But we don't have what we consider to be 115,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan with the number between 30-, 35-, or 40,000 just over the border in the Soviet Union. And we feel that the negotiations have not succeeded because it has been the Soviet willingness to negotiate.
LEHRER: So you disagree. You say Harrison's wrong when he says the problem is the U.S. insistence that the Soviet influence leave along with the troops?
Ms. OAKLEY: Yes. I disagree with him, and we've been over this, on the U.S. role of support for the negotiations.
LEHRER: Senator, what's your view of how the United States is playing the negotiated-settlement bit?
Sen. HUMPHREY: Apparently without much success. It's been five years now. There doesn't appear to be any movement on the part of the Soviets to leave or to do any of the things that we seek through negotiations. And why should they? They are winning, as I've said. Mr. Harrison is the first witness, eyewitness, I've heard, who says that a great deal of aid is getting through. Every other witness I've talked to or whose remarks I've read in transcript when they've appeared before Senate committees have indicated that only a small amount is getting through, it's cruelly inadequate, and in any case we ought to be talking about what the intent is of Congress. We're the ones who provide the appropriations, and it's the intent of Congress that we would provide an effective amount of aid that would allow the freedom fighters to fight effectively, that it would be cruel to provide only enough so that they could struggle along. And yet that's what we're doing, practically speaking.
LEHRER: Is that your reading of it, too. Mr. Harrison? We're giving just enough aid to keep these people fighting but not enough for it to make any difference?
Mr. HARRISON: Pakistan doesn't want the level and sophistication of the aid to go to a point that would provoke destabilization of Pakistan. And the United States, properly, in my opinion, is afraid, is concerned that the Soviets may move into Pakistan in various ways that could draw us in. So we have every reason to be restrained.
LEHRER: How about that?
Sen. HUMPHREY: Well, the State Department, of course, always says that President Zia of Pakistan is worried. Well, I can assure you that Zia is more worried about what will happen to Pakistan or parts of it -- Baluchistan and other parts -- if and when the Soviets consolidate their hold on Afghanistan. Parts of Pakistan will be next, and Zia knows that. And I think all this talk about Zia being the bottleneck on our -- Pakistan being the bottleneck on our aid program is an effort to hide behind something that's more shadow than substance.
LEHRER: Is that true, Ms. Oakley?
Ms. OAKLEY: Well, again I don't agree with that.I think the position of Pakistan, not only in welcoming the refugees but opposing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, has been a very dangerous, gutsy position, and I think that we have to look at what is possible and realistic in that area and not, perhaps, what we might like.
LEHRER. Mr. Harrison, if we're all around five years from now and this program is still on the air and we invite you to come on as a guest, are we still going to be talking about the Russians and the Soviets and U.S. pressure and all that sort of business in Afghanistan?
Mr. HARRISON: If we continue to provide aid at present levels the resistance will continue to fight, the Soviets will bring in more forces, their regime in Kabul will become more consolidated. Time is on their side. And every year that passes it's harder to get a good settlement.
LEHRER: And Senator Humphrey will be holding a news conference on the 10th-year anniversary and Ms. Oakley will be here, and we'll see you then. Thank you all.
Ms. OAKLEY: Thank you.
Mr. HARRISON: Thank you.
LEHRER: Robin?
MacNEIL. There are still three parts to come on the NewsHour. Charles Krause gives us a picture of a Nicaraguan town caught in civil war like the meat in a sandwich. In another focus section we join a debate dividing colleges. Should scholarships be awarded for need or for merit as well? And we profile the unusual man Boston found to run its prison. Living With War
LEHRER: Our next focus segment takes us to Central America, where the uneasy quiet that marked this Christmas holday continued today. In El Salvador the official government-rebel truce held for the third day. There was no official truce in Nicaragua, but neither were there any reports of fighting between the army and the contras who want to overthrow the Sandinista government. That is a change; for much of the fall there has been news of fighting from Nicaragua, often from the coffee-growing region in the north near the border with Honduras. Special correspondent Charles Krause filed this report from one of the central battlefields in Nicaragua.
CHARLES KRAUSE [voice-over]: From afar, Jinotega looks much like any other provincial capital in Central America. It's quiet, peaceful, a traditional place of farms, coffee haciendas and small businesses. But the picture from afar is misleading. Jinotega is today a city at the edge of war.
Sunday morning, December 2nd, 1984. The Sandinista army moves a convoy of troops and heavy artillery to the front. There is fighting in the nearby mountains just 20 miles from Jinotega City. The contras have ambushed an army patrol. At least nine government soldiers are dead, and another typical day of fighting has begun. Backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union, the Sandinistas claim they're fighting to defend their socialist revolution. Backed by the United States, the contras claim they're fighting for democracy.
Jinotega Province is within easy striking distance of the contras' training and supply bases in Honduras. It's become the war's principal battleground. There is no sign the contras are about the defeat the Sandinista militarily in Jinotega or anywhere else in Nicaragua. Government troops mingle easily with the civilian population. They're tough, well-trained and disciplined.
But the contras are no longer the rag-tag fighting force they once were. Clearly, they're learning to fight a guerrilla war. More than 50 government soldiers are buried in Jinotega's cemetery, and 30 fresh graves are being prepared. But perhaps even more important than the casualties, the contras are bleeding Nicaragua's economy. To win they must turn a hungry and war-weary people into active opponents of the Sandinista government. Not likely, but possible. Already there are shortages of medicine, gasoline and other basic goods throughout Nicaragua.
Even in Jinotega, one of the country's richest farm areas, the war is contributing to a shortage of food. Jorge Chavez is one of Jinotega's largest coffee growers.
JORGE CHAVEZ, coffee grower: Farmers are really not that interested in planting their corn and beans any longer because they don't know what's going to happen to their produce.
KRAUSE [voice-over]: Those farmers who do plant find it increasingly difficult to bring their crops to market. Nicaragua's transportation system is breaking down. There is little hard currency to import new vehicles or to buy spare parts for old ones. Orencio Senteno[?] explained to us how he's forced to cannibalize old cars, trucks and buses to repair newer ones. But there's a limit to how long this can continue, and Nicaragua seems to be reaching it.
HUGO TORRES CRUZ, Jinotega resident [through interpreter]: The war is beginning to paralyze industry. It's beginning to paralyze transportation and it's beginning to paralyze production, and it's beginning to paralyze the country.
KRAUSE [voice-over]: Hugo Torres Cruz is co-director of an experimental research farm.
Mr. CRUZ [through interpreter]: Everyone here, if he talks with someone for 10 minutes, spends eight minutes talking about the war, if it's possible to harvest coffee, if there are coupons for gasoline. And, an awful lot of time is being lost in Nicaragua talking about the war.
KRAUSE [voice-over]: The fighting here intensified again about a month ago when the contras launched a fall offensive. Haciendas like La Colonia, a government-run coffee cooperative, have been attacked. Buildings have been burned, machinery destroyed. Initially, many workers fled, but now most are back, in part because there is food and housing for them at La Colonia, in part because they're determined to defend the revolution. Even they understand the contras' aim, to rob the government of Jinotega's coffee crop, which accounts for about $100-million worth of exports, hard currency the Sandinistas need to keep Nicaragua's economy afloat.
On state-run cooperatives like La Colonia and La Fundador, the workers tend to be pro-government. The Sandinistas have used their limited resources to build day-care centers and housing, winning the campesinos' loyalty. But migrant workers who would normally come to Jinotega during the harvest season have been frightened off this year by the contras' threats and the fighting. So the government's been forced to mobilize university students called brigadistas to pick the coffee. Armed, but inexperienced, they're forced to live in primitive conditions. They're often ill, sometimes resentful and generally not very efficient.
Ironically, the Contras' tactics -- terror and economic sabotage -- are the tactics used by leftist guerrillas in El Salvador. U.S. officials there claim such tactics are counter-productive in the long run. But in the short run violence does have an impact. Here in Jinotega the Sandinista army is not large enough to protect many smaller, privately-owned farms. Both the workers and the owners told us they feel frightened and don't know what to do. The contras have threatened to burn the farms and kill the workers if they harvest the coffee, and the government has threatened to expropriate the land if they don't.
Mr. CHAVEZ: It is like if you are a sandwich. Not a sandwich itself but the slice of cheese and ham in between two slices of bread. Either way you put it in your mouth you are going to bite it. You are caught both ways.
KRAUSE [voice-over]: The official government line reflected in pro-Sandinista newspapers is that the contras wouldn't exist if it weren't for money provided by the Reagan administration and arms provided by the CIA. In most of Nicaragua the Sandinistas still appear to enjoy majority support, but Jinotega is traditionally more conservative, and relatively more prosperous than the rest of the country. Many small businessmen in town and many coffee-growers in the countryside deeply distrust the Sandinistas' socialist economic policies and revolutionary rhetoric. We asked a local government official to what extent their opposition translates into direct support for the contras.
CARLOS JAUGUIN, Sandinista official [through interpreter]: At a recent meeting the most important private coffee producers in Jinotega publicly stated their support for harvesting the coffee and condemned attempts by the counterrevolutionary forces to stop production. So, no, we believe that, yes, they are against the revolution, but they are not in favor of the counterrevolution.
KRAUSE [voice-over]: The people of Jinotega pray the new year will bring peace, an end to the fighting. But they know that's unlikely. Their coffee crop has become an important military objective and is in jeopardy. Economic hardship and poverty are likely to get worse. More and more of Jinotega's sons and daughters will be drawn into the fighting by the Sandinistas or by the contras. And before Nicaragua's future is decided, more and more of them will die.
LEHRER: That report by correspondent Charles Krause. Merit vs. Need: College Scholarships
MacNEIL: For our next focus section we look at how colleges award scholarships. It's a timely subject because right now many high school seniors are grappling with college adiissions and their parents with how to pay the bills. For two decades or so most colleges and the federal government have believed that limited scholarship funds should be reserved for those who need financial help. But the decline in college-age population is changing that. Schools have stepped up recruitment efforts and many now offer no-need scholarships that reward academic excellence. Others have resisted that, claiming that these merit scholarships siphon funds away from poor students, and that offering them is merely trying to buy students. We pursue that debate now with two college admissions directors, Ned Boehm, from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, and Robert McArthur of Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Mr. Boehm joins us tonight from public station KERA in Dallas; Mr. McArthur is here in New York.
Mr. McArthur, as a critic of this practice first, what is wrong with offering merit scholarships?
ROBERT McARTHUR: Well, briefly, Robin, the problem with merit scholarships is not only do they tend to take money away from students who need them, and we're already underfunding students who generally need financial aid by probably providing too few opportunities at private colleges and certainly for those students who have scholarships to private colleges, they're hard pressed to get through the academic year with summer savings expectations, with term-time jobs that are required of them, and now prodigious loans that they acquire, sometimes as much as $10,000-worth of indebtedness. But more than that, merit scholarships programs take money away from other parts of the institution, even if the scholarship program itself is left intact. They take money away from the academic program or the residential life programs -- both of those I would feel more important than bringing a few top achievers into the school who might not be attracted otherwise.
MacNEIL: Mr. Boehm, why are you in favor of merit scholarships?
NED BOEHM: Well, basically, TCU as well as a number of institutions -- Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Tulane and Rice here in our own area -- believe that we are offering an alternative for students in their choice. In other words, by tradition many students go through the same pattern of selecting their college or university. We think that through this effort we are offering them an alternative. We are offering them a reward, as Bob has stated, for academic excellence. And so we see this as a way to really reward academic performance, something that we think is not really new; it's been done on the graduate level, it's been done in the area of performance. And we think it ought to be included in academic performance. So we think it enhances our university. We think it enhances the universities where students apply, finally attend. It's not the end-all, but many times it increases a student's selective pattern out of the traditional 1% to the top 10% of the schools in the United States. Where they'll be happly and where they'll be successful, and that's the thing. A quality institution must engage in this to retain those top students thao it wishes to attract that normally wouldn't consider it in the process.
MacNEIL: Is it not too simple to put a geographical factor on this, that that 1% often meant just in the Northeast; many top students applied only in the Northeast or perhaps the Midwest and didn't look to the South or the Southwest. Is that what you mean?
Mr. BOEHM: Robin, I'm sure that you put that probably succinctly in terms of these colleges and universities that are pursuing this tack. We were the second wave. Bob makes up an institution founded in 1813 that was part of the first wave. Many students look to the Northeast, wouldn't leave that area as far as seeking academic excellence. The same thing they experienced with the European demise. We found the same thing. There are fine colleges and universities west of the Mississippi. We have faculty, we have resources, and we want students to look to us for another alternative to a fine college.And those ones you mention in the Northeast are all fine institutions, but we think with the number of applicants. the number of acceptance ratios that there are other alternatives for them and their parents.
MacNEIL: Are you going to have to change your views on this in order to keep a lot of students from filtering away to colleges like Texas Christian?
Mr. McARTHUR: Probably not, Robin. The data show that in fact merit scholarship programs are not terribly effective unless the merit awards themselves are quite large. Six thousand dollars is the cited figure by some recent research.
MacNEIL: Effective in determining where a young person chooses to go?
Mr. McARTHUR: That's right. And even a $6,000 award, according to a recent study, will move a college up from second choice to first choice in only 50% of the cases.It won't bring a college up a list, say, from fifth choice or a college that a student hadn't even heard of before except in a few instances.
MacNEIL: Now, let's go back to Mr. Boehm. What does Texas Christian offer? What is the size of your merit scholarship?
Mr. BOEHM: Our merit scholarships range from $1,000 up to full tuition, which is about $4,500. I might say that Bob is quite correct in what he states, that the award will not entice students to attend a school that's not its first choice, and his percentages from the College Board was the study that was just released is quite accurate. However, what we're saying is by letting students know that you offer rewards for academic excellence, many times they'll consider you among their first-choice colleges in the beginning of the process.
MacNEIL: You mean --
Mr. BOEHM: Waiting 'til the end of the process in March of their senior year and then try to change their mind as far as their final destination does not work.
MacNEIL: And high school advisers --
Mr. BOEHM: I've seen another study which was conducted at the University of Michigan that it's the courting process or the process between a college and university that makes a difference, not the amount of the award. So Bob is quite accurate in what he says. The award itself is not enough to entice difference. But it's enough to attract that student to consider a university or college not normally within its selection pattern.
MacNEIL: Is that working in fact? Do you see this already? As the pool of available students gets smaller, that more students, say, in the Northeast -- I'm speaking to Mr. McArthur just for a moment -- that more students are beginning to consider, include in their range of schools to consider other schools elsewhere in the country because of this?
Mr. McARTHUR: Well, I think for a variety of reasons --
MacNEIL: Though it may not determine the choice ultimately, they're at least considering them?
Mr. McARTHUR: A variety of reasons is now affecting college choice, Robin. We of course recruit students all over the country and have substantial numbers of students from outside the Northeast coming to Colby, and this is true of other New England institutions as well. Southwesterm institutions are now recruiting in New England. Everyone recruits in California and throughout the Sunbelt. So the ease of travel and the sophistication of students is tending to make them willing to go further from home than was traditionally the case. So we'll see that anyway, that students will be thinking of colleges far from home. I think the merit awards perhaps play a smaller role than is currently believed in that decision-making, although there certainly are studies which suggest that students can be influenced to some extent by a merit award.
MacNEIL: Can you hear me now, Mr. Boehm? We're doing a little operation there on your audio down there in the Dallas studio. Can you hear me now? Let me ask you another question while we're trying to fix that. Are we arriving at a situation, as the pool of available talent goes down, where you're going to be involved in a much less gentlemanly fight for students or competition for students than the one we've just been witnessing between you?
Mr. McARTHUR: Well, that's the danger. One admissions director proposed recently some SALT talks -- strategic admissions limitation treaties -- that would cut down a bit on the hard-sell recruiting that's now being practiced around the country. Robin, you were telling me that you have had children going to college and you know that a bright high school senior receives more mail unsolicited in the year than he or she can possibly read, more catalogues, more U-books, more letters suggesting a campus visit, even proposing scholarships and so forth, now come through the mailbox of every high school senior who's thinking about going on to college. This is just, I suspect, the beginning, because we're only halfway through the downturn of 18-year-olds.
MacNEIL: We've got Dallas back, solved that audio problem. We just have a couple of minutes left. Mr. Boehm, what about Mr. McArthur's criticisms of the merit scholarships, that they siphon money away from poor students, needy students, because the pool of money doesn't change, and also from other campus activities? You heard him.
Mr. BOEHM: Yes, sir. I'm sorry that the audio was gone. I saw Bob smile. I knew he was making a good point. In regard to that question I can only speak for TCU. Right now wo do not take away resources. We use the endowment dollars for our entire scholarship package. It is evenly divided between the need scholarships and the no-need scholarships. I think Bob's concern about the over-indulgence of the mail, of people that are going out and trying to seek students that don't have the academic environment to support it, because if you don't have a quality institution to attract those quality students to your institution, it's just going to wreak havoc. You must have the institution to attract them and retain them. And that's the way these programs will be successful for those quality institutions that want to attract a larger pool of the top students that normally wouldn't consider them.
MacNEIL: But for the moment you would both agree that there really is a struggle on to get these students and that it's going to get worse before it gets -- eases off?
Mr. McARTHUR: Well, there's no question that the number of places in higher education has remained fixed. The number of available 18-year-olds has declined 13% since the late '70s and will decline another 13% before the mid-'90s. So the competition will certainly be there.
MacNEIL: I'm afraid we've got to leave it there. Our competition is time. Mr. Boehm, thank you very much for joining us from Dallas; Mr. McArthur in New York.
Mr. BOEHM: Thank you very much. Good luck, Bob.
Mr. McARTHUR: Thank you, Robin. Prisoner to Warden
LEHRER: We close tonight with a profile. It's of a man who recently took over the running of the prison in Boston, Massachusetts. Depending on your point of view, he is either uniquely qualified or terribly inappropriate for that job. Gail Harris of public station WGBH in Boston is the reporter.
BENJAMIN THOMPSON, Boston Penal Commission: One of the things that I still remember, and I think I'll always remember is the sound of metal on metal. The sound of a cell door closing still sends chills through me sometimes, just hearing it.
GAIL HARRIS [voice-over]: Boston's newest penal commissioner is on the other side now, but the memory of a year spent behind bars is still very much alive.When he was 23 years old, Benjamin Thompson and two other men robbed a Bronx, New York, supermarket. They were caught immediately by three off-duty police officers shopping in the store.
Mr. THOMPSON: I blame what happened to me on Ben Thompson. I mean, I wasn't strung out, wasn't really involved with drugs at all. It was just myself getting involvedin semething which I didn't pay much attention to. It wasn't -- this wasn't three-week plan to do something. It was "let's go rob a supermarket." And not thinking, and doing it. It was reaction, just reactionary. And it was stupid.
HARRIS [voice-over]: Fifteen years have passed, and in his new role as penal commissioner, Thompson now tries to convince inmates that one mistake doesn't have to ruin a life.
Mr. THOMPSON [to inmates]: Sometimes you're going through the institution and you know you've got a thousand things on your mind, you've got a thousand problems to deal with, and you almost want to stop for a second and say, "Hey, you can do anything, man. You can do anything." And I believe that, and I believed that 15 years ago. For myself I've confirmed it. Now the task is how do you transfer that. How do I tell you you can be a genius and you can be a star, you know, and you can be a commissioner, and you can be a teacher, and say you're only limited by your lack of imagination.
1st INMATE: We've got a perfect role model in you, because you've been through what we're going through and found something positive in it, you know, a way to express yourself.
2nd INMATE: Without trying to butter you up, you know, or sounding like we're buttering you up, you've been through it, you know, and look what you've achieved.
HARRIS [voice-over]: As Boston's penal commissioner, Thompson is responsible for 900 inmates at the Deer Island House of Correction, a 100-year-old, overcrowded, antiquated facility. In choosing Thompson to serve as penal commissioner, Boston's new mayor admits he went against the advice of some of his staff.
RAY FLYNN, Mayor of Boston: He has an awful lot to prove, I think. A couple strikes against him, and he knows that. So if success is built on the basis of his commitment to succeed and his commitment to the penal department of the city of Boston, I think he's going to be a triple star.
JOHN BRIHM, inmate, Deer Island Prison: There are officers here that, when they found out through the media that the new commissioner had served time himself, you know, resented that in their own forms. And so they figured they're a little better than he since he was an inmate. And now he doesn't know -- you know, an inmate is always an inmate to some officers' eyes.
HARRIS [voice-over]: But most officers at Deer Island say they're keeping an open mind about Thompson.
TIM CONNALLY, corrections officer: The man has seen great changes in his life, and I think he's going to come down here and we're going to see great change in Deer Island itself, and I'm hoping and looking forward to it.
JOHN HANDREW, correction officer: It's almost like the American dream. You come up. And he has gone to school and, let's face it. America is supposed to be the place where you can get a second chance, and I think the officers down here will given him that second chance.
HRRIS [voice-over]: Thompson's second chance came after 15 years of working his way up the corrections department ladder. After leaving prison he moved to Boston, married and had a son. He went to school at night and two years ago got a graduate degree from Harvard University.
Mr. THOMPSON: I do believe that 80, maybe 80 to 85 percent of the individuals who are incarcerated, if they want to, can change their lives. Now, whether or not they ultimately have the willpower to do without for an extended period of time, whether or not they have the support systems that allow them to exist while going through changes, those are the variables that you can't measure state to state, city to city, county to county. It's a real individualized assessment that would have to be done.
HARRIS [voice-over]: Thompson believes that one key to inmate rehabilitation is education, primarily because he got his high school degree while in prison. One of his goals is to increase the full-time teaching staff at Deer Island, from one to seven.
Mr. THOMPSON: It's easy to see if you look at Deer Island, you look at where our money goes, that less than 1% of our budget goes to education. And it's a crime if we take people who have committed crimes and put them away, and do not attempt to educate them and give them the basics while they're there.
INMATE: You know, there's nothing being done out here to help this man.
Mr. THOMPSON: Well, you know, one of things that we had talked about, I think you've already heard that my goals for this year is really building a school.
HARRIS [voice-over]: Thompson says he's confident a larger school will be built at the prison before his three-year term is up. And, as for his personal goals for the future --
Mr. THOMPSON: I take one day at a time and do not allow myself, I think, the luxury of looking back and saying -- or patting myself on the back and saying, "Oh, you've done a good job." because then I think I'd get caught up on patting myself on the back and I might miss something and in fact end up not doing a good job.
LEHRER: That report by Gail Harris of WGBH in Boston. Robin?
MacNEIL: Once again the main stories of the day. Iranian warplanes damaged an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf for the second time in two days. President Reagan denounced the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and a Republican senator criticized the handling of American aid to the Afghan rebels.
Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Good night, Robin. And we'll see you tomorrow night. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour
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This episode's headline: U.S. Aid: Any Good? Living With War; Merit vs. Need; Prisoner to Warden. The guests include In Washington: Sen. GORDON HUMPHREY, Republican, New Hampshire; PHYLLIS OAKLEY, State Depatment; SELIG HARRISON, Carnegie Endowment; In New York: ROBERT McARTHUR, Colby College; In Dallas: NED BOEHM, Texas Christian University; Reports from NewsHour Correspondents: GRAHAM SHENTON (Visnews), in Israel; JEFF SENGSTACK, in Orangeville, Utah; CHARLES KRAUSE, in Jinotega, Nicaragua; GAIL HARRIS, in Boston. Byline: In New York: ROBERT MacNEIL, Executive Editor; In Washington: JIM LEHRER, Associate Editor
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Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” 1984-12-26, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 16, 2024,
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