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    FILE - In this Oct. 28, 1984 file photo, Nicaraguan presidential candidate for the Sandinista National Liberation Front Daniel Ortega reaches out to supporters during a final campaign appearance in Leon, Nicaragua

    Oliver North: Cocaine Trafficker, 'Terrorism Sponsor'...and New NRA Chief

    © AP Photo / Jeff Robbins
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    It’s been announced Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is to become President of the National Rifle Association of America (NRA). The advocacy group’s new chief has already made headlines due to incendiary comments about gun control campaigners - although reference to his leading role in one of America’s biggest political scandals has been scant.

    In a press release issued May 7, NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre referred to the appointment as "the most exciting news" for NRA members since Charlton Heston became leader of the Association.

    "Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader. In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our President. NRA members are proud to stand with him," LaPierre added.

    For those familiar with North's term as a National Security Council staff member during Ronald Reagan's administration, LaPierre's ringing endorsement may not resonate. In fact, given LaPierre's frequent invocations of the threat of Latin American drug gangs operating on US soil in his voluble opposition to gun control proposals, many may find his words perversely ironic.

    Iran-Contra

    North, then a US Marine, joined the Reagan administration in 1981. Then, removing the left-wing government of Nicaragua was top of the government's agenda — this was to be achieved by funding the Contras, violent guerrillas engaged in a brutal civil war with the ruling Sandinistas.

    However, unfortunately for Reagan et al, such was the Contras' concerted campaign of terrorism against civilians — which included targeting healthcare clinics and aid workers for assassination, kidnap, torture, execution, rape, theft and arson — the US Congress began stripping away funding for the group, before banning all US financial support outright in 1985.

    People take part in a protest march to demand an end to violence in Managua, Nicaragua, April 28, 2018
    © REUTERS / Jose Cabezas
    People take part in a protest march to demand an end to violence in Managua, Nicaragua, April 28, 2018
    The Reagan administration determined to continue their support, and North was put in charge of finding covert means of doing so. The team he led — which had its own airplanes, pilots, airfield, ship, operatives, and Swiss bank accounts — concocted a number of schemes, the most notorious of which involved secretly selling military equipment to Iran, then engaged in a bloody conflict with neighboring Iraq, and funnelling the proceeds to the Contras.

    The April 1989 Kerry Committee report documented how US military planes flying arms and money into Nicaragua became an almost daily occurrence — and how the Contras seized on the opportunity to boost their war budget, by loading returning planes with cocaine. Regional drug cartels were keen to capitalize on the scheme too. 

    There aren't any documentary indications the policy was formulated by or agreed to by North. However, the full extent of his involvement — both direct and tacit — in drug smuggling can almost certainly never be fully revealed, as on November 21 1986 he ordered his secretary, Fawn Hall, to begin destroying any and all documents related to the conspiracy.

    The pair's airbrushing of history continued even after North was fired November 25 — taking almost 3,000 pages of notes he'd made on the operation with him — with Hall sneaking further documents out of the office in her skirt and boots.

    Friends Like These

    The next year, a congressional investigation commenced into the imbroglio, with North summoned to testify under oath in July — by then, the Lieutenant Colonel had eradicated great swaths of files, and heavily censored what remained.

    In this May 2, 1989 file photo, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega walks with supporters in the Chorrilo neighborhood, where he dedicated a new housing project, in Panama City
    © AP Photo / John Hopper, File
    In this May 2, 1989 file photo, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega walks with supporters in the Chorrilo neighborhood, where he dedicated a new housing project, in Panama City
    Despite their efforts, over 540 remaining pages mentioned drugs, drug trafficking and/or terrorism — and they made clear North was aware of the drug trafficking his team's strategy facilitated, worked closely with drug lords, and indeed shielded major traffickers from prosecution by the US government.

    For example, North's diaries indicate he met Panama's leader Manuel Noriega in London September 1986, where he invited Noriega to support the Contra cause in return for money and weapons, and suggested he allow Contras and mujahideen fighters (then engaged in a brutal war of their own in Afghanistan) to be trained on Panamanian soil.

    Despite Noriega's own drug trafficking being well-known at the time, North believed a clandestine relationship with the dictator had the potential for providing a "very effective, very secure" means of doing "some of the things which must be done if the Nicaragua project is going to succeed," with optimal operational security and "deniability." Nonetheless, the relationship would remain unconsummated, as the Iran-Contra conspiracy unravelled mere weeks later.

    Noriega would be indicted by federal grand juries in Miami and Tampa on charges of racketeering, drug smuggling, and money laundering two years later, and would go on to serve 17 years in prison.

    Another drug smuggler courted by North was Jose Bueso Rosa, Chief-of-Staff of the Honduran Army until March 1984, when he was ousted along with Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, Commander-in-Chief. Together, the pair formed a junta of disaffected Honduran military figures, and plotted to assassinate President Roberto Suazo Cordova and take power in a wider coup, which was to be funded by the sale of cocaine in the US, of a value between US$10 — 40 million.

    Crewmembers of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell and civilian crane operators offload 28,000 pounds of cocaine at Naval Base San Diego Thursday, April 16, 2015. The vessel arrived with more than 14 tons of cocaine, part of what authorities described as a surge of seizures near Central and South America.
    Crewmembers of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell and civilian crane operators offload 28,000 pounds of cocaine at Naval Base San Diego Thursday, April 16, 2015. The vessel arrived with more than 14 tons of cocaine, part of what authorities described as a surge of seizures near Central and South America.
    Unbeknownst to participants in the scheme, they were all under US Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance, and were thwarted in their insurrectionary ambitions when officials captured the shipment in Florida and arrested them. However, Rosa had played a significant role in supporting the Contras — and had been awarded the US Legion of Merit for his efforts — so North attempted to shield him from prosecution.

    "Our major concern is when Bueso finds out what is really happening he will break his longstanding silence about sensitive operations. [We will] cabal quietly to look at options: pardon, clemency, deportation, reduced sentence. Objective is to keep Bueso from spilling the beans," North wrote in an internal dispatch at the time.

    Bueso didn't manage to get off scott-free as a result of North's eforts, but he did serve a mere three years and four months (of a five-year sentence) in a minimum security prison.

    North's avowed efforts to whitewash Rosa's plan to assassinate a President using money generated by sales of illegal drugs in a foreign country were airily dismissed by his campaign spokesperson when he ran for the US Senate in 1994, derisively dubbed "old news" and "garbage nobody cares about."

    Sputnik contacted the NRA for comment, but is yet to receive a response as of May 14.

     

     

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    war on drugs, drug trafficking, cocaine, conspiracy, drugs, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Rifle Association (NRA), Oliver North, Manuel Antonio Noriega, Ronald Reagan, United States, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua
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