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Former Salvadoran Air Force Chief Questioned

May 18, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Iran-Contra prosecutors questioned the retired chief of the Salvadoran air force Friday on whether Oliver North’s Contra resupply network was tied to the office of then-Vice President George Bush.

Juan Bustillo said he spent six hours spread over two days this week testifying about his frequent meetings with Edwin Corr, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, and Army Col. James Steele. Steele was commander of the U.S. military group in that country in 1985 and 1986.

Corr and Steele served when North’s clandestine resupply network was operating out of Ilopango air base in El Salvador.

At the time, Congress had cut off U.S. military aid to the Contras.

Steele was in frequent contact with North about the resupply network, but says he spent his time on military responsibilities separate from the Contras. Corr has said he was aware of the Contra resupply operation and had occasional contact with Felix Rodriguez, who worked in the network.

But Iran-Contra prosecutors ″apparently believe Ambassador Corr and Col. Steele were managing the supply operation,″ Bustillo said after Friday’s grand jury session.

Prosecutors went through Bustillo’s contacts with Corr and Steele meeting by meeting, said Bustillo. He said he had so many discussions with the Corr and Steele over the years that it was impossible to remember them all.

Corr and Steele would ask about the Contras in the course of conversation, but that was all, said Bustillo.

Prosecutors ″believe that there was linkage on the Contras between the ambassador, Col. Steele, Felix Rodriguez and Don Gregg,″ the retired Salvadoran air force general said.

Rodriguez is a former CIA operative and longtime friend of Gregg, who was vice president Bush’s national security adviser and is now U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

Bustillo worked closely with Rodriguez in the war against leftist insurgents in El Salvador. But Bustillo also opened Ilopango to Rodriguez for use as a key link in the Contra supply operation.

The Salvadoran air force general did so after Rodriguez showed him a letter from North in September 1985 asking for help, said Bustillo.

Bustillo said he only met Gregg once during the time the Contra supply network was in operation. That was at a Washington hotel in 1986. The two spoke only of El Salvador’s war against the guerrillas, said Bustillo. Prosecutors asked Bustillo about a brief encounter he had with Bush at a public gathering in Miami in 1986. The two had no substantive conversation, he said.

Bustillo was on personal business to Miami this week when he was subpoenaed by the office of independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, who has been investigating the Iran-Contra scandal since December 1986.

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