While the Iran-contra hearings dominate American TV screens, some members of the Senate today will be listening with almost equal intensity to what is expected to be the startling testimony of a jailed Colombian drug smuggler. Jorge Morales, who until his arrest last year was a high-level drug operator in the Miami area, is expected to charge that top leaders of the contras' southern-front forces that formerly operated under Ed'en Pastora in Costa Rica cooperated in drug-smuggling ventures.
Mr. Morales's accusation will be made to a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that deals with drugs and terrorism, chaired by Sen. John Kerry (D) Massachusetts.
The hearings come at a time of mounting congressional interest in alleged links between the contras and drugs and in any knowledge of these connections by United States government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the US Attorney's office in Miami.
Just over a week ago, Senator Kerry's subcommittee listened to the testimony of Ram'on Milian Rodr'iguez, who, until his arrest, was probably the major launderer of drug funds in the US. Mr. Milian testified about his links with both the Central Intelligence Agency and the contras, according to Senate sources and Monitor interviews with Milian.
In a related development, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime issued subpoenas last week to three assistant US attorneys in Miami. The subpoenas, according to congressional sources, are based on concerns that the US Attorney's office in Miami may have been involved in covering up contra drug and illegal arms activities.
The Morales testimony will be the first public hearings on the subject. For months, Morales has been telling essentially the same story to Miami public defender John Mattes, House and Senate investigators, and some news media, including the Monitor.
Morales alleges that in 1984 he was approached in Miami by three leaders of the contras' southern front: Adolfo (Popo) Chamorro, a close aide of Ed'en Pastora; Octaviano C'esar, brother and business partner of Alfredo C'esar, a member of the directorate of the new Nicaraguan Resistance; and Marcos Aguado. These men, according to Morales, asked him and the influential Colombian drug cartel leaders he represented for assistance to the contra cause.
The contra leaders requested, according to Morales, direct financial assistance, the use of his small private air company to transport arms to the contras, and, most important, the donation of planes and training pilots for the southern front's fledgling air force.
In return, Morales alleges, the contra leaders stated that they would use their influence with top US officials allied with their cause, including Vice-President George Bush and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, to help Morales with his legal difficulties. Morales had by then been twice indicted on drug-smuggling charges.
In addition to favorable political influence in Washington, Morales claims that he received access to the contra-controlled airstrips in Costa Rica.
According to Morales, after the deal with the contra leaders, the northern Costa Rican ranch of John Hull, a US citizen, became an important refueling and resupply center for the Colombian's drug flights. Morales charges that Mr. Hull received a substantial financial cut for every drug load that landed on his estate.
During the congressional Iran-contra hearings, Mr. Hull and his ranch have been mentioned as an important center for contra operations. Morales, contra leaders, and US officials have identified Hull as an important asset, though not a full-fledged employee, of the CIA.
Other government officials concerned with drugs state that Hull has been suspected of drug involvement for some time and that his ranch has been under some surveillance since early 1985. Hull has publicly denied all accusations that he was involved in drugs.
The other contra officials mentioned by Morales have also denied his charges. Popo Chamorro states: ``I have never at any time or in any form been involved with drug trafficking. In fact, I don't have any precise recollection of having met Morales....''
Morales has also alleged to the Monitor and congressional investigators that he performed missions for the CIA, largely during visits to Cuba. He believes and probably will testify that he received some US government protection while he was working with the contras.
CIA spokeswoman Kathy Pherson said that, in accordance with agency policy, she could neither confirm nor deny any association with the CIA of either Morales or Hull.
Morales has also spoken to congressional investigators, as did Milian, of the immense presence and political influence of the Colombian drug cartel in Central America, not only among the contras or in Panama, but also in Nicaragua, on the left as well as on the right. Such an atmosphere, political analysts say, makes it very difficult for the CIA to engage in clandestine operations in the area without some degree of entanglement or at least knowledge of drug operations.