Former Sandinista Lobbyist Now Represents Chamorro GovernmentRUTH SINAI , Associated Press
May. 26, 1991 12:15 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The democratically elected Nicaraguan government of Violeta Chamorro has hired a Washington lobbyist who for six years represented its archenemy, the leftist Sandinistas.
Nicaragua is paying Paul Reichler $7,000 a month, according to a contract filed with the Justice Department.
Reichler will work on advancing peace talks between the government of neighboring El Salvador and the leftist rebels trying to unseat it. The Nicaraguan government, he says, wants to bring peace to El Salvador to stabilize the region and promote confidence among foreign investors.
The Chamorro government is considered credible by both sides and Reichler says he's known to the opposing factions from the many years he has worked in the region.
But U.S. lawmakers identify Reichler with repeated efforts to prevent aid to the Contras, the rebels who opposed the Sandinista government that ruled Nicaragua throughout the 1980s. The Sandinistas lost power last year in elections that put Chamorro in office.
Hiring Reichler is ''a slap in the face to all of us who struggled against his efforts on behalf of the Sandinistas and their goals,'' said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. ''All of us who were supporters of the freedom fighters are just incredulous.''
But Reichler said he was instrumental in bringing about the 1988 cease-fire between the Sandinistas and the Contras that led to the 1990 elections.
''Chamorro was democratically elected and I am 100 percent in her favor,'' he said. ''She's doing a fabulous job of reconciling the country.''
Reichler said he opposed U.S. aid for the Contras because he believed it was ruining Nicaragua, to which he has family and emotional ties. Contra aid was harmful to American interests, he said.
Congress cut off military aid to the Contras in 1985 and 1986. The Reagan White House secretly financed the rebels by soliciting money from foreign governments and American citizens. Aides to Reagan also diverted funds to the Contras from the administration's clandestine arms sales to Iran, an act that culminated in the Iran-Contra scandal.
The contract with the firm of Reichler and Soble was negotiated and signed by Antonio Lacayo Oyanguren, Chamorro's son-in-law who holds the post of Minister of the Presidency. Lacayo is a leading proponent of pacifying the Sandinistas by keeping some of them in government.
The Bush administration and Congress have praised Chamorro's political and economic reforms. But she riled conservatives by keeping Humberto Ortega as commander of her armed forces. He is the brother of former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega.
''We've been unhappy with many things she's done, but signing on with this guy (Reichler) just adds fuel to our concerns,'' said a congressional aide active on the issue of aid to Nicaragua.
A move is afoot to place conditions on future assistance to Chamorro's government when it comes up for a vote this year, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Chamorro, in Washington last month for the first state visit by a Nicaraguan president in 52 years, urged the United States to keep helping her country rebuild after a decade of civil war.
The United States has set aside $537 million for Nicaragua since Chamorro assumed office. But budget pressures and shifting priorities are pushing U.S. aid for fiscal year 1992 to $179 million.
The Nicaraguan government has hired the services of three other lobbyists to improve its aid prospects, attract foreign investment and promote trade.
But the Embassy of Nicaragua said it had not been told about the contract with Reichler, which was being handled by Managua. The Embassy of El Salvador declined to comment.
The United States has accused the Sandinistas of continuing to funnel arms to the leftist Salvadoran rebels. The Nicaraguan government concedes that although some arms might be getting through, such operations don't have the support of senior officials.
The U.S.-backed Salvadoran government and the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, have been holding peace talks for the past year through U.N. mediation.