The Miami Herald
May 18, 2000

Cancel U.S. visas for Sandinistas, senator demands


 MANAGUA -- Angrily accusing the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua of having ``pulled
 strings'' to obtain visas for former Sandinista officials ``on the U.S. list of
 terrorists,'' Sen. Jesse Helms has demanded that the State Department
 immediately ban them from the United States.

 Canceling visas for the four -- including former Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega
 -- ``will make clear that these men are not welcome on American soil,'' Helms
 said in a letter to Alan Larson, undersecretary of state for economic affairs.

 Helms added that the Sandinistas are ``bandits'' who engineered the confiscation
 of thousands of properties belonging to U.S. citizens when the Marxist party ruled
 Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 -- an contentious issue that continues to plague
 relations between Washington and Managua to this day.

 The letter mentions Ortega; his brother Humberto, former head of the Nicaraguan
 armed forces; Tomas Borge, former chief of intelligence and security forces; and
 Lenin Cerna, who directed the secret police.

 Borge, Cerna and Daniel Ortega have all received U.S. visas since 1997.

 Humberto Ortega asked for a visa last Christmas, but never followed up on his

 State Department officials in Washington confirmed Wednesday that the visas
 were granted even though all three men appear on a department watch list that is
 supposed to bar entry into the United States by suspected terrorists.

 In each case, the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua cabled Washington asking for a
 waiver granting the visa, and each time it was granted -- in the cases of Borge and
 Cerna, despite highly publicized accusations by the State Department itself that
 they are murderers.

 While heading the interior ministry, which oversaw security forces, Borge ``issued
 the order to regularize political killings,'' said a 1986 State Department publication
 entitled Human Rights in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas.

 The same year, the department's Inside the Sandinista Regime: A Special
 Investigator's Perspective said Borge directed an operation to lure out and
 execute several Nicaraguans who had taken political asylum inside the
 Guatemalan Embassy in Managua. And the department's 1987 publication In
 Their Own Words: Testimony of Nicaraguan Exiles accused Borge of overseeing
 the execution of 150 Miskito Indians in 1982.

 Cerna ``directed assassinations of regime opponents in exile,'' including the
 notorious torture-murder of a former Nicaraguan National Guard commander
 named Pablo Emilio Salazar, said the State Department's 1988 publication
 Nicaraguan Biographies: A Resource Book.

 Human Rights in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas also contained a graphic
 account of Cerna's personal torture of a Sandinista critic.

 Cerna ``repeatedly kicked'' the man, ``beat his head against the wall of the room,
 and put a pistol to his temple and shouted, `I am Comandante Lenin Cerna, and
 you are . . . going to die right here,' '' the book said.

 Cerna nonetheless was granted a visa in 1998 after his son went to the United
 States for treatment of a head injury suffered in an auto accident.

 He apparently never used it, however.

 Daniel Ortega was granted a visa to attended a religious conference in 1997.

 Borge has visited the United States several times since 1997 and was even
 granted an audience at the State Department on one visit, although he canceled it
 at the last minute.

 The U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua has apparently recently begun to rethink its
 policy on visas.

 Helms' letter praised ``the recent recommendation by U.S. Ambassador Oliver
 Garza and his excellent consular team to deny these visas.''

 An embassy spokesman confirmed that Borge was recently sent a letter warning
 him that any future requests for visas will be denied because of his role in
 confiscations of property of U.S. citizens.

 ``We are actively investigating a number of other cases,'' the spokesman said, but
 declined to give details.