Throwback Thursday: A Duquesne Professor Resigns over an Ambassador’s Talk

Tracy Xu is a Fall intern with the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. Her current project involves cataloging and archiving Council news from the past few decades. While researching this project, she came across an interesting set of events that occurred here October 1986, as a result of a speaker at Duquesne University (who, following this speech, spoke Downtown at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh). Ambassador Robert Duemling gave a speech at Duquesne regarding the U.S. role in Nicaragua. He was met with protesters who disagreed with the U.S. providing aid to rebel groups (Contras) who had performed human rights violations. One protester was a Duquesne professor who resigned in direct protest. Read more about the history and what happened below!

tbt_blog1On August 29, 1985, President Reagan created the State Department’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO). Its purpose was to administer $27 million in “non-lethal” aid allocated by Congress for humanitarian aid for the Nicaraguan Contras. Ambassador Robert Duemling, who was the head of NHAO from 1985 to 1987, came to Pittsburgh and talked about Nicaraguan policy at Duquesne University on October 28, 1986.

In the late 1970s, a socialist movement (the Sadinistas) seized power in Nicaragua through a revolution in 1979. Within a year of this, opposition to the Sadinistas began to engage in violent actions. These rebel groups would eventually become the Contras and were active from 1979 to early 1990s. They were comprised mainly of ex-National Guards, former Sandinista fighters who felt betrayed, frustrated farmers and peasants, and others who opposed the regime.

Ambassador Duemling defended U.S. efforts to force Sadinistas out of power, much to the protest of those who believed that the Administration, by supporting the Contras, were, in essence, supporting the human rights abuses that the Contras performed. This included murders, kidnapping, and employing brutal tactics against civilians.

tbt_blog2According to an article published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on October 29, 1986, “while Duemling spoke at Duquesne, about 20 protesters held aloft white crosses bearing the names of civilians killed by the Contras and flashed signs that said, ‘Lies.’” Asked by protester Barbara Murock why the business card of his chief logistical officer turned up in the pocket of one of the Americans shot down in southern Nicaragua while delivering arms to the Contras, Duemling replied, “My office had nothing to do with that flight.” The ambassador also denied that any of the assistance provided went to military efforts against the Sandinista regime and instead went to getting money to those who needed aid.

tbt_blog3His appearance on campus also led the Rev. Michael Drohan, an Irish priest of the Holy Ghost Order and Research Director of the university’s Institute of World Concerns—which sponsored Duemling’s talk—to resign in protest. Duquesne was urged to cancel the speaker, but chose not to do so, claiming that having the speaker did not indicate any endorsement of his ideas.

It is interesting that, during Duemling’s Pittsburgh visit, he addressed the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and was similarly met with protesters, but any news coverage beyond that regarding his talk at the Council is otherwise limited.

Sources and Relevant Links:

Executive Order 12530 — Establishment of Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office, August 29, 1985

The Counterrevolutionaries – The Contras

The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations

Milestones: 1981-1988, Central America

Last October, an online video surfaced labeled “Michael Drohan in Pittsburgh.” It appears to show Rev. Michael Drohan in the present, calling for “no more war with Syria and Iraq and money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation” at a protest involving groups including the Thomas Merton Center Antiwar Committee. The video can be watched here: