Captured American Acknowledged Aiding Contras
Dec. 09, 1987
CARLINVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ The Illinois corn and soybean farmer shot down over Nicaragua boasted of his adventures on behalf of the Contras, and ties to Lt. Col. Oliver North and other principals in the Iran-Contra affair.
However, James J. Denby later backed off from claims that he knew Iran- Contra figures, and said last week he had not helped the Nicaraguan rebels during the past 18 months.
Denby, who could be put on trial in Nicaragua, was captured Sunday after his single-engine Cessna 172 was shot down while flying from Honduras to his farm in Costa Rica, security officials in Nicaragua and Costa Rica said Tuesday.
In a June newspaper interview, the 57-year-old private pilot said he used his 700-acre farm near the Nicaraguan border as a staging area, gave the Contras money and food, airlifted military supplies and ferried wounded Contras to hospitals.
''I've helped them in any way they've asked me to,'' he told The Associated Press last summer.
Before leaving his Carlinville farm last week, Denby said he had not given the U.S.-backed rebels any help during the past 1 1/2 years, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today.
Denby told the newspaper he had had nothing to do with the Contras because they had been forced back into Nicaragua under the peace plan brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.
Daniel R. Browning, a reporter invited to accompany Denby on his flight to Costa Rica last week, wrote in the Post-Dispatch that he saw no ''contraband'' in the Cessna on Friday, when he met Denby in the Central American country of Belize. Browning said Denby appeared to be unarmed.
Browning said he and photographer Wes Paz declined the invitation after Paz said he did not like the looks of the plane.
'''Are you sure you don't want to come along,''' Browning quoted Denby as saying.
'''You're going to miss a hell of a ride.'''
Denby is a close friend of John Hull, a U.S. citizen living in Costa Rica who has been linked to the Contras and who persuaded Denby to buy his Costa Rican farm 20 years ago, Fred Smith, a farm tool dealer who has been to Costa Rica with Denby twice, said here Tuesday.
In the June interview with the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Denby claimed he was friends with the CIA station chief in Costa Rica and with other CIA and National Security Council operatives. He said he had met many Iran- Contra principals, including North, through Hull.
However, his brother, Carlinville attorney W. William Denby, said Tuesday that Denby had written the newspaper complaining he had been misrepresented.
''He told me the closest he ever came to Ollie North was when he saw someone in San Jose (Costa Rica) that looked like him,'' said William Denby.
He said his brother has a tendency ''to gild the lily,'' but was nothing more than a taxpayer and a voter.
''He never worked for the government,'' added 25-year-old James Denby Jr. of his father.
''He went down there to farm in the winter,'' the son said in an interview outside the family's modest two-story white frame farmhouse in this town of 5,400 people about 50 miles north of St. Louis.
He said his father left for the farm near the Nicaragua border last week, but had been slowed by inclement weather.
Smith described his former high school classmate as a ''good, strong Republican. ...
''He was 100 percent sure that everything the Contras did was right,'' Smith said.
''We kept kidding him about being involved in the CIA and things like that. He didn't confirm or deny any of it.''
Denby told the AP last summer that the Contra war had cost him ''a tremendous amount of money, $40,000 to $50,000.'' He added that 100 of his cattle had been killed in the fighting.
He also said the rebels had established one of their first bases in Costa Rica about 200 yards from his farm, where he cut timber and harvested wild orchids.
''They're really good guys, most of them,'' said Denby, a Korean War veteran. ''They have a high degree of idealism.''
But William Denby said he believed the camp was erected without consent. ''It's difficult to tell someone holding an AK-47 (assault rifle) to go away,'' he said.
William Denby recalled that when his brother left last week, he said he wasn't sure whether he would be home for Christmas.