Adolfo Calero, who led the largest force of U.S.-backed Contra rebels against Nicaragua's Sandinista government in the 1980s, has died at age 81.

Mr. Calero died on Saturday of lung problems in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, his aide Julio Romero confirmed on Sunday.

Mr. Calero attended the University of Notre Dame in the United States and returned home to enter business. He was head of a Coca Cola bottling operation when the Sandinista rebels, backed by a broad sector of Nicaraguan society, ousted the Somoza family dictatorship in 1979.

When the Sandinistas veered sharply to the Left, Mr. Calero went into exile in Florida and soon emerged as the political head of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the largest of the Contra groups that tried to topple the Soviet- and Cuban-backed Sandinista government.

That conflict led to international mediation and the Sandinistas agreed to accept free elections as the Contras disarmed.

The vote removed the Sandinistas from power in 1990, though Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega returned to the presidency in 2007.

Mr. Calero was a key contact with senior U.S. officials during the Iran-Contra affair, when Reagan administration officials secretly arranged the sale of weapons to Iran to finance the Contras, bypassing Congressional restrictions.

After the Sandinistas left power, Mr. Calero returned home and practiced law.

Mr. Calero was to be buried Sunday in Managua. — AP

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