WASHINGTON — The widow of CIA Director William J. Casey handed a wounded Contra commander $140,000 today to help rehabilitate his wounded rebel comrades, saying the money started coming in "the day Bill Casey died."
Sophia Casey, accompanied by Under Secretary of Defense Fred Ikle, and her daughter, Bernadette, handed the check to Jose Talavera, 27, a Contra commander wounded while fighting to overthrow Nicaragua's Marxist Sandinista government.
Donations to the William J. Casey Fund for Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters came from Americans throughout the country, she said in the ceremony at the National Press Club.
"This fund was started the day Bill Casey died," she said. "This fund represents the sympathy that the American people have for the cause of the Contras."
Talavera, supporting himself on crutches, thanked "our brothers in the United States" for their support against Nicaragua's Marxist regime that he said "fooled an entire people" when it overthrew dictator Anastasio Somosa in 1979.
William Casey, who died last May 6, played a controversial role in the clandestine U.S. sale of arms to Iran and the subsequent diversion of the profits to the Contras, a cause important to him.
"The struggle is not over, the struggle is not lost," said Ikle, calling the late CIA chief a "noble American patriot who will be remembered as one of the great heroes of this time, this era."
Leonardo Somarriba, a Nicaraguan organizer of the rehabilitation center, said the money will go toward "creating a facility to provide technical training and rehabilitation to those wounded in the fight."
He said the center, to be located somewhere in Central America, aims to reintegrate disabled Contra soldiers into Nicaraguan society--"if the peace plan (of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias) works."