In 1987, John McCain cast several votes in an attempt to force the Reagan administration to meet with RENAMO1, a guerrilla organization in Mozambique that State Department officials at the time described as a "terrorist group," 2 without requiring that the group meet any preconditions.
McCain's support for RENAMO directly contradicts his attacks on opponent Barack Obama for having "worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers" and having "pledged to meet, without preconditions, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea." Senator Obama has made it clear that this policy does not extend to non-governmental organizations. In response to questions about the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Obama specified that "we should not be dealing with them until they ... renounce terrorism."
According to a Congressional Research Service report in 1988, the initially doctrinaire Marxist FRELIMO government of Mozambique began moving towards privatization and progress on human rights in the early 1980s, signing a non-aggression treaty with neighboring South Africa in 1984. Due to this progress, the Reagan administration provided the FRELIMO government with non-lethal military aid in their fight against RENAMO -- until Reagan was stymied by a 1985 Congressional prohibition . Reagan himself hosted FRELIMO leader and Mozambican President Samora Machel at the White House in September of 1985.
The Reagan administration's embrace of the nominally Marxist Mozambican government, even as it funded anti-communist resistance in Angola(UNITA), Afghanistan(the mujahideen) and most famously Nicaragua (the Contras), had a lot to do with the nature of the anti-communist resistance forces in Mozambique. At a June 1987 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Chester Crocker, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, testified that RENAMO was "created by the Rhodesian secret services in 1977" as a fake anti-communist black liberation movement, designed to "punish Mozambique for that country's assistance to the Zimbabwean liberation movements." After the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, apartheid South Africa began sponsoring RENAMO, with their support becoming clandestine after the signing of the 1984 non-aggression treaty.
RENAMO's tactics combined those of the most brutal terrorist groups and regimes in recent history. While ostensibly opposing the FRELIMO government, their attacks focused mostly on civilians. During the 1980s, their actions ranged from attacks on buses3, trains4 and cars5 to kidnapping American and other foreign missionaries6. They "killed bedridden hospital patients and chanted political slogans while killing children" in July of 1987 in what was later found to be a typical attack on a village; an American aid worker witnessed these attacks and they were thus widely reported.7 RENAMO even accepted "compensations" from Moscow.8
However, since the group claimed to be "anti-communist," they had support from the far-right in the United States. The Heritage Foundation supplied office space to a RENAMO representative in Washington, and Grover Norquist of K Street Project fame lobbied for them and for the UNITA resistance group in Angola. The U.S. Council for World Freedom funded RENAMO (and other anti-communist organizations) directly between 1984 and 1986 while John McCain was on their advisory board. Though he claims to have left the organization in 1984, news articles from October of 1985 show that he attended a U.S. Council on World Freedom event honoring Wali Khan, an Islamic militant from Afghanistan, for his efforts in opposing the Soviet occupation.9 Moreover, two former council members do not recall him having ever resigned from the group. It is unclear whether or not McCain ever donated money to RENAMO via the U.S. Council for World Freedom, though he is on record as having donated to the Contras. The McCain campaign did not respond to a request for a list of anti-communist organizations to which he has donated.
These RENAMO-backing organizations had friends in high places. Senator Jesse Helms and a faction of conservative Senators (a similar faction existed in the House, led by Representative Dan Burton) also wanted to shift U.S. policy from the Reagan administration's position to the support of RENAMO. Helms and the conservatives decided to make their stand on the nomination of Melissa Wells to be ambassador to Mozambique. Their only problem with Melissa Wells was that she supported the Reagan administration policy of supporting the FRELIMO government and not recognizing the RENAMO terrorists. From a July 20, 1986, United Press International article by Jim Anderson:
After eight months of silence, the State Department came to the public defense Wednesday of Melissa Wells, a career foreign service officer whose confirmation as ambassador to Mozambique has been held up by Senate conservatives.
The conservatives, led by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., made it clear in statements last week in the Senate that the nomination of Wells, who has been approved by the Foreign Relations Committee, is meant as an attack against the State Department and its policies in Africa.
Helms and the other conservatives attacked Wells because of her lack of support for Renamo, an insurgent group seeking to overthrow the central one-party government of Mozambique. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.C., described Renamo as ''freedom fighters trying to topple a communist regime.''
They initially failed to block Majority Leader Byrd's motion in May to proceed to the consideration of her nomination10 (McCain was absent for this vote). However, the threats of a filibuster allowed them to hold up further consideration of the nomination until September. During this time, the Reagan administration did not budge on its support for FRELIMO and opposition to recognizing and meeting with RENAMO. In fact, the administration's position was strengthened after the revelation of a RENAMO massacre of 408 people in the village of Homoine in July of 1987, witnessed by American citizen Mark van Koevering.
Despite this revelation, RENAMO retained support in the Senate when that body began consideration of the Wells nomination in September. In what Senator Alan Cranston referred to during debate on the nomination as "truly Orwellian fashion," conservative Senators claimed that the massacre was a set-up by the governing FRELIMO. Most Senators voted to confirm her, but John McCain was one of the 24 Senators who voted against cloture on her nomination and against confirming her as ambassador to Mozambique.11. Of the Republicans still in the Senate today, Richard Lugar, Pete Domenici and Arlen Specter voted for her nomination; Grassley, Bond, McCain, Hatch and McConnell voted against it; and Ted Stevens and John Warner missed the vote. A month after Wells was confirmed, Jesse Helms introduced an amendment to the State Department authorization bill that would have forced the Secretary of State to meet with RENAMO without requiring any pre-conditions12. Senator McCain opposed the motion by fellow Republican Senator John Danforth to kill the Helms amendment.
In April of 1988, the State Department released a report which "conservatively estimated that 100,000 civilians may have been murdered by RENAMO." At a United Nations event later that month, Roy A. Stacy, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, described RENAMO as guilty of "one of the most brutal holocausts against ordinary human beings since World War II." The report's release silenced Congressional RENAMO supporters.13
Notes and Sources:
1 RENAMO is the acronym in Portugese for the group's full name, the Mozambican National Resistance.
2 Friedland, Jonathan. "MOZAMBIQUE: THE MNR CONFUSES WASHINGTON." IPS-Inter Press Service. 30 October, 1986.
3 "Report: Rebels Kill 60 Bus Passengers." The Associated Press, 3 January, 1984 (the attack itself was on Christmas Day)
4 "Anti-Marxist Rebels Blow Up Passenger Train." The Associated Press. 9 February, 1984
5 "Rebels Claim Maputo Car Bomb, Battlefield Success." The Associated Press 22 April, 1986.
6 "Rebels kidnap seven whites from farm mission" United Press International 15 May, 1987.
7 Keys, Laurinda. "Survivors Say Attackers Killed Bedridden Hospital Patients, Children." The Associated Press 24 July, 1987.
8 "Rebels in Mozambique Free 12 Soviet Captives." The New York Times. 26 January, 1984: A10.
9 "Congressmen and Doctor Call for Increased Aid to Afghan Resistance" States News Service. October 15, 1985. Wali Khan was later killed by the pro-Soviet forces. He has no relation to the similarly-named Wali Khan Amin Shah, another Afghan guerrilla who later worked with WTC I mastermind Ramzi Yousef in a plot to bomb airplanes.
10 Byrd, D-W. Va., motion to proceed to the consideration of President Reagan's nomination of Melissa Wells of New York to be ambassador to the People's Republic of Mozambique. Motion agreed to 56-28: R 13-25; D43-3 (ND 31-0, SD 12-3), May 1, 1987
11Senate Roll Call votes 234 and 237, September 9, 1987.
12 S 1934. State Department Authorization, Fiscal 1988/Official Residence; Mozambique Policy. Danforth, R-Mo., motion to table (kill) the Helms, R-N.C., amendment to prohibit any expenditures related to the acquisition of a permanent residence for the secretary of state or any other Cabinet member. The tabling vote also had the effect of killing a Helms second-degree amendment aimed at forcing the secretary of state to consult with both sides in the civil war in Mozambique. Motion agreed to 61-34: R 21-24; D 40-10 (ND 27-5, SD 13-5), Oct. 6, 1987
13 Wayne, E.A. "Washington woos Marxist government of Mozambique." Christian Science Monitor. 16 August, 1988.
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