RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #509
                    ---August 29, 1996---

                    AMERICA'S SECRET WAR
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AMERICA'S SECRET WAR

Recently eight high-school students, members of the
Baltimore Environmental Justice Project, visited us.
Over a brown-bag lunch, we asked what environmental
problem they considered biggest or worst. Without
hesitation, they said drugs, especially crack cocaine.

Homeless addicts, crack babies, drive-by-shootings,
gangs, burglaries, robberies, muggings, black-on-black
youth violence. Where did this scourge come from?

The twin centers of the crack cocaine industry are Los
Angeles and Miami.  The first time the MIAMI HERALD ever
mentioned crack cocaine was April 20, 1986.[1] The first
time the LOS ANGELES TIMES ever mentioned crack cocaine
was two months later on June 30, 1986.[2] The news
service Facts on File first mentioned crack on August
15, 1986, under the headline, "'Crack' Explosion Alarms
Nation."[3]  That story said crack had been around for
"as long as 3 years, but its use was said to have
exploded in the last months of 1985 and the first half
of 1986."  From these sources, we conclude that crack
first appeared about 1983 and began spreading quickly;
by mid-1986, it was a nationwide problem. What happened
between 1983 and 1986?

Cocaine had been around as a sniffable white powder
since the mid-1970s, but it cost $200 a gram ($5600 an
ounce) providing recreation for the rich, not  for
working people.  But by 1986 that had changed.  The
MIAMI HERALD wrote April 20, 1986, "Described until
recently as a rich man's drug, cocaine has filtered down
to blue-collar households and is finding an eager market
among high school students who can ante up $10 or so to
buy some 'crack,' cocaine in a highly purified form
suitable for free-basing [smoking]."[1]  The LOS ANGELES
TIMES wrote September 21, 1986, "The economics of
cocaine have changed so radically that it is no longer
restricted to the well-to-do.  The processing of
crystallized cocaine as 'rock' or 'crack' has so lowered
the price--and increased the availability--that junior
high school students are pooling their lunch money... to
buy cocaine from schoolyard dealers."[4] How did crack
spread throughout urban neighborhoods during 1983-1986?

The story begins in Nicaragua.  In 1979, the
"Sandinistas" -- a left-wing revolutionary army --
defeated the U.S.-trained army of dictator Anastasio
Somoza in Nicaragua.  Less than two years later,
according to the WASHINGTON POST (March 10, 1982), on
November 16, 1981, CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]
Director William Casey proposed to President Reagan that
he approve $19 million for the CIA to organize a
counter-revolutionary force to overthrow the leftist
Sandinista government.[5]  The POST reported that
President Reagan accepted Casey's proposal and
authorized the CIA to finance and train a paramilitary
commando force to provoke a counter-revolution in
Nicaragua.  According to TIME magazine, throughout 1982
the CIA rallied anti-Sandinista military forces,
creating bases of operation in Honduras, on Nicaragua's
border.[6]  This became known as Ronald Reagan's "secret
war," but it wasn't much of a secret.  In fact, it was
so public that on December 8, 1982, the U.S. House of
Representatives unanimously passed the "Boland
Amendment" to the 1983 military appropriations bill
stating that none of the appropriated defense funds
could be used to "train, arm, or support persons not
members of the regular army for the purpose of
overthrowing the government of Nicaragua."[5]  This
amendment made it illegal for the CIA to continue
funding its anti-Sandinista army, which by then was
calling itself the FDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Forces),
but was better known as the Contras.

After passage of the Boland amendment, the Contras
desperately needed a new source of funds.  (This was
several years before Oliver North set up his Iran
connection to divert money from arms sales to the
Contras.) According to a year-long investigation by the
SAN JOSE (California) MERCURY NEWS based on court
records, recently declassified documents, undercover
audio tapes, and files retrieved via the Freedom of
Information Act, the FDN solved its problem by opening
the first pipeline from the Colombian cocaine cartels to
black gangs -- the Crips and the Bloods -- on the
streets of Los Angeles.[7]

The MERCURY NEWS investigation highlights three
individuals in particular: Danilo Blandon, Norwin
Meneses, and Ricky Ross.

At Ricky Ross's drug trial in San Diego in March, 1996,
the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) star
witness was Danilo Blandon, telling his story for the
first time.  Blandon was the son of a wealthy Nicaraguan
family who fled from Nicaragua to Los Angeles on June
19, 1979, at age 29, just as the Somoza dictatorship
collapsed.  His family's ranches and real estate
holdings in Managua, and his wife's substantial wealth,
were confiscated by the Sandinista government. The
Blandons worked in Los Angeles to build an anti-
Sandinista movement, holding rallies and cocktail
parties, but Blandon testified that their efforts raised
little money.  The trial record shows that, in 1981,
Blandon was introduced to Norwin Meneses, another
Nicaraguan living in California.  With Meneses, Blandon
flew to Honduras where they were introduced to the
military chief of the CIA's Contra army, Enrique
Bermudez.  According to the MERCURY NEWS, "Bermudez was
hired by the Central Intelligence Agency in mid-1980" to
create the FDN.  The MERCURY NEWS says, "Bermudez was
the FDN's military chief and, according to congressional
records and newspaper reports, received regular CIA
paychecks for a decade, payments that stopped shortly
before his still-unsolved slaying in Managua in 1991." 
(The Contra-Sandinista war ended in 1988.)  After
meeting with the CIA's Bermudez, Blandon testified in
court, he and Meneses started raising money for the
Contra revolution by selling drugs in L.A.

Blandon's partner, Norwin Meneses, was known in
Nicaragua as "Rey de la Droga" (King of Drugs).  In
1979, Meneses was under active investigation by the DEA
and by the FBI for selling drugs in the U.S. According
to the MERCURY NEWS, "despite a stack of law enforcement
reports describing him as a major drug trafficker,
Norwin Meneses was welcomed into the U.S. in July 1979
as a political refugee and given a visa and a work
permit.  He settled in the Bay Area and for the next six
years supervised the importation of thousands of kilos
of cocaine into California." (A kilo, or kilogram,
weighs 2.2 pounds.)  Meneses supplied Blandon with tons
of cocaine and with assault weapons, which Blandon sold
to young blacks in L.A. Blandon's profits went back to
Honduras and Nicaragua, to support the CIA's Contra
army. There seems little doubt that the CIA cooperated 
in Blandon's operation. Indeed, NEWSWEEK magazine on two
occasions printed interviews and other evidence
indicating that the CIA and the DEA both cooperated in
the Contras' guns-and- drugs pipeline. (NEWSWEEK
1/26/87, pg. 26, and 5/23/88, pg. 22; and see WASHINGTON
POST 1/20/87, pg. A12.)  The MERCURY NEWS has now
provided additional confirming evidence.

Blandon didn't really know what he was doing until he
met Ricky Ross, a small-time African-American drug
dealer.  Because Blandon could supply limitless amounts
of cocaine at rock-bottom prices, Ross began to build an
enormous drug empire.  When methods for turning cocaine
into crack became known in 1983, Ross already had a
drug-dealing network in place. Norwin Meneses routinely
shipped 200-to-400-kilo quantities of cocaine from Miami
to Blandon on the west coast, who sold them to Ross. 
Ross had 5 "cook houses" turning cocaine into crack.  A
former crack dealer described for the MERCURY NEWS one
of Ross's cook houses where huge steel vats of cocaine
were being stirred with canoe paddles atop
restaurant-sized gas ranges.  At his recent drug trial,
Ross testified that it was not unusual to take in
between $2 and $3 million a day. "Our biggest problem
had got to be counting the money," Ross testified.
Blandon told the DEA last year that during 1983 and 1984
he supplied Ross with 100 kilos a week.  As this crack
flooded into the streets of L.A., the gangs, chiefly the
Crips and the Bloods, set up a national distribution
network, and crack cascaded across the country into
black neighborhoods everywhere, offering a cheap
vacation from the miseries of ghetto life.  For $20,
anyone could get wasted.  The gangs themselves were
immensely strengthened by the money, guns, and
connections that the crack business brought them.  And
of course the CIA's army got the millions it needed to
keep alive Ronald Reagan's secret war.

Today Ricky Ross is facing life in federal prison
without the possibility of parole.  Danilo Blandon is
free, working as an informant for the DEA.  Norwin
Meneses has never spent a day in a U.S. prison. Although
he figured in 45 separate federal investigations, he
openly supplied Ricky Ross's crack empire from his home
in the Bay area, and was never touched by the law.  He
has since moved back to Nicaragua.

According to the MERCURY NEWS, agents of four law
enforcement agencies --DEA, U.S. Customs, the L.A.
County Sheriff's Office, and the California Bureau of
Narcotic Enforcement -- say their investigations into
Ross's empire were thwarted by the CIA or by unnamed
"national security" interests.

The rise of the crack industry has had lasting effects
on communities across America.  In 1980, one out of
every 453 Americans was incarcerated.  By 1993, one out
of every 189 Americans was incarcerated.  Between 1980
and 1993, the U.S. prison population tripled (from
329,821 to 1,053,738).[8]

But not just anyone went to jail.  Crack is a poor
person's drug; powder cocaine remains a recreation of
the rich.  Congress and 14 states passed laws making
penalties for crack up to 100 times as great as
penalties for powder cocaine.  As a result, blacks were
much more likely to go to jail, and for longer periods,
than whites.  In 1993 blacks were seven times more
likely to be incarcerated than whites; an estimated 1471
blacks per 100,000 black residents vs. 207 whites per
100,000 white residents were imprisoned at the end of
1993.[8]

Prisons are now the fastest-growing item in almost all
state budgets. California spends more on prisons than it
does on colleges and universities. (NY TIMES 6/2/96, p.
16E)  Former defense contractors are now getting into
the lucrative incarceration business. (NY TIMES August
23, 1996, pg. B1.) Almost three quarters of new
admissions to prisons are now African-American or
Hispanic.  If present trends continue for another 14
years, an absolute majority of African-American males
between the ages of 18 and 40 will be in prison or in
detention camps. (NY TIMES 8/10/95, pg. A14.)  A secret
war indeed.

                                           --Peter
                                           Montague
 (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

===============
[1] Bruce Goldman, "Cocaine: The Powder That Corrupts,"
MIAMI HERALD April 20, 1986, pg. 10G.

[2] Scott Ostler, "Sudden Death Has New Meaning," LOS
ANGELES TIMES June 30, 1986, Section 3 (Sports), pg. 3.
Ostler writes, "...the new rage in the drug world is
crack cocaine, which is smokeable coke.  It is cheap,
plentiful, and intensively addictive."

[3] "'Crack' Explosion Alarms Nation," FACTS ON FILE
WORLD NEWS DIGEST August 15, 1986, pg. 600F3.

[4] Bill Farr and Carol McGraw, "Drug Enforcers Losing
Nation's Cocaine War; Massive Government Eradication
Efforts are 'Overwhelmed by the Bad Guys,' Official
Says," LOS ANGELES TIMES September 21, 1986, pg. 1.

[5] "U.S. Shows Photos to Prove Nicaragua Buildup; CIA-
Trained Commandos to Hit Economic Targets," FACTS ON
FILE WORLD NEWS DIGEST March 12, 1982, pg. 157A1,
quoting the WASHINGTON POST of March 10, 1982.

[6] George Russel, "Niacargua's Elusive War," TIME Vol.
121 (April 4, 1983), pgs. 34-35.

[7] Gary Webb, "'Crack' Plague's Roots Are in Nicaragua
War; Colombia-Bay Area Drug Pipeline Helped CIA-Backed
Contras '80s Efforts to Assist Guerillas Left Legacy of
Drugs, Gangs in Black L.A.," SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
August 18, 1996, pg. 1A;  Gary Webb, "Testimony Links
U.S. to Drugs-Guns Trade; Dealers Got 'Their Own Little
Arsenal,'" SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS August 18, 1996, pg.
17A. Gary Webb, "Odd Trio Created Mass Market for
'Crack'; L.A. Dealer Might Get Life; Officials Quiet
About Role of Nicaraguans," SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS August
19, 1996, pg. 1A. And: Gary Webb, "S.F. Drug Agent
Thought She Hit on Something Big; As Trail Got Warm, Her
Superiors Took Her Off the Case," SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
August 19, 1996, pg. 10A.

[8] Allen J. Beck and Darrell K. Gilliard, "Prisoners in
1994," BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS BULLETIN [NCJ-
151654], August, 1995, pgs. 1-13.

Descriptor terms:  cocaine; crack; drugs; crime;
violence; race; african americans; criminal justice;
prisons; gangs; california; nicaragua; los angeles;
miami; florida; contras; anastasio somoza; cia; dea;
drug enforcement administration; inner cities; urban
life; hispanics; statistics; central intelligence
agency; colombia; sandanistas;

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                                        --Peter
                                        Montague, Editor
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