WASHINGTON -- A former leader of the Nicaraguan rebel movement in the 1980s told senators yesterday that he received money from a major Nicaraguan cocaine dealer in Southern California as well as other drug traffickers in Miami.
But the former contra leader, Eden Pastora, insisted in testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he did not know that his donors were involved in illegal activities.
Pastora and another leader of the rebel forces, Adolfo Calero, also denied published reports that the CIA had supported or condoned drug dealing by the contras as a way to fund their war against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Pastora's testimony was the first confirmation by a contra leader that the Southern California cocaine dealer, Oscar Danilo Blandon, gave money to the rebels. Pastora said Blandon's financial help was modest: $6,000 and two pickups.
The committee, headed by Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, was holding its second hearing into allegations published in August in the San Jose Mercury News that the contras, with the apparent knowledge of the CIA, introduced crack cocaine into inner-city Los Angeles.
Referring to allegations of a CIA connection to the drug trade, Pastora said: "I have no knowledge of anything of the sort."
Calero, who led the largest CIA-backed contra group, said he never had heard discussions of such a role for the CIA.
Specter also disclosed that the committee took sworn testimony from Blandon in a closed-door session earlier this week in which hTC the convicted trafficker said he entered the drug trade in California in late 1981 "out of a desire to earn money for the contras."
But Specter added: "Mr. Blandon stated that he had never had any contact with the CIA and that the CIA was not involved in his drug trafficking business in any way." Blandon said contra leaders had no knowledge of his criminal activities and he never had discussed selling cocaine with them, Specter said.
Midway through the session, hecklers interrupted with shouts of "Cover-up!" and "We want answers!" as applause rippled through the hearing room.
Order was restored when Specter invited Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, to join him on the panel. Waters, who represents South-Central Los Angeles, immediately started directing more questions at Calero.
Asked if he had ever worked for the CIA, Calero, a Nicaraguan who graduated from Notre Dame University in 1953, replied, "I have never worked for any government." He added, however, that he was "consulted a number of times" by U.S. diplomats.
He said that on two occasions he had met Juan Norwin Meneses, a Nicaraguan drug dealer who helped establish Blandon in California, but "I had no idea he was involved in any kind of illegal activity."
Responding to another question from Waters, Calero said Meneses "never offered a penny" to the contra movement in the 1980s. Associates of Meneses have said he contributed about $50,000 to the contras and paid for at least two fund-raising events in San Francisco. Meneses now is imprisoned in Nicaragua.
Speaking through a State Department interpreter, Pastora said he sought to obtain contributions "from almost any source" after the CIA stopped financing the rebel forces in 1984. Congress voted that year to cut off any U.S. government funding, forcing the contras and the Reagan White House to look for private contributions and gifts from U.S. allies to support the Nicaraguan "freedom fighters."
Outside the hearing room, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore said he would push to have Blandon's deposition made public. "I was very disappointed that Blandon's testimony was taken behind closed doors," said Cummings, a Democrat.
He also said the committee had not done a good job in notifying people of the hearing, which he said he learned about only a few days ago. "There is already a lot of suspicion surrounding" the story, he said. "This only adds to it."
Sun staff writer Frank Langfitt contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 11/27/96