Disneyland Visit Draws Attention to Contras' Situation

Times Staff Writer

A 9-year-old girl, who allegedly had been bayoneted and left for dead in Nicaragua, was brought to Disneyland on Saturday in what her U.S. government sponsor called an attempt to publicize Sandinista terrorism.

Martha Lidia Murillo Vallejo, who speaks no English, spent the afternoon touring the park, having her picture taken with Mickey Mouse and receiving a souvenir T-shirt, while Harold K. Phillips, vice chairman of the Inter-American Foundation, briefed journalists about the girl's background. Phillips is a founder of the Working Group for Latin America, a private foundation that also is sponsoring her.

According to a press release distributed by Phillips, Vallejo, a native of the town of Wiwili in the Managua area, "is the sole surviving member of her family . . . (who) were murdered by Sandinista soldiers as part of a terror campaign against the contras," forces opposed to the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Fleeing toward Honduras with her uncle, the release says, "they were apprehended by the Sandinistas just across the border, near the Coco River, where her uncle was decapitated and Martha was left for dead with a bayonet wound in the neck."

Phillips, 45, a Pepperdine University instructor and Burbank auto dealer who ran against Rep. Howard Berman (D-Los Angeles) in 1982, holds ambassadorial rank through his unsalaried position as vice chairman of the Inter-American Foundation. The foundation, based in Rosslyn, Va., was created by Congress in 1969 to support local organizations that help the poor in Latin America and the Caribbean. It has an annual budget of $28 million and a full-time staff of approximately 60, according to the U.S. Government Manual.

Vallejo, who bears scars on her neck, spent last week making appearances in the Los Angeles area with other contras.

Phillips said Vallejo would appeal for political refugee status, but he declined to reveal how, when or under what circumstances she was brought from Honduras to the United States. He said only that he had seen the girl telling her story on Honduran television and shortly thereafter she was brought to Miami for medical treatment.

Washington Trip Planned

Early next week, Vallejo is scheduled to fly from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., where she and other contras are scheduled to brief members of Congress and participate in the White House's Outreach Program. The idea of bringing Vallejo to Disneyland and inviting the press, Phillips said, was his. "We called Disneyland and they were quite helpful," Phillips said. Park public relations officials arranged the logistics.

Phillips dismissed recently published reports compiled by two human rights organizations--the International Human Rights Law Group and Americas Watch--that accused the contras, whom he described as "freedom fighters," of systematic use of murder, torture and rape against civilians in Nicaragua.

"I think Americas Watch has been sucked in by Sandinista propaganda," Phillips said. "The Sandinistas are portraying themselves as the underdogs, being for the people," he said, when they are "a brutal dictatorship" that "has done a masterful job of covering up what they've been doing." Martha Vallejo, he said, illustrates "the other side of the story (about the Sandinistas) that is not being told."

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