Back in Sandinista Days . . .
John Kerry now talks a moderate game; but what does the record say?


In this last sentence, he was referring to the aide-memoire pressed into his hand by Ortega: a guarantee. At the end of his speech, Kerry said, “My generation, and a lot of us, grew up with the phrase ‘Give peace a chance,’ as part of a song that captured a lot of people’s imagination. I hope that the president of the United States will give peace a chance.”

Ultimately, the outcome in Nicaragua was democratic, as throughout Central America. In fact, this is one of the great achievements of our times, unheralded as it may be. (For one thing, few on the left are willing to do any heralding.) When Violeta Chamorro won election in Nicaragua — February 1990 — an interviewer asked Kerry, “Does this mean the United States did the right thing all those years by funding the Contras?” Replied Kerry, “Well, I think that’s almost an irrelevant debate right now. I don’t happen to believe that, because many of us believe it could have been a different form of pressure. But the important thing now is that the election has taken place. I really think it’s more of a triumph of multi-nation diplomacy.” Sure.

Kerry gained further fame — or infamy, depending on your point of view — as head of “the Kerry Committee,” more formally the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations. In this period — the late 1980s — Kerry devoted himself to trying to prove that the Contras were drug-runners; he was particularly interested in linking Vice President Bush to this criminality (as Bush was running for president). The Kerry Committee never accomplished its objective, but it attracted a lot of media attention and damaged individual reputations. On this committee, all the hopes, energies, and notions of IPS, the Christic Institute, CISPES, and the rest of that now-forgotten crowd came together.

Leading the charge were Kerry’s staff men, such as Jonathan Winer (still a Kerry foreign-policy adviser) and the notorious Jack Blum. This latter is considered by some Republicans a sort of Roy Cohn of the Left. One GOP aide from the period describes Kerry’s people as “drooling fanatics”: “Kennedy’s people were liberal, to be sure, and so were Dodd’s. But Kerry’s people were much more rabid. They promoted the most bizarre conspiracy theories around.” You have to remember, says this aide: “There was a real fruity network of goofball and semi-subversive people, and Kerry ran with those people. He was always a bit aloof himself, but you can tell a lot about politicians by the people they let in. These weren’t liberals. They had a shockingly hostile attitude toward the United States — our military, our intelligence community, our policies.”

A second Latin America expert on the Republican side was Mark Falcoff, long since with the American Enterprise Institute. Though the Kerry Committee “never proved anything,” he says, “they used an enormous amount of time. I mean, you can’t imagine the wild-goose chases.” As for Kerry himself, “I found him a bully. If I could use one word, it would be that: He was a bully.”

One man who was subjected to this bullying was Felix Rodriguez, the legendary CIA operative. He was present in Che Guevara’s last hours; he also grew close to the first Bush. According to Rodriguez’s memoirs, Shadow Warrior, the Kerry Committee let it be known to the press that a convicted money launderer for the Colombian drug cartel had accused him of soliciting $10 million for the Contras. The committee was also “fueling speculation” that Rodriguez, “and, by extension, Vice President Bush,” were “somehow” involved in drug trafficking.