While we’re still combatting John Bolton’s nomination as U.S. ambassadro to the UN, we need to start fighting John Negroponte’s nomination as National Intelligence Director.
The day after the House voted to halt all aid to rebels fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras John D. Negroponte urged the president’s national security adviser and the CIA director to hang tough.
The thrust of the envoy’s “back channel” July 1983 message to the men running the contra war against Nicaragua was contained in a single cryptic sentence: “Hondurans believe special project is as important as ever.”
“Special project” was code for the secret arming of contra rebels from bases in Honduras — a cause championed by Negroponte, then a rising diplomatic star. In cables and memos, Negroponte made it clear that he saw the “special project” as key to the Reagan administration’s strategy of rolling back communism in Central America.
As Negroponte prepares for his Senate confirmation hearing today for the new post of director of national intelligence, hundreds of previously secret cables and telegrams have become available that shed new light on the most controversial episode in his four-decade diplomatic career. The documents, drawn from Negroponte’s personal records as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, were released by the State Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Washington Post.
Overall, Negroponte comes across as an exceptionally energetic, action-oriented ambassador whose anti-communist convictions led him to play down human rights abuses in Honduras, the most reliable U.S. ally in the region. There is little in the documents the State Department has released so far to support his assertion that he used “quiet diplomacy” to persuade the Honduran authorities to investigate the most egregious violations, including the mysterious disappearance of dozens of government opponents.
The contrast with his immediate predecessor, Jack R. Binns, who was recalled to Washington in the fall of 1981 to make way for Negroponte, is striking. Before departing, Binns sent several cables to Washington warning of possible “death squad” activity linked to Honduran strongman Gen. Gustavo Alvarez. Negroponte dismissed the talk of death squads and, in an October 1983 cable to Washington, emphasized Alvarez’s “dedication to democracy.”
The cables show that the two men typically met once a week, and sometimes several times a week. Although the Honduran military had ostensibly turned over power to a civilian government headed by President Roberto Suazo, Negroponte and the U.S. Embassy viewed Alvarez as the go-to person on security matters. The ambassador supported an April 1983 request by Alvarez for more weapons for the contra rebels, and he predicted that the size of the contra force “could be doubled in next five months if we provided necessary weapons.”
Negroponte’s support for Alvarez remained unwavering until March 30, 1984, when fellow officers ousted Alvarez from office, accusing him of corruption and authoritarian tendencies.