In June, then-President Ronald Reagan sent a message to Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill with a request.
With a vote looming on a measure that would bar funding for the Contra rebels battling the Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the president wanted to address the House to lobby on behalf of a group he considered fighters.
O’Neill, who bitterly opposed aiding the Contras, refused the request, arguing that while he would agree to an address to a joint session of Congress, no president had ever before addressed a single chamber of Congress for the purpose of dealing with a specific piece of legislation.
The president, understandably, was peeved.
“Tip refused to let me speak to the House. I’m going to rub his nose in this one,” he wrote in his diary that day.
Instead, President Reagan addressed the nation from the Oval Office, and began his address by recalling the time some four decades earlier when President Harry Truman went before Congress to seek aid for democratic forces battling communists in Greece.
“In a hushed chamber, Mr. Truman said that we had come to a time in history when every nation would have to choose between two opposing ways of life. One way was based on the will of the majority — on free institutions and human rights.
“The second way of life,’’ he said, “is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections and the suppression of personal freedoms. I believe,’’ President Truman said, “that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.’’
Reagan went on to warn about the dangers posed by a communist-controlled Nicaragua, and underscored that Central America is vital to America’s national security.
The pressure worked, and Congress came around and agreed to support the Contras.
A peace accord was eventually reached, free elections were held in 1990 and, unsurprisingly, Ortega was voted out of office. Not one to give up, Ortega kept on running for president, losing in 1996 and 2001 before winning back his job in 2007. Ever since, he has kept a firm grip on power.
In recent days, Nicaragua is back in the headlines, as the people of that country have taken to the streets to seek democratic reforms. True to form, the Ortega regime has responded with brutality and violence.
Things have gotten so out of hand that eight public hospital doctors in Nicaragua were fired after violating orders not to treat wounded protesters opposing the Ortega government.
On Monday, the Trump administration weighed in.
In a statement, the White House press secretary said, “The United States strongly condemns the ongoing violence in Nicaragua and human rights abuses committed by the Ortega regime in response to protests. After years of fraudulent elections and the regime’s manipulation of Nicaraguan law — as well as the suppression of civil society, opposition parties and independent media — the Nicaraguan people have taken to the streets to call for democratic reforms. These demands have been met with indiscriminate violence, with more than 350 dead, thousands injured and hundreds of citizens falsely labeled ‘coup-mongers’ and ‘terrorists,’ who have been jailed, tortured or who have gone missing. President Ortega and Vice President Murillo are ultimately responsible for the pro-government parapolice that have brutalized their own people.”
The statement continued by stressing that “The United States stands with the people of Nicaragua, including members of the Sandinista party, who are calling for democratic reforms and an end to the violence. Free, fair, and transparent elections are the only avenue toward restoring democracy in Nicaragua. “
The administration announced that it has placed sanctions on three Nicaraguan officials — Francisco Diaz, Fidel Moreno, and Francisco Lopez for human rights abuses and corruption.
“These are a start, not an end, of potential sanctions,” the White House warned.
President Trump is to be commended for taking this stance. While Nicaragua’s role as a proxy in the war against communism is no longer relevant, its people deserve our support as they seek a better future for themselves.