URGENT Nicaragua Pardons Hasenfus
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ The National Assembly pardoned jailed American mercenary Eugene Hasenfus today, paving the way for him to leave the country after serving about a month of a 30-year prison term.
The assembly, which is controlled by President Daniel Ortega’s leftist Sandinistas, voted 70-4 to approve Ortega’s request to pardon Hasenfus for his role in supplying arms to Contra rebels.
It said the pardon would take effect as soon as it was transmitted by any of Nicaragua’s official media, and it was immediately read by the Voice of Nicaragua radio.
Ortega said earlier that Hasenfus was likely to leave the country within hours.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who met with Ortega on Tuesday, will accompany Hasenfus, the president said at a news conference.
Hasenfus, 45, of Marinette, Wis., was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his part in running arms to Contra rebels. He was arrested Oct. 6, one day after his aircraft carrying weapons to the Contra rebels was shot down by Nicaraguan soldiers, and later was convicted by a revolutionary tribunal.
A communique read over the government Voice of Nicaragua radio station by Ortega’s press secretary, Manuel Espinoza, said the president’s pardon request to the National Assembly was made to show the American people that ″Nicaragua wants peace.″
Espinoza said Ortega received a request from the government’s National Human Rights Commission to free Hasenfus, who is serving his sentence at Tipitapa Prison outside Managua.
″Following conversations last night between President Daniel Ortega and Sen. Christopher Dodd, it was agreed to make effective this gesture as soon as possible consistent with the laws of Nicaragua,″ Espinoza said.
The presidential spokesman said Ortega told several American leaders ″that he did not discount the possibility of pardoning him as a characteristic humanitarian gesture of the Sandinista people’s revolution that is always firm but also always generous and in a message to the people of the United States that Nicaragua wants peace.
″It also is a recognition of the struggle of broad religious, political and social sectors of the United States in favor of peace, the end of the war and a normalization of relations between the United States and Nicaragua and because those same things always are governed by the demands of international law,″ Espinoza said.
Dodd met Tuesday with Ortega and other officials and discussed the question of Hasenfus’ future.
″I raised the question about whether or not Mr. Hasenfus could leave,″ Dodd told the NBC ″Today″ show in an interview from the Nicaraguan capital earlier today. He said the chances were good Hasenfus would be released within days, possibly today.
Dodd, accompanied by the prisoner’s wife, Sally, visited Hasenfus on Tuesday evening at Tipitapa prison five miles east of Managua.
The senator said he believed Hasenfus could be ″an important witness″ in investigations into the channeling of funds from Iranian arms sales to the U.S.-backed Contras.
″I think he’s got something to say. He expressed a willingness to talk to members of the staff and the members of those committees,″ Dodd told NBC. ″I think it would be worthwhile to get him home. Certainly the Nicaraguans, for their own reasons, are going to see that as important.″
Dodd also said he was granted permission to visit Sam Nesley Hall, identified as an American suspected of spying. So far, the Nicaraguan government has ignored a request by the U.S. Embassy that an American consul visit Hall.
Nicaraguan authorities say Hall was arrested Friday at a military base outside Managua with maps stuffed in his socks. Ortega claimed Hall smuggled explosives into the country to help the Contras.
Hall is being held under a national emergency law at a Managua jail for political prisoners. He has not been formally charged.
Hall has been described as being 49 and from Dayton, Ohio. News reports in the United States say he is the brother of Rep. Tony P. Hall, D-Ohio.
Dodd said Tony Hall also was granted permission to visit the prisoner. Dodd said he talked to the congressman by telephone Tuesday and asked him whether he had any message for the prisoner. Dodd did not elaborate.
Dodd, a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has been critical of the Reagan administration’s backing of the Contras. He is expected to become chairman of the Western Hemisphere Affairs Sub-Committee when Congress convenes in January.
Dodd is on a private fact-finding tour of Central America. He has already visited Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras. He plans to stop in Mexico on his way home.