Key House Democrats, bracing for a showdown next week over Reagan Administration efforts to restore funding for Nicaraguan rebels, offered a plan of their own Thursday that would provide only humanitarian aid and funnel it through international relief agencies.
The proposal also would retain--against Administration wishes--the ban on arms aid to the contras, under the controversial Boland Amendment, named for Rep. Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.), the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The House Democrats’ plan would emphasize seeking a solution to turmoil in Central America through the efforts of the Contadora Group, four Latin American nations that are attempting to mediate political disputes in the region.
Although the United States should be concerned about the threat of neighboring countries coming under the control of the Soviet Union, “we cannot let our ideals, so long symbolized by the Monroe Doctrine, be used as a cloak for gunboat diplomacy,” said Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.), a sponsor of the Democratic plan.
Passage Appears Doubtful
Democrats distributed a poll, conducted by the Harris Survey, showing that almost three-fourths of the public opposes military aid to the contras. But while the plan for non-military aid that was outlined Thursday has the backing of the House Democratic leadership, its passage appears doubtful.
The Democrats’ plan, which would provide the money during the current fiscal year, also lays out a series of incentives intended to encourage the Nicaraguan government to agree to a cease-fire, remove foreign military advisers and negotiate with its opponents.
Among the incentives would be suspension of U.S. military exercises in the region, mainly in Honduras, and resumption of normal U.S. trade with Nicaragua. The resolution also offers economic assistance and creation of a regional development organization, if Nicaragua’s government meets the U.S. terms.
The proposal for up to $14 million in humanitarian aid resembles one that narrowly passed the House several weeks ago, only to be rejected in a subsequent vote that denied any aid to the contras . The political mood in Congress is believed to have swung against the Democratic proposal since then, in part because of anger over Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s trip to the Soviet Union shortly after the House vote.
Thus, one of the leading sponsors of the plan unveiled Thursday, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, conceded that the Democratic proposal has become little more than an “academic exercise.”
An alternative being drafted by the House Republican leadership is more likely to pass, he said. The Republican plan is expected to call for humanitarian aid through the Reagan Administration rather than through the International Red Cross and the United Nations, as specified by the Democrats. The Republican proposal also may attempt to weaken the Boland Amendment by allowing the United States to share intelligence data with the rebels.
Both the House and Senate are expected to vote next week on proposals for providing funds to the contras. Given the best chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate is a plan by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) that would provide $32 million in non-military aid to the rebels during the current fiscal year and in fiscal 1986.