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In Guatemala, Kerry Reminisces About Trip to Visit Communist Sandinista Leader in 1985

8:26 AM, Jun 6, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
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Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Guatemala on Wednesday, reminisced about his first trip to Latin America as a U.S. senator back in 1985:

I have been traveling, actually, to Latin America for decades now. I think the first trip I made as a United States senator in 1985 was to this region. And that was during a time of great transformation and challenge in places like Nicaragua and El Salvador. And like my Senate colleagues, I was then focused on issues of conflict resolution. I worked particularly closely with President Oscar Arias, working on the peace process back then, as well as on counter-narcotics cooperation and on human rights and on seeking justice for those who had lost their lives in the course of the Central American wars and the internal difficulties of a number of countries during that period.

Kerry did not specifically mention to the OAS gathering that his 1985 trip was to meet with then-president of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega, the head of the Moscow-backed Communist Sandinistas who were fighting a proxy war with the United States via the U.S.-backed "Contra" rebels. The Christian Science Monitor reported on Kerry's trip at the time:

Senator Kerry flew to Nicaragua in April with fellow Democratic Sen. Thomas Harkin of Iowa, met with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra, and brought back word that Mr. Ortega would be willing to accept a cease-fire if Congress rejected aid to the rebels, or ``contras.'' That week the House initially voted down aid to the contras, and Mr. Ortega made an immediate trip to Moscow -- an action that moved House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. to say the ill-timed trip embarrassed those who had voted against aid. 

In spite of this setback, Kerry said in an interview that he doesn't think his trip to Nicaragua damaged him politically and that his mail supports him... 

Kerry emphasizes that he is not an advocate or supporter of Ortega's government. ``I have no illusions about the Sandinistas.'' Nevertheless, he argues, ``We are still trying to overthrow the politics of another country in contravention of international law, against the Organization of American States charter. 

``We negotiated with North Vietnam. Why can we not negotiate with a country smaller than North Carolina and with half the population of Massachusetts? It's beyond me. And the reason is that they just want to get rid of them [the Sandinistas], they want to throw them out, they don't want to talk to them.''

Ortega, who has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Nicaragua, has been once again serving as president of that country since 2007.  He recently politely shared a dinner with President Obama at the May summit of Central American leaders, and was soon thereafter publicly critical of the U.S. and its influence in the region.  Oretga also famously supported Qaddafi during the Libyan conflict in 2011.

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