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Ortega's Moscow visit pushes US Congress toward aid to Nicaraguan rebels

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Daniel Ortega Saavedra's trip to Moscow is going to be more expensive for him than he presumably expected when he set off for that and other Eastern European capitals. It has collapsed the opposition in Congress to further American aid to Seor Ortega's enemies in Nicaragua. At this writing it remains uncertain whether Congress will continue to forbid actual arms deliveries to the counterrevolutionary forces (the contras) operating around the fringes of Nicaragua against the Sandinista government. But there now will be aid to the contras that would not have been possible before President Ortega made his big mistake on April 24.

April 24 was the day when Congress voted down aid of any kind for the contras. That might have settled the matter then and there. But on that very day, right on top of a series of votes in Congress that killed not only military but also all other kinds of aid for the contras, Mr. Ortega announced he would be going to Moscow.

It took about a week for Democrats who had long opposed any aid to the contras to digest the implications of the sequence. By this week the political conclusions became obvious. Few members of Congress relish going to the voters next year under the charge of having failed to vote against a Nicaraguan leader who had so flagrantly (in their eyes) displayed his association with Moscow.

As this is being written, the political leaders in Congress are still working on precisely what kind of aid will be provided for the contras. But there is no doubt any longer that there will be aid, which will in turn revive the ability of the contras to step up their activities inside Nicaragua.

What had been a partisan impasse in Congress has become a bipartisan search for a compromise formula under which the contras will get help. What had been a defeat for President Reagan has been converted into a victory for his purposes.

And Ortega did it all by himself.

There are still some noisy street demonstrations by political activists against aiding the contras. But these have become politically irrelevant.

It is still regarded in Washington as being politically safe to oppose US troops in the Nicaraguan civil war. The Democrats still incline to oppose actual US guns to the contras on the theory that where guns go today, US soldiers might go tomorrow. But it is no longer politically safe on Capitol Hill to oppose all help to the contras.


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