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News > World

NRA's New Head Has Grim History with Latin American Dictators, Drug Trafficking

  • Critics of the NRA protested the organization in 1999 after a school shooting at Columbine High School.

    Critics of the NRA protested the organization in 1999 after a school shooting at Columbine High School. | Photo: Reuters

Published 13 May 2018

Commenting on Oliver North’s appointment, Costa Rica's former President Oscar Arias said the NRA and North "deserve each other."

Oliver North, a controversial figure in U.S. politics and one who has been revealed to have had connections with brutal dictatorships in Latin America and drug trafficking, has been chosen as the head of the U.S. National Rifle Association, NRA, a controversial group that lobbies for lifting restrictions on all arms sales including to states and organizations with proved human rights violations.

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North, who was appointed as NRA's new president on May 7, was a key figure in the scandal in which the Reagan administration illegally sold arms to Iran with the intent to use proceeds to fund rebels in Nicaragua to overthrow the ruling Sandinista government.

He was indicted for 16 felony counts and convicted on three charges in connection with the Iran-Contra scheme, under which money from arms sales to Tehran was funneled to rebels in Nicaragua. The convictions were later overturned.

In 1981, at the time North joined Reagan administration’s National Security Council, he was an active-duty Marine. One of Reagan’s top priorities was to organize and fund the Contras, a guerrilla military force created to overthrow the revolutionary socialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. But the Contras "engaged in extensive, gruesome terrorism against Nicaraguan civilians. Congress gradually reduced and then eliminated appropriations supporting them, leading the Reagan administration to secretly search for money elsewhere," the Intercept reported. 

According to a later congressional investigation report, North was put in charge of this operation, which participants dubbed as "The Enterprise." 

North's decades-long association with Latin America and his involvement with the drug trafficking in the region has been largely covered up by North himself, Fox News, and from the public memory.

The recently-announced NRA head's connections to drug trafficking were so egregious that Oscar Arias, Costa Rica's president banned North from entering Nicaragua’s neighbor in 1989.  Weighing on the issue, Costa Rica's former president, Oscar Arias said the NRA and North "deserve each other."

"It’s no surprise that the NRA would choose an unscrupulous hawk as its leader. In many ways, North and the NRA deserve each other. An organization dedicated to corrupting the U.S. political system by injecting massive sums of money in exchange for paralysis and indifference in the face of mass shootings finds in Oliver North a leader worthy of its mission," Arias said, according to the Tico Times. 

The full extent of North's complicity in drug trafficking in Latin America is not known, but there's sufficient incriminating evidence to show his sizable involvement.  

In 1986, when the Iran-Contra scandal story broke in November, North ordered his secretary Fawn Hall "to destroy so many documents that the shredder malfunctioned, and she had to ask White House maintenance to come and fix it. Moreover, when North was removed from his National Security Council job, he took with him 2,848 pages of daily notes — which legally belonged to the federal government.

By the time a congressional investigation was finally able to examine the notes, North and his lawyers had redacted huge amounts of information. Nonetheless, 543 of the pages mentioned drugs or drug trafficking, with the probe finding that “in many of these cases, material in the Notebooks adjacent to the narcotics references has been deleted," the Intercept reported. 

North’s own notes point to his meeting with the then Panama dictator Manuel Noriega in London in September 1986 with the aim of collaborating on a plan where Noriega would support the Contras in return for U.S. money and arms.

They also discussed "sabotaging a Nicaraguan airport and oil refinery, as well as creating a program to train Contra and Afghan mujahedeen commandos in Panama with Israeli help. (It’s not completely clear, but North appears to have written that “Rabin” – i.e., Yitzhak Rabin, who was then Israel’s minister of defense – “approves.”)," the Intercept reported. 

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The Intercept also published a screenshot from the CIA’s website about the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Democratic Alliance, or ADREN by its Spanish acronym, which was later folded into the Contras. 

"The NRA was a fierce opponent of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)... to prohibit the international sale of arms to states, groups or individuals when evidence exists to show the arms will be used to violate human rights or international law or perpetrate acts of terrorism. NRA lobbyists did everything they could to boycott the agreement, although they were unsuccessful," Arias opined. "Oliver North never served time for his crimes in the in the Iran-Contra affair." 

North who recently faced widespread condemnation over his comparison of gun control activists to terrorists is also known to be an anti-LGBT rights politician. In 1994, North's right-wing leanings became more pronounced when he unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate from Virginia. 

During a 2014 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a leading gathering of the far right, he likened marriage equality opponents to anti-slavery activists. "Some say that we must ignore social issues, like the definition of marriage, the sanctity of life, religious freedoms," North said, according to the Washington Blade. "I say those are not social issues, they are deeply moral and spiritual issues and should be part of America’s elections." 

Jason Lindsay, founder and executive director of the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, told the Blade North that anti-LGBT views will fit right in with the NRA. "The NRA is on a quest to dismantle our nation’s gun safety laws and stands in complete opposition to any new reforms, despite public opinion and the tragic human cost."

"Of particular concern to the LGBTQ community is North’s inflammatory statements regarding the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ which he implied would lead to pedophiles being admitted to the armed forces. His previous actions and statements make clear that this is not an individual who should have a leadership position in any organization, but is not a surprising choice for an organization as disastrous to public safety as the NRA," Lindsay argued.

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