Birds of a Feather
On October 24th, Ronald Reagan signed the necessary executive order sending the Congressionally approved $100 million in aid to the Nicaraguan contras. Of this aids $70 million was designated for military equipment and training, and so far, $30 million has already been given to them. Only in America will $100 million be spent without knowing where the better half of a previous $27 million went. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just as Reagan tries to make sure his contras receive another $40 million of the $100 million aid package on “or after February 15th, we should take time to reflect on how we arrived at our decision to underwrite the contra welfare state.
Clearly, we didn’t arrive at this decision by looking the facts squarely in the face. No—no. If we did that, the contras wouldn’t get a bus token, let alone $100 million. For this decision, we closed our eyes, held our noses, tilted our collective heads back, and swallowed with blind faith the panacea to peace and democracy in Nicaragua as prescribed and administered by Reagan and his Administration.
Over the last five years the contras couldn’t even come together on the proper way to dig a latrine, not to mention fight a war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. What the various factional leaders did agree on, however, was in order to dig a proper latrine, more money was needed. Thus, in order to provide the contras with the technological last word in latrines, we gave them $27 million in humanitarian aid over a 1985/1986 year. Unfortunately, an investigation by the General Accounting Office disclosed $11 million missing outright, while Congressional investigators sought $4 million more reportedly laundered through a small grocery store in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. The White House, commenting on the situation, noted that under the circumstances the money was properly spent. The American taxpayer only’ lost an accounting of $15 out of $27 million, and only discovered on October 24th the same day Reagan signed his executive order, what the State Department knew in June: the humanitarian aid was also used to buy ammunition.
It hasn’t been easy getting $100 million for the contras. After all, Congress spends a lot of time on vacation, and it’s hard to get them to vote on things when they’re out to lunch. On March 21st, 1986 when Reagan was trying to persuade Congress to give the contras $100 million in military and non-lethal aid, legislators, in some kind of apoplectic fit, voted against him, noting that the contras were losing the war in the field. The contras, smelling new money, realized they needed a victory to convince Congress of their value as a fighting force. The Reagan Administration, realizing a contra victory on the field of battle was closer to a science fiction movie than reality, decided to let contra leaders do battle among themselves for unification. After all, an internal victory is a victory of sorts. Around the first week in June, contra leaders came forth with a new unity accord, and a commission to probe charges of corruption. The White House, overlooking the fact that past years have seen several contra pledges of alliance, commented that the new unity accord was just what was needed to make the contras an effective fighting force. It was a bitter battle. Fought in Miami. Now, with the $100 million flowing, maybe the contras will give up their drug smuggling activity and get down to doing God’s work of overthrowing the Sandinistas . . . just as soon as they reach another unity accord. According to an article in the October 5th edition of the New York Times, their June accord is falling apart.
Ronald Reagan has been trying to get rid of the Sandinistas since he swore his oath of office in January, 1981. To believe otherwise is to believe in the tooth fairy, no matter what may come out of his mouth. In fact, getting rid of the Sandinistas was part of the Republican Party platform. From the manic burblings of such sages as Jeane Kirkpatrick, author of that enlightening article “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” and the writings of the committee of Santa Fe, comes to us a foreign policy that is not a foreign policy; a doctrine that is not a doctrine; and, a war that is not a war. It’s no wonder that the CIA theory of “plausible denial” has invaded the White House, when the death of 10,000 Nicaraguans can be traced to its doorstep. Plausible denial allows its occupants to sleep at night.
Keeping the American people on the right track hasn’t been an easy task for the Reagan Administration, either. The Sandinistas had to be shown as opponents of truth, justice, and the American way. Back in February, 1981 when 90% of the American population didn’t know where Nicaragua was located (50% still doesn’t know), the creative writing staff at the State Department drafted the “White Paper on Communist Interference El Salvador.” The paper, which described the Soviet-Bulgarian-Czechoslovakian-East German-Cuban-Nicaraguan-Salvadoran guerrilla connection, was discredited by the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post when journalists who tried to follow the trail described by the State Department ended up in Harlem rather than El Salvador. After giving the people a little time to forget about the “White Paper,” Al Haig testified before Congress in March, 1982 that he had irrefutable proof that the insurgency in El Salvador was controlled by non-Salvadorans, and a few days later announced that a Nicaraguan military man had been captured in El Salvador. With a political coup in the making, the military man was paraded before the press and T.V. cameras and asked to repeat for the world the Nicaraguan involvement in the Salvadoran insurgency. Unfortunately, before the electricity could be turned off, the military man told reporters that he wasn’t Nicaraguan, in the military, and that his captors had threatened to kill him if he didn’t repeat what they told him to say. The Reagan Administration’s propaganda bubble burst completely when the Mexican government, adding insult to injury, claimed the man was a student in a Mexican university. So much for the script.
The Reagan Administration then shifted to alleged human rights abuses committed by the Sandinistas, not noticing the fact that the most violent human rights abuses in Nicaragua are committed by Reagan’s contras. Contra combatants regularly murder the unarmed, including medical personnel and teachers; mine roads travelled by civilians; force civilians into collaboration; and, rarely take prisoners. Just recently, Honduran authorities had to intervene to stop contra military commanders from trying to qualify for a larger piece of the $100 million by swelling their ranks through the forced recruitment of refugees.
The Hondurans have openly disagreed with the Reagan Administration and contras on other occasions. In August, following reports by the Pentagon that it was considering training the contras on Honduran soil, Honduran Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez Contreras announced “My government will not permit the so-called anti-Sandinista contras to use our territory to be trained by American soldiers.” About 3 weeks later, on September 3rd, President Jose Azcona Hoyo repeated the message when he said “Not a single U.S. soldier will come to Honduras to train the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries.” After rebuffing the Reagan Administration, the Hondurans had a few words for the contras. In mid-September, when the Nicaraguan baseball team marched into Lempira Stadium to play in the Central American Baseball Tournament, about 200 contra supporters waved a burning Sandinista flag at them. While the contra supporters waved the burning flag at the Nicaraguan team, the Honduran military police waved M-16s at the supporters and broke up the flag burning. Later, a government official sitting in the stands said: “We take our baseball very seriously here, no matter who’s playing. Besides, everyone’s sick and tired of living with the contras.” The Nicaraguan team won the baseball game, and the Reagan Administration got the contras. In early November, after Panama, Costa Rica, and El Salvador also refused to allow contra training camps inside their borders, contras began training in the United States.
One of the more interesting events involving the Hondurans happened in March, 1986. One morning, the, Sandinista government called the Honduran government on the phone and informed them they were going to visit some contras camped on Honduran property. The Honduran military, not wanting to get in the way, removed itself from the area while Honduran President Azcona, realizing he had some excess vacation time on the books, left town. On March 22nd, approximately 1500 Sandinistas dropped in on approximately 6000 contras. After discovering this wasn’t the kind of party they had originally planned, the Sandinistas wisely withdrew. The Reagan Administration, reacting swiftly to the new opportunity, immediately tried to coax the Hondurans into saying they were attacked, and thus open the door to direct Honduran involvement, and possible United States intervention. The Hondurans, however, wanted no part of the scheme and in the beginning, denied any knowledge of the event. The Administration, pressing the issue, ordered United States helicopters to airlife about 600 Honduran soldiers, wearing expressions of “This-is-not-my-job-man,” close to the battle zone. Meanwhile in Washington, Reagan was literally forcing $20 million in emergency military aid on the Honduran government in an effort to make them more cooperative. The plan fizzled out when President Azcona remained out of town, and no decision could be made until he returned. Getting nowhere with the Hondurans, the Administration decided to use the fighting response of the contras as evidence they were not as close to defeat as pictured. Never very good with numbers, the Senate missed the fact that the Sandinistas were outnumbered 4 to 1 when the contras allowed them to retreat to Nicaragua, and went ahead to approve the contra aid package by a vote of 53 to 47. In the end, the Honduran President acquired the love and affection of his troops with his prudence to leave town, and the Reagan Administration had managed to spend another $20 million for nothing.
While the contra rank-and-file are living in the great outdoors, the contra leadership is living in comfortable suburban homes and condominiums in Miami. There are a number of good reasons for this. First and foremost, it’s hard for Sandinista bullets to reach Miami; second, they have more support in Miami than in Nicaragua; third, Miami is closer to the money coming from Washington; and fourth, in the words of contra leader Adolfo Calero himself: “We came to Miami because here is the voice of experience.” No doubt that “voice of experience” alluded to is the Cuban resistance to Castro, and the South Florida Drug Smuggling Association, The Reagan Administration, in its attempt to clean up the contras and answer allegations of contra drug smuggling, released last August an unctuous report entitled “Allegations of Drug Trafficking and the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance.” Specifically, the report cites American intelligence information a saying “a senior member of Eden Pastora’s Sandino Revolutionary Front” in late 1984 agreed to help a Columbian narcotics trafficker ship drugs to the United States in exchange for a plane, two helicopters, and some money. The report, while making note of drug trafficking by other people associated with the contras, said there was no evidence that this activity was authorized by contra leaders, or that the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), headed by Adolfo Calero, Arturo Cruz, and Alfonso Robelo, profited from the drug smuggling. Let’s take a closer look at the Administration’s report.
Eden Pastora, the legendary Commander Zero and leader of the Sandino Revolutionary Front during the war against Somoza, was the Sandinistas’ most popular hero, and a senior official of their government until he distanced himself from them in 1981. In April, 1982 he announced his opposition to the Sandinista government and in that same year founded with Alfonso Robelo, another former senior official of the Sandinista government, the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE). In late 1984, with the blessings of the CIA, ARDE was operating in southern Nicaragua under the leadership of Pastora and Robelo as the armed opposition to the Sandinista government. In June, 1985 at the urging of the CIA, Robelo split from ARDE, and with Calero and Cruz formed the umbrella organization UNO. Pastora, however, refused to join UNO and resisted making a common cause with Calero, who headed the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) which was riddled with ex—Somoza National Guardsmen. The CIA, in its effort to bring all the loose guerrilla bands together under UNO, reacted to Pastora’s stubbornness by revering its ties to ARDE and bribing his top military commanders to leave him. Pastora, bankrupt and abandoned, gave up his fight and sought asylum in Costa Rica earlier in 1986. His forces, however, were placed under tie command or Fernando Chamorro who is aligned with Robelo and Cruz. Notwithstanding probable culpability, it’s easy to understand why Pastora’s name was prominently displayed in the report. He is an outcast who is convenient. But this item doesn’t change the report, which lacks substance, is purposely misleading, and does very little to alleviate concern over contra drug smuggling.
In late 1984, Pastora was the leader of ARDE; not the Sandino Revolutionary Front. Further, Pastora was not alone; in late 1984 Alfonso Robelo, the co-founder of ARDE and future co-founder of UNO was his partner. Also, when considering the nature of ARDE’s mission, it becomes clear that it would be impossible for a senior member of the group to receive an airplane and two helicopters without Pastora and Robelo knowing about the entire operation. All of this leads to questions like: how many other ABDE members knew about the operation and were directly involved? Was the senior member paid, and if so, what happened to the aircraft and how was the money disbursed? Looking deeper, who was this “senior member”, and where is he now? Did he go with Robelo to UNO in 1985, or did he stay with Pastora? If he stayed with Pastora, is he now aligned with his old boss Robelo, under the leadership of Fernando Chamorro? Clearly , UNO could not profit from a drug smuggling operation which took place before it was created, but this does not mean certain members of UNO did not profit from such an operation. Nor does it mean that the expertise for running such an operation is not lurking within UNO’s ranks. It’s good to keep in mind that it takes money, or services rendered, to acquire the means to make war — arid money is something the contras have been claiming a lack of since Congress cut it off in 1984. The questions raised by the report are virtually endless, but one thing about it stands out: its undeniable smell.
Drug smuggling notwithstanding, the contras may have also received money indirectly from the Reagan Administration during the Congressional ban on United States government assistance. Reagan, committed to keeping his contras afloat during the ban, declared in October, 1984 that private efforts to assist Administration policy in Central America were “quite in line with what has been a pretty well established tradition in our country.” He also added he would “be inclined not to interfere with them.” Now, there’s evidence that those “private efforts” were controlled and coordinated from the White House, and that Reagan, if not directly, did at least through his National Security Council staff trample over the laws of this country to continue assisting the contras during the ban on such assistance.
On October 5th, Sandinistas shot down an American-made C-123K cargo plane while it was flying over southern Nicaragua on a contra supply mission. The plane was loaded with arms and ammunition. There was one survivor, a cargo handler from Wisconsin named Eugene Hasenfus. Hasenfus claimed he was working for the CIA; he claimed to have moved 130,000 pounds of arms and ammunition to the contras; he claimed he made 10 supply flights; Hasenfus claimed a lot of things. And in Congress, the question arose: was the Administration involved in continuing military aid and assistance to the contras during the ban on such aid and assistance, and if so, what was the nature of the government’s involvement? Previous attempts by Congress to get a definitive answer to this question yielded little, and this time the result would be the same. On October 24th, the legal issues and questions became “semi-moot” when Reagan signed the executive order that put legislation into effect which would provide $100 million this year to the contras for lethal and non-lethal aid. The Reagan Administration had ducked another Congressional bullet. However, while Reagan’s fireman, Attorney General Edwin Meese III, was slowwalking a Justice Department response to Congressional allegations of Administration impropriety in aiding the contras, an old and familiar face was making his return to the scene of American politics: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. For Reagan, the bullet would come from Iran.
The story broke in the Lebanese weekly Al-Shiraa on November 3rd. Robert McFarlane, Reagan’s former National Security advisor, made a secret trip to Iran. From this Lebanese story, has come the most scandalous episode of Reagan’s tenure. In short, Reagan and his National Security Council staff had been dealing with Iran since early 1985 in an attempt to swap arms for American hostages held in Lebanon. These dealings included, inter alia, the sale of $12 million worth of arms to Iran via Israel. When the arms merchants made the sale, they turned a $10 to $30 million profit. The profit, however, was not retained by the aims merchants, Israel, or .the United States. Instead, the profit was deposited into a Swiss bank account, and then allegedly channeled to the contras. This would explain the contra supply operation of which Eugene Hasenfus was only a very small part, and which military experts valued to be worth millions. However the perfidious contras say they didn’t get a dime, and although they admit the supply operation was going on for some time, they insist they didn’t pay for it, and they don’t know who was behind it. On the other hand, Reagan, like his contras, says he doesn’t know anything about the money from the Iranian arms sale going to the contras, and Attorney General Ed Meese says Lt. Col. Oliver North, a NSC staff advisor until he was fired on November 25th, was the responsible part in the money scheme. Now, it’s up to Congress to sort out all the gory details like whose idea was it to send arms to a country responsible for the death of 241 Marines in Lebanon in October, 1983 and, who was really responsible for providing the money to the contras in violation of United States law? That is, if any of that money ever reached the contras. According to a recently leaked Senate report, we still don’t know where the idea for the arms sale came from, and the allegation that the money from that sale went to the contras is still just that: an allegation.
Out of the present scandal comes good and bad. The good part is we get an opportunity to re-evaluate our foreign policy in Central America, and hopefully, make some changes. The bad part is, what kind of changes will Reagan make? Reagan has only two years left to realize his dream of a Sandinista-free Nicaragua, and in keeping with that dream, he recently submitted a budget package to Congress which included another $105 million in aid for his contras. If, however, as certain Congressmen imply, the issue of further aid for the contras is dead, Reagan is left with but one option: invasion. Although an outright invasion would appear to be too costly, both politically and militarily, other scenarios are possible. One pretext for invasion would be the contras seizing and holding territory in Nicaragua and then declaring the surrounding area “free Nicaragua”. From here, it would be a short step for Reagan to
recognize the contras as the legitimate government of Nicaragua and come to its aid by invasion. A second scenario would be America coming to the aid of a beleaguered Honduras under attack by Sandinista forces. This would seem to be the more likely scenario, and the one Reagan is preparing to use. On December 7th in a replay of the March, 1986 incident, United States helicopters ferried Honduran troops close to a battle zone on the Nicaraguan/Honduran border. This time, Nicaraguan troops allegedly engaged in a firefight with Honduran troops 3 miles inside Honduran territory, and the Hondurans asked for United States assistance. It would appear the Hondurans have become more cooperative now that Reagan is sending them 2 dozen jet fighters, and it would also appear to be only a matter of time before United States troops intervene in Central America.
In the scheme of things, the war in Nicaragua is an ideological
one, controlled from the White House. In plain English, it is a war of ideas, not territory, not human rights. “My idea is better than yours, and I’ll kill you to prove it.” It is also an old man’s war. Reagan was about 16 years old when the Marines went to Nicaragua in 1926 to fight the Nicaraguan Nationalist Augusto Sandino in a guerrilla war; and, he was about 23 years old when the Marines returned home in 1933 after being fought to a standstill. Nicaragua was the Vietnam of his generation, and he probably still remembers the 7 years of headlines and propaganda used to mobilize the American people behind the effort to rid Nicaragua of men we then referred to as It is now 1987, and the Sandinistas are no longer “bandits” today, the Sandinistas are “Marxists,” “Leftists,” and “Communists.” And 50 years later, a young boy’s shaken faith has become an old man’s obsession. For all appearances, Reagan doesn’t like the Sandinistas because they’re not devout capitalists. On the other hand, the contras, through their thievery and abusiveness, have shown themselves to be potentially great capitalists. It seems American ideology is no longer freedom of conscience; free speech; a free press; a free market economy; and, a government by the people. It seems American ideology, as projected by Reagan through his contras, has become repression; terrorism; murder; duplicity; and, the lesson of brute force.
No, it hasn’t been easy for Reagan, sitting around month after month, waiting for October, 1986 to roll around so he could sign the order passing $100 million to his contras, 70% of which will go towards creating widows, orphans, cripples, and refugees in Nicaragua. There was the World Court ruling which enjoined the United States from interfering in Nicaraguan affairs. Twice he had to veto U.N. Security Council demands for compliance. Then there was Eugene Hasenfus. He let George Bush handle that. Then of course, there are still the contras, who seem to have a propensity for doing things in public and leaving survivors all over the place. It is hard protecting the contras who, like all mercenary armies are nefarious, corrupt, and unreliable. Clearly, some of these things rubbed off, but on who is hard to tell. The only sure thing is: “Birds of a feather, . . .” And Reagan did say he was a contra too.