A new group supporting anti-Communist "freedom fighters" from Afghanistan to Nicaragua attracted more than 2,000 supporters and a letter of encouragement from President Reagan Sunday at a rally in Fountain Valley.
A much smaller group assembled at the opposite side of Fountain Valley's Mile Square Park to protest the rally, insisting that many of the so-called freedom fighters are actually terrorists supported by the U.S. government. There were no violent confrontations, although two placard-carrying protesters who made the trip across the park were escorted by police from the rally to the crowd's jeers of "communists!"
The "Americans for Freedom Fighters" rally, organized in part by Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), featured patriotic speeches by conservative politicians, interspersed with ethnic music.
Letter From Reagan
It took place at the very spot where last September President Reagan launched his reelection campaign.
Dornan read a letter to the crowd from Reagan, which thanked them "for sharing this vision with all Americans." The United States, Reagan's letter said, is "a country that owes its way of life to . . . a group of freedom fighters who fought over 200 years ago."
Though most in the crowd were Vietnamese and other Southeast Asians, Dornan pulled a fistful of checks from his pocket, saying that hundreds of dollars had been contributed to aid the Contras, the Nicaragua insurgent group supported by the Reagan Administration.
But noticing that virtually all the checks were made payable to Ronald Reagan, Dornan said he would have to return them and request that they be filled out differently. Dornan said he also must determine the legality of the Americans for Freedom Fighters group accepting such contributions.
About 200 protesters organized by the "Orange County Coalition for Peace and Justice," an umbrella group of anti-war, anti-nuclear and church and women's organizations, offered an alternative to the "freedom fighters" rally.
"We want to get peoples' attention that there is some American (sentiment) against American intervention in Nicaragua," said Jacqueline Flores, 27, a U.S. citizen born of Nicaraguan parents. Flores lived in that country for five years, until 1984.
Sister Patricia Krommer, a member of the Witness for Peace, said that on a recent visit to Nicaragua she saw a school, clinic and houses that had been destroyed by Contras, the anti-government insurgents.
"World opinion is not in our favor," she said. "What we are doing in Central America is viewed as terrorism by the world community."
Bismarck Jaime, 39, a Nicaraguan living in Los Angeles, said: "We want that aggression stopped right now. We want the American people to stop their aggression through the Contras."
But Dornan discounted the protesters' allegations, telling people at the Freedom Fighters' rally to read protesters' literature "if you want a good laugh. It's all lies."
Dornan called the protesters "revolutionary tourists," whose opinions are formed after taking tours of Nicaragua arranged by the Sandinistan government.
In his experience, including two trips to Nicaragua, Dornan said, he has found only one documented case of brutality by a Contra officer. The officer, he said, was summarily executed as a result.
Representatives of numerous insurgent organizations, ranging from Vietnamese to Afghans, applauded Dornan and other speakers, including Orange County Republican Party Chairman Tom Fuentes. Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) was on hand circulating petitions for the ouster of Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) from the state Legislature because of Hayden's anti-war activity during the Vietnam War.
Much of the emphasis Sunday, however, concerned Central America.
Representatives of both Contra groups in Nicaragua--the Nicaraguan Democratic Alliance and the Nicaraguan Democratic Force--denied that their anti-government forces have operated as terrorists.
To the contrary, according to Adolfo J. Lopez of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, atrocities by the Sandinistan government have converted private homes into prisons.
"They don't want the International Red Cross to find out where they have the prisoners," Lopez said.
Luciano A. Cuarda, West Coast representative of the Nicaraguan Democratic Alliance, said the Sandinistans "didn't call us terrorists when we were fighting against (former Nicaraguan President Anastasio) Somoza. . . .
"We were fighting against a right-wing dictatorship, and today we're fighting against a left-wing dictatorship."
Cuarda and Lopez agreed that the new "Americans for Freedom Fighters" organization will enable their groups to make their positions known to the U.S. public as well as make contact with other "freedom fighter" groups from around the world.