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U.S.-Backed Insurgents on Capitol Hill : Rebel Lobby Becomes New Growth Industry


September 02, 1986|DOYLE McMANUS and SARA FRITZ | Times Staff Writers

--Afghanistan's rebels, who are fighting the Soviet army itself, do not need any help in winning a majority in Congress. "There's no real opposition, so there's not much need for lobbying," said Henry Kriegel, executive director of the Committee for a Free Afghanistan, a group of U.S. supporters. But the Afghan lobby has successfully prompted congressional inquiries into whether the CIA is providing enough aid to the rebels and giving them all the sophisticated weapons that they want.

--The Nicaraguan, Angolan and Afghan groups have even endorsed the idea of U.S. aid to other insurgent movements--in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Laos and Vietnam--in appearances at a series of "contra summits," including one at Savimbi's headquarters deep in the African bush. But several attempts to organize a joint lobbying operation for all the insurgencies have foundered, apparently because their interests are still as different as the countries from which they come.

To be sure, the Rebel Lobby has not been an unqualified success. Savimbi, for example, had hoped to win a congressional resolution of support during his visit, but that effort stalled. And the Afghan rebels, bitterly divided into seven factions, have been unable to agree on a joint representative; three of the guerrilla bands are planning to open their own Washington offices.

Nor have all rebel groups represented in Washington received U.S. assistance. Despite considerable prodding from conservatives, the Administration has so far refused to add the rebels fighting Marxist President Samora Machel's government in Mozambique to its list of those receiving U.S. aid.

And the Nicaraguan contras, for all the support that Reagan has given them, are only now beginning to recover from a major setback suffered more than two years ago when Congress cut off their military aid. Their image in Washington has been severely hurt by reported CIA abuses, as well as by allegations that they have been involved in drug trafficking and misappropriation of U.S. funds.

Efforts Questioned

Some in Congress even question whether Calero's dogged efforts have actually won over any undecided votes for the Nicaraguan rebels.

"I guess you could say they didn't hurt," a key swing voter, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), said cautiously. "But it wasn't the main thing. The main thing was the trips that several members made to the area."

Calero acknowledges that much of his work has gone to damage control--convincing skeptical members of Congress that he takes complaints about human rights and other U.S. concerns seriously.

"I'm here to answer questions . . . and to show that we aren't killing babies," he said with a grin.

Calero's Washington operation has itself come under fire from some State Department officials, who complain that he has used it to bolster his own political position at the expense of other, more liberal contra leaders.

Administration officials recently pressured him to put his representative in Washington, a former Nicaraguan diplomat named Bosco Matamoros, under the supervision of the broader contra coalition. Matamoros moved to the coalition's office, but officials say he still works as Calero's personal lobbyist.

No-Charge Lobbying

Calero is quite pleased that Stone's firm is also at his side. Stone says that, for now, he and his wife are not charging the contras a dime, except for the expenses of the direct-mail operation.

"I'm not doing this because I'm looking for a client," Stone said. "I'm doing it because I believe in it."

Asked if he would ever hire Stone's firm, Calero said, "I don't mind if Roger Stone gets some business out of this one day."

In the war of the lobbyists, Savimbi has won the most sophisticated victory to date.

Last year, Angola's Marxist government hired one of Washington's largest lobbying firms, Gray & Co., to represent its interests. It was a clever, if surprising, choice: The firm, headed by former Dwight D. Eisenhower aide Robert Keith Gray and former George Bush aide Daniel Murphy, boasts an imposing and very capitalist list of corporate and foreign clients.

Then Savimbi's supporters in the GOP went to work, organizing a wave of discreet complaints to Gray, comments to his other clients and, eventually, a picket line outside his building.

A few months ago, Gray quietly pulled out of its contract with Angola.

'All These Angolans'

"They were coming into my office with all these Angolans," Hamilton, the Indiana congressman, recalled. "They wanted me to meet this Angolan leader and that Angolan leader. They invited me to Angola. . . . Then I got a call from some of my friends at Gray & Co. who said, 'We have reassessed the situation,' that they decided that they had been leading me astray and Mr. Savimbi was really a very marvelous man.

"I did a little checking on it," Hamilton said. "The White House just called Bob Gray up and said, 'Get out of this thing.' I don't know what level at the White House did it.

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