Reagan Says He’s ‘a Contra Too,’ Pushes Rebel Aid
President Reagan, acknowledging serious opposition to his plan to arm Nicaragua’s contra guerrillas, proclaimed himself “a contra too” on Friday and pledged to carry his case to the American people.
Addressing about 200 state and local officials who support his program, Reagan said that in a speech on the issue tonight he is “going to the people by way of television to try and tell them this story and get their help.”
The President, who has met almost daily with members of Congress about his proposal, said: “They’re telling me more and more of the people that they’re hearing from back home . . . don’t want us to do this.”
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said the Administration is “making progress” in the campaign for approval of its aid package, but it is “still an uphill fight.”
The House, controlled by Democrats, is scheduled to vote March 20 on Reagan’s proposal for $70 million in military aid to the rebels as well as $30 million to continue the present aid program, limited to medical and logistical supplies.
Nine Republican congressmen left early Friday on a hastily arranged trip to Nicaragua to assess the situation there. Two Democratic congressmen left Thursday night on a similar mission.
Some Don’t Use Name
Opening his remarks to the elected officials, Reagan said some supporters of the contras do not use that name, which stands for counterrevolutionary, because it was first applied to the rebels by Nicaragua’s Marxist-led Sandinista government to imply that the guerrillas were backers of former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza.
“The way I see it,” he said, “Somoza’s been gone a long time, the revolution that toppled him then became a communist coup, and so the contras, so-called, are against it, and so I guess in a way they are counterrevolutionaries and God bless them for being that way. I guess that makes them contras and so it makes me a contra, too.”
Reagan remained cool to a proposed compromise under which Congress would approve the aid package but delay delivery of the military assistance until another attempt has been made at negotiations.
“If we delay aid for a few months while we are talking, the Sandinistas will take the time and use it to finish off the contras,” he said. “That’s the communist strategy-- to kill them off. And when the execution is complete they will end the talks.”
‘Part of New Mob’
Reagan, who has asserted that the Sandinistas are heavily backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba, told his audience that Nicaragua’s rulers “are not operating independently” but are “part of the new mob, part of the 20th Century’s answer to ‘Murder Inc.’ ”
“There is no question, I think, that faces our times that is more crucial to our future than what happens in Central America,” the President said.
Reagan drew a parallel with the early days of World War II, before the United States had entered the conflict, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appealed to America to “give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
“We are not asking for American boys to go down there,” Reagan said. “There has been no appeal for them. They just need the tools that we can provide them as Churchill once asked for tools.”
Possibility of Training
Pentagon sources, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said that if Congress approves Reagan’s request, the Defense Department is prepared to have U.S. military advisers train the rebels. Such training is now banned.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that the Administration has “no specific plans” to train Nicaraguan guerrillas in Honduras and added: “If it were necessary to provide any training to the contras, the increase in U.S. (personnel) in Honduras would be very, very small.”
In a separate message to Congress, Reagan said the United States has a responsibility to help resistance movements opposing Soviet intervention and Moscow-backed regimes.
“Important choices now rest with the Congress: whether to undercut the President at a moment when regional negotiations are under way and U.S.-Soviet diplomacy is entering a new phase; to betray those struggling against tyranny in different regions of the world, including our own neighborhood; or to join in a bipartisan national endeavor to strengthen both freedom and peace,” Reagan said.
The message added: “We should not expect to solve problems that are insoluble, but we must not be half-hearted when there is a prospect of success. Wishful thinking and stop-and-go commitments will not protect America’s interests.”
It also said: “The American people believe in human rights and oppose tyranny in whatever form, whether of the left or the right.”
Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb had no comment on charges Thursday by the Nicaraguan government that two former and two current U.S. Embassy officials in Managua spied for the CIA.
“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on allegations of intelligence activity,” Kalb said. “We assume this allegation in some way fits in with a Sandinista effort to influence the debate” on Reagan’s aid package.