- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Contras celebrated

Adolfo Calero remembers that when he came to Washington in the 1980s he was feted at the White House and applauded on Capitol Hill because of his leadership of the anti-communist Nicaraguan Resistance.

His visits also galvanized left-wing protesters, as well as several congressional Democrats, who supported the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Nicaraguan dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

Either way, Mr. Calero’s trips to Washington drew attention.

Today, he concedes, some of his former supporters — including a few in top State Department posts — refuse to meet with him because they think he is on the wrong side of the current political intrigue in the Central American nation.

“They were my great supporters. Now, they don’t want to see me,” Mr. Calero said.

Even the resistance fighters, whose rebellion eventually helped force the Sandinistas to hold democratic elections, may be a fading memory. Once numbering 50,000, the resistance had 24 show up yesterday for a ceremony to honor its struggle.

“This is the first recognition of the Nicaraguan Resistance,” Mr. Calero said over lunch at the Army Navy Club.

The former Contras were recognized by the Honourable Company of Freedom Fighters, a foundation organized by Duane Claridge, who was the CIA’s Latin America director during the 1980s.

“Without the Nicaraguan freedom fighters, Nicaragua would be like Cuba,” Mr. Calero said.

The celebration coincided with the 20th anniversary of the congressional approval of $100 million in aid to the Contras in 1986.

However, table talk at the luncheon with reporters soon turned away from the Contras to the current political situation in Nicaragua, where Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega is in the best position to regain the presidency he lost in the 1990 election.

“It was the dictator Ortega that we fought against,” Mr. Calero said.

Mr. Ortega, who has lost three presidential elections, could win in November because the anti-Sandinista coalition is divided.

“The Sandinistas are a strong, disciplined party,” Mr. Calero said, adding that they consistently draw 35 percent to 40 percent of the vote.

Mr. Ortega also is the favorite of Venezuela’s anti-American president, Hugo Chavez.

The biggest threat to the Sandinistas is the ruling Liberal Party. Despite the name, it is a conservative, free-market, pro-U.S. party. However, the Liberals, stung by charges of corruption, suffered a critical wound when Eduardo Montealegre, a former foreign minister, bolted from the party to form the Liberal Alliance and run for president. He also is favored by the Bush administration.

Some polls show Mr. Montealegre as the front-runner in the race, but Mr. Calero suspects the surveys are skewed by depending too much on the opinions of urban voters. Mr. Calero, a member of the minor Conservative Party, is trying to warn Washington officials that they risk tilting the election to Mr. Ortega with their open support for Mr. Montealegre.

Mr. Montealegre is on a Washington visit this week. He addressed the Heritage Foundation yesterday and speaks at George Washington University today.

Polo diplomacy

The “sport of kings” becomes the sport of diplomats on Saturday when the U.S. chief of protocol, Donald Ensenat, hosts the annual Ambassadors’ Cup Polo Match in Virginia’s renowned horse country.

“We are looking forward to having the Diplomatic Corps participate in this annual tradition once again,” Mr.Ensenat said. The match was first organized in 1972 by one of his polo-playing predecessors, Marion Smoak.

This year’s match will include celebrity players such as fashion mavens Salvatore Ferragamo and Mathias Guerrand-Hermes. The gates open at noon at Great Meadow in the Plains.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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