Pre-University Paper, 2001
13 Pages, Grade: 12 of 15
1. Covert intervention to conserve National security ?
2. History of U.S. Intervention in Nicaragua
2.1. In the 19th century
2.2. In the 20th century
2.3. Origins of the 1980s crisis
3. Reasons for U.S. involvement in Nicaragua during the 1980s
3.1. Official rationales and aims
3.2. Unofficial rationales and aims
4. Measures of the involvement and Congress’ decisions
4.1. Open U.S. involvement
4.2. Hidden U.S. involvement
4.2.1. Paramilitary War
4.2.2. Economic Destabilization
4.2.3. The Propaganda War and its Impact in Congress
5. U.S. Intervention - an action of Nazism?
The presented term paper issues the relation between the United States and Central America, during President Reagan’s term of office. It tells about the general aims of U.S. involvement in Nicaragua, and the manner in which the Reagan government implanted it. Of special interest was the comparativeness of the applied measures to the ambitions. The emphasis in this term paper is on Covert actions the U.S. administration implemented from 1981 until 1989.
The overall goal of this term paper is to compile a scientific work about a historical/political topic, therefore, I have to handle several also scientific publications, and have to ration the six weeks to read, comprehend/structure and write the here presented study.
Next to this pedagogical aspect, working out an overview of the measures to qualify myself to judge about them finally is my aim in content.
To understand the Nicaragua crisis an approximate overview of U.S. involvement in Nicaragua is necessary. Second point of importance is the argumentation of U.S. officials why an involvement seemed vital for U.S. security. Following the substantiation are described various involving actions, including the impact in U.S. Congress.
The National Republic of Nicaragua, existing as such since 1838,became a victim of U.S. expansionism for the first time in 1856. A private adventurer and American citizen named William Walker overthrew the existing government, declared himself president of Nicaragua and even gained governmental recognition from the U.S. administration.1 After one year of cruel exploitation he was vanquished by neighboring armies.2
In 1912 the U.S. Marines subjugated Nicaragua for 13 years until 1925 to quell revolutionary movements against President Adolfo Diaz.
The second time U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua was from 1926 to 1933 to fight civil commotion.3 General Augusto César Sandino tried to liberate his country as well from the U.S. occupants as from the client regime they had imposed. Even though the Marines withdrew in 1933 Sandino lost his battle; as for their departure they installed another bodythe National Guard (originated and trained by the U.S. Marines) to sustain and support the pro- American President Anastacio Somoza Garcia.
Later on Sandino was assassinated as an opponent to Somoza’s regime by National Guardsmen.4
Until 1979 Anastacio Somoza Garcia respectively his sons could uphold the power over Nicaragua. During this period of time Nicaragua had become an important assistant to the U.S. in terms of an operation platform during the U.S. interventions in Guatemala and Cuba. After a wasteful earthquake the country, eroded by bribery started moldering and finally collapsed economically as well as socially since Somoza did not use the international aid he had received to rebuild Nicaragua. This event helped the opposition to his regime in growing stronger. The anti-Somoza guerrilla forces under the leadership of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) began to oppose violently the existing military shortly later the country was overdrawn with a virtual civil war. The U.S. government was so worried that a Communist regime would emerge from the chaos which had taken over Nicaragua that they urged Somoza to resign so that a moderate group could take power. Somoza did in fact resign on July 17 of 1979 and flew to Miami in exile.5 The Sandinistas took control of the country and created a junta of five individuals to rule. Facing enormous obstacles, they tried to get the country back on its economic feet.
The new rulers of Nicaragua evoked different responses from the U.S. government. Until 1981 Jimmy Carter, a liberal, was President of the U.S. He continued financial support to the new government indeed in terms of a guarantee of not using the money for an export of the revolutionary thoughts into other Central American countries.6
When Ronald Reagan came to power in early 1981 the U.S. foreign policy towards Nicaragua experienced an intensification. All kinds of supports to the Sandinistas were ceased almost immediately as the U.S. administration accused Nicaragua of shipping arms from Soviet-bloc countries to Salvadoran rebels who fought against a U.S.-backed regime. This calumny was most vigorously rejected by the Nicaraguan Junta7 but came out to be true at last in these days.8
Thereinafter, when the U.S. public opinion was not longer willing to accept this single aim as a possible trigger for a new Vietnam, President Reagan came up with new proposals for the U.S. involvement in Nicaragua. Like in 1984 he demanded the restoration of democracy and the holding of elections, which the Sandinistas considered as not necessary because in their eyes the people of Nicaragua had voted by supporting the revolution. In 1985 Reagan finally came out with the real goal the U.S. probably tried to achieve from the beginning: the removal of the Sandinista government and the cooperation of the new governor and the U.S.9
Relying on their own Intelligence Service the U.S. government had reason to believe in an Marxist/Leninist expansion starting from Russia. As a result from this opinion the U.S. derivated some more reasons for intervening in Nicaragua. First of all Reagan apprehended a chance of emphasizing the U.S.’ hegemony, after it had to accept a certain failure in Vietnam.10 In fact the U.S. intervention in Nicaragua could be seen as a mini-east-west- conflict by some people in which Nicaragua, and El Salvador were vested by the Soviet Union while Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica fought U.S.-supported. In other opinions the conflict was also seen as a test case for the Reagan Doctrine of Rollback fighting communism in the Third World. As President Reagan once Reagan pointed out one couldn't trust the Soviet government because the Soviets didn't believe in God or in an afterlife and therefore had no reason to behave honorably, but would be willing to lie and cheat and do all sorts of wicked things to aid their cause U.S. citizens were quite upset about the economic-social development in their “backyard”.11. Furthermore U.S. officials feared “the threat of a good example”, meaning the spread of communism in other Third World countries, if the Sandinista government should have had been successful in (re-)building the/a new socioeconomic network.12 To circumvent other third world countries from believing in the success of economical prosperity the Reagan administration tried covertly to destroy all means of the social as well as of the economic backers.
Indeed there were only few direct U.S. assaults on Nicaragua. But in the beginning of the 1980s, when the guerilla forces in Nicaragua were not trained adequately to cause the Sandinistas any real harm, CIA troops were sent to sabotage institutions of significance such as “communication towers,[…]port facilities, and commandos planted mines.”13.14 But the maybe most important role came to the permanent threat the U.S. government carefully planned and publicized deliberately but precisely dosed.15 (In which manner this dosage has happened will be edited in chapter 4.2.4..)For example “in the spring 1984 Pentagon officials stated publicly that the U.S. military was “now in the position to assume a combat role in Central America should President Reagan give the order.””16 The threat was mainly constructed on the fear of many Nicaraguans (primarily peasants), that the U.S. might intervene militarily like it had happened in Grenada before for example. The constantly growing military buildup along the Nicaraguan borders to Costa Rica and Guatemala abetted their fear17.
For it was no defacto action, but a vague threat the U.S. American anti- intervention movements had no reason to grow to a “full scale antiwar movement”18., yet.
Approximate ideas had risen for the first time when U.S. agents mined Nicaraguan ports in 1984 and initially blamed the Contras or ordered them to take responsibility for it. A few weeks later the Wall Street Journal disclosed the truth about the incident and reported the World about Reagan’s fallaciousness19.
The U.S. government had to combine two major interests. On the one hand they wanted to depose the Sandinista government, but on the other hand they feared the backdrop of the “Vietnam Syndrome”20 - the widespread public opposition to U.S. military involvement in third World conflicts. The only way to elude the negative feedback was to operate through a seemingly independent organization. In late 1981 President Reagan signed a paper assuring first National Security groups in Nicaragua of financial and personnel support the paper was called NSDD 17. The three centerpieces of Reagan’s “low intensity warfare”21 strategy were the following:
Although the CIA- backed overthrow strategies of former times failed, the CIA decided on intervening in Nicaraguan politics. The Central Intelligence Agency unionized former National Guard officers and malcontent Nicaraguan and Cuban exiles into one political party- the FDN22 But this organization did not only act inside the parliament, but also became known as the Contras on whose face was the tendency to interdict the arms sales to El Salvador23. But their declared goal was to bring direct pressure on Nicaragua’s fragile political, economic, and military institutions. This way Washington could deny all responsibility for the Contras’ actions towards Congress and the American public. Actions for which the Contras’ took responsibility were for example “vicious attacks on small villages, state owned Agricultural cooperatives, rural health clinics, bridges, electrical generators and finally civilian noncombatants”24.Knowing all these facts President Reagan still called the Contra organisations “freedom fighters”25.
4.2.2. Economic Destabilization
Reagan’s Nicaragua strategy also relied upon economic destabilization to foster discontent and counterrevolution. “Punitive” economic measures were to impede Nicaragua’s ability to generate the hard currency necessary to import basic goods and provide those social services they had established recently after Somoza’s overthrow, and thereby undermining popular support for the Sandinistas. As mentioned before, one of President Reagan’s first decision concerning foreign policies was to stop financial support to the Nicaraguan government. After reducing mutual trade since 1981, a full trade embargo followed in 1985 Of course the embargo had an serious effect on the Nicaraguan economy, as the U.S. were still an important trade partner, but the Sandinista government had succeeded in finding new trade partners, so the U.S. government was not satisfied with the outcome. As the United States had an uncommon great influence on institutions like the Multilateral Development Bank or the World Bank, Reagan’s administration pressured them to stop giving credits to Nicaragua. As political interests were no appropriate reason to exclude a nation, the Sandinistas were blamed to practice incongruous “macro-economic policies”26 27
Speaking about U.S. involvement we need to start in the United States themselves, where political decisions were and are still made. An important premise for these decisions is independent coverage which is to be guaranteed by the state. But during Ronald Reagan’s term of office the media was pressured not to print stories and lobbying tactics to manipulate U.S. public opinion against the Sandinistas and therefore, to achieve congressional support for the contras were used.28 At least two governmental offices were established to conduct the public opinion. One of them was The White House Outreach Group and the other one was called The Office of Public Diplomacy. While the first main concern was to rally a constituency behind President Reagan’s policy towards Central America, the second’s task was to manipulate public opinion against the Sandinistas and for the contras. The Impact originating in these offices on the public was more less than more, as the polls of the Washington Office on Latin America29 show30.
Before 1982 the CIA’s financial support was intended for assaults on “support structure” from Cuba to Nicaragua and from there to El Salvador. But as it became more and more obvious, that most of the assaults were on civilian structures and not on rebels near the borders, the First Boland Amendment was formulated which prohibited U.S. support for the contras for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government and passed Congress in 1982. This amendment assured that the U.S. government acted inside applicable law, while general support to the Contras still was not illegal.
In 1983 Congress passed the “$24 Million Cap” to limit the funds for the CIA’s covert war to $24 million, instead of remaking the First Boland Amendment, Therefore the Senate Intelligence Committee gave “assurances that overthrowing the Nicaraguan government was not the purpose of the CIA activities”31. Limiting the funds was supposed to finish CIA operations, as soon as they ran out of money. But when the money was spend indeed, and Congress was not willing to allow more money, because two American citizens were killed during an assault Congress passed the Second Boland Amendment in October 1984, it exacted the First Amendment, by banning the CIA, the Pentagon, and all the other U.S. intelligence agencies from directly or indirectly assisting the contras.
Now that all financial support from the federal budget had ebbed away. President Reagan and the CIA had to find new supporters of their plan. The most important were: (1) an organization called the “shadow CIA” which provided weapons and other war material, (2) foreign governments Reagan could convince to invest into the U.S. national Security, (3) “American right wing groups” who spent great amounts for “humanitarian purposes” and (4) U.S.- based paramilitaries who sent men to Contra- trainingcamps.32
In 1985 the Humanitarian Aid Bill passes Congress, providing $27 million non-lethal aid to the contras, withal “nonmilitary trucks, helicopters, and planes- all which could be easily configured for military use.”33 It took Reagan time, money and many personal effort and speeches to bring this bill through Congress34, and it took him even more effort to make the $100 Million Aid Bill pass in 1986. This bill restored major funding for the covert war without restrictions.35
19 years have passed since Reagan allowed the Covert war, by writing his name under a secret document - the NSDD 17.36 At the same time he claimed to act protectively towards his Central American neighbors and against the communist threat, which were about to unfurl in the Caribbean Basin.37 A threat that possibly where non at all. At least it was definitely at no particular time a threat for the lives of U.S. citizens (except those who went to Central America for journalistic or warlike reasons).38
If the statesmen during President Reagan’s term of office really deeply believed in the rationales - or thought about them wisely - they got up with towards the public has to be doubted, for they changed these reasons several times.39 So we do not have the possibility to conclude too much from the rationales governmental officers have spread during the last 20 years about the real substantiation, if this should be something nameable at all. So being in the need of reasoning the events in the 1980s, we can also include our own speculations. The U.S. administration and the U.S. military observed a flow of Soviet weapons into several Central American countries, such as Cuba or El Salvador, this was interpreted as a buildup of Russian weapon/forces in their outstations and an upgrading of the communist threat40, existing as such since World War II. And since Central America had always been more ore less under the control of the United States41, at least since the idea of colonialism was not en vogue anymore, so the Soviets in the eyes of U.S. officials committed some kind of trespassing, infiltrating into American territory. But, nevertheless, all covert and overt U.S. actions were aiming at the destabilization of the Nicaraguan economy and military, not at the Soviets’! In March 1982 “the Sandinistas [even] declared a state of emergency”42
Apart from the cruelty each war causes, the Nicaraguan civilian population was cursed in an especially cruel manner. First they had to suffer from the corrupt dictatorship of the Somoza dynasty, the U.S. government had set in power and right after they had freed themselves from him43, the U.S. forces intervened repeatedly in a snaky manner - without taking responsibility for their actions of involvement, neither in front of the people of Nicaragua, nor in front of a the UNO.44
Regarding my emphasize, how reasonable the U.S. strategy was, compared to the located aims, it appears more than questionable to vindicate the death and torture of hundreds of civilians, the destruction of private as well as of commonly used property with the establishment of democracy, human rights and economic growth.
But not all negative aftermath are to be found on the Nicaraguan side. The United States’ damage of economic was probably to small to be mentioned, but other important mainstays of the U.S.’ society suffered a touchy damage, e.g. the luminous and vaunted credibility started fading when Reagan signed the above-mentioned permission to intervene in the Nicaraguan crisis, as the U.S. contravened several international laws45 they had accepted before.46 The exposure of the CIA’s direct involvement in the mining of the Nicaraguan Ports47 and of the Iran-Contra affair48 pulled their weight. But from today’s point of view these single issues are, if at all, not the most decisive points.
Another important stilt of the United States which granted some kind of hegemony in the World, was the inviolability of their democracy. Not only that the American citizens were mostly against the U.S involvement, but they were also the object of various advertising campaigns, through which the public opinion was to be revolved. Some of these psychological advertisement campaigns even succeeded, as for example hundreds of citizens bestowed money for “the Victims of Communist Dominated Nicaragua”49 ; or when members of Congress converted their votes concerning each time the same principal issue - giving aid to the Contras or not.50
My final conclusion concerning the question whether the U.S. measures of direct and indirect Intervention during the Reagan Era were adequate to their aims - I deem it to be indispensable to also respect the casualties in total- can be clearly formulated: I reject the manner in which the U.S. administration pursued their foreign policy. Although I busied myself for six weeks with the topic, I still cannot deliver an accounted evaluation of the U.S. foreign policy aims; I repeatedly decline methods of publishing them, and as well I refuse the arrogance/intolerance which the Unites States reveal while forcing all of their neighbouring (southerly) countries to believe in the same principles as they do themselves.
Berryman, Phillip 1985: Inside Central America- U.S. Policy in its New Vietnam, in Leichhartd
Kornbluh, Peter 1987: Nicaragua- The Prize of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, in Washington D.C.
Krennerich, Michael 1996: Wahlen und Antiregimekriege in Zentralamerika- Eine vergleichende Studie, in Opladen
Schraeder, Peter J.(editor) 1989: Intervention in the 1980s- U.S. Foreign Policy in the Third World, in Boulder/London
Walker, Thomas W. (editor) 1987: Reagan versus the Sandinistas- The Undeclared War on Nicaragua, in Boulder/London
1 See: Thomas W. Walker; in 1987 in Reagan versus the Sandinistas- The Undeclared War on Nicaragua, p.2
2 See: Phillip Berryman, in 1985 in Inside Central America- U.S. policy in its new Vietnam; p. 12
3 See: Der Neue Brockhaus- Bd. 4 p.8
4 See: Phillip Berryman in 1985 in Inside Central America- U.S. policy in its new Vietnam, p. 13
5 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1989 in Intervention in the 1980s-U.S. Foreign Policy in the Third World, pp. 238- 239; See also: Phillip Berryman in 1985 in Inside Central America- U.S. policy in its new Vietnam, p. 30
6 See: Michael Krennerich in 1996 in Wahlen und Antiregimekriege in Zentralamerika, pp. 251-252
7 See: William Goodfellow in Reagan versus the Sandinistas- The undeclared war on Nicaragua, p. 144
8 See: The Miami Herald, July 18, 1999, We shipped weapons, Sandinistas say
9 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention - Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p.191
10 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention - Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p.10
11 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1989 in Intervention in the 1980s - U.S. Foreign Policy in The Third World, p. 241
12 See: William M. LeoGrande in 1989 in Reagan versus the Sandinistas- The undeclared war on Nicaragua, pp.203-210
13 Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p.47
14 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp. 46-48
15 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p. 125
16 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp. 153- 154
17 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1989 in Intervention in the 1980s- U.S. Foreign Policy in the Third World, p. 244
18 Phillip Berryman 1985 in Inside Central America- U.S. Policy in its New Vietnam, p.90
19 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp. 48- 50
20 Peter Kornbluh in 1989 in Intervention in the 1980s - U.S. Foreign Policy in The Third World, p.241
21 Peter Kornbluh in 1989 in Intervention in the 1980s - U.S. Foreign Policy in The Third World, p.241
22 Nicaraguan Democratic Force
23 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1989 in Intervention in the 1980s - U.S. Foreign Policy in The Third World, p.242 5
24 See: Peter Kornbluh in Intervention in the 1980s - U.S. Foreign Policy in The Third World; 1989 p. 242
25 Ronald Reagan in Peter Kornbluh in 1987 Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas p. 25
26 A Congressional Research Service in Peter Kornbluh in Intervention in the 1980s - U.S. Foreign Policy in The Third World; 1989 p. 105
27 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp. 98- 118
28 See: Jack Spence in 1989 in Reagan versus the Sandinistas- The undeclared war on Nicaragua, p. 183
29 See: William LeoGrande in 1987 in Central America and the Polls in Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in NicaraguaThe Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p. 189
30 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp161- 165
31: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p. 57
32 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp. 54- 61
33 Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p. 198
34 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp. 196- 197
35 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp.205- 211
36 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp.20- 24
37 See: Michael Krennerich in 1996 in Wahlen und Antiregimekriege in Zentralamerika, pp. 251-252
38 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp.59- 61
39 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention - Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p.191
40 See: William Goodfellow in Reagan versus the Sandinistas- The undeclared war on Nicaragua, p. 144
41 See: Eva Gold in Reagan versus the Sandinistas- The undeclared war on Nicaragua, p. 39
42 Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p24
43 See: Phillip Berryman in 1985 in Inside Central America- U.S. policy in its new Vietnam, p. 13
44 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- The Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp.46- 49
45 e.g. the UN charter, the OAS charter, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (RIO Pact) and the GATT
46 See: Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- the Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp.217- 219
47 See: John Branch in San Antonion Express News in Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua- the Price of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p.53
48 after Congress had banned all assistance to the contras, the Reagan government sold arms to Iran to be able to continue contra- funding. See: Peter Kornbluh in 1989 in Intervention in the 1980s - U.S. Foreign Policy in The Third World; 1989 pp. 247-248
49 CIA-sponsored advertisement, appearing in the New York Times in 1984 in Peter Kornbluh in 1987 in Nicaragua - The Prize of Intervention - Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, p. 67
50 See: Kornbluh, Peter 1987: Nicaragua- The Prize of Intervention- Reagan’s Wars against the Sandinistas, pp. 196- 197
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