US Concedes Contras Linked to Drugs, But Denies Leadership Involved
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Some individual Nicaraguan Contras may have engaged in activity with drug traffickers, but there is no evidence that leaders of the rebels were involved, the Reagan administration says.
A three-page report from the administration said Wednesday that the Contra connections to the drug traffickers occurred in 1984 and 1985, when the rebels were ″particularly hard pressed for financial support″ because they were not receiving U.S. aid.
The report is the White House’s most detailed response to allegations of rebel involvement in drug trafficking.
The Associated Press first reported those alleged ties last December in an article that quoted U.S. investigators, Contra backers and a Costa Rican indictment on the involvement of several rebel groups in cocaine trafficking from bases in northern Costa Rica.
Those allegations are now the subject of a federal investigation directed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami, which is also examining possible gunrunning and violations of the Neutrality Act by the rebels and private American backers.
The drug allegations have clearly hurt Reagan’s efforts to win more aid to the rebels, partly because the president has repeatedly denounced Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government for its alleged role in drug trafficking.
″We have evidence of a limited number of incidents in which known drug traffickers have tried to establish connections with Nicaraguan resistance groups,″ said the report, which was submitted to Rep. Charles W. Stenholm, D- Texas. ″These attempts for the most part took place during the period when the resistance was receiving no U.S. funding and was particularly hard pressed for financial support.
″Drug traffickers were attempting to exploit the desperate conditions under which inadequately supplied resistance fighters were carrying on their battle in the field, and to take advantage of the resistance connections with local governments in the region. ...
″Individual members of the resistance, including those associated with the forces of (former Sandinista hero) Eden Pastora, may have engaged in such activity but it was, insofar as we can determine, without the authorization of resistance leaders.″
The report, which was made available to the AP, also said U.S. officials raised the drug issue with Contra leaders and were ″assured in categorical terms that they will not tolerate the involvement of members of their organizations in drug trafficking.″
In the paper, the administration asserted that ″we have no evidence that the leadership of the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO) is, or has been, engaged in drug trafficking.″
UNO is the rebels’ CIA-supported political umbrella group.
The report to Stenholm was promised by President Reagan personally while lobbying congressmen last week for support of his $100 million Contra aid package.
The report disputed other complaints that the Contras engaged in widespread human rights abuses and possibly diverted some of the $27 million in non- lethal U.S. aid sent to the rebels since last year.
″To date, there have been only unsubstantiated charges that UNO has been guilty of diverting funds to personal use,″ said the report.