The United States already has spent nearly $1 billion--some of it illegally--on an undeclared war in Nicaragua that will become "an American disaster" similar to Vietnam if Congress continues to fund the insurgency, Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.) said Saturday.
"We've been down this road before," said Bonior, a Vietnam veteran, in the weekly radio address by Democrats. "Americans remember how, step by step, dollar by dollar, before we even knew what was happening, we were caught in the Vietnam War. We remember how advisers became troops and troops became casualties--57,000 in all."
Despite strong opposition from Democratic leaders, the House is expected to reverse itself this month and approve President Reagan's request for an additional $100 million in aid for the Nicaraguan insurgents, known as contras. The Senate approved it March 27.
Along with his speech, Bonior released a table of figures showing that the U.S. government already has supplied $100 million in direct aid to the Nicaraguan rebels since 1981 and that it also has given $627 million in military and economic aid to Honduras and has allocated $220 million for U.S. military maneuvers and the construction of five airfields in Honduras.
"When we add up all the pieces, we see the true cost to the American people," he said. "This is already a billion-dollar war."
Bonior noted that these past expenditures--adding up to $947 million--do not include the money currently being requested by the President.
"Does America want to spent $1 billion in a war against Nicaragua while family farmers face bankruptcy and ruin at home; millions of dollars for new airfields in Honduras while in our cities and towns, streets and bridges and sewers decay. . . ?" he asked. "Does America want to spend $1 billion on a new war while the veterans of the last war are still denied compensation for the ravages of Agent Orange?"
Bonior maintained that some of the money already appropriated by Congress has been spent in violation of the law. He cited a recent General Accounting Office report indicating that the Administration cannot account for over half of the money approved last year.
Cites Marcos Abuses
"The American people deserve to know exactly where our money is spent," he said. "We have seen the abuses of the (former Philippine President Ferdinand E.) Marcos regime and we do not want contra aid to become a new source of private fortunes."
In addition, Bonior said that U.S. troops--including National Guardsmen from several states--have been training in Honduras as part of this undeclared war for the past three years. In several states such as Maine and Massachusetts, Democratic governors are threatening to bar their state's National Guardsmen from participating in maneuvers in Honduras.
"The President has warned us that the choice lies between sending aid to the contras and sending American soldiers into battle," Bonior said. "But what we have not been told is that U.S. troops by the thousands are already in Central America."
Bonior noted that many of the democratic countries of Latin America have asked the United States to stop funding the contras.
Bonior's five-minute talk was billed as the congressional Democrats' response to President Reagan's regular Saturday radio address, which was devoted to an appeal to Congress to support legislation to carry out Defense Department reforms proposed by a commission headed by former Deputy Defense Secretary David Packard.
Reagan urged Congress to permit the Pentagon to operate on a two-year budget cycle instead of the annual appropriations now in force and called on the legislature to cut back on the welter of Senate and House committees--he said there are now 40--that have jurisdiction over various aspects of Defense Department legislation.
Diverging from his past practice, Reagan had praise rather than criticism for former President Jimmy Carter, observing that his predecessor had noted shortcomings in military preparedness before he left office and had "recommended a five-year expansion of the defense budget."