B. OIG Investigation Regarding Support of the Contras by Blandon and Meneses
This section will summarize what the OIG has learned through interviews and a review of reports of DEA debriefings of informants familiar with the Blandon and Meneses drug organizations about the connections between Blandon and Meneses and the Contras. The evidence gathered is conflicting. It is largely drawn from convicted drug dealers with political allegiances, who have little first-hand information. We therefore present it in its raw form, but include the OIG's commentary on the reliability of the information.
1. Blandon's Version
As discussed in Chapter II, above, Blandon was a Contra supporter who was involved with many other expatriate Nicaraguans in organizing local support efforts. Blandon told the OIG that, in 1982, he and Meneses met with Enrique Bermudez in Honduras. Bermudez told them that the only money the Contras were getting came from the Argentine government, and that, in the face of dire financial need, the "end justifies the means." Blandon understood this not as a request by Bermudez to deal in narcotics, but just to get money any way they could. On the way out of Honduras, Blandon was stopped by officials, who found $100,000 that he had been carrying for Meneses for use in a drug deal. The money was given back to Blandon after someone he knew from the FDN called the Honduran officials and told them that the money was for the Contra revolution, and Blandon gave the money back to Meneses. Blandon said in his interview with us that Meneses did support the FDN in San Francisco, however, spending about $40,000 on supplies and other expenses on behalf of the Contras during the years that Blandon worked with him.
Blandon told us that the initial profits he and Meneses made in drug trafficking went to the Contras. The Mercury News stated that it was unclear how much money found its way from Blandon to the Contras, but quoted Blandon as testifying that "whatever we were running in L.A., the profit was going to the Contra revolution." This quote is misleading. Blandon testified, and also told us, that the profits from his cocaine sales in Los Angeles only went to the Contras for a short period of time and were not substantial amounts. In 1983, Blandon said he broke with Meneses in a dispute about drug profits.
Blandon stated that in 1983, at a meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Enrique Bermudez told him that the Contras did not need any more money because "the train is running" and the "Cheles" were helping. Although "Cheles" is a Central American slang term for "gringos" or "white people," Blandon said he understood the reference to be to the "CIA" or the United States government.(44) Still, Blandon continued to give some material support to the Contra cause. Blandon stated he gave Contra leader Eden Pastora $9000 intended for the Contras when Pastora came to Los Angeles in 1985 or 1986. Blandon also said he let Pastora live in an investment property he owned in Costa Rica between 1983 or 1984 until 1987. This would have included use of the residence after Pastora left the Contra movement in mid-1986. Blandon said he never told Pastora that the money was drug proceeds, and added: "Pastora didn't know. He didn't want to know because he's smart. He didn't want to know. You know, but don't talk to me, don't tell nothing." As far as Blandon knew, Pastora did not find out that Blandon was a drug dealer until after Blandon's arrest, and certainly never tried to get Blandon involved in the drug trade.
2. Meneses' Version
The OIG interviewed Norwin Meneses in jail in Nicaragua about his involvement with the Contras. He told of collaborating with Enrique Bermudez in support of the Contras. Between 1982 and 1983-84, Meneses' job was to recruit people in California to join the Contras. Thereafter, he purchased supplies and raised money in small amounts from Nicaraguan nationals. Meneses recalled giving some of his own money to the Contras, but not much -- he claimed about $3,000 between 1982 and 1985 -- and denied that he or anyone else sold drugs for profit for the Contras or that there was any United States government agency involvement in trafficking. Indeed, Meneses denied that he has ever sold drugs, and said he is in jail because of a Sandinista plot.
Meneses said that he and Danilo Blandon grew up together in Nicaragua and are related. After they met again in the United States in 1982, Blandon helped assist the Contras. Although Meneses said he and Blandon traveled to Honduras once to see Manuel Caceres, whom Meneses described as the head of the Contras there, he denied that he was ever asked to buy any weapons for the Contras. Meneses also claimed he was never personally aware that Blandon was dealing drugs. He believed the United States government is "setting Blandon up" and that Blandon is "showing off" with his claims of association with the Contras.
In a June 23, 1986, article in the San Francisco Examiner, reporter Seth Rosenfeld wrote that Norwin Meneses admitted in an interview having been involved in trafficking cocaine for about six months in about 1982. Meneses told Rosenfeld that he had quit dealing in cocaine because a family member "became sick" from using cocaine. The article cites "former FDN members from around the country" as stating that Meneses helped finance at least four Contra functions and sent a truck and video equipment to FDN members in Honduras. Rosenfeld reported that Meneses denied sending any equipment to Honduras and told him only that he allowed FDN members to meet at his home and at his wife's Los Angeles t-shirt factory. Rosenfeld reported that FDN leader Adolfo Calero denied knowledge of any such donations, and that Meneses denied ever working with the FDN or meeting its leaders. Although Meneses denied ever having met Calero (except to shake his hand), Calero told Rosenfeld that he had met with Meneses as many as four times at Contra social events in San Francisco. Calero told Rosenfeld that he was "unfamiliar with [Meneses'] reputation" as a drug smuggler and that if he had known anything, he would have reported it to authorities.
3. Contra Leaders
Both Adolfo Calero and Eden Pastora have denied that the Contras were funded by drug money. When interviewed by the OIG in Nicaragua, Calero told the OIG that he was unaware of any alleged involvement in, or prosecution for, drug trafficking by anyone in the Contra organization during his tenure, aside from allegations of occasional personal use of marijuana by troops who came across it growing in the fields.
Calero testified before the SSCI on November 26, 1996, that when he first joined the Contras, they had funding from the United States in the amount of $14 million. The Contras did not begin fundraising until the United States funds were cut off in 1984; then they raised funds from very wealthy Americans who donated large sums of money.
Calero told the OIG that he was very careful about where he got money. Calero said he never discussed arms procurement with any FDN supporters or local Nicaraguan groups in the United States. It never occurred to him to ask supporters in the United States to help him procure arms or equipment, because he did not think that they would have that knowledge. The FDN purchased their arms from different people, including General Secord, a Miami arms dealer who owned "The Arms Supermarket," Oliver North, and General John Singlaub. Calero personally dealt with North and Secord, in order to avoid problems.
Calero said he never met Danilo Blandon, but he did meet Norwin Meneses as part of a group of Nicaraguans in San Francisco. Calero recalled having no reason to suspect that Meneses might have been involved in criminal activity. Calero had no personal knowledge of Meneses' contributing money or supplies to the Contras, but he recalled hearing from Enrique Bermudez that Meneses had visited "Las Vegas," the Contras' first big camp in Honduras, and had given the troops a cross-bow, promising to donate other sporting goods. When asked if he would remember if Meneses ever gave him $5,000 or $10,000, Calero laughed and stated that he would have remembered getting $500. Although Calero knew Meneses to be very wealthy, he did not know where Meneses got his money. According to Calero, Meneses never had any position, not even a fund-raising one, with the FDN. Calero stated that he recalls having had a picture taken with four or five Nicaraguans in San Francisco, one of whom was Meneses. He noted that he often had his picture taken with many Nicaraguans while on his trips, but that he never paid particularly close attention to who they were. Calero told the OIG that he believed that he visited Norwin Meneses' house in San Francisco on one occasion sometime between 1985 and 1987, and that the picture of Meneses, himself, and others might have been taken there.
Calero said it was "preposterous" to suggest that anyone from the United States government ever asked him to get involved in drug trafficking. He added that the "American government persons who had a relationship with us [Contras] were all decent and honest, and never did anyone propose that we do anything illegal." Calero added that he "would have denounced anyone who would ever have proposed drug dealing" because the Contras "had enough problems."
Testifying before SSCI on November 26, 1996, Eden Pastora said he met Norwin Meneses in 1979 and later ran into him by chance in Costa Rica in about 1988. Pastora had heard that Meneses was involved in drug dealing in Nicaragua, but had never heard of his involvement in drug sales in California or that he was trying to support the Contras with drug funds. Pastora testified that he first met Blandon in either Miami or San Francisco; they met a total of three or four times and discussed politics. Pastora stated that Blandon gave him $3000 for the Contra struggle on each of two occasions between 1985 and 1987 and two pickup trucks as personal gifts. Pastora testified that Blandon owned a car dealership and always seemed to have money. Blandon also lent Pastora the use of his house in Costa Rica, and Pastora lived there for several years. Pastora said he had no idea that Blandon was involved in drug trafficking until Blandon's arrest in San Diego in 1992.
Interviewed by the OIG in Nicaragua, Adolfo "Popo" Chamarro said he had been the Chief of Logistics for ARDE beginning in 1982, but had resigned in 1985 to join another Contra faction with Alfredo Cesar. Chamarro told the OIG that he had no knowledge of anyone in ARDE who was involved in drug trafficking. He said he knew Danilo Blandon from Miami, where Chamarro had a security firm in 1984 or 1985 and Blandon was in the rental car business. Blandon was known by Chamarro to be friendly with Pastora and Karol Prado, a pilot and Pastora's assistant. Chamarro stated that he was not aware that Blandon was involved in drug dealing, and noted that Norwin Meneses had no involvement with the Southern Front Contras.
4. Blandon's Associates
a. FBI Los Angeles Informant
The OIG interviewed an FBI informant from the Los Angeles area (LA CI-1), whom the FBI considers to be highly reliable. LA CI-1 told the OIG that it was widely known that Meneses was already engaged in drug trafficking in Nicaragua prior to the revolution and had arranged cocaine shipments from Colombia through Nicaragua to the United States using his contact in the Somoza government; Meneses had even used a Nicaraguan Air Force plane once for such a shipment.
Even before the term "Contra" was being used, LA CI-1 reported that there were meetings of "anti-Sandinistas" at Meneses' house which were attended by politicians, Somozistas, and other exiles interested in starting a counter-revolutionary movement. Meneses told of meeting with Colonel Enrique Bermudez. LA CI-1 said that he believed that Meneses tried to cultivate a relationship with Bermudez so he could later use it to his advantage to move his drug shipments because Meneses' special relationships in the Somoza government no longer existed. LA CI-1 had no information indicating that Bermudez was involved in drugs, or regarding Meneses' relationship with Bermudez. He knew, however, that Meneses was trying to re-establish his drug routes through Nicaragua, Honduras, or Costa Rica because his drug trade had been interrupted because of the political conflicts. According to LA CI-I, Meneses tried to position himself to help the Contra movement, but little came of his efforts. He provided nominal amounts of money and goods; in one case goods collected from the community, like "tennis shoes," and a truck were donated.
LA CI-1 reported that Blandon and Meneses were working together as early as 1982 when Meneses was bringing cocaine from Miami to Los Angeles. At that time, Blandon was selling only ounces of cocaine. In 1984 or 1985, after Meneses left for Central America to re-establish his drug suppliers, and because he wanted to "lay low" after the arrest of his nephew, Jairo Meneses, Blandon traveled all over the area and to San Francisco with one of his new drug partners. During this period, according to LA CI-1, Blandon never traveled out of the United States to do business with or visit the Contras. LA CI-1 stated that Meneses and Blandon had no direct role as founders of the FDN, but that Ivan Torres, an associate of Blandon's, was a "functionary" in the FDN. LA CI-1 said that, had Blandon ever claimed to have gotten involved with selling drugs to fund the Contras, he would have "laughed in Blandon's face."
LA CI-1 heard that when Blandon was in Miami once to arrange a big drug transaction, he went to a party at the home of a Nicaraguan at which Eden Pastora was present. Pastora was trying to raise money from those who were opposed to the Sandinistas. Blandon talked with Pastora, but was reportedly quite drunk, and Blandon never came through with any money for the Contras. LA CI-1 believed that if Blandon did give money to Pastora, it would have been a nominal amount. Asked about a summary of one of his debriefings by the FBI, which stated "Pastora was seeking cocaine funds from Blandon to fund Contra operations," LA CI-1 said that he had simply meant that Pastora was seeking funds which LA CI-1 knew to be cocaine funds, but that he had no way of knowing if Pastora knew the source of Blandon's funds. Blandon had a legitimate business besides trafficking in drugs and was from a wealthy family.
b. Ivan Torres
We also interviewed Ivan Torres, a long time friend of Blandon's who was involved in the FDN -- primarily as a singer and songwriter, according to Torres. Torres told us that Blandon attended FDN meetings for less than a year. Torres knew that Blandon was selling drugs, although Blandon never told him so directly. Blandon gave $800, at most, to the FDN and sent two station wagons to Honduras. As far as Torres knew, Meneses gave no money to the FDN. According to Torres, Meneses was not involved in the FDN for long and never attended any FDN meetings.
c. Carlos Rocha
Carlos Rocha, who said he worked for Danilo Blandon as a driver from 1985 to 1987, was involved in various FDN activities in Los Angeles. He told the OIG that Blandon was a member of an organization, APRONIC, that wanted to merge with the FDN. "APRONIC" stood for the "Association of Professional Nicaraguans" and consisted of Meneses, Blandon, and some others who claimed to be displaced Nicaraguan professionals and businessmen. In December 1981, Blandon approached the FDN on behalf of APRONIC offering to help the FDN raise money. Rocha explained that he was 21 years old at the time and felt that the FDN needed a group of professionals to represent the organization and provide it with a polished image. Although Blandon and others wanted official FDN titles, Rocha refused, fearing that they would use their official positions to assume control of the FDN. Nevertheless, since they were all fighting against the Sandinistas, Blandon, Meneses and the other APRONIC members were invited to FDN meetings. APRONIC organized a fundraiser for the FDN in Los Angeles in 1982, which lost money. By the beginning of 1983, APRONIC ceased to exist, and, so far as Rocha knew, many of its members became car salesmen. Rocha claimed that he did not know that Blandon or Meneses were involved in the drug trade at that time.
Rocha recalled that the plight of the cash-strapped FDN improved in 1982, because Argentina began giving money to the FDN; Rocha was never sure whether the money was coming from the Argentinean government or non-governmental interests. Rocha did not hear anything about drugs or drug trafficking in the FDN at this time. By late 1982, the FDN had about 500 people and had even bought uniforms for its soldiers in Honduras. In 1982 the Los Angeles FDN held a fundraising fiesta. Although Blandon fronted money for the party, it was the only money Rocha recalled that Blandon ever gave to the FDN, and it was repaid.
At the end of 1982 and the beginning of 1983, Rocha said that Adolfo Calero joined the FDN and a power struggle ensued. Rocha stated that he believed that rumors that United States financial aid was on its way had prompted the military branch of the organization, including Bermudez, to mount an effort to take over the FDN. During this power struggle, Bermudez traveled to Miami to meet with the would-be leadership of the FDN, which included Calero. Meneses and Blandon also traveled to Miami, apparently to ingratiate themselves with the FDN leadership.
By October 1983, Rocha said he held no power or title in the organization and was not very active in FDN activities. Rocha met Calero during this time period and noted that Calero appeared to have money. Rocha also heard from Bermudez that the FDN no longer had financial worries. The rumors were that the United States government was supplying money in support of the FDN. But by this time, Blandon was no longer involved in the FDN, and Rocha thought he was involved in a business distributing audio cassettes.
To Rocha's knowledge, Blandon did not give the FDN anything other than the $900 that he loaned the organization in 1982, and two trucks that were shipped down to Honduras; Blandon later claimed that the trucks were stolen and recovered insurance money for them. Rocha said that Meneses may have given the organization approximately $5,000. Rocha noted that Meneses and Pastora were close and that Pastora had lived in Meneses' house in Costa Rica. Rocha made clear that he had no reason to believe that the FDN used drug proceeds to mount its war in Nicaragua.
5. Meneses' Associates
a. DEA Informant
DEA CI-1 worked with Meneses when he was a DEA informant in 1986 and 1987 on an investigation of Blandon. This is discussed extensively in Chapter III. DEA CI-1 reported to us that Meneses, Blandon, and Ivan Torres had been trafficking in cocaine long before the overthrow of Somoza. Meneses told DEA CI-1 in 1986 or 1987 that when the Contra revolution started, he met with some "American agents," whom Meneses assumed were with the CIA, and showed them how to get in and out of Nicaragua.
In attempting to infiltrate the Blandon organization with Meneses on behalf of DEA in 1987, DEA CI-1 participated in conversations with Meneses, Blandon and Torres about the Contras. When we interviewed him, DEA CI-1 told us that neither Meneses, Blandon or Torres claimed they sold cocaine to support the Contras; they just happened to be in a position to help some of their Contra friends and acquaintances, such as Pastora and Calero, by donating money. DEA CI-1 reported that Meneses probably did not give more that a few thousand dollars. DEA CI-1 said Eden Pastora and Adolfo Calero "lied" in the Congressional hearings when they denied knowing any dope dealers or Meneses. DEA CI-1 said Calero and Pastora had agreed to deny knowing Meneses, Blandon and Torres, in order to keep Calero and Pastora "clean."
DEA CI-1 said he recalled hearing Ivan Torres claim to be in contact with the CIA outside the United States and the FBI inside the United States. According to DEA CI-1, Torres used to talk about the CIA and FBI all the time, and said that the FBI had told him "We know exactly what you do - just don't do it in the U.S." Torres never said the FBI or CIA dealt in drugs. DEA CI-1 does not recall how the alleged CIA connection came up or why.
DEA CI-1 was asked about a statement contained in a DEA debriefing report dated January 18, 1987, which reports that Ivan Torres stated that he had received counterintelligence training from the CIA, and that the CIA "looks the other way" and allows the Contras to engage in drug trafficking as long as it is done outside the United States. DEA CI-1 stated that Torres did say he received such training from the CIA but that it was the FBI, not the CIA, which Torres claimed "looked the other way." DEA CI-1 said he never reported this about the CIA.
b. Renato Pena
The OIG interviewed Renato Pena in San Francisco. Pena was convicted on federal drug charges in 1984 and served one year in prison after cooperating with the DEA. When debriefed by the DEA in the early 1980s, Pena said that the CIA was allowing the Contras to fly drugs into the United States, sell them, and keep the proceeds. Pena did not repeat this claim in subsequent DEA debriefings that focused solely on allegations of Contra involvement in drug trafficking, and he did not make it to the OIG.
Pena told the OIG that, from the end of 1982 to mid-1984, he was the official representative of the FDN in northern California, in charge of the San Francisco chapter. His job was to "communicate" to the public and the media on behalf of the FDN, and to distribute propaganda among the Contra sympathizers. Pena stated that he was present on many occasions when Meneses telephoned Bermudez in Honduras. Meneses told Pena of Bermudez's requests for such things as gun silencers (which Pena said Meneses obtained in Los Angeles), cross bows, and other military equipment for the Contras. Pena believed Meneses would sometimes transport certain of these items himself to Central America, and other times would have contacts in Los Angeles and Miami send cargo to Honduras where the authorities were cooperating with the Contras. Pena believed Meneses had contact with Bermudez from about 1981 or 1982 through the mid-1980s. Meneses would bring military information, bulletins, and communiques from Bermudez that Pena would put into newsletters and give to the press and Contra sympathizers.
Pena said he was one of the couriers Meneses used to deliver drug money to a Colombian known as "Carlos" in Los Angeles and return to San Francisco with cocaine. Pena made six to eight trips, with anywhere from $600,000 to nearly $1 million, and brought back six to eight kilos of cocaine each time. Pena said Meneses was moving hundreds of kilos a week. "Carlos" once told Pena, "We're helping your cause with this drug thing... we are helping your organization a lot." Carlos only spoke in "general" terms that some of the money was going to the Contras and gave no other details, according to Pena.
Pena did not tell the OIG, but stated in a February 1997 declaration in support of his petition to avoid deportation from the United States based on his criminal conviction, that Jairo Meneses had asked him to help transport money to Los Angeles in 1984 to purchase cocaine for sale in San Francisco. Jairo Meneses allegedly told Pena that the drugs were being sold to raise money for the Contras. Pena alleged that Jairo Meneses told him the "United States was aware of these dealings, and that it was highly unlikely that I would even get in trouble." Pena stated that both Norwin Meneses and Danilo Blandon told him they were also raising money for the Contras through drug dealing, and that Blandon stated that the Contras would not have been able to operate without drug proceeds. Norwin Meneses allegedly told Pena that Contra leader Enrique Bermudez was aware of the drug dealing.
On October 22, 1982, a cable from a domestic CIA Station reported that an INS informant in the local Nicaraguan exile community has stated that "there are indications of links between [a specific religious organization] and two Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary groups. . . . These links involve an exchange in [the United States] of narcotics for arms." The cable further stated that, according to the informant, there was to be a meeting in Costa Rica "within a month" about this exchange. The cable stated that the INS was in contact with the FBI about this matter. Without the identity of the INS informant, the OIG was unable to locate INS or FBI records about this matter.
On October 27, 1982, CIA Headquarters responded to the Station that there was interest in the report if the "allegations had some basis in fact" and instructed the Station to contact INS for additional information. After consultation with INS, the Station reported, in a November 3, 1982 cable, that it had learned that attendees at the meeting would allegedly include representatives from the FDN and the Nicaraguan Democratic Union (UDN, another Contra group), and unidentified United States citizens. The cable identified Renato Pena as one of four who would represent the FDN. The cable expressed concern about the involvement of the CIA because of the involvement of United States citizens. A November 13, 1982, cable from CIA Headquarters stated that: "in light of the apparent involvement of U.S. persons throughout, agree you should not pursue the matter further."
A November 17, 1982, cable from CIA Headquarters to a CIA station in Central America stated: "It is Headquarters opinion that much of information . . . simply does not make sense (i.e. UDN/FARN cooperation, need to obtain armament through illegal means, shipment of arms to Nicaragua, involvement with the [named religious organization]). We see a distinct possibility that the [INS] source was either intentionally or unintentionally misinformed.
Pena told the OIG that the religious organization gave only humanitarian aid to the Contra refugees and provided some logistical support for the Contras' political efforts in the United States. Pena stated that his efforts on behalf of the Contras all took place in the United States and that he never traveled outside of the United States because of his immigration status as an applicant for political asylum.
According to Pena, in mid-1984, FDN leaders came to San Francisco, and replaced him with Tony Navarro, who owned a body shop in San Francisco. Although the leaders never said so, Pena thought they suspected he was involved in drug dealing. Thereafter, according to Pena, another Contra leader, Commander Aureliano, appointed Pena as the military representative of the FDN in the San Francisco area. When asked why Aureliano would appoint Pena to another position when he was suspected of dealing in drugs, Pena attributed this to that fact that Meneses was on such good terms with Bermudez, who Pena said was a "CIA agent." When asked how he knew that Bermudez was a CIA agent, Pena dismissed the question, saying "it was very obvious." Bermudez had been the military attache in Washington at the end of the Somoza regime, and, according to Pena, all Latin American military attaches in D.C. embassies are recruited by the CIA. Because Norwin Meneses kept in good contact with Bermudez, Pena "believe[d] the CIA knows about all these things."
Pena said he suspected that Meneses was some kind of "double agent," working for both the Sandinistas and the Contras. Pena said that Meneses was connected to the Sandinistas because his latest mistress or wife, Margarita Castana, was Bayardo Arce Castana's niece. Bayardo Arce was one of the nine Sandinista commanders in the 1980s, and, according to Pena, a well-known drug addict.
Pena told the OIG that the money the Contras received from the Reagan administration was "peanuts," and the growing military organization needed supplies, arms and food, and money to support the families of the Contras. Pena stated his belief that the CIA decided to recruit Meneses so that drugs sales could be used to support the Contras; Bermudez could not have recruited Meneses on his own, according to Pena, but would have had to "follow orders."
c. Jairo Meneses
As discussed in Chapter III, Jairo Meneses was arrested by DEA in 1984 along with Renato Pena and agreed to cooperate with the DEA. Jairo Meneses reported to the DEA that Norwin Meneses had dealt directly with leaders of both the Contras and the Sandinistas since the early 1980s in an effort to promote his cocaine business. Jairo also reported that Norwin Meneses had "dealt" (not further explained) with Enrique Bermudez. According to Jairo, Norwin Meneses had obtained cocaine from individuals in the Sandinista government, using Margarita Castana, the niece of Bayardo Arce, as an intermediary. Jairo also reported that during the Somoza regime, Norwin Meneses had smuggled weapons, silencers, and video equipment into Nicaragua, which he exchanged for money and narcotics. When the operation was discovered by Oscar Reyes, a high ranking customs official in Nicaragua, Norwin Meneses arranged for Reyes' assassination.
Jairo Meneses could not be located to be interviewed by the OIG. The OIG received a report that Jairo Meneses was killed in Nicaragua in 1991 or 1992, but could not confirm this.
d. Tony Navarro
Tony Navarro is a Nicaraguan who came to the United States in 1963 and became a naturalized United States citizen in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Navarro has no criminal record. Navarro told the OIG that he got involved with the FDN in San Francisco in around 1980. Navarro said he had no official position at first but he would coordinate dinners when the Contra leaders came to San Francisco and he "fronted" money for these events. In July 1986, Navarro was appointed the official San Francisco representative for the FDN. Navarro said Renato Pena never served in the FDN in an official capacity, but may have been an unofficial representative prior to 1986. According to Navarro, Pena appointed himself as military representative around 1984.
Navarro said he met Adolfo Calero several times when Calero came to San Francisco. Calero once stayed at Navarro's house around 1989. Navarro said Enrique Bermudez once came to Navarro's house around 1985 or 1986. Navarro said Norwin Meneses came to a couple of FDN meetings, but Meneses was not a member of the FDN, and did not, to Navarro's knowledge, ever give any money, equipment, or supplies to the FDN or the Contras. Navarro once met Danilo Blandon at a large FDN meeting held at Navarro's shop in San Francisco. Navarro never saw any evidence that Blandon ever gave any money to the Contras. Navarro said he thought Bermudez was "straight" (i.e. not involved with drug dealing), but Navarro said he did not really know. Although Navarro had never heard that anyone was dealing drugs to get money for the Contras, he said that some people took "advantage of the revolution to do their own business."
e. Enrique Miranda-Jaime
As discussed extensively in Chapter VII, Enrique Miranda-Jaime (Miranda) has made numerous allegations to the press, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and others about Meneses' drug connections with the Contras and the CIA. In our interview of him, we found that Miranda did not have any credible first-hand information or corroborating evidence to support his claims.
Miranda testified in the 1991 trial of himself and Meneses in Nicaragua on drug trafficking charges that Meneses had financed the Contra revolution with cocaine proceeds, and that the Colombians had used the Salvadoran Air Force to land Meneses' cocaine shipments at a Texas Air Force base. Miranda also told the OIG that he had documentary proof of Meneses' relationship with the CIA.
As discussed below, Miranda's allegations regarding Meneses' drug trafficking activities with the Contras, and of CIA involvement, lack credibility. His information is second-hand, mostly from Meneses. Miranda at first claimed to have witnessed the transfer of drugs in Texas but, when pressed for details, said he had not actually seen it occur. It was also clear that much of what Miranda told the OIG was from reports that had been previously printed in the newspapers. In addition, Miranda was unable to produce the documentary evidence he claimed established a tie between Meneses and the CIA.
6. Other DEA Informants
In 1986, in connection with a Congressional investigation, the DEA undertook an assessment of all allegations that the Contras were involved in drug smuggling. To this end, DEA Headquarters intelligence analysts interviewed numerous DEA informants.
In April 1986, a DEA intelligence analyst interviewed an informant referred to here as SR3, who had been assisting the DEA in its investigation of Norwin Meneses for the prior three years. The source had a long track record of providing information and was considered "extremely reliable." All of SR3's information regarding Contra involvement in drug trafficking came from Norwin Meneses, who SR3 had known since he was very young. SR3 stated that prior to the revolution Meneses was involved in drug trafficking, facilitated by high-level connections in Nicaragua. SR3 reported that when the Sandinistas took control, Meneses lost approximately $12 million worth of cash and property.
SR3 told the DEA in 1986 that Meneses, who had once been a member of the FDN, had been trafficking both to make money for himself and to raise funds for the Contras. He used family members to smuggle drug proceeds from San Francisco, through New Orleans and into Central America for the Contras. Some of these proceeds were used to buy weapons for the Contras in Colombia. He noted that Meneses' uncle, Armando Meneses, had been arrested by U.S. Customs in Los Angeles while attempting to leave the United States with a large amount of money. SR3 said Meneses had recruited him to coordinate drug and weapons shipments from Colombia. The drugs were shipped to the United States, sometimes through Nicaragua. SR3 observed that Meneses would do anything for money and reportedly was getting cocaine from the Sandinistas. Meneses boasted that he traveled in and out of Nicaragua freely, and that United States agents would assist him, which SR3 took as a reference to either the CIA or the FBI. SR3 noted that Jairo Meneses was running Norwin Meneses' operations in the United States and that Renato Pena worked for Jairo Meneses, and ran the San Francisco office of the FDN. According to SR3, Pena was one of the major Contra fund raisers in San Francisco and was one of those responsible for sending Meneses' drug proceeds to the Contras.
SR3 said he had stopped working for Meneses when Meneses fled from the United States to Costa Rica in 1985. The DEA intelligence report noted that, aside from statements made to him by Meneses, SR3 did not have much first-hand knowledge of the alleged flow of drug proceeds to Central America. The OIG was unable to locate SR3 to interview him regarding these statements.
The DEA also interviewed three Nicaraguan subjects arrested in a San Francisco DEA case. All three stated that they knew Contras who were involved in drug activity. One stated that the Contras were selling drugs to make money to finance the war; the two others did not specify whether the Contras were selling on behalf of their organization or for personal gain. The DEA concluded that all three probably knew more than they had told the DEA but held back because of family and political ties.
The foregoing accounts -- conflicting though they may be in some aspects -- support three propositions: Blandon and Meneses were engaged in drug smuggling beginning in the early 1980s. Both were Contra sympathizers who may have played some role in local FDN chapters at some point. And both gave some of their drug profits to the Contras. The harder questions, the ones that the OIG cannot answer definitively, are (1) to what extent did Blandon and Meneses funnel drug profits to the Contras? and (2) to what extent were Contra leaders aware that they were receiving drug money?
The OIG has not uncovered any concrete evidence -- such as bank records or drug ledgers -- that the money raised by Blandon or Meneses went anywhere other than into their own pockets. We can, however, provide some assessment of the credibility of the various witnesses who have given widely divergent accounts on this score. The OIG found LA CI-1, Tony Navarro, and Carlos Rocha to be substantially credible witnesses. LA CI-1 had first-hand, personal knowledge of Blandon's drug trafficking activities and began providing the FBI with unsolicited information during the late 1980s. The information he gave to the FBI and DEA over the years proved to be highly reliable. Tony Navarro has been a legitimate businessman in the San Francisco area for many years, and was forthright and helpful in his interview with the OIG. The OIG also found Carlos Rocha to be very credible, and able to supply very detailed information. He appeared to be a true believer who made many sacrifices for the FDN and was somewhat resentful of individuals like Blandon who seemed more interested in self-promotion.
The OIG did not find Renato Pena's allegations that the CIA "had to be involved" in drug sales for the benefit of the Contras to have merit. Pena has said different things to different people at different times, and there is no evidence to support many of his assertions. The only basis for his claims about the CIA seems to be the connection between Meneses and the Contras and the connection between the Contras and the CIA.
Based on the information gathered by the OIG and the credibility assessments made of this information, the OIG believes that Danilo Blandon and Norwin Meneses were large scale drug dealers who supplied massive amounts of cocaine to buyers in the United States. They were also both Contra supporters, although their roles in this regard were marginal. They were members of local branches of the FDN whose job it was to rally support for the Contras from fellow exiled Nicaraguans. Both gave charitable contributions to the Contras and, because of their line of business, that money came from drug trafficking. The monetary amounts were relatively insignificant compared to the money they made in drug trafficking.
Contra leaders have denied -- and there is no evidence to contradict the denials -- that they solicited drug funds or knew that drug money was coming into the Contra movement. We concluded that Meneses' reputation had preceded him in the small Nicaraguan exile community and that people who dealt with Meneses knew or should have known that money coming from him was likely from an illicit source. Whether those who received money from Blandon should have suspected its source is less clear. Blandon had legitimate businesses concurrent with his drug business, and he did not have the same criminal reputation that Meneses did.
The OIG did not find evidence demonstrating a tie between Blandon or Meneses and the CIA. As discussed above, the CIA has denied any such link on numerous occasions. Although various individuals may have claimed CIA affiliation during the course of their illegal activities, we found no evidence to support such a tie or CIA involvement in Blandon or Meneses' drug trafficking.
44. Bermudez was killed in Honduras in 1991, in what remains an unsolved homicide.