CANDIDATE ROBERTSON'S CENTRAL AMERICA POLICY by Sara Diamond, copyright 1986 TV preacher P

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CANDIDATE ROBERTSON'S CENTRAL AMERICA POLICY by Sara Diamond, copyright 1986 TV preacher Pat Robertson is the only prospective presidential candidate who not only has a Central America policy but also provides Bibles, beans, and maybe even bullets to U.S. backed forces in the region. Until recently, Robertson was seen by most as just another slick televangelist. But his soft-spoken style is misleading; his actions speaker louder than his words. Robertson's controversial activities include: support for the slaughter of thousands of Indians by a Guatemalan dictator; public praise for the reputed leader of Salvadoran death squads; collaboration with murky U.S. mercenary groups; and the provision of chaplains and funds to the contra army seeking to topple the government of Nicaragua. Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network is the largest non-commercial TV network in the world, with an annual budget of about $230 million. The most popular of all religious TV shows, Robertson's 90-minute weekday "700 Club" has an estimated 28.7 million regular U.S. viewers. CBN also broadcasts to 65 foreign countries, including Israel, Argentina, Namibia, El Salvador, and Honduras. These bright statistics don't obscure Robertson's notorious involvement in Central America. It began with the March 1982 coup in Guatemala which brought General Efrain Rios Montt to power. Montt is a member of Gospel Outreach, a fundamentalist sect based in Eureka, California. Within a week of the coup, Robertson flew to Guatemala to meet with Montt. Robertson told the New York Times (5/20/82) that CBN would send missionaries and "more than a billion dollars" to Guatemala. While this promise was not fully met, Montt used the pledges of support from U.S. evangelicals to convince Congress that he would not seek massive sums of U.S. aid. In June 1982 Montt aide Francisco Bianchi met with senior Reagan administration officials and Christian Right leaders, including: U.S. representative to the Organization of American States William Middendorf, then Presidential counselor Edwin Meese, then Interior Secretary James Watt, Ambassador to Guatemala Fred Chapin, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Loren Cunningham of Youth with a Mission. Subsequently the State Department briefed Christian Right leaders on the need for "private" support for the the Montt regime. On the "700 Club" Robertson urged donations to International Love Lift, an ongoing relief project sponsored by Montt's U.S. shepherds from Gospel Outreach. Robertson also successfully lobbied the Reagan administration to end the five- year ban on military aid to Guatemala. On January 8, 1983 the ban instituted by President Carter for human rights reasons was lifted. That same day 350 U.S. evangelicals set sail for Guatemala with a boat carrying $1 million worth of food, clothing, medical supplies, and housing materials. "The Gospel in Guatemala," a PBS documentary, revealed the complicity of Gospel Outreach in the Guatemalan Army's adminstration of camps for refugees from Rios Montt's brutal counterinsurgency massacres of Mayan Quiche Indians. By late 1983, Robertson shifted his attention to El Salvador, where he interviewed President Alvaro Magana and individuals connected with Salvadoran death squads. Robertson returned about the same time that the Kissinger Commission made headlines with recommendations for unprecedented levels of U.S. aid to Central America. On the "700 Club" Robertson stressed that the Magana government was getting a bum rap. He warned his audience not to rely on the "biased liberalism" of Newsweek, Time and U.S. News and World Report, while he praised death squad leader Robert D'Aubuisson as a "very nice fellow." In March 1984 CBN reporter Norm Mintle covered the "American elections in El Salvador," accompanied throughout the country by "very friendly Salvadoran troops." Over and over, 700 Club viewers saw long lines of patient Salvadoran voters and a clip of Reagan loyalist Senator Jeremiah Denton (R-AL) in front of a ballot box pleading that "we should send what aid these peole require immediately in terms of economic and military, to preserve their opportunity to remain free." Throughout the spring of 1984 Robertson broadcast the phone number of the Congressional switchboard and urged viewers to lobby for U.S. aid to El Salvador. "Just 40 U.S. helicopters would take care of those guerrillas," he said. In August 1984 Robertson assisted Montt's successor General Mejia Victores in Guatemala. The Florida-based Air Commandos Association and CBN's Operation Blessing set up a medical clinic in the Nebaj region of northwestern Guatemala. According to an Air Commandos newsletter, CBN paid the costs and the Air Commandos worked on logistics. The Air Commandos Association is headed by retired general H.C. Aderholt who, during the Vietnam War, delivered supplies from the Michigan-based World Medical Relief to the CIA's secret army of guerrillas in Laos. Aderholt is a contributing editor of Soldier of Fortune mercenary magazine. Robertson's summer propaganda offensive against Nicaragua was also in full swing, as was his direct assistance to contra families in Honduras. By fall 1984, press reports on the emerging private contra aid network listed CBN as one of the largest donors. In 1984 CBN donated $3 million to the contras through the Nicaraguan Patriotic Association whose Vice President Juan Sacasa is the Houston representative of the FDN. By the end of 1985 CBN had supplied at least $7 million in aid to the contras, and to the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala. These were not secret contributions: Robertson solicited viewers' donations through simulated mailgrams and a special May telethon for the "freedom fighters." Robertson personally delivered more than a million dollars worth of supplies to the Guatemalan government in June 1985. During the same trip, he reviewed troops at contra training camps in Honduras where he was saluted as a guest of honor. In October 1985 Sojourners magazine exposed the dubious behavior of CBN's Operation Blessing in Honduras. According to a former World Relief worker, a CBN film crew in Honduras requested gasoline for its jeep, which turned out to belong to the contras. In another instance a CBN official falsely claimed that Operation Blessing provides funds to another relief group, World Vision. At a private reception held in his honor during the February 1986 convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, Robertson told a reporter that "the contras are being supplied by Israel and South Africa." He went on to say that CBN is providing Bibles and military chaplains to the contras, at the request of FDN leader Enrique Bermudez. Benton Miller, manager of media relations for CBN, confirmed Robertson's training of at least one contra chaplain. But when asked by a reporter about Robertson's insider's knowledge on South Africa's role, Miller denied Robertson's statement, until he was confronted with video and audio taped evidence. For the past two years, whenever Congress has been considering a contra aid package, Robertson has revved up a "Mighty Wirlitzer" of propaganda against Nicaragua--with a special emphasis, naturally, on stories of religious persecution. Robertson has repeatedly aired excerpts from the private American Security Council's film "Attack on the Americas." According to Jenny Pierce, author of Under the Eagle, distribution funds for the film were raised by associates of Guatemala's far-right nationalist party, the Movement of National Liberation (MLN) which operates death squads in that country. A more recent ASC film, Crisis in the Americas, also excerpted on the 700 Club, purports to "prove" that Nicaraguan leaders are running a massive drug ring designed to simultaneously "poison American youth" and finance revolution. CBN's constant and sophisticated anti-Nicaraguan media barrage is a far cry from the pouting tirades of Bible-thumpers Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart. Whether viewed as a politician or a preacher, Robertson's direct involvement with armed factions in Central America puts him in a class by himself. ----------------------------------------------------------------

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