Category Archives: Sandinista National Liberation Front

Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador (PCMLE): The Progressive Governments of Latin America

 

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From Unity & Struggle No. 25, Spring/Summer 2013

Ecuador

Progress is the evolution from the lower to the higher, from the simple to the complex, it is the upward march of the material and spiritual. It is the modernization of the country. Marxism-Leninism, the revolution and the left are genuine expressions of progressivism. Not everything progressive is leftist and revolutionary and much less Marxist Leninist.

“The existence in Latin America of several progressive governments is the result of the development and growth of the struggle of workers, the peoples and youth who overcame the ebb caused by the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism.’ It is a consequence of the recovery by the left-wing and revolutionary political organizations and parties, of the incorporation into these mobilizations of a part of the middle classes and strata, of the intelligentsia. That is, it is an expression of the strength of the working class, of the other laboring classes of the city and the countryside, of the left and the communists, but it also expresses the shortcomings and weaknesses of the mass movement, of the revolutionary left and, in Ecuador in particular, of the limitations of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. This party made the decision to become directly involved in the process, to contend inch by inch for a prominent place in the struggles, but it has lacked sufficient strength to influence more significantly the imagination, organization and action of the popular sectors that have fought and continue to fight. These limitations have allowed the result of these expressions to be channeled towards elections, to the formation of governments headed by personalities of the petty-bourgeoisie who proclaimed the change.”1

1 Pablo Miranda, “The Struggle of the Workers and the Peoples against Imperialism,” Unity and Struggle No. 23, October, 2011.

Since 1998, when Hugo Chavez won the presidency of Venezuela, Latin America has seen the election of several progressive governments, among them: Lula in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia, the Broad Front in Uruguay, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Correa in Ecuador, Funes in El Salvador, Lugo in Paraguay, Cristina Fernandez in Argentina.

To explain these new circumstances we must consider some historical and political events from the immediate past:

The revolutionary wave that shook the world and Latin America in the 1960s and ‘70s was followed by a furious onslaught of imperialism and reaction that used all their resources to put out the flames of the popular and national insurgency.

Neoliberalism – the policy of finance capital to overcome the economic crisis – devised the return to the classical principles of liberalism, “laissez faire,” full freedom of trade for the monopolies and the imperialist countries, with that aim it demanded the dismantling of the state sectors of the economy, the privatization of health care, education and social security, labor flexibility and further measures that would allow for the increase of the accumulation and concentration of wealth while disarming the movement and struggle of the workers and peoples.

The imposition of neoliberalism beyond the economies of the imperialist countries themselves took place violently in the great majority of the dependent countries; in Latin America, with the establishment of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, with sponsorship and support by the reactionary governments who docilely accepted its programs, with the subordination of the social-democratic governments that succumbed to these policies, some of them even modified their programs to put them in line with the imperialist proposals.

Since the 1980s, faced with the deepening economic crisis in most countries of Latin America and the world, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) imposed a series of measures that tried to ward off the crisis, but actually they sharpened it. These were the famous “structural adjustment programs” that ordered the elimination of subsidies for fuel prices and fares, the privatization of education, health care and social security, labor flexibility, the freedom to hire and fire workers, the limitation of union rights and restriction of the right to organize, etc.. They put into play the infamous “letters of intent,” under which the governments sought financial assistance and subordinated themselves to the IMF conditions.

The workers and popular movement, the left-wing and revolutionary political organizations, the Marxist-Leninist forces are facing this onslaught of capital with important social movements, general strikes, national work stoppages and struggles in the street. Each “adjustment program” was rejected head-on by the workers and people. In the cities and the countryside heroic battles took place, which were beaten by the “forces of order,” the police and armed forces. In the popular camp blows were received, the dead were buried, the wounded were healed, the persecuted were defended and there were fights for the freedom of the captured social activists.

New social actors who were actively involved in the struggle for general motives, for their rights and aspirations, reappeared and developed: ecologists and environmentalists, activists who defend nature from the depredations of capital, which was seen in almost all countries in a militant manner; to a large degree, these actions were added to the objectives and struggles of the workers. Various forms of the organization and fight of the women in defense of their rights gained strength and displayed initiatives, in opposition to gender discrimination. In various places their persistence in their protests and fights placed the most advanced sectors of the women as part of the forces of social emancipation.

The movement of the indigenous peoples, the struggle for their national rights and their participation in the political struggle broke out in various countries and assumed an important role in the struggle for social and national liberation. In Latin America the movement of the indigenous peoples and nationalities broke out across the board with the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by the Spanish. This is particularly important in Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Guatemala; it exists and is expressed in almost all countries; it continues to be an active part of the process of social and national liberation.

Towards the end of the 1980s the class struggle developed intermittently in every country in Latin America: the workers of the city and the countryside, the youth and the indigenous peoples were protagonists in the great battles against neoliberalism and the reactionary governments. In Venezuela the Caracazo took place that shook the government. In the Dominican Republic there were harsh battles against the bloodthirsty Balaguer government. In Argentina powerful workers’ strikes took place. In Colombia the armed struggle won important victories. In Ecuador combative strikes and nationwide work stoppages took place in opposition to the attempts to impose neoliberalism.

Signs of an ebb

The imposition of labor flexibility, the closures of enterprises due to the crisis, the anti-communist offensive of reaction and imperialism, the promotion of the economic and political theses of neoliberalism, the conciliatory and sell-out activities of revisionism and opportunism weakened and dispersed the workers and popular movement in all countries (obviously in an uneven manner).

The anti-communist offensive, the whole barrage of reactionary ideas that proclaimed the end of socialism and the defeat of the revolution, the end of history and ideologies, the invincibility of capitalism; the betrayal by the revisionists and the fall of the Berlin Wall had a negative effect on the movement of the workers and peoples; it impacted on the left-wing and revolutionary organizations; some of them dissolved and in general all were weakened, some guerrilla formations were defeated and others laid down their arms and renounced the revolutionary struggle.

This seemed to pave the road for triumphant imperialism.

But despite the adverse conditions, the blows received and the defeats suffered, the workers and popular movements never gave up, they continued to fight: at first they went over to resistance and gradually recovered.

The 1990s were characterized as an ebb in the social and revolutionary struggle; indeed there were major setbacks for the movement of the workers and peoples, for the revolutionary parties and organizations: the defeat of socialism in Albania, the peace accords signed by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in El Salvador, the collapse of the USSR, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dirty war in Colombia; in general the movement of workers and peoples suffered a serious reversal.

The harshest impact was the result of the intense anti-communist ideological offensive: the preaching that socialism had shown itself to be a failure, that capitalism had shown itself to be a superior system, the futility of the revolution since the sacrifices that it cost only served to return to the same, the incompetence of the political parties and particularly of the communist party to fulfill the role of organizer and leader of the revolution, etc., etc.

Neoliberalism was imposed in almost the whole world, and Latin America was no exception. However, the attempt to use neoliberal policies to overcome the crisis in the international financial system were not fulfilled; rather, they suffered important blows as a result of the irresolvable contradictions of the capitalist system: the increasing socialization of production and the appropriation and concentration of the wealth created; free competition; the development of new monopolies and other imperialist countries, and of course, as a consequence of the resistance of the workers and peoples.

The victory songs of reaction and imperialism regarding the end of communism and of the revolutionary struggle clashed with reality, with the resistance of the workers and with the popular fights. In some countries the 1990s were the scene of the emergence of great social and political movements: the indigenous uprising in Ecuador in 1990, the removal of Collor de Melo as President of Brazil in 1992, major general strikes in France, Germany and Italy, the emergence of the Zapatista National Liberation Army in Mexico in 1994, the overthrow of Abdala Bucaram in Ecuador in 1996, the resistance to the despotism of Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia, the electoral victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

The coming of the 21st century dawned with the popular uprising that overthrew President Mahuad in January 2000, which gave impetus to a new stage in the struggles of the masses in Ecuador.

The social and political situation in Latin America at the beginning of the new millennium

In all Latin American countries one can find two very important variables:

On the one side the exhaustion of neoliberalism, the failure of neoliberal monetarist measures to ward off the crisis. The adjustments demanded by the IMF were linked to more and more new measures and the economies of the countries deteriorated rapidly, public finances had greater deficits, the foreign debt grew and social spending was cut drastically.

At the same time, the ruling classes, institutions, governments, parliaments, the armed forces, the judiciary, the political parties, the personalities of politics and power rapidly used up their resources, they were quickly discredited before the working masses, the youth and democratic public opinion; they were trapped in the web of corruption and drug trafficking; they lost credibility; in some countries subjective conditions were created to replace them. The slogans of “get out,” “let them all go,” “put an end to the cliques,” “enough of the rings,” “away with the old parties,” “refound the country,” “new people,” “change already,” etc. were chanted everywhere.

On the other hand, the discontent and dissatisfaction of the working masses, the peoples and the youth were expressed in the increase in popular struggles, in a sustained increase in the struggle of the masses, which were shown unevenly in different countries of Latin America. To a large degree the consciousness of the masses about their own role in solving their problems is growing, the distrust of a significant sector of them in the institutions, in the bourgeois political parties, in the spokespersons and leaders of those on top. The search for alternatives to the situation went beyond the channel and content of the union struggle; the idea of fighting to take over the government advanced.

The political crisis is deepening to various degrees in all Latin American countries. The ruling classes and the reactionary and social-democratic political parties have shown themselves impotent to propose and pursue solutions that will enable them to resolve their problems and fully preserve their interests.

The working masses and the youth are seeking alternatives

Decades of confrontation in defense of their interests have failed to stem the onslaught of neoliberalism; strikes, marches, struggles in the street and work stoppages are expressions of courage and valor, but they have limits, they cannot stop the implementation of the “adjustment programs.” On the other hand, in several countries, the guerrilla struggle has been defeated, some of the revolutionary military formations have renounced the armed struggle, some have rejected that road; in any case, the revolutionary armed struggle is not seen as an immediate alternative by the peoples.

The great demonstrations of the social struggle that have taken place in almost all countries of Latin America are, to some extent, in advance of the decisions and abilities of the organizations and political parties of the revolutionary left. Every day the masses show a great potential for the creation and implementation of various forms of struggle, they are creative in the defensive and offensive in the various forms of strike struggle and street struggle.

The revisionist parties and other opportunist groups are active in the ideological disarming of the working class, the peoples and youth; they eagerly chant that the union organization has been overtaken by history, that “the unions do not work, the social movements are the new actors,” that the masses, their mobilization and action do not need political parties and organizations, that they are enough in themselves for the struggle for their liberation, they rail against “authoritarianism” and “lack of democracy,” against the great experiences of the proletariat in power, of socialism, of the communist party.

The Marxist-Leninist parties and other revolutionary organizations that have shown themselves to be consistent in their struggle against imperialism and capitalism suffer from weaknesses and limitations: they are small, weak, without sufficient links with the working masses and youth and, sometimes and in some places they lose the ability to show appropriate alternatives. Although they are involved in the new scenarios, they do not have the strength and skill to enable them to lead the discontent of the workers and peoples.

The working masses have struggled tirelessly for their immediate demands, for wages, stability, land, housing, etc. They have won partial victories and are continuing the social struggle. In the field of political confrontation, in the electoral disputes most working people were the object of ideological manipulation of the various forms of the ruling classes, their political parties, their political bosses and leaders. The great resources of the media are used (and continue to be) to propose change, the solution of their problems. The masses are seeking change and they “found” it in the bourgeois personality or party that could claim to satisfy those expectations more directly. Many of the workers and peoples were active in the union struggle and in the elections they voted for the bosses.

Under these conditions there has been a qualitative leap in the social and political behavior of the working masses of the city and the countryside, of the youth and the indigenous peoples.

The search for change takes different paths:

1. Popular uprisings have taken place seeking to overthrow corrupt governments: in Venezuela against Carlos Andres Perez, who was forced to resign; in Ecuador against Bucaram, Mahuad and Gutierrez, who were overthrown by the masses in the street; in Argentina against De la Rua and the various governments that tried to succeed him; in Bolivia against Sanchez de Lozada. The popular uprising against Mahuad in Ecuador aimed to bring down the President, Congress and the Court of Justice and managed to nominate a Board of Government of short duration. These actions show the strength of the workers, people and youth, their ability to overthrow the tyrants; but they also show their weaknesses that could be summed up in what is said in the streets of Quito. “We were able to overthrow the government but we could not put one of our own in the Presidency; they same ones as always returned.”

2. The discrediting of the traditional bourgeois parties, their leaders and programs put limits on the ability of ideological manipulation by the rulers, they open the roads to other alternatives. In some countries such as Venezuela, the pendulum that swung between social democracy and the social Christians, the corruption and repression practically eliminated COPEI [Political Electoral Independent Organization Committee, a social-Christian party] and AD [Democratic Action, a social-democratic party – translator’s note]. In Ecuador, the traditional bourgeois parties are called the “partidocracy,” they have lost prestige and were defeated.

3. Popular political parties and organizations that have been fighting in the social and electoral arena for decades are beginning to gain ground in the elections at the presidential level; previously they had significant achievements and experience in local governments; they are winning the vote of the workers, peasants and youth for their positions.

4. New political parties and organizations are being formed that claim to be “left-wing and revolutionary, democratic and open, anti-dogmatic and creative”; by their rebellious, and alternative discourse they lash out at the oligarchy and dependence, but also at the communist and socialist parties that have been fighting since the early decades of the 20th century.

5. The ideological offensive of reaction and imperialism that had targeted socialism and communism is complemented by criticism and questioning of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the revolution and socialism, with the proposals of “20th century socialism” and under the various names of the Bolivarian, Andean and citizen’s revolution.

6. The desire for change by the working masses and the youth is being channeled by political forces that are rebellious, progressive, “left social-democrats”, by political bosses and leaders of the trade union and peasant struggles, by personalities from academia that appear as “new.”

7. We, the Marxist-Leninist parties in Latin America have always been involved in the struggle of the masses, we have done our share in the organization and the strike struggle, in the popular uprisings, but we did not have the strength to channel the desire for change and the search for alternatives of the workers and peoples. We are involved in the processes seeking to deepen them and provide them a revolutionary direction

The rise of the progressive governments

As we noted above, various political forces and personalities came to power through elections and changed the political map of Latin America. The forms and expressions by which the various alternative governments came to the leadership of the State differ from one another, but obviously there are some commonalities, some constant elements that show that the phenomenon is not an isolated incident, but corresponds to an ideological and political current running throughout Latin America.

i. important and massive mobilization of the working masses, the peoples and the youth who questioned neoliberal policies and in some cases made them collapse.

ii. all the electoral platforms presented programs that are democratic, anti-neoliberal, anti-U.S., left-wing and for social and economic achievements to benefit the poor.

iii. an important social and political rhetoric that called itself left-wing and revolutionary, that criticized the partidocracy, the oligarchy and imperialism.

iv. the support and militant participation of leftist political parties and organizations who provided their ability and experience in the process of their coming into office and, in the first stage of these governments, strongly supported them.

v. these processes had the participation of the parties and organizations of the revolutionary left, of our Marxist-Leninist formations that fought in Latin America that supported them, but we could not lead them along the revolutionary path due to the relationship of forces and our weaknesses and limitations.

We have outlined some general issues, but we must emphasize that each process has its own nature, its own ideological and political characteristics which, while they are each different they form parts of a whole and for a certain time.

The space available and the limitations of our information only allow us to draw very broad brush strokes of each of these processes.

Brazil

In Brazil, after decades of political struggle against the military dictatorship, of large mobilizations of the working class for their rights, of the youth for alternatives for their progress and development, after several elections in which various sectors of the ruling classes imposed themselves in office, Lula’s election victory as President took place in 2003. To achieve this purpose for which he had struggled for years, Lula and the Workers Party (PT) made an alliance with a party of the right wing that took the Vice Presidency. The same thing happened in the second election.

An alternative of the “left,” a president from the working class, a union leader, fighter against the military dictatorship won the elections. That victory aroused great expectations among tens of millions of Brazilians and Latin Americans.

Lula governed for two presidential terms (2003-2010) and was able to push the victory of his successor, Dilma Russef, the current president. Both of them won great acclaim among Brazilians and apparently have the ability to win again in the next presidential elections.

Brazil’s economic structure has not changed; it is still a capitalist country. During this period the country has rapidly modernized, its industry has grown significantly, its agricultural sector has expanded greatly, to the detriment of the Amazon rainforest; the exploitation of minerals, especially iron, has increased; it has become self-sufficient in the production and utilization of petroleum. As a great country by the size of its territory and population, by the magnitude of its natural resources and its geostrategic position, Brazil has become the seventh largest world economy, one of the engines of capitalism, one of the emerging powers.

The old dream of the Brazilian big bourgeoisie to become a great power, in alliance with international big capital, Great Brazil is taking shape under a progressive government under the leadership of a union leader. The military could not take this step during their long dictatorship and the application of the IMF measures, none of the previous governments, of the right or of traditional social democracy were able to do this. It was achieved by a government that calls itself left-wing.

At the base of Brazilian society, nearly two hundred million people who form the toiling masses remain under capitalist exploitation and oppression, creating the wealth for the international monopolies and the big Brazilian businesses. At the same time, the country is facing a process of growing deindustrialization and denationalization of its economy. With the policy of high interests Brazil has received big investments from foreign capital, which ultimately contributed to the concentration and monopolization of wealth. Trade union rights are restricted, retirement pensions have been cut and the retirement age increased, millions of peasants are landless. Brazil remains one of the most unequal countries.

The proposals for change, for the liberation of the workers, of social equality, of socialism remain just words; the PT government is one more government that represents the interests of the big Brazilian bourgeoisie, the international monopolies and the imperialist countries.

In Brazil, as in all countries, the revolution and socialism are a historical necessity, they are an objective of the workers, people and youth.

Uruguay

In Uruguay, an alliance of the left with Christian democracy and political formations that broke away from the traditional parties, the Broad Front, formed in 1971 with a long history of trade union and electoral struggle, won the presidential elections in 2004. It broke the age-old rule of the bourgeois parties and raised expectations within and outside the country. The Front had the strength and ability to hold onto the government in 2009, with Jose Mujica, a former Tupamaro guerrilla.

In reality the progressive government of Uruguay has created an administration that essentially abides by neoliberal guidelines. The country remains subordinate to the IMF and the World Bank; it has opened the doors to foreign investment. Now there is a popular left-wing opposition that denounces the capitalist character of the Broad Front government and the violation of civil liberties and trade union rights.

In Uruguay the evils of capitalism continue to exist, the revolution and socialism are on the agenda.

Nicaragua

In Nicaragua in 1979 the popular revolution led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. This event was identified as a new successful revolution in Latin America, twenty years after the Cuban Revolution.

The Sandinistas began to dismantle the dictatorial institutions and pushed through certain rather timid reforms. In reality the capitalist structure of the country remained. In presidential elections called under the pressure of U.S. imperialism and European social democracy, the Sandinistas were defeated. The expectations created by the victory of the armed uprising quickly went up in smoke.

The Sandinista Front decided to resort to the electoral path to regain the presidency of the republic and succeeded with a platform that proclaimed national reconciliation and peace, under Daniel Ortega in 2006. After one presidential term Ortega won reelection in 2011.

The progressive government of Nicaragua has carried out a major welfare policy that, compared with the administration of the openly right-wing governments of the immediate past has improved the living conditions of the Nicaraguans.

It is abundantly clear that capitalism, its structures and rules are still in force in Nicaragua.

El Salvador

The people of El Salvador have been waging a heroic struggle for social and material progress, freedom and democracy, and in their advanced sectors for the revolution and socialism.

In 1928 there was a large strike of banana workers against the United Fruit Company that was fiercely repressed, leaving more than a thousand dead among the strikers and the people who supported them. In 1932 a popular armed insurrection broke out led by the Communist Party and Comrade Farabundo Marti, who fought heroically but was defeated by the oligarchy and imperialism with a massacre of 30,000 martyrs.

In the 1970-80s the revolutionary armed struggle was begun again, leading to a major process of unity of the various fronts and alternatives, which proclaimed as its goal the establishment of socialism. The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front developed high levels of people’s war, confronting a ferocious dirty war unleashed by the bourgeoisie and imperialism, and it won major political and geographical openings that portended a popular victory.

These important actions of the Salvadoran people were negotiated by the Leadership of the FMLN, which agreed to a “peace” and the surrender of arms in January of 1992.

Since then the FMLN has become a political party and participated in several elections for the Presidency of the Republic, which it finally achieved with Mauricio Funes, a personality from outside its ranks, presented as an outsider in politics in 2009.

The Funes government, another one of the progressive governments in Latin America, soon distanced itself from the politics of the left, limiting itself to a welfare policy, leaving itself out of ALBA.

Clearly, the long and bloody struggle of the revolutionaries and the people of El Salvador for freedom and socialism has not achieved victory, which is still on the agenda.

Paraguay

Since Paraguay is landlocked, the war of the Triple Alliance of Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia allied against Paraguay, have led the country to a kind of isolation from the other countries of South America.

For a long period Paraguay was led by a nationalist and patriotic policy, headed by Dr. Francia. For more than 30 years it suffered the brutal, reactionary and anti-communist dictatorship of Stroessner. After the fall of the dictator, the Colorado Party continued to rule.

Paraguay has up to now been a country ruled by the landowners and agricultural exporters, with little industrial development. Under these conditions, the peasant movement, together with the teachers and youth, have been the main actors in the political struggle for social change.

In the presidential elections of 2008 an alternative candidate won who did not belong to any of the traditional parties. He came from long community work, from his position as a Catholic priest. In order to win the elections former Bishop Fernando Lugo formalized an alliance with the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, an opposition to the Colorado Party from other positions of the ruling classes.

In the present Latin American context of the existence of several progressive governments, Lugo’s victory was hailed as another one that joined the current. Lugo himself was incorporated into that sector. In fact the demands of the peasants and other popular sectors were pushed aside. The promise of land reform was shelved. The trade union and political freedoms remained restricted.

In June of 2112 Lugo was removed from office in a summary trial whose decision was accepted to the benefit of democracy and he was replaced by the Vice President. The experience of another of the progressive governments was ended in this manner, without much resistance.

In Paraguay a good part of the peasant movement and of the revolutionary left did not support Lugo; during his government he pursued a policy of demands and now the fight for social and national liberation continues.

Argentina

In 2002 the Argentinazo took place, an explosion of the workers, people and youth who threw out the Radical Party government of De la Rua, proclaiming the slogan “they should all go,” experimenting with the formation of Popular Assemblies and throwing out four governments that were created institutionally to defend the established order.

This great uprising of the working masses and youth had the strength and ability to throw out successive representatives of the bourgeoisie but it was unable to gain power.

Bourgeois democracy, immersed in a deep economic and political crisis caused by the abandonment of the “convertibility” of the peso, corruption and the discrediting of the political parties, the exhaustion of the neoliberal policies, still had the power to redirect the desire for change and popular struggle into elections.

In 2003, the progressive wing of Peronism led by Kirchner won the plurality with 22% of the votes. The withdrawal of Menen from the runoff led to his winning.

Progressive Peronism returned to office after more than 20 years and applied a government program that restored the subsidies and bought back the companies privatized by the same Peronism led by Menen. However he continued the policy of deindustrialization and the return to primary goods of the economy. This was favored by the high price of soy and to a great degree he could fix the fiscal crisis and put forward an intense welfare policy based on patronage. On the international level Argentina was aligned with the other progressive governments and sealed an alliance with the big Brazilian bourgeoisie in the framework of Mercosur.

Kirchner’s program was able to secure its social base, achieving continuity with the election of his wife Cristina Fernandez in 2007. After Kirchner’s death, Cristina became his heir and successor as president, winning reelection in 2011

Cristina has stated outright that she is seeking to carry out a “rational capitalism” and has used repression against the peasants and workers.

The progressive government of Fernandez is, by its own admission, a capitalist government; thus in Argentina the need for the revolution and socialism continues to be on the agenda.

Bolivia

Bolivia is a multinational state. The Spanish conquest could not crush or eliminate the indigenous nationalities and peoples. The Quechua and Aymara defended and preserved the essence of their culture, they have always been the majority of the population, there is a similar situation with the more than two dozen smaller nationalities that still exist; the Bolivian mestizos are a growing and developing people. The ruling classes, the landlords, the mine owners, bankers and businessmen have always come from the mestizos and through their economic and political power, they became the dominant nation.

The Bolivian workers in the mines and the fledgling industries, the peasants mostly from the indigenous peoples and nationalities, and also, of course, from the mestizos were and are the creators of the wealth. They were always at the bottom of the social pyramid, they were oppressed and exploited.

For centuries they have been the protagonists of great exploits in pursuit of freedom and democracy, their blood watered the struggle for independence from Spain, they carried out great struggles for the possession of the land, for the nationalization of the mines, in opposition to national discrimination, for freedom and democracy. In 1952 they lead a great democratic revolution that was taken over by the bourgeoisie. In the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s they fought heroically against a series of fascistic military dictatorships.

At the beginning of the 21st century they led the so-called water war and later overthrew the Sanchez de Lozada government.

Demanding the rights of the indigenous peoples, a trade union fighter who led the coca-cultivating peasants, Evo Morales led the indigenous and popular struggle into elections and on the second attempt he won the Presidency of the Republic in 2005.

There emerged a progressive alternative, meaning access to the government by the indigenous peoples; proposing the refounding of the country, the establishment of a multinational State, the nationalization of the mines and petroleum, health care and education and opposed to neoliberalism. The government of Evo Morales quickly aligned itself with the other progressive governments, it awakened great expectations among the working masses and the peoples of Bolivia and even abroad, among the workers and peoples and among the left and the revolutionaries.

After enacting a new constitution and a period of economic and social achievements aimed at the indigenous peoples who had been impoverished for centuries, he was re-elected in 2009.

The government of Evo Morales has been subjected to pressure from imperialism and the bourgeoisie, from the right; and to the demands of the workers and indigenous peoples, who have been forced to recreate the old forms of struggle, marches, street demonstrations, general strikes and hunger strikes opposing the neoliberal measures such as the gasolinazo in 2011, the devastation of the environment by the construction of roads, the shortage and high price of food.

In Bolivia the class struggle continues with the workers, peoples and youth taking the lead. The peoples of Bolivia are still poor in a country extremely rich in natural resources.

The Constitution has changed, important efforts have been made to build multiculturalism, but the economic and social structures remain private capitalist property. The social revolution and socialism are, as yesterday, a need and task of the workers.

Venezuela

In opposition to the social democratic and Christian socialist governments who took turns in power since the overthrow of the Perez Jimenez dictatorship in 1958, Venezuela was the scene of many battles by the workers and people, the student youth in opposition to widespread corruption, the alienation by the international monopolies of wealth generated by oil operations, waste and fanfare of the ruling cliques.

These struggles shook the streets and plazas of the Venezuelan cities; they increased the determination of the masses to overthrow the institutional structures. Political analysts spoke of thousands of protests that took place every year.

In 1989, there was the so-called Caracazo, a genuine popular uprising that aroused Caracas demanding the departure of the government and great social and economic demands. This great action led to the resignation of Carlos Andres Perez from the Presidency but it could not avoid the constitutional succession that let everything stay the same.

Earlier, in the 1960s in Venezuela there was a valiant guerrilla movement involving thousands of fighters, which was defeated because of insufficient ties to the life and struggle of the working masses and the student youth, to small armed group deviations and of course of the military superiority of the armed forces aided by imperialism. Those struggles resulted in the formation of important revolutionary political cadres.

In February of 1992 there was a military uprising led by Colonel Hugo Chavez, which was defeated by the military high command, but which showed that the discontent and dissatisfaction had penetrated the barracks. The rebels were sentenced to prison and later pardoned.

In 1998 Hugo Chavez led an electoral alternative of the left, very powerful and militant against the domination of the traditional parties, the social democrats and social Christians; he brought together the sense of dissatisfaction of the majority of Venezuelans, which led him to victory in the first round.

Since then Chavez has been heading a democratic government that has used the vast oil resources for the benefit of the poorest sectors of society; with the people of the slums, he has in fact created a parallel State with so-called “missions” that are carrying through an aggressive welfare policy, that is providing education, health care and welfare for the masses. He is pushing forward major social reforms to benefit those on pensions, the workers and peasants. He pushed the State to take over the whole oil industry, although recently he has made concessions to the Chinese. He has nationalized a large number of industrial and trading companies, and major mass media.

Chavez has been promoting a forceful ideological offensive that is letting him form and preserve a significant social base that has given him successive electoral victories. He has been reelected three times and has a popular mandate until 2019, almost 20 years. This offensive promotes Chavez’s personal leadership; it proclaims 21st century socialism, the “Bolivarian revolution” and the role of the masses. It is the only progressive government that relies on the mobilization of the masses.

However basically, the banks and big capitalist enterprises remain intact, as do the U.S. foreign investments and those of other imperialist countries. The social revolution has not yet taken place in Venezuela.

Ecuador

The long struggle of the workers and peoples, the expectations and mobilization of the youth in opposition to neoliberalism and the oligarchic governments goes back a long way, since the last century; it goes hand in hand with workers strikes, peasant struggles for land, fights of the youth for education and freedom, the fight against the dictatorship and against the neoliberal governments, the uprisings of the indigenous peoples that have shown that they have strength at the national level since the indigenous uprising of 1990 (before then the indigenous mobilizations were partial and isolated). They continue with the popular uprisings that overthrew the governments of Bucaram in 1997, Mahuad in 2000 and Gutierrez in 2005; they are advancing by way of the electoral participation together with the left and the indigenous movement.

In 2006 they supported the candidacy of Correa and led it to victory. Before, they had supported Gutierrez and when he betrayed them they learned how to fight and overthrow him.

Correa’s victory was made possible by the growth of the masses’ desire for change, by the discrediting of the bourgeois parties, by the search for alternatives in the electoral arena, by the stance of a new candidate who promoted change, who developed a patriotic and left-wing discourse.

Since then the government developed a welfare policy in favor of the poorest sectors of the city and countryside, the Human Development Bonus was raised to $35 from the $12 set by the previous governments, he proclaimed free education and has carried this out to a large degree, similarly with health care. He aligned himself with the progressive governments in Latin America, joined ALBA and preaches a nationalist discourse with leadership qualities.

Under the government of Correa, who was re-elected after the adoption of the new Constitution in 2009 and who is now running for a third term in February of 2013, the big bankers and businessmen, though they have not directly run the government, have obtained the biggest profits in history; the rich have become richer and the poor remain poor (Correa began his government by distributing the poverty bonus to one million people, now he distributes it to nearly two million, since the poor have increased in number). Private ownership of the means of production continues unchanged and by the admission of the President himself this will continue to be respected.

The ideological offensive of the Correa government is massive and persistent, he monopolizes the whole media, based on the President’s media image, he spouts demagogic verbiage, diatribes and insults against his opponents. He proclaims the “citizens’ revolution,” “socialism of the 21st century” and that “the country now belongs to everyone.” In words he condemns the oligarchy and imperialism and he persecutes and condemns the social activists. The criminalization of the social struggle is developing to a greater degree than under all the previous governments, hundreds of rank-and-file leaders are prosecuted, accused of sabotage and terrorism, and more than two dozen militants of the left are in prison, convicted of terrorism.

Correa quickly changed course, his initial progressive and leftist proposals went “straight to the right.” He now rules for the bankers and businessmen, for the major exporters and importers.

Obviously the old partidocracy wants to return to office and is leading the bourgeois opposition, to replace him through elections.

In this scenario, the social organizations and movements, the left-wing political organizations and parties denounced in a timely manner the move to the right and they formed the popular opposition, defending the interests of the workers, indigenous peoples and youth. They are following the electoral path; they have come together in the Multinational Coordinator of the Left and are prepared for a tough battle in the next election.

Against all predictions that Correa is the favorite, the popular and left-wing alterative is advancing and following a path to victory.

The evolution of the progressive governments in Latin America

Earlier we pointed out that each of the progressive governments of Latin America has its own essence and characteristics, it follows its own course. We also said that there are common elements that distinguish them from the other bourgeois governments in Latin America and that have allowed them to play a role in the international arena.

They have agreed on proposals and approaches at the OAS (Organization of American States), the UN and other international forums.

Venezuela, because of the significant surpluses produced by high oil prices, has developed a trade and aid policy favorable to the other countries.

Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines have formed ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) that is seeking trade integration, but fundamentally a political orientation on the continent. ALBA has not been able to integrate all the progressive governments precisely because of political differences.

All the progressive governments emerged as alternative and left-wing proposals, they base themselves on the desire for change by the masses and in their early period they fulfilled some of their campaign promises and therefore they received successive support.

They emerged under favorable international conditions, when U.S. imperialism was bogged down in the Middle East. The economic crisis that shook the capitalist imperialist world did not affect them substantially; they have been favored by rising prices of petroleum, iron and other raw materials, by the high prices for agricultural products that have allowed them to have significant cash resources to promote public works and an aggressive welfare policy. However, the direction of the economy of the respective countries continues on the paths of neoliberalism. They all base their economy on extractive industries and agriculture, in all the countries the policies of deindustrialization continue.

On the one hand they were subjected to pressure from imperialism, mainly U.S. imperialism, from the native oligarchies and the political right-wing and, on the other hand to the demands of the working masses, the peoples, youth and left-wing political organizations and parties to fulfill their promises, to advances on the patriotic and democratic path.

At one point, they were all governments in dispute, they were in the center of the storm. That situation was circumstantial, in most of the countries these governments succumbed to the pressure of imperialism and the bourgeoisie, they renounced their patriotic and democratic projects, they adapted to the interests of the businessmen and bankers and the international monopolies and carried out their policies. They moved to the right. The exception is Hugo Chavez’s government that, in essence, continues on the path of social reforms.

This metamorphosis of the various alternative governments is expressed in different ways: some changed quickly, others later, some adopted repressive policies against social and left-wing activists. However, they all continue with a left-wing verbiage, preaching a double standard. They are essentially demagogic, populist governments, embodied in a charismatic political boss.

The question is whether the existence of these governments is a step forward or backward in the process of accumulation of forces in the task of organizing and making the revolution. The answer, which we will elaborate, is both yes and no.

In the context of the ebb at the end of the 20th century, the emergence of these governments is objectively an advance; viewed in their development they put forward new problems for the revolutionaries, they attract a social base among the working classes and youth, they are a diversionary factor.

Pablo Miranda

Bibliography:

1. Thirteenth Seminar “Problems of the Revolution in Latin America,” 2011 to 2012.

2. Revolutionary Communist Party (PCR) – Brazil.

3. Averdade newspaper, Organ of the PCR – Brazil.

4. Political Line of the PCMLV, Marxist-Leninist Party Communist Party of Venezuela.

5. Politics and Theory, Journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Argentina.

6. The Capitalist System and the Struggle of the Workers and Peoples, Unity and Struggle No. 23, October 2011.

7. Latin America and the Social Revolution of the Proletariat, Pablo Miranda, March 2007.

Source

Left Anticommunism: the Unkindest Cut

noamChomsky

BY MICHAEL PARENTI

Despite a lifetime of “shaming” the system, NOAM CHOMSKY, America’s foremost “engagé” intellectual, remains an unrepentant left anticommunist.

In the United States, for over a hundred years, the ruling interests tirelessly propagated anticommunism among the populace, until it became more like a religious orthodoxy than a political analysis. During the Cold War, the anticommunist ideological framework could transform any data about existing communist societies into hostile evidence. If the Soviets refused to negotiate a point, they were intransigent and belligerent; if they appeared willing to make concessions, this was but a skillful ploy to put us off our guard. By opposing arms limitations, they would have demonstrated their aggressive intent; but when in fact they supported most armament treaties, it was because they were mendacious and manipulative. If the churches in the USSR were empty, this demonstrated that religion was suppressed; but if the churches were full, this meant the people were rejecting the regime’s atheistic ideology. If the workers went on strike (as happened on infrequent occasions), this was evidence of their alienation from the collectivist system; if they didn’t go on strike, this was because they were intimidated and lacked freedom. A scarcity of consumer goods demonstrated the failure of the economic system; an improvement in consumer supplies meant only that the leaders were attempting to placate a restive population and so maintain a firmer hold over them. If communists in the United States played an important role struggling for the rights of workers, the poor, African-Americans, women, and others, this was only their guileful way of gathering support among disfranchised groups and gaining power for themselves. How one gained power by fighting for the rights of powerless groups was never explained. What we are dealing with is a nonfalsifiable orthodoxy, so assiduously marketed by the ruling interests that it affected people across the entire political spectrum.

Genuflection to Orthodoxy

Many on the U.S. Left have exhibited a Soviet bashing and Red baiting that matches anything on the Right in its enmity and crudity. Listen to Noam Chomsky holding forth about “left intellectuals” who try to “rise to power on the backs of mass popular movements” and “then beat the people into submission. . . . You start off as basically a Leninist who is going to be part of the Red bureaucracy. You see later that power doesn’t lie that way, and you very quickly become an ideologist of the right. . . . We’re seeing it right now in the [former] Soviet Union. The same guys who were communist thugs two years back, are now running banks and [are] enthusiastic free marketeers and praising Americans” (Z Magazine, 10/95).

Chomsky’s imagery is heavily indebted to the same U.S. corporate political culture he so frequently criticizes on other issues. In his mind, the revolution was betrayed by a coterie of “communist thugs” who merely hunger for power rather than wanting the power to end hunger. In fact, the communists did not “very quickly” switch to the Right but struggled in the face of a momentous onslaught to keep Soviet socialism alive for more than seventy years. To be sure, in the Soviet Union’s waning days some, like Boris Yeltsin, crossed over to capitalist ranks, but others continued to resist free-market incursions at great cost to themselves, many meeting their deaths during Yeltsin’s violent repression of the Russian parliament in 1993.

Some leftists and others fall back on the old stereotype of power-hungry Reds who pursue power for power’s sake without regard for actual social goals. If true, one wonders why, in country after country, these Reds side with the poor and powerless often at great risk and sacrifice to themselves, rather than reaping the rewards that come with serving the well-placed.

For decades, many left-leaning writers and speakers in the United States have felt obliged to establish their credibility by indulging in anticommunist and anti-Soviet genuflection, seemingly unable to give a talk or write an article or book review on whatever political subject without injecting some anti-Red sideswipe. The intent was, and still is, to distance themselves from the Marxist-Leninist Left.

Adam Hochschild: Keeping his distance from the “Stalinist Left” and recommending same posture to fellow progressives.

Adam Hochschild, a liberal writer and publisher, warned those on the Left who might be lackadaisical about condemning existing communist societies that they “weaken their credibility” (Guardian, 5/23/84). In other words, to be credible opponents of the cold war, we first had to join in the Cold-War condemnations of communist societies. Ronald Radosh urged that the peace movement purge itself of communists so that it not be accused of being communist (Guardian, 3/16/83). If I understand Radosh: To save ourselves from anticommunist witchhunts, we should ourselves become witchhunters. Purging the Left of communists became a longstanding practice, having injurious effects on various progressive causes. For instance, in 1949 some twelve unions were ousted from the CIO because they had Reds in their leadership. The purge reduced CIO membership by some 1.7 million and seriously weakened its recruitment drives and political clout. In the late 1940s, to avoid being “smeared” as Reds, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), a supposedly progressive group, became one of the most vocally anticommunist organizations.

The strategy did not work. ADA and others on the Left were still attacked for being communist or soft on communism by those on the Right. Then and now, many on the Left have failed to realize that those who fight for social change on behalf of the less privileged elements of society will be Red-baited by conservative elites whether they are communists or not. For ruling interests, it makes little difference whether their wealth and power is challenged by “communist subversives” or “loyal American liberals.” All are lumped together as more or less equally abhorrent.

Even when attacking the Right, the left critics cannot pass up an opportunity to flash their anticommunist credentials. So Mark Green writes in a criticism of President Ronald Reagan that “when presented with a situation that challenges his conservative catechism, like an unyielding Marxist-Leninist, [Reagan] will change not his mind but the facts.” While professing a dedication to fighting dogmatism “both of the Right and Left,” individuals who perform such de rigueur genuflections reinforce the anticommunist dogma. Red-baiting leftists contributed their share to the climate of hostility that has given U.S. leaders such a free hand in waging hot and cold wars against communist countries and which even today makes a progressive or even liberal agenda difficult to promote.

A prototypic Red-basher who pretended to be on the Left was George Orwell. In the middle of World War II, as the Soviet Union was fighting for its life against the Nazi invaders at Stalingrad, Orwell announced that a “willingness to criticize Russia and Stalin is the test of intellectual honesty. It is the only thing that from a literary intellectual’s point of view is really dangerous” (Monthly Review, 5/83). Safely ensconced within a virulently anticommunist society, Orwell (with Orwellian doublethink) characterized the condemnation of communism as a lonely courageous act of defiance. Today, his ideological progeny are still at it, offering themselves as intrepid left critics of the Left, waging a valiant struggle against imaginary Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist hordes.
•••••

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Sorely lacking within the U.S. Left is any rational evaluation of the Soviet Union, a nation that endured a protracted civil war and a multinational foreign invasion in the very first years of its existence, and that two decades later threw back and destroyed the Nazi beast at enormous cost to itself. In the three decades after the Bolshevik revolution, the Soviets made industrial advances equal to what capitalism took a century to accomplish–while feeding and schooling their children rather than working them fourteen hours a day as capitalist industrialists did and still do in many parts of the world. And the Soviet Union, along with Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic, and Cuba provided vital assistance to national liberation movements in countries around the world, including Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in South Africa.

Left anticommunists remained studiously unimpressed by the dramatic gains won by masses of previously impoverished people under communism. Some were even scornful of such accomplishments. I recall how in Burlington Vermont, in 1971, the noted anticommunist anarchist, Murray Bookchin, derisively referred to my concern for “the poor little children who got fed under communism” (his words).

Slinging Labels

Those of us who refused to join in the Soviet bashing were branded by left anticommunists as “Soviet apologists” and “Stalinists,” even if we disliked Stalin and his autocratic system of rule and believed there were things seriously wrong with existing Soviet society. Our real sin was that unlike many on the Left we refused to uncritically swallow U.S. media propaganda about communist societies. Instead, we maintained that, aside from the well-publicized deficiencies and injustices, there were positive features about existing communist systems that were worth preserving, that improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people in meaningful and humanizing ways. This claim had a decidedly unsettling effect on left anticommunists who themselves could not utter a positive word about any communist society (except possibly Cuba) and could not lend a tolerant or even courteous ear to anyone who did.

Saturated by anticommunist orthodoxy, most U.S. leftists have practiced a left McCarthyism against people who did have something positive to say about existing communism, excluding them from participation in conferences, advisory boards, political endorsements, and left publications. Like conservatives, left anticommunists tolerated nothing less than a blanket condemnation of the Soviet Union as a Stalinist monstrosity and a Leninist moral aberration.

That many U.S. leftists have scant familiarity with Lenin’s writings and political work does not prevent them from slinging the “Leninist” label. Noam Chomsky, who is an inexhaustible fount of anticommunist caricatures, offers this comment about Leninism: “Western and also Third World intellectuals were attracted to the Bolshevik counterrevolution [sic] because Leninism is, after all, a doctrine that says that the radical intelligentsia have a right to take state power and to run their countries by force, and that is an idea which is rather appealing to intellectuals.” Here Chomsky fashions an image of power-hungry intellectuals to go along with his cartoon image of power-hungry Leninists, villains seeking not the revolutionary means to fight injustice but power for power’s sake. When it comes to Red-bashing, some of the best and brightest on the Left sound not much better than the worst on the Right.

At the time of the 1996 terror bombing in Oklahoma City, I heard a radio commentator announce: “Lenin said that the purpose of terror is to terrorize.” U.S. media commentators have repeatedly quoted Lenin in that misleading manner. In fact, his statement was disapproving of terrorism. He polemicized against isolated terrorist acts which do nothing but create terror among the populace, invite repression, and isolate the revolutionary movement from the masses. Far from being the totalitarian, tight-circled conspirator, Lenin urged the building of broad coalitions and mass organizations, encompassing people who were at different levels of political development. He advocated whatever diverse means were needed to advance the class struggle, including participation in parliamentary elections and existing trade unions. To be sure, the working class, like any mass group, needed organization and leadership to wage a successful revolutionary struggle, which was the role of a vanguard party, but that did not mean the proletarian revolution could be fought and won by putschists or terrorists.

Lenin constantly dealt with the problem of avoiding the two extremes of liberal bourgeois opportunism and ultra-left adventurism. Yet he himself is repeatedly identified as an ultra-left putschist by mainstream journalists and some on the Left. Whether Lenin’s approach to revolution is desirable or even relevant today is a question that warrants critical examination. But a useful evaluation is not likely to come from people who misrepresent his theory and practice.

Left anticommunists find any association with communist organizations to be morally unacceptable because of the “crimes of communism.” Yet many of them are themselves associated with the Democratic Party in this country, either as voters or members, seemingly unconcerned about the morally unacceptable political crimes committed by leaders of that organization. Under one or another Democratic administration, 120,000 Japanese Americans were torn from their homes and livelihoods and thrown into detention camps; atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with an enormous loss of innocent life; the FBI was given authority to infiltrate political groups; the Smith Act was used to imprison leaders of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and later on leaders of the Communist Party for their political beliefs; detention camps were established to round up political dissidents in the event of a “national emergency”; during the late 1940s and 1950s, eight thousand federal workers were purged from government because of their political associations and views, with thousands more in all walks of life witchhunted out of their careers; the Neutrality Act was used to impose an embargo on the Spanish Republic that worked in favor of Franco’s fascist legions; homicidal counterinsurgency programs were initiated in various Third World countries; and the Vietnam War was pursued and escalated. And for the better part of a century, the Congressional leadership of the Democratic Party protected racial segregation and stymied all anti-lynching and fair employment bills. Yet all these crimes, bringing ruination and death to many, have not moved the liberals, the social democrats, and the “democratic socialist” anticommunists to insist repeatedly that we issue blanket condemnations of either the Democratic Party or the political system that produced it, certainly not with the intolerant fervor that has been directed against existing communism.

Pure Socialism vs. Siege Socialism

The upheavals in Eastern Europe did not constitute a defeat for socialism because socialism never existed in those countries, according to some U.S. leftists. They say that the communist states offered nothing more than bureaucratic, one-party “state capitalism” or some such thing. Whether we call the former communist countries “socialist” is a matter of definition. Suffice it to say, they constituted something different from what existed in the profit-driven capitalist world–as the capitalists themselves were not slow to recognize.

First, in communist countries there was less economic inequality than under capitalism. The perks enjoyed by party and government elites were modest by corporate CEO standards in the West [even more so when compared with today’s grotesque compensation packages to the executive and financial elites.—Eds], as were their personal incomes and life styles. Soviet leaders like Yuri Andropov and Leonid Brezhnev lived not in lavishly appointed mansions like the White House, but in relatively large apartments in a housing project near the Kremlin set aside for government leaders. They had limousines at their disposal (like most other heads of state) and access to large dachas where they entertained visiting dignitaries. But they had none of the immense personal wealth that most U.S. leaders possess.

The “lavish life” enjoyed by East Germany’s party leaders, as widely publicized in the U.S. press, included a $725 yearly allowance in hard currency, and housing in an exclusive settlement on the outskirts of Berlin that sported a sauna, an indoor pool, and a fitness center shared by all the residents. They also could shop in stores that carried Western goods such as bananas, jeans, and Japanese electronics. The U.S. press never pointed out that ordinary East Germans had access to public pools and gyms and could buy jeans and electronics (though usually not of the imported variety). Nor was the “lavish” consumption enjoyed by East German leaders contrasted to the truly opulent life style enjoyed by the Western plutocracy.

Second, in communist countries, productive forces were not organized for capital gain and private enrichment; public ownership of the means of production supplanted private ownership. Individuals could not hire other people and accumulate great personal wealth from their labor. Again, compared to Western standards, differences in earnings and savings among the populace were generally modest. The income spread between highest and lowest earners in the Soviet Union was about five to one. In the United States, the spread in yearly income between the top multibillionaires and the working poor is more like 10,000 to 1.

Third, priority was placed on human services. Though life under communism left a lot to be desired and the services themselves were rarely the best, communist countries did guarantee their citizens some minimal standard of economic survival and security, including guaranteed education, employment, housing, and medical assistance.

Fourth, communist countries did not pursue the capital penetration of other countries. Lacking a profit motive as their motor force and therefore having no need to constantly find new investment opportunities, they did not expropriate the lands, labor, markets, and natural resources of weaker nations, that is, they did not practice economic imperialism. The Soviet Union conducted trade and aid relations on terms that generally were favorable to the Eastern European nations and Mongolia, Cuba, and India.

All of the above were organizing principles for every communist system to one degree or another. None of the above apply to free market countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Thailand, South Korea, Chile, Indonesia, Zaire, Germany, or the United States.

But a real socialism, it is argued, would be controlled by the workers themselves through direct participation instead of being run by Leninists, Stalinists, Castroites, or other ill-willed, power-hungry, bureaucratic, cabals of evil men who betray revolutions. Unfortunately, this “pure socialism” view is ahistorical and nonfalsifiable; it cannot be tested against the actualities of history. It compares an ideal against an imperfect reality, and the reality comes off a poor second. It imagines what socialism would be like in a world far better than this one, where no strong state structure or security force is required, where none of the value produced by workers needs to be expropriated to rebuild society and defend it from invasion and internal sabotage.

The pure socialists’ ideological anticipations remain untainted by existing practice. They do not explain how the manifold functions of a revolutionary society would be organized, how external attack and internal sabotage would be thwarted, how bureaucracy would be avoided, scarce resources allocated, policy differences settled, priorities set, and production and distribution conducted. Instead, they offer vague statements about how the workers themselves will directly own and control the means of production and will arrive at their own solutions through creative struggle. No surprise then that the pure socialists support every revolution except the ones that succeed.

The pure socialists had a vision of a new society that would create and be created by new people, a society so transformed in its fundamentals as to leave little room for wrongful acts, corruption, and criminal abuses of state power. There would be no bureaucracy or self-interested coteries, no ruthless conflicts or hurtful decisions. When the reality proves different and more difficult, some on the Left proceed to condemn the real thing and announce that they “feel betrayed” by this or that revolution.

The pure socialists see socialism as an ideal that was tarnished by communist venality, duplicity, and power cravings. The pure socialists oppose the Soviet model but offer little evidence to demonstrate that other paths could have been taken, that other models of socialism–not created from one’s imagination but developed through actual historical experience–could have taken hold and worked better. Was an open, pluralistic, democratic socialism actually possible at this historic juncture? The historical evidence would suggest it was not. As the political philosopher Carl Shames argued:

How do [the left critics] know that the fundamental problem was the “nature” of the ruling [revolutionary] parties rather than, say, the global concentration of capital that is destroying all independent economies and putting an end to national sovereignty everywhere? And to the extent that it was, where did this “nature” come from? Was this “nature” disembodied, disconnected from the fabric of the society itself, from the social relations impacting on it? . . . Thousands of examples could be found in which the centralization of power was a necessary choice in securing and protecting socialist relations. In my observation [of existing communist societies], the positive of “socialism” and the negative of “bureaucracy, authoritarianism and tyranny” interpenetrated in virtually every sphere of life. (Carl Shames, correspondence to me, 1/15/92.)

The pure socialists regularly blame the Left itself for every defeat it suffers. Their second-guessing is endless. So we hear that revolutionary struggles fail because their leaders wait too long or act too soon, are too timid or too impulsive, too stubborn or too easily swayed. We hear that revolutionary leaders are compromising or adventuristic, bureaucratic or opportunistic, rigidly organized or insufficiently organized, undemocratic or failing to provide strong leadership. But always the leaders fail because they do not put their trust in the “direct actions” of the workers, who apparently would withstand and overcome every adversity if only given the kind of leadership available from the left critic’s own groupuscule. Unfortunately, the critics seem unable to apply their own leadership genius to producing a successful revolutionary movement in their own country.

Tony Febbo questioned this blame-the-leadership syndrome of the pure socialists:

It occurs to me that when people as smart, different, dedicated and heroic as Lenin, Mao, Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Ho Chi Minh and Robert Mugabe–and the millions of heroic people who followed and fought with them–all end up more or less in the same place, then something bigger is at work than who made what decision at what meeting. Or even what size houses they went home to after the meeting. . . .

These leaders weren’t in a vacuum. They were in a whirlwind. And the suction, the force, the power that was twirling them around has spun and left this globe mangled for more than 900 years. And to blame this or that theory or this or that leader is a simple-minded substitute for the kind of analysis that Marxists [should make]. (Guardian, 11/13/91)

To be sure, the pure socialists are not entirely without specific agendas for building the revolution. After the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, an ultra-left group in that country called for direct worker ownership of the factories. The armed workers would take control of production without benefit of managers, state planners, bureaucrats, or a formal military. While undeniably appealing, this worker syndicalism denies the necessities of state power. Under such an arrangement, the Nicaraguan revolution would not have lasted two months against the U.S.-sponsored counterrevolution that savaged the country. It would have been unable to mobilize enough resources to field an army, take security measures, or build and coordinate economic programs and human services on a national scale.

Decentralization vs. Survival

For a people’s revolution to survive, it must seize state power and use it to (a) break the stranglehold exercised by the owning class over the society’s institutions and resources, and (b) withstand the reactionary counterattack that is sure to come. The internal and external dangers a revolution faces necessitate a centralized state power that is not particularly to anyone’s liking, not in Soviet Russia in 1917, nor in Sandinista Nicaragua in 1980.

Engels offers an apposite account of an uprising in Spain in 1872-73 in which anarchists seized power in municipalities across the country. At first, the situation looked promising. The king had abdicated and the bourgeois government could muster but a few thousand ill-trained troops. Yet this ragtag force prevailed because it faced a thoroughly parochialized rebellion. “Each town proclaimed itself as a sovereign canton and set up a revolutionary committee (junta),” Engels writes. “[E]ach town acted on its own, declaring that the important thing was not cooperation with other towns but separation from them, thus precluding any possibility of a combined attack [against bourgeois forces].” It was “the fragmentation and isolation of the revolutionary forces which enabled the government troops to smash one revolt after the other.”

Decentralized parochial autonomy is the graveyard of insurgency–which may be one reason why there has never been a successful anarcho-syndicalist revolution. Ideally, it would be a fine thing to have only local, self-directed, worker participation, with minimal bureaucracy, police, and military. This probably would be the development of socialism, were socialism ever allowed to develop unhindered by counterrevolutionary subversion and attack. One might recall how, in 1918-20, fourteen capitalist nations, including the United States, invaded Soviet Russia in a bloody but unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the revolutionary Bolshevik government. The years of foreign invasion and civil war did much to intensify the Bolsheviks’ siege psychology with its commitment to lockstep party unity and a repressive security apparatus. Thus, in May 1921, the same Lenin who had encouraged the practice of internal party democracy and struggled against Trotsky in order to give the trade unions a greater measure of autonomy, now called for an end to the Workers’ Opposition and other factional groups within the party. “The time has come,” he told an enthusiastically concurring Tenth Party Congress, “to put an end to opposition, to put a lid on it: we have had enough opposition.” Open disputes and conflicting tendencies within and without the party, the communists concluded, created an appearance of division and weakness that invited attack by formidable foes.

Only a month earlier, in April 1921, Lenin had called for more worker representation on the party’s Central Committee. In short, he had become not anti-worker but anti-opposition. Here was a social revolution–like every other–that was not allowed to develop its political and material life in an unhindered way.

By the late 1920s, the Soviets faced the choice of (a) moving in a still more centralized direction with a command economy and forced agrarian collectivization and full-speed industrialization under a commandist, autocratic party leadership, the road taken by Stalin, or (b) moving in a liberalized direction, allowing more political diversity, more autonomy for labor unions and other organizations, more open debate and criticism, greater autonomy among the various Soviet republics, a sector of privately owned small businesses, independent agricultural development by the peasantry, greater emphasis on consumer goods, and less effort given to the kind of capital accumulation needed to build a strong military-industrial base.

The latter course, I believe, would have produced a more comfortable, more humane and serviceable society. Siege socialism would have given way to worker-consumer socialism. The only problem is that the country would have risked being incapable of withstanding the Nazi onslaught. Instead, the Soviet Union embarked upon a rigorous, forced industrialization. This policy has often been mentioned as one of the wrongs perpetrated by Stalin upon his people. It consisted mostly of building, within a decade, an entirely new, huge industrial base east of the Urals in the middle of the barren steppes, the biggest steel complex in Europe, in anticipation of an invasion from the West. “Money was spent like water, men froze, hungered and suffered but the construction went on with a disregard for individuals and a mass heroism seldom paralleled in history.”

Stalin’s prophecy that the Soviet Union had only ten years to do what the British had done in a century proved correct. When the Nazis invaded in 1941, that same industrial base, safely ensconced thousands of miles from the front, produced the weapons of war that eventually turned the tide. The cost of this survival included 22 million Soviets who perished in the war and immeasurable devastation and suffering, the effects of which would distort Soviet society for decades afterward.

All this is not to say that everything Stalin did was of historical necessity. The exigencies of revolutionary survival did not “make inevitable” the heartless execution of hundreds of Old Bolshevik leaders, the personality cult of a supreme leader who claimed every revolutionary gain as his own achievement, the suppression of party political life through terror, the eventual silencing of debate regarding the pace of industrialization and collectivization, the ideological regulation of all intellectual and cultural life, and the mass deportations of “suspect” nationalities.

The transforming effects of counterrevolutionary attack have been felt in other countries. A Sandinista military officer I met in Vienna in 1986 noted that Nicaraguans were “not a warrior people” but they had to learn to fight because they faced a destructive, U.S.-sponsored mercenary war. She bemoaned the fact that war and embargo forced her country to postpone much of its socio-economic agenda. As with Nicaragua, so with Mozambique, Angola and numerous other countries in which U.S.-financed mercenary forces destroyed farmlands, villages, health centers, and power stations, while killing or starving hundreds of thousands–the revolutionary baby was strangled in its crib or mercilessly bled beyond recognition. This reality ought to earn at least as much recognition as the suppression of dissidents in this or that revolutionary society.

The overthrow of Eastern European and Soviet communist governments was cheered by many left intellectuals. Now democracy would have its day. The people would be free from the yoke of communism and the U.S. Left would be free from the albatross of existing communism, or as left theorist Richard Lichtman put it, “liberated from the incubus of the Soviet Union and the succubus of Communist China.”

In fact, the capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe seriously weakened the numerous Third World liberation struggles that had received aid from the Soviet Union and brought a whole new crop of right-wing governments into existence, ones that now worked hand-in-glove with U.S. global counterrevolutionaries around the globe.

In addition, the overthrow of communism gave the green light to the unbridled exploitative impulses of Western corporate interests. No longer needing to convince workers that they live better than their counterparts in Russia, no longer restrained by a competing system, the corporate class is rolling back the many gains that working people have won over the years. Now that the free market, in its meanest form, is emerging triumphant in the East, so will it prevail in the West. “Capitalism with a human face” is being replaced by “capitalism in your face.” As Richard Levins put it, “So in the new exuberant aggressiveness of world capitalism we see what communists and their allies had held at bay” (Monthly Review, 9/96).

Having never understood the role that existing communist powers played in tempering the worst impulses of Western capitalism, and having perceived communism as nothing but an unmitigated evil, the left anticommunists did not anticipate the losses that were to come. Some of them still don’t get it.

Video: In Nicaragua, A Return Of The Contras?

Video: Tribute to the Sandinista Revolution

TRIBUTO A LA REVOLUCION SANDINISTA (“Tribute to the Sandinista Revolution”)

Happy 33rd, Nicaragua! Que viva Nicaragua libre y Sandinista!

Written and performed by Silvio Rodriguez
In Nicaragua another hot iron broke;
In Nicaragua another hot iron broke;
With which the Eagle used to brand the people.
With which the Eagle used to brand the people.

There snapped, In Nicaragua, another bloody rope.
There snapped, in Nicaragua, another bloody rope.
With which the Eagle tied around the necks of the workers.
With which the Eagle tied around the necks of the workers.

The entire continent has caught fire.
The borders ardently kiss.
I remember a man who died for this;
And looking on today, as a ghost in the mountains,
Jubilantly laughs.

The ghost of Sandino, with Bolivar and Che,
The ghost of Sandino, with Bolivar and Che,
For the same path was trod by all three.
For the same path was trod by all three.

These three travelers, with identical fates;
These three travelers, with identical fates;
Have become giants, have mocked death.
Have become giants, have mocked death.

Now the Eagle is in great pain.
Nicaragua hurts it, for it is hurt by love.
It’s hurt that children go safely to school.
Because this way, the way of justice and kindness,
It can’t sharpen its talons.

Hell, no!

Go, Nicaragua, on your path to glory;
Go, Nicaragua, on your path to glory;
It was wise blood which made your history.
It was wise blood which made your history.

So says a brother, who has bled with you;
So says a brother, who has bled with you;
So says a Cuban, so says a friend.
So says a Cuban, so says a friend.

U.S. Resumes its Dirty War against Nicaragua

BY LIDICE VALENZUELA
Special for Granma International

September 3, 2007

EIGHT months since taking power, the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is facing fierce opposition from reactionary sectors – both national and international – led by the United States, who are persisting in ignoring the structural changes that have been embarked on in this new era for national politics.

It concerns an ideological struggle, radicalized in the last few months, between the principles and the program to improve the quality of life of the majority of the impoverished Nicaraguan population and, on the other hand, the interests of the right wing, who are witnessing a threat to their class privileges in the face of overwhelming support for the process being set in motion by Ortega and his cabinet.

Ortega continues to condemn the destabilization plans on the part of the government in Washington, and in the last few weeks has attacked the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), signed by his country with the United States, contrasting the vast differences between that and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), which it has already signed along with Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela – the main driving force behind the project – the philosophical base of which is fair trade aimed at improving the lives of the poorest sections of those countries.

“Unfair trade” was one of the president’s descriptions of the FTAs, because they always benefit the largest country. He gave as one example the effects that will be felt by Nicaragua’s tobacco industry on account of the import and sales taxes applied to that product by the United States.

By adopting this measure, thousands of Nicaraguan producers will lose their jobs and will be forced to illegally emigrate to the United States, where they are treated as fifth-class citizens.

Ortega affirmed that his party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), was never in agreement with the FTA.

Meanwhile, the United States is continuing its dirty war against the political process led by the former FSLN commander.

According to the president’s recent condemnations at the Sao Paulo Forum – held in Managua – the administration of George W. Bush is working “behind the scenes” in order to boycott the social and economic programs embarked on by his government, which have seen significant advances to date in spite of obstacles laid out by their enemies.

In a firm but conciliatory tone, Ortega referred to the fact that, despite the ideological differences between the two governments, relations between the United States and Nicaragua should be based on mutual respect and for that reason, he said, the underhand campaigns it is financing with the domestic right and with the privately-owned media are unacceptable. For the president, Washington’s interference in the internal affairs of his country are aimed at supporting groups calling themselves “representatives of the population,” when in reality these were destroyed by voters in last year’s general elections.

It is believed that a new split in bilateral relations could show itself after the Managua government confirmed an embargo of assets owned by U.S. oil company Esso in a tax payment dispute. The fraud on the part of the company consisted of declaring certain quantities while in the customs report, others appeared, according to presidential advisor Bayardo Arce.

The plan executed by Washington against Managua since Ortega assumed power is not that different from those that the White House – whose tenant Bush is currently rejected by 66% of his own people – has traditionally employed against legitimately constituted governments in Latin America and the Caribbean. Remember Haiti, Chile and Guatemala. The only difference is that we are in different times now and the governments have the support of powerful social and indigenous movements with a high level of political awareness.

What the right wing is looking to do now is to confuse the Nicaraguan population with tall stories in order to boycott the political and social programs of the administration of Ortega, the man who led the country from 1985 to1990, but did not secure reelection because of interference by the United States, which was supporting the so-called Contra war.

Source

Dealer’s sentencing postponed

The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist

Dealer’s sentencing postponed

Lawyer gets time to seek documents on alleged CIA-crack link

Published: Sept. 14, 1996

BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff postponed the sentencing of former Los Angeles cocaine king ”Freeway” Rick Ross on Friday and agreed to allow Ross’ attorney to seek classified government documents relating to the potential involvement of CIA operatives in selling cocaine in black neighborhoods during the 1980s.

Huff, who said it ”would be outrageous for the government to infect this country with drugs,” also suggested that federal prosecutors seek a sworn statement from CIA Director John Deutch regarding the spy agency’s knowledge of such activities.

Deutch, in a press release last week, disclaimed any CIA involvement in cocaine trafficking.

Ross’ defense lawyer, Alan Fenster of Los Angeles, filed motions this week seeking a dismissal of Ross’ recent cocaine-trafficking conviction, based on the Mercury News series ”Dark Alliance,” which detailed how members of a CIA-run guerrilla army imported thousands of kilos of cocaine into South-Central Los Angeles during the past decade, helping touch off the nation’s crack cocaine epidemic.

Dealer was key witness

One of those drug dealers, former Nicaraguan government official Danilo Blandon, was the key witness against Ross during his trial last March. Blandon, who now works as an undercover informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, has admitted under oath that he began selling cocaine in Los Angeles in 1982 to raise money for the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the largest component of the rebel force commonly known as the Contras.

Fenster, during a three-hour court hearing Friday, argued that Ross’ conviction should be thrown out on the grounds of outrageous government conduct, because Justice Department lawyers withheld information about Blandon’s involvement with the Contras and cocaine until it was too late for him to make any use of it at trial.

The only reason he had any idea of Blandon’s past activities, Fenster said, was because one of his investigators spoke to a Mercury News reporter about Blandon two weeks before the trial.

”If I had had that information when I needed it, I could have convinced a jury of 12 U.S. attorneys to dismiss this case,” Fenster argued. Instead, he said, the Justice Department ”stonewalled it. They kept you in the dark and they kept me in the dark. (Ross) is a victim of the most outrageous government conduct known to man.”

Government lawyer scoffs

But Assistant U.S. Attorney L.J. O’Neale scoffed at Fenster’s claims of CIA involvement, calling them ”the worst sort of supposition … it’s all innuendo and supposition.” He also said the Mercury News’ series did ”not make a solid case” of CIA involvement.

Moments later, though, O’Neale acknowledged that ”when Blandon says he sold cocaine for the Contras, yeah, he did … we have never found his credibility to be lacking in the slightest.”

O’Neale also agreed that ”Mr. Blandon thought the CIA was running things. Whether that’s accurate or not, I don’t know, but that’s what he thought.”

In March, Blandon testified that before he began selling drugs for the CIA’s army, he met in Honduras with Col. Enrique Bermudez, a longtime CIA operative who was selected by the agency to be the Contras’ military commander. Also attending that meeting, Blandon testified, was Nicaraguan cocaine trafficker Norwin Meneses, who was the head of intelligence and security for the Contras in California.

Inner-city dealings

Blandon said Bermudez told him the Contras needed money and that ”the ends justified the means,” after which he began dealing cocaine in inner-city Los Angeles. During that time, he testified, he was receiving instructions ”from … other people.”

He told a federal grand jury in 1994 that at some point the CIA decided it didn’t need any more drug money because the Reagan administration had begun giving the Contras taxpayer dollars.

While O’Neale strenuously denied that the CIA was in any way involved with Blandon or his cocaine dealing, he also admitted to Judge Huff that he did not know if any CIA documents existed regarding Blandon or Meneses, who was Blandon’s boss in the Contra drug ring.

”Whatever files the CIA has are not available to an assistant U.S. attorney,” O’Neale said. ”I’m not privy to that.”

Before Blandon’s testimony at Ross’ trial, O’Neale filed a motion asking the judge to bar defense lawyers from questioning Blandon about his involvement with the CIA, saying that if it were true, ”it would be classified and if false, should not be allowed.”

Huff told Fenster on Friday that she had taken the motion under submission and had never actually made a formal ruling; Fenster said he was under the impression that he was not allowed to ask about the CIA, and he never did.

Huff agreed to let Fenster file a motion under the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) seeking documents regarding the CIA’s connections to Blandon.

Timing at issue

But O’Neale argued that it didn’t have any bearing on Ross’ case if Blandon was involved with the spy agency, since Ross’ conviction involved crimes committed in 1994 and 1995, not during the Nicaraguan civil war.

Ross, whom O’Neale called ”the Wal-Mart of crack cocaine,” was arrested after Blandon lured him into a DEA sting involving 100 kilos of cocaine.

No matter what Blandon did in the past, O’Neale argued, it did not excuse Ross’ involvement in crack dealing.

”If there was great evil, and there was, regardless of who started that evil, (Ross) was Santa’s little helper,” O’Neale said.

”If the United States government was involved in selling cocaine in the United States,” Huff asked, ”don’t you think that would be outrageous government conduct?”

”In this case, no,” O’Neale answered, prompting laughter and loud grumbling from the courtroom spectators.

Huff set another hearing for Nov. 19.

Source

San Francisco Bay Area man tangled in drug web

The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist

San Francisco Bay Area man tangled in drug web

Tales to DEA of gun running, drug trafficking fall on deaf ears

Published: Aug. 20, 1996

BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

DAVID MORRISON, A FORMER San Francisco Bay Area economist, got his introduction to cocaine politics in the spring of 1984. He hasn’t been the same since.

”I had crossed over into the nether world that 99 percent of the population wouldn’t even believe existed,” he said. ”I still have nightmares about it.”

A conservative Republican Party activist and fundraiser, Morrison became a supporter of the CIA’s anti-communist army — the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense or FDN — in the early 1980s, while teaching international finance at California State University at Hayward. Using his social and political connections, he began helping families fleeing the 1979 Sandinista revolution find jobs and friends in the Bay Area, which has had a large Nicaraguan population ever since the Gold Rush.

”I was just trying to support the President’s position,” Morrison explained. ”I thought it was just insane that we’d allowed things to get out of hand in Central America.”

But after 18 months inside the FDN, as an adviser to the group’s political boss Adolfo Calero, a shaken Morrison went to the authorities and poured out a lurid tale of gun running and cocaine trafficking.

His lengthy statements to the FBI were immediately stamped ”Confidential” and remained secret for nearly a decade. They were recently declassified for the Mercury News by the National Archives.

(Because he still fears for his safety, the newspaper agreed to substitute a pseudonym — David Morrison — for the economist’s real name. His FBI interviews can be read in their entirety on the Mercury News’ Web page.)

”(Morrison) said that the reason he was agreeing to be interviewed by the FBI is that he has certain information in which he believes the Nicaraguan ‘contra’ organization known as FDN … has become more involved in selling arms and cocaine for personal gain than in a military effort to overthrow the current Nicaraguan Sandinista government,” one of the reports states.

Much of what Morrison told the agents about the inner workings of the FDN and its ties to the U.S. government was corroborated by the Congressional committees that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal. But his information about the FDN’s drug operation seemed to fall on deaf ears, he said.

Morrison stumbled into it in April 1984, when a neatly dressed Nicaraguan exile named Norwin Meneses started showing up at meetings of a San Francisco anti-communist group Morrison was assisting.

Called USACA (United Support Against Communism in the Americas), it was a handful of mostly middle-class Nicaraguan couples who met in each other’s living rooms and thought up ways to publicize the Contras’ cause.

”All (they) were thinking of doing is writing a few letters to the editor,” said Morrison, a veteran of several political campaigns. ”They had no (political) connections whatsoever.” After hearing some of Morrison’s ideas — like hosting a speaking tour for FDN leader Calero — the group delightedly asked him to join their board of directors.

Meneses also decided to help. He became USACA’s largest donor, records show, paying for dinners and parties for Calero, a Notre Dame-educated businessman and longtime CIA operative who became the public face of the Contras in the United States.

Meneses’ generosity impressed USACA’s members, who excitedly listed his gifts in their meeting minutes as one of their first significant achievements. In an interview before his death from cancer in June, USACA’s founder, Don Sinicco, said he and his friends thought Meneses was merely a sympathetic fellow exile who ran a successful restaurant.

But Morrison, whom Sinicco described as a man who ”knew Senators,” began hearing rumors about the group’s dapper benefactor and asked some friends in Washington to check them out. He got back a two-page report from a Drug Enforcement Administration file.

To his horror, he discovered what federal drug agents had known for years: Norwin Meneses was ”a major, major trafficker … He was selling cocaine all over the country,” Morrison said. ”The DEA had a file that was two feet thick on him.”

The DEA refused to release any records regarding Meneses, on the grounds that it would be an unwarranted invasion of his personal privacy. The CIA refused on national security grounds.

Alarmed, Morrison dug deeper and, from a Nicaraguan friend in the FDN, made his most jarring discovery: Meneses wasn’t just smuggling cocaine for himself. He was also doing it for the FDN, and he was selling them weapons as well, with the knowledge of the FDN’s military commander and, it appeared, the tacit approval of the U.S. government.

An acquaintance in the U.S. Customs Service told Morrison that Customs agents had attempted to investigate ”the Nicaraguan role in a large narcotics ring extending from Miami, Florida, to Texas and California” in mid-1985 but ran into interference from ”national security interests,” the FBI report said.

Morrison told FBI agents that ”Norwin Meneses would have been arrested in a major drug case in 1983 or 1984 except that he had been warned by a corrupt (information deleted) officer.”

Morrison said he never heard back from the FBI and didn’t know why. He also complained to Iran-Contra Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh’s office and was told that Walsh had no jurisdiction to look into allegations of Contra cocaine trafficking.

”I thought this bastard (Meneses) should have been arrested. I assumed there would be an outstanding warrant on this guy. There was nothing,” Morrison said. ”They had no interest whatsoever.”

Stunned and disheartened, he left California and went into virtual seclusion in New England, where he lives today, writing about economic trends.

”I had worked on national campaigns. I had grown up in a family that knew politicians. And I thought I was part of the Establishment,” Morrison said with a sad laugh. ”And all of a sudden I was a leper.”

Source

Flawed sentencing the main reason for race disparity

The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist

Flawed sentencing the main reason for race disparity

In 1993, crack smokers got 3 years; coke snorters got 3 months

Published: Aug. 20, 1996

BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

WHEN IT COMES TO COCAINE, it isn’t just a suspicion that the war on drugs is hammering blacks harder than whites. According to the U.S. Justice Department, it’s a fact.

The ”main reason” cocaine sentences for blacks are longer than for whites, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 1993, is that 83 percent of the people being sent to prison for ”crack” trafficking are black ”and the average sentence imposed for crack trafficking was twice as long as for trafficking in powdered cocaine.”

Even though crack and powder cocaine are the same drug, you have to sell more than six pounds of powder before you face the same jail time as someone who sells one ounce of crack — a 100-to-1 ratio.

That logic has eluded Dr. Robert Byck, a Yale University drug expert, from the moment he discovered the 100-to-1 ratio may have been his inadvertent doing.

Election-year hysteria

In 1986, at the height of an election-year hysteria over crack, Byck was summoned before a U.S. Senate committee to tell what he knew about cocaine smoking. Byck, a renowned scientist who had edited and published Sigmund Freud’s cocaine papers, had been studying crack smoking in South America for nearly 10 years, with growing alarm.

Byck began his testimony by reminding the senators that he had come to Congress seven years earlier to warn that a coke-smoking epidemic was brewing and had begged the government to do something then, to no avail.

But that was before crack houses and drug gangs had appeared on the covers of national news magazines and on network television. This time, panicky lawmakers hung on his every word.

Sen. Lawton Chiles, a Florida Democrat (and now that state’s governor), was pushing for tougher crack laws, and he quizzed Byck about one line in his written testimony that said ”some experts” believed crack was 50 times more addictive than powder cocaine. Byck acknowledged some people believed that. And that was all it took.

Incomprehensible math

Despite the speculative nature of the figure, Byck said, the addictive factor of 50 was ”doubled by people who wanted to get tough on cocaine” and then, for reasons he still finds incomprehensible, turned into a measurement of weight.

The resultant 100-to-1 (powder-vs.-crack) weight ratio, Byck said, was ”a fabrication by whoever wrote the law, but not reality. … You can’t make a number. You’re converting one thing into another. The conversion is all silly. But, you see, they don’t care. They want a number.”

Recently, the U.S. Sentencing Commission — a panel of experts created by Congress to be its unbiased adviser in these matters — tried and failed to find a better reason to explain why powder dealers must sell 100 times more cocaine before they get the same mandatory sentence as crack dealers.

The ”absence of comprehensive data substantiating this legislative policy is troublesome,” it reported last year.

For black America, where crack smoking first took hold, the impact has been more than just troublesome.

In 1993, cocaine smokers got an average sentence of nearly three years. People who snorted cocaine powder received a little over three months. Nearly all of the long sentences went to blacks, the commission found.

Reforms sidetracked

Justice Department researchers estimated that if crack and powder sentences were made equal, ”the black-white difference … would not only evaporate but would slightly reverse.”

Based on such findings, the commission recommended in May 1995 that the cocaine sentencing laws be equalized, calling the 100-to-1 ratio ”a primary cause of the growing disparity between sentences for black and white federal defendants.”

Both White House drug czar, Lee Brown, and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno supported the change; Reno told reporters the crack laws were clearly unfair.

Normally, that would have been the end of it. In 12 years, Congress had allowed every one of the commission’s recommendations to become law automatically.

Not this one.

Apparently fearful of being seen as ”soft” on drugs, Congress voted overwhelmingly last year to keep the crack laws the same. On Oct. 30, President Clinton repudiated both his attorney general and his top drug adviser by signing the bill rejecting the commission’s recommendations.

Source

War on drugs has unequal impact on black Americans

The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist

War on drugs has unequal impact on black Americans

Contra case illustrates the discrepancy: Nicaraguan goes free; L.A. dealer faces life

Published: Aug. 20, 1996

BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

FOR THE LAST YEAR and a half, the U.S. Department of Justice has been trying to explain why nearly everyone convicted in California’s federal courts of ”crack” cocaine trafficking is black.

Critics, who include some federal court judges, say it looks like the Justice Department is targeting crack dealers by race, which would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Federal prosecutors, however, say there’s a simple, if unpleasant, reason for the lopsided statistics: Most crack dealers are black.

”Socio-economic factors led certain ethnic and racial groups to be particularly involved with the distribution of certain drugs,” the Justice Department argued in a case in Los Angeles last year, ”and blacks were particularly involved in the Los Angeles area crack trade.”

But why — of all the ethnic and racial groups in California to pick from — crack planted its deadly roots in L.A.’s black neighborhoods is something only Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes can say for sure.

Danilo Blandon, a yearlong Mercury News investigation found, is the Johnny Appleseed of crack in California — the Crips’ and Bloods’ first direct-connect to the cocaine cartels of Colombia. The tons of cut-rate cocaine he brought into black L.A. during the 1980s and early 1990s became millions of rocks of crack, which spawned new crack markets wherever they landed.

On a tape made by the Drug Enforcement Administration in July 1990, Blandon casually explained the flood of cocaine that coursed through the streets of South-Central Los Angeles during the previous decade.

These people have been working with me 10 years,” Blandon said. ”I’ve sold them about 2,000 or 4,000 (kilos). I don’t know. I don’t remember how many.”

”It ain’t that Japanese guy you were talking about, is it?” asked DEA informant John Arman, who was wearing a hidden transmitter.

”No, it’s not him,” Blandon insisted. ”These … these are the black people.”

Arman gasped. ”Black?!”

”Yeah,” Blandon said. ”They control L.A. The people (black cocaine dealers) that control L.A.”

U.S. has paid Blandon more than $166,000

But unlike the thousands of young blacks now serving long federal prison sentences for selling mere handfuls of the drug, Blandon is a free man today. He has a spacious new home in Nicaragua and a business exporting precious woods, courtesy of the U.S. government, which has paid him more than $166,000 over the past 18 months, records show — for his help in the war on drugs.

That turn of events both amuses and angers ”Freeway Rick” Ross, L.A.’s premier crack wholesaler during much of the 1980s and Danilo Blandon’s biggest customer.

”They say I sold dope everywhere but, man, I know he done sold 10 times more dope than me,” Ross said with a laugh during a recent interview.

Nothing epitomizes the drug war’s uneven impact on black Americans more clearly than the intertwined lives of Ricky Donnell Ross, a high school dropout, and his suave cocaine supplier, Danilo Blandon, who has a master’s degree in marketing and was one of the top civilian leaders in California of an anti-communist guerrilla army formed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Called the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (FDN), it became known to most Americans as the Contras.

In recent court testimony, Blandon, who began dealing cocaine in South-Central L.A. in 1982, swore that the first kilo of cocaine he sold in California was to raise money for the CIA’s army, which was trying on a shoestring to unseat Nicaragua’s new socialist Sandinista government.

After Blandon crossed paths with Ross, a South-Central teen-ager who had the gang connections and street smarts necessary to move the army’s cocaine, a veritable blizzard engulfed the ghettos.

Former Los Angeles Police narcotics detective Stephen W. Polak said he was working the streets of South-Central in the mid-1980s when he and his partners began seeing more cocaine than ever before.

”A lot of detectives, a lot of cops, were saying, hey, these blacks, no longer are we just seeing gram dealers. These guys are doing ounces; they were doing keys,” Polak recalled. But he said the reports were pooh-poohed by higher-ups who couldn’t believe black neighborhoods could afford the amount of cocaine the street cops claimed to be seeing.

”Major Violators (the LAPD’s elite anti-drug unit) was saying, basically, ahh, South-Central, how much could they be dealing?” said Polak, a 21-year LAPD veteran. ”Well, they (black dealers) went virtually untouched for a long time.”

It wasn’t until January 1987 — when crack markets were popping up in major cities all over the U.S. — that law enforcement brass decided to confront L.A.’s crack problem head-on. They formed the Freeway Rick Task Force, a cadre of veteran drug agents whose sole mission was to put Rick Ross out of business. Polak was a charter member.

”We just dedicated seven days a week to him. We were just on him at every move,” Polak said.

Ross, as usual, was quick to spot a trend. He moved to Cincinnati and quietly settled into a home in the woodsy Republican suburbs on the east side of town.

”I called it cooling out, trying to back away from the game,” Ross said. ”I had enough money.”

His longtime supplier, Blandon, reached an identical conclusion around the same time. A massive police raid on his cocaine operation in late 1986 nearly gave his wife a nervous breakdown, he testified recently, and by the summer of 1987 he was safely ensconced in Miami, with $1.6 million in cash.

Some of his drug profits, records show, were invested in a string of rental car and export businesses in Miami, often in partnership with an exiled Nicaraguan judge named Jose Macario Estrada. Like Blandon, the judge also worked for the CIA’s army, helping FDN soldiers and their families obtain visas and work papers in the United States. Estrada said he knew nothing of Blandon’s drug dealings at the time.

Blandon invested in four-star steak house

Blandon also bought into a swank steak-and-lobster restaurant called La Parrilla, which became a popular hangout for FDN leaders and supporters. The Miami Herald called it the ”best Nicaraguan restaurant in Dade County” and gave it a four-star rating, its highest.

But neither Ross nor Blandon stayed ”retired” for long.

A manic deal-maker, Ross found Cincinnati’s virgin crack market too seductive to ignore. When he left Los Angeles, the price of a kilo was around $12,000. In the Queen City, Ross chuckled, ”keys was selling for $50,000. It was like when I first started.”

Plunging back in, the crack tycoon cornered the Cincinnati market using the same low-price, high-volume strategy — and the same Nicaraguan drug connections — he’d used in L.A. Soon, he was selling crack as far away as Cleveland, Indianapolis, Dayton and St. Louis.

”There’s no doubt in my mind crack in Cincinnati can be traced to Ross,” police officer Robert Enoch told a Cincinnati newspaper three years ago.

But Ross’ reign in the Midwest was short-lived. In 1988, one of his loads ran into a drug-sniffing dog at a New Mexico bus station and drug agents eventually connected it to Ross. He pleaded guilty to crack trafficking charges and received a mandatory 10-year prison sentence, which he began serving in 1990.

In sunny Miami, Blandon’s retirement plans also had gone awry. His 24-city rental car business collapsed in 1989 and later went into bankruptcy. To make money, he testified, he came to the Bay Area and began brokering cocaine again, buying and selling from the same Nicaraguan dealers he’d known from his days with the FDN. In 1990 and 1991, he testified, he sold about 425 kilos of cocaine in Northern California — $10.5 million worth at wholesale prices.

But unlike before, when he was selling cocaine for the Contras, Blandon was constantly dogged by the police.

Twice in six months he was detained, first by Customs agents while taking $117,000 in money orders to Tijuana to pay a supplier, and then by the LAPD in the act of paying one of his Colombian suppliers more than $350,000.

The second time, after police found $14,000 in cash and a small quantity of cocaine in his pocket, he was arrested. But the U.S. Justice Department — saying a prosecution would disrupt an active investigation — persuaded the cops to drop their money laundering case.

Soon after that, Blandon and his wife, Chepita, were called down to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service office in San Diego on a pretense and scooped up by DEA agents, on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. They were jailed without bond as dangers to the community and several other Nicaraguans were also arrested.

Blandon’s prosecutor, L.J. O’Neale, told a federal judge that Blandon had sold so much cocaine in the United States his mandatory prison sentence was ”off the scale.”

Then Blandon ”just vanished,” said Juanita Brooks, a San Diego attorney who represented one of Blandon’s co-defendants. ”All of a sudden his wife was out of jail and he was out of the case.”

The reasons were contained in a secret Justice Department memorandum filed in San Diego federal court in late 1993.

Prosecutor found Blandon ‘extraordinarily valuable’

Blandon, prosecutor O’Neale wrote, had become ”extraordinarily valuable in major DEA investigations of Class I drug traffickers.” And even though probation officers were recommending a life sentence and a $4 million fine, O’Neale said the government would be satisfied if Blandon got 48 months and no fine. Motion granted.

Less than a year later, records show, O’Neale was back with another idea: Why not just let Blandon go? After all, he wrote the judge, Blandon had a federal job waiting.

O’Neale, saying that Blandon ”has almost unlimited potential to assist the United States,” said the government wanted ”to enlist Mr. Blandon as a full-time, paid informant after his release from prison.”

And since it would be hard to do that job with parole officers snooping around, O’Neale added, the government wanted him turned loose without any supervision. Motion granted. O’Neale declined to comment.

After only 28 months in custody, most of it spent with federal agents who debriefed him for ”hundreds of hours,” he said, Blandon walked out of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, was given a green card and began working on his first assignment: setting up his old friend ”Freeway Rick” for a sting operation.

Targeted for a sting while sitting in prison

Records show Ross was still behind bars, awaiting parole, when San Diego DEA agents targeted him for a ”reverse” sting — one in which government agents provide the drugs and the target provides the cash. The sting’s author, DEA agent Chuck Jones, has testified that he had no evidence Ross was dealing drugs from his prison cell, where he’d spent the past four years.

But during his incarceration Ross did something that, in the end, may have been even more foolhardy: He testified against Los Angeles police officers, as a witness for the U.S. government.

Soon after Ross went to prison for the Cincinnati bust, federal prosecutors from Los Angeles came to see him, dangling a tantalizing offer. A massive scandal was sweeping the L.A. County sheriff’s elite narcotics squads, and among the dozens of detectives fired or indicted for allegedly beating suspects, stealing drug money and planting evidence were members of the old Freeway Rick Task Force.

If Ross would testify about his experiences, he was told, it could help him get out of jail.

In 1991, he took the stand against his old nemesis, LAPD detective Steve Polak, who eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of excessive use of force and retired. But the deal Ross got from federal prosecutors for testifying — five years off his sentence and an agreement that his remaining drug profits would not be seized — galled many.

”Ross will fall again someday,” Polak bitterly told a Los Angeles Times reporter in late 1994.

By then, the trip wires were already strung.

Within days of Ross’ parole in October 1994, he and Blandon were back in touch and their conversation quickly turned to cocaine. It was almost like old times, except that Ross was now hauling trash for a living. He was also behind on his mortgage payments for an old theater he owned in South-Central, which he was trying to turn into a youth academy.

According to tapes Blandon made of some of their discussions, Ross repeatedly told Blandon that he was broke and couldn’t afford to finance a drug deal. But Ross did agree to help his old mentor, who was also pleading poverty, find someone else to buy the 100 kilos of cocaine Blandon claimed he had.

Drug-laden vehicle was a trap for Ross

On March 2, 1995, in a shopping center parking lot in National City, near San Diego, Ross poked his head inside a cocaine-laden Chevy Blazer and the place exploded with police.

Ross jumped into a friend’s pickup and zoomed off ”looking for a wall that I could crash myself into,” he said. ”I just wanted to die.” He was captured after the truck careened into a hedgerow and has been held in jail without bond since then.

Ross’ arrest netted Blandon $45,500 in government rewards and expenses, records show. On the strength of Blandon’s testimony, Ross and two other men were convicted of cocaine conspiracy charges in San Diego last March — conspiring to sell the DEA’s cocaine. Sentencing is set for Aug. 23. Ross is facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The other men are looking at 10- to 20- year sentences.

Acquaintances say Blandon, who refused repeated interview requests, is a common sight these days in Managua’s better restaurants, drinking with friends and telling of his ”escape” from U.S. authorities.

According to his Miami lawyer, Blandon spends most of his time shuttling between San Diego and Managua, trying to recover Nicaraguan properties he left behind in 1979, when the socialists seized power and sent him running to the United States.

Additional reporting for this series in Nicaragua and Costa Rica was done by Managua journalist Georg Hodel. Research assistance at the Nicaraguan Supreme Court was performed by journalist Leonore Delgado.

Source

Drug expert: ‘Crack’ born in San Francisco Bay Area in ’74

 

The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist

Drug expert: ‘Crack’ born in San Francisco Bay Area in ’74

It was a failed attempt to copy something else

Published: Aug. 19, 1996

BY GARY WEBB

Mercury News Staff Writer

THOUGH MIAMI AND LOS ANGELES are commonly regarded as the twin cradles of ”crack” cocaine, the first government-financed study of cocaine smoking concluded that it was actually born here, in the San Francisco Bay Area, in January 1974.

After comedian Richard Pryor nearly immolated himself during a cocaine-smoking binge in 1980, the National Institute on Drug Abuse hired UCLA drug expert Ronald K. Siegel to look into the then-unfamiliar practice. Siegel, the first scientist to document crack’s use in the United States, traced the smoking habit back to 1930, when Colombians first started it.

Translation problem

But what was being smoked south of the border — a paste-like substance called basé (bah-SAY) — was very different from what Californians were putting in their pipes, Siegel found, even though they called it the same thing: free base.

Basé was a crude, toxics-laden precursor to cocaine powder. On the other hand, free base (which later became known as crack or rock), was cocaine powder that had been reverse-engineered to make it smokable. When Bay Area dealers tried recreating the drug they’d seen in South America, Siegel learned, they’d screwed up.

”When they looked it up in the Merck Manual, they saw cocaine base and thought, well, yeah, this is it,” Siegel, a nationally known drug researcher, said in an interview. ”They mispronounced it, misunderstood the Spanish, and thought (basé) was cocaine base.”

Unintentional success

The base described in the organic chemistry handbook was cocaine powder separated from its salts, a process easily done with boiling water and baking soda. It was an immediate, if unintentional, hit.

”They were wowed by it,” Siegel said. ”They thought they were smoking basé. They were not. They were smoking something nobody on the planet had ever smoked before.”

Using the sales records of several major drug paraphernalia companies, Siegel correlated crack’s public appearance with the appearance of base-making kits and glass pipes for smoking it. The sales records zeroed in on the Bay Area.

Study never published

”We were able to show to our satisfaction that they were directly responsible for distributing the habit throughout the United States. Wherever they were selling their kits, that’s where we started getting the clinical reports,” Siegel said. ”It all started in Northern California.”

His groundbreaking study was never published by the government, purportedly for budgetary reasons. Siegel, who said he grew concerned that the information would not be made available to other researchers, published it himself in an obscure medical journal in late 1982.

TUESDAY: The impact of the crack epidemic on the black community, and why justice hasn’t been for all.

Source

Drug agent thought she was onto something big

The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist

Drug agent thought she was onto something big

Meneses’ trail was getting warm when her superiors took her off the case

Published: Aug. 19, 1996

BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

On a November afternoon in 1981, San Francisco DEA agent Sandra Smith inadvertently uncovered the first direct link between cocaine and the secret army the Central Intelligence Agency was assembling to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

Smith, one of the first female Drug Enforcement Administration agents in the Bay Area, was investigating rumors that a cocaine ring run by Norwin Meneses was bringing drugs into California and, for some reason, sending weapons down to Central America.

It was, she said, ”the only (case) that I ever worked, in all the time I worked there, that I thought was really big.”

She had good reason to be excited. Federal agents had amassed a thick file on Meneses, running across his tracks in New Orleans and Los Angeles, a 1981 DEA affidavit said. As far back as 1978, it said, agents knew Meneses was bringing multi-kilo quantities of cocaine into the United States — huge amounts by the standards of the day.

Smith staked out San Francisco International Airport and tailed two of Meneses’ Southern California dealers to a house at 8 Bellevue Ave. in Daly City.

Investigation terminated

Because Smith’s investigation was terminated shortly afterward, she never learned who lived in that house. But two years later, its owner would become involved in one of the more curious incidents in the annals of the war on drugs.

His name was Carlos Augusto Cabezas, and, like Norwin Meneses, he’d been on the losing side of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Then 37, Cabezas held degrees in law and accounting and ran the foreign division of the Bank of America in Managua. During the war, he was a pilot for the Guardia, the army of U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza.

Yet by February 1983, Cabezas was in jail in San Francisco, accused by the FBI of being part of a drug ring that brought more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the country aboard Colombian freighters. Police cracked the case when they nabbed frogmen swimming ashore at Pier 96 near Hunters Point with 400 pounds of cocaine. At the time, it was the largest cocaine seizure in California history, and 35 people were ultimately arrested.

Though Meneses was never charged, court records said there was ”a direct and ongoing connection between the Meneses organization and Carlos Cabezas.”

Bay Area papers treated the case like any big drug bust — a front-page headline and a picture of the dope. But the Nicaraguan press saw something else entirely.

Managua press saw the story

”Somoza supporters involved in drug trafficking,” is how the Feb. 20, 1983, edition of Barricada, a pro-Sandinista daily in Managua, headlined its story. Citing unnamed Nicaraguan government sources, the story said that among the group arrested ”there were many who are linked to the ex-Guardia group of Somoza supporters in San Francisco, and through this link in the cocaine trafficking, they were giving economic support to the Contra revolution.”

The first inkling here that the Frogman Case was something extraordinary came in June 1984, when the attorney for the cocaine ring’s alleged leader, Julio Zavala, asked the government to return money seized from Zavala’s apartment the morning of his arrest.

Along with an assortment of arms, drugs, passports and catalogs for machine guns and silencers, agents found $36,800 in cash. Federal prosecutors declared it was drug money and said they would use it as evidence at Zavala’s trial.

But Zavala insisted the cash wasn’t from drugs; he said the money had been given to him by the Contra army to buy supplies in the United States. To prove it, two exiled Contra leaders wrote the court and swore that the money seized from the cocaine dealer was ”for the reinstatement of democracy in Nicaragua.”

Those letters were hurriedly sealed after prosecutors invoked the Classified Information Procedures Act, a law designed to keep national security secrets from leaking out during trials.

The money is returned

Soon, U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello decided he really didn’t need the money as evidence. Nor did he want it forfeited to the government, which is standard procedure in drug cases. Instead, on Oct. 2, 1984, the Justice Department gave Zavala the money back.

But that wasn’t the end of the issue.

A few weeks later, at Zavala’s trial, Carlos Cabezas took the stand as a government witness against his old boss and exposed additional details of the Frogman ring’s ties to the CIA’s army.

Cabezas said Zavala, who was convicted of the drug charges, had sent him to Costa Rica in late 1981 to pick up two kilos of cocaine from a man named Horacio Pereira, an exiled Nicaraguan businessman, and bring the cocaine back to San Francisco. But when he got there, Pereira had changed his mind and wouldn’t hand over the dope because he’d heard Zavala was drinking heavily.

Cabezas said Pereira didn’t want someone unreliable handling the money because he ”was helping the Contra revolution in Nicaragua.”

Cabezas said he agreed to be responsible for the Contras’ cocaine profits and said Pereira eventually sold him a total of 12 kilos, worth at that time about $600,000 wholesale.

Pereira, a business associate of Norwin Meneses, was later convicted on drug charges in Costa Rica. Secret tapes made during that investigation revealed he was in frequent contact with Contra commanders. In addition, a 1982 FBI report — which wasn’t made public until 1988 — identified him and two other Contra leaders as the cocaine suppliers for the Frogman ring. Pereira was ”chopped into tiny bits” a few years ago as a result of a drug debt, according to Meneses.

Why DEA agent Smith’s investigation of Meneses — which predated the FBI’s Frogman bust by two years — was halted is not clear. Smith said her superiors didn’t share her enthusiasm for the case and she was sent off to investigate motorcycle gangs in Oakland.

”I’m not so sure the DEA management took (my investigation) seriously enough to allow me the time and the assistance I would have needed,” she said.

When she quit in 1984, Smith asked her fellow DEA agents if they wanted the intelligence files she’d collected on Meneses in case ”anyone might be interested in picking up where I left off,” she recalled.

”No one was. So I had a lot of notes that I had made that, just for lack of doing anything else (with them), I just shredded. No one was interested.”

TUESDAY: The impact of the crack epidemic on the black community, and why justice hasn’t been for all.

Source

Shadowy origins of ‘crack’ epidemic

The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist

Shadowy origins of ‘crack’ epidemic

Role of CIA-linked agents a well-protected secret until now

Published: Aug. 19, 1996

BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

IF THEY’D BEEN IN a more respectable line of work, Norwin Meneses, Danilo Blandon and ”Freeway Rick” Ross would have been hailed as geniuses of marketing.

This odd trio — a smuggler, a bureaucrat and a driven ghetto teen-ager — made fortunes creating the first mass market in America for a product so hellishly desirable that consumers will literally kill to get it: ”crack” cocaine.

Federal lawmen will tell you plenty about Rick Ross, mostly about the evils he visited upon black neighborhoods by spreading the crack plague in Los Angeles and cities as far east as Cincinnati. On Aug. 23, they hope, Freeway Rick will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But those same officials won’t say a word about the two men who turned Rick Ross into L.A’s first king of crack, the men who, for at least five years, supplied him with enough Colombian cocaine to help spawn crack markets in major cities nationwide. Their critical role in the country’s crack explosion, a Mercury News investigation found, has been a strictly guarded secret — until now.

To understand how crack came to curse black America, you have to go into the volcanic hills overlooking Managua, the capital of the Republic of Nicaragua.

During June 1979, those hills teemed with triumphant guerrillas called Sandinistas — Cuban- assisted revolutionaries who had just pulled off one of the biggest military upsets in Central American history. In a bloody civil war, they’d destroyed the U.S.-trained army of Nicaragua’s dictator, Anastasio Somoza. The final assault on Somoza’s downtown bunker was expected any day.

In the dictator’s doomed capital, a minor member of Somoza’s government decided to skip the war’s obvious ending. On June 19, Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes gathered his wife and young daughter, slipped through the encircling rebels and flew into exile in California.

Blandon, the then 29-year-old son of a wealthy slumlord, left a life of privilege and luxury behind. Educated at the finest private schools in Latin America, he had earned a master’s degree in marketing and had become the head of a $27 million program financed by the U.S. government. As Nicaragua’s director of wholesale markets, it had been his job to create an American-style agricultural system.

Today, Danilo Blandon is a well-paid and highly trusted operative for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal officials say he is one of the DEA’s top informants in Latin America, collecting intelligence on Colombian and Mexican drug lords and setting up stings.

In March, he was the DEA’s star witness at a drug trial in San Diego, where, for the first time, he testified publicly about his strange interlude between government jobs — the years he sold cocaine to the street gangs of black Los Angeles.

Dealer says patriotism for Nicaragua was motive

A stocky man with salt-and-pepper hair, a trim mustache and a distinguished bearing, Blandon swore that he didn’t plan on becoming a dope dealer when he landed in the United States with $100 in his pocket, seeking political asylum. He did it, he insisted, out of patriotism.

When duty called in late 1981, he was working as a car salesman in East Los Angeles. In his spare time, he said, he and a few fellow exiles were working to rebuild Somoza’s defeated army, the Nicaraguan national guard, in hopes of one day returning to Managua in triumph.

Like his friends, Blandon nursed a keen hatred of the Sandinistas, who had confiscated the Blandon family’s cattle ranches and sprawling urban slums. His wife’s politically prominent family — the Murillos, whose patriarch was Managua’s mayor in the 1960s — lost its immense fortune as well.

”Because of the horror stories and persecution suffered by his family and countrymen, Blandon said he decided to assist his countrymen in fighting the tyranny of the (Sandinista) regime,” stated a 1992 report from the U.S. Probation and Parole Department. ”He decided that because he was an adept businessman, he could assist his countrymen through monetary means.”

But the rallies and cocktail parties the exiles hosted raised little money. ”At this point, he became committed to raising money for humanitarian and political reasons via illegal activity (cocaine trafficking for profit),” said the heavily censored report, which surfaced during the March trial.

That venture began, Blandon testified, with a phone call from a wealthy friend in Miami named Donald Barrios, an old college classmate. Corporate records show Barrios was a business partner of one of the ex-dictator’s top military aides: Maj. Gen. Gustavo ”The Tiger” Medina, a steely eyed counterinsurgency expert and the former supply boss of Somoza’s army.

Blandon said his college chum, who also was working in the resistance movement, dispatched him to Los Angeles International Airport to pick up another exile, Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero. Though their families were related, Blandon said, he’d never met Meneses — a wiry, excitable man with a bad toupee — until that day.

”I picked him up, and he started telling me that we had to (raise) some money and to send to Honduras,” Blandon testified. He said he flew with Meneses to a camp there and met one of his new companion’s old friends, Col. Enrique Bermudez.

Bermudez — who’d been Somoza’s Washington liaison to the American military — was hired by the Central Intelligence Agency in mid-1980 to pull together the remnants of Somoza’s vanquished national guard, records show. In August 1981, Bermudez’s efforts were unveiled at a news conference as the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (FDN) — in English, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force. It was the largest and best-organized of the handful of guerrilla groups Americans would know as the Contras.

Bermudez was the FDN’s military chief and, according to congressional records and newspaper reports, received regular CIA paychecks for a decade, payments that stopped shortly before his still-unsolved slaying in Managua in 1991

Reagan’s secret order not enough to fund Contras

White House records show that shortly before Blandon’s meeting with Bermudez, President Reagan had given the CIA the green light to begin covert paramilitary operations against the Sandinista government. But Reagan’s secret Dec. 1, 1981, order permitted the spy agency to spend only $19.9 million on the project, an amount CIA officials acknowledged was not nearly enough to field a credible fighting force.

After meeting with Bermudez, Blandon testified, he and Meneses ”started raising money for the Contra revolution.” ”There is a saying that the ends justify the means,” Blandon testified. ”And that’s what Mr. Bermudez told us in Honduras, OK?”

While Blandon says Bermudez didn’t know cocaine would be the fund-raising device they used, the presence of the mysterious Mr. Meneses strongly suggests otherwise.

Norwin Meneses, known in Nicaraguan newspapers as ”Rey de la Droga” (King of Drugs), was then under active investigation by the DEA and the FBI for smuggling cocaine into the United States, records show.

And Bermudez was very familiar with the influential Meneses family. He had served under two Meneses brothers, Fermin and Edmundo, who were generals in Somoza’s army. Somoza himself spoke at the 1978 funeral of Edmundo Meneses, who was slain by leftists shortly after his appointment as Nicaragua’s ambassador to Guatemala, hailing him as an anti-communist martyr.

A violent death — someone else’s — had also made brother Norwin famous in his homeland. In 1977 he was accused of ordering the assassination of Nicaragua’s chief of Customs, who was gunned down in the midst of an investigation into an international stolen car ring allegedly run by Norwin Meneses.

Though the customs boss accused Meneses on his deathbed of hiring his killer, Nicaraguan newspapers reported that the Managua police, then commanded by Edmundo Meneses, cleared Norwin of any involvement.

Despite that incident and a stack of law enforcement reports describing him as a major drug trafficker, Norwin Meneses was welcomed into the United States in July 1979 as a political refugee and given a visa and a work permit. He settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, and for the next six years supervised the importation of thousands of kilos of cocaine into California.

It arrived in all kinds of containers: false-bottomed shoes, Colombian freighters, cars with hidden compartments, luggage from Miami. Once here, it disappeared into a series of houses and nondescript storefront businesses scattered from Hayward to San Jose, Pacifica to Burlingame, Daly City to Oakland.

And, like Blandon, Meneses went to work for the CIA’s army.

At the meeting with Bermudez, Meneses said in a recent interview, the Contra commander put him in charge of ”intelligence and security” for the FDN in California.

”Nobody (from California) would join the Contra forces down there without my knowledge and approval,” he said proudly. Blandon, he said, was assigned to raise money in Los Angeles.

Blandon testified that Meneses took him back to San Francisco and, over two days, schooled him in the cocaine trade.

Meneses declined to discuss any cocaine dealings he may have had, other than to deny that he ever ”transferred benefits from my business to the FDN. Business is business.”

Lessons over, Blandon said, Meneses gave him two kilograms of cocaine (roughly 4 pounds), the names of two customers and a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.

”Meneses was pushing me every week,” he testified. ”It took me about three months, four months to sell those two keys because I didn’t know what to do. … In those days, two keys was too heavy.”

At the time, cocaine was so costly that few besides rock stars and studio executives could afford it. One study of actual cocaine prices paid by DEA agents put it at $5,200 an ounce.

But Blandon wasn’t peddling the FDN’s cocaine in Beverly Hills or Malibu. To find customers, he and several other Nicaraguan exiles working with him headed for the vast, untapped markets of L.A.’s black ghettos.

Uncanny timing made marketing strategy work

Blandon’s marketing strategy, selling the world’s most expensive street drug in some of California’s poorest neighborhoods, might seem baffling, but in retrospect, his timing was uncanny. He and his compatriots arrived in South-Central L.A. right when street-level drug users were figuring out how to make cocaine affordable: by changing the pricey white powder into powerful little nuggets that could be smoked — crack.

Crack turned the cocaine world on its head. Cocaine smokers got an explosive high unmatched by 10 times as much snorted powder. And since only a tiny amount was needed for that rush, cocaine no longer had to be sold in large, expensive quantities. Anyone with $20 could get wasted.

It was a ”substance that is tailor-made to addict people,” Dr. Robert Byck, a Yale University cocaine expert, said during congressional testimony in 1986. ”It is as though (McDonald’s founder) Ray Kroc had invented the opium den.”

Crack’s Kroc was a disillusioned 19-year-old named Ricky Donnell Ross, who, at the dawn of the 1980s, found himself adrift on the streets of South-Central Los Angeles.

A talented tennis player for Dorsey High School, Ross had recently seen his dream of a college scholarship evaporate when his coach discovered he could neither read nor write.

At the end of tennis season, Ross quit high school and wound up at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, a vocational community college where, ironically, he learned to bind books. But a bookbinding career was the last thing Ross had in mind. L.A. Trade-Tech had a tennis team, and Ross was still hoping his skills with the racquet would get his dreams back on track.

”He was a very good player,” recalled Pete Brown, his former coach at L.A. Trade-Tech. ”I’d say he was probably my No. 3 guy on the team at the time.”

To pay his bills, however, Ross picked up a different racket: stolen car parts. In late 1979, he was arrested for stealing a car and had to quit the trade while the charges were pending.

‘Freeway Rick’ hears about popularity of jet-set drug

During this forced hiatus, Ross said, a friend home on Christmas break from San Jose State University told him about the soaring popularity of a jet-set drug called cocaine, which Ross had only vaguely heard about. In the impoverished neighborhoods of South-Central, it was virtually non-existent. Most street cops, in fact, had never seen any because cocaine was then a parlor drug of the wealthy and the trendy.

Ross’ friend — a college football player — told him ”cocaine was going to be the new thing, that everybody was doing it.” Intrigued, Ross set off to find out more.

Through a cocaine-using auto upholstery teacher Ross knew, he met a Nicaraguan named Henry Corrales, who began selling Ross and his best friend, Ollie ”Big Loc” Newell, small amounts of remarkably inexpensive cocaine.

Thanks to a network of friends in South-Central and Compton, including many members of various Crips gangs, Ross and Newell steadily built up clientele. With each sale, Ross reinvested his hefty profits in more cocaine.

Eventually, Corrales introduced Ross and Newell to his supplier, Danilo Blandon. And then business really picked up.

”At first, we was just going to do it until we made $5,000,” Ross said. ”We made that so fast we said, no, we’ll quit when we make $20,000. Then we was going to quit when we saved enough to buy a house …”

Ross would eventually own millions of dollars’ worth of real estate across Southern California, including houses, motels, a theater and several other businesses. (His nickname, ”Freeway Rick,” came from the fact that he owned properties near the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles.)

Within a year, Ross’ drug operation grew to dominate inner-city Los Angeles, and many of the biggest dealers in town were his customers. When crack hit L.A.’s streets hard in late 1983, Ross already had the infrastructure in place to corner a huge chunk of the burgeoning market.

$2 million worth of crack moved in a single day

It was not uncommon, he said, to move $2 million or $3 million worth of crack in one day.

”Our biggest problem had got to be counting the money,” Ross said. ”We got to the point where it was like, man, we don’t want to count no more money.”

Nicaraguan cocaine dealer Jacinto Torres, another former supplier of Ross and a sometime- partner of Blandon, told drug agents in a 1992 interview that after a slow start, ”Blandon’s cocaine business dramatically increased. … Norwin Meneses, Blandon’s supplier as of 1983 and 1984, routinely flew quantities of 200 to 400 kilograms from Miami to the West Coast.”

Leroy ”Chico” Brown, an ex-crack dealer from Compton who dealt with Ross, told the Mercury News of visiting one of Ross’ five cookhouses, where Blandon’s powder was turned into crack, and finding huge steel vats of cocaine bubbling atop restaurant-size gas ranges.

”They were stirring these big pots with those things you use in canoes,” Brown said with amazement. ”You know — oars.”

Blandon told the DEA last year that he was selling Ross up to 100 kilos of cocaine a week, which was then ”rocked up” and distributed ”to the major gangs in the area, specifically the “Crips’ and the “Bloods,”’ the DEA report said.

At wholesale prices, that’s roughly $65 million to $130 million worth of cocaine every year, depending on the going price of a kilo.

“He was one of the main distributors down here,” said former Los Angeles Police Department narcotics detective Steve Polak, who was part of the Freeway Rick Task Force, which was set up in 1987 to put Ross out of business. “And his poison, there’s no telling how many tens of thousands of people he touched. He’s responsible for a major cancer that still hasn’t stopped spreading.”

But Ross is the first to admit that being in the right place at the right time had almost nothing to do with his amazing success. Other L.A. dealers, he noted, were selling crack long before he started.

What he had, and they didn’t, was Danilo Blandon, a friend with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of high-grade cocaine and an expert’s knowledge of how to market it.

”I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been a dope dealer without Danilo,” Ross stressed. ”But I wouldn’t have been Freeway Rick.”

The secret to his success, Ross said, was Blandon’s cocaine prices. ”It was unreal. We were just wiping out everybody.”

That alone, Ross said, allowed him to sew up the Los Angeles market and move on. In city after city, local dealers either bought from Ross or got left behind.

”It didn’t make no difference to Rick what anyone else was selling it for. Rick would just go in and undercut him $10,000 a key,” Chico Brown said. ”Say some dude was selling for 30. Boom — Rick would go in and sell it for 20. If he was selling for 20, Rick would sell for 10. Sometimes, he be giving (it) away.”

Before long, Blandon was giving Ross hundreds of kilos of cocaine on consignment — sell now, pay later — a strategy that dramatically accelerated the expansion of Ross’ crack empire, even beyond California’s borders.

Ross said he never discovered how Blandon was able to get cocaine so cheaply. ”I just figured he knew the people, you know what I’m saying? He was plugged.”

But Freeway Rick had no idea just how ”plugged” his erudite cocaine broker was. He didn’t know about Norwin Meneses, or the CIA, or the Salvadoran air force planes that allegedly were flying the cocaine into an air base in Texas.

And he wouldn’t find out about it for another 10 years.

TUESDAY: The impact of the crack epidemic on the black community, and why justice hasn’t been for all.

Source

Testimony links U.S. to drugs-guns trade

 The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist

Testimony links U.S. to drugs-guns trade

Dealers got their ‘own little arsenal’

Published: Aug. 18, 1996

BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

DANILO BLANDON WAS a full- service drug dealer. In addition to the tons of inexpensive cocaine he provided his clients, he also sold them assault weapons and sophisticated communications gear, including hidden microphone detectors to sniff out undercover cops.

“We had our own little arsenal,” recalled Rick Ross, who was Los Angeles’ biggest “crack” cocaine dealer in the mid-1980s. “Once he tried to sell (my partner) a grenade launcher. I said, “Man, what … do we need with a grenade launcher?’.”

Blandon testified in March that his source for such accouterments — which included Uzi submachine guns and Colt AR-15 assault rifles was an ex-Laguna Beach burglary detective named Ronald J. Lister. Lister and his partners sometimes showed up at meetings of Contra supporters in Los Angeles to demonstrate machine guns, Blandon said.

Lister, 50, claimed he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to federal officials and FBI documents. He later worked as an informant for the DEA and the FBI, records and interviews revealed.

In late 1986, as part of Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh’s Iran-Contra investigation, FBI agents investigating the Iran-Contra scandal interviewed Lister’s former real estate agent, who told of Lister’s paying cash for a $340,000 house in Mission Viejo. When the Realtor asked Lister where the money came from, Lister replied that he was raising funds for the Contras, an activity he described as “CIA-approved.”

Christopher Moore, an L.A. attorney who once worked as an office assistant for Lister’s company, Mundy Security Group, said Lister sent him to El Salvador in June 1982 to “baby-sit” a U.S. government contract the company had to install a security system for a Salvadoran air force base.

Spoke of CIA protection

Lister often spoke of “being protected by the CIA,” Moore said in an interview. “I didn’t know whether to believe him or not.”

One thing is certain: There is considerable evidence that El Salvador’s air force was deeply involved with cocaine flights, the Contras and Blandon’s cocaine supplier, Norwin Meneses.

Pilot admits role

Meneses said one of his oldest friends is a former Contra pilot named Marcos Aguado, a Nicaraguan who works for the Salvadoran air force high command.

Aguado was identified in 1987 congressional testimony as a CIA agent who helped the Contras get weapons, airplanes and money from a major Colombian drug trafficker named George Morales. Aguado admitted his role in that deal in a videotaped deposition taken by a U.S. Senate subcommittee that year.

His name also turned up in a deposition taken by the congressional Iran-Contra committees that same year. Robert W. Owen, a courier for Lt. Col. Oliver North, testified he knew Aguado as a Contra pilot and said there was “concern” about his being involved with drug trafficking.

While flying for the Contras, Aguado was stationed at Ilopango Air Base near El Salvador’s capital of San Salvador.

Agent’s reports ignored

In 1985, the DEA agent assigned to El Salvador — Celerino Castillo III — began picking up reports that cocaine was being flown to the United States out of hangars 4 and 5 at Ilopango as part of a Contra-related covert operation. Castillo said he soon confirmed what his informants were telling him.

Starting in January 1986, Castillo began documenting the cocaine flights — listing pilot names, tail numbers, dates and flight plans — and sent them to DEA headquarters.

The only response he got, Castillo wrote in his 1994 memoirs, was an internal DEA investigation of him. He took a disability retirement from the agency in 1991.

“Basically, the bottom line is it was a covert operation and they (DEA officials) were covering it up,” Castillo said in an interview. “You can’t get any simpler than that. It was a coverup.” DEA officials would not respond to those statements. A Freedom of Information Act request for Castillo’s reports is still pending. Lister, who pleaded guilty to federal cocaine charges in 1991 and is serving a prison sentence in Phoenix, did not respond to several requests for an interview. Aguado could not be reached for comment.

MONDAY: How the drug ring worked, and how crack was “born” in the Bay Area. Plus, the story of how the U.S. government gave back $36,000 seized from a drug dealer after he claimed the money belonged to the Contras.

Source

America’s ‘crack’ plague has roots in Nicaragua war

The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist 

America’s ‘crack’ plague has roots in Nicaragua war

Colombia-San Francisco Bay Area drug pipeline helped finance CIA-backed Contras

Aug. 18, 1996

BY GARY WEBB
Mercury News Staff Writer

FOR THE BETTER PART of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury News investigation has found.

This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia’s cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the “crack” capital of the world. The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America and provided the cash and connections needed for L.A.’s gangs to buy automatic weapons.

It is one of the most bizarre alliances in modern history: the union of a U.S.-backed army attempting to overthrow a revolutionary socialist government and the Uzi-toting “gangstas” of Compton and South-Central Los Angeles.

The army’s financiers — who met with CIA agents both before and during the time they were selling the drugs in L.A. — delivered cut-rate cocaine to the gangs through a young South-Central crack dealer named Ricky Donnell Ross.

Unaware of his suppliers’ military and political connections, “Freeway Rick” — a dope dealer of mythic proportions in the L.A. drug world — turned the cocaine powder into crack and wholesaled it to gangs across the country.

The cash Ross paid for the cocaine, court records show, was then used to buy weapons and equipment for a guerrilla army named the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (Nicaraguan Democratic Force) or FDN, the largest of several anti-communist commonly called the Contras.

While the FDN’s war is barely a memory today, black America is still dealing with its poisonous side effects. Urban neighborhoods are grappling with legions of homeless crack addicts. Thousands of young black men are serving long prison sentences for selling cocaine — a drug that was virtually unobtainable in black neighborhoods before members of the CIA’s army started bringing it into South-Central in the 1980s at bargain-basement prices.

And the L.A. gangs, which used their enormous cocaine profits to arm themselves and spread crack across the country, are still thriving, turning entire blocks of major cities into occasional war zones.

There is a saying that the ends justify the means,” former FDN leader and drug dealer Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes testified during a recent cocaine trafficking trial in San Diego. “And that’s what Mr. Bermudez (the CIA agent who commanded the FDN) told us in Honduras, OK? So we started raising money for the Contra revolution.”

Recently declassified reports, federal court testimony, undercover tapes, court records here and abroad and hundreds of hours of interviews over the past 12 months leave no doubt that Blandon was no ordinary drug dealer.

Shortly before Blandon — who had been the drug ring’s Southern California distributor — took the stand in San Diego as a witness for the U.S. Department of Justice, federal prosecutors obtained a court order preventing defense lawyers from delving into his ties to the CIA.

Blandon, one of the FDN’s founders in California, “will admit that he was a large-scale dealer in cocaine, and there is no additional benefit to any defendant to inquire as to the Central Intelligence Agency,” Assistant U.S. Attorney L.J. O’Neale argued in his motion shortly before Ross’ trial on cocaine trafficking charges in March.

The most Blandon would say in court about who called the shots when he sold cocaine for the FDN was that “we received orders from the — from other people.”

The 5,000-man FDN, records show, was created in mid-1981 when the CIA combined several existing groups of anti-communist exiles into a unified force it hoped would topple the new socialist government of Nicaragua.

From 1982 to 1988, the FDN — run by both American and Nicaraguan CIA agents — waged a losing war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, the Cuban-supported socialists who’d overthrown U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

Blandon, who began working for the FDN’s drug operation in late 1981, testified that the drug ring sold almost a ton of cocaine in the United States that year — $54 million worth at prevailing wholesale prices. It was not clear how much of the money found its way back to the CIA’s army, but Blandon testified that “whatever we were running in L.A., the profit was going to the Contra revolution.”

At the time of that testimony, Blandon was a full-time informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, a job the U.S. Department of Justice got him after releasing him from prison in 1994.

Though Blandon admitted to crimes that have sent others away for life, the Justice Department turned him loose on unsupervised probation after only 28 months behind bars and has paid him more than $166,000 since, court records show.

“He has been extraordinarily helpful,” federal prosecutor O’Neale told Blandon’s judge in a plea for the trafficker’s release in 1994. Though O’Neale once described Blandon to a grand jury as “the biggest Nicaraguan cocaine dealer in the United States,” the prosecutor would not discuss him with the Mercury News.

A known dealer since ’74 has stayed out of U.S. jails

Blandon’s boss in the FDN’s cocaine operation, Juan Norwin Meneses Cantarero, has never spent a day in a U.S. prison, even though the federal government has been aware of his cocaine dealings since at least 1974, records show.

Meneses — who ran the drug ring from his homes in the San Francisco Bay Area — is listed in the DEA’s computers as a major international drug smuggler and was implicated in 45 separate federal investigations. Yet he and his cocaine-dealing relatives lived quite openly in the Bay Area for years, buying homes in Pacifica and Burlingame, along with bars, restaurants, car lots and factories in San Francisco, Hayward and Oakland.

“I even drove my own cars, registered in my name,” Meneses said during a recent interview in Nicaragua.

Meneses’ organization was “the target of unsuccessful investigative attempts for many years,” prosecutor O’Neale acknowledged in a 1994 affidavit. But records and interviews revealed that a number of those probes were stymied not by the elusive Meneses but by agencies of the U.S. government.

Agents from four organizations — the DEA, U.S. Customs, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement — have complained that investigations were hampered by the CIA or unnamed “national security” interests.

1988 investigation hit a wall of secrecy

One 1988 investigation by a U.S. Senate subcommittee ran into a wall of official secrecy at the Justice Department.

In that case, congressional records show, Senate investigators were trying to determine why the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, Joseph Russoniello, had given $36,000 back to a Nicaraguan cocaine dealer arrested by the FBI.

The money was returned, court records show, after two Contra leaders sent letters to the court swearing that the drug dealer had been given the cash to buy weapons for guerrillas. Russoniello said it was cheaper to give the money back than to disprove that claim.

“The Justice Department flipped out to prevent us from getting access to people, records — finding anything out about it,” recalled Jack Blum, former chief counsel to the Senate subcommittee that investigated allegations of Contra cocaine trafficking. “It was one of the most frustrating exercises that I can ever recall.”

It wasn’t until 1989, a few months after the Contra-Sandinista war ended and five years after Meneses moved from the Peninsula to a ranch in Costa Rica, that the U.S. government took action against him — sort of.

Federal prosecutors in San Francisco charged Meneses with conspiracy to distribute one kilo of cocaine in 1984, a year in which he was working publicly with the FDN.

In San Francisco photo, Meneses seen with CIA operative

Meneses’ work was so public, in fact, that he posed for a picture in June 1984 in a kitchen of a San Francisco home with the FDN’s political boss, Adolfo Calero, a longtime CIA operative who became the public face of the Contras in the United States.

According to the indictment, Meneses was in the midst of his alleged cocaine conspiracy at the time the picture was taken.

But the indictment was quickly locked away in the vaults of the San Francisco federal courthouse, where it remains today inexplicably secret for more than seven years. Meneses was never arrested.

Reporters found a copy of the secret indictment in Nicaragua, along with a federal arrest warrant issued Feb. 8, 1989. Records show the no-bail warrant was never entered into the national law enforcement database called NCIC, which police use to track down fugitives. The former federal prosecutor who indicted him, Eric Swenson, declined to be interviewed.

After Nicaraguan police arrested Meneses on cocaine charges in Managua in 1991, his judge expressed astonishment that the infamous smuggler went unmolested by American drug agents during his years in the United States.

“How do you explain the fact that Norwin Meneses, implicated since 1974 in the trafficking of drugs … has not been detained in the United States, a country in which he has lived, entered and departed many times since 1974?” Judge Martha Quezada asked during a pretrial hearing.

“Well, that question needs to be asked to the authorities of the United States,” replied Roger Mayorga, then chief of Nicaragua’s anti-drug agency.

U.S. officials amazed Meneses remained free

His seeming invulnerability amazed American authorities as well.

A Customs agent who investigated Meneses in 1980 before transferring elsewhere said he was reassigned to San Francisco seven years later “and I was sitting in some meetings and here’s Meneses’ name again. And I can remember thinking, “Holy cow, is this guy still around?’.”

Blandon led an equally charmed life. For at least five years he brokered massive amounts of cocaine to the black gangs of Los Angeles without being arrested. But his luck changed overnight.

On Oct. 27, 1986, agents from the FBI, the IRS, local police and the Los Angeles County sheriff fanned out across Southern California and raided more than a dozen locations connected to Blandon’s cocaine operation. Blandon and his wife, along with numerous Nicaraguan associates, were arrested on drug and weapons charges.

The search warrant affidavit reveals that local drug agents knew plenty about Blandon’s involvement with cocaine and the CIA’s army nearly 10 years ago.

“Danilo Blandon is in charge of a sophisticated cocaine smuggling and distribution organization operating in Southern California,” L.A. County sheriff’s Sgt. Tom Gordon said in the 1986 affidavit. “The monies gained from the sales of cocaine are transported to Florida and laundered through Orlando Murillo, who is a high-ranking officer of a chain of banks in Florida named Government Securities Corporation. From this bank the monies are filtered to the Contra rebels to buy arms in the war in Nicaragua.”

Corporate records show that Murillo — a Nicaraguan banker and relative of Blandon’s wife — was a vice-president of Government Securities Corporation in Coral Gables, a large brokerage firm that collapsed in 1987 amid allegations of fraud. Murillo did not respond to an interview request.

Despite their intimate knowledge of Blandon’s operations, the police raids were a spectacular failure. Every location had been cleaned of anything remotely incriminating. No one was ever prosecuted.

Ron Spear, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, said Blandon somehow knew that he was under police surveillance. Others thought so, too.

“The cops always believed that investigation had been compromised by the CIA,” Los Angeles federal public defender Barbara O’Connor said in a recent interview. O’Connor knew of the raids because she later defended the raids’ leader, Sgt. Gordon, against federal charges of police corruption. Gordon, convicted of tax evasion, declined to be interviewed.

Lawyer suggests aid was at root of problem

FBI records show that soon after the raids, Blandon’s defense attorney, Bradley Brunon, called the sheriff’s department to suggest that his client’s troubles stemmed from a most unlikely source: a recent congressional vote authorizing $100 million in military aid to the CIA’s Contra army.

According to a December 1986 FBI Teletype, Brunon told the officers that the “CIA winked at this sort of thing. … (Brunon) indicated that now that U.S. Congress had voted funds for the Nicaraguan Contra movement, U.S. government now appears to be turning against organizations like this.”

That FBI report, part of the files of former Iran-Contra Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, was made public only last year, when it was released by the National Archives at the Mercury News’ request.

Blandon has also implied that his cocaine sales were, for a time, CIA-approved. He told a San Francisco federal grand jury in 1994 that once the FDN began receiving American taxpayer dollars, the CIA no longer needed his kind of help.

“When Mr. Reagan get in the power, we start receiving a lot of money,” Blandon testified. “And the people that was in charge, it was the CIA, so they didn’t want to raise any (drug) money because they have, they had the money that they wanted.”

“From the government?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hall.

“Yes,” for the Contra revolution,” Blandon said. “So we started — you know, the ambitious person — we started doing business by ourselves.”

Asked about that, prosecutor Hall said, “I don’t know what to tell you. The CIA won’t tell me anything.”

None of the government agencies known to have been involved with Meneses and Blandon over the years would provide the Mercury News with any information about them.

A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the CIA was denied on national security grounds. FOIA requests filed with the DEA were denied on privacy grounds. Requests filed months ago with the FBI, the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have produced nothing so far.

None of the DEA officials known to have worked with the two men would talk to a reporter. Questions submitted to the DEA’s public affairs office in Washington were never answered, despite repeated requests.

Blandon’s lawyer, Brunon, said in an interview that his client never told him directly that he was selling cocaine for the CIA, but the prominent Los Angeles defense attorney drew his own conclusions from the “atmosphere of CIA and clandestine activities” that surrounded Blandon and his Nicaraguan friends.

“Was he involved with the CIA? Probably. Was he involved with drugs? Most definitely,” Brunon said. “Were those two things involved with each other? They’ve never said that, obviously. They’ve never admitted that. But I don’t know where these guys get these big aircraft …”

That very topic arose during the sensational 1992 cocaine trafficking trial of Meneses after Meneses was arrested in Nicaragua in connection with a staggering 750-kilo shipment of cocaine. His chief accuser was his friend Enrique Miranda, a relative and former Nicaraguan military intelligence officer who had been Meneses’ emissary to the cocaine cartel of Bogota, Colombia. Miranda pleaded guilty to drug charges and agreed to cooperate in exchange for a seven-year sentence.

In a long, handwritten statement he read to Meneses’ jury, Miranda revealed the deepest secrets of the Meneses drug ring, earning his old boss a 30-year prison sentence in the process.

“He (Norwin) and his brother Luis Enrique had financed the Contra revolution with the benefits of the cocaine they sold,” Miranda wrote. “This operation, as Norwin told me, was executed with the collaboration of high-ranking Salvadoran military personnel. They met with officials of the Salvadoran air force, who flew (planes) to Colombia and then left for the U.S., bound for an Air Force base in Texas, as he told me.”

Meneses — who has close personal and business ties to a Salvadoran air force commander and former CIA agent named Marcos Aguado — declined to discuss Miranda’s statements during an interview at a prison outside Managua in January. He is scheduled to be paroled this summer, after nearly five years in custody.

U.S. General Accounting Office records confirm that El Salvador’s air force was supplying the CIA’s Nicaraguan guerrillas with aircraft and flight support services throughout the mid-1980s.

Miranda did not name the Air Force base in Texas where the FDN’s cocaine was purportedly flown. The same day the Mercury News requested official permission to interview Miranda, he disappeared.

While out on a routine weekend furlough, Miranda failed to return to the Nicaraguan jail where he’d been living since 1992. Though his jailers, who described him as a model prisoner, claimed Miranda had escaped, they didn’t call the police until a Mercury News correspondent showed up and discovered he was gone.

He has not been seen in nearly a year.

MONDAY: How the drug ring worked, and how crack was “born” in the San Francisco Bay Area. Plus, the story of how the U.S. government gave back $36,000 seized from a drug dealer after he claimed the money belonged to the Contras.

Source 

Drug king free, but black aide sits in jail

The following are a series of revealing articles on the connection between the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and the smuggling of illegal drugs, particularly cocaine. They are among the first exposés about Contra drug smuggling published in the United States. They were written by journalist Gary Webb for the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 under the series title “The Dark Alliance.” The articles, which alleged a connection between the Contras, the CIA and drug trafficking, quickly roused a strong reaction throughout the U.S. and triggered a smear campaign. Webb’s career was destroyed shortly after these articles were published by right-wing Reaganite journalists in support of the Contras.

The following copies were obtained from the website of the Seattle Times, since the San Jose Mercury News where they first appeared has removed the entire Gary Webb series from their web site.

— Espresso Stalinist

Aug 23, 1996

Drug king free, but black aide sits in jail

How cheap cocaine became the scourge of the inner city

by Gary Webb
San Jose Mercury News

For the past 1 1/2 years, the U.S. Department of Justice has been trying to explain why nearly everyone convicted in California’s federal courts of “crack” cocaine trafficking is black.

Critics, including some federal-court judges, say it looks like the Justice Department is targeting crack dealers by race, which would be a violation of the Constitution.

Federal prosecutors, however, say there’s a simple, if unpleasant, reason for the lopsided statistics: Most crack dealers are black.

But why – of all the ethnic and racial groups in California to pick from – crack planted its deadly roots in L.A.’s black neighborhoods is something Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes may be able to answer.

Blandon is the Johnny Appleseed of crack in California – the Crips’ and Bloods’ first direct connect to the cocaine cartels of Colombia. The tons of cut-rate cocaine he brought into black L.A. during the 1980s and early 1990s became millions of rocks of crack, which spawned new markets wherever they landed.

On a tape made by the Drug Enforcement Administration in July 1990, Blandon casually explained the flood of cocaine that coursed through the streets of South-Central Los Angeles during the previous decade.

“These people have been working with me 10 years,” Blandon said. “I’ve sold them about 2,000 or 4,000 (kilos). I don’t know. I don’t remember how many.”

“It ain’t that Japanese guy you were talking about, is it?” asked DEA informant John Arman, who was wearing a hidden transmitter.

“No, it’s not him,” Blandon insisted. “These . . . these are the black people.”

Arman gasped. “Black?!”

“Yeah,” Blandon said. “They control L.A. The people (black cocaine dealers) that control L.A.”

But unlike the thousands of young blacks now serving long federal prison sentences for selling mere handfuls of the drug, Blandon is a free man today. He has a spacious new home in Nicaragua and a business exporting precious woods, courtesy of the U.S. government, which has paid him more than $166,000 over the past 18 months, records show – for his help in the war on drugs.

That turn of events both amuses and angers “Freeway Rick” Ross, L.A.’s premier crack wholesaler during much of the 1980s and Blandon’s biggest customer.

“They say I sold dope everywhere, but, man, I know he done sold 10 times more dope than me,” Ross said during a recent interview.

Nothing epitomizes the drug war’s uneven impact on black Americans more clearly than the intertwined lives of Ricky Donnell Ross, a high-school dropout, and his suave cocaine supplier, Blandon, who has a master’s degree in marketing and was one of the top civilian leaders in California of an anti-communist guerrilla army formed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Called the Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (FDN), it became known to most Americans as the contras.

In recent court testimony, Blandon, who began dealing cocaine in South-Central L.A. in 1982, swore that the first kilo of cocaine he sold in California was to raise money for the CIA’s army, which was trying on a shoestring to unseat Nicaragua’s new socialist Sandinista government.

After Blandon crossed paths with Ross, a South-Central teenager with gang connections and street smarts necessary to move the army’s cocaine, a blizzard engulfed the ghettos.

Former Los Angeles police narcotics detective Stephen Polak said he was working the streets of South-Central in the mid-1980s when he and his partners began seeing more cocaine than ever before.

“A lot of detectives, a lot of cops, were saying, `hey, these blacks, no longer are we just seeing gram dealers. These guys are doing ounces; they were doing keys,’ ” Polak recalled. But he said the reports were disregarded by higher-ups who couldn’t believe black neighborhoods could afford the amount of cocaine the street cops claimed to be seeing.

“Major Violators (the LAPD’s elite anti-drug unit) was saying, basically, `ahh, South-Central, how much could they be dealing?’ ” said Polak. “Well, they (black dealers) went virtually untouched for a long time.”

It wasn’t until January 1987 – when crack markets were popping up in major cities all over the nation – that law-enforcement brass decided to confront L.A.’s crack problem head-on. They formed the Freeway Rick Task Force, a cadre of veteran drug agents whose sole mission was to put Rick Ross out of business. Polak was a charter member.

“We just dedicated seven days a week to him. We were just on him at every move,” Polak said.

Ross, as usual, was quick to spot a trend. He moved to Cincinnati and quietly settled into a woodsy, suburban home.

“I called it cooling out, trying to back away from the game,” Ross said. “I had enough money.”

His longtime supplier, Blandon, reached the same conclusion about the same time. He moved to Miami with $1.6 million in cash and invested in several businesses.

But neither Ross nor Blandon stayed “retired” for long.

A manic deal-maker, Ross found Cincinnati’s virgin crack market too seductive to ignore.

Plunging back in, the crack tycoon cornered the Cincinnati market using the same low-price, high-volume strategy – and the same Nicaraguan drug connections – he’d used in L.A. Soon, he also was selling crack in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Dayton and St. Louis.

“There’s no doubt in my mind crack in Cincinnati can be traced to Ross,” police officer Robert Enoch told a Cincinnati newspaper three years ago.

But Ross’ reign in the Midwest was short-lived. In 1988, one of his loads ran into a drug-sniffing dog at a New Mexico bus station, and drug agents eventually connected it to Ross. He pleaded guilty to crack trafficking charges and received a mandatory 10-year prison sentence, which he began serving in 1990.

In Miami, Blandon’s retirement plans also had gone awry as his business ventures collapsed.

He returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and began brokering cocaine again, buying and selling from the Nicaraguan dealers he’d known in his days with the FDN. In 1990 and 1991, he testified, he sold about 425 kilos of cocaine in Northern California – $10.5 million worth at wholesale prices.

But unlike before, when he was selling cocaine for the contras, Blandon was constantly dogged by the police.

Twice in six months he was detained, first by Customs agents while taking $117,000 in money orders to Tijuana to pay a supplier, and then by the LAPD when he was in the act of paying one of his Colombian suppliers more than $350,000.

The second time, after police found $14,000 in cash and a small quantity of cocaine in his pocket, he was arrested. But the U.S. Justice Department – saying a prosecution would disrupt an active investigation – persuaded the police to drop their money-laundering case.

Soon after that, Blandon and his wife, Chepita, were arrested by DEA agents on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. They were jailed without bond as dangers to the community, and several other Nicaraguans also were arrested.

The prosecutor, L.J. O’Neale, told a federal judge that Blandon had sold so much cocaine in the United States his mandatory prison sentence was “off the scale.”

Then Blandon “just vanished,” said Juanita Brooks, a San Diego attorney who represented one of Blandon’s co-defendants. “All of a sudden his wife was out of jail and he was out of the case.”

The reasons were contained in a secret Justice Department memorandum filed in San Diego federal court in late 1993.

Blandon, prosecutor O’Neale wrote, had become “valuable in major DEA investigations of Class I drug traffickers.” And even though probation officers were recommending a life sentence and a $4 million fine, O’Neale said the government would be satisfied if Blandon got 48 months and no fine. Motion granted.

Less than a year later, records show, O’Neale was back with another idea: Why not just let Blandon go? After all, he wrote the judge, Blandon had a federal job waiting.

O’Neale, saying that Blandon “has almost unlimited potential to assist the United States,” said the government wanted “to enlist Mr. Blandon as a full-time, paid informant after his release from prison.”

After only 28 months in custody, most of it spent with federal agents who debriefed him for “hundreds of hours,” he said, Blandon walked out of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, was given a green card and began working on his first assignment: setting up his old friend, “Freeway Rick,” for a sting.

Records show Ross was still behind bars, awaiting parole, when San Diego DEA agents targeted him.

Soon after Ross went to prison for the Cincinnati bust, federal prosecutors offered him a deal. His term would be shortened by five years in return for testimony in a federal case against Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detectives that included members of the old Freeway Rick Task Force.

Within days of Ross’ parole in October 1994, he and Blandon were back in touch, and their conversation quickly turned to cocaine.

According to tapes Blandon made of some of their discussions, Ross repeatedly told Blandon that he was broke and couldn’t afford to finance a drug deal. But Ross did agree to help his old mentor, who was also pleading poverty, find someone else to buy the 100 kilos of cocaine Blandon claimed he had.

On March 2, 1995, in a shopping-center parking lot in National City, near San Diego, Ross poked his head inside a cocaine-laden Chevy Blazer, and the place exploded with police.

Ross jumped into a friend’s pickup and zoomed off “looking for a wall that I could crash myself into,” he said. “I just wanted to die.” He was captured after the truck careened into a hedgerow. He has been held in jail without bond since then.

Ross’ arrest netted Blandon $45,500 in government rewards and expenses, records show. On the strength of Blandon’s testimony, Ross and two other men were convicted of cocaine-conspiracy charges in San Diego last March – conspiring to sell the DEA’s cocaine. Sentencing was set for today. Ross is facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The other men are looking at 10- to 20-year sentences.

Acquaintances say Blandon, who refused repeated interview requests, is a common sight these days in Managua’s better restaurants, drinking with friends and telling of his “escape” from U.S. authorities.

According to his Miami lawyer, Blandon spends most of his time shuttling between San Diego and Managua, trying to recover Nicaraguan properties seized in 1979, when the Sandinistas took power.