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Judgment Day for Helms

August 10, 1986

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), whose ignorance of Latin America has been exceeded only by his attempted influence on U.S. policy there, may at last have met his match: himself.

His strange appetite for Latin American leaders of the fascist stripe has come out in the open, and may be his undoing. Not for Helms the brave democratic leaders like Jose Sarney of Brazil and Raul Alfonsin of Argentina. Rather, the senator's tastes run to thuggish caudillos who rule with bullets, the lash and the electrode. Having at the polls in El Salvador lost Roberto d'Aubuisson to democrat Jose Napoleon Duarte, Helms turned his eyes south, and there found the only two remaining Latin dictators worthy of the name--Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay. The only two true anti-communists in Latin America, cried Helms when he was recently in Chile trying to undercut the recent and rather mild U.S. attempts to push Chile again toward the democracy that it once and for so long enjoyed.

True anti-communism for Helms apparently includes putting the opponents of a dictatorship to agonizing death by fire; rather than objecting to the burning of two young people in Chile, Helms wanted the American ambassador recalled for angrily protesting it.

Helms loathes the State Department nearly as much as he hates what he calls "communists." He has tried to pack its ranks with people of his own proclivities, and has blocked the appointment of accomplished, decent officers.

For too long the Reagan Administration, like the Senate, has temporized with this pornographer of foreign policy. Now he has perhaps at last gone too far. His office is suspected of leaking to the Chilean government intelligence information that the United States gathered on the official Chilean investigation into the burnings. Helms has been recklessly ready to question not only the judgment but also the loyalty of those with whom he disagrees. He invites a judgment against him according to his own standards.

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