WASHINGTON — Nicaraguan rebels operating in northern Costa Rica have engaged in cocaine trafficking, in part to help finance their war against Nicaragua's leftist government, according to U.S. investigators and American volunteers who work with the rebels.
The smuggling operations include refueling planes at clandestine airstrips and helping transport cocaine to other Costa Rican points for shipment to the United States, said U.S. law enforcement officials and the volunteers.
These sources, who refused to be identified by name, said the smuggling involves individuals from the largest of the U.S.-backed groups of guerrillas known as contras-- the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) and the Revolutionary Democratic Alliance (ARDE)--as well as a splinter group known as M-3.
A leader of M-3, Sebastian Gonzalez Mendiola, was indicted in Costa Rica for cocaine trafficking a year ago. No other contra leaders have been charged.
CIA Analysis on Cocaine
A new secret CIA-prepared analysis on narcotics trafficking alleges that one of the top commanders of the Revolutionary Democratic Alliance loyal to leader Eden Pastora used cocaine profits this year to buy a $250,000 arms shipment and a helicopter, according to a U.S. government official in Washington.
Nicaraguan Democratic Force spokesman Bosco Matamoros and Levy Sanchez, a Miami-based spokesman for Pastora, denied that their groups participated in drug smuggling.
Cornelius J. Dougherty, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said DEA headquarters in Washington is aware that drug traffickers use airstrips in northern Costa Rica to transship cocaine, but has not examined the political affiliations of those involved.
Dougherty said the agency focuses its Latin American enforcement efforts on the cocaine-producing nations of South America, rather than on countries, such as Costa Rica, that are used in shipping the drugs to the United States.
Reagan Accused Managua
Earlier this year, President Reagan accused the leftist government of Nicaragua of "exporting drugs to poison our youth" after a Nicaraguan government employee, Federico Vaughan, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami. But Dougherty said DEA investigators are still not sure if Sandinista leaders were involved.
Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), a House Foreign Affairs Committee member, called on the Administration on Friday to investigate the allegations about the contras "with the same vigor that they would devote to charges of left-wing drug trafficking.
"After all, the victims of narcotics smuggling are not able to differentiate between left-wing and right-wing cocaine," the congressman said.
Responding to the report, State Department deputy spokesman Charles Redman said the United States "actively opposes drug trafficking" and that the Drug Enforcement Administration is not conducting any investigation of the charges.
"We are not aware of any evidence to support those charges," Redman added.
The U.S.-backed rebels, fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, operate from base camps in Honduras to Nicaragua's north and from Costa Rica, to its south. Leaders of the contras claim a combined force of 20,000 men, although some U.S. officials say the real number is much lower. The Costa Rica-based rebel groups are smaller and more poorly financed than those in Honduras.
U.S. Officials Interviewed
Associated Press reporters interviewed officials from the DEA, Customs Service, FBI and Costa Rica's Public Security Ministry, as well as rebels and Americans who work with them. The sources, both inside government and out, spoke only on condition that they not be identified by name.
Five American supporters of the rebels said they were willing to talk about the drug smuggling because they fear that the trafficking would ultimately discredit the war effort.
The five--including four who trained rebels in Costa Rican base camps--said they discovered the involvement of contras in smuggling early this year, after Cuban-Americans were recruited to help the Honduran-based Nicaraguan Democratic Force open a Costa Rican front.
These Americans said two Cuban-Americans used armed rebel troops to guard cocaine at clandestine airfields in northern Costa Rica. They identified the Cuban-Americans as members of the 2506 Brigade, an anti-Castro group that participated in the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba. Several also said they supplied information about the smuggling to U.S. investigators.
One American backer of the guerrillas with close ties to the Cuban-American smugglers said that in one ongoing operation, the cocaine is unloaded from planes at rebel airstrips and taken to an Atlantic Coast port where it is concealed on shrimp boats that are later unloaded in the Miami area.