Reagan Allies Stage Capital Protest : A Sunday in the Park--for the Contras
About 2,000 apparently angry demonstrators gathered across the street from the White House on Sunday, chanting slogans and demanding a change in U.S. policy toward Nicaragua.
Nothing unusual about that--except that this mob was led by one of President Reagan’s top aides, Patrick J. Buchanan; by the State Department’s assistant secretary for Latin America, Elliott Abrams, and by former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick.
It was the kickoff of yet another Administration campaign to persuade Congress to give military aid to the Nicaraguan contras, and it included everything from a fiery Kirkpatrick speech--"Our independence and freedom are on the front line of the struggle for Central America,” she said--to an official leak of intelligence information from Abrams.
Soviets Shiping Arms
“The Soviets are shipping weapons directly to Nicaragua again,” he told a reporter, thus confirming reports that U.S. intelligence had spotted a Soviet ship unloading military equipment in early May.
“We will be talking more about it during the week,” Abrams promised, but he refused to provide more details. “We don’t want to step on our own lines,” he said.
He added, however, that the Soviet supplies did not appear to include any fighter planes or other new weapons for the Sandinista regime to use against the rebels. “We warned the Soviets against that in Moscow” at a series of meetings last month, Abrams said.
The shipment apparently was the first in more than a year that the Soviet Union has sent directly to Nicaragua, although Soviet freighters have frequently shipped guns and ammunition there by way of Cuba.
The Administration’s decision to reveal the new shipment was only a small part of a planned campaign to turn the Democratic-led House of Representatives around on the issue of aid to the contras.
The Republican-led Senate already has approved $100 million for the U.S.-sponsored guerrilla army fighting to overthrow the Managua regime, but the House has blocked the aid. It is scheduled to vote again on the issue later this month.
Hence Sunday’s rally in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, for which Cuban-American organizations in New York and New Jersey packed hundreds of their members into buses.
The demonstrators booed lustily at every mention of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), a leading opponent of aid for the contras. And they carried signs reading “KGB Out of U.S. Congress” and “Nicaragua Today, Cuba Tomorrow,” which several said reflected their hope that a victory by the contras would lead to a similar U.S.-backed effort against Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
‘Caravan of Freedom’
Presidents frequently complain about protesters in Lafayette Park, but Reagan sent these a statement of support. “You have transformed an ordinary bus ride into something truly magnificent, a caravan of freedom,” his message said.
“We will not abandon our neighbors, the suffering people of Nicaragua, to tyranny,” the message continued. “Their struggle is our struggle. And our determination to see them free will triumph over the Sandinistas’ plans to keep them slaves.”
Reagan remained at his weekend retreat at Camp David, Md., during the rally, however.
White House Communications Director Buchanan, who angered Democrats last April when he charged that their opposition to the contras was helping the Soviet Union, used his speech to let fly at Congress again.
Communism on Doorstep
The House vote, he said, “will tell us whether the United States is as resolute and determined to preserve freedom and liberty on the North American continent as the Soviet Union is determined to advance communism right on the doorstep of the United States.”
“Nicaragua today is under foreign occupation. And we in the United States not only have the legal right, but we have a moral duty, to help the people of Nicaragua throw off this colonial bondage and once again join the family of free American states,” Buchanan said.
Kirkpatrick, who spoke in both Spanish and English, won the wildest cheers with a simple message.
“Down with the Communists in the Americas,” she said.