FILE - In this Feb. 16, 1987 file photo, Nicaraguan Contra leader Adolfo Calero gestures at a news conference at the headquarters of the United Nicaraguan opposition in Miami. Calero, one of the principal leaders of the U.S.-backed Contra rebels who battled Nicaragua's Sandinista government in the 1980s has died, according to reports Saturday, June 2, 2012. He was 81. (AP Photo/JLS, File)

Managua - Adolfo Calero, a leader of the U.S.-backed Contra rebels that unsuccessfully fought to oust Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government in the 1980s, has died aged 80.

A businessman who headed the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, one of the main Contra groups, Calero administered the clandestine funds sent by Washington for the Cold War era anti-communist insurgency in Central America.

Local media said Calero died in Managua at the weekend of pneumonia.

Despite U.S. backing, the Contras could not defeat the Sandinistas in the grinding war that killed around 30,000 people and wrecked Nicaragua's economy.

A year after the war ended in 1989, the Sandinistas (FSLN) were defeated at the ballot box and relinquished power, only to be voted back into office in 2006 under former guerrilla leader and ex president Daniel Ortega.

The Ortega government's news portal remembered Calero as a man who had waged a “brutal war” against the state.

In 1987, Calero testified before the U.S. Congress over his links to the so-called Iran-Contra scandal that embarrassed the administration of former President Ronald Reagan.

Calero played a pivotal role in the affair that broke over the Central Intelligence Agency's illegal sales of arms to Iran, the profits of which were then funneled to the Contras.

After Violeta Chamorro won election at the head of an anti-Sandinista alliance in 1990, Calero served in Nicaragua's unicameral congress but he was largely retired from public life.

Calero's death came just one month after his old Sandinista adversary and FSLN co-founder Tomas Borge passed away aged 81. - Reuters