Helms and Hunt: The North Carolina Senate Race, 1984

By William D. Snider | Go to book overview

20. The D'Aubuisson Connection

As the summer of 1984 arrived, the Economist of London, in a commentary entitled "Mud among the Tar Heels," suggested that the Helms-Hunt campaign had become a contest to see who had the funniest friends. Was it Hunt with his blacks and trade unionists? Or Helms with his Latin American dictators?

The comment contained a measure of truth. In May, after enduring Helms's barbs about his limousine liberal associations for a year, the governor began attacking the senator, in the media and elsewhere, for his dubious record of support for Social Security and his friendships with Argentina's former president Leopoldo F. Galtieri and El Salvador's Roberto D'Aubuisson. "When you look at the friends Jesse Helms has around the world," Hunt's television ads charged, "it's no wonder hes' made enemies for North Carolina in Washington."

Helms responded scornfully: "I think [ Jim Hunt] knows as much about foreign policy as a pig does about roller skating." But Hunt's comments about Helms's links with some of Latin America's "least liked and toughest men" focused attention on the senator's preference for authoritarian leaders. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Helms had established contacts all over the area, especially among right-wing leaders in Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, and El Salvador.

Helms first voiced public support for Roberto D'Aubuisson as early as 1980 in a Senate speech. In a major series of articles published in February 1984 the Albuquerque Journal reported that Helms's foreign policy aides had helped a rightist coalition headed by D'Aubuisson establish what became the National Republican Alliance (ARENA) in 1981. These aides, John E. Carbaugh, who left the senator's staff in 1983, and Christopher Manion, maintained close contact with D'Aubuisson, according to the newspaper. D'Aubuisson, a former army major, who became a candidate for the presidency of El Salvador in 1984, was widely accused of having ties with right-wing death squads involved in the slaying of Archbishop Oscar Romero and other government leaders.

Senator Helms said of the Journal articles: "I have never seen as much garbage in my life." As if to prove his point he continued lobbying for D'Aubuisson. The State Department had repeatedly denied the former

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