CIA Officer Said to Play Role In Pastora's Downfall
May. 29, 1986
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nicaraguan rebel leader Eden Pastora quit the Contra war effort after six of his top lieutenants left his command to join a rival U.S.-backed umbrella group at the urging of a man known to them as a CIA officer, according to officials of rival Contra factions.
Rebel officers said a man identified only by the cover name of ''Armando'' but previously known to them as a CIA contact offered Pastora's commanders military aid if they would join the U.S.-sponsored United Nicaraguan Opposition. The rebels were told that the military aid would come through UNO but not where it would originate.
The desertions by all but one of his top commanders led Pastora to quit the Contras two weeks ago and complain that ''this is a war of the United States against Nicaragua.''
Since 1984, Congress has barred the CIA from giving military aid and advice to the Contras, although the agency is allowed to exchange intelligence with them. The CIA has also secretly funneled several million dollars to the rebels for political projects this past year, U.S. officials say.
Rebel officials said UNO's Costa Rican-based forces recently received five shipments of arms that were used to entice Pastora's poorly supplied troops to switch allegiances. Bosco Matamoros, a Contra spokesman, said UNO's military supplies came from ''international sources'' but would not elaborate.
Asked about a CIA role in Pastora's downfall, CIA spokeswoman Kathy Pherson had no comment.
In Miami on Thursday, the three directors of UNO - FDN chief Adolfo Calero, Arturo Cruz and Alfonso Robelo - announced a series of reforms aimed at settling their internal differences and responding to allegations of financial mismanagement.
Asked whether the United States had engineered the changes, White House deputy press secretary Edward Djerejian said, ''That's their own call.''
In another development, Nicaraguan Vice President Sergio Ramirez said that since Pastora has stopped fighting, he is welcome to return to Nicaragua under an amnesty program ''without any threat of retribution from the government.''
Pastora, now seeking political asylum in Costa Rica, is being detained by Costa Rican authorities. In a telephone interview from jail, he declined to discuss the alleged CIA role in his ouster but said: ''The Americans want to remove one government and impose another. We want nothing to do with that.''
The rebel officials, representing both Pastora and UNO, said they have known ''Armando'' as an American CIA officer attached to the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. The rebels, including Alvaro Jerez, a leader of a Pastora-allied group, said ''Armando'' has been a CIA liaison to the rebels for several years.
One Nicaraguan at the week-long series of meeting in a suburb of San Jose, Costa Rica, said ''Armando'' opened the talks by offering military aid but insisting that the commanders first join UNO ''because that was the instrument the Americans had chosen to help Nicaraguans.''
On May 9, the aid-starved Pastora commanders signed an agreement accepting Fernando ''El Negro'' Chamorro as the chief military commander of the Costa Rican-based rebels.
''Negro'' Chamorro leads an UNO-allied group of about 400 Contras known as the Nicaraguan Democratic Union, UDN-FARN. Pastora's army, the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance, ARDE, claims a force of several thousand men but independent estimates are much lower.
The ouster of Pastora culminates three years of CIA attempts to force the charismatic, former Sandinista commander to unite with competing factions of the splintered Contra rebel movement and accept greater U.S. control.
Pastora, known as Commander Zero during the revolution that ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979, broke with his former Sandinista comrades in 1981 and took up arms against them a year later. But he refused to join forces with the CIA-organized Nicaraguan Democratic Force, UNO's chief military arm, charging that many of its leaders fought in Somoza's National Guard.
Jerez, a leader of a Pastora-allied political group in Costa Rica, said Pastora believed he had an agreement with the State Department on sharing future U.S. aid in exchange for cooperation with other rebel factions.
Jerez said that when Pastora learned about the attempt to lure away his commanders, Pastora loyalists protested to the State Department and CIA headquarters but the talks continued.
UNO spokesman Carlos Ulvert disputed the claims that the ARDE commanders were lured away from Pastora. He said that several months ago, the ARDE commanders - not UNO - made ''the first contact'' in the talks that led to their desertion from Pastora.
But Carol Prado, a spokesman for Pastora's ARDE group, said the commanders' desertion was only the latest attempt to undermine Pastora, a popular but unpredictable leader. Prado said those U.S. efforts began as early as 1983 and initially involved threats to halt covert CIA aid to ARDE.
In early May 1984, Pastora held secret talks with the CIA's Latin America division chief in Honduras and was given a 30-day ''ultimatum'' to join forces with the CIA-organized FDN, Pastora allies said.
After Pastora was injured in a May 30, 1984, bomb explosion, ARDE officials, led by Robelo, voted to expel him from the group and merge with the FDN. But that effort failed when ARDE troops supported Pastora. Robelo later joined the three-man UNO directorate.
Last July, ARDE leaders said the United States again tried to oust Pastora in meetings at the White House between Adolfo ''Popo'' Chamorro, then second- in-command to Pastora, and Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, a senior adviser on President Reagan's National Security Council.
According to sources at the meetings, North urged Adolfo Chamorro to break with Pastora and assume command of ARDE troops.
Adolfo Chamorro said that after consulting with Pastora, he agreed with North's proposal, but backed out when UNO leaders insisted he denounce Pastora.