Costa Rica, Past & Present

Part 2: Arms & Assassinations

by Zola

Arms for Drugs

The Panamanian pilot Floyd Carlton Caceres began flying for General Manuel Antonio Noriega in 1980. Noriega was selling arms to the rebels in El Salvador—the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional de El Salvador (FMLN). Carlton's network of pilots made 17 flights carrying arms to FMLN.

Then in 1982 Carlton helped foment a business relationship between Noriega and two Medellin cartel leaders (Pablo Escobar Gaviria and Gustavo de Jesus Gaviria). Noriega would provide security for drug shipments by allowing flights out of Colombia to land in Panamanian government-controlled runways. Noriega would also help with money laundering by picking up cash shipments and depositing them in the Panamanian banking system (the US dollar is the currency in Panama).

Carlton's man in charge of money laundering was Alfredo Caballero, who in 1983 began giving assistance to Eden Pastora Gomez, who became commander of the ARDE (Alianza Revoluncionaria Democratica) forces of the Contra Southern Front, in northern Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua (Public Prosecutors Investigation on 'La Penca' Case, San Jose, Costa Rica, 26 December 1989).

Carlton got the drugs to Costa Rica. The CIA often took it from there.

The early CIA mixing of arms and drug shipments can be seen in the roundabout flight John Hull and some members of ARDE took in June 1983. They left Tobia Bolanos Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, and flew to the Opa-Loca Airport in Miami where they picked up a shipment of grenade launchers. The arms were flown to Ilopango, El Salvador and stored. The plane was refueled and flown on to Rio Hacha in Colombia. There it picked up a cargo of marijuana, and flew back to the United States.

John Hull was also on hand to meet numerous flights of arms out of Florida to Costa Rica. The arms would be unloaded, the planes would be loaded with cocaine, then return to Florida. Included were a flight out of Fort Lauderdale of M-60 machine guns, M-16 rifles, and C-4 explosive, that landed at Hull's farm in Muelle de San Carlos, and another flight of armaments out of the Opa-Loca Airport that landed in Los Llanos. Both flights took place in July 1984. Arms flew out of the US and into Costa Rica; cocaine flew out of Costa Rica and into the US.

Hull never made a move without the okay of CIA Chief of Station Joe Fernandez.

Some of the money from narcotrafficking ended up in Frigorificos de Puntarenas S.A. in Costa Rica, from whence it was delivered to the Contras. Frigorificos de Puntarenas had an agent representative in Miami called Ocean Hunter Inc. Both these entities would also be used by Oliver North to channel "humanitarian" funds to the Contras.

Joe Fernandez, CIA

Looking at the documentary evidence, it is not clear whether Joe Fernandez, the CIA Chief of Station in Costa Rica thought he was working for his CIA boss (who, after October 1984, was Alan D. Fiers, Jr., the Chief of the CIA's Central American Task Force), or for Oliver North. Clearly Fernandez had a lot of contact with Ollie North he didn't tell the Fiers about.

North had given Fernandez an NSA KL-43 encrypted communication device for security. Fernandez would sit in his office in the American Embassy in San Jose and dial up Oliver North in Washington or wherever. The KL-43 has a keyboard and a liquid crystal display (LCD). Fernandez would type out his message on the keyboard, and the message would show up on the LCDs at both ends of the communication. In between (over the telephone lines) the message would be encrypted.

Fernandez thought he had a nifty secure channel to North, and that when he severed the connection all traces of their secret communication disappeared. What he didn't know was that North, at his end, had a printer attached, would print out copies of their correspondence, and have them filed away.

Later when Fernandez freely lied to the Tower Commission and the CIA Office of Inspector General, he did so with the confidence instilled by encryption. Then he found himself caught in the trap of North's decrypted message files.

At one point Fernandez had Eva Groening, a State Department employee, remove all records of his phone calls and lock them in a safe. When the Walsh Commission later subpoenaed them, they couldn't be found. (Iran-Contra: The Final Report, Lawrence E. Walsh, Independent Counsel, Times Books, 1994). Not to worry. The Costa Rican phone company promptly produced them. (Many of us wish the CR phone company was as good at producing phone service as it is at keeping records.)

There was something strange about Joe Fernandez. Most CIA Chiefs of Station are administrators kept away from operations. But clearly Fernandez was a hands-on guy. When a DC-3 crashed into a mountain near the Nicaraguan border in March 1984, it was Joe Fernandez, along with John Hull and Bruce Jones and members of Pastora's group who found the aircraft and disposed of the remains.

And there is no question that he was given a key operational task. The CIA didn't like Eden Pastora. They thought Pastora was a warfare welfare queen, sitting on his butt in northern Costa Rica, munching up supplies, parading around in new military clothes, and ejoying daily target practice courtesy of the "private benefactors" who contributed to the Contra cause.They wanted him to push into Nicaragua, engage the Sandinistas, get shot at, and possibly killed.

Clearly the CIA and Pastora didn't see eye to eye.

It started out with a plan by the CIA to have the Contra Northern Front and Southern Front unite. They got the Contra leaders together at a 1983 meeting in Panama with General Noriega, who suggested the unification of all forces opposed to the Nicaraguan government. Now the Northern Front was controlled by the FDN, who were former Somoza guards. Pastora, who had opposed Somoza, refused to fight alongside them. Pastora also rejected the introduction of Cuban fighters, who were being trained in Florida and sent to the Southern Front. So the Cubans had to pretend to be Puerto Ricans in order to be accepted. Pastora had another flaw: he didn't want to accept the help of narcotraffickers.

Fernandez' task, which he imparted to John Hull, was to splinter the command of the Southern Front—to seduce Pastora's commanders away from him. Hull went to Washington where he met North. He also met with Adolfo Calero, President of FDN (the ex-Somoza forces), and explained his opposition to Pastora. In response the FDN named "Comandante Jesus" (Jesus Garcia) as their representative in the south, and placed him over the Cuban fighters. Jesus worked out of Hull's offices in San Carlos.

Assassination Politics

In meetings around Costa Rica, Hull presented Pastora as harmful to the Contra cause—a communist, and perhaps even a lackey of the Sandinistas. Meanwhile, a Costa Rican Judicial decree in November 1983 declared that Costa Rica was neutral in Central American conflicts. After President Monge of Costa Rica made a "Mission of Truth" tour through Europe, it was pointed out that Pastora's presence in Costa Rica made a mockery of the neutrality claim. Consequently, in May 1984, Pastora was asked to leave Costa Rica and to move into Nicaraguan territory. Pastora called a press conference for the morning of May 30, 1984. Journalists were picked up at the Irazu Hotel in San Jose and taken to the San Juan river where Pastora was on the far bank, in La Penca, Nicaragua.

There a C-4 bomb, set to kill Pastora, was detonated early, and killed 8 people but not Pastora. More than a dozen reporters were injured. One American reporter was among the eight killed. The bomb was apparently brought along by a "reporter" using the false name of Peer Anker Hansen.

Knowledgable sources tell me the bombing was planned by a group that included "TRW", Joe Fernandez, John Hull, Felipe Vidal, and two Costa Rican DIS agents. And it seems certain that North—in frequent contact with Fernandez—knew of it also. The story is that Pastora threatened to expose the whole drug part of the operation unless he was paid a large sum of money. This group then reached a consensus that it was time for Pastora to go.

In the Walsh report there is an entire chapter devoted to "CIA Agent #1" who is not identified in the report. This man is CIA agent Terry Ward, known to his associates as "TRW". He was the operational agent in charge of the Central American Task Force (deputy under Fiers, when Fiers took over later in the year).

John Hull and Felipe Vidal are charged as involved in the bombing in the public prosecutor's report. Terry Ward and Joe Fernandez escaped being implicated, as did the two Costa Rican DIS agents.

The Contra operation seemed to generate hubris everywhere. It is only a small conceptual step from an attempt to kill a rebel leader who wouldn't go along, to the attempt to kill a head of state who wouldn't go along.

Oliver North had been traveling around to heads of state getting them to sign end-user certificates for the shipment of arms that would disguise their ultimate destination. One leader he approached was Olaf Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden. North asked Palme to sign misleading end-user certificates for weapons to be shipped from the Swedish arms company Bofors to the Contras.

To let Palme know the noble purpose that would be served, North outlined for him the whole Contra-supply operation. Palme was offended. Not only would he not cooperate by signing end-user certificates, he told North, but moreover said the Contra operation was a breach of international law and that he was going to expose it in the international organizations.

Blabber-mouth Ollie North now panicked, and plotted Palme's termination with some Bofors executives. The Bofors executives hired an assassination team headed by a South African named Williamson, which succeeded in killing Palme on February 28, 1986.

Now, one doesn't have to lament the demise of socialist Olaf Palme to question the propriety of an employee of the US National Security Council having a foreign head of state assassinated because he wouldn't properly falsify end-user certificates.

Palme failed to cooperate and threatened to tell, and died. Pastora failed to cooperate and threatened to tell, and lived.

Pastora still lives, in poverty, in Costa Rica today.

(to be continued)