MANAGUA, Nicaragua — President Daniel Ortega said today that the U.S. Congress rejected further Contra aid in hopes of peace but that the vote does not represent a significant change. "The war continues," he said.
At a news conference, Ortega said the defeat Wednesday night of President Reagan's request for further Contra funding "will strengthen peace efforts." But he also said: "It does not make the war disappear because (the war) is promoted, financed and organized by the U.S. Administration."
"If the President of the United States . . . tells the North American people and the international community that he has decided to cut off all kinds of military aid and financing to the mercenary forces and begin a direct dialogue with the government of Nicaragua on security matters and direct the Contras to cease fire, then, yes, we would be able to say we are on the road to peace," he said.
The leftist Sandinista government generally refers to the U.S.-funded and -trained Contras as "mercenaries."
"But in these circumstances we cannot speak of being on the road to peace. We are at war, making efforts toward peace," Ortega said.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 219 to 211 to reject $36.2 million for the Contras, which would have included $3.2 million in military funding.
Appeal to Contras
State-run Radio La Primerisima broadcast a call to the Contras to put down their arms. "It's useless. . . . It is time to save your life," the radio said.
A six-column banner headline in Barricada, the newspaper of the ruling Sandinistas, read: "Reagan's Request for Funds Defeated." But above that the newspaper said: "The U.S. Administration Will Evaluate New Forms of Aggression Today."
The pro-government newspaper El Nuevo Diario ran a headline saying: "Peace Gains Points."
Contra leader Alfonso Robelo, in a telephone interview from his home in San Jose, Costa Rica, said the vote will weaken the rebels' negotiating position in cease-fire talks next week in Guatemala.
"The cease-fire is supposed to be a means to set the conditions so there will be democracy in Nicaragua," he said. "Obviously, now that the Sandinistas know of our weakness, they will be ready to settle only for a total defeat, for a surrender of our troops."
Robelo is one of six directors of the Contra umbrella organization known as the Nicaraguan Resistance.
Asked if the Contras could survive long without more aid, Robelo replied: "There are fighters, units inside Nicaragua, that can survive, but obviously the amount of fighting, the degree of military pressure, is going to decrease drastically, especially after Feb. 29," when current aid runs out.
More Pressure on Managua
Foreign Minister Rodrigo Madrigal Nieto of Costa Rica said the decision to reject more Contra support has put more pressure on Nicaragua to abide by the peace plan.
About 100 enthusiastic Americans and Nicaraguans ended three days of protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Managua this morning.
"This is a celebration for all of us," said Maria Zuniga, 47, a native of Minneapolis who has lived in Nicaragua for 20 years. "Last night there was a great victory for the Nicaraguan people."
About 50 youngsters from the nearby Batahola Norte neighborhood carried a hand-painted sign saying: "We Want Peace." They sang and played flutes and guitars.
Ercilda Medrano stood across the street from the embassy with a group of friends. "I just hope this means we can reach peace," said the young woman in a soft voice. "We go hungry because of the war."