V Washington, D. C. SPRING is just around the corner in Washington. And in the Age of Ronald Reagan, the rites of Spring here include the rite of the annual contra aid debate. Last year, the Reagan administration and Congress danced around each other for months before settling on a tidy $27 million sum for the Nicaraguan contras. That non-lethal nest egg runs out on March 31. This year, the Administration wants $100 million for the Nicaraguan rebels $70 million for covert military aid and $30 million for humanitarian aid. As the dancers move into place on the left and right sides of the issue, selfstyled “moderates,” with a sense of their own strategic importance, are shuffling for a prominent position. Their number includes several Texas Democrats. Without these House moderates, the AdMinistration will probably not be able to tip the scales for aid to the contras again this year. Congress defeated both military and humanitarian aid last April only to approve a large sum for humanitarian aid in June. Ten Texas Democrats voted for the final aid package; five of these helped make the difference between April and June. Some of those Texans have now joined the effort to raise the Contadora negotiations as at least a rest stop, if not a road block, to the Administration’s plan to arm and supply the contras. A few see the moderate position as a real alternative to further contra aid. “1986 is going to be a pivotal year for the future of the contras and the future of the Sandinistas,” said Jim Slattery, D-Kansas, who has been trying to gather the swing-vote group around a coherent position. “We may now have the last opportunity for the Contadora process to work.” Early in February, Slattery and thirty other Democrats, twenty-five of whom had voted for the $27 million in nonmilitary supplies last year, sent a letter Vera Titunik is the Observer’s Washington correspondent. to President Reagan urging him to postpone his anticipated aid request until after the Contadora group has met again to work out a settlement. “We believe,” the February 3 letter reads, ” . . that the Sandinistas should now be tested by diplomatic initiative, supported by the democracies of the region and throughout the world, to determine . . . whether a diplomatic solution based on the Contadora principles is viable.” Among those seeking a delay are Albert Bustamante, D-San Antonio, John Bryant, D-Dallas, Ron Coleman, D-El Paso, Marvin Leath, D-Waco, Mike Andrews, D-Houston, Jim Chapman, D-Texarkana, and Charles Stenholm, D-Stamford. With the exception of Bryant, who voted against assistance “You’re telling me now I gotta cut domestic programs and we’re sending,,$100 million to Nicaraguense? I have a problem with that.” Albert Bustamante to the contras last year, and Chapman, who replaced Sam Hall after the vote had taken place, all supported aid in last year’s decisive vote. “There are a number of us who think the Reagan administration has paid little more than lip service to Contadora,” said Coleman in an interview February 19. “We should at least listen to what the regional leaders have to say.” THE REGIONAL leaders have been speaking loudly and clearly in recent days. In mid-February, the foreign ministers of the four Contadora countries Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia and the Contadora Support Group Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Uruguay met with Secretary of State George Shultz in Washington to urge him to abandon immediate consideration of aid to the contras. They asked that the U.S., instead, put some muscle behind the recently rejuvenated Contadora process. The Contadora peace negotiations are now centered on what is called the Caraballeda Message, drawn up this past January in Venezuela and subsequently endorsed by the Contadora Group, the Support Group, and the five Central American nations, including Nicaragua. The Caraballeda Message puts forth a number of proposals for achieving peace in Central America, including an end to support for “irregular forces,” an end to international military maneuvers, the eventual removal of foreign military advisors and installations, observance of human rights, and the resumption of direct talks between Washington and Managua. The foreign ministers involved in the process emphasized during their visit to Washington that progress should be made on these proposals “in a simultaneous manner.” Colombia’s foreign minister, Augusto Ramirez Ocampo, in an unusually confrontational statement during his visit to Washington, condemned Reagan’s plan to support military aid to the contras because it “threatens the international judicial order.” “It was quite an extraordinary development,” said Susan Benda, legislative analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, of the Latin ministers’ recent visit. “They [the foreign ministers] came out very plainly on the record . . . that the U.S. is not a constructive force for peace in the region. . . . Aiding the contras is directly contradictory to the Contadora peace agreement.” The Reagan administration has rebuffed the Contadora nations on the issue of aid to the contras as well as on bilateral talks with Nicaragua. It refuses to answer Managua’s call for direct negotiations until the Ortega government agrees to talk with the United Democratic Opposition, a loose coalition of rebel groups which Susan Benda describes as “a creation for the Congress.” Rep. Slattery hopes that, if Congressional moderates can stall the contra aid request, they can buy time for the Contadora nations to work to break this diplomatic deadlock. The fact that 25 “swing voters” have signed the letter urging the President to support a diplomatic solution is “not lost on the Administration,” according to Slattery. Although he has received no official response from the White House, Slattery said he has had conversations with “key” members of the Administration. The President has not yet made the official request for aid, which would trigger a 20-day period for Congress to take action on the request. “I am watching what they do as well [as what Contadora Revival in Congress By Vera Titunik THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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