Printer Friendly

Who's behind the aid to the contras.

Hidden in the dense forest along the Honduran-Nicaraguan border are thousands of well-fed and well-trained anti-Sandinista soldiers. On a recent visit with the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (F.D.N.), one of three contra groups backed by the Central Intelligence Agency, we found the troops faring well and ready to fight despite a cutoff in U.S. covert aid this spring. The F.D.N. forces, some based fifty miles inside Nicaragua's northernmost department, Jinotega, were uncannily cocky, as if the aid cutoff had not affected them.

The Reagan Administration's war against Nicaragua has found other sources of funding. As the death last month of two U.S. mercenaries killed when their helicopter crashed during an attack on a Sandinista training camp shows, the war has become increasingly privatized. Nonmilitary supplies for the anti-Sandinista forces and their families are streaming into Nicaragua from a variety of conservative donors. Traditional humanitarian agencies fear that conservative participation will politicize their relief efforts in the region.

The contributors have received a needed assist from the Reagan Administration. Several times this year relief supplies destined for contras based in Honduras got free rides on U.S. military transport, sparking a squabble within the Pentagon over the legality of the shipments.

Much of the aid reaching Honduras is used to sustain families of the contras based along the Nicaraguan border. Louisiana State Representative Louis (Woody) Jenkins's Friends of the Americas Foundation, for example, distributes food, clothing and medicine to the Misura, a coalition of Miskito, Suma and Rama Indian groups fighting the Sandinistas. Misura leader Steadman Fagoth Muller old us he received two tons of food from the foundation and other groups in July.

Jenkins stores his supplies in a building used by the F.D.N. last year as a safe house in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Jenkins also uses Honduran Army trucks and a commercial charter airline called Setco (Servicios Turisticos Compania) to transport his supplies inside the country. According to Honduran military sources, Setco was set up by the C.I.A. to carry contra forces and supplies. Jenkins's liaison with the army is Capt. Lionel Luque Jimenez, who is also the army's liaison with the contra groups.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has a policy of withholding relief supplies from people within twenty-five miles of a border to avoid charges that it is taking sides in a political conflict. A U.N. relief worker in Honduras was skeptical about the need for assistance to the Indian contra families in the border area. "A lot of these people are not refugees," said Tom Hawk, chief of Honduran operations for the World Relief Organization. "They are here because Misura brought them over from Nicaragua. They've been there for three years and been fine until now. Why create this unnecessary dependence?"

But to Jenkins, the contra families are simple refugees, even if the head of the household is waging war. "The U.N. and others won't help them because their family members may be fighting," Jenkins told us when he visited Honduras in July. "To me they are refugees just the same as anyone else. To me they deserve more support."

Jenkins acknowledges the ideological impetus beind his effort. "I'm all for the freedom fighters," he said. "I want the Sandinistas kicked out of Nicaragua. That's one of the main motivations for my work. But our role is to help the refugees, not to get involved with combatants."

Jenkins may be a little disingenuous. The aid his and other groups provide by feeding the families of fighters helps support the anti-Sandinista movement. those voluntary efforts have enabled the C.I.A. to concentrate its depleted funds for the contras on arms and ammunition rather than on food and clothing. According to some Honduran Army officers, the F.D.N. says the agency continues to provide about 20 percent of its funding, or approximately $5 million a year, despite the June cutoff.

Jenkins's assistance is but one part of an outpouring of aid that in the last year has totaled about $17 million, according to Administration officials cited in The New York Times. The Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network reportedly raised the largest chunck of refugee aid, donating $7 million in medical supplies. Other contributors to the contra cause include "some well-known companies in the States, Latin america and Europe," according to Mario Calero, a spokesman for the F.D.N. Calero did not identify the companies. His brother Adolpho has told Honduran officers that he raised $5 million in commitments during a recent fund-raising swing through the United States. According to F.D.N. officer Enrique Bermudez Varela, some of the U.S. money has come through the Miami-based Human Development Fund. Contra leaders in Honduras have said they've approached the governments of Taiwan, Israel and Japan for financial help or training. A Japanese military adviser, who had been training contra forces in the martial arts and other combat skills, was recently spotted on the streets of Tegucigalpa in the company of a U.S. mercenary. A Misura source said a six-man Japanese team spent five months training the rebels. And Honduran officials have hinted that Venezuela, Guatemala and Argentina are contributing to the contras.

A principal source of cash and materiel, contra officers report, is the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification church. Since the cutoff in C.I.A. funds, Causa, a Moonie political group, has shipped money and clothing to the contrast in Honduras, whee it is not unusual to see rebel soldiers wearing Causa T-shirts.

Another source of help is Soldier of Fortune, a magazine for military buffs. In El Salvador and Honduras it makes wars as well as covers them. The magazine provides combat boots, canteens and uniforms, and some of its editors and contributors serve as advisers to the Salvadoran Army on counterinsurgency techniques. The Soldier of Fortune personnel have one advantage over the fifty-five U.S. military advisers stationed in El Salvador: they are not bound by Congressional restrictions to stay out of combat zones.

The magazine has published its contributor's accounts of fighting alongside contra forces in Nicaragua. On the humanitarian side, the publication runs Refugee Relief International, a nonprofit, tax-exempt foundation which it takes pains to separate from its military activities. The foundation provides food, shelter and medicine for civilians displaced by the military's attempts to eradicate the rebels in El Salvador.

alexander McColl, Soldier of Fortune's special projects instructor, said his refugee relief group arranges for the transport of medical supplies inside the country. A straight-talking Harvard Law School graduate and Vietnam veteran, McColl called the opposition of church and other volunteer organizations to using military transport for relief supplies "the ultimate asshole hypocrisy." He scoffed at their fear that getting the military involved in humanitarian aid will politicize their work. "In other words, they'd rather see people die instead of seeing medical supplies flying down here in olive-drab aircraft."

During a trip to el Salvador in May, McColl told us: "What we are doing here has been briefed to senior policy officials in Washington. They are aware of what we are doing and they approve. They have not told us to stop. In fact, they seem grateful for the private initiatives."

The Administration has been more than grateful. It has permitted military airlifts for the relief supplies, even though the violates the law. A confidential National Security Council directive issued last December ordered the military to carry relief supplies to Central America on a "space available" basis. But Pentagon lawyers and career State Department officials balked at that policy, since military airlifts of civilian supplies are illegal except in cases of natural disaster. Nevertheless, at least three airlifts took place in May and June. and in August, Robert Wolthius, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, was assigned to arrange airlifts for relief supplies. Wolthius told us he is now "getting on top of the law and the regs." He expects to have a staff to assist him when the new fiscal year begins, this month.

An amendment attached to a defense authorization bill by ultraconservative Senator Jeremiah Denton in June would clear up the legal problems posed by the airlifts. It orders the Pentagon to institute "such procedures as are necessary" for the airlifts.

The man behind the aid influx is andy Messing, executive director of the National Defense Council, a nonprofit educational and research organization based in alexandria, Virginia. Messing, who describes himself as an "irregular-war-fare expert," admitted in an interview that going to war is his favorite pastime. He's been to El Salvador thirteen times in the last twenty months, and he told us he had received a letter of commendation from the Defense Intelligence Agency for his work there. (A spokesman for the agency said he could find no record of the award.)

The colorful cold warrior takes credit for persuading Senator Denton to introduce the legislation that would legalize the airlifts and for convincing Oliver North of the National Security Council staff to lobby for the shipments at the White House and the Pentagon. He emphasized that his efforts had been to get nonmilitary supplies, not guns and bullets, to Central America. "One pill is worth a thousand bullets," Messing said. "Weapons shipments are not positive, not Judeo-Christian."

Messing said he had also worked this spring with Denton's office and the air Commandos Association, a group of retired Air Force officers, to stockpile medical supplies destined for Central America at air bases in Selfridge, Michigan, and Fort Meade, Maryland. (A government source said at least one of the Michigan shipments was paid for by "the boys up the river," the C.I.A. This made the shipment legal, since, in Catach-22 fashion, "the agency paying for it has to certify its legality.")

Messing said Denton's bill is needed because Defense Department lawyers "made a squawk" about earlier shipments. "It's a hell of a good amendment," he said. "It takes the monkey off D.O.D.'s back, so they don't have all these planes flying around empty."

Private volunteer organizations aren't so sure they need the military's help. While unwilling to speak for attribution for fear of further widening the split between conservative and liberal relief agencies, representatives of the american Friends Service Committee, Church World Services and the Mennonite Central Committee said they feel Denton's amendment is unnecessary and dangerous. They worry that the conservative push for military airlifts could create a partnership between organizations that support an expanded U.S. military role in the region and the Pentagon, which trains and arms the counterrevolutionaries.

"The Defense Department's involvement may change the apolitical nature of the aid," said one representative, adding that it is possible to arrange emergency assistance under existing law.

Career relief workers at the State Department and the Agency for International Development, as well as Pentagon lawyers, have also tried to discourage the military's involvement in the relief effort. "There is a desire to play by the rules, and the rules are fairly strict," said one Pentagon source, explaining his reluctance to arrange an airlift. "The problems are the legal authority."

Despite this source's hesitations, it is clear that aiding the contras by any means has become official policy. U.S. Embassies in Honduras and El Salvador acted as virtual referral services for members of Civilian Military Assistance (C.M.A.), the Alabama-based group which was involved in the September air attack on the Sandinista training camp. Embassy officials had obligingly put C.M.A. members in touch with Salvadoran and Honduran military officers after the organization expressed a desire to donate weapons and military equipment.

Early last month a State Department spokesman admitted that the government has not discouraged private citizens from aiding the contras. The Administration has, in fact, welcomed and encouraged the aid influx. A privately funded war is better than no war all.
COPYRIGHT 1984 The Nation Company L.P.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:privatizing of the war against Nicaragua
Author:Dillon, John; Anderson, Jon Lee
Publication:The Nation
Date:Oct 6, 1984
Previous Article:New Reagan, new Mondale?
Next Article:U.N. stopover.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters