“Never Trump conservative” CNN pundit Ana Navarro lobbied for El Salvador’s right-wing government, whose president was imprisoned for corruption, and worked for a conservative Nicaraguan president imprisoned for stealing from the public. In her free time, she lionizes Contra death squads.
By Ben Norton
In the era of President Donald Trump, a clique of neoconservative talking heads have rebranded themselves as moderate voices of reason.
Among the most prominent self-declared “Never Trump conservatives” is Ana Navarro, a Nicaraguan American Republican strategist who has become a prominent commentator on CNN, a regular at Telemundo, and a weekly guest host of ABC’s talk show The View.
Navarro’s sassy anti-Trump diatribes have earned her the adulation of the liberal self-declared “Resistance.” And while corporate media networks give Navarro a massive platform to attack progressives like Bernie Sanders and rebrand her neoconservative politics before impressionable liberal viewers who despise Trump, Navarro’s professional background has faced little scrutiny.
Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) documents reviewed by The Grayzone reveal that Ana Navarro and her Republican lobbyist husband, Al Cárdenas, have worked with some of the most corrupt right-wing governments in recent Latin American history, including leaders who have overseen egregious human rights abuses and been convicted for serious criminal offenses.
One of the politicians whose government Navarro was contracted to lobby for, former El Salvadoran President Tony Saca, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for stealing more than $300 million in taxpayer money.
In 1997, Navarro went to work for another right-wing government in Central America, this one led by corrupt Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Alemán. In 2003, he too was imprisoned on graft charges stemming from his embezzlement of $100 million in public funds.
Navarro hails from a wealthy family in Nicaragua, and still today she remains a staunch supporter of the Contras, far-right death squads that the CIA armed and trained in the 1980s in a regime-change war targeting the country’s socialist Sandinista government. The Contras waged a relentless terrorist campaign, massacring and torturing civilians in hopes of destabilizing the country. And Navarro has celebrated them as freedom fighters.
Navarro’s elite father was a Contra himself; the CNN contributor has publicly boasted of her dad’s involvement in the murderous US-backed insurgency. In fact, when she was a law student in Miami in the ’80s, Navarro helped organize more US funding for the Contra death squads. And in 2014, she even offered to help foreigners get in touch with former leaders of the Contras.
In Florida, where her family moved when she was 8-years-old, Navarro went on to establish herself as a consultant for the GOP, helping advise Republican governor and failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush. She was also a surrogate for neoconservative Republican John McCain in his 2008 presidential campaign, and served as the national co-chair of his Hispanic Advisory Council.
Navarro’s husband, Cárdenas, is a powerful top GOP operative and the former chair of the Florida Republican Party. Like his wife, Cárdenas and his firm have worked with some of Latin America’s most notoriously corrupt right-wing forces.
FARA records reviewed by The Grayzone show that the lobbying firm of Navarro’s husband, Cardenas Partners, lobbied the US government on behalf of a Salvadorean family company called Funes y Asociados, which was used by the Tony Saca administration to embezzle millions of dollars of public money. The son of the rich businessman who runs Funes y Asociados, César Funes, is a former secretary and close ally of President Saca, and was himself imprisoned for five years for his role in the corruption scandal.
What’s more, a law firm where Cárdenas is a partner, Squire Patton Boggs, once lobbied for the Guatemalan General-turned-President Romeo Lucas García, who killed thousands of people and carried out more than 300 massacres in a scorched-earth counterinsurgency campaign.
Despite this sordid past, Navarro has tried to refashion herself as a sensible moderate in the era of Trumpism. And the corporate media outlets she works for have failed to disclose her links to heinously corrupt Latin American governments.
Ana Navarro lobbied for El Salvador’s corruption-drenched right-wing government
Ana Navarro has become something of a celebrity among mainstream anti-Trump liberals. Raw Story has lionized her with headlines like “Ana Navarro buries ‘little boy’ Donald Trump Jr. for his attacks on Mitt Romney” and “Ana Navarro burns Trump to the ground.”
Liberal talk show hosts like Trevor Noah have eagerly hosted Navarro; Stephen Colbert praised her as “one of the president’s fiercest critics,” even as she proudly boasted on his program, “I have been a Republican since I was 8 years old… so there’s no way in Hell I’m going to let that guy push me out of the party where I have been for my entire life.”
The proud lifelong Republican and GOP strategist even admitted in a video essay for CNN that she voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, in an act of protest against Trump.
But while she has sold herself on major corporate media platforms as a fun, lighthearted renegade defending democracy from Trump, Navarro has made a small fortune lobbying on behalf of right-wing Trumpian figures in Latin America.
While Navarro has boasted of her support for the mass-murdering extremist Nicaraguan Contras, she has not publicly discussed her links to far-right figures in El Salvador hailing from a party that emerged from the country’s brutal military junta.
According to FARA documents filed with the US Department of Justice, Navarro registered as a foreign agent for the conservative, notoriously corrupt government of El Salvador in 2007.
Navarro was lobbying for El Salvador’s government when it was led by Tony Saca, a Bush administration-backed right-winger who became the first president of the country to be imprisoned for corruption.
When Navarro worked for the Salvadorean government, it was run by the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), a hard-right party that allied with the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s to wage a terrorist war on leftists.
ARENA was founded by Roberto D’Aubuisson, a notorious commander of death squads. Known affectionately as “Blowtorch Bob,” because of his preference for burning socialist militants as he tortured them for information, D’Aubuisson ordered assassinations of anyone who challenged the conservative regime, including Catholic Archbishop (and now saint) Óscar Romero, who was murdered while delivering mass in a CIA-backed operation Blowtorch Bob personally oversaw.
D’Aubuisson helped to lead a Washington-backed terrorist war on socialist guerrillas in El Salvador, in what became a brutal 12-year conflict, fueled by up to $2 million per day of US government aid to the right-wing military dictatorship.
A United Nations Truth Commission later found that some 85 percent of the murders of civilians committed in this decade-long war were carried out by the US-backed Salvadorean military junta and death squads it supported. The leftist insurgents from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) had only been responsible for 5 percent of civilian deaths.
Back in 1981, the Washington Post acknowledged that “Roberto d’Aubuisson, a former Army major who is the darling of the reactionary right, has openly talked of the need to kill 200,000 to 300,000 people to restore peace to El Salvador.” The US government knew this at the time, but continued supporting him.
ARENA, the party D’Aubuisson founded, has not strayed far from its extremist right-wing origins. It held the presidency in El Salvador from 1989 until 2009, thanks to Washington’s significant and steadfast backing.
The United States has repeatedly intervened in the presidential elections in El Salvador to prevent leftists from the FMLN party from taking power. In the lead-up to the election in 2004, top Republicans threatened to take action against El Salvador, warning that they would cancel the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of more than 250,000 Salvadorean immigrants inside the US and block remittances if their countrymen voted for the FMLN.
The US intervention vaulted ARENA politician Antonio “Tony” Saca to a presidential victory in 2004. He maintained a strongly pro-US stance and pushed neoliberal, pro-privatization policies. Saca was so indebted to his US patrons that he sent Salvadorean troops to Iraq to support the George W. Bush administration’s invasion.
The ARENA party was known not just for hideous violence against its foes, but also heinous corruption. Saca took the party’s system of graft to new heights once he was in office.
In one of the most high-profile corruption cases of his administration, President Saca requested a nearly $30 million loan from the World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). He claimed the loan would help fund construction of a new maternity hospital, repair seven hospitals that had been damaged in earthquakes in 2001, and expand health coverage. In the end, however, $28 million of that medical funding simply disappeared.
An investigation conducted by the leftist FMLN government that succeeded Saca found that $28 million was diverted away from health care infrastructure, and into resolving arbitration cases and lawsuits involving the private corporations that built the hospitals damaged in the 2001 earthquakes. Saca and his allies had a direct financial stake in some of these firms.
The corruption continued throughout Saca’s tenure as president, eventually culminating in his arrest in 2016. Two years later, the supreme court of El Salvador sentenced him to 10 years in prison. The former president pleaded guilty to embezzlement and laundering more than $300 million in taxpayer money.
Salvadorean prosecutors said Saca stole the government money to fund himself, his friends, and his right-wing ARENA party.
Several other officials from Saca’s administration were imprisoned for their involvement in the graft scandal. And in 2019, while he was serving out his 10-year sentence, Saca was sentenced to two more years for bribery.
The Saca administration’s eye-popping corruption played a significant role in the election of the FLMN for the first time ever in 2009. The leftist party triumphed despite numerous acts of electoral fraud carried out by the right-wing ARENA forces.
Lobbying through Rudy Giuliani’s former law firm
In 2007, the corrupt Tony Saca government signed a lobbying contract with the Miami-based corporate law firm Greenberg Traurig. Ana Navarro was brought on as a consultant to the firm.
Greenberg Traurig has been rocked by many controversies. President Trump’s personal attorney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani held a position at the firm until he resigned in 2018 after claiming that its lawyers regularly paid hush money to silence critics of their clients.
The firm’s deal with the Salvadorean embassy paid for nine months of lobbying, from the beginning of April to the end of December 2007. The price: $475,000, plus associated expenses.
According to FARA documents reviewed by The Grayzone, Navarro billed the government of El Salvador $26,388.50 per month for six months, raking in a total of $158,331 in compensation.
She charged an additional $15,000 to cover airline and hotel expenses from travel to Washington, DC for monthly meetings with the Salvadorean government and for a junket to El Salvador to participate in a government conference.
The minimum wage in El Salvador is currently $300 per month — and that is only after a historic wage increase under the leftist FMLN government in 2016, which was earned through years of struggle by the labor movement.
According to US Department of Justice FARA documents, Navarro “helped develop strategy” for the Tony Saca government, and “provide[d] govt. relations support for Govt. of El Salvador, particularly affecting immigration legislation.”
Navarro said a key part of her work was influencing immigration legislation in favor of Salvadoreans. This is particularly ironic because Navarro’s own colleagues from the Republican Party were using immigration as a political weapon to attack leftist forces inside El Salvador.
As noted above, in the months preceding Tony Saca’s victory in the 2004 presidential election, Republican Congressmen Dan Burton and Dana Rohrabacher called for ending TPS protections for the more than 250,000 immigrants in the United States and for ceasing US cooperation with El Salvador if the leftist FMLN party won the election.
Working for corrupt right-wing Nicaraguan government
El Salvador’s ARENA administration is not the only corrupt right-wing government in Central America that Ana Navarro has worked for.
A professional bio provided by the corporate law firm Greenberg Traurig notes that, in 1997, Navarro served as special counsel to Nicaragua’s Foreign Ministry.
At the time of Navarro’s work in Nicaragua, her native country was ruled by the hopelessly corrupt administration of President Arnoldo Alemán.
A rich oligarch from a powerful family who owned a massive coffee plantation, Alemán was the son of a former education minister for the US-backed military dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.
Alemán won the 1996 presidential election amid widespread accusations of fraud and vote theft. He continued the neoliberal economic policies and austerity measures that were imposed by the US-friendly administration that preceded him, led by oligarch Violeta Chamorro.
Navarro worked with Alemán’s neoliberal government in this period. As was the case with the Tony Saca administration in El Salvador, her boss’s term was marred by severe corruption.
After leaving office in 2002, Alemán was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of money laundering, fraud, embezzlement, and electoral crimes.
Alemán was convicted of channeling $100 million in public funds into his own right-wing party’s election campaigns.
Following her work for Alemán’s corrupt administration, Navarro went to work for Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush. She advised his gubernatorial campaign, was a member of his transition team, and served as director of his immigration policy.
Leaving Nicaragua w/a heavy heart. Ortega refuses to go. Nicas want him out. Seems no end in sight to the bloodshed & downward spiral. Painful to see a beautiful country held hostage by a corrupt dictator. A poignant reminder that defending Democracy matters. #SOSNicaragua 🇳🇮 pic.twitter.com/tX8SK7rhwI
Praising the CIA’s mass-murdering Nicaraguan Contras
Like many of the right-wing Cuban and Venezuelan exiles in Florida, whose wealthy oligarchic families fled after socialist revolutions in their home countries, Ana Navarro’s family came to the United States in 1980, just months after the leftist Sandinista Revolution, when she was 8 years old.
Navarro frequently flaunts her Nicaraguan background to push for the continuation of US intervention against leftist forces in Latin America. She has aggressively lobbied for sanctions on her home country, as well as on Venezuela and Cuba. These sanctions already killed at least 40,000 Venezuelan civilians in 2018 alone.
Navarro has also flaunted her support for the Nicaraguan Contras, right-wing death squads backed by the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s.
In June 2013, a Twitter user told Navarro, “You’re kind of young to be a true Reaganite.” She responded writing, “My dad was a Contra. I’m grateful to RR [Ronald Reagan] for his support of freedom.”
My dad was a Contra. I'm grateful to RR for his support of freedom “@house8o8: @ananavarro You're kind of young to be a true Reaganite…"
In January 2014, Navarro piled on the pro-Contra PR, offering to help people get in touch with former death squad commanders: “To my friends in New York, I still have some connections w/old Contra leaders…if needed.”
To my friends in New York, I still have some connections w/old Contra leaders…if needed.
The atrocities carried out by these CIA-backed death squads are well documented.
Edgar Chamorro, a former leader of the Contras who hailed from the most powerful oligarchic family in Nicaragua, published an article in the New York Times in 1986 titled, “Terror Is the Most Effective Weapon of Nicaragua’s ‘Contras’.” The piece provides a glimpse into the murderous tactics used by these right-wing death squads.
“During my four years as a ‘contra’ director, it was premeditated policy to terrorize civilian noncombatants to prevent them from cooperating with the Government,” Chamorro wrote. “Hundreds of civilian murders, mutilations, tortures and rapes were committed in pursuit of this policy, of which the ‘contra’ leaders and their C.I.A. superiors were well aware.”
He said the Contras were led not by freedom-loving democrats, but by elites “directed and controlled by officers of” the National Guard of the former US-backed Somoza dictatorship.
The ex-commander noted that when Contras occupied towns, they “gathered the residents in the town square, selected those civilians they suspected of sympathizing with the Government and shot them in cold blood as a lesson.”
“The Sandinistas, for all their faults, have made enormous advances in education, housing and health care, issues of vital importance to Nicaragua’s poor majority. Unfortunately, the ‘contras’ burn down schools, homes and health centers as fast as the Sandinistas build them,” Chamorro wrote.
His personal testimony is backed up by mountains of documentary evidence. Even the Washington Post acknowledged in 1984 that the CIA had prepared a so-called “Murder Manual” for the Contras, which taught the “Nicaraguan guerrillas how to kidnap, assassinate, blackmail and dupe civilians.”
The CIA Murder Manual advised the death squads to assassinate government officials, including judges, security officers, and Sandinista Party leaders; to destroy and sabotage civilian infrastructure; to blackmail people and hire criminals to help in their efforts; and to even create “martyrs” by killing civilians and blaming the FSLN government in false flag operations.
With rhetoric reminiscent of the Spanish conquistadores, the CIA Murder Manual described the Contra war against the Sandinistas as a “Christian and democratic crusade being conducted in Nicaragua by the Freedom Commandos.”
Ana Navarro has not only heaped praise on the death squads that slaughtered untold numbers of fellow Nicaraguans, she has exploited that history as a talking point to demonize progressive Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Together with the New York Times, New York Post, and neoliberal pundits like Jonathan Chait and Michael Moynihan, she has depicted the Vermont senator’s past support for the Sandinistas as a fatal weakness.
In 48 hours, @BernieSanders said crap alienating 2 crucial voting blocs in FL, the biggest swing state. His comments against AIPAC and in favor of Castro, make it very hard for him to win FL + hurt down-ballot Dems.
FLA is home to many victims of Castros, Sandinistas, Maduro. I have friends whose dads were jailed, tortured, killed. I know Political Prisoners carrying physical & emotional scars. It’s an open wound for many of us.@BernieSanders should meet w/victims to understand the pain.
Despite being a veteran Republican operative who has worked extensively with corrupt right-wing governments in Latin America, Navarro has taken to corporate networks and social media to advise Democrats on whom they should nominate for president.
“If @BernieSanders is the nominee, all we’ll hear is ‘Democrats want to turn America into Venezuela,'” Navarro tweeted. “Democrats, I plead w/you, think hard about the big picture and who can win.”
If @BernieSanders is the nominee, all we’ll hear is “Democrats want to turn America into Venezuela”. It won’t affect outcome in NY or VT, but it will affect Florida. It’ll cripple down-ballot candidates. Democrats, I plead w/you, think hard about the big picture and who can win. https://t.co/1C8Gds6XWJ
Firm of Ana Navarro’s Republican husband Al Cárdenas lobbied for corrupt Salvadorean figures
Given her deep immersion in the seedy world of K Street lobbying, it is not surprising that Ana Navarro is married to a top Republican lobbyist.
Her husband, Alberto “Al” Cárdenas, is a conservative Cuban-American consultant who worked in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He served twice as the chair of the Florida Republican Party, and spent some time on the GOP’s executive committee.
Cárdenas frequently boasts in his professional bios that he was “named as one of Washington, D.C.’s top lobbyists by The Hill newspaper.” He is a senior partner at the Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners.
FARA documents reviewed by The Grayzone show that Cardenas Partners signed a contract in 2011 to lobby the US government on behalf of the Salvadorean publicity firm Funes y Asociados.
Funes y Asociados is a family company run by a powerful Salvadorean businessman named César Daniel Funes Cruz. The boss’s son, César Daniel Funes Durán, is a close friend and key political ally of former President Tony Saca, and was part of the ring of officials imprisoned for corruption.
In fact, before it became a client of Cardenas Partners, Funes y Asociados was used to embezzle millions of dollars of public money under President Saca.
In Saca’s administration, César Funes Durán served as the secretary of the youth and the director of the public water utility, ANDA.
After sentencing Saca to 10 years in prison for stealing $300 million of taxpayer money, El Salvador’s supreme court convicted a dozen other members of his administration who had been implicated in his corruption ring. Funes Durán was one of the co-defendants charged with corruption.
Salvadorean police arrested him and the other corrupt former Saca administration officials while they were attending the wedding of Saca’s son in 2016.
According to the supreme court’s case, Funes Durán and other secretaries in the ARENA government helped Saca create a structure to funnel $246 million of taxpayer money into private accounts that they controlled. Next, Funes Durán helped oversee the operation to withdraw $116 million of those public funds in cash.
The court sentenced Funes Durán to five years in prison and ordered him to return the public money he helped steal.
The defendant admitted that he had received more than $2 million directly from Saca’s presidential office. He used that taxpayer money to pay off his own credit cards, then he wrote checks to his father, César Funes Cruz; to his mother, Rosa Durán de Funes; and to their family firm, Funes y Asociados.
According to the Salvadorean prosecutors, Saca’s presidential office sent $6.5 million in public funds to Funes y Asociados. The firm then transferred $5.2 million of this money to the Grupo Radial Samix, a company owned by President Saca himself. Funes y Asociados was thus left with $1.3 million in taxpayer money.
The Salvadorean Justice Department ordered the father of the family, Funes Cruz, then the legal representative of Funes y Asociados, to pay back the government $1.3 million. Funes Cruz, who was 87 at the time of the 2019 ruling and was in poor health, offered to give the government three of his properties to pay back the sum and to avoid going to prison on a three-year sentence.
César Funes personally inked the 2011 contract with Cardenas Partners, the lobbying firm where Ana Navarro’s husband, Al Cárdenas, is a senior partner.
According to the contract, Cardenas Partners was retained in order “to monitor developments and actions of the Administration and Congress relating to US relations with El Salvador; to provide analysis of the same; and to arrange meetings with Members of Congresss [sic] and/ or staff and/or Administration officials to obtain information and views about such relations.”
The contract was three months long and cost $30,000 per month, totallng $90,000.
Although Al Cárdenas did not sign the contract with Funes y Asociados, he did file FARA paperwork making it clear that, as a partner Cardenas Partners, he was representing Funes y Asociados in its efforts.
And this is not Cárdenas’ only link to highly questionable lobbying. He is also a partner at Squire Patton Boggs, the third-largest lobbying firm in the United States.
The Intercept has noted that one of Patton Boggs’ past clients was authoritarian Guatemalan military leader Romeo Lucas García. An obituary published in The Guardian pointed out that Lucas oversaw more than 300 massacres, and killed or disappeared an average of 200 people every month for the four years he was was president.
“He obliterated the urban political opposition with a policy of selective assassination,” The Guardian reported, and “also sought to wipe out the rural base of the country’s leftist guerrilla organisations by slaughtering the mainly indigenous Mayan peasantry.”
Republican lobbyists bring bipartisan US elites together for lavish wedding
The two lobbyists and GOP operatives, Ana Navarro and Al Cárdenas, wed in 2019. They celebrated with an ultra-expensive, lavish wedding featuring some very powerful figures in US politics and culture, including Republican Senator Mitt Romney, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, and CNN anchors Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon, and Anderson Cooper.
The Navarro-Cárdenas wedding was another exhibition of rich Republican and Democratic elites rubbing shoulders and enjoying shared values outside the view of the proles who lap up their televised commentary.
While Ana Navarro brands herself as a sassy but sensible voice of resistance in the age of Donald Trump, she and her Republican lobbyist husband cannot erase the decades of work they have done with some of the most corrupt right-wing governments on the planet. The Trumps of Central America bear their legacy.