Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America
Last updated: January 3, 1989
Published by the International Relations Center / Interhemispheric Resource Center.
Background: The Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America, better known as PRODEMCA, was founded in late 1981. According to its promotional literature, the organization was established in order to support incipient democratic processes in Central America. (1) Its projects have focused primarily on Nicaragua, especially in the construction of anti-Sandinista media and public relations campaigns and in support for the political opposition inside Nicaragua. In carrying out these campaigns, PRODEMCA relied on funding from Carl Channell's National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty (NEPL). NEPL was one of the important conduits for funds from the contra supply network coordinated by Oliver North. (15)
PRODEMCA had a controversial history because of its advocacy on behalf of the contras and because of funding sources including NEPL and the U.S. government. In 1986, for instance, the group used portions of the money from NEPL to pay for fullpage advertisements promoting military aid to the contras. At the same time, the group was receiving money from the congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to provide grants to Nicaragua's internal opposition. NED severed its relationship with PRODEMCA after a public and congressional outcry over the placement of the ads and questions about whether U.S. government funds had been used to pay for them. PRODEMCA closed its own operations and merged with the NED-funded Freedom House in late l988. (11)
Funding: PRODEMCA received an undisclosed amount of money from Carl Channell. (2,3) One report says that Channell (through the National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty) gave them $26,000. (6) This amount is confirmed by NEPL bank statementswhich indicated three checks for ($9000, $8000, and $9000) paid to PRODEMCA during periods leading up to an important contra aid vote in 1986. (15) They also received funds from the U.S. Information Agency through the National Endowment for Democracy. (1,6,16) In 1985, NED grants to the group totaled $300,000. (16) A 1986 grant of $51,500 went to PRODEMCA to support Nicaragua's opposition paper, La Prensa. (17) This was only part of the original sum allocated to PRODEMCA for the project. The rest of the grant was turned over to Delphi Research Associates after PRODEMCA placed the pro-contra ads. (17)
Activities: El Salvador: They sent observer teams into El Salvador in 1982 to observe the Constitution Assembly elections. (1)
Nicaragua: PRODEMCA received NED grants in 1985 ($100,000) and 1986 ($51,500) that were used to buy printing supplies and wire services for La Prensa. (16,17) They also arranged for church, labor, and civic groups from Nicaragua to visit the United States. They brought contra field coordinators and medical personnel to Washington DC to meet with the press and then organized a number of trips for U.S."opinion leaders" to Honduran contra camps. They sponsored the Muravchik study of Nicaragua Jews and a delegation of congressional aides to an UNO meeting in Costa Rica. (1) PRODEMCA also received a $200,000 grant from NED in 1985 to be used to set up a political research and study center affiliated with a major opposition coalition. Part of that grant was also used to pay for translating, publishing, and distributing the reports of the anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan Permanent Commission on Human Rights. (1,16)
PRODEMCA paid Max Singer $42,061 for consulting and facilities from July to December, 1984. (4)
Government Connections: They have received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy. (1)
Private Connections: Singer and Wiesel co-authored a pamphlet on Central America for Gulf and Caribbean. (4) PRODEMCA board member John Joyce is also the chair of the AFL-CIO's Military Affairs Committee and is on the USO World Board of Governors. (6) J. Peter Grace is chairman of the U.S. chapter of the Knights of Malta and chair of the advisory committee of AmeriCares. He is founder of the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), a CIA-linked organization funded by the Agency for Intl Development. AIFLD promotes pro-U.S. labor unions in Latin America. William Simon, Treasury Secretary under Richard Nixon, is also a member of the Knights of Malta and AmeriCares. He was the chairman of the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund (NFF), a fundraising organization set up in l985 by the Washington Times, a newspaper owned by the Unification Church. The NFF was established to raise funds for the contras. Like PRODEMCA and the NFF, the Knights of Malta and AmeriCares have been involved in efforts to support the contras, their refugee families, and/or private sector opposition groups in Nicaragua. (7)
Theodore Hesburgh is a member of Technoserve. (9) Along with Norman Lear and others, Hesburgh helped organize "People for the American Way" to counter Jerry Falwell's "Coalition for Better Television" and other activities of Falwell's Moral Majority which they believed to be endangering separation of church and state. (10) Hesburgh was one of the few of PRODEMCA's national council not to sign its advertisement advocating military aid to the contras.
Kemble and Novak are on the board of directors of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. (13,14) Mary Temple is on the IRD's board of advisers. (14) Novak is a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and was on the board of the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund along with William Simon. (7)
Misc: Kemble said PRODEMCA returned $81,690 to the Natl Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty after disclosures of NEPL's legal violations during the Iran-Contra funds diversion. (5)
Comments:U.S. Address: 729 15th Street NW, Suite 950, Washington DC 20005 (202-347-1006). [Note: This office may be completely closed down since the "merger" with Freedom House. ]
Principals: National Council: Angier Biddle Duke (chair), Penn Kemble (pres), Denise O'Leary (exec dir), John A. Hurson (counsel), Morris Abram, William E. Barlow, Philip Baum, John M. Bennett, Nicholas D. Biddle, Linden Blue, Vladimir Bukovsky, Francis R. Carroll, Kevin Corrigan, S. Harrison Dogole, William C. Doherty, John C. Duncan, Maurice A. Ferre, Orville Freeman, J. Peter Grace, Judith Hernstadt, Theodore M. Hesburgh, Sidney Hook, Samuel P. Huntington, John T. Joyce, Clark Kerr, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Jorge Mas Canosa, Michael Novak, Richard Ravitch, Daniel Rose, Peter R. Rosenblatt, Bayard Rustin (now deceased), John R. Silber, William E. Simon, Max Singer, Kenneth B. Smilen, Maurice Sonnenberg, Mary N. Temple, Ben J. Wattenberg. (12)
The 1986 list of officers included Adrianne Doherty (admin dir) and Elie Wiesel on the national council. (1,8)
Sources:1. PRODEMCA Summary of Activities, 1986.
2. Cockburn Replies,"Letters," The Nation, Jan 31, 1987.
3. New York Times, Jan 10, 1987.
4. The Nation, March 21, 1987.
5. Washington Post, Feb 28, 1987.
6. Labor Today, Summer, 1987, p16.
7. The New Right Humanitarians, The Resource Center, l986.
8. Summary of La Prensa Grant Proposal, Natl Endowment for Democracy.
9. Technoserve Annual Report, l986.
l0. J. Milton Yinger and Stephen J. Cutler,"The Moral Majority Viewed Sociologically," in David G. Bromley and Anson Shupe, eds. , New Christian Politics (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, l984), pp69-90.
11. Phone interview with PRODEMCA, Jan 26, l989.
12."Mission to Chile & Paraguay: A PRODEMCA Report," PRODEMCA, 1987.
13. Washington 1988 (Washington DC : Columbia Books, 1988).
14. Letter from Maria H. Thomas, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Oct 9, 1986.
15. National Security Archive, The Chronology (New York, NY: Warner Books, 1987).
16. National Endowment for Democracy annual report, 1985.
17. National Endowment for Democracy annual report, 1986.
The underlying cites for this profile are now kept at Political Research Associates, (617) 666-5300. www.irc-online.org.