Ortega Assails Reagan at U.N.; U.S. Walks Out
President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua assailed President Reagan’s Central American policy Thursday from the rostrum of the U.N. General Assembly but concluded with a plea for dialogue with Washington to ensure the security of both nations.
The vehemence of Ortega’s attack prompted an indignant Ambassador Vernon A. Walters to lead a walkout by the U.S. delegation. Walters called the speech “revolutionary babble” and a falsification of history.
“He insulted repeatedly not just the government of the United States but the incumbent President of the United States,” Walters told reporters outside the hall. “The people of Nicaragua may have to sit and listen to him, but I don’t.”
Ortega charged that the United States, by supporting half a century of dictatorship under the Somoza family, had “bled the Nicaraguan people dry.” After the Sandinistas succeeded in overthrowing President Anastasio Somoza in 1979, Ortega said, he sought a “relationship of respect” with Washington but was offered the role of a slave.
Ortega said the U.S.-backed contras, who he asserted were responsible for the deaths of 400,000 Nicaraguans, “have already met defeat” and that only 6,500 remain in the field. Reagan, he said, is “running out of time” as the end of his term approaches.
U.S. delegates rose from their front-row seats as the Sandinista leader spoke of grave consequences if the United States succeeded in destroying his revolutionary regime in Nicaragua as he said it had destroyed that of Grenada. In October, 1983, U.S. troops invaded the Caribbean island state and arrested leaders of a Marxist-led revolutionary regime that had overthrown a milder Marxist government earlier that month.
Ortega won strong applause from the Third World-dominated assembly when he taunted the departing Americans, saying:
“It seems that the culprits are annoyed. They have killed our people, but now they are upset when the truth is told.”
It was the second time in this session of the assembly that U.S. delegates have walked out on a speech by a head of state. Ambassador Herbert S. Okun, Walters’ deputy, led the delegation out of the hall Sept. 22 during a speech by Iran’s President Ali Khameini.
Ortega accused Reagan of attempting to undermine the peace plan that he and four other Central American presidents signed and which the assembly unanimously endorsed Wednesday. He held up a copy of the agreement and said Reagan also could have signed it.
“We are the leaders of independent sovereign countries and not the colony or neo-colony of the United States,” Ortega said of himself and the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Despite the rhetoric directed against Washington, the Sandinista leader concluded with an appeal for direct talks.
“We believe that the time has come for starting a dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua,” he said, rejecting U.S. demands that the Sandinistas negotiate directly with the political leaders of the contras.
No Gain Seen
“Nothing would be gained by talking to the leaders of the ‘counterrevolution,’ ” he said.
Ortega suggested that the United States begin talks with his government 35 days after the Nov. 7 date on which cease-fires in the various regional conflicts are supposed to take effect under the peace plan. The plan calls for a 30-day period in which implementation of the agreement would be verified, and Ortega said an additional five days would enable Nicaragua and the United States to assess the results before beginning talks.
Ortega cautioned Reagan against allowing his advisers to supply “hot-headed ideas,” adding that “Rambo exists only in the movies.” Again, the audience applauded.
At a news conference afterward, to which Ortega brought his pregnant wife and their eight young children, he said he would expect to discuss security measures with Washington. He said these would include “U.S. security concerns over the existence of the Nicaraguan revolution” as well as his own government’s security issues.
He denied that it was the pressure of the U.S.-backed contras that persuaded him to sign the five-nation peace pact last Aug. 7.
“That is totally false,” he said. “It was largely because the mercenary army failed that we were able to agree.”
He made these other points in reply to questions:
-- Few of a reported 8,000 political prisoners in Nicaragua will be given amnesty despite the peace plan’s provision for such programs. Half of these are common criminals, Ortega said, and the other 4,000 are equally divided between soldiers of the old Somoza regime and “counterrevolutionary criminals.”
-- He will close down the opposition newspaper La Prensa again if it defends a Reagan Administration request for $270 million in new funding for the contras. The newspaper resumed publication only last week.
“When the United States approved $100 million for the contras, we closed La Prensa,” Ortega said.