MEXICO CITY - Central American politicians and human rights activists issued stinging criticism Thursday of John Negroponte, nominated to become America's first intelligence director, citing the career diplomat's active backing for the Contra rebels and support for a government involved in human rights abuses.
John Negroponte, now U.S. ambassador to Iraq , served as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, a time of intense conflict in Central America in which the United States played a central role. The Reagan administration feared that leftist rebels were leading Central American countries toward totalitarian regimes.
Negroponte assisted the U.S.-backed Contra rebels in their attempt to overthrow Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government. In the process, activists claim, he ignored human rights abuses by the rebels and their Honduran hosts.
Negroponte Draws Criticism South of Border
Honduran Coodinator of COFADEH (Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras) Bertha Oliva poses for a photo, in front of a banner with faces of those deatined and disappeared during the 1980s, after hearing the news that John D. Negroponte was appointed as U.S. intelligence chief, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2005. Negroponte was ambassador in Honduras between 1981 and 1985. (AP Photo/Ginnette Riquelme)
The effort to oust Daniel Ortega's Moscow-leaning Sandinista regime produced a huge scandal in the United States when it was learned the United States secretly sold arms to Iran and used the money to fund the Contra operation.
"What an outrage!" said Bertha Oliva, the coordinator of the Committee for Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, an independent group representing civilians believed to have vanished while in government custody. "The United States has invented a position to reward someone who was a dangerous person."
In Nicaragua, Tomas Borge, former interior minister for the Sandinista regime and a current leader of the Sandinista opposition party, said Negroponte "is the most efficient and ideal representative for the Bush administration's primitive international security policy."
"He is faithful to Bush's excessive and ultra-right policy in Iraq and other parts of the world," he said.
Borge is the only surviving founder of the Sandinista movement, and was in charge of domestic political control as the Sandinistas battled U.S.-backed opponents.
The new U.S. intelligence chief has denied accusations that his reports to Washington dramatically underplayed human rights problems in Honduras.
During 2001 confirmation hearings for his U.N. ambassadorship an appointment that was delayed for six months because of the controversy over his tenure in Honduras Negroponte testified that he did not believe death squads were operating in Honduras.
However, a 1993 Honduran government human rights report said 184 suspected leftists had disappeared in government custody, many of them at the hands of a U.S. trained Honduran army battalion.
"It was obvious that he knew what was happening," said Leo Valladeres, a law professor in Honduras who wrote the report. "They used outlaw methods to kill ... and it is absolutely impossible to believe that a diplomatic mission such as that of the United States was unaware of the situation faced by Honduras and Central America."
In neighboring Guatemala, a U.S.-supported government that was engaged in battle with left-wing rebels trained paramilitary squads that were found later to have committed large-scale civilian massacres.
In El Salvador, U.S.-trained army squads hunted down leftist rebels in offensives fraught with human rights abuses.
Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archives in Washington, said declassified documents on the Iran-Contra scandal also showed that Negroponte was involved in seeking more guns for the Contras "the role that normally would be reserved for the (CIA) station chief."
Kornbluh also said the documents he cited showed that Negroponte helped clear the way for a secret agreement under which the United States would provide more CIA money to Honduran army generals and additional military and economic aid to the country. In exchange, he said, Honduras agreed to allow the Contras to continue operating on Honduran soil.
Ironically, Kornbluh said, the controversy surrounding Negroponte's past helps qualify him for the job.
"Someone who is a career diplomat ... on paper doesn't seem to have the intelligence background needed," he said. "The fact that he certainly departed from his diplomatic role and was involved in paramilitary operations against Nicaragua ... means he has had a relationship with covert operations in the past."
Reporters Freddy Cuevas and Filadelfo Aleman contributed to this story from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Managua, Nicaragua.
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