REAGAN'S DIRTY WAR IN NICARAGUA
EARLY AMERICAN IMPERIALISM
REAGAN'S DIRTY WAR: THE PRESIDENT WHO GOT AWAY WITH MURDER
1990 ELECTIONS: THE WINNER IS BUSH
TORTURE AT EL AQUACATE
EARLY AMERICAN IMPERIALISM
EARLY AMERICAN IMPERIALISM
United States policy to Latin American countries has been consistently self-serving -- and more specifically to bolster the profits of American multi-national corporations. On a few occasions, a secondary criterion has been to protect the security of the United States. Additionally, Washington has had the naivete and pervasive belief that Latin Americans are inferior to Americans.
Historically, the European countries have been looked upon as the cradle of American culture. For the most part, these nations are wealthy. They have strong militaries and most are NATO allies. They have a relatively long history of democratic institutions.
On the other hand, Latin American countries tend to be poor. No culture has been handed down to Anglos living in the United States. They have a history of totalitarian governments. They are vital to American corporations operating in Latin America, and subsequently the American government has portrayed them as "democracies" and "banana republics."
Latin American countries may be characterized as ones where the ownership of land, capital, labor, natural resources, and technology are concentrated in the hands of the wealthy and multinational corporations. For the most part, they are autocratic police states with military forces which are partially financed and trained by the United States. The population endures poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, poor housing, substandard medical services, and people are often displaced from their land.
Since Central America gained independence from the Spanish in 1821, American multinational corporations began gaining a foothold. Soon after gold was discovered in California, eastern Americans found that the quickest route westward was by ship, across Central America, and up the Pacific coast. In the 1850s Cornelius Vanderbilt was the first successful American entrepreneur to exploit the people of Latin America. In the 1850s he built his own railroad across Nicaragua in addition to owning thousands of acres of property.
The United Fruit Company was created in 1889 by Minor C. Keith with its headquarters in Boston. By 1930, it had solidified its control on the Central American banana industry when it bought out the Cuyamel Fruit Company of Honduras. By 1950, United Fruit owned three million acres of land in Central America. Ironically, one of its employees was Fidel Castro. In 1970, United Fruit changed its corporate title to United Brands, one of the world's largest producers and processors of food products. It not only controlled the banana industry but also owned 18 plastic manufacturing companies in Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. It also owned the Numar Processed Food Group in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
In 1851, Castle and Cooke set out as missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands. After gaining a monopoly on the islands' sugar and pineapple industry, they moved on to Central America. They constructed the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company and soon became one of the leading banana exporters in Honduras and Costa Rica. Castle and Cooke owned 41,000 acres in Central American countries.
After acquiring Nabisco Brands in 1985, R. J. Reynolds became one of the largest food processors in Central America. In addition, this conglomerate is one of the world's largest consumer products corporation.
In 1523 with the landing of Cortez, Central America fell under Spanish domination. American hegemony began in the nineteenth century, with American marines landing over 13 times in Nicaragua alone. Then in 1835, Bank of the United States president Nicolas Biddle failed in an attempt to negotiate a canal treaty when he died under the presidency of Andrew Jackson. In 1837, American businessmen consulted with government officials under President Van Buren. They failed to negotiate to build a trans-Nicaraguan canal. In the late 1840s, England landed troops on the eastern Caribbean side at San Juan del Norte.
In the 1850s, the first American entrepreneurs set sail for Nicaragua. Two years after gold was discovered in California, Cornelius Vanderbilt formed the American, Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company which had exclusive control over travel from New York to San Francisco. For the first time American marines landed to protect American interests. It was at this time that the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty between the United States and Britain demilitarized the canal.
In 1853, William Walker led a filibustering expedition in Baja California. The same year the United States acquired 30,000 square miles of Mexican territory across southwest. The Gadsden Purchase allowed railroad entrepreneurs to profit from this venture. Two years later, Walker sailed for Nicaragua and in 1856 led a successful coup with the aid of 850 Americans. He declared himself president of Nicaragua, the only American to proclaim himself head of state of a foreign country, and two more times the United States marines landed.
In 1857, Americans landed for the fourth time and found safe passage for Walker who escaped to Honduras. In 1860, Walker was finally caught and executed. His filibustering had included 2,518 Americans whom he recruited. 1,000 Nicaraguans were killed or died of diseases, 700 soldiers deserted, 250 were discharged, and 80 were taken prisoner.
American businessmen were more free to move south into Nicaragua as a result of the Cass-Irisarri Treaty in 1858. This provided for: the protection of all American transit routes across Nicaragua; allowing the United States to use force to protect American businesses and lives; and the right of Americans to own real estate in Nicaragua.
With the completion of the Suez Canal by Ferdinand DeLesseps in 1869, Europe had a decisive edge on world trade. This gave impetus to the need for a Western Hemispheric canal. At first the United States and Britain thought of a combined effort to build a canal, but this would not have been possible in Panama because of the Clayton Bulwer Treaty. In 1879 the Frenchman Ferdinand DeLesseps failed to build a trans-Panamanian canal since the United States opposed giving Britain exclusive control This could only be accomplished by rescinding the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty .
With the beginning of coffee production in Nicaragua in 1869, more American businessmen converged upon Nicaragua. Being a cash crop, coffee was only for export -- yet 80 percent of the Nicaraguan peasants remained subsistence farmers.
In 1894, Honduras posed a threat to the United States and Britain when they landed troops on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, and martial law as declared. Britain sent in troops which withdrew within a few months. The United States followed and sent in marines to "protect American lives and property." They were pulled out later in the year.
As the United States reached the status of a dominating world power by the turn of the century, American businesses became more deep-rooted in Nicaragua. This was a result of high tariffs which protected American businesses; the Spanish-American War which reduced the Spaniards' influence in the Western Hemisphere; and Britain's role in Latin America which diminished its power as a result of being bogged down in the Boer War in South Africa.
In 1900, the United States attempted to negotiate a treaty with Nicaragua across which it would build a canal within a six mile wide area at a cost of $1.5 million and $100,000 annually. The Nicaraguan Zeyala government rejected the treaty. In 1907, the United States severed relations with the Zeyala regime and armed insurgent forces. By 1910, Zeyala's government was under attack, and the United States blockaded San Juan Del Norte.
America businesses continued to flourish in Nicaragua. There were millions of dollars in loans which were floated to Nicaragua at 6 percent interest rate. American businessmen controlled 51 percent of Nicaragua's banks; and the Nicaragua's Pacific Railroad was owned by an American firm. In 1912 American marines landed to overthrow the highly nationalistic regime of Zeyala. "Free elections" were instituted with American marines guarding the polling places. The American handpicked Adolfo Diaz who was placed in power as the new president. The United States ignored World Court decisions which castigated it for interventionism in Nicaragua, and in 1916 the World Court upheld a Costa Rican claim that the United States infringed on the rights of Nicaragua.
In order for the United States to maintain a firm grasp in Nicaragua, American marines were sent down again and remained for nearly 20 years, only to be pulled out for two years before returning once again to maintain martial law. As an underground movement began to spring up in Nicaragua, the first labor unions were organized in 1920. Strikes took place against American-owned mining, lumber, and banana companies. Then came the first uprising in Bluefields in 1926, but it was squashed by American marines.
After being pulled out two years earlier, 6,000 American marines landed again in 1927. They led an offensive against Augusto Sandino's Defensive Army of National Sovereignty. Augusto Sandino had been raised in Masaya and, after injuring a politician, fled to Guatemala. He worked for United Fruit, and then he moved on to Tampico and Vera Cruz, Mexico to work for American oil refineries. After the 1926 uprising in Nicaragua, he returned. Soon Sandino became leader of the nationalistic
resistance group. He spent years in the mountains of Nicaragua, fleeing American marines.
In February 1934, Sandino accepted a dinner invitation to come down from the mountains and to negotiate peace terms with the American marines and Anastasio Somoza, leader of the National Guard which the United States created the year before. Afterwards Sandino and his brother Socrates were taken to the Managua airport and assassinated. The National Guardsmen returned to inform Somoza who then went upstairs to continue to read poetry and sip wine.
The Somoza family continued to rule Nicaragua with an iron fist. In 1956, Somoza was assassinated, and his power was passed down to his two sons, Luis and Anastasio. They continued the autocratic, repressive regime, and American weapons continued to be shipped to Nicaragua.
At this time the FSLN was formed by Tomas Borge and Carlos Fonseca. Known as the Sandinistas, the movement for years had to operate underground against the Somoza regime. In 1972 a massive earthquake in Managua killed over 6,000 and tens of thousands were left homeless. American aid was transferred to Swiss bank accounts of the Somoza family. The United States sent blood plasma to Managua. Much of it was sold to by the Somozas to European governments.
For the first time, the Sandinistas took to the streets in 1979. For six months the Carter administration froze economic and military aid to Nicaragua because of its immense human rights abuses. In 1978, the FSLN seized the National Palace, and 58 Sandinista prisoners, including Tomas Borge, were released in a swap for hostages. The raid was led by Eden Pastora, who was later to switch sides and become the contra leader working out of Costa Rica. On July 19, 1979, the FSLN finally seized Managua, and Sandinista rule under Daniel Ortega was established.
Somoza was forced to flee the country and later was assassinated in South America. In the half century of running a tyrannical government in Nicaragua, the Somoza family owned 51 percent of cattle ranches, one airline, a newspaper, the Barricada Cement Company, a textile mill, several sugar refineries, six breweries, and a Mercedes Benz dealership. Under their totalitarian regime only 5 percent of the population owned 58 percent of arable land, while the Somozas owned 23 percent of the land. By the end of the 1970s, the annual income was $60 per capita. Fifty percent of Nicaragua's children suffered from malnutrition; almost 50 percent died before reaching age four, and 80 percent of all people were illiterate.
In the last year of Somoza's reign, his National Guard destroyed one-third of Nicaragua's farmlands and thousands of homes. Fifty thousand people were killed, and 40,000 children became orphans -- in a country with a population of only two million people. While tortures and killings were common in Nicaragua, the American media never reported these mass murders which were carried out by Somoza's National Guard. Only once was it mentioned on ABC News by correspondent Bill Stewart.
As a result of Nicaragua's civil war, 70 percent of the country's industries were destroyed. Unemployment reached 35 percent in Managua. By 1979 the American-owned Penwalt Corporation, operating outside the jurisdiction of American environmental laws, polluted Lake Managua with mercury.
After only five years of Sandinista rule, Nicaragua's infant mortality dropped to the lowest rate in Central America. For the first time medical clinics were established for peasants in the countryside. In addition, the national budget for health rose 600 percent, so education was provided to the peasants for the first time. In 1984 the illiteracy rate, based on a third grade reading level, dropped from 80 percent to 16 percent.
More food was made available to the peasants by increasing the production of staple crops by 30 percent. Cash crops, which had earlier only benefitted the Somoza regime as well as American multi-national corporations were decreased by 50 percent. Corporate ranches and property were nationalized, and land was distributed to 40,000 peasant families. As the lives of peasants slowly improved, the only statistic reported by the American media was the literacy campaign.
REAGAN'S DIRTY WAR: THE PRESIDENT WHO GOT AWAY WITH MURDER
"We have never interfered in the internal government of a country
and have no intention of doing so, and have never had any thought
of that kind."
- President Ronald Reagan, September 28, 1982
"We are not trying to do anything to try and overthrow the Nicaraguan
government.. Our purpose, in conformity with American and international
law, is to prevent the flow of arms to El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala,
and Costa Rica."
-- President Ronald Reagan, March 14, 1983
REAGAN INITIATES THE CONTRA WAR. During Carter's last year and one-half as President, the United States continued trade with Nicaragua, but American policy changed suddenly after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981. First, within five months of being sworn in, American hostages were returned from Iran. Known as the October surprise, there is substantial evidence which indicates that William Casey, as Reagan's campaign manager, and Bush cut a deal with Prime Minister Bani-sadr of Iran. In October 1980 Carter was slightly ahead of Reagan in the polls. The strategy was to have the Iranians keep the American hostages until the November election, so as to insure a Reagan victory.
Second, on March 9, less than two months after his inauguration, Reagan authorized his newly appointed CIA Director Casey, to put together plans for covert actions to overthrow the Sandinista regime, and the Contras were created. Reagan frequently referred to the Contras as "the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers." The administration's goal was to fight a surrogate war aimed at breaking the morale of the people of Nicaragua. White House spokesperson Charles Redman admitted that the Contras' attacks on agricultural collectives were "legitimate and proper." This was the first time that any country officially endorsed state terrorism. It was clear that the Contras were attempting to overthrow the first democratic and nationalistic government in the history of Nicaragua, despite the fact that Reagan stated that this was not the goal of the Contras. Later during the Contra war, Reagan stated: "If the Sandinistas are allowed to consolidate their hold on Nicaragua, we'll have a permanent staging ground for terrorism for Gadaffi, Arafat, and the Ayatollah, just three hours by air from the United States."
On November 23,1981, Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 17, authorizing the CIA to build a paramilitary force to overthrow the Sandinista government. The CIA was provided with $19.5 million to begin a full scale operation against the Sandinistas. Reagan authorized the CIA "to finance the war primarily through non-Americans" and with "appropriate foreign governments." The CIA authorized $50 million in training programs which for the first two years of the war was carried out by the right wing Argentine government.
In the spring of 1981, CIA director Casey was meeting with Argentine military officials. He also met with General Leopoldo Galtieri in Washington D.C. The right wing Argentine government, known for repression and death squads, agreed to train the newly created Contras as long as weapons and money were supplied by the Reagan administration. Argentina was known for training Guatemala's military and police. In the past Guatemala's death squads had killed thousands. The Argentines convinced the neo-fascist Guatemalans to first interrogate suspected subversives before killing them.
THE ROLE OF GUATEMALA. In the early 1980s, even the American embassy in Guatemala City was reporting 400 to 500 deaths per month by the government. Human rights groups placed the figure at a minimum of 500 per month. In 1980 Guatemalan President raised $500,000 for Ronald Reagan at a fund raiser in Denver. When Congress did not certify that Guatemala was abiding by human rights in 1981, Reagan merely took some items, needed by Guatemala, off the restricted list. In November 1981 Congress appropriated $19.5 million in aid to Guatemala.
Since 1954, Guatemala was responsible for over 100,000 deaths at the hands of its military. Another 40,000 people disappeared. Amnesty International reported that in 1989 there were 222 cases of human rights abuses. Government targets included anyone suspected of subversive activities. In April 1990, Amnesty International reported that the death squads were targeting human rights workers. The United Nations Human Rights Commission noted "the increase of assassinations, kidnappings, attempts and threats against people who participate in political activities." In March 1990, the United Nations approved a resolution to "name an independent expert to examine the human rights situation in Guatemala and to continue assisting the government in human rights matters."
"Well, I learned a lot. I went down to Latin America to find out
from them and learn their views. You'd be surprised. They're
all individual countries."
-- President Ronald Reagan, December 6, 1982
REAGAN'S PROMISES VICTORY. Just one month after the inception of the Contras, Reagan believed that "the Contras would march into Managua by Christmas (1983)." Code-named Operation Christmas, the CIA hoped to establish "a beach-head" in the cities on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua and then quickly move westward and end the war. This never materialized in Managua, let alone in any city or village. The Contras resorted to hit-and-run tactics aimed primarily at women and children in hopes of breaking the morale of the people of Nicaragua.
The Contras began as an umbrella organization. The majority of the mercenaries, operating out of neighboring Honduras, were under the leadership of Adolfo Calero. Others on the southern front in Costa Rica were led by Eden Pastora. Calero had been manager of Managua's Coca Cola corporation during the Sandinista revolution where he vocally supported the Somoza regime in the 1970s. A decade later, he was called upon by the CIA to be part of the directorate of the FDN. Calero ran the bank accounts of the FDN as long as they were funded by Congress.
Horatio Arce, chief of Contra intelligence, stated: "We attack a lot of schools, health centers, and those sorts of things. We have tried to make it so that the Nicaraguan government cannot provide social services for the peasants, cannot develop its project ... that's the idea." This is the first time that any country has officially endorsed state terrorism.
ASSASSINATION MANUALS. In 1983, the CIA circulated a number of assassination manuals entitled "Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare." The booklets called for the same type of violence which was carried out in the Phoenix program in Vietnam. They explained how to carry out murders "to neutralize carefully selected and planned targets such as court judges, police, and state security officials." The manuals advised the Contras to develop "shock troops" to infiltrate Sandinista rallies. They read: "These men should be equipped with weapons (knives, razors, chains, clubs, bludgeons) and should march slightly behind the innocent and gullible participants." They also called on the Contras to hire organized crime figures to carry out their operations. When a copy was discovered, the CIA immediately denied any knowledge. However, after several months blame for this was placed upon low level CIA agents who were "properly disciplines" for their behavior.
DISSENSION IN THE RANKS. Late in 1981, Eden Pastora, commander of the Contras operating out of Costa Rica on the southern front, attempted to persuade Panama president Omar Torrijos to exert influence over the Sandinistas. Pastora was being paid $150,000 per month by the CIA. This mission failed, as Torrijos was killed in a mysterious airplane crash. By 1983, dissension was increasing within the Contra camp. A rift between Calero and Pastora was first to evolve. In 1982, Pastora announced that he was severing relations with the mainstream element of the Contras, operating in Honduras under the control of Eden Pastora. Within two years, the CIA gave an ultimatum to Pastora for his southern front Contras in Costa Rica to join forces with Calero's mercenaries who were operating out of Honduras. For the first time Pastora admitted the CIA connection and said, "There are strong pressures by the CIA. They have blocked all help to us."
When Pastora adamantly refused to cooperate with the CIA, Felipe Vidal and John Hull, on the CIA payroll and operating in Costa Rica, plotted Pastora's assassination at LaPenca, a border town between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Ahmed Faig Khalil, a former right wing agent of the Chilean secret police, was chosen to carry out the assassination of Pastora. Khalil, who operated under the false passport name "Hansen," was apparently paid $50,000. He posed as a Danish photographer who called himself Per Anker Hansen. Hull and Vidal -- and perhaps Singlaub as well -- provided him with the C-4 plastic explosives which he carried with him in his suitcase to the small town of LaPenca along the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. Khalil placed an aluminum case on the floor where Pastora was surrounded by journalists. After Pastora announced that he was not surrendering to contra elements on the northern front, the bomb exploded, and eight people including Pastora were killed. Khalil escaped, making his way to San Jose. After hiding in the capital city for several days, the CIA helped him flee Costa Rica.
When informed that Americans were killed, the United States embassy refused to respond until the following day. This was after Galil arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica and was able to flee the country.
Soon after the assassination attempt, the CIA began a disinformation campaign by providing the
Washington Post and the New York Times with information that the hired killer was a Spanish Basque who was hired by the Sandinista government. Additionally, the Costa Rican government mounted a campaign to discredit Pastora, claiming that he was a communist and drug trafficker.
MINING PORTS AND VIOLATING INTERNATIONAL LAW. Since the Contras were unable to gain the support of the peasants, the CIA engaged in mining ports on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua. On January 3, 1983, Nicaragua announced that the United States mined five of its eastern ports. Several European ships were damaged. One was the Soviet freighter Lugansk which was mined in the harbor of Corinto. Five Russian seamen were injured as a result of the explosion. FDN leader Chamorro immediately denied any complicity in the incident, denying that Contra mines had been laid. On January 31, the House Intelligence Committee was informed by the CIA that this was true, and two months later the CIA acknowledged this fact to the Senate.
The CIA's mining project was a clear violation of international law. Mining obstructed freedom of the seas, and it also was defined as an act of war by the Treaty of Paris in 1856 and the Hague conferences of 1899 and 1907.
The next year, the Nicaraguan government brought a lawsuit against the United States to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Having always supported ICJ decisions, the Reagan administration made an abrupt turn from the past and denied American involvement. Nicaragua claimed that losses of $4.3 million in export income alone. And the physical damage totaled approximately $9 million.
The Nicaraguan government contended that the United States had invaded its territory and mined harbors. Ironically, Reagan chose this same day to proclaim May 1 as "Law Day 1984" and hailed America's "200 year old partnership between law and liberty." Reagan added that without law and liberty there would be "chaos and disorder."
The United States once again announced that it would not abide by the rulings of the World Court. One vote was 16-0, condemning the United States for mining Nicaraguan harbors. A second decision was 12-3, stating that the United States must terminate the minings. And a third vote was 14-1, demanding that the United States compensate Nicaragua for damages. Judges from Great Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, and Japan all voted against the United States.
The United Nations General Assembly also voted a resolution condemning the United States. Only the United States, El Salvador, and Britain voted against the resolution which was passed by a vote of 95-3. This went virtually unreported by the American media. Furthermore, the Security Council passed a resolution which stated that "all states must observe international law." This was vetoed by the United States. Additionally, the United Nations opposed a United States sponsored economic boycott of Nicaragua, by a 91-6 vote in the General Assembly. Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Japan, Canada, and most Western European countries opposed the boycott. This left it up to the United States to impose its own boycott in 1985.
FREE ELECTIONS IN 1984. The White House knew that the 1984 democratic elections would be intolerable, since they would be very difficult to manipulate by the CIA. Therefore, the Reagan administration did its best to disrupt them and to encourage the media to ignore them. Just prior to the elections, the Reagan administration attempted to discredit the FSLN. The White House claimed that a Soviet freighter had headed out of the Black Sea, was steaming through the Mediterranean, and was heading for Nicaragua with Soviet MIG fighters. As the weeks passed, this made front page news and was frequently reported on the nightly news. The White House was hoping this disinformation would persuade more Americans to oppose the Nicaraguan government and that it would prevent the FSLN from being legitimately elected.
The United States claimed that the skies were overcast when Soviet "MIGs" were loaded onto a freighter. However, cratologists claimed that the boxes contained something other than MIGs. As it turned out, the Soviet Union was delivering tractors to Nicaragua. The White House quickly dropped this disinformation campaign.
For the first time in the nation's history, free elections took place in Nicaragua in 1984. They were monitored by a number of human rights delegations. Parties to the right of the FSLN included:
-- Democratic Conservative Party (PCD). This was basically a pro-Sandinista party.
-- Independent Liberal Party (PLI). This party was founded in 1944 to challenge the dominance of the Somozas. In 1984 it was considered be the only party which was nationally organized.
-- Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC). This party stressed "economic socialism;" criticized the FSLN for castigating the Roman Catholic church; and considered FSLN foreign policy to be too close to that of the Soviet Union.
Parties to the left of the FSLN included:
-- Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN). This was the oldest political party dating back to 1944, having its social base among the working people of Nicaragua. It was aligned with the Soviet Union which officially recognized it.
--Nicaraguan Communist Party (PCN). This party was aligned with the Soviet Union but was not recognized by the Soviets who called it "petty bourgeoisie reformers." The Soviet Union also considered it to be unnecessary in the 1984 elections, claiming it one of the "Contadora capitalist nations."
-- Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement (MAP-ML). This was the smallest party and farthest to the left. It considered the FSLN to be a bourgeois party; and did not want the business community to have any say in government matters. Furthermore, it opposed the elections, stating that they were giving into the reactionary interests of the United States It called for an official atheist state and favored complete nationalization.
The 1984 election was perhaps the most democratic which any nation has had. No parties were required to have permits to campaign or demonstrate. Radio and television stations were not censored, and candidates were given $321,000 in funds with which to campaign during a 12 week prior to the election. These facts were suppressed by the American media.
Much misinformation and disinformation during the elections emanated from the White House and media. There were no reports about the openness in the Nicaraguan elections. On the other hand, they reported "free elections" the same year, something which was totally untrue. The American media never reported the fact that 93.7 percent of the Nicaraguan people registered to vote and that 75 percent actually participated in the election. This is a number 25 percent higher than those who vote in United States elections. The FSLN received 69.2 percent of the vote, while parties to the left of the FSLN received only 3.8 percent of the vote.
The American media did not report the fact that the elections were monitored and that the 450 delegates reported the elections to be free. For example the Irish Inter-party Parliamentary Delegation was composed of four people, three of whom came from the far right or right-center. Another monitoring group, the Latin American Studies Association was composed of 15 individuals, about half of whom had experience in national elections. The group stated that they "spoke with anyone who we chose to approach as well as numerous people who spontaneously approached us." No permits for candidates were required. Minor parties held demonstrations without the fear of reprisals. The campaign time was 12 weeks. The Sandinista government gave $321,000 to each opposition party. Candidates were given free time on television and radio, unlike the United States where third party candidates are frequently denied equal time.
The White House initially sought to obtain Arturo Cruz, a Contra leader, as its candidate. However, he refused to run, knowing that the people's vehement opposition to the right wing Contras would only embarrass him and the United States government.
THE BOLAND AMENDMENT. Also in 1984, Congress passed the Boland Amendment which barred any American actions "for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua." North claimed that the Boland Amendment made no reference to any "agency or entity of intelligence activities," and consequently it did not apply to the National Security Council.
With the Boland Amendment intact, the CIA went to other extremes to insure that arms were being sent to the Contras. Therefore, the White House could only get Congress to appropriate money for humanitarian aid. "Humanitarian" aid became helicopters, jeeps, and trucks (if they carried first aid supplies) and boots and helmets (since they protected human beings). A senior White House spokesperson stated: "If a truck carried 1,000 pounds of food and 500 guns, that will be fine."
Just two years after the Boland Amendment was invoked, the GAO stated that only $5.1 million of a total of $12.2 million could be accounted for. The remaining $7.1 million had been deposited in a Miami bank to which Contra leader Calero had access.
BARRY SEAL AND EUGENE HASENFUS. In October 1985, a C-123 was flying arms out of Ilopango air base in Honduras to contra forces in Nicaragua. The cargo plane, carrying arms to the Contras, was shot down by a hand-held missile launcher fired by a teenage Sandinista soldier. Pilot Bill Cooper and copilot Wallace "Buzz" Sawyer. were killed. Only the cargo kicker, Eugene Hasenfus, was able to bail out and to survive. Sawyer had in his possession the White House phone number of George Bush. Reagan administration official familiar with contra activities said that the crew of the C-123 was flying supply missions for the State Department's Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office, since the Boland Amendment had terminated all lethal aid to the Contras.
The C-123 was the same plane that had flown drug missions for the Medellin and Cali drug cartels. by Seal. The CIA denied any knowledge of Hasenfus and stated that he was working outside the jurisdiction of the federal government. After several weeks, Hasenfus was released and returned to the United States where he subsequently received no aid or support by the government. He returned to the United States and testified that he worked for the CIA with the knowledge and approval of Bush. Telephone logs from the phone company in El Salvador for the "safehouses" used by the plane crew showed many calls to North's White House office.
After Seal returned from Nicaragua, his C-123 was parked at the Mena, Arkansas airport. The plane had no identification number painted on its fuselage. According to an airport official, "Nobody ever forced the issue of it not having a number because of the nature of work it was used in."
Seal was murdered in Baton Rouge in February 1996 by a Medellin cartel hit squad. The IRS had seized Seal's assets 16 days earlier, seeking to strip him of his drug revenues. The IRS confiscated three of Seal's planes, but the C-123 was not among them.
PEACE PROPOSALS. Several plans to bring peace to Central America were discussed in the mid- 1980s. However, only one, the Reagan plan, would have prevented democracy from continuing in Nicaragua.
-- The Reagan plan. Reagan proposed that there be no Soviet or Cuban influence in Nicaragua and that the FSLN stay out of the affairs of other nations. At that point free elections would be conducted. Nothing was stated about the Contras, who would still be free to operate in Nicaragua.
-- The Contadora process. Representatives from Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela met on this island off the coast of Panama. The following was agreed upon in regards to Nicaragua and the Contras: the withdrawal of all foreign military units, the termination of importing all arms, free elections, the closing of all foreign military bases, a verification process, and the termination of arms smuggling. Not believing that Nicaragua would be in favor of this proposal, the United States supported Contadora. However, when the FSLN also showed support, Reagan slowly moved away from this peace proposal.
-- The Arias plan. Costa Rican president Oscar Arias proposed that all nations "freely choose their economic, social, and political systems." This also was unacceptable to the Reagan administration, since it would have allowed for popular elections, and subsequently FSLN candidates would have been reelected.
-- The Tela accords. In 1989, the Central American nations voted to expel the Contras from Central America. This also was intolerable to the White House.
NORIEGA'S CONNECTION TO THE CIA. In June 1986, the New York Times published articles detailing Noriega's collaboration with Colombian drug traffickers. Reporter Seymour Hersh wrote that Noriega "is extensively involved in illicit money laundering and drug activities," and that an unnamed White House official "said the most significant drug running in Panama was being directed by General Noriega."
In August 1986, Noriega, a long-standing American intelligence asset, sent an emissary to Washington to seek assistance from the Reagan administration in changing his reputation for drug trafficking. North, who met with Noriega's representative, described the meeting in an August 23, 1986 e-mail message to Reagan national security advisor John Poindexter. "You will recall that over the years Manuel Noriega in Panama and I have developed a fairly good relationship," North wrote before explaining Noriega's proposal. If American officials can "help clean up his image" and lift the ban on arms sales to the Panamanian Defense Force, Noriega will "take care of' the Sandinista leadership for us."
North told Poindexter that Noriega could assist with sabotage against the Sandinistas and suggested paying Noriega a million dollars -- from "Project Democracy" funds raised from the sale of American arms to Iran -- for the Panamanian leader's help in destroying Nicaraguan economic installations.
The same day, Poindexter responded with an e-mail message authorizing North to meet secretly with Noriega. Poindexter wrote: "I have nothing against him other than his illegal activities." On the following day, August 24, North's notebook recorded a meeting with CIA official Clarridge on Noriega's overture, and they agreed to "send word back to Noriega to meet in Europe or Israel."
The CIA's Fiers stated that he recalled North's involvement with the Noriega sabotage proposal. In testimony at the 1992 trial of former CIA official Clair George, Fiers described North's plan as it was discussed at a meeting of the Reagan administration's Restricted Interagency Group: "(North) made a very strong suggestion that . . . there needed to be a resistance presence in the western part of Nicaragua, where the resistance did not operate. And he said, I can arrange to have General Noriega execute some insurgent -- some operations there -- sabotage operations in that area. It will cost us about $1 million. Do we want to do it?' And there was significant silence at the table. And then I recall I said, No. We don't want to do that. "
Senior officials ignored Fiers' opinion. On September 20, North informed Poindexter via e-mail that "Noriega wants to meet me in London" and that both Elliott Abrams and Secretary of State George Shultz support the initiative. Two days later, Poindexter authorized the North/Noriega meeting.
North's notebook listed details of his meeting with Noriega, which took place in a London hotel on September 22. According to the notes, the two discussed developing a commando training program in Panama for the Contras and Afghan rebels. They also spoke of sabotaging major economic targets in the Managua area, including an airport, an oil refinery, and electric and telephone systems. However, these plans were aborted as soon as the Iran-Contra scandal story broke.
MOVING TO END THE WAR. In March 1988, the United States and Nicaragua agreed upon a cease fire which prohibited any further aid to the Contras by the Reagan administration. Any further assistance would be supplied by "neutral organizations" and would be restricted to resettlement and repatriation. However, the United States reneged on this agreement by allowing Congress to appropriate more Contra aid which would be administered by the State department and then USAID to maintain the Contras. United Nations Secretary-General Soares condemned the United States from abandoning on its pledge. The White House ignored his statement.
A year late,r the same scenario was repeated when the presidents of the Central American countries castigated the United States for continuing contra aid. They stated that the Contras and their families should be "restricted to the voluntary demobilization, repatriation, or relocation in Nicaragua and in third countries." The presidents concluded that Congress flagrantly violated its agreement with Nicaragua. The United States continued to pull out every stop to block the threat of peace.
1990 ELECTIONS: THE WINNER IS BUSH
Six years earlier, the Reagan administration attempted to disrupt Nicaragua's second democratic elections. In the case of the 1990 elections, the Bush administration interfered massively from the outset to insure that its candidate would be triumphant. The White House looked around for a puppet whom they could likely place in power in Nicaragua. In November 1989, Violetta Chamorro, a businessperson with no political experience, was brought to the White House for publicity purposes. Bush promised to "lift the trade embargo and assist in Nicaragua's reconstruction" if Chamorro would choose to run as a candidate and then get elected to office. She agreed to the terms.
Eight months before the Nicaraguan election, Congress appropriated $9 million -- the equivalent of a belligerent nation spending $2 billion on an American election -- to campaign for Chamorro and to advertise to the world that Nicaragua was a repressive state. The CIA clandestinely gave over $600,000 to Miami-based Contra leaders so they could return to Nicaragua. The White House that some Contras were given humanitarian aid so that they could resettle in their home country. Yet it was obvious that the money was to be used to sabotage the upcoming election and put Chamorro in power. One White House official acknowledged, "We were spending this money for them to go back and work in the Chamorro campaign." To accomplish this, the CIA created the Nicaraguan Exile Relocation Program (NERP) which disbursed the money to the Contras between July 1989 and February 1990.
During the months prior to the election, the Reagan administration revived the 1984 fabricated story of MIG fighters as part of its effort to bring down the Sandinista Party. The FSLN allowed for foreign contributions which are not allowed even in American elections. In addition, the Contras stepped up terrorist attacks in Nicaragua, despite the fact that a cease fire was agreed upon 19 months before the February 25 election.
In accordance with the Tela accords, the Sandinista government called for a meeting of all parties at the United Nations to agree on rules and guidelines for the campaigning process. During this cease- fire the Contras sent 2,000 more troops into Nicaragua in order to create havoc. The strategy was to escalate the violence in Nicaragua, and then the voters would choose an anti-Sandinista candidate.
On October 21, 1989, 19 FSLN reservists were killed in an ambush. This led Ortega to announce that "criminal actions" might compel the government to resort to force in self-defense. On October 30, the Contras raided a cooperative near Managua and killed five civilians. Observers for Witness for Peace testified that 49 civilians were killed, wounded, or kidnaped in 14 Contra attacks in October alone. The Bush administration claimed that the Sandinistas fabricated the Contra attacks, or even carried them out themselves as an excuse to cancel the elections. Both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to condemn Ortega, stating that the Sandinistas must "end their aggression in the region ... and their tyranny over their own people." In the Senate, the vote was 95-0.
Bush emerged as a clear victor in the 1990 elections. Even with $12 million in American campaign money and with increasing Contra terrorism, Chamorro alone could not win. She was forced to form a coalition of 14 parties in order to defeat the FSLN. The UNO coalition consisted of parties from the far left as well as from the right. The FSLN received 43 percent of the vote and lost to UNO which received 57 percent. However, the FSLN easily won the assembly election and gained control this legislative body by a considerable majority. After Chamorro was elected, Congress appropriated $40 million, but it was withheld until Nicaragua would drop its $15 billion lawsuit in the World Court.
By 1990, the eleven year war claimed the lives of over 30,000 Nicaraguans, while merely a handful of Americans were lost. Proportionately, this would have been the same as two million Americans dying at the hands of a foreign invader. Most of the casualties were civilians, since the goal of the Contras was to break the morale of those people. Over three million were killed and over 500,000 people uprooted. Economic losses totaled $12.2 billion and inflation by the end of the war in 1990 exceeded 3,000 percent. The United States spent $300 million on the Contras, and private contributions never were totally accounted for. Furthermore, the United States was able to sustain $15 billion in damage to Nicaragua's infrastructure.
In the six years since the UNO Party has been in power, the United Nations reported that the unemployment rate for the working age population increased to 60 percent and that 70 percent of the population live in severe poverty. In addition, the illiteracy rate climbed to 40 percent.
TORTURE AT EL AQUACATE
During the war the United States used El Aguacate in eastern Honduras as a staging areas for the Contras. In 1983, Americans built a military base, including an airstrip and 250-patient hospital, and they were used to supply and train mercenaries who would slip over the border into Nicaragua. In the 1990s, soldiers stationed at El Aquacate -- as well as peasants living in the vicinity -- told stories of brutality carried out by Contras. During the Contra war, over 180 people disappeared. Some of the disappearances were directly related to the Nicaraguan war and others to Honduran domestic politics.
In 1999 -- nine years since the Contra war was over -- Honduran prosecutor Gia Ridense began an investigation into alleged atrocities at El Aquacate and began the legal process to have bodies exhumed from their graves. The investigation began because farmers fighting to reclaim the American military base for agriculture presented documents to Ridense indicating that a an unregistered graveyard was on the site. As a result, Honduran officials issued a court order to investigate the base in August 1999. Chemical tests indicated that the walls of the brick cell had been spattered with blood, and uncovered hooks had been built into the floor and ceiling. The prosecutor concluded that "the only thing it could have been used for is torture."
Contra prisoners were incarcerated at El Aquacate. In 1983 four of their own commanders allegedly were executed on the base. A former Honduran army sergeant said that other prisoners were held at El Aquacate. They included primarily Nicaraguans who allegedly sympathized with the FSLN. There was a Contra deserter who was captured fighting for the Sandinistas. The soldier said that the brick cell below a lookout tower was used for interrogations. He asserted that soldiers were punished in wooden cells that have fallen apart. The sergeant said that he never saw the American advisors participate in the torture even though they "were there as a liaison. It would have been hard for them not to know."
A State Department spokesman denied that Americans were aware of any torture at El Aguacate. He said, "We do not know who is buried at the base or how and when they died. Several groups have used the area. And American documents for the most part have not been helpful since so many pages had been censored with a black marking pen.
Contra leader Adolfo Calero, who had visited the base about half a dozen times, said that he did not recall the prison area. He said that the investigation is "all made up. They are not going to discover anything because there is nothing to discover. It was used for airdrops and as a hospital." Calero said he knew of only one interrogation that had taken place at El Aguacate, after a Honduran soldier put a pen cap in a truck's gasoline tank in an apparent sabotage attempt. But Calero claimed that nothing happened to him. "
Peter Hakim, director of Interamerican Dialogue, a policy institute in Washington D.C. said, "The concern now is not about the left, but about drugs and instability. El Aguacate reflects one part of U.S. policy. There is no single right symbol for U.S. policy then or now." Joseph Eldridge, a missionary in Honduras during the war, formed the Washington Office on Latin America since he was appalled at what had occurred at El Aquacate. He said, "El Aguacate was part of a policy of making Honduras a platform for waging war against Nicaragua. The United States ironically continues to believe that there can be military solutions. That was a flawed approach in Central America in the 1980s, and it is a flawed approach in Colombia today. These are fundamentally economic and political problems."