“Reagan Reports New Latin Danger” was the headline of a front page New York Times article (1/25/85) in which the President defended his contra policy as “an act of self defense,” citing a Sandinista terrorist link. Juan Tamayo of the Miami Herald (3/3/85) further developed the theme of Nicaragua as a terrorist haven, while a USA Today (7/9/85) photo spread, with head shots of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, Castro, Qadaffi and the Ayatollah Khomeini, graphically promoted Reagan’s warning about “terrorist states” threatening the U.S.
An October 1986 OPD report, “The Challenge to Democracy in Central America,” conveniently cited news articles on Nicaraguan state-sponsored terrorism based partly on its own leaks. This ploy was necessary because the U.S. government could offer no solid evidence of a Sandinista terror connection.
One of the few reporters who seriously analyzed an OPD White Paper, Washington Post correspondent Joanne Omang (7/23/85), found the charges against Nicaragua were baseless. But the story persisted with Reagan’s proclamations that Nicaragua sponsored terrorist groups in Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Official denials from each of these countries were ignored by Rushworth Kidder in a Christian Science Monitor article (5/14/86) which pegged Nicaragua as a “big offender” in a Soviet-backed world terrorist network.
Just after the US bombed Libya, Reagan announced that the Sandinistas were “building a Libya on our doorstep” by aiding German, Italian and PLO terrorists (New York Times, 4/23/86). Soon TV commercials prepared by Carl Channell would link Qadaffi to “communist terrorists” in Nicaragua. And while the U.S. secretly delivered arms to Khomeini, NSC officials issued widely publicized warnings about Iranian support for “Nicaraguan terrorists.”
White House attempts to depict Nicaragua as a “terrorist country club,” as Attorney General Edwin Meese put it, ring hollow in light of revelations about U.S. involvement with such characters as Luis Posada Carriles, who was convicted of masterminding the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cuban passenger jet which killed 73 civilians. Posada, a former CIA operative who played a key role in North’s secret contra supply network, disappeared shortly after the Hasenfus plane crash, raising questions about Washington’s role in protecting a terrorist fugitive (Miami Herald, 10/21/86).