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THE UNITED STATES and LATIN AMERICA: The Contra Program



Tim Brown gives us an insider's account of the Contra program: "The allegation that Oliver North ran the Contra program is almost as false as the one about Reich. Despite the popular mythology, North had almost nothing to do with the management of the Contra program as such. He was a mid-level NSC officer with several oversight portfolios but no active measures roles. The Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance project, better known as the Contra program, which incidentally began in 1980 under Carter not 1982 under Reagan, was initiated in accord with two still secret Presidential Findings by Carter and managed from 1980 through much of 1987 by the CIA, when its management passed to AID. From 1987 through 1990, although a career Foreign Service Officer not an intelligence professional, I had the somewhat day to day responsibility of supervising the Contra project in the field from my office in the Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

As to North, who was out of the picture well before I arrived, during one of several earlier periods when Congress cut off covert action funding, he had put two of his portfolios together - Iran and Nicaragua - after the White House Counsel determined that doing so from the Office of the President would be legal, with the intention of generating funds off-budget line to support the Contras. That was the basis of the Iran-Contra scandal, off-line funding that thwarted the will of the Congress even if it did not violate the strict letter of the law. But North's role in that specific instance was money-man, not operational supervisor, a role he never played. He did, on several occasions, visit Resistance [Contra] camps in Honduras, met with delegations of their supporters when they visited Washington, and maintained constant contact with those running the project, which was one of his jobs. But he never "ran the Contra project", not even for a minute. The man who ran it was Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, then Deputy CIA Director for Operations in Latin America, who describes the experience in his A Spy for All Seasons. If any WAISers in the DC area are interested in discussing this further with me, or with some former Contras, we'll be at the Heritage Foundation at 4 p.m. May 3. The story is fascinating, but bears remarkably little resemblance to the mythology of the period on which presumably Bernardo Ruiz bases his statement about North."

My comment: Curiouser and curiouser. I am puzzled that AID (Agency for International Development), a supposedly benevolent organization, would be in charge of the Contra program. No wonder that Latin Americans are suspicious of all US beneficence, including the Peace Corps.

Ronald Hilton - 4/23/01


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