Ivan's Place
In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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The Home Front

This page is dedicated to the thousands of peace activists in the Los Angeles area who opposed President Reagan's Central America program. They are, of course, only a small percentage of their kindred spirits across the country who fought one of the best of the good fights. It is impossible for me to adequately express my gratitude for all that they gave me — for their inspiration, example, and their compassion for millions of poor and oppressed Central Americans whom they had never even met.

Most of the photos are presented without much comment, and most of that is rather uninspired. I will update the page with new pictures as I find them in my collection. I hope that more than a few of those who are shown in these photos somehow find themselves here, and feel some sense of satisfaction in remembrance of what we tried to do together.

My apologies for not eliminating dust specks and other imprefections in many of the pictures below. I just didn't have the time to fix them all.

Finally, let me express my thanks to Blase Bonpane, Director of the Office of the Americas, for providing many of the details of this period that I had forgotten.

Ortega and Murillo welcomed to Los Angeles October 4, 1984. The office of Mayor Tom Bradley, City of Los Angeles. Sandinista President of Nicaragua, Comandante de la Revolución Daniel Ortega and his wife, poet Rosario Murillo. A Nicaraguan translator stands behind them, looking somewhat skeptical about the whole proceeding.

Ortega and his entourage were in the U.S. to drum up support for his new regime, and to persuade timid Norteamericano legislators that the people of Nicaragua had no intention of laying waste to Harlingen, Texas — so would you please call off the contras? Los Angeles was a hotbed of opposition to President Reagan's program in Nicaragua, and with no little courage, the City Fathers and Mothers decided to reflect the mood of the city by actually welcoming Ortega on this leg of his U.S. tour.

This is one of my most prized photographs. Ortega's schedule that day called for him to speak at a breakfast, and then to be escorted by the Secret Service and the LAPD to welcoming ceremonies at City Hall. The breakfast, to be held at the Mother Church of Los Angeles, and which gave the City its name, Nuestra Señora Reina de Los Angeles (also known as La Placita), was sponsored by the Office of the Americas. The OOA worked closely on the logistics of Ortega's visit, including coordination with the Secret Service. Because I was then a volunteer with the OOA, I would be able to attend the breakfast — what luck!! But, I also worked for the City, downtown, and I had something else in mind as well.

I drove downtown as usual, parked in my normal P4 parking area below City Hall East, took the elevator to the office and filled out a vacation form for at least half the day. (Our department allowed vacation time by the hour.) With my cameras, I then drove to the church. Upon arriving, I was stopped by the Secret Service, but received my own personal secret service security clearance lapel pin when OOA Executive Director Theresa Bonpane vouched for me. (I immediately checked the back of the tiny pin, but there was neither a secret code nor a microphone.)

Just before President Ortega finished his speech, I headed back to my parking spot, and then high-tailed it to old City Hall. There were a lot of photographers, and I followed them right into the Mayor's office. (I did not have a press pass, but I flashed my personal secret service security clearance lapel pin at a somewhat suspicious LAPD officer at the door, and he accepted that as evidence of my bona fides.)

As I recall, City Councilman Robert C. Farrell was acting mayor at the time, and he may also have been responsible for welcoming foreign visitors to Los Angeles. Here, Councilman Farrell, visible at right, has just presented Comandante Ortega with the City Council's official welcoming certificate: "We extend our warmest wishes and hopes that you will visit us again soon."

Well now. In and of itself, that friendly welcome constituted a slap in the face of the Reagan Administration. "Good on the LA City Council," as the great Molly Ivins would have said.

As I left the Mayor's office with the crowd, a Deputy City Engineer with whom I had a passing acquaintance saw me and did a double-take. That was cool.

I lost my personal secret service security clearance lapel pin years ago.

Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo, LA City Councilman Robert C. Farrell Rosario Murillo has apparently just told Counciman Farrell a funny joke.

Emerson Social Action Alliance banner South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles. My best guess is that this large demonstration took place in 1990. The Emerson Social Action Alliance was comprised of members of Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church in Canoga Park, California, which I had joined in 1977. Here, Iris Edinger and Gordon Clint carry the ESAA banner.

All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Not the kind of church that the Reagan Administration liked.

Actor David Clennon, center, in dark glasses and beard, was a tireless anti-intervention worker.

The banner that drives red-blooded patriots up the wall. The gentleman in the beret eyes me suspiciously, probably from long experience with police photographers.

An abbreviation of the last words of El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero, spoken to the members of El Salvador's repressive military apparatus in his homily of March 24, 1980:

"In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression."

These words resulted in Romero's murder by a death squad assassin. A Google search on "Archbishop Romero" will provide many links with further information.

I doubt that the "no murders" placard was intended to refer to Latin American advocates for the poor like Archbishop Romero.

We have reached our destination: the south lawn of Los Angeles Old City Hall. No demonstration is complete without music. The following photos give an idea of the size of the demonstration, and of the wide variety of posters and banners created to express our rage at the Reagan administration.

Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills speaks to the crowd. Now Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Jacobs was another of the Los Angeles area's most effective peace and justice advocates. Still is.

Eddie and Iris Edinger take a break.

Here the young people in the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church Sunday school program ask for participation in some letter-writing that will take place at an RE pot-luck.

I'm sure that this event took place 4-5 years before the next photo was taken.

Among the Emerson youth who also marched in the demonstration are David Sanford, holding the banner on the left, and Laura Clint in the baseball cap. Laura's father Gordon Clint holds the banner at right, and Eddie Edinger takes a nap on the grass. I don't have the names of the other young people.

A demonstration in support of Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees who had fled their countries because their political activity or associations made their assassinations at the hands of death squads a virtual certainty. All of the death squads in these two countries enjoyed the tacit approval of the Reagan administration — and tacit funding from the U.S. largess showered on their repressive military establishments. (This was Republican "trickle down" economics with a vengeance.)

If memory serves, Phil Zwerling, minister of First Unitarian Church in Los Angeles, organized the Los Angeles sector of a nationwide program to host refugees in churches, where church members would stay with them and be witnesses if and when the Immigration and Naturalization Service came to arrest them. I'm not aware of any such arrests or deportations of refugees were made by the INS, which most likely wanted to steer clear of Reagan's unpopular Central America policy. I think that some participating clergy in Arizona were arrested, though.

Here, as usual, we are somewhere near Los Angeles City Hall. Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church in Canoga Park provided sanctuary, and fellow EUUC member Chuck Moore (center front, blue shirt) speaks for all of us. Sister JoAnne d'Quattro walks to Chuck's left.

The Federal Building, North Los Angeles Street. Site of many anti-intervention demonstrations. Date unknown, but almost certainly during the sanctuary movement. I'm pretty sure that this demonstration was organized by the Southern California Interfaith Taskforce on Central America. SCITCA was a very active anti-intervention group made up of a consortium of Los Angeles area churches. I believe it held its 'disbandment' dinner sometime in 1993.

Looking north. I believe that the man standing right center, in the white shirt with the black armband is my good friend Mike Emery, with whom I shared rice and beans since 1974, when we worked in support of the United Farm Workers Union; then later on the International March for Peace in Central America. Mike was Chair of the Journalism Department at Cal State Northridge. He died of cancer in 1995.

The woman reading the red pamphlet, center is Sister JoAnne d'Quattro.

Looking south. City Hall East, in the background, is where I worked from 1979 to 1997. Every day I drove in and out of the parking entrance visible center.

Standing in the center left background, wearing a white necklace, is Mary Brent Wehrli, then SCITCA'S director, I think. Mary Brent became notorious for infiltrating a Los Angeles area campaign dinner for Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush, whose most fervent dream was to be president. At an appropriate time in the ceremonies, Mary Brent rose at her table and addressed him as a fellow Episcopalian: would he do everything he could to end the bloodshed in Central America by withdrawing support for the contras and for the repressive regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala?

Needless to say, this question was not a welcome one, particularly for a one-time Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Secret Service immediately pounced on Mary Brent. While the burly fellows guarding the Vice President's person did not exactly wrestle her to the ground, as they had so often defeated various miscreant objects on Saturday Night Live spoofs of President Ford's mishaps, they did manage to pull her blouse open, thus revealing a bare shoulder and a substantial streak of brassiere. All recorded by a quick-thinking Los Angeles Times photographer.

Blase Bonpane stands at the center of the picture in the gray suit. The man at center right, in the white short-sleeved shirt with the black armband, is Ricardo, from El Salvador. My church, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church in Canoga Park, was a sanctuary church, and hosted Ricardo and his family.

SCITCA's Freddie Schroeder speaks. I do not have the name of the woman behind her, who I am sure is a refugee from El Salvador.

Sister Patricia Krommer speaks, as Father Luis Olivares waits his turn. Father Olivares was the Pastor of La Placita (Mother Church of Los Angeles, Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles).

Like his "radical" counterparts in Latin America, Father Olivares was a strong voice for the poor. He invited the homeless to sleep in the church; as seen here, he attended the numerous demonstrations in Los Angeles; and he generally made a nuisance of himself with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. And, in parallel with the tension that existed between Rome and the progressive Latin American clergy, there was serious tension between Father Olivares and then Archbishop, now Cardinal, Roger Mahoney. Father Olivares died in 1993.

Blase Bonpane, Director of the Office of the Americas. Blase is as active as ever, now in opposition to the Iraq War.

No demonstration is complete without music. I don't have names to put with the very familiar faces of these two women.

Fall, 1986. Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church member Carroll Trumbull, and UUSC staffer Fiona Knox in front of the Federal Building, downtown Los Angeles. I doubt that here they were part of the large demonstration of November 1, as shown in the following photos.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has a long and honorable history in the struggle for human rights and social justice. The Southern California Chapter was a joy to work with.

1986 was an important year for the anti-intervention movement, and the demonstration shown in the next bloc of pictures was perhaps the most important ever to take place in the Los Angeles area. Quotes and details in the prefatory comments that follow are from various Los Angeles Times (LAT) articles that I still have in my files.

In June 1985, Congress had approved $27 million in "humanitarian" aid to the contras, but also forbade the CIA from any role in distributing it. The CIA was allowed to provide the contras with "humanitarian" intelligence on Sandinista troop strength and movements, however. The House also "rejected, 254 to 174, a Democratic alternative by Reps. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) that would have provided $14 million in aid to Nicaraguan refugees rather than the contras." (House Approves Funds for Contras Aid Bill Passes Easily in Major Reagan Victory, June 13, 1985.)

1986 began with a 253-182 Democratic majority in the House of Representatives,and a 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate. Early in the year, president Reagan asked Congress for $100 million in economic and military aid to the atrocity-prone Nicaraguan contras, whom he had famously referred to as the "moral equivalents of America's founding fathers." In spite of this pedigree, Congress had prohibited military aid to the contras since 1984, when it was learned that the CIA had mined Nicaragua's harbors and sent its hired operatives into battle — without informing Congress. (One naturally suspects, but cannot prove, that had the CIA been more forthcoming, and informed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of its plan to blow up the ships of nations doing business with Nicaragua — several European nations included — the lawmakers would have said "ok.")

Reagan sensed that by stepping up the rhetoric casting opponents of aid as communist sympathizers, he could eventually bend them to his will. Still, in early 1986, Reagan's shrill tone had offended moderate Republicans such as Senator Nancy Kassenbaum (R-Kan), who found the President's "simplistic reasoning highly offensive." Kassenbaum also said that she and two other moderate Republican Senators "could not support the bill in its present form." (Reagan Under Fire for Partisan Line on Contras; LAT, March 7, 1986.)

But, unlike the other two Senators, Kassenbaum succumbed to the Magic Salesman's charms just three weeks later, when she voted with the 53-47 majority to approve Reagan's $100 million contra aid request. 11 Democrats, all but two from southern states, voted for the aid, and 11 Republicans, all from northern states, voted against the aid. The Democratic-controlled House barely rejected the request a week earlier. (Senate Approves $100-million Aid Plan for Contras; LAT, March 28, 1986.)

I refer to Reagan as the "Magic Salesman" advisedly. He was a master at pushing the American people's fear buttons, and his avuncular manner reassured them that he was the only person standing between them and annihilation. Democratic lawmakers understood this magical power, and thus were always on the verge of caving. As Republican Rep. Guy Vander Jagt put it: "Democrats live in holy terror that the President will go on the tube and lambaste them for a vote. They live in fear of his communicative ability."

On the other hand, straight-out, old-fashioned bribery also works: "If you want a bridge in your district, if you want the Secretary of Agriculture to appear in your district, it's yours," [Rep. Michael Barnes (D-Md.)] said. "Anything you want from this administration ... now's the time to get it." (Democrats Swinging Over to Reagan's Contras Stand; LAT, April 15, 1986.)

And it all worked; on June 25, three months after Senate approval, the House caved and gave Reagan the $100 million he wanted. The vote was 221-209, with 51 Democrats voting with the majority and 11 Republicans opposing the aid package. California lawmakers voted along strict party lines.

Opponents of military aid tried, with and without success, to impose restrictions on the aid: the House passed an amendment to the bill "prohibiting U.S. government personnel — including military trainers — in neighboring countries from venturing within 20 miles of the Nicaraguan border." This because lawmakers feared the kind of slippery slope that led to the Vietnam debacle. And, because the contras had been accused of misappropriating their previous funds, an amendment was offered   and defeated   requiring an accounting of past allocations before the $100 million would be released. (Arms Aid for Contras Wins House Approval; LAT, June 26, 1986.)

The World Court agreed with the grass-roots opposition to Reagan's policies. On June 27, the International Court of Justice ruled that Reagan had broken international law, and called upon the administration to cease its support for the contras and also to compensate Nicaragua for the damage that the contras had inflicted. Among its 16 findings, the court ruled against the U.S. assertion that support for the contras was necessary for the "collective defense" of the hemisphere. The single U.S. judge on the court dissented on 12 of the 16 findings. Reagan thumbed his nose at the court, of course. (World Court Rules U.S. Aid to Contras Is Illegal; LAT, June 28, 1986.)

On August 13, after reconciling with the House version of the aid package, the Senate gave its approval. Because the contras had been accused of drug trafficking and human rights abuses, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) offered an amendment prohibiting all CIA involvement in the war. '"I think it's an impossible situation" Leahy said. "Don't send them down into a sordid little war where they get tarnished with everybody else."' Leahy's amendment was defeated, paving the way for open and, except inside Nicaragua itself, unhindered CIA-contra collaboration. (I suggest that what to Leahy would be "tarnish," the CIA spooks would call "luster.") (Contras Aid Gets Senate Approval; LAT, August 14, 1986.)

Then, on October 5th, a Sandinista soldier shot down a contra supply plane using a Soviet-made shoulder-fired rocket and things really got interesting. The pilot, William Cooper; co-pilot, Wallace Sawyer, both Americans; and Nicaraguan radio operator Freddy Vilches all died in the crash. Eugene Hasenfus, an out-of-work-steelworker from Marinette, Wisconsin, was the "kicker," whose job it is to kick the supplies from the plane's open cargo door. Apparently, Hasenfus was not as sure as were Sawyer and Cooper that they were invulnerable to harm in this illegal contra supply operation; he jumped to safety using a parachute he had borrowed from his brother several weeks earlier. He was captured the next day.

Hasenfus was described by his aunt as "a good, jolly person and helpful in anyway he could be." "He has ... the greatest smile you would ever want to see," she added. (Downed Plane Not Ours, Shultz Says; Survivor an Ex-Marine and Sky diver; LAT, October 8, 1986.)

But, the Eugene Hasenfus shown being led into captivity by two Sandinista soldiers did not look particularly jolly. "... a [Nicaraguan] radio announcer, unable to hide his enthusiasm, described the captured man as 'tall, blond and strong, just like one always imagined a pure gringo would be.'" On October 11, Mike Wallace interviewed Hasenfus in his cell for the CBS program 60 Minutes. (Hasenfus: Nothing But the Fact, Envío Digital; Number 65, November 1986.)

News coverage for the next three weeks focused on whether the Sandinistas would put Hasenfus on trial; extensive analyses of the evidence found at the scene; Hasenfus's own statements; and what would be his punishment if he were tried and found guilty. The administration denied any connection with the operation, saying it was a civilian effort to keep the contras alive until congress approved funding for them. But, the operation had all the earmarks of CIA operation hidden beneath thick layers of civilian camoflauge.

On October 29, the Sandinista prosecutor formally charged Hasenfus with terrorism, violation of the law on public order and security, and illicit association for criminal purposes. If found guilty by the revolutionary tribunal, he could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. (Nicaragua Prosecutor Opens Case Against American; LAT, October 30, 1986.)

This was the overall situation on November 1, 1986, when some 5000-8000 peace activists walked through downtown Los Angeles to protest President Reagan's war. (Thousands Protest U.S. Support of the Contras; LAT, November 2, 1986.)

More details below.

A counter demonstration. My best guess is that the rather few members of this group were either Cubans or anti-Sandinista Nicaraguans.

Wallace Sawyer was the pilot who ferried supplies to the contras. On October 5th, just a few weeks before this demonstration, he was killed when his plane was shot down by a Sandinista soldier with a shoulder-fired missle launcher. Sawyer was alleged to have been involved in CIA "wink-and-nod" drug trafficking, long an important weapon in the battle against evil socialist types.

It is true that the Sandinistas did not have a perfect human rights record. It is also true that those who seek to equate the Sandinistas' human rights record with those of the Soviet Union, East Germany, or any of the U.S. Latin American client states — El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua under the Somoza dynasty to name three — fail the first test of intelligence: the ability to distinguish between dissimilars.

SCITCA staffer Pat Reif (red shirt); Rev. James Lawson, mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King; Office of the Americas Director Blase Bonpane (carrying banner, left); and Vietnam veteran Dr. Charlie Clements (holding banner, right) lead the march to City Hall. I do not have the names of the two demonstrators to Pat's right; they were undoubtedly leaders of the anti-intervention movement as well.

Pat was a member of the Immaculate Heart Community, originally a group of nuns who took seriously their obligation to work for social justice, " much to the dismay of L.A.’s [then] archbishop, Cardinal McIntyre." Pat died of pancreatic cancer in the mid-90s, I think. That hurt a lot.

In his book Witness to War, Clements tells the story of his transformation from unquestioning patriot to questioning patriot to active opponent of U.S. policy in Central America. After being released from 6 months in an Air Force psychiatric ward for refusing to fly more missions in Vietnam, Clements became a medical doctor. Soon after beginning his practice, he noticed that many of his Salinas-area patients were Salvadorans with fresh white phosporous wounds, and he was compelled by conscience to go to the guerrilla-held region of the Guazapa Volcano in El Salvador to learn first-hand about the repression suffered by the poor there at the hands of the U.S.-funded Salvadoran Army — once referred to as a "deranged killing machine." An Academy Award-winning documentary film, also titled Witness to War, was made of his experiences there.

Dr. Clements is currently President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Several marchers smile for the camera, including Bonnie Norwood and Jane Moore to the left of the ESAA banner.

This demonstrator was my favorite. I hope he sees himself here someday.

Jack Byrom and Chuck Moore carry the Emerson Social Action Alliance banner.

Emerson UU Church members Jane Moore, Bess Byrom, and Bonnie Norwood walk behind the ESAA banner.

These Christian counter-demonstrators seem to be a different group than those shown above. I appreciate the overt identification of liberalism with sin. Most right-wing Christians will not say to a liberal's face that he or she is thereby a sinner, but these guys are honest to a fault.

Contra Commandante "Fernando" would have agreed with them; he was a theology student at an evengelical Protestant Institute before he decided to kill in the name of the Prince of Peace. I assume that the boyish-faced "Fernando" killed with the same "shy smile" that captivated a Los Angeles Times reporter in Tegucigalpa, and which probably won the hearts of the lawmakers in Washington who voted for the $100 million aid package a few days earlier. (Contras Keep Low Profile, Stage Surprise Raids While Awaiting U.S. Aid, LAT, June 27, 1986.)

Reverend James Lawson, Blase Bonpane, and Charlie Clements have been joined by Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor winner Charles Liteky (blue sweatshirt). Two weeks earlier, Liteky and three other veterans ended their Veterans Fast for Life for Peace In Central America. For 47 days they fasted on the Capital steps in Washington, D.C. in protest of President Reagan's murderous Central America policy.

Charlie Clements wears a "No Rambo" t-shirt. "We're outside the community of civilized nations, Clements said. "What kind of democracy are we building around the globe by dismembering people and communities?" Clements and others criticized the "pro-war 'Rambo' mentality, which they said was being popularized in the United States by President Reagan, actor Sylvester Stallone and others." Singer-songwriter and Vietnam veteran Country Joe McDonald provided some of the musical entertainment. He had a colorful take on the Rambo image, and Stallone's self-promotion as a spokesman for Vietnam veterans: "We say bull---- to Rambo," McDonald said. "We vets speak for ourselves." (Thousands Protest U.S. Support of the Contras; LAT, November 2, 1986.) (Country Joe McDonald is still in the peace game. Visit his great website. B.B.)

The demonstration passes the imposing Los Angeles Times building as it turns north on First Street to our destination: the south lawn of old City Hall.

We listen to City Councilman Robert C. Farrell speak in opposition to Reagan's policies. According to the Los Angeles Times, the rally lasted 3 hours. (Thousands Protest U.S. Support of the Contras; LAT, November 2, 1986.)

The last picture in my collection for this demonstration shows the full Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church contingent. Standing by the tree in the center are Bonnie Norwood, John Peterson, and Bess and Jack Byrom. Standing in the foreground are Chuck and Jane Moore, talking with two unidentified demonstrators wearing the t-shirt of La Marcha Por La Paz En Centro America.

On the day of the demonstration, Eugene Hasenfus sat through his fourth day before the Popular Anti-Somocista Tribunal, which was trying him for terrorism and other crimes. Two days later, American lawyer Griffin Bell, who had come to advise Hasenfus's Nicaraguan defense attorney but was not allowed to meet with Hasenfus himself, said that the defense team would ask the court for mercy, suggesting that Hasenfus had committed no crime worse than needing a job. (Hasenfus Will Ask Mercy of Court, Bell Says; LAT, November 4, 1986.)

On November 15th, Hasenfus was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 30 years in prison. His wife Sally pleaded with the court for a pardon. 76-year-old Sofia Hernandez thought that Hasenfus should serve his sentence: "He violated the law. If a Nicaraguan fell into the hands of the contras, they would cut off his head. He is well fed." "In my opinion, they should send him to a work farm," said teacher Gloria Ortega. "The worst punishment we could give him is to put him to work for the revolution." (Hasenfus Receives 30-Year Sentence; LAT, November 16, 1986.)

On November 3, two days after the demonstration, the first report on what became the Iran-Contra scandal appeared in the Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa.

The next day, in the November 4th mid-term election, the Democrats recaptured control of the Senate from the Republicans with a 55-45 majority. The Democrats also strenghtened their majority in the House by 5 votes.

Contra aid continued with only minor hindrance until February 1990, when the Nicaraguan people finally cried "uncle" and elected Washington's preferred candidate, Violetta Barrios de Chamorro, to the Nicarguan presidency.

The extreme right wing never gave up, and finally prevailed, both in Nicaragua and on a global scale. Several of the key players in the Iran-Contra scandal were quickly installed as key players in the first George W. Bush administration, where they remain today.

The words of Ed Griffin-Nolan, then a coordinator for the anti-intervention/investigative group Witness for Peace are as relevant today as they were at the close of 1986: "A corrupt foreign policy once again threatens to corrupt our system of government at home. Once again we are learning the simple lesson that who we are abroad reflects and shapes who we are at home." (Corrupt Abroad, Corrupt at Home; LAT, December 23, 1986.)

The past is never dead. It's not even past.
— William Faulkner —


On December 17th, 1986, at the request of Nicarguan president Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan Assembly overwhelmingly approved a pardon for Eugene Hasenfus as a birthday gift to his son Adam, who turned 7 the next day. "Let this be a reminder to President Reagan that there are children here who must have birthdays without the threat of death and mutilation," Ortega said. (Hasenfus Freed, May Testify on Aid to Contras; LAT, November 18, 1986.)

In fact, most savvy observers both in and out of Nicaragua expected the crafty Sandinistas to pardon Hasenfus. One Sandinista soldier guessed wrong though: "When he's released he will write a book, won't he? He'll be famous, and he'll probably make a lot of money." (Political Theater of Hasenfus Trial Fills the Bill Until Soviet Circus Comes to Town; LAT, October 2, 1986.)

An Amazon search turns up many references to Hasenfus, but no book written by him.

Instead, Hasenfus fell on hard times. He sued the government for $800,000 in compensation for injuries purportedly suffered when his plane was shot down. The Clinton administration rejected his claim in 1996. In 1998, his wife filed for divorce, which was granted in 2000. On November 2, 2000, he was sentenced to one year on probation for indecently exposing himself in a Kmart parking lot. But here his experience in Nicaragua came in handy. By "laying [him]self on the mercy of this court," Hasenfus avoided a 60-day stretch in the pokey. (Hasenfus is sentenced for exposing himself; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 3, 2000.)

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