• U.S.

Putting the Squeeze on Congress

3 minute read

In a foreign-aid budget of about $15 billion, the sum is minuscule, a mere $14 million. But the Administration’s efforts to persuade Congress to support the contras in Nicaragua is turning into a major foreign policy test. The Administration stepped up its pressure on Congress last week. An unidentified Administration official hinted that if the funds were not provided directly, aid to the anti-Sandinista rebels might be supplied by unnamed Asian countries. He did not explain whether those countries would simply pass along U.S. money or use their own funds to help the contras. Congress might forbid any rerouting of support meant for such friendly nations as Thailand and Taiwan, but a country could, of course, use the U.S. funds for internal purposes and then earmark an equal amount from its own budget for the contras. Congress would then have the option of cutting off or restricting aid to the offending country.

Another alternative alluded to by Administration sources was to recognize the contras as a government-in-exile and funding them openly rather than covertly. But an Administration official conceded that this would be risky, since it would be “tantamount to a declaration of war.” Still another option floated by Government officials is getting Congress to approve “humanitarian aid” to support the contras’ families, many of whom live in Honduras and Guatemala, with the expectation that the money would be passed on to the fighting men. Again, Congress would probably be opposed to such a sleight-of-hand funding. The President, however, might be able to provide this family aid out of emergency funds under his control.

In a more direct effort to squeeze the Nicaraguan government, the U.S. has opposed a proposal by the Inter-American Development Bank, a lending institution supported by 43 nations, to grant a $58 million loan to that country. Secretary of State George Shultz personally expressed “strong opposition” to the loan, claiming that it would enable the Sandinistas to “free other money that could be used to help consolidate the Marxist regime and finance Nicaragua’s aggression against its neighbors.” The bank’s top officers agreed to reconsider the loan.

Two organizations that monitor human-rights abuses issued reports last week that will make it more difficult for the Administration to win over Congress. Americas Watch, a private nonpartisan group that monitors human-rights abuses in the hemisphere, contended that the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the largest rebel group, employs “the deliberate use of terror.” The Washington Office on Latin America, a coalition of religious and academic groups, issued a report citing at least 28 murders, rapes, assaults and instances of torture committed by the contras.

Asked about the reports by a Senate committee, Shultz replied, “I don’t say there aren’t any problems, but it always strikes me how when there’s a sense here or in Nicaragua that we’re coming up to a vote or a decision, that all sorts of stuff starts appearing.” The vote on the $14 million will be in the form of separate House and Senate resolutions and is expected in April. If the Administration’s request is defeated, the White House will start pushing its alternative funding proposals in earnest.

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