CONTRAS USED COCAINE TO BUY ARMS
BY VINCE BIELSKI and DENNIS BERNSTEIN
WASHINGTON--Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) and his staff said recently
they are "confident" that money from the sale of narcotics helped finance
the contras and that the arms network set up by Lt. Col. Oliver North could
North was fired from the staff of the National Security Council by
President Reagan this week after the Administration discovered that North
arranged for the transfer $30 million from the sale of arms to Iran to
Swiss bank accounts controlled by the contras.
"I'm confident that the contras have received drug money. They have
received illegal shipments of weapons and that U.S. officials knew of it,"
Kerry said, in calling for a special prosecutor to look into these other
John Weiner, a Kerry aide, said while congressional investigators do
not know if North was directly involved, they do have evidence linking the
"North network" to the cocaine-arms operation. According to a report
produced by Kerry's staff, North established a network, involving retired
Army Gen. John Singlaub, U.S. mercenaries and Cuban-Americans, to provide
arms to the contras during the two-year congressional ban on U.S. support.
After the downing of the C-123 cargo plane over Nicaragua, Administration
officials also acknowledged that North set up the private arms operation to
Weiner and several other sources charge that individuals involved in
the network traffic in cocaine to help buy weapons for the contras.
"We have received a variety of allegations about drug connections to
the contras and to parts of the North network. As to whether Oliver North
was directly involved in that I can't say. But parts of the North network
allegedly were. And that needs to be looked at very seriously," he said.
The Senate Foreign Relations committee is expected to investigate
these charges when Congress reconvenes in January.
The role that cocaine played in funding the network has been part of a
two-year investigation carried out by the Christic Institute, a Washington-
based law firm. Dan Sheehan, the attorney directing the investigation, said
the proceeds from the sale of cocaine has been "one significant source of
funding for the contras. He said he has subsantial evidence to prove that
the contras and their Cuban-American supporters are smuggling one ton of
cocaine into the United States each week.
The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that one ton of cocaine
has a street value of between $26 and $50 million. Sheehan said a portion
the profits are used to purchase weapons.
The cocaine ring, involving mostly major Columbian cocaine trafficker,
or "cocaine lords," and Cuban-Americans from Miami had been operating for
years before the North network began in 1984. John Mattes, an attorney for
one of the Cuban-Americans involved in the North network, said that the
cocaine traffickers and the arms network "got together as a marriage of
"The Columbians saw that the contra base in Costa Rica was an ideal
transhipment point. Their planes would land there and refuel. They also
benefit from the pilots, planes and intelligence information which the arms
suppliers had and which they make extensive use of," Mattes said. In
return, Mattes said the Columbians paid the contras $10,000 to $25,000 for
each plane carry cocaine which landed in Costa Rica for refueling. The
Christic Institute's allegations are all contained in a civil suit filed in
May 1986 in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida.
The suit is brought by two U.S. journalists, Martha Honey and Tony
Avirgan, who charge that the cocaine/arms conspiracy was responsible for
the May 1984 assassination attempt on contra leader Eden Pastora in La
Penca, Nicaragua. The journalists are sueing for personal injuries they
suffered resulting from a bomb explosion at a press conference which killed
8 people and injured Pastora. "As amazing as it sounds," Sheehan said, "the
conspiracy is continuing to bring about one ton or 1,000 kilos of cocaine
into the United States each week." Jesus Garcia, a former corrections
officer in Dade County, Florida, said he was actively involved in the
He is one of Sheehan and Kerry's main sources of information. In a
telephone interview from prison, where Garcia is no serving a three-year
term for possession of a firearm, he said "it is common knowledge here in
Miami that that this whole contra operation in Costa Rica was paid for with
cocaine. Everyone involved knows it. I actually saw the cocaine and the
weapons together under one roof, weapons that I helped ship to Costa Rica."
In May of 1983, according to the suit, two Cuban-Americans, Rene Corbo and
Felipe Vidal joined forces with John Hull, a U.S. citizen who owns 1,750
acres of land in northern Costa Rica, "to recruit, train, finance (and)
arm" a Cuban-American mercenary force to attack Nicaragua.
To finance the mercenary force, the Cuban-Americans, Hull and others
made arrangements with two known Columbian cocaine trafficers, Pablo
Escobar and Jorge Ochoa, "to provide hundreds of pounds of cocaine on a
regular basis," according to the suit. Garcia said that individuals
involved in the arms supply operation told him that Ochoa was supplying
cocaine to the contras.
The cocaine was flown from Columbia to Hull's ranch, Sheehan said,
where the planes would refuel. Sheehan said he has obtained records of
Corbo buying huge gasoline tanks in Costa Rica which are used for refueling
the planes. The Christic Institute learned about the cocaine shipments from
members of Costa Rican Rural Guard, workers on Hull's land who unloaded the
illegal substance from the small planes, and the pilots who transported the
Corbo and Vidal belong to the Brigade 2506, an anti-Castro group in
Miami whose members were recruited and hired by the CIA to fight in the Bay
of Pigs invasion agaisnt Cuba. Kerry's staff report charges that "Hull...
has been identified by a wide range of sources, including Eden Pastora,
mercenaries, Costa Rican officials, and contra supporters as "deeply
involved with military support for the contras...and has been identified by
a wide-range of sources...as a CIA or NSC liaison to the contras."
According to Steven Carr and Peter Glibbery, two mercenaries based on
land operated by Hull who were captured by the Costa Rican Rural Guard in
1985, Hull introduced himself to them as "the chief liaison for the FDN
(National Democratic Force) and the CIA." Hull received $10,000 a month
from the NSC, according to the report. The NSC denies having made payments
Hull has denied that he is assisting the contras and that he is
working for the U.S. government.
Sheehan said that the cocaine is flown from the land operated by Hull
to Memphis and then to Denver. The drug is also packed into container ships
at the Costa Rican port of Limon and transported to Miami, New Orleans and
Francisco Chanes, a Cuban-American, is the major importer and
distributor of the cocaine coming in from Costa Rica, according to the
suit. Sheehan said he learned of Chanes' role from Drug Enforcement
Administration agents who investigated Chanes, Corbo and Vidal.
During a January 1986 interview with FBI agents, Garcia said he told
the agents that Chanes and Corbo were also involved in the contra supply
Garcia said the agents responded by saying that Chanes and Corbo were
already the subjects of a FBI narcotics trafficing investigation. Mattes,
Garcia's attorney who was present at the interview, said he also heard the
agents say that the FBI was investigating Chanes and Corbo.
Sheehan said money from the sale of cocaine is deposited in one bank
in Miami and two in Central America and then withdrawn to purchase weapons
Garcia said he was personally involved in a March 1985 shipment of 6
tons of arms to Costa Rica from Miami. In July 1986, an official from the
U.S. Attorney's office in Miami confirmed to the Miami Herald that "we now
believe there were some weapons" illegally shipped to the contras by their
U.S. supporters from the Fort Lauderdale International airport in 1985.
Garcia said he saw both these weapons and three kilograms of cocaine
stored at the home of Chanes in Miami in the company of Chanes and Carr.
"They cocaine was kept in a dresser, about ten feet away from the
weapons. Carr told me that the three keys (kilograms) was what was left
from a larger shipment," Garcia said.[EP
He said he had no direct evidence that the weapons in Chanes' home
were purchased with the proceeds from the sale of cocaine. He said that
Carr told him that the three kilograms were part of a larger shipment of
cocaine brought to the United States from Costa Rica in container ships
belonging Ocean Hunter, a seafood importing company owned by Chanes.
Garcia said he helped load the weapons into a van which were then
taken to the aiport in Miami. Glibbery said he witnessed the arrival of
these weapons on airstrips located on land operated by Hull in Costa Rica,
according to the Kerry report.
The suit also names Theodore Shackley, former CIA associate deputy
director for world wide covert operations, and retired Army Gen. John
Singlaub as the main weapons suppliers.
According to the suit, Shackley "knowingly accept(ed) the proceeds
from illegal sales of narcotics in payment for illegal arms shipments."
Singlaub has made "admissions to various reporters that he has sent guns
and bullets to the contras," according to the report.
Reasearch and Editorial Assistance: Connie Blitt
Articles by Vince Bielski (San Fransisco-based) and Dennis Bernstein
(new York) have appeared in Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Plain Dealer,
Denver Post, Dallas Times Herald, Dallas Morning News, Baltimore Sun, San
Fransisco Examiner, Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury, Arizona Daily Star,
Seattle Times, Minnieapolis Star and Tribune, and others.
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