Top `contras' under scrutiny for corruption
The leadership of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force -- the main Nicaraguan rebel organization -- is under scrutiny by some members of the United States Congress. Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has assigned several staff members to investigate allegations of corruption within the rebel leadership -- gunrunning, drug trafficking, and participation in terrorist activity in Central America by the rebels, known as ``contras.'' Nicaragua's ruling Sandinistas have also been accused of involvement in illegal drug trafficking.Skip to next paragraph
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According to congressional staff members working for Senator Kerry, several weeks of intensive investigation have revealed a large amount of information which they say could be damaging to the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) and other contra groups. These aides say they have interviewed a wide network of people -- both American and Nicaraguan -- who have worked with the FDN, including several former Central Intelligence Agency contract employees.
Individuals linked to the contras have also come under investigation by several government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and US Customs Service, according to US government officials, congressional sources, and former CIA contract employees who were interviewed by the FBI.
These questions come a time when there is mounting concern among both Republican and Democratic members of Congress, some members of the Reagan administration, and influential think-tank analysts politically sympathetic to the contra cause about the integrity and basic effectiveness of much of the FDN leadership.
FDN leader Adolfo Calero strongly denies any charge of wrongdoing by his organization. Mr. Calero says that charges of gunrunning, corruption, drug involvement, and participation in terrorist activities are ``absolutely false and do not have one single element of truth to them.'' Calero emphasizes that a recent report by the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March of this year, based on a visit by committee staff members to FDN camps in Honduras, shows that ``our [FDN] operations are perfectly well conducted.''
Some of the congressional concern was made clear in several amendments the Senate tacked onto President Reagan's recent request for $100 million in military and humanitarian aid to the contras. These amendments, in essence, called for troops to be taken out of the exclusive control of the FDN leadership and for other factions within the contra to have more influence. They also specified that US funds should not go to any groups or individuals within the FDN who are guilty of corruption, engaged in drug trafficking, or the covering up of human rights abuses. The Senate also called for the establishment of a supervisory committee to see that these and other provisions of the bill are enforced.
Distrust of the FDN leadership has been growing among liberal Democrats who consistently have opposed aid to the contras, as well as among more conservative Democrats and Republicans who support the concept of applying armed pressure on the Sandinistas.
The distrust focuses on the criticism that the FDN leadership consists of a small group of people who are tied either to followers of Nicaragua's former dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, or to members of the traditional upper classes. As such, according to congressional and think-tank analysts, the FDN fails to command the support of either a majority of Nicaraguans within the or those who form the Nicaraguan community in exile.