President Ronald Reagan and Nicaragua
excerpted from the book
Lying for Empire
How to Commit War Crimes With
A Straight Face
by David Model
Common Courage Press, 2005, paper
Created on December 2, 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was originally
defined by President Monroe in his seventh annual message to Congress
and states that:
... We owe it, therefore to candor and
to the amicable relations existing between the United States and
those powers [European] to declare that we should consider any
attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of
this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.
The duplicity of American foreign policy
is exemplified by the inconsistency between these commitments
and the policies actually implemented by these same governments.
While unequivocally agreeing to respect the sovereignty and territorial
integrity of nations in the hemisphere, American governments have
repeatedly intervened in South and Central American nations to
pursue their own economic, political, and military agenda. American
presidential signatures on the OAS Charter and on other international
agreements are an expedient to create an illusion of commitment
to international law while America is engaging in brutal acts
Nicaragua-a History of Crises
American intervention in Nicaragua is
a salient example of both an interventionist interpretation of
both the Monroe Doctrine and of the Truman Doctrine offering "...to
support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by
armed minorities or by outside pressures..." (referring to
the Soviet Union). When a populist, reformist movement, the Sandinistas,
overthrew the brutal and corrupt dictator, Anastasio Somoza in
1979, President Reagan organized a guerrilla force to embark on
a war of attrition against the Nicaraguan people which ultimately
ended in the Sandinistas' defeat.
During a brief respite from the Liberals and Conservatives ongoing
war, the National Congress elected Adolfo Diaz as president in
1926. Violence erupted again between the Liberals and Conservatives.
U. S. President Calvin Coolidge, fearing that the violence might
threaten U.S. interests, sent Henry L. Stimson (later Herbert
Hoover's Secretary of State) as his special envoy to negate a
peace between the warring parties. Coolidge, a proponent of the
interventionist interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, stated
in an address to Congress in 1927 that:
I have the most conclusive evidence that
arms and munitions in large quantities have been on special occasions..,
shipped to the revolutionists in Nicaragua... I am sure it is
not the desire of the United States to intervene in the internal
affairs of Nicaragua or of any other Central American Republic.
Nevertheless, it must be said, that we have a very definite and
special interest in the maintenance of order and good government
in Nicaragua at the present time .... The United States cannot,
therefore, fail to view with deep concern any serious threat to
stability and constitutional government in Nicaragua tending toward
anarchy and jeopardizing American interests, especially if such
a state of affairs is contributed or brought about by outside
influence or by any foreign power. (William Blum, Killing Hope)
The revolutionaries mentioned in the address
were the Liberals, one being Augusto Cesar Sandino whose name
was taken by a successful revolutionary group in Nicaragua in
1961. Sandino was an illegitimate son f of a wealthy landowner
and a mestizo servant. In 1926, Sandino worked as a gold miner
at an American company. He lectured the mine workers about social
inequalities, and eventually organized his own army consisting
mostly of peasants, workers, and Liberals, to wage war against
the Conservative government.
After negotiating with both the Liberals
and Conservatives, Stimson achieved a peaceful settlement resulting
in the Pact of Espino Negro. Both sides agreed to disarm and to
create a nonpartisan military force, the National Guard, to be
established and trained under American supervision. As well, the
agreement called for the stationing of American forces in Nicaragua
to supervise the 1928 elections.
Sandino refused to sign the pact and denounced
the U.S. for making Nicaragua an American protectorate. He organized
an independent guerrilla force to wage war against the Nicaraguan
government and the United States. American marines embarked on
a six-year hunt for Sandino without success.
As American casualties increased in Nicaragua,
the United States decided to withdraw the marines in 1933. Command
of the National Guard was transferred to the Nicaraguan government,
which appointed Anastasio Somoza Garcia as its director.
Somoza had attended school in Philadelphia
and was trained by U.S. marines. He was fluent in English and
had formed friendships with military, economic, and political
leaders in the United States. He maintained his close ties with
the United States despite his brutal and corrupt leadership, inspiring
President Roosevelt to comment that "Somoza may be a son
of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."
Three years later, Somoza took over the
presidency with the assistance of the National Guard, establishing
a family dynasty which would rule Nicaragua for the next 43 years.
During the Somoza dynasty, the Somoza family's tentacles extended
into all sectors of the Nicaraguan economy, allowing them to amass
a large fortune. The family invested heavily in agricultural exports,
cattle and coffee, and owned textile companies, sugar mills, rum
distilleries, the merchant marine lines, the national Nicaraguan
Airlines, and the country's only pasteurized milk factory. Somoza
and his family also owned 10 to 20 percent of the arable land.
The corruption, repression, and lack of
freedoms triggered the growth of opposition groups including political
parties, labour, student, and business groups.
... Somoza's policies and brutality had
produced many political enemies r including some within the National
Guard, one of whom assassinated him in 1956. His eldest son, Luis
Somoza Debayle, an American-trained engineer, succeeded him as
president while another son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, a West
Point graduate, became leader of the National Guard. A brutal
campaign of repression including torture, imprisonment, executions,
press censorship, and a suspension of civil liberties followed
Somoza Garcia's death.
When Luis Somoza's health deteriorated
and he was unable to seek another term as president, his brother,
Anastasio Somoza, was elected president amid a repressive campaign
against his political opponents. After his brother Luis died of
a heart attack, Anastasio also became leader of the National Guard,
giving him absolute political and military power.
Several major opposition groups emerged in the 1960s and 1970s
oppose and eventually release the Somoza family's grip on power.
In 1961, a small group of student activists at the National Autonomous
University of Nicaragua in Managua formed the Sandinista National
Liberation Front (FSLN). Although the FSLN's members faced imprisonment
and exile in the early years of its existence, by the early 1970s
new recruits, including students and peasants, empowered it to
the point where it could launch limited military initiatives.
The FSLN guerillas held a group of leading Nicaraguan officials
hostage in 1974 and negotiated an agreement with the government.
When a government declaration appeared in the media and 14 Sandinistas
were released from prison, the guerillas' prestige soared and
the government was humiliated. Somoza's reaction to the growing
opposition to his regime was more censorship, torture, and murder.
Differences in philosophy temporarily
fractured the guerilla movement but they united under Daniel José
Ortega Saavedra's faction which believed that conditions were
primed for immediate action.
By 1977, the FSLN had become sufficiently strong to pose a threat
to the Somoza Regime. The Carter administration then shipped weapons
to Somoza covertly to avoid accusations of supporting a government
that regularly violated the human rights of its citizens.
President Carter, fearing a FLSN victory, attempted to cajole
Somoza into adopting a more flexible stance in an effort to win
back middle class support but Somoza was in no mood to grant concessions.
With military support from Israel and Brazil, he continued his
brutal acts of suppression. At this point, the United States withdrew
all economic and military support although support for the National
Guard continued in anticipation of its role in a post-Somoza government.
When it became obvious to the Carter administration in 1979 that
the FLSN would overthrow Somoza and form the next government,
the U.S. sent officials to Nicaragua to negotiate an agreement
with the Sandinistas. The U.S. officials offered to persuade Somoza
to resign if the FLSN would incorporate a reformed National Guard
into the new government. When the National Guard began to disintegrate
on July 17, 1979, Somoza fled to Florida with an estimated $100
million which he had accumulated during his dictatorship. After
the departure of Somoza, many members of the National Guard fled
to Honduras and Guatemala. On the same day, the FLSN triumphantly
marched into Managua concluding the Sandinista revolution.
One of the new government's first economic reforms was to pass
the Agrarian Reform Law which called for the redistribution of
land owned by the Somoza family, which comprised 20 percent of
Nicaragua's cultivated land. Nicaragua, like many other developing
countries, had to seek a balance between feeding its own people
and earning foreign exchange through export crops to repay its
debt. Nevertheless, the Sandinistas aimed for complete self-sufficiency
by the year 2000.
When the Sandinistas took power, the educational
system in Nicaragua was one of the poorest in Latin America. Limited
spending on education and severe poverty forced many children
into the labour market before their education was complete. By
the time Somoza went into exile only 65 percent of primary school-age
children were enrolled in school and only 22 percent of those
who attended primary school completed the full six years. In rural
areas, most secondary schools had only one or two grades and there
was a 75 percent illiteracy rate. To improve the educational system,
the Sandinistas doubled the proportion of GNP spent on primary
and secondary schools, increased the number of teachers, and built
more schools. Using volunteer teachers, the Sandinista government
succeeded in reducing the illiteracy rate from 50 percent of the
population to 23 percent. Enrollment in colleges skyrocketed from
11,142 students in 1978 to 38,570 in 1985.
Health care was a disaster under the Somoza
regime with many Nicaraguans having limited or no access to modern
health care. The Sandinistas completely restructured the entire
health care system by spending substantially more on health care,
increasing the number of students entering medical school from
100 to 500, building five new hospitals, and building 363 primary
health care clinics.
The Sandinistas, who had themselves been
victims of the brutal dictatorship of Somoza, were determined
to construct new political institutions and to introduce a new
constitution which guaranteed human rights.
The new Minister of the Interior, Tomás
Borge Martinez, was committed to eliminating human rights abuses
and as a start he allowed all people imprisoned by Somoza to be
given a fair trial. As an urgent priority, the Sandinistas wrote
and passed a new provisional constitution called the Fundamental
Statute of the Republic of Nicaragua which guaranteed human rights,
equal justice under the law, the right to free expression, and
the abolition of torture.
To replace the National Guard, the Sandinistas
created the Sandinista People's Army and a new police force. The
goal of the Sandinistas was to build a well-equipped professional
An important step toward democratization
was the creation of mass organizations representing most popular
interests such the Sandinista Workers' Federation representing
labour unions, the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Nicaraguan Women's Association,
and the National Union of Farmers and Cattlemen.
All these progressive measures were interpreted
by the new American President, Ronald Reagan, as symptoms of communism
requiring immediate action by the United States. David Womble,
in The CIA in Nicaragua stated that:
In January 1981 Ronald Reagan took office
under a Republican platform which asserted that "...it deplores
the Marxist Sandinista take-over of Nicaragua" and he greatly
expanded the CIA's guerilla warfare and sabotage campaigns. In
November 1981 Reagan authorized a covert plan for $19 million
to help the Argentina dictatorship train a guerilla force operating
from camps in Honduras to attack Nicaragua.
William in Killing Hope wrote that:
The President [Ronald Reagan] moved quickly
to cut off virtually all j.. forms of assistance to the Sandinistas,
the opening salvos of his war against their revolution. The American
whale, yet again, felt threatened by a minnow in the Caribbean.
To overthrow what George Shultz, former Secretary of State, referred
to as a "cancer right here on our land mass," the United
States decided to create a surrogate guerilla force, feigning
to be Nicaraguans, to rise up against the evil communist government
in Managua. The alternative, an invasion by American forces, was
ruled out for fear of a backlash from the American public who
were not quite over the Vietnam War. The CIA covertly created
a paramilitary force known as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force
(FDN) or the Contras, many of whom were former members of Somoza's
National Guard. By 1983, there were between 16,000 and 20,000
Contra troops who were operating along the Honduran border and
from bases in Costa Rica.
The purpose of the Contras was not to
defeat the Sandinista army in battle but to use terrorist tactics
to destroy infrastructure, health, and educational services. Their
intention was not to confront Sandinistas but to blow up bridges,
power plants, oil pipelines, ports, schools, health clinics, grain
silos, irrigation projects, and farmhouses. The underlying purpose
of these acts of terrorism was to destroy the morale of the Nicaraguan
people and to force the Nicaraguan government to divert a high
proportion of its budget to defence as discussed in detail below.
Diverting government resources to the war, forcing the Sandinistas
to cut back on their reform programs, had a considerable negative
impact on the people of Nicaragua. David Womble., in The CIA in
Nicaragua, discussing the atrocities of the Contras called attention
Witness For Peace, an American Protestant
watchdog body, collected a list of Contra atrocities in one year,
which include murder, the rape of two girls in their homes, torture
of men, maiming of children, cutting off arms, cutting out tongues,
gouging out eyes, castration, bayoneting pregnant women in the
stomach, amputating the genitals of people of both sexes, scraping
the skin off the face, pouring acid on the face, breaking the
toes and fingers of an 18 year old boy, and summary executions.
These were the people Ronald Reagan called the "freedom fighters"
and the "moral equivalent of our founding fathers."
The Contras were trained by the CIA in
terrorist warfare and were provided with a manual of instruction
which encouraged the use of violence against civilians. According
to William Blum, in Killing Hope:
The CIA manual, entitled Psychological
Operations in Guerilla Warfare gave advice on such niceties as
political assassination, blackmailing ordinary citizens, mob violence,
kidnapping, and blowing up public buildings. Upon entering a town,
it said, "establish a public tribunal" where the guerillas
can "shame, ridicule and humiliate" Sandinistas and
their sympathizers by "shouting jeers and slogans".
In 1982, the Standard Fruit Company announced that it was suspending
its operations in Nicaragua while foreign oil tankers refused
to deliver oil to Nicaragua after Contra threats to blow them
up. In October 1983, Nicaragua lost its primary oil supply when
Esso (Exxon) announced that it would no longer ship oil from Mexico
to Nicaragua. Nicaragua suffered the destruction of oil pipelines
and the mining of oil-unloading ports, creating a critical shortage
Another result was an acute food shortage
stemming from Contra attacks on crops, grain silos, irrigation
projects, farm silos, and machinery. In addition, the fish industry
suffered from lack of fuel for its boats, spare parts, and the
mining of Nicaraguan waters.
In addition to the guerilla warfare against
the Sandinistas, the United States embarked on a devastating campaign
of economic warfare to starve the people of Nicaragua in the hope
that eventually they would "vote with their stomachs."
Washington's ultimate objective was to impose a complete economic
blockade against Nicaragua by blocking foreign aid, trade, and
loans. The United States persuaded the World Bank, the International
Monetary Fund, and the International Development Fund to cut Nicaragua
off from any form of assistance. A total trade embargo imposed
by the U.S. was a serious blow to the Nicaraguan economy. Foreign
trade with Nicaragua was almost severed when the CIA mined Nicaraguan
harbours in 1984. The placing of 300-pound mines in three harbours
not only discouraged foreign trade but destroyed Nicaragua's fishing
August 13, 1983, President Reagan stated that:
We are on the side of peaceful democratic change in Central America
and our actions daily prove it.
David MacMichael, who served with the CIA from 1981 to 1983 as
an analyst of military and political developments in Central America,
noted after an inter-agency meeting that:
"Although the stated objective was
to interdict arms going to El Salvador, there was hardly any discussion
of the arms traffic... I couldn't understand this failure until
months later when I realized, like everyone else, that arms interdiction
had never been a serious objective... the Administration and the
CIA have systematically misrepresented Nicaraguan involvement
in the supply of arms to Salvadorian guerillas to justify [their]
efforts to overthrow the Nicaraguan Government." (William
Blum, Killing Hope)
The propaganda apparatus in Washington was determined to l demonstrate
that El Salvador was a paragon of democracy and Nicaragua a dangerous
dictatorship with plans to inject its poison into El Salvador.
In fact, El Salvador was run by a brutal dictator who was forced
to implement very repressive measures to contend with a negative
nationalist reaction to American domination. President Reagan
made a statement on May 18, 1984, in which he noted that:
On Wednesday, May 16, the Central Elections
Commission of El Salvador certified Jose Napoleon Duarte as the
winner of the May 6 presidential election in that country. By
this act, the people of El Salvador have made clear their choice
of Mr. Duarte as the first popularly elected President of that
country in recent history.
The voters have chosen as president a
man who has dedicated his life to achieving democracy for his
homeland. (From www.reagan.utexas.edu)
In a radio address to the people of the
United States on March 24, 1984, the President stated that:
Unlike El Salvador, the Nicaraguans don't
want international oversight of their campaign and their elections...
Nicaragua is a communist dictatorship armed to the teeth, tied
to Cuba and the Soviet Union, which oppresses its people and threatens
... some of the lies propagated by the United States as part of
a propaganda campaign to characterize Nicaragua as a communist
dictatorship whose objective was to spread communism to the entire
hemisphere. The other lies include:
* Members of the Kissinger Commission
concluded that Nicaragua was worse off under the Sandinistas than
* Henry Kissinger believed that Nicaragua
was worse than Nazi Germany;
* The State Department reported to the
world that Nicaragua was exporting drugs without any evidence;
* Secretary of State Alexander Haig displayed
a photograph of burning corpses and declared that it was an example
of the Sandinista atrocities perpetrated against the Miskito Indians.
The photo was actually taken before 1978 and therefore was before
the Sandinistas came to power;
* George Shultz called the Sandinistas
"a cancer in our backyard."
Nicaragua was under attack from the United
States on many fronts including the propaganda campaign, the Contra
attacks, the economic embargoes and the mining of Nicaraguan harbours.
This small country with limited resources was no match for the
giant superpower seeking to remove the Sandinistas from power.
President Reagan was not some lone psycho at work here but the
point man for an apparatus of propaganda and empire building.
Nicaragua responded to these acts of aggression
by the only means available to them and that was to institute
proceedings at the World Court in 1984. Nicaragua requested the
court to adjudge and declare that:
* The U.S. was under a duty to cease and
desist immediately from the use of force against Nicaragua, from
all violations of sovereignty and political independence of Nicaragua,
and from the effort to restrict access to and from Nicaraguan
* The United States has an obligation
to pay reparations for damages caused by these violations.
In the judgment of the World Court "the
Court finds it established that... the President of the United
States authorized a U.S. government agency to lay mines in Nicaraguan
ports." The ruling is based on the following violations of
* The UN Charter, article 2, paragraph
4-"All members shall refrain in their international relations
from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity
or political independence of any state... ;"
* Geneva Conventions, Protocol 1, chapter
2, clause 3-"Those who employ a method or means of combat,
the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol,
and in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives
and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.";
Hague Convention viii, Article 2-It is
forbidden to lay automatic contact mines off the coast and ports
of the enemy, with the sole purpose of intercepting commercial
With respect to the Contra guerillas,
the Court found "It clearly established that the United States
intended by its support of the Contras to overthrow the present
government of Nicaragua. It [the Court] finds that the support
given by the United States to the Contras by financial support
supply of weapons, intelligence and logistical support, constitutes
a clear breach of the principle of non-intervention"
On the issue of reparations, the Court
determined that "...the court considers appropriate the request
of Nicaragua for the nature and amount of the reparations to be
determined at a subsequent phase of the proceedings."
In response to the ruling, the State Department
commented that the World Court was "...not equipped for complex
cases." State Department legal advisor Abraham Sofaer justified
the United State's rejection of the World Court decision by explaining
that America must "...reserve to ourselves the power to determine
whether the Court has jurisdiction over us in this particular
case" and that "The United States does not accept compulsory
jurisdiction over any dispute involving matters essentially within
the domestic jurisdiction of the United States as determined by
the United States." In their response, the United States
invented a new principle of jurisprudence, namely that the convicted
party, and not the court itself, has the right, after the trial,
to determine the jurisdiction of the court.
To continue its support for the Contras,
the Reagan administration descended to the level of common outlaws
and drug dealers. In addition to violating the Boland Amendment,
the Arms Export Control Act, and the Neutrality Act, the Reaganites
engaged in narcotics trafficking and gunrunning, and ignored the
oversight controls of Congress in order to maintain a steady flow
of weapons to the Contras.
President Reagan gave a speech to the American people on March
4, 1987 and stated that:
A few months ago I told the American people
I did not trade in arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions
still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell
me it is not as the lower Board [President Reagan appointed a
special commission headed by John Tower to investigate the Iran/Contra
affair] reported, which began as a strategic opening to Iran but
deteriorated in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.,.
Now, another major aspect of the Board's
findings regards the transfer of funds to the Nicaragua Contras.
The Tower Board wasn't able to find out what happened to this
money, so the facts here will be left to the continuing investigations
of the court-appointed Independent Counsel and the two Congressional
One thing still upsetting me, however,
is that no one kept proper records of meetings and decisions.
This led to my failure to recollect whether I approved an arms
shipment before or after the fact. (www.pbs.org)
Economic strangulation was the result of a number of factors beginning
with the economic and social conditions inherited from 43 years
of Somoza rule. The Sandinistas inherited a country suffering
from crushing poverty, a $1.6 billion debt, and a lack of progress
under Somoza. The United States tightened the noose with a trade
embargo and severed sources of credit. U.S. Support for the Contras
was also devastating to the Nicaraguan economy as more and more
resources had to be diverted to defence. In 1980, the Nicaraguan
government spent only 18 percent of its budget on defence and
50 percent on health and education compared to 1987 when the government
Spent 50 percent on defence and only 20 percent on health and
At a time when the reputation of the CIA was tainted from its
covert v activities, Congress created the NED to overtly perform
many of the same political functions such as funding political
parties, labour unions, newspapers and other opposition groups.
Although Congress enacted a law in 1984 prohibiting the NED from
financing candidates for public office, the loopholes in the legislation
provided an opportunity for NED to contribute to the building
of the National Opposition Union (UNO), the main opposition party
As well, Mark Weisbrot, in What Everyone Should Know About Nicaragua,
By 1990 the Nicaraguans had suffered more
than they could take from the war and economic embargo, so when
President George Bush I made it clear that their misery would
continue until the Sandinistas were voted out of office, a majority
In 1990, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro became
President of Nicaragua but the Sandinistas won 43 percent of the
popular vote in the election despite the threat of continued American
warfare against Nicaragua if the Sandinistas had won.
President Reagan lied repeatedly to the American people and Congress
to conceal the covert activities of his government to support
the Contras. Some of these lies include:
* He warned that Nicaragua was only two
days from Brownsville, Texas, implying that the Nicaraguan army
intended to attack the United States. o
* He suggested that the Contras were Nicaraguan
peasants rebelling against their own government.
* He violated the Boland Amendment when
he continued to fund the Contras.
* He lied about the elections in Nicaragua
and El Salvador.
* He lied about Nicaragua's willingness
to allow a team of inspectors to oversee the elections in 1984.
* He lied when he claimed that the Sandinista
government was oppressing its own people.
* He lied about the sale of arms to Iran
to buy weapons for the Contras.
Nicaragua was a victim of the Cold War
and also of the American obsession with creating client states
in Latin America. According to U.S. policy-makers, whenever Latin
American countries experimented with progressive reforms they
were communist and a threat to American corporate interests. Then
the mighty American military and intelligence machine jumped into
action. Human rights and respect for the sovereignty and political
independence of other states dropped off the radar screen. All
that remained was American self-interest.