A convoy of 44 Americans delivered three tons of food, medicine and clothing to the leftist Sandinista government Friday, and President Daniel Ortega praised them at a public ceremony.
"These people are representatives of the American people who don't want war, they want peace," Ortega said to about 200 people who gathered in Luis Alfonso Velazquez Park.Wounded Nicaraguan soldiers watched the ceremony and children mobilized by the Sandinista Party chanted: "Let's go to war, carry the bullets!"
The Veterans Peace Convoy, sponsored by the Washington-based Veterans for Peace, journeyed across Mexico and Central America for two weeks after a dispute with the U.S. Customs Service.
Customs officials said the group, which includes many veterans, would violate a 1985 economic embargo if they donated their vehicles, as they plan to do. Humanitarian aid is allowed under the embargo.
"While Reagan sends arms to the (rebel) Contras to murder our children, he tried also to obstruct this caravan," Ortega said. "He said they carried goods that threatened the security of the United States."
Ortega had a child bring him a box of the goods and took out a baby bottle. "Look at the weapons they brought," he said, holding it up. "This is what Reagan did not want to arrive."
He screwed the top on the bottle. "The weapon is ready to fire," he announced. "All it needs is milk."
Convoy member Raul Valdez spoke out against U.S. funding for the Contra rebels who have been trying to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist government for nearly seven years.
"This money that is sent to cause death here is being taken away from our children," he said. "Our taxes shouldn't be used to kill Nicaraguans. It's unjust, immoral."
A convoy spokesman said the supplies would go to three Sandinista organizations representing children, workers and women. He also said 18 of the 20 vehicles would be left in Nicaragua with party organizations, including labor unions.
The operations of the Sandinista Party and the government are closely intertwined in Nicaragua.
When the veterans crossed the U.S. border, they were told they faced fines of up to $50,000 each and 10 years in prison if they did not bring the vehicles back within 30 days.
A U.S. Treasury Department official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday that no decision had been made on whether to file charges against convoy members.
In June, U.S. Customs officials stopped the original convoy of 38 vehicles from crossing into Mexico.