With US aid, Sandinistas can be pressured, `contra' leader says. In interview, Robelo laments Congress's `yo-yo' commitment
Washington — A top Nicaraguan ``contra'' leader says the United States Congress's on-again off-again commitment to the rebels has made it impossible to sustain effective pressure on the Sandinista regime. ``People keep telling us military pressure hasn't produced results,'' Alfonso Robelo says. ``I'm telling you there hasn't been military pressure. [The Sandinistas] see us as losers. Why? Because of the yo-yo policy of the Congress.''
``We cannot sustain the struggle without US aid,'' says Mr. Robelo, one of three directors of the Unified Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), an umbrella group formed in 1985 to coordinate policy among the major contra factions.
In an interview with the Monitor, the nattily dressed Robelo also rejected the idea of a compromise package that would provide only humanitarian assistance to the contras. Following a suspension of aid to the contras between May 1984 and August 1985, Congress voted $27 million in ``nonlethal'' aid to the rebels. Robelo says extending aid on this basis will hurt, not help, the contra cause.
``Humanitarian aid is not humanitarian at all,'' says the former Nicaraguan businessman, now living in exile in Costa Rica. ``That only gives us food, medicine, and clothes to keep on killing and being killed, with no possibility to put the needed pressure on Nicaragua. On that basis, I prefer to say let's have no aid.''
Robelo, a veteran of the revolution that overthrew Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979, served as one of the original members of the Sandinista junta, along with current President Daniel Ortega Saavedra. In 1980 he broke with the Sandinistas because of growing Cuban influence in the new government and ``after seeing they were betraying the principles of the revolution.''
Challenging critics who say the contras are fighting a lost cause, Robelo insists the Managua regime is vulnerable. Under the Sandinistas, he says, high debts, low exports, and inflation have driven Nicaragua ``from poverty to misery,'' weakening domestic support for the ``fanatics'' at the top of the ``Sandinista pyramid.''
Robelo says sustained US military aid to the contras, combined with more active regional efforts to isolate Managua diplomatically, could either lead to mass defections or force the Sandinistas to permit free, internationally supervised elections in Nicaragua.
The Reagan administration has asked Congress for $100 million in new aid for the Nicaraguan rebels. Under the plan, scheduled to be voted on in the House of Representatives and the Senate next week, the rebels would receive $30 million in nonlethal aid, plus up to $70 million in military assistance.
Under the Reagan plan, US aid would extend for 18 months, beginning April 1. Robelo says if after 18 months ``we still have not been able to deliver, I don't think we have the right to keep on in this war.''
The proposal has drawn fire in Congress. Critics of the aid proposal say forcing the Sandinistas to the bargaining table will require a lot more than US money. One key missing ingredient has been active pressure on the Sandinista government from other countries in the region.
In 1979, members of the Organization of American States passed a resolution calling for the ``immediate and definitive replacement'' of the Somoza regime. However, Robolo says, despite polls indicating public support in the region for increased US backing of the contras and private expressions of support by Central and South American leaders, political leaders in Nicaragua's neighbors have been fearful of taking a public stand against the Sandinistas.
``It was easier to isolate Somoza, since he had no friends,'' says Robelo. ``You can't say the same thing about a Marxist-Leninist regime when there are Marxist-Leninist minorities in most of these countries'' willing to resort to acts of terrorism in response to expressions of support for the contras.
Another missing ingredient has been the failure of the contras to sink deep political roots in Nicaragua. A key to the victory over Somoza in 1979 was support for the Sandinista revolution among Nicaragua's urban population. But, says Robelo, faced with the Sandinistas' elaborate intelligence networks, urban militias, block committees, and almost complete news-media censorship, the contras have found it almost impossible to engender similar support.
Robelo concedes that distrust between Congress and the White House has made his lobbying efforts difficult.