Ex-official: Venezuela leader aided Sandinistas

A former vice president in Nicaragua's Sandinista government said Wednesday the movement received crucial financial aid to oust a dictator from Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, who died Saturday.

Novelist Sergio Ramirez told the Managua newspaper La Prensa that Perez gave the movement more than $1 million to help the guerrillas topple Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

Ramirez said that fellow novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the one who first put the Sandinistas in touch with Perez in 1997. Calls to Garcia Marquez' number in Mexico City, where he lives, went unanswered Wednesday.

Perez gave "more than $100,000 per month for the revolutionary cause" and also aided by immediately recognizing the new rebel government as soon as it seized its first city in Nicaragua, Ramirez said.

The revelation is notable partly because current Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — now a key backer of the Sandinista party — mounted an unsuccessful 1992 coup against Perez.

Ramirez eventually split with the Sandinista party because of his opposition to its leader, President Daniel Ortega.

Ramirez criticized Ortega for not recognizing Perez' contributions.

"Not one word to thank this man, who died in exile, for all he did to help us liberate ourselves from an obscene, corrupt and bloody family tyranny," Ramirez said. Somoza's family had dominated Nicaragua since the 1930s.

Ramirez said he believed the aid came from a secret Venezuelan government fund.

Venezuela's Congress impeached Perez on corruption charges in 1993 and he was placed under house arrest. Its Supreme Court convicted him in May 1996 of misspending $17 million in public funds — a charge he always denied. Perez was released in September 1996.

Part of the funds had been used to help bankroll the security detail of Violeta Chamorro before she was elected Nicaragua's president in 1990 over Daniel Ortega, a vote that ended a decade of Sandinista rule.

Perez defended that spending as legitimate to help ensure stability after years of conflict in Central America, where he had helped mediate in peace talks.

(This version CORRECTS that Perez died Saturday instead of this week.)