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Group Starts Nationwide Drive to Halt Contra Aid

August 15, 1987|LAURIE BECKLUND | Times Staff Writer

A coalition of 30 religious and peace groups has announced the start of a nationwide campaign they say will be the largest effort so far to block aid to Nicaraguan rebel armies and promote a Central American peace initiative.

The campaign, called "Days of Decision," will feature extensive lobbying of congressional offices, acts of civil disobedience, a media campaign and demonstrations, leaders of the groups said in press conferences in Los Angeles and Washington on Thursday.

"I think we really will be able to give a voice to the millions upon millions of Americans who are opposed to contra aid," said David Reed, executive director of a Washington-based group called Coalition for a New Foreign Policy and a coordinator of the Days of Decision campaign.

He said 25 congressmen considered to be swing votes on the issue will be targeted by activists who are being trained for the effort by experienced lobbyists. A $250,000 campaign of media ads also is being planned, geared to an expected vote on the issue this fall, he said.

Eye on the Polls

The effort is being waged partly with an eye on recent polls, which have shown a renewed opposition by Americans to contra aid. An ABC-Washington Post survey conducted last week found that about 59% of Americans oppose such aid. That opposition had dropped to about 46% after the testimony of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North in mid-July.

A senior Reagan Administration official said Thursday that the President may ask for more contra aid next month as "insurance" against the collapse of new Central America peace initiatives, but the plan was withdrawn by the Administration on Friday. The current $100-million aid package expires Sept. 30.

The Administration is backing one peace proposal, which places the onus on Nicaragua to meet contra demands, while five Central American countries, including Nicaragua, are backing another, broader proposal that allows 90 more days for further negotiations.

"This is Central America's problem, and this war is killing their people," said Carol Wells, a spokeswoman for one of the 30 groups, the Nicaragua Task Force, in Los Angeles. "We should stop it, and we should allow them to determine their own policies for peace."

Congressmen Targeted

In Southern California, groups said they specifically plan to pressure several congressmen opposed to contra aid to take leadership roles in quashing any Reagan Administration proposals for renewing it. A vigil will be set up at the Federal Building in Westwood for several days before the vote, they said.

Blase Bonpane, director of the Santa Monica-based Office of the Americas, which coordinates educational tours to Nicaragua, said he and more than 30 others were arrested for trespassing last week at the Van Nuys office of the Air National Guard in the first act of civil disobedience in the campaign. More such acts will take place throughout September at as-yet-undecided sites, he said.

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