House Democrats unwrapped their latest legislative proposal for U.S. policy in Nicaragua yesterday, calling it "a new Monroe Doctrine" that would expand U.S. options against the leftist Sandinista government there but reject a military approach.
Debate is expected to begin next week in both chambers of Congress on variations proposed by both parties on providing humanitarian aid to antigovernment rebels or their families. Significantly, none of the plans proposes military assistance, and only one, that of Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), would end the rebel-aid program.
"We cannot continue to hide our failures behind ever tougher rhetoric," said Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.), a sponsor of the Democratic measure, at a news conference. "We cannot let our ideals, so long symbolized by the Monroe Doctrine, be used as a cloak for gunboat diplomacy."
The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 stated that Latin America is integral to U.S. security and warned other nations not to interfere or attempt to increase their possessions there.
Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs, said he expected some Republican support for the Democrats' measure, even though Republicans came within two votes of passing their own version two weeks ago and are certain to try again with a similar package.
The Democrats' alternative emphasizes support for regional peace talks and would provide $14 million in humanitarian aid to Nicaraguan refugees living outside Nicaragua -- that is, not to the rebels -- through the Red Cross or the U.N. High Commission on Refugees.
It would require quarterly reports from the president to Congress on the situation in Nicaragua and the status of the Contadora regional peace talks launched by Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and Panama and provide financial aid to implement any Contadora treaty.
In perhaps its most controversial provision, the proposal would renew a tightly worded ban on direct or indirect spending to support the rebels. It would expedite handling of any request from the president, after Oct. 1, for new military aid to the contras, or counterrevolutionaries, provided that he consults first with the Contadora nations.
"This path forces the Sandinista government to demonstrate its good faith" by Oct. 1, said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.)