Nine Republican congressmen on a hastily arranged fact-finding mission arrived today to meet Nicaraguan officials and opposition leaders less than a week before the House votes on a $100-million aid package for contra rebels.
The nine-member House delegation, which the White House said wanted "to get a firsthand assessment" of the situation in Central America before the vote, arrived on a U.S. Air Force jet at Managua's Augusto Sandino Airport on a direct flight from Washington.
The congressmen were scheduled to meet Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramirez and Foreign Ministry officials. U.S. Embassy officials said they also scheduled meetings between the congressmen and leaders of opposition political parties.
Tour of Opposition Paper
The first stop on the congressmen's tour was the office of Nicaragua's only opposition newspaper, La Prensa, whose editors discussed censorship imposed on their publication.
The delegation will not meet with President Daniel Ortega, who is in Stockholm for the funeral of slain Prime Minister Olof Palme.
The congressional visit comes less than a week before Congress will vote on a Reagan proposal to give the contras $100 million in military and economic aid. The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on the proposed package, which Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government has labeled "immoral and illegal."
In Washington today, President Reagan declared himself a contra as he spoke to a group of 200 handpicked supporters.
Responding to the charge that the United States has not given Nicaragua enough time to negotiate a peaceful settlement, Reagan asked: "Have you ever heard of a communist regime that couldn't wait to negotiate itself into a democracy? It's a little like a skunk negotiating itself into a rose."
'A Million Chances'
He said it is true that the United States "never gave the Sandinistas a chance. . . . We gave them about a million chances."
Reagan said contra is short for counterrevolutionary, which used to mean support of right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza, whom the Sandinistas ousted in 1979.
"The way I see it, Somoza has been gone a long time. The revolution that toppled him then became a communist coup, so the contras are against it. So I guess in a way they are counterrevolutionary, and God bless them for being that way.
"And I guess that makes them contras, and that makes me a contra, too."
The nine House Republicans making the journey--which will also carry them to other Central American nations--are Tom DeLay of Texas, David S. Monson of Utah, Jim Kolbe of Arizona, Barbara F. Vucanovich of Nevada, Guy V. Molinari of New York, Paul B. Henry of Michigan, Robert S. Walker of Pennsylvania and Californians David Dreier of La Verne and Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove.