In response to:

Has Arias Made a Difference? from the March 17, 1988 issue

To the Editors:

Some weeks ago in “Has Arias Made a Difference?” [NYR, March 17], Aryeh Neier characterized the National Forum Foundation and unnamed representatives of the organization as “propagandists for the contras.” In a subsequent NYR issue [Letters, April 28], responding to a letter from Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Neier explained that the unnamed “propagandists” was Gary Moore (Neier only named one), who has traveled to and reported on Nicaragua on behalf of the National Forum Foundation.

If he were aware of this contemptible smear, Mr. Moore would respond himself. He cannot because he has been in the wilderness of Central America for several months now, traveling well beyond the reach of The New York Review.

On December 11, 1987, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Moore, “The Agony of Southeast Nicaragua: Too Long Overlooked.” In it Moore observed that a broad pattern of Sandinista human rights atrocities in southeastern Nicaragua was going unobserved by reporters and human rights activists. Moore, who had traveled throughout this region on horse and mule-back for eight weeks, videotaped over 100 peasants. These interviews convinced him that the Sandinistas were waging a campaign of terror against the civilians under cover of the wilderness.

In his article, Mr. Moore complained that human rights investigators had not been adequately zealous about venturing off Nicaragua’s beaten track where this terror campaign was being waged. To illustrate the point, Moore reported a conversation with an Americas Watch investigator-activist who said that they stayed clear of this particular region because this zone was “restricted” by the Sandinistas.

Moore pointed out that this claim was false. He had just spent eight weeks in this “restricted” area. Moore added that if in fact this area was “restricted” and impenetrable, then Americas Watch was misleading their readers by leaving the distinct impression that its investigators were blanketing the countryside.

Neier, who is a founder of Americas Watch and serves as its Vice Chairman, apparently took offense at Moore’s comments, and being unable to attack him or NFF on the facts, contented himself with the “propagandist” cheap shot.

Moore is a journalist who covered Central America for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Miami Herald for several years. In 1979 he walked from the southern border of Mexico to the Panama Canal, spending much of the time living among Nicaraguan peasants. Since then he has revisited Nicaragua regularly. Like so many, Moore was sympathetic to the revolution for several years until its totalitarian aspirations became clear to those not blinded by ideological bias, who cared to look beyond the surface.

The National Forum Foundation was also casually lumped into the “propagandists for the contras” category by Neier. This is malicious libel and shows an appalling disregard for truth. Contrary to Neier’s slander, the NFF has sponsored or funded numerous bipartisan projects dealing with US-Nicaraguan relations. For example, the foundation has sponsored several fact-finding trips to Nicaragua and Honduras that have been scrupulously balanced. Participants have included foreign policy staff advisers to Senators Bingaman (D/NM), Denton (R/AL), and Kennedy (D/MA), as well as those of Congressmen Bereuter (R/NE), Boehlert (R/NY), Campbell (D/CO), Chandler (R/WA), Hubbard (D/KY), Lancaster (D/NC), Lloyd (D/TN), Ridge (R/PA), and Tallon (D/SC). On one trip we were accompanied by Rolling Stone magazine’s foreign affairs correspondent. These are not the kind of people one would expect to associate with propagandists.

Consider also that Sandinistas have consistently welcomed these NFF-sponsored delegations and apparently view them as an important means to present their case to the US Congress and the American public. Indeed, high-ranking Sandinista officials and sympathizers have met each NFF delegation. Those have included prominent Sandinistas Alejandro Bendana, Kay Stubbs and William Vigil of the Foreign Ministry; Major Adolfo Chamorro of the Defense Ministry; Ray Hooker of the National Assembly; and Sister Mary Hartman of the government-sponsored human rights group.

These same delegations have met with government critics from the civic and democratic opposition in Nicaragua including Violetta Chamorro of La Prensa; Lino Hernandez of Nicaragua’s independent human rights commission; representatives of the Catholic Church and the so-called Mothers’ Movement. The delegations have also traveled to Honduras, where they visited some of the 300,000 Nicaraguan refugees who have fled the Sandinista regime. And, lastly the delegations have questioned members of the armed resistance, including Colonel Enrique Bermudez.

With all of this information about Mr. Moore and the NFF readily available to any researcher or journalist, one wonders what sort of inquiry a trained attorney such as Neier conducted before making this obnoxious accusation. I was stunned when he told me the disturbing answer, which is especially disturbing because he represents himself as a responsible leader in the human rights community. He said he made no inquiry whatsoever outside his own partisan staff. None. Had he bothered to verify this self-serving and malicious characterization, which he arrogantly represented as fact, he would have quickly discovered that his case was groundless.

The National Forum Foundation is a nonprofit, research and education public policy organization, which relies exclusively on the good will of private donors for its financial support. The false and defamatory statements written by Neier and published by your magazine jeopardize that good will and support. Furthermore, Neier’s utterly transparent misrepresentation of the facts undermines Mr. Moore and this institution’s ability to perform its work effectively within the public policy community.

As first step towards redressing these damages caused by your publication of Mr. Neier’s remarks, we insist that Mr. Neier and The New York Review publish a prominently positioned, thorough and unambiguous retraction and apology, as well as this letter in its entirety.

P.S. Please contact me prior to your publication of a retraction and apology so that we may have input concerning its contents.

James S. Denton

President, National Forum Foundation

Washington, DC

May 4, 1988

Aryeh Neier replies:

In responding to Mr. Denton, I want to comment first on the National Forum Foundation and then on Gary Moore.

Mr. Denton says that it is “malicious libel” to suggest that the National Forum Foundation is a propagandist for the contras. Yet this organization surfaced first in a March 1985 press conference conducted by former Senator Jeremiah Denton of Alabama, the founder of the National Forum Foundation and the father of James Denton. The participants in the press conference were Nicaraguans who said they had been victimized by human rights abuses. One of the participants, a contra commander, told the journalists present that he saw a Soviet-made Mi24 assault helicopter used by Sandinista troops that sprayed poison gas in a Miskito community. It was the first and last time I heard of the poison gas allegation. The Associated Press’s account of the press conference, published in many newspapers on March 14, 1985, concludes:

Denton said he does not favor US military intervention in Nicaragua “as long as we continue aid.”

National Forum Foundation officials said the Nicaraguans will visit congressional offices to emphasize the need for continued financial support for Nicaraguan “freedom fighters.”

As to Gary Moore, the Americas Watch’s first contact with him that I was aware of took place in April or May 1985 when he telephoned us about a reference to him in one of our reports. We had stated that he had provided the mother of a teacher kidnapped by the contras with a photograph he had taken of her daughter at a contra camp in Honduras. Moore called to say there was more to the story. Though he acknowledged that the teacher had been kidnapped by the contras, he said we should also point out that she had subsequently joined them of her own free will and become the girlfriend of the leader of the unit that captured her. We published Moore’s statement in our next report on Nicaragua.

Subsequently, two members of our staff have had contacts with Mr. Moore in which he interviewed them and then published articles in which they believe he did not fairly report what they said. In one of those articles Moore wrote, as Mr. Denton points out, that our investigator said we stayed clear of a particular area of Nicaragua because it was “restricted.” Moore’s statement is preposterous on its face as the reference is to the area near Nueva Guinea in southeastern Nicaragua. Yet a few months earlier we had sent, and made public, a seven-thousand-word letter to the Nicaraguan government dealing with war-related abuses by Sandinista troops in just that area based on an on-site investigation by that very investigator. Similarly, we published a report the previous year detailing our findings in just that area based on previous on-site research by just that investigator who supposedly told Moore we couldn’t go there because it was “restricted.”

Finally, I note that Mr. Denton says that Moore cannot respond for himself “because he has been in the wilderness of Central America for several months now.” At about the date Mr. Denton’s letter was written, Moore approached one of our representatives in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua (the wilderness?) to ask for an interview—which was refused in light of our past experience with him. Subsequently, I heard he was expelled from Nicaragua. Moore published an article in The Wall Street Journal saying it was because he was apprehended by Sandinista troops in a remote area while gathering information on Sandinista human rights abuses, and that all his notes and videotapes were seized. On June 9, two representatives of Americas Watch met with Nicaraguan Interior Minister Tomás Borge and questioned Moore’s arrest and expulsion. Borge claimed that Moore had been seized while acting as a messenger (“correo“) for the contras. Borge was vague on details, however, and because we are not aware of any evidence that was produced against Moore, and because he was apparently not given a hearing, Americas Watch is protesting his treatment. Whatever we think of his past activities, we think he is entitled not to be arrested and deported without an opportunity to defend himself.

This Issue

July 21, 1988