The vote in the U.S. House of Representatives last night calling for an end to covert aid for anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan rebels is "materially inconsequential," a top political leader of the insurgents said today.
Adolfo Calero, a director of the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Democratic Force, said in an interview that the military maneuvers recently ordered by the White House in this region "more than balanced" any psychological loss from the House vote.
The House bill, sponsored by Reps. Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.) and Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.), is not expected to pass the Senate. However, a similar House vote on an upcoming money bill could cut funds after Oct. 1.
The Nicaraguan Democratic Force is a group of Nicaraguan insurgents committed to overthrowing the leftist Sandinista government in Managua. Reagan has called them "fighters for freedom."
The force was largely organized, trained and financed through the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, and claims to have grown from fewer than 500 men two years ago to 10,200 today, although some U.S. diplomats place its strength as low as 4,500.
Other Nicaraguan rebel groups, some of them loosely allied with the force and others politically opposed to it, number about 3,500 men.
The political leadership of the Democratic Force consists mainly of former businessmen, like Calero, with histories of centrist or conservative political activity. But the military leadership is composed almost entirely of former members of the Nicaraguan National Guard, which was defeated and forced into exile after fighting to defend the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza against the Sandinista-led popular uprising of 1979.
While other groups reportedly have received some backing directly or indirectly from U.S. sources, the Democratic Force has been the main recipient of Washington's largesse.
A cutoff of funds, which amounted to at least $19 million this year, would leave the Democratic Force in a difficult position just as it hopes to regain the military and political momentum that has been flagging over the last three months.
But the leadership gathered here today in the Honduran capital seemed much less discouraged by the action of the Democratic House than it is encouraged by the Republican administration's continuing demonstration of force in the area.
The arrival of a flotilla of U.S. warships off each Central American coast and joint Honduran-U.S. exercises scheduled to begin here near the Nicaraguan border next month "are more than enough," Calero said, to reassure his troops and potential supporters inside Nicaragua.
Calero said he had warned the group's commanders to expect worse from the House.
The former head of the Nicaraguan Conservative Party has been spending most of his time lobbying in Washington, and said he met just this week with new Assistant Secretary of State Langhorne A. Motley before coming here for a special meeting of the eight-member Democratic Force directorate.
Other leaders of the group have said in the last few days that there are "alternative sources" of backing for their efforts even if Washington should withdraw its direct support. Several mentioned Israel as one such potential source of aid.
Some of the group's leaders have suggested that even before the vote in Congress they had had several problems as a result of insufficient funding.
Referring to the $19 million reportedly received this year, Edgar Chamorro, another civilian director of the force, said, "Anyone knows that we can't win a war with that kind of money."
Despite reports from Washington that the Reagan administration plans to provide funds to double the group's troop strength, Chamorro said, "I don't see the money yet." In a generally relaxed mood as he awaited news of the congressional debate over the last few days, Chamorro said at one point and only half in jest, "A Cuban told me unless you see suitcases full of money around, they the Americans are not serious."