As the question of sending $100 million in aid to the anti-Sandinista rebels was being discussed in Congress, the bishop of Le,on, Nicaragua, Monsignor Julian Barni, made the following comment:

"While in the United States they are discussing the $100 million, the Soviet Union has already given $100 million and much more without any discussion at all." Bishop Barni added: "What is necessary is that both imperialist powers, not one alone, stop complicating matters in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan people have fought to establish a true democratic regime and hope to achieve one. This is what matters most."

Nicaragua's problem, in effect, is not only a problem of the Nicaraguan people -- their loss of freedom, civil and political rights. The problem is not only the total absence of democracy and political pluralism or the suppression of freedom of expression. Nor is it just the problem of discontent that prevails as a result of the same kinds of disastrous social and economic conditions that brought on the revolution. Nor is it only the persecution of the church, as if we have never seen this in the history of our country. Nor is it the 10,000 political prisoners.

In addition to these disgraces, which in one form or another we have seen appear and disappear in most Latin American countries, there emerges a particularly grave situation: the Sandinistas are transforming the Nicaraguan revolution, fought for by all Nicaraguans, into a revolution that serves the purposes of Marxism-Leninism. That is to say, they are taking a national movement and turning it into a beachhead for communist expansion. And they have sacrificed the national interest for the benefit of this cause.

Before the Sandinistas reach this goal, those Nicaraguans who are fighting for democracy have the right to ask for help from wherever they can get it. It is a cause far too important to lose. For the Nicaraguan people, the issue at hand is of such transcendental importance that they cannot vacillate at all in choosing the right position. The future of the freedom of generations of Nicaraguans hangs in the balance.

Those who argue that to give aid to the Nicaraguan rebels would be a violation of the "principle of a people's right to self- determination" are mistaken. These people seem to ignore or perhaps forget deliberately that self-determination applies to peoples, not oppressive governments that do not legitimately represent the will of the people.

They try to forget as well that the same Sandinistas received direct military aid from other countries when they were fighting to overthrow the Somoza dynasty. And despite the fact that the Sandinistas were receiving aid in the form of arms from other countries, no one accused those countries of being guilty of aggression toward Nicaragua. The reason is that the Somoza regime, like the Sandinistas today, did not represent the will of the people.

The free peoples of the world, and particularly those in America, both North and South, must not at this critical time abandon the Nicaraguan people because their struggle is also the struggle for the future of the Western democracies. Nicaragua has become an important point of East-West confrontation. That Nicaragua in the long term could determine the balance of forces between the East and the West and ultimately the security of the United States and the Western Hemisphere as a whole may seem an exaggeration. But everything depends on future actions and the capacity of the democracies to defend themselves.

In the United States, the debate centers on whether the Sandinistas represent a serious threat to U.S. security. President Reagan argues firmly that they do. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has declared that he is prepared to discuss matters of regional security, but he refuses to speak with anyone regarding Nicaragua's internal situation.

A short time ago, two members of the U.S. Congress debated on television whether to give the $100 million to the Nicaraguan rebels. One of them, who opposed aid, asked: How is it possible that such a small country with a population of only 3 million could pose a security threat to a great military power such as the United States? Against a power like the United States it would be impossible for even a single plane or tank to reach San Antonio, Texas, without it being destroyed.

When I heard the congressman's statement I couldn't believe he was serious. The danger is not military: naturally, when we speak of the military, we think of a war between the United States and Nicaragua. The danger is that the Sandinista revolution is not a revolution of the Nicaraguan people. Managua is filled with internationalists from Latin American countries who wield influence in this revolution and whose aims are the expansion of communist influence and Soviet domination in the region.

Nicaragua with its army of 60,000 men (Somoza's army had only 7,000) cannot be a military threat, nor can Cuba, whose army and militia consist of more than a million men. This absurd idea of a direct military threat from the Sandinistas is an attempt to obscure the real danger of the Sandinistas.

Their strategy is to prop up their communist regime in Nicaragua by sacrificing the freedom of the Nicaraguan people while they inspire, aid and arm, from Managua, insurgencies throughout Latin America, "movements of national liberation" that will convert the entire continent into an immense base of insurrection.

Perhaps now the idea of Nicaragua's becoming a serious military threat to the United States seems absurd, but in the future it could take on a far more serious air. Sooner or later, in 20 or 30 years, Latin America is going to succumb to one form or another of communist domination. Mexico is not necessarily an exception. It might one day be the country most likely to fall. Moreover, Mexico is considered by the communists to be the country that best fits into their strategy.

If all of this comes to pass, the balance of power between East and West will be definitively in favor of the East and spending $100 million or a billion dollars will not reverse it. It could bring a world war to the doorstep of the United States. When Latin America, or much of Latin America, is under the influence of the Eastern bloc, NATO will no longer be in Europe; it will be in San Antonio, Texas.

But if the president of Nicaragua wants to have a dialogue on the subject of U.S. security, why not do it? We believe that dialogue is necessary. It should not be a dialogue solely on U.S. security, but also on our democracy and freedom -- something that repels the Sandinistas, because making concessions by restoring democracy and freedom in Nicaragua will be their political death. The negation of the system that has been established will be the end of their internationalist and expansionist aims.

In addition, the Sandinistas have no reason or motivation to negotiate because the counterrevolution is in a ruinous state. This is because Reagan has not and will not be able to, as a result of congressional opposition, give effective aid so that the resistance can achieve its objective. In negotiations one concedes something in exchange for something else. The Sandinistas have a lot they can give. Reagan has nothing left to offer; Congress has already given it.

Daniel Ortega hopes to achieve the total elimination of the counterrevolution in exchange for the promise not to be a military threat to the United States or to Nicaragua's neighbors; not to allow the Soviets to install military bases, and to remove all Cuban advisers. With this the Sandinistas could achieve their consolidation and a free way to continue their expansionist aims through nonmilitary, but not less dangerous or effective, means.

As Jean-Francois Revel, in his book "How Democracies Perish," writes: Democracy "awakens only when the danger becomes deadly, imminent, evident. By then, either there is too little time left for it to save itself, or the price of survival has become crushingly high."