Did you know?
- Between 1981 and 1990, an estimated one million refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala fled repression and violence in their homelands and entered the United States.
- The Reagan administration initiated a covert war against Nicaragua in March 1981, but the American people did not find out about it until more than a year later.
- In December 1981, the Salvadoran Army massacred close to 1,000 men, women, and children in the village of El Mozote and neighboring hamlets. Denying that a war crime had taken place, the Reagan administration certified to Congress that same month that the Salvadoran government was making progress in human rights and requested more U.S. aid for the government.
- In December 1982, President Ronald Reagan met with Guatemalan leader José Efraín Ríos Montt and praised the general as one who is “totally dedicated to democracy.” Montt was at the time conducting “scorched earth” military campaigns against indigenous Mayans and was later put on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.
- In April 1985, former CIA director Admiral Stansfield Turner testified before a Congressional committee that the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan guerrillas, known as Contras, had engaged in numerous acts of “terrorism.” Only the previous month, President Ronald Reagan had praised the Contras as “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers.”
- In response to a suit by Nicaragua, the World Court ruled in June 1986 that the U.S.-directed war against Nicaragua constituted illegal aggression under international law and that the U.S. must cease its support for the Contras and make reparation payments to Nicaragua. The U.S. refused to comply.
- After Congress had temporarily banned aid to the Contras, administration officials illegally raised money through arms sales to Iran and other means. The covert operation came to light in the Iran-Contra Congressional hearings in the spring of 1987, leading to the prosecution of fourteen U.S. officials and agents.
- In late 1987, the Reagan administration’s Office of Public Diplomacy was forced to shut down after an investigation by the General Accounting Office concluded that the agency had engaged “in prohibited, covert propaganda activities designed to influence the media and the public to support the Administration’s Latin American policies.”
- U.S. citizens opposed to U.S. intervention formed the Central America movement, a loose-knit coalition of over 1,000 local, state, and national organizations. Their efforts reinforced those of Latin American leaders promoting peace negotiations and an end to foreign intervention.
- In the aftermath of the wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, truth commissions determined that state security forces and associated rightist paramilitary groups were responsible for 85% of assassinations and murders in El Salvador, and 93% in Guatemala, while leftist rebels were responsible for 5% in El Salvador and 3% in Guatemala.
The immediate catalyst for renewed U.S. intervention in Central America was a popularly supported leftist revolution in Nicaragua led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The revolution ousted the U.S.-backed dictatorial government of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in July 1979, ending more than four decades of dynastic rule. President Jimmy Carter initially accepted the new Sandinista government, even inviting its leaders to the White House for a visit, but the Reagan administration was intent on overthrowing the government and undermining its economic experiment. To these ends, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited, armed, and directed counterrevolutionary guerrillas, known as Contras, who terrorized rural communities, mined roads, and disrupted coffee harvests and other economic activities. The nine-year Contra War left nearly 31,000 Nicaraguans dead, more than 2,000 civilians maimed, and some 350,000 people internally displaced out of a population of 3.5 million. The war contributed to a near-total economic collapse and paved the way for the Sandinistas electoral defeat in 1990.
Many U.S. citizens were outraged that their tax dollars were being used to support murder and mayhem in Central America. The activists among them, including religious leaders, formed the Central America movement in 1980. Movement groups organized, educated, lobbied, and demonstrated; and also initiated a variety of transnational projects designed to increase understanding and empathy across national borders. The movement was important not only because it underpinned Congressional opposition to administration policies, but also because it exposed the manifest falsehoods of official rhetoric and articulated principled alternatives to U.S. military interventionism, including human rights, economic justice, international law, and diplomacy over war.
With the advent of the Cold War in 1947, the Truman administration came to view reformist governments in Latin America as potential allies of the Soviet Union and thus a threat to the United States. In 1950, Assistant Secretary of State Edward Miller warned “the basic situation in the hemisphere is this. The 21 American states together face the challenge of Communist political aggression against the hemisphere.” Miller’s novel term, “Communist political aggression” was one of many euphemisms used to delegitimize left-leaning reform movements in Latin America. The term “aggression” did not actually mean aggression in the sense of violence; it meant rather participation in the political system; and the participants were not necessarily “communists” but more likely, any number of reformers seeking redress of grievances.
This amalgamation of perceived threats led influential U.S. diplomat George Kennan to suggest in February 1950 that the United States should support repressive methods to meet the challenge. Following a tour of Latin America, he wrote that “harsh government measures of repression may be the only answer; that these measures may have to proceed from regimes whose origins and methods would not stand the test of American concepts of democratic procedure; and that such regimes and such methods may be preferable … to further communist successes.” Kennan’s recommendations were in accord with the Cold War views of President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who committed the U.S. to supporting the French reconquest of Vietnam as an antidote to Asian communism.
Administration officials publicly denied any involvement in the coup even as they welcomed Armas to the White House and praised him as a “democratic leader.” Three years later, the State Department published an ex post facto justification for the coup in “A Case History of Communist Penetration: Guatemala,” which described the Árbenz government as part of “a coldly calculated armed conspiracy to extend the system of the Soviets to a small and strategically located country in the hemisphere.”
Aside from the immorality of supporting authoritarian and repressive regimes, the policy was not always effective in maintaining U.S. hegemony. Repression could, and sometimes did, lead to rebellion and the overthrow of a pro-U.S. regime. In the case of Cuba, the Cuban people so detested the U.S.-backed Batista government that Fidel Castro and a handful of revolutionaries were able to recruit an army as they marched across the island, receiving a jubilant welcome as they entered Havana on January 1, 1959. Castro’s subsequent turn toward leftist authoritarianism provided U.S. leaders with a great propaganda weapon, enabling the U.S. to preach democracy to the fallen Cubans, but U.S. policies across Latin America belied such rhetoric.
President John F. Kennedy considered the dilemma of Cuba and decided to add economic incentives for moderate reform through the Alliance for Progress program, established in March 1961. This included, ironically, a land reform program similar to that rejected in Guatemala. The U.S., in other words, offered carrots as well as sticks to keep Latin American nations from falling to the “communists.” Yet Kennedy also added more sticks, increasing U.S. aid to Latin American police forces through the Office of Public Safety, initiated in August 1962. The latter program effectively canceled out the potential benefits of the former. U.S. security aid was used by repressive regimes in league with economic elites to more thoroughly suppress reform movements and terrorize the reformers. The land reform program went nowhere.
As for Cuba, the Kennedy administration attempted to overthrow the Castro government in a covert operation similar to that of Guatemala (the Bay of Pigs invasion), but the Cuban government was prepared to defend itself. Cuba solidified its alliance with the Soviet Union thereafter. Cuba’s subsequent misguided attempts to foment revolution in other Latin American nations provided the U.S. with an opportunity to expand its connections with military and police forces in the region. The Kennedy administration initiated new counterinsurgency courses at the School of the Americas, located in the Panama Canal Zone (established in 1946), notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. had coordinated two major insurgencies in the last ten years (Guatemala and Cuba). Prior to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, some 7,886 Latin American military and police personnel had been trained at the school. In the following decade, 13,500 attended. The training was accompanied by an ideological indoctrination that “emphasized the threat posed by internal enemies, not only communists but also those critical of the regime,” according to the historian Brian D’Haeseleer:
Anticommunist rhetoric disseminated in US service academies established a negative image of actors critical of US-supported regimes and those who demanded reforms as synonymous with enemies of the state. The heavy indoctrination cadets received in US military schools increased their distrust of groups pursuing political reforms and reinforced conservatism in the military. In El Salvador, as in the rest of Latin America, the term “communist” was a catchall phrase for anyone opposed to the government, from students to labor organizers to religious workers.
Kennedy is remembered for his uplifting rhetoric in support of freedom and democracy, but his lack of commitment to democratic governance was demonstrated in March 1963, when he encouraged the military in Guatemala to seize power rather than allow the election of former President Juan José Arévelo. The Guatemalan army suspended the Constitution, dissolved Congress, called off elections, and installed a military government. U.S. officials in Washington chalked up the military coup as “a gain” and noted with satisfaction that a “friendly government” had come to power.
U.S. support for despotic military regimes only increased under President Lyndon B. Johnson. In March 1964, the Johnson administration held a three-day policy conference for all U.S. diplomats in Latin America. Thomas Mann, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, made it clear that the U.S. would support any government that allied with U.S. political and business interests, no matter how dictatorial or repressive (the Mann doctrine). The Alliance for Progress withered on the vine. In April 1964, Brazilian military officers overthrew the constitutional government, instituting a military dictatorship. Following the overthrow, Johnson sent a congratulatory telegram to the new military leaders expressing his “warmest good wishes.” This was followed by generous U.S. aid amounting to $1.5 billion between 1964 and 1968, even as the Brazilian dictatorship arrested and tortured thousands of its citizens.
President Richard M. Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger viewed the election of democratic socialist Salvador Allende as president of Chile in 1970 as yet another act of “Communist political aggression.” The Nixon administration first attempted to prevent Allende’s election through CIA covert action; failing that, the U.S. abetted a military coup on September 11, 1973, in which President Allende was killed (a subsequent investigation ruled it a suicide). Following the coup, the Nixon administration offered full U.S. support for the right-wing police state formed under General Augusto Pinochet, providing grants and loans as the regime murdered or imprisoned thousands of Allende supporters. On October 1, Assistant Secretary for Latin America Jack Kubisch reported to his State Department colleagues that legislators on Capitol Hill were asking him questions about massive atrocities by the new military regime in Chile, and that Newsweek magazine had reported 2,700 bodies piled up in the central morgue in Santiago. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the staff to avoid controversy. “But I think we should understand our policy, that however unpleasant they act, the government is better for us than Allende was.”
Human rights reform
President Jimmy Carter embraced the rhetoric of human rights but was hesitant to cut off aid to important allies. In his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on May 22, 1977, he declared that Americans “are now free of that inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear.” Carter nonetheless embraced the dictatorial Shah of Iran (placed into power with the help of the CIA in 1953) when visiting the country. Speaking on December 31, 1977, he praised the modernization of Iran under the Shah and blithely declared, “The cause of human rights is one that also is shared deeply by our people and by the leaders of our two nations.” One year later, notwithstanding continued U.S. aid to Iran, Carter announced at a White House meeting on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the UN “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” that human rights “is the soul of our foreign policy.”
The limits of reform
The positive steps made by Congress and the Carter administration to establish human rights standards for U.S. foreign aid were limited not only in their application but also in their conception of human rights, which generally neglected economic rights. The 1948 UN “Declaration of Human Rights,” in contrast, embraced economic, social, and political rights. Among the economic rights enumerated in the document is “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” These declared economic “rights” underscored a proposal by developing nations in 1974 for a New International Economic Order, which the UN General Assembly adopted and Washington rejected.
The Reagan reversal
The “Reagan revolution,” as it was called, heralded the return of hardline Cold War ideology and the reversal of previous human rights reforms. “Let us not delude ourselves,” said Ronald Reagan while on the campaign trail in June 1980. “The Soviet Union underlies all the unrest that is going on. If they weren’t engaged in this game of dominoes, there wouldn’t be any hotspots in the World.” As president, Reagan embarked on an aggressive rollback strategy that involved covert support for guerrillas in Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, and Cambodia, countries either led by Marxist governments or embroiled in civil wars. In his State of the Union Address in January 1984, Reagan cast his policies as part of a “crusade for renewal” in which the U.S. has “the will to defend peace and freedom.”
The Reagan administration’s interventionist policy in Central America rested on an integrated set of ideological, institutional, rhetorical, and policy elements. The administration framed its intervention, first, as a protective mission against alleged Soviet and Cuban expansionism and “communist subversion,” and second, as a benevolent mission to bring freedom and democracy to oppressed peoples. The fact that the U.S. supported repressive governments in El Salvador and Guatemala was explained away by Reagan adviser Jeane Kirkpatrick, who put forth a speculative theory that repressive rightist regimes were amenable to democratic reform whereas repressive leftist regimes were not. Missing in her argument was the fact that the U.S. had engaged in or encouraged the destabilization and overthrow of democratic governments in Guatemala, British Guiana, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Chile, and after 1984, Sandinista Nicaragua – a leftist revolutionary regime that instituted democratic procedures, contrary to Kirkpatrick’s theory.
The Great Depression of the 1930s ended the coffee boom and highlighted the problems of El Salvador’s monocrop economy and lack of development. Coffee growers reacted to the Depression by cutting the wages of their already impoverished workers. In response to poor working conditions and to the establishment of a reactionary dictatorship in 1931, many peasants revolted in 1932. Led by Marxist intellectual and Communist Party leader Augustín Farabundo Martí, the revolt was quickly crushed, ending in a massacre of over 30,000 people, known as known as la Matanza, “the slaughter.” The memory of the revolt and its leader would be resurrected decades later in the form of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a rebel alliance that would attempt to overthrow another military dictatorship.
In the political arena, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), formed in 1960, became the vehicle for many Salvadorans seeking moderate reform. Under the leadership of José Napoleón Duarte, the PDC made political gains in the Legislative Assembly and Duarte himself was twice elected mayor of San Salvador. Duarte’s popularity alarmed the conservative oligarchy and its military allies. When it was clear that Duarte would win the 1972 presidential election, the military overthrew the election and installed Colonel Arturo Armando Molina as president. Duarte was arrested, tortured, and exiled.
Following the military coup, President Molina ramped up the repression. As the historian Robert A. Pastor writes, “each positive reformist step in El Salvador was followed by grotesque murders by right-wing death squads.” The effect was to push reform groups underground and turn would-be reformers into revolutionaries. Between 1970 and 1979, five guerrilla organizations aligned with various political groups rose up to challenge the military government in power. The Salvadoran military responded with more repression. Among the worst incidents was the massacre of an estimated 100 demonstrators who had gathered at the Plaza Libertad in San Salvador on February 28, 1977, to protest the fraudulent presidential election of General Carlos Humberto Romero.
In November 1977, the Romero government enacted the Law for the Defense and Guarantee of Public Order, which eliminated almost all legal restrictions on violence against civilians. The “brunt of the repression,” writes the historian William LeoGrande, fell not upon the “clandestine guerrilla organization,” but “upon the more accessible moderates. The resulting human rights abuses further radicalized the population and attracted widespread international condemnation.” Human rights reports from Amnesty International and other organizations in late 1978 and early 1979 “unanimously condemned General Romero’s government for its systematic torture, murder, and persecution of political dissidents. According the archbishop’s Legal Aid Office, 727 people were killed by death squads and the government’s security forces in 1978 and 1979.”
In the countryside, the Salvadoran military aligned itself with a powerful paramilitary group, the Nationalist Democratic Organization (ORDEN), whose goal was to ensure peasant loyalty to the government. According to D’Haeseleer, “when verbal persuasion failed, it [ORDEN] resorted to other means, including kidnapping, torturing, and killing supposedly subversive campesinos.” U.S. military advisers were on hand to help “plan the structure and ideology of ORDEN” and train its leaders.
Officially, the U.S. role in El Salvador was to “professionalize” the army and police forces. Between 1950 and 1972, more than 1,000 Salvadoran soldiers and officers received training at the School of the Americas in Panama. The U.S. also provided the Salvadoran government with $22.5 million in military aid between 1946 and 1980. In early 1977, however, new human rights requirements imposed by Congress prompted the Salvadoran government to reject further military aid, although previously authorized aid in the pipeline continued to flow.
On February 17, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador wrote a letter to Carter imploring him not to send military aid, equipment, or advisers to the government of El Salvador:
The present government junta and, especially, the armed forces and security forces have unfortunately not demonstrated their capacity to resolve in practice the nation’s serious political and structural problems. For the most part, they have resorted to repressive violence, producing a total of deaths and injuries much greater than under the previous military regime, whose systematic violation of human rights was reported by the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights. The brutal form in which the security forces recently evicted and murdered the occupiers of the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party, even though the junta and the party apparently did not authorize the operation, is an indication that the junta and the Christian Democrats do not govern the country, but that political power is in the hands of unscrupulous military officers who know only how to repress the people and favor the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy….
For this reason, given that as a Salvadoran and archbishop of the archdiocese of San Salvador, I have an obligation to see that faith and justice reign in my country, I ask you, if you truly want to defend human rights: to forbid that military aid be given to the Salvadoran government; to guarantee that your government will not intervene directly or indirectly, with military, economic, diplomatic, or other pressures, in determining the destiny of the Salvadoran people…. I hope that your religious sentiments and your feelings for the defense of human rights will move you to accept my petition, thus avoiding greater bloodshed in this suffering country.
Bishop Romero, formerly a conservative critic of liberation theology, had become a champion of the poor and the oppressed after witnessing the death of so many innocent people. During his last homily on March 24, 1980 he begged government soldiers to stop killing their own people, saying, “No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order.” His assassination that day demonstrated that the military would kill anyone.
In January 1981, as the FMLN launched its so-called “final offensive,” the Salvadoran military and death squads killed 2,644 civilian noncombatants in that one month alone, according to the legal aid office of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of San Salvador. In March 1981, Amnesty International submitted testimony to a Congressional committee, stating, “Repression at the hands of the government security forces and paramilitary groups has continued to escalate in recent months,” and that in the last year, “some 8,000 Salvadorans are estimated to have died as a result of political violence; government forces have been reportedly implicated in at least 6,000 of these deaths.”
The Reagan years
In contrast to the Carter administration, Reagan administration officials appeared confident and certain of their mission. El Salvador was presented as a “test case” for the revival of U.S. power and influence in the world. On February 23, 1981, the State Department released a White Paper titled “Communist Interference in El Salvador,” which was said to contain documented evidence of Communist bloc support for the leftist revolutionaries. The press accepted the report at face value at first, but within six months the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post had concluded that most of the administration’s claims were not backed up by the documents and that many of the documents were not authentic. “Above all,” writes LeoGrande, “the documents did not support the White Paper’s central thesis – that a massive external interference by the Communist bloc had transformed the Salvadoran conflict from a civil war to a case of indirect external aggression.” Although the White Paper failed to convince, the administration nonetheless operated on the assumption that the Salvadoran revolution was a product of Soviet and Cuban expansionism, presumably justifying a militant U.S. response.
On March 2, 1981, the Reagan administration announced that it was sending $25 million in additional military assistance to the Salvadoran government along with four more training teams. Congress approved the funds (shifted from other accounts), but exacted a pledge to limit the number of U.S. military advisors in the country to fifty-five. This limit coupled with national elections held in 1982 and 1984 enabled the administration to win Congressional approval for most of the aid it sought for the Salvadoran government through the decade. In 1982 and 1983, the administration gained Congressional approval of $117.4 million in military aid; and in 1984, another $196.5 million. In addition, the U.S. arranged for international loans to the Salvadoran government amounting to $280 million between July 1981 and September 1984.
On December 11, 1981, the Salvadoran army’s most elite unit, the Atlacatl Battalion, whose officers had been trained by U.S. Special Forces, massacred close to 1,000 villagers in El Mozote and surrounding hamlets (located north of San Miguel). The truth commission created by the United Nations in 1992 concluded that the El Mozote massacre was the worst war crime in the nation’s twelve years of civil war. Forensic anthropology teams determined that 57% of the identified victims were children under the age of 18, including 136 children and adolescents killed inside a convent next to the village church. The murders were calculated and systematic, with men and women ordered into buildings before being shot. In 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights reported that “Salvadoran authorities systematically denied and concealed the facts,” and “that for nine years the State failed to open an investigation.” The court furthermore chastised the Salvadoran government for passing an amnesty law in 2012 that exonerated the perpetrators without identifying them and called on the government to make reparation payments to victims’ families.
The Reagan administration worked in tandem with Salvadoran officials in covering up the massacre. The U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Deane Hinton, denied that a massacre had taken place, blamed the guerrillas for putting civilians in harm’s way, and was photographed giving a big hug to Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa of the Atlacatl Battalion. Only a few days after the massacre, President Reagan certified to Congress that the Salvadoran government was making progress in “internationally recognized human rights.” Congress as a whole went along with the charade. In early 1982, when reports of the massacre began appearing in the U.S. media, Elliott Abrams, the administration’s point man on human rights, told a Senate committee that the reports of hundreds of deaths “were not credible” and that the “incident” was being “significantly misused” by the guerrillas.
The human rights situation remained dire in 1982. The Archdioceses legal office attributed 5,399 civilian deaths to the army and related paramilitary forces, and yet this was an “improvement” over the previous year’s total of about twice the number. In September 1982, leaders of the PDC, including Duarte, charged that hundreds of PDC activists and nine PDC mayors had been murdered that year (a total of 35 had been killed over the years). Government security forces also targeted labor union officials, campesino leaders, and human rights activists.
The March 1982 elections for Constituent Assembly provided an opportunity for the U.S. to establish the legitimacy of the Salvadoran government in the eyes of the U.S. public and the world. Although the left (FDR) was excluded and two independent newspapers had been shut down by death threats, the military government nonetheless found it necessary to inflate vote totals by 25% so as to secure a better showing for the two parties on the right, the traditional military party, PCN, and the far right Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), which together won 38% of the vote (19% and 29%, respectively). Duarte’s moderate PDC party won the largest share with 40% of the vote. A coalition government representing these three parties was subsequently formed under the presidency of Álvaro Magaña. The rigging of the vote was kept secret, of course, while the U.S. news media published photos of citizens waiting in line to vote as evidence of progress in democracy.
The Reagan administration undertook a dual approach to El Salvador. On the one hand, it supported the reformist-minded PDC and its leader, Napoleon Duarte; on the other hand, it supported hardline military elements who sought to suppress the rebellion by any means necessary. The dual orientation led the U.S. to constantly preach human rights principles to the Salvadoran military while doing little to actually stop extrajudicial executions and death squad disappearances, lest the counterinsurgency effort be undercut. The public face of the administration policy necessarily emphasized the reformist orientation, given the tarnished reputation of the Salvadoran military. This was especially true in the presidential election of 1984 when the Reagan administration used its influence to assure that Duarte came out on top over ARENA party founder Robert D’Aubuisson, who had been identified by former ambassador Robert White as the key figure in the murder of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. The Salvadoran military command went along, being thoroughly dependent on U.S. funding by this time and also knowing that the civilian leadership would not be allowed to control the military.
The dual approach did not blend well in the overall U.S. strategy. Military efforts to annihilate the rebels and dry up their sources of popular support clashed with humanitarian efforts to win the hearts and minds of the populace through programs of economic uplift. As in the Vietnam War, military objectives undermined reform efforts, especially in the countryside. As D’Haeseleer writes:
To remove insurgents, the Salvadoran military bombed these areas first, then initiated large-scale sweeps to force them out of the contested regions. After the areas were secure, or the guerrillas had fled, the civic action programs began. These programs were considered necessary to kick-start rural development and bind the civilians closer to the central government.
The war took a heavy toll on the civilian population. The widespread violence forced over one sixth of the population to flee, further crippling the nation’s economic and human capital. In 1987, Salvadoran and U.S. officials estimated that more than 400,000 refugees had fled to the United States since 1982. Others found their way to refugee camps in Mexico, Honduras, and elsewhere. A 1988 Congressional report titled “Bankrolling Failure” noted that only a small portion of U.S. aid to El Salvador addressed the endemic poverty and injustice that were the root causes of the war.
Attempts at peace negotiations were made in 1984, 1985, and 1987, all without effect. Productive negotiations were unlikely as long as either side believed that military victory was possible and preferable to a negotiated settlement. The hardliners in the Reagan administration joined the hardliners in the Salvadoran military and the political right, led by D’Aubuisson, in seeking victory not peace. Some officials, such as Thomas Enders, Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, were cognizant that a political solution was ultimately needed in El Salvador. Some FMLN leaders believed that the revolution could be won by wearing down the U.S. over time. Others drew a lesson from Nicaragua, speculating that if the FMLN did win,, the U.S. would initiate a new war against them.
Disenchantment with administration policy in Congress was palpable. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts declared that “not a dime of military aid should go to El Salvador” until the armed forces were purged of human rights abusers. “It’s our money,” he said. “We have a right to decide what to do with it.” Congress passed an amendment in 1990 cutting U.S. aid to the Salvadoran government in half, but the measure contained a mile-wide loophole. It allowed the president to reinstate the restricted aid if he certified that the FMLN did any of the following: refused to negotiate, received weapons shipments from abroad, or killed civilians. In January 1991, only two months after signing the measure into law, President Bush restored the restricted aid.
Salvadoran peace accords
From April 1990 through December 1991, representatives of the Salvadoran government and the FMLN met in a series of meetings under the auspices of the United Nations, attempting to hammer out a peace agreement. The ultimate success of these negotiations may be attributed to a number of factors:
- recognition by U.S. officials, the Salvadoran (Cristiani) government, and FMLN leaders that victory was unattainable;
- the ending of the Cold War, which greatly diminished the geostrategic importance of El Salvador in the eyes of U.S. officials (just as détente in the early 1970s had reduced the importance of Vietnam);
- the electoral defeat of the Sandinista party in neighboring Nicaragua in February 1990 (which ended U.S. predictions of falling dominoes in Central America);
- the weariness of Congress and the U.S. public with funding the unsavory war (by 1990 the U.S. had provided $4 billion in overt military and economic aid to the Salvadoran government); 
- at least some recognition of the immense cost of the war in El Salvador – approximately 75,000 Salvadorans killed (about 1.5% of the population) and more than a million displaced;
- new U.S. military adventures that preoccupied the administration, including the invasion of Panama in December 1989 and the Persian Gulf War in early 1991.
The negotiating parties reached an opening Agreement on Human Rights in July 1990. A cease-fire was declared in September 1991, and a comprehensive settlement, the Chapultepec peace accords, was signed on January 16, 1992. Beyond ending the fighting, the peace accords sought to help the Salvadoran people heal, to prevent the recurrence of abuses, and to move forward toward a more peaceful and democratic society. The National Guard was abolished and replaced by the National Civilian Police; UN observers would ensure fair and free elections; the FMLN agreed to demobilize its troops and registered as a government political party, and perhaps most important for the nation in the healing process, the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador was established in July 1992. The UN played important roles both in supporting peace negotiations and in implementation of the peace pact.
The Commission on the Truth for El Salvador was comprised of three international commissioners, appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and chaired by former Colombian president, Belisario Betancur. Given six months to carry out its work, the Commission was charged to clarify the worst human rights abuses of the war by all sides, to analyze the impunity with which the Salvadoran military and security forces committed abuses, and to make recommendations to prevent a repeat of past abuses and stimulate national reconciliation. The Commission released its report on March 15, 1993, and concluded that of the 22,000 official complaints, 25% involved disappearances, 20% torture, and some involved more than one form of violence. The Commission found that 85% of the atrocities committed against civilians were carried out by the military government, and in predominantly rural areas; approximately 5% were committed by rebel forces.
The report named individual actors accused of human rights violations from both the government and the FMLN, and called for the removal of office and the Salvadoran armed forces of more than forty military personnel, including those found responsible for the killings of Archbishop Romero and the four U.S. churchwomen, and the massacre at El Mozote. Although the Commission believed that justice demanded punishment for the perpetrators of violence and reparations for some of the victims, it lacked the authority to carry out both, and in 1993 the government passed the Amnesty Law which protected perpetrators and the high ranking military personnel who ordered them to act from facing charges and imprisonment for human rights violations. In July 2016, after twenty-three years, El Salvador’s Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Amnesty Law, allowing the Salvadoran government to bring former military personnel to trial. In November of 2017, the United States Department of Justice had Inocente Orlando Montano, a former Salvadoran colonel living in the U.S., extradited to Spain to stand trial on charges related to the assassination of the Jesuit priests.
President Eisenhower nevertheless perceived communist participation in the Árbenz government as a threat to U.S. hegemony in the region. In August 1953, he approved a covert plan to overthrow the constitutional government. To carry out the plan, the CIA recruited right-wing Guatemalan military officers and organized a few hundred men into a small army. In June, 1954, the CIA-backed “National Liberation Army” invaded Guatemala from Honduras while unmarked U.S. World War II fighter planes flew over Guatemala City, firing into the air. Convinced that a large army was approaching, the Guatemalan armed forces put up no resistance. Árbenz resigned, but not before lambasting the anti-democratic actions of the United States: “The United Fruit Company, in collaboration with the governing circles of the United States is responsible for what is happening to us.”
Revolution and state terrorism in Guatemala
Reform efforts were met with increasing repression under President-General Romeo Lucas García, who ruled from July 1978 to March 1982. Wanton killing, kidnappings, torture, and forced disappearances were unleashed, deepening Guatemala’s crisis and causing the military government to lose credibility abroad. Rightist death squads aligned with the military murdered campesinos and other political enemies in increasing numbers. The average murder rate soared from 75 per month in 1979 to nearly 303 per month in 1981.
On March 23, 1982, General José Efraín Ríos Montt overthrew General García with the aid of junior military officers and the CIA. The Reagan administration needed a more presentable leader if it was to gain Congressional approval of more aid for the Guatemalan government. Ríos Montt was considered part of the modern, technically proficient sector of the army, trained in special warfare at the U.S. School of the Americas. He had served as head of the Department of Studies at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington during the mid-1970s and developed close ties with the U.S. intelligence and counterinsurgency experts. Not surprisingly, he was welcomed by Thomas Enders, Assistant Secretary of State for inter-American Affairs, who stated that “a coup has installed a new leader who has improved the human rights situation, and has opened the way for a more effective counterinsurgency.”
Ríos Montt’s 17-month rule, in fact, resulted in the killing or disappearance of 800 victims per month. Village massacres were conducted with more thoroughness. According to the historian Kathryn Sikkink, in 1982 alone, “the Guatemalan government killed or disappeared at least 17,953 Guatemalan citizens, most of them unarmed civilians and primarily rural indigenous peoples.” The government combined its “scorched earth” military campaign with a “Shelter, Work, and Food” program and a promise of democratic elections in the future. This combination of carrots and sticks was known as the “beans and bullets” approach. As explained by one Guatemalan army officer to a New York Times reporter, “If you are with us, we’ll feed you, if not we’ll kill you.” In a June 1982 interview, Ríos Montt’s chief aide, Francisco Bianchi, was asked about army killings of unarmed civilians. He replied:
The guerrillas won over many Indian collaborators. Therefore, the Indians were subversives, right? And how do you fight subversion? Clearly you had to kill Indians because they were collaborating with the subversion. And then they would say, “You’re massacring innocent people.” But they weren’t innocent. They had sold out to subversion.
The U.S. role
The outside power arming the Guatemalan government was the United States (which also armed guerrillas in Nicaragua). From 1954 to 1972, some 2,000 Guatemalan army officers were trained in U.S. military schools. By 1965, there were 34 U.S. military advisers in Guatemala. The U.S. organized and equipped the Mobile Military Police, a unit involved in massacres. The U.S. also supplied an average of 12% of the Guatemalan military budget in the 1960s and 1970s. When Guatemala refused further military aid in 1977, Israel, Taiwan, and Argentina stepped in to fill the gap. Israeli advisers actively assisted the Lucas and Ríos Montt counterinsurgency campaigns.
Democratization and peace accords
Under President de León, the Guatemalan government began peace negotiations in earnest. With the Cold War over, the U.S. no longer had any interest in sustaining the war. Assisted by the United Nations, representatives from different political parties, non-government organizations, and indigenous groups negotiated many issues associated with the war, including refugee resettlement and indigenous rights. In 1995, Guatemala held elections again, and Alvaro Arzú beat out Ríos Montt, then worked diligently to move the peace process forward. In March 1996, a cease-fire was declared between the URNG (Unidad Revolucionario Nacional Guatemalteco, Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) and the army, and agreements were reached shortly thereafter that severely limited the authority of the military and replaced the national police.
Guatemala is the first Latin American country to place a former president on trial for genocide. In 2011, Ríos Montt was placed under house arrest while awaiting trial. On May 10, 2013, in Guatemala City, a three-judge trial court convicted Ríos Montt of crimes against humanity and genocide for ordering the murder of more than 1,700 indigenous Ixil Mayans. The six-week trial drew the testimony of over 90 witnesses, dozens of forensic and other experts who presented documentary and other evidence. Prosecutors presented a month of chilling testimony from survivors of army massacres carried out 30 years earlier during one of the bloodiest periods of Guatemala’s long civil war. Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison. His case, however, was overturned on May 20 and he was ordered to be retried in 2017.
The murder of a popular newspaper publisher, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, on January 10, 1978, presumably by Somoza’s thugs, marked the beginning of an eighteen-month insurrectionary period. Chamorro had been a fervent advocate of democracy and the most likely candidate to succeed Somoza. The Carter administration pressured Somoza to step down, but he refused, calculating that the U.S. would support him if the only other option was the FSLN. This proved to be an error, as the Carter administration cut off new aid to Nicaragua in the 1979 budget and blocked pending arms deliveries.
The Sandinista program
The most daunting and immediate problem facing the new Sandinista government was an impoverished economy devastated by war. With the treasury left bankrupt by the Somoza government, the FSLN appealed for international assistance and encouraged Sandinismo at home, a spirit of cooperation and volunteerism in rebuilding the country. FSLN leaders were intent on creating a socialist-oriented economic system that would meet the basic needs of the majority, but they did not regard the Soviet Union, Eastern bloc countries, or Cuba as appropriate economic models. Sandinista Nicaragua was to be a new socialist experiment, allowing for individual ownership and private enterprise. Daniel Ortega later claimed that “it is the Sandinista Revolution which invented perestroika,” the reform model adopted by the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev in the latter half of the 1980s. The FSLN directorate, being of mixed class origin itself, was decidedly pragmatic in its approach to reform.
Initial FSLN programs focused on literacy, land reform, and health. From March to August 1980, the FSLN government coordinated a highly successful literacy campaign that involved over 100,000 volunteers who taught some 400,000 people to read and write. The country’s illiteracy rate dropped from 50% to 13% of the population. In 1981, the government instituted a new Agrarian Reform law, designed to redistribute land to over 100,000 campesinos (much of the land was expropriated from Somoza’s supporters who left the country). This was followed by a public health campaign consisting of sanitation measures, mass vaccinations, nutritional programs, encouragement of breast-feeding, the training of more doctors, and health education. One result was that infant mortality dramatically declined within a few years, earning praise from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Partly because of better health care, Nicaragua’s population rapidly increased, from 2.5 million in 1978 to 3.2 million in 1985, a 28% increase, which strained the economy.
On October 7, 1980, the FSLN National Directorate issued an official communiqué on religion that guaranteed the inalienable right of citizens to profess their religious beliefs and the right of churches to operate schools and conduct their activities free of government interference. The conservative Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo was not appeased by this declaration, however, believing that the FSLN was intent on undermining the Catholic Church hierarchy and expanding the “popular church.” The popular church emerged in the late 1960s in conjunction with the liberation theology movement. There was tension, in other words, between conservative and progressive factions of the Catholic Church. Three Nicaraguan priests associated with liberation theology, Miguel d’Escoto and Ernesto and Fernando Cardenal, served in the FSLN government.
Initial U.S. relations with the Sandinista government
The Sandinista movement represents a societal consensus that a radical change was needed in Nicaragua…. The broad outlines of “Sandinismo” have already been defined by its leaders. It includes a commitment to a democratic form, a compassionate attitude toward its enemies, defense of human rights, respect for private property, a commitment to allow the private sector to be part of a mixed economy, a commitment to freedom of expression and of the press and, in foreign policy, a desire to have good relations with all countries while pursuing a non-aligned posture…. It includes a strong Christian element which may explain the very compassionate approach taken toward former enemies.
Regarding the influence of Cuba, Pezzullo observed, “There is no reason to believe that the Cuban model is more attractive than any other…. Cuba will be influential in Nicaragua only insofar as its contributions are acceptable to the Nicaraguans.” He noted that “Cuban involvement thus far publicly has been limited to the supply of medical personnel and equipment” and other humanitarian assistance. On the issue of human rights, Pezzullo wrote, “We are not aware of any press reports of systematic violations of human rights of the new government. On the contrary, most stories expressed wonderment at the peacefulness of the transition.” Pezzullo described in detail the “grave economic crisis” in the country, including “an enormous foreign debt” inherited from the Somoza government and a business community “bereft of funds and suffering serious losses during the insurrection.” He concluded his report with a recommendation to assist the struggling FSLN government:
Realistically, we face only one option: to continue our economic and political support to the Nicaraguan people and government so that they can pursue their own destiny in a peaceful and democratic manner. We welcome the repeated assurances from the GRN [Government of National Reconstruction] of their willingness to establish close and friendly relations with the U.S. We have no moral alternative but to reciprocate generously with a helping hand to a friendly people in economic distress.
The Carter administration only partly embraced Pezzullo’s recommendations. It provided $20 million in emergency aid and economic assistance to the new Sandinista government, but at the same time secretly authorized covert aid to dissident political groups within Nicaragua. In May 1980, Congress approved a $75 million aid package that included $70 million in loans, of which 60% was reserved for the private sector. The aid package was designed as a carrot to encourage economic moderation (limited state control of property and business enterprises), political pluralism, and ties with the West rather than the Soviet bloc.
Relations between the two countries took a downturn in mid-January 1981 when the Carter administration received reports of arms transfers to Salvadoran guerrillas. The administration suspended further distribution of the $75 million aid package to Nicaragua pending an investigation. On February 14, Ambassador Pezzullo met with Junta leaders Daniel Ortega and Sergio Ramírez to discuss the issue. Ortega said that a firm decision had been taken by the FSLN Directorate to “not permit use of our territory for the transit of arms to El Salvador” and that orders had been given to all units to interdict any such arms traffic. Ortega added, “We understand your concerns about El Salvador and we will not risk our revolution for an uncertain victory in El Salvador.”
The U.S.-backed counterrevolution
Sergio Ramírez, noted Nicaraguan writer and Junta member (elected vice-president in 1984), perceived the situation differently. Nicaragua’s alleged “export of revolution” was not based on encouraging violent revolution abroad but rather on promoting an alternative to the capitalist model of permanent underdevelopment in Latin America. “How can one prevent a peasant from another Central American country from hearing, from finding out, from realizing that in Nicaragua land is given to other poor and barefoot peasants like him? . . . In this sense, we export our revolution.”
President Ronald Reagan, upon entering the White House in January 1981, was intent on ousting the Sandinista government and undermining its socialist-oriented economic experiment. Yet, as many members of Congress did not view the Sandinista government as a national security threat, Reagan used the issue of arms transfers as a wedge to build a counter-revolutionary army in Nicaragua – the Contras. On March 9, 1981, he signed a secret Presidential Finding authorizing the CIA to organize a guerrilla force for the purpose of interdicting weapons transfers from Nicaragua to El Salvador. The House Committee on Intelligence secretly approved this operation but expressly forbade the CIA from undertaking activities “for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua or provoking a military exchange between Nicaragua and Honduras.”
In August 1981, Duane R. Clarridge, the new division chief for CIA operations in Latin America, met with Contra leaders and their Argentine advisers in Honduras to formally establish the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), the main Contra fighting force. Contra attacks began in earnest in March 1982. According to a Defense Intelligence Report, “In the 100 day period from 14 March to 21 June, at least 106 insurgent incidents occurred within Nicaragua.” Led in the field by former National Guardsman Col. Enrique Bermúdez, the FDN recruited former National Guardsmen and peasants from northern highlands. Some of these poor farmers joined for pay, generously provided by the U.S. government; some, because of religious fears of Marxism; and some, in response to the FSLN government’s economic policies, which established price and market controls. Some peasants were also kidnapped by the Contras and forced to serve, fearing retribution against their families.
A third Contra faction emerged to the south. Sandinista military hero Edén Pastora Gómez, known as Comandante Cero, defected in July 1981 and was recruited by the CIA. In April 1982, he announced via radio that he was at war with the Sandinistas. His small band of guerrilla fighters based in Costa Rica remained independent of the larger, Honduran-based FDN, despite repeated attempts by Washington to bring the two factions together. Pastora abandoned the fight in 1986 and returned to Nicaragua in 1989.
Another aspect of the Reagan administration’s strategy was to keep the FSLN government constantly on edge and force it to use scarce resources for military rather than social welfare purposes. In what appeared to be preparation for a direct U.S. invasion of Nicaragua, the U.S. conducted a series of military exercises in the region and constructed military bases and airfields in Honduras. The Pentagon’s Big Pine II, a six-month military exercise lasting from September 1983 to February 1984, involved 5,000 U.S. soldiers, nineteen ships, and over two hundred jet fighters. The U.S. furthermore employed CIA operatives to mine Nicaraguan harbors and destroy oil storage facilities in early 1984. The mines damaged seven vessels owned by six different nations. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau called it “an act of international terrorism.”
The FDN, the main Contra force, rarely engaged the FSLN military directly. Its preferred method of “warfare” was to attack weakly defended rural communities deemed pro-Sandinista and kill government civilian workers–doctors, nurses, educators, and local officials. Such tactics were utterly repugnant to the vast majority of Nicaraguans, as noted by the new U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, Anthony Quainton. In a memo dated August 13, 1983, regarding “allegations of a Contra massacre,” the ambassador informed the State Department that Nicaraguan newspapers were full of photographs and eyewitness accounts of a recent Contra ambush of a bus carrying eighteen civilians near the town of Jinotega two days earlier. Quainton commented, “Incidents such as this in which unarmed civilians, including women and children, are victims provide invaluable grist for the Sandinista propaganda mill. Reports of such activities revive memories of the brutality of Somoza’s National Guard.”
Yet Contra attacks on civilians were not occasional incidents. They were the main “war” strategy. Contras roamed the rural areas, attacking towns and farming villages, and murdering anyone suspected of being a government worker or Sandinista supporter. Contra atrocities were reported by American missionaries in Nicaragua, but American correspondents initially cited them only as allegations. This changed in October 1984 with the discovery of a CIA “assassination manual.” Titled “Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare,” the 134-page manual was published in Spanish and distributed to groups of Contras. It advised the guerrillas to avoid “explicit terror” against the general population in favor of the “selective use of violence” against Nicaraguan officials, judges, security officers, and others. “If possible, professional criminals should be hired to carry out specific selective ‘jobs,’” the manual stated.
— Rep. Samuel Gejdenson, March 1985
Rightly or wrongly, there are many of us today who see the actions of the Contras as being beneath the ethical standards we would like the United States to employ. And specifically, I believe it is irrefutable that a number of the Contras’ actions have to be characterized as terrorism, as State-supported terrorism. Until we put this issue of the Contras behind us, I believe we are going to have a deeper controversy in our body politic than is healthy. And I believe that the CIA already has been badly hurt by its involvement with the Contras, and will be hurt more if we continue.
The CIA director’s admission was reinforced by former Contra leader Edgar Chamorro, who stated in a letter to the New York Times in January 1986, “During my four years as a ‘Contra’ director, it was premeditated policy to terrorize civilian noncombatants to prevent them from cooperating with the Government. Hundreds of civilian murders, tortures, and rapes were committed in pursuit of this policy, of which the ‘Contra’ leaders and their C.I.A. superiors were well aware.”
The U.S. war against Nicaragua began in secret, but once exposed in the media, the Reagan administration went all out to win public and Congressional approval. The press began to get wind of the Contra War in early 1982. Rumors swirled for a time before nine-page cover story in Newsweek (November 8, 1982) confirmed its existence. For the next four years, the Reagan administration conducted an intensive propaganda campaign to convince the public and Congress that the Contras deserved their support. President Reagan himself delivered three nationally televised addresses on Central America or Nicaragua (April 27, 1983, May 9, 1984, and March 16, 1986) and twenty-two radio addresses with a major focus on Nicaragua. According to political scientist Cynthia Arnson, “Reagan devoted more speeches to Nicaragua than to any other single topic.” Top administration officials also made speeches, the State Department issued a series of White Papers, and the administration created two new “public diplomacy” agencies were in 1983 to promote its views far and wide, the White House Outreach Group and the State Department Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (S/LPD).
Although there was no legal justification whatsoever for U.S. meddling in Nicaragua, Reagan made it seem so by focusing on the alleged evils of the Sandinista government. “There seems to be no crime to which the Sandinistas will not stoop – this is an outlaw regime,” declared Reagan in a televised address to the nation on March 16, 1986. “Could there be any greater tragedy than for us to sit back and permit this cancer to spread, leaving my successor to face far more agonizing decisions in the years ahead?” The purpose of such rhetoric was to delegitimize the Sandinista government in order to justify its overthrow. Administration officials repeatedly denounced the Sandinista government as totalitarianism, in conformity with Cold War ideology, and also accused the government of terrorism and drug running. S/LPD furthermore compiled a list of negative words and phrases for administration officials to use whenever referring to Nicaragua.
The Reagan administration’s public pronouncements that Sandinista Nicaragua must embrace democracy were all for show. The administration did not want to see democracy flourish in Nicaragua if the people’s choice was the FSLN party. Alejandro Bandaña, an official in the Nicaraguan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, put the matter succinctly: “The U.S. would support the results of a ‘free’ election only if its own side won.” The U.S.-backed counterrevolution, moreover, was designed to produce repression rather than openness, forcing the Sandinista government into a position of restricting freedoms and censoring the press in order to maintain security (the U.S. acted similarly in World War I, enacting the Espionage and Sedition acts, and in World War II, incarcerating Japanese-American citizens). To the degree that the FSLN leadership was seen as illegitimate and oppressive, the administration could claim to be freeing the Nicaraguan people from “totalitarian” rule.
Notwithstanding U.S. propaganda, the Sandinista government developed an electoral system modeled on European multiparty systems and held national elections on November 4, 1984. The Reagan administration tried to undermine the elections by pressuring its favored presidential candidate, Arturo Cruz, to pull out of the race and declare the elections unfair. On the very day of the elections, moreover, the administration “revealed” to the press that Soviet fighter planes were arriving in Nicaragua. The charge was utterly baseless but nonetheless served to divert U.S. media attention. Administration officials declared on that same day that “any agreement on security issues must be linked to moves toward democratic rule,” implying that no democratic elections were taking place.
In fact, seven parties participated in the elections. The FSLN won 63% of the vote and 61 of 90 seats in the national assembly. Three non-Marxist parties, including Virgilio Godoy’s PLI party, won a total 29 seats. Three socialist and communist parties (not associated with the FSLN) won a total of six seats. The elections were observed by some 1,000 foreign journalists and 450 official observers from thirty-five countries. Among the official observers were fifteen U.S. scholars affiliated with the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). LASA delegates met with representatives of all political parties, electoral officials, government officials, and leaders from different sectors of society during their week-long stay. The final LASA report concluded:
Clearly, the Nicaraguan electoral process in 1984 was manipulated, as the U.S. Government so often charged. However, the manipulation was not the work of the Sandinistas – who had every interest in making these elections as demonstrably fair, pluralistic, and competitive as possible – but of the Reagan Administration, whose interest apparently was in making the elections seem as unfair, ideologically one-sided, and uncompetitive as possible.
In contrast to the dark, foreboding picture drawn of the Sandinistas, the administration painted the Contras in the bright colors of American idealism. Administration officials grafted onto the Contras what many believed to be the global mission of the United States – to promote freedom and democracy. The Contras were hailed as democratic reformers, “freedom fighters,” heroes, and “our brothers.” President Reagan told the American people at various times that it was “our moral responsibility” to aid the Contras; that the U.S. had the “moral authority” to do so; that subduing the Sandinistas constituted “a great moral challenge for the entire free world”; and that the Contras were the “moral equivalent of our founding fathers.” The overall theme for propagation was summarized in an S/LPD “Public Diplomacy Action Plan” dated March 12, 1985: “The Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters are fighters for freedom in the American tradition; FSLN are evil.”
U.S. intervention in Honduras was also substantial. The U.S. military appropriated large areas of the country for the construction of bases, military exercises, and the operations of the Contras. The Honduran government officially denied the presence of the Contras, as this would make it subject to the very same charges that the U.S. was making against the Nicaraguan government – being a base of support for revolutionary groups. The Reagan administration channeled millions of dollars worth of arms to Honduran security forces and paid for some 800 Honduran soldiers to attend classes on counterinsurgency warfare at the U.S. School of the Americas during the 1980s. The net effect was to bolster repression in Honduras. As anthropology professor Lesley Gill writes:
The military assistance strengthened right-wing elements, who, like their patrons in Washington, favored a military solution to the Central America conflicts, and who assumed the task of repressing domestic opposition. Even though Honduras did not possess a major guerrilla insurgency, military hard-liners targeted students, unionists, and peasants, as well as anyone who belonged to political parties or groups considered leftist. They also forcibly detained, tortured, and disappeared supporters of, or those believe to support, the Sandinista government or the Salvadoran guerrillas.
Congress and U.S. public opinion
Among the prominent Congressional opponents of administration policies were Speaker of the House Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill of Massachusetts and Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, chair of the House Task Force on Nicaragua. O’Neill attributed his views to his connection with the Maryknoll Catholic order. As he told the New York Times (September 12, 1984), “I have great trust in that order. When the nuns and priests come through, I ask them questions . . . and I’m sure I get the truth. I haven’t found any of these missionaries who aren’t absolutely opposed to this policy. . . . I think it’s disgraceful what the Nicaraguan rebels are doing, tearing down schools and health care centers and murdering the civilian population.” Among his contacts was Maryknoll sister Peggy Healy, a nurse practitioner and human rights advocate who had been working in Nicaragua. She encouraged O’Neill to stand firm against Contra aid.
Rep. Bonior was often chosen to present the Democratic Party’s response to Reagan’s addresses on Central America. He had traveled widely in the region and was fully aware of its tragic history (he was also a history major). “The fact that we were arming and financing the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua was very, very disturbing to me,” said Bonior in an interview. “I was opposed to this kind of imperialism. Cold War proxies end up in wars in which people lose their lives.” Another concern was administration illegalities. “The drive to wage this war has led the administration to bypass our system of checks and balances, to ignore the Constitution of the United States, and to subvert the law of the land,” he told his colleagues. Bonior’s task force worked closely with the Central America Working Group, the lobbying arm of the Central America movement (see Section IV).
To the consternation of Reagan administration officials, public opinion tended toward the side of critics. Public support for Contra aid never reached a majority and was more often two-to-one against it, according to polls taken over the course of the decade. Surveys taken between April 1983 and June 1988 showed public support for Contra aid ranging from 25% to 29%, and opposition ranging from 56% to 58%, with one exception between July and September 1987, when the gap narrowed to six percentage points.
With the covert war now overt, the amount of U.S. aid to the Contras was a matter of Congressional policy. Congress set a limit on $24 million in aid for fiscal year 1983. In early 1984, however, revelations in the press that CIA agents had mined Nicaraguan harbors – an act of war – without Congressional knowledge or approval sparked outrage, even among some Republicans. Congress cut off all U.S. aid to the Contras that year. The Contras nonetheless continued to receive funding due to Lt. Col. Oliver North’s illegal operations out of the basement of the White House. North, a National Security Council staff member, and his cohorts tapped hidden Pentagon funds, solicited money from other nations, including $32 million from Saudi Arabia between July 1984 and March 1985, and sold arms to Iran and used the profits to purchase arms for the Contras (Iran-Contra affair).
International diplomacy and the World Court
In January 1983, the foreign ministers of Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama launched a regional peace initiative known as Contadora, named for the island off Panama where the diplomats met. In September 1984, a breakthrough occurred when five Central American presidents agreed to a draft treaty that required the cessation of all outside support cease for “irregular forces and armed bands” and banned foreign military bases, schools, and exercises in the region. “Prospects for the treaty seemed excellent at first,” noted political scientist Peter H. Smith. “The United Nations, the OAS, and the European Community all expressed their strong support,” but “Washington set out to scuttle the plan.” Caught off guard, the administration sent Secretary of State George Shultz to the capitals of Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to pressure the respective leaders to upend the treaty. Shultz succeeded in persuading Honduras to insist on adjustments to the treaty, which effectively destroyed it.
Following the mining of Nicaraguan harbors by U.S. covert agents in April 1984, Nicaragua brought suit against the United States in the International Court of Justice, or World Court. The Reagan administration informed the UN that it would not recognize the jurisdiction of the court in the matter, but nonetheless attempted to defend itself in the court of public opinion by arguing that its actions were consistent with the established principle of “collective defense,” alleging Nicaraguan arms transfers to Salvadoran rebels.
On June 27, 1986, the court ruled against the U.S. in a 142-page opinion, supported by twelve of the fifteen judges. The ruling stated that “the evidence is insufficient to satisfy the Court that the Government of Nicaragua was responsible for any flow of arms.” The court declared that “by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the Contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua,” the U.S. was acting “in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.” The ruling obliged the U.S. to cease its support for the Contras and to make reparation payments amounting to $370 million “for all injury caused to Nicaragua.” Although the Reagan administration ignored the ruling, it was nonetheless a diplomatic coup for Nicaragua, as it clearly identified the U.S. as the aggressor and buttressed European and Latin American opposition to U.S. Central America policy.
Renewed negotiations began in July 1985, when Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Peru formed the Contadora Support Group. Together with the original Contadora nations, the eight governments represented 85% of the population of Latin America. Diplomatic efforts eventually produced a peace treaty signed by five Central American presidents at Esquipulas, Guatemala, on August 7, 1987. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez played a key role in pressuring all sides to compromise. The agreement required a cessation of all outside support for guerrilla forces and stipulated that the Sandinistas hold talks with the Contras. Once again, the Reagan administration tried to sabotage the treaty. Failing this, it simply ignored the stipulation that the U.S. end its support for the Contras. According to Rep. James M. Jeffords, a moderate Republican Congressman from Vermont, “Our government undermined that agreement almost immediately.”
When, at times, negotiations progressed despite administration intransigence, U.S. officials fell back on the fail-safe argument that the Sandinistas could not be trusted to carry out any agreement. As the recently appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Elliot Abrams, said in August 1985, “It is preposterous to think we could sign a deal with the Sandinistas and expect it to be kept.” Again in January 1988, a State Department official remarked, “Our basic strategy doesn’t change. It is to persuade Congress that Ortega cannot be trusted and there is a need to maintain [Contra] aid as an insurance policy.” Negotiations, in other words, would never be allowed to undermine U.S. support for the Contras. The depiction of the Sandinistas as inherently evil, based on their alleged totalitarian ideology, allowed the administration to claim that negotiations were doomed to failure and thus forceful measures were the only answer. The formula had been used in Vietnam and would be used again in Afghanistan (the Taliban) and Iraq (Saddam Hussein).
The 1990 Nicaraguan elections
Upon entering the White House in January 1989, President George H. W. Bush continued to support the Contras but shifted emphasis to organizing political opposition within Nicaragua. The goal was to unite all opposition political parties against the FSLN in the upcoming democratic elections set for February 25, 1990. Fourteen parties were persuaded to join the National Opposition Union (UNO); four on the right, seven in the middle, and three on the far left, including the Nicaraguan Communist Party. The lack of agreement on ideology and policy was of no concern to the Bush administration, as its only objective was to defeat the FSLN at the ballot box.
Congress as a whole went along with the strategy, authorizing $9 million for the ostensible purpose of supporting democratic institutions in Nicaragua. Much of that money went to UNO presidential candidate Violeta Chamorro, enabling her to promote her campaign and keep the disparate parties of her coalition in line. The CIA has since admitted to planting misleading stories in Nicaraguan newspapers about alleged corruption in the FSLN government.
The Sandinista leadership expected their party to win the election despite the depressed state of the economy and ongoing Contra war. It was thus a shock to FSLN leaders and their supporters when the FSLN lost their majority. UNO won 54.7% of the national vote and gained 51 seats in the National Assembly, as compared to the FSLN with 40.8% of the vote and 38 seats. The Sandinista Party was ousted from power by the very election machinery they had created. Nicaraguan observer María López Vigil believed that the vote was largely a response to U.S. intimidation. “Everyone understood that if Violeta won, the war would end,” she said. “Nicaraguans voted for peace and for an end to the draft.” The FSLN nevertheless remained the largest single political party. Daniel Ortega graciously conceded victory to Violeta Chamorro and her coalition.
Many people who became involved in the Central America movement had participated in the anti-Vietnam War movement less than a decade earlier, thus adding experience and perhaps a bit of wisdom. The Central America movement co-existed with other progressive peace movements in the 1980s, notably, the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, the South Africa anti-apartheid movement, and federal budget priorities campaigns (redirecting federal spending from military to human needs programs).
- Solidarity organizations focused on a specific country, including the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), Nicaragua Network, and Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA);
- Religious-based organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Witness for Peace, Ecumenical Program for Interamerican Communication and Action (EPICA), Inter-religious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), the Catholic Religious Task Force on Central America (RTFCA), and the Protestant Interreligious Task Force on Central America (IRFTCA);
- Washington-based lobby groups such as the Coalition for a New Military and Foreign Policy, SANE, and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA);
- “Think tanks” such as the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), the Center for International Policy (CIP), and Policy Alternatives for the Caribbean and Central America (PACCA);
- And a variety of other organizations, including the National Labor Committee in Support of Democracy and Human Rights in El Salvador (NLC), North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), MADRE, Mobilization for Survival (MFS), Veterans for Peace (VFP), and others.
Religious organizations and institutions were instrumental in the Central America movement, providing leadership, volunteers, a respectable public image, an organizational base, institutional support, and transnational connections. Between 1982 and 1984, over twenty U.S. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and ecumenical organizations issued statements opposing administration policies in Central America and supporting legal asylum for Central American refugees. Each statement provided authoritative approval for local congregations and individuals to challenge the U.S. government on these issues; in essence, to assert the primacy of religious values over governmental policy.
Faith networks also had clout in Washington. According to Cynthia Arnson and Philip Brenner, “The most numerous and effective groups arrayed against the president’s policies in Central America were religious . . . virtually all of the major Protestant denominations had Washington offices responsible for linking their congregants to the national political process.” The influence of the religious lobby was acknowledged with frustration by Robert Kagan, head of the Reagan administration’s Office of Public Diplomacy, as his job was to discredit and nullify it. In a memo to National Security Council adviser Walter Raymond Jr. on September 18, 1986, Kagan noted that “church-based supporters of the Sandinistas have been able to frame much of the public debate on Nicaragua … dominating the flow of information to local churches, parishes, and synagogues.” The influence of “such church-supported groups as the Washington Office on Latin America and Witness for Peace” has been “reinforced by inexpensive solidarity tours of Nicaragua. Opposition to U.S. policy in Central America has continued to be a central effort of many DC-based religious offices and their support network.”
What united opponents of the administration’s Central America policies was not support for the FSLN, as Kagan surmised, but rather a common belief that the administration’s policies were grievously wrong. As Bishop Thomas Gumbleton told a Congressional subcommittee in 1987, speaking for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the U.S.-directed Contra War “is immoral, illegal, and unwise.” Opinions regarding the FSLN were more diverse. Thomas Quigley, head of the U.S. Catholic Conference’s Office of International Justice and Peace noted that “people who disapprove strongly of U.S. efforts to overthrow the [Nicaraguan] government and fund the Contras can still be quite critical of the Sandinistas.”
At the second national conference in Detroit, held November 17-18, 1979 (after the Sandinistas took power), U.S. activists conferred with a blue ribbon panel of Nicaraguan officials and FSLN representatives, including Moisés Hassan Morales, a member of the Junta, Rafael Solis, Ambassador to the U.S., Victor Hugo Tinoco, Ambassador to the UN, and FSLN representatives Mónica Baltodano and Hilda Voldt. The conferees committed Nicaragua Network to assisting FSLN programs in education, health care, and agriculture. Ambassador Solis also discussed the need to “strengthen information dissemination from Nicaragua,” as the Nicaraguan point-of-view had been pushed out of U.S. news. Nicaragua Network subsequently arranged for Nicaraguan speakers to tour U.S. cities.
CISPES openly supported the FMLN and its political arm, the FDR. At its founding East Coast Conference in New York on October 11-12, 1980, participants declared that Salvadoran revolutionaries were engaged in a “just war of legitimate defense.” CISPES itself was not a revolutionary group, nor did it send arms to the rebels; rather, it provided tangible assistance to the FMLN through projects such as Medical Aid to El Salvador, a Los Angeles-based operation that distributed aid to regions under FMLN control. At the CISPES national convention in 1985, CISPES attendees agreed to define their organization as the “North American front of the Salvadoran revolution.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated CISPES as a potential illegal foreign agent and supporter of international terrorism. After years of FBI surveillance, no charges were brought against the organization. In September 1988, the Center for Constitutional Rights obtained through the Freedom of Information Act 1,320 pages of documents on FBI activities from 1981 to 1985. The documents revealed that the FBI had placed under investigation 2,370 individuals and 1,330 groups in the United States. In July 1989, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a 150-page report that called the FBI investigation of CISPES “a serious failure in F.B.I. management.”
Pledge of Resistance campaign. Following the U.S. invasion of Grenada in October 1983, religious activists initiated a Pledge of Resistance campaign to deter an expected invasion of Nicaragua. Some 100,000 people signed the pledge over the next five years, promising to engage in legal protests or civil disobedience actions should the U.S. invade Nicaragua. The pledge was activated in March 1988, when U.S. troops were dispatched to Honduras in response to a border-crossing incident; demonstrations and civil disobedience actions took place in over one hundred U.S. cities. The pledge was also activated in response to Congressional votes related to funding for the Contras and the Salvadoran government.
Ten days before the incident, Willson had written a letter to Commander Lonnie Cagle at the naval station, informing him that he planned to sit on the tracks every day for forty days while fasting. He recounted the destruction and murder wrought by the contras in Nicaragua and asserted that U.S. support for the contras “violates a number of domestic and international laws.” An attorney by profession who had served in the Air Force in Vietnam, Willson said he felt obliged, based on the precedent of the Nuremberg trials of 1945, to “do everything reasonable in our power to make known the crimes of our country and to stop them from continuing.” He presented similar testimony to the U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Investigations on November 18, 1987, explaining that Contra attacks on civilians violate international law as well as “fundamental standards of decency and fair rules.”
Vilma Nuñez de Escorcia, vice-president of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court, came into contact with many Americans through the Nicaraguan Commission for Peace (CONIPAZ) and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), both of which worked with many international and U.S. groups. “I realized,” she said, “there was a big difference between the position of the people and the government of the United States, because I was working with people that opposed their government’s policy toward Nicaragua.”
Dr. Gustavo Parajón, a Baptist minister, medical doctor, and director of the Nicaraguan Council of Protestant Churches (CEPAD), facilitated many international aid programs. In 1983, he wrote to U.S. Protestant denominations, urging them to “denounce the atrocities committed by the counter-revolutionaries attacking our country, of which our brethren are victims. These groups are clearly trained and financed by the government of the U.S. and as they invade our country they are planting death, panic and desperation among our people.”
FSLN officials also visited U.S. cities during the 1980s, odd as this may seem. The list includes President Daniel Ortega, Vice-President Sergio Ramirez, Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos Tünnermann, Vilma Nuñez, and a dozen others. Speakers were in demand. The Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington worked with activist groups to set up speaking engagements in different cities. In October 1984, Ortega, his poet wife, Rosario Murillo, and Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto along with about 20 security and staff people conducted a nine-day speaking tour through New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Atlanta. Their purpose, said Ortega in an interview, was to counter “the campaign of disinformation about Nicaragua” by the Reagan administration. The entourage met with activists, opinion makers, politicians, and Hollywood celebrities. In Los Angeles, the office of Mayor Tom Bradley officially welcomed Ortega with a symbolic key to the city. The visit was followed by a series of discussion meetings advertised as “The National Town Meeting on Central America,” sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Committee of Concern for Central America. FSLN leaders also made their views known by writing op-ed articles in the New York Times and Washington Post on occasion.
A number of transnational initiatives emerged from the U.S. side:
- The Committee of U.S. Citizens Living in Nicaragua (CUSCLIN), formed in 1983, organized weekly vigils in front of the U.S. Embassy in Managua, an activity that became a popular attraction for international visitors. At the heart of CUSCLIN were U.S. religious workers with long-standing relationships in Central America. CUSCLIN members wanted both the U.S. government and the Nicaraguan people to know that U.S. citizens living in Nicaragua did not support the Reagan administration’s aggressive policies. Most importantly, they did not want to be used as an excuse for a U.S. invasion, as had happened in Grenada (the administration claimed that U.S. medical students were in danger). CUSCLIN’s vigils were intended in part to “generate energy for ongoing organizing and consciousness-raising among visitors who will return to the U.S. and work in solidarity.”
- Witness for Peace (WFP), created by religious activists in 1983 with the help of Sixto Ulloa of CEPAD, brought more than 4,000 U.S. citizens to Nicaragua to witness first-hand the destruction wrought by the Contras. Their presence also may have deterred Contra attacks. Long-term volunteers conducted interviews with witnesses of Contra attacks. Their information was relayed from the field to the Managua office, to the Washington office where it was repackaged into press releases, WFP newsletter articles, mailings to local contacts, and Congressional briefings. As U.S. reporters were largely absent in the hinterlands, WFP played a vital role in documenting Contra terrorism, prompting Congressional hearings in the spring of 1985.
More than 80 U.S.-Nicaragua sister cities and at least 17 U.S.-Salvadoran partnerships formed during the 1980s, facilitating local interest, travel, and humanitarian aid projects. Sister cities originated in the 1950s as part of a Cold War cultural offensive. When the Wisconsin-Nicaragua Partners was launched in 1964, Wisconsin Governor John W. Reynolds praised the Somoza government as a “bastion of Western democracy and freedom, facing Castro and Communism.” The new U.S.-Nicaragua sister cities that formed in the 1980s were quite at odds with this Cold War perspective. The guiding ethos centered on dissolving enemy images through personal contact and cultural understanding. Sister city projects had a number of desirable attributes for activists: they were locally organized, facilitated travel and interpersonal relationships, provided tangible benefits to the Nicaraguan people, and served to educate U.S. citizens. The idea was also popular in Western Europe, which established 209 Nicaraguan-European sister cities during the decade.
- The National Labor Committee in Support of Democracy and Human Rights in El Salvador (NLC), formed in 1981, sent labor delegations to El Salvador, established “sister unions,” and brought Salvadoran labor leaders to the U.S. to testify before Congressional committees. Staff member David Dyson, an ordained Presbyterian minister, made ten trips to El Salvador during the 1980s, some of which involved looking for “disappeared” Salvadoran labor leaders.
- Nicaragua Network organized work brigades to assist in Nicaraguan coffee harvests. The first took place in the winter of 1983-84, involving 1,500 international brigadistas, including 660 U.S. citizens. A Washington Post reporter who embedded himself in a volunteer work brigade in 1985 noted, “The word ‘brigadista’ carried power” in Nicaragua, implying “work, political support and comradeship.”
- Among the U.S. organizations contributing humanitarian aid, working with counterparts in Central America, were AFSC, APSNICA (Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua), Bikes Not Bombs, MADRE, Medical Aid to El Salvador, Nicaragua Network, Oxfam America, TecNica, and others. Don Mosley, a former Peace Corps director, began the “Walk in Peace” project after discovering that some 2,000 Nicaraguans had lost arms or legs due to Contra-laid land mine explosions. Funds were raised for prosthesis centers at the Aldo Chavaria Rehabilitation Hospital and the Velez Pais Children’s Hospital, both located in Managua. Two groups, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization and Veterans for Peace, organized truck caravans to Nicaragua, driving 4,000 miles to deliver tons of aid as well as the trucks.
- A number of individuals contributed their professional expertise. Dr. Charlie Clements, a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, treated casualties in the rebel-held areas of El Salvador. Ben Linder, a young engineer from Oregon, was working on a hydro-electric project near the village of San José de Bocay, Nicaragua, when he was killed by the Contras in 1987. His burial took place in Matagalpa on April 30, 1987. Among the pall-bearers were Daniel Ortega and Andrew Young, Atlanta mayor and former U.S. Ambassador to the UN. A funeral procession of 10,000 people proceeded through the streets of the city to a hillside cemetery. CUSCLIN named their new meetinghouse Casa Ben Linder.
Contra violence did not stop international solidaridados from working in Nicaragua. According to the Envío team, writing in February 1988:
The number of international brigadistas visiting Nicaragua doubled in 1987, totaling more than 8,000 from Western Europe, Canada, Australia, Latin America, the United States and other parts of the world. Since 1983, according to the Nicaraguan Committee in Solidarity with the People (CNSP), more than 20,000 brigadistas have given their services to Nicaragua, and many internationalists involved in solidarity, religious or NGO-sponsored social service and development projects have taken up residence here for longer periods. Some have given their lives, as well. Since 1983, the Contras have killed 14 internationalists, raped 4, and kidnapped 59. But they have not managed to put a stop to this very personal way of showing international support for Nicaragua.
A large measure of international and transnational support for Sandinista Nicaragua came from Western Europe. Western European leaders expressed their disagreement with U.S. policy by supporting the Contadora peace negotiations, endorsing adjudication by the World Court, opposing the U.S. embargo against Nicaragua, and offering material assistance to the Nicaraguan government (and encouraging democratic reform).
Public opinion in Western Europe supported these measures, as confirmed by a series of unpublished polls taken by the United States Information Agency (USIA). A USIA survey in June-July 1984, for example, asked the citizens of four countries whether they approved or disapproved of U.S. policy toward Nicaragua. The results in all cases showed high rates of disapproval as compared to approval: 44% to 14% in Great Britain; 40% to 9% in the Netherlands, 50% to 22% in Italy; and 44% to 6% in Spain. The survey also found that that those who were better educated and more informed about Central America issues were more likely to oppose U.S. policies.
When President Reagan visited Ireland on June 3, 1984, he was met with a protest march of some 3,000 to 5,000 people and given a lecture on diplomacy by Prime Minister Garret FitzGerald. According to the New York Times, the prime minister “implicitly rebuked the United States for its policy in Central America” and endorsed the Contadora negotiations. “With many of these Latin American countries,” said FitzGerald, “our people have close emotional ties through the work of our priests and nuns and lay helpers there, who seek to relieve the poverty of the people and to give them back their dignity.”
The Sanctuary movement
The Sanctuary Movement created a new “underground railroad” to move Salvadorans and Guatemalans into the safety of churches and people’s homes. According to social scientists Norma Stoltz Chinchilla, Nora Hamilton, and James Loucky, “By 1987, there were over 420 Sanctuary groups, including 250 churches, 41 synagogues, 25 ecumenical religious groups, 24 cities, 15 universities, and 13 other secular groups.”
Director Gary Liman said that American Made was not a biopic but was inspired by “stories that we learned about Barry.” The thrust of the film appears to be true, even if some aspects may be misleading. For example, Seal only met with Medellín cartel bosses after he had become a DEA informant and was originally arrested in Florida for smuggling Quaaludes. Seal also lost his TWA job after being caught smuggling plastic explosives to anti-Castro Cubans in Mexico during the late 1960s in an operation that is suspected to have been linked to the CIA. It was reported that Seal died with George H. W Bush’s personal card in his pocket, though retired FBI agent Del Hahn, said it was merely the South Florida Drug Task Force’s card, which Bush headed. The illicit activity in Mena, meanwhile, was covered up by Governor Bill Clinton who supported the Contras.
Seal’s career and the milieu with which he was associated exemplifies the workings of the American deep state in which high-level National Security and intelligence operatives collaborate with drug smugglers and criminals in the service of nationalist goals. The Iran-Contra affair united many veterans of past CIA shadow wars who were expert in circumventing legal and congressional oversight and setting up front companies to launder money and arms and in recruiting criminal assets. The Laotian secret war set an important precedent in being partially financed through opium smuggling on Air America flights and by CIA proxies like General Ouane Rattikone and General Vang Pao.
The necessity for illicit activity was prompted by the 1982 Boland amendment, spearheaded by Edward Boland (D-MA), which barred U.S. covert actions “for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.” In December of the same year, Congress voted a $24 million ceiling on CIA spending for its covert war in the coming fiscal year. Then in May 1984, Congress barred lethal military aid after CIA agents, acting in the name of the Contras, seeded Nicaraguan harbors with mines in violation of international law.
National Security Council staff led by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and Admiral John Poindexter continued to arm the Contras clandestinely through illegal sale of Hughes TOW and Hawk missiles and plane loads of spare military parts to Iran, which since its 1979 revolution was an American enemy. The receipts to the Pentagon were doctored to cover up the arms sales, and profits funneled to the Contras through Swiss bank accounts and other front companies used to purchase arms. As part of the deal, the U.S. agreed to provide secret battlefield intelligence for Iran’s war against Iraq when the CIA had already provided Iraq with intelligence. In return, the Iranians were to use their leverage over Hezbollah in Lebanon which had taken hostages in retaliation for the U.S. arming of Israel during the 1982 Operation Peace for Galilee and Marine occupation.
President Ronald Reagan publicly lied to protect the CIA though he privately was a staunch champion of the arms-for-hostages scheme and an all-out war against the Sandinistas. Reagan told Cabinet level officials in a December 1985 meeting, as transcribed by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, that “he could answer to the charges of illegality but he couldn’t answer the charge that ‘big strong President Reagan’ passed up a chance to free the hostages.” In another meeting, Reagan urged quick and decisive covert aid to the Contras. After a gun-running plane was shot down and the surviving pilot, Eugene Hafenfus was put on trial in Nicaragua in October 1986, Oliver North sent a message to fellow NSC-staffer Robert “Bud” McFarlane indicating that Reagan had been briefed about a plan to secure Hasenfus’ legal defense and cover-up illegal activity. On November 4, 1986 Vice President George Bush recorded in his taped diary that he was ‘one of the few people [who] knew the full details about the release of American hostages,” adding that “this is one operation that had been held very, very tight, and I hope it will not leak.” These comments show that Bush was aware of the illicit arms-for hostage scheme along with his boss and concerned about it becoming public knowledge.
The Iran-Contra deals were secretly brokered through Israeli and CIA middlemen like Richard Secord, former director of the Air Wing of the Pentagon-CIA Special Operations Group at Udorn Air Force base in Thailand which helped command the secret war in Laos, General John Singlaub, the head of the World Anticommunist League, and Richard Gadd, who had set up a private air transport service for clandestine government operations. Thomas Clines, who helped Secord to arrange clandestine arms deliveries to the Contras out of Portugal, recruited ex-CIA pilots for the supply operations and helped North obtain a ship used in the attempt to rescue American hostages in Lebanon. Clines had put together a private network of CIA agents functioning as a kind of shadow CIA after Jimmy Carter had cut the CIA’s budget and fired many of its staff. In 1978, he and disgraced agent Edwin Wilson – later convicted of supplying explosive devices to Libya – negotiated a $650,000 deal with then Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza to “create a search and destroy apparatus” against Somoza’s enemies, which was the forerunner of the Contra army.
Besides the illegal weapons sales, clandestine funding for the Contras was obtained through private right-wing financiers like oil baron Nelson Bunker Hunt and Joseph Coors of Coors Beer as well as mercenary organizations like Soldier of Fortune Magazine, and Christian evangelical groups like the Virginia based Christian Broadcasting Group founded by the Reverend Pat Robertson. The National Security Council (NSC) also, with approval from the White House, secured financial support from key strategic proxies such as Israel, the Argentines, Taiwanese and Saudis who provided millions in high tech weaponry and, in the Israeli case, military advisers.
Vast amounts of cocaine were smuggled by Contra operatives from the Costa Rican ranch of an American businessman, John Hull, who received a $110,000 monthly retainer from North and worked with the CIA on military supply operations to the Contras. Mexican drug cartels allied with Mexico’s revolutionary party (PRI) allegedly served as liaisons in some of these operations. Tosh Plumlee, a CIA contract pilot involved with the Contra operation, said the U.S. government was “running guns. We were running drugs. We were using the drug money to finance the gun running operation.”
In 1996, Gary Webb published an exposé detailing how the Contras financed some of their counter-revolutionary activities through drugs including through connection with Los Angeles crack cocaine dealer “Freeway” Ricky Ross. The series raises particular outrage in the African American community, which was devastated by crack. Mainstream news outlets attacked Webb’s credibility and Webb was demoted and later committed suicide though many facts of his reporting have been corroborated, and new information about the scandal and cover-up have since come to light.
Oliver North’s declassified notebooks, for example, point to his awareness of Contra drug smuggling operations and include the recording of a conversation between North and Secord in which Secord told North that $14 million used to finance weapons purchases from a Honduras warehouse came from drugs. North had struck a close relationship with Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega who provided intelligence support to the Contras and had close relations with the Colombian drug cartels who also backed the Contras. CIA assets in Honduras, which was used as a staging base for the Contra supply operation, also trafficked in drugs and the DEA was suspiciously given an ultimatum to close its office in Tegucigalpa. A 1989 Senate investigation headed by John Kerry (D-MA) concluded that “senior U.S. policy-makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contra funding problem.”
In December 1986, an independent counsel, Lawrence E. Walsh, was appointed by Congress to investigate Iran-Contra. Televised Iran-Contra hearings in Congress took place from May 5 to August 6, 1987. Lt. Col. Oliver North pointed to his superiors as the source of the Iran-Contra arms exchanges, but Congress let President Reagan and Vice-President Bush off the hook. Bush declared he was “out of the loop.” Walsh concluded in his final report (August 1993) that the “policies behind both the Iran and Contra operations were fully reviewed and developed at the highest levels of the Reagan Administration.”
Fourteen people were charged with criminal offenses and eleven convicted including North, Poindexter, Secord, Clines as well as NSC staffer Robert “Bud McFarlane,” and CIA agent “Dewey” Clarridge. Two people were pardoned before trial and one case was dismissed when the Bush Administration declined to declassify information necessary for trial. On December 24, 1992, President Bush pardoned Weinberger, Clarridge, Clair E. George, Elliott Abrams, Alan D. Fiers, Jr., and “Bud” McFarlane. Apart from the Kerry committee, the extent to which drugs helped finance the Contras illegally was never formally investigated and no American was charged in conjunction with this.
It was all unnecessary. The Reagan administration could have easily secured an agreement with the Sandinista government on arms trafficking, with international monitors and overflights established to verify the agreement. Two decades earlier, the Kennedy administration had secured a diplomatic agreement in a much more difficult situation – keeping Soviet nuclear missiles out of Cuba – and the agreement was kept. Regarding El Salvador and Guatemala, the U.S. could have held to its human rights standards and facilitated dialogue between antagonistic parties rather than supporting state repression and counterinsurgency war. This peaceful approach would have been far more honorable.
What exactly did the U.S. gain by attempting to expunge the left from Central America? In 2006, sixteen years after the FSLN was voted out of power, Daniel Ortega and the FSLN were voted back in. Although the FSLN broke into two parties and there has been much controversy surrounding Ortega, he was re-elected president in 2011 and 2016. Similarly, in El Salvador, after two decades of rightist ARENA party rule, voters elected FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes to the presidency in 2009. Funes, a television journalist, had not fought with the FMLN in the civil war but his brother had been killed by the military. In February 2014, Salvadorans elected Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former FMLN commander, as president.
What has received much less attention in the U.S. are the findings of the truth commissions established in El Salvador and Guatemala. Based on thousands of witness testimonies and statements, the commissions concluded that government security forces and allied rightist death squads were responsible for the vast majority of murders, disappearances, and massacres: 85% in El Salvador and 93% in Guatemala. The Reagan administration repeatedly lied about the human rights situation in these countries. While claiming to promote democracy and fight terrorism in Central America, the U.S. instead aided and abetted repression and terrorism.
President Bill Clinton at least apologized for U.S. actions in Guatemala during his visit in 1999. Speaking just after the release of the truth commission report, Memory of Silence, he said, “For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces or intelligence units which engage in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake.”
To not repeat the same mistakes is, of course, the point of history. On the other side of the coin, this means building on what has proven worthy and beneficial, such as human rights reform and truth commissions. Truth commissions were established in Bolivia (1982), Argentina (1983), Chile (1990), Uruguay (1995), Panama (2001), Peru (2001), Ecuador (2007), and Brazil (2012), as well as in El Salvador (1992) and Guatemala (1994). Their purposes were to document atrocities, identify the persons and groups responsible, and help their societies to heal. While U.S. students typically learn about repression in Cuba, the greater part of repression in Latin America during the Cold War came from rightist governments. Government security forces and allied death squads murdered, imprisoned, and tortured their own citizens, including political leftists, priests, nuns, intellectuals, teachers, labor union leaders, and human rights advocates. The U.S. was complicit in these crimes. According to Stephen Rabe:
The United States undermined constitutional systems, overthrew popularly elected governments, rigged elections, and supplied, trained, coddled, and excused barbarians who tortured, kidnapped, murdered, and “disappeared” Latin Americans…. Through its Cold War words and actions, the United States sent clear signals to Latin American authorities what they had to do to defeat communism and protect the United States. Armed groups in Latin America received those signals and resorted to political terror to preserve and protect their own power and the elite socioeconomic groups that they served.
One of the odd legacies of the counterinsurgency war in El Salvador is that some military strategists have adopted it as a model for U.S. counterinsurgency operations elsewhere, including Iraq. According to Brian D’Haeseleer, “Former US participants and military writers … have portrayed the conflict as a successful application of COIN [counterinsurgency strategy]. Most supporters argue that US aid established democracy, prevented the leftist rebels from overthrowing the Salvadoran government, professionalized the military, and curbed human rights abuses.” D’Haeseleer disagrees with this portrayal, arguing that “US intervention in El Salvador prolonged the war, devastated the country, an d contributed to distortions in the country’s socioeconomic landscape.” The idea that the U.S. professionalized the military and curbed human rights abuses amounts to wishful thinking and a denial of responsibility for the immense death toll reaped by U.S-backed security forces.
The main question driving historical inquiry for military strategists is how to win the next war, irrespective of whether the war is right or wrong. This will not do for the public, which must consider a wider set of questions, especially whether war is necessary at all. It is citizens, after all, who foot the bill, provide the soldiers, and are ultimately responsible for the nation’s foreign policies in a democratic society. Victory in a wrong war does not make it right.
Citizens and historians have an obligation to inquire as to the nature of alleged “threats” to national security, whether another country actually threatens U.S. citizens or, more likely, challenges U.S. presumptions of global hegemony. Secondly, it is necessary to ask whether the use of military force will resolve the international situation; and with that, what might be done to resolve crises without recourse to violence. In the case of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s, ameliorating underlying economic conditions, ceasing support for dictatorial and repressive regimes, and providing positive, nonviolent incentives for democratic reform would have gone a long way toward diffusing the revolutionary crises.
Cite this article:
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 Susan Gzesh, “Central Americans and Asylum Policy in the Reagan Era,” April 1, 2006, Migration Policy Institute, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/central-americans-and-asylum-policy-reagan-era.
 “The massacre of children and others at El Mozote,” El Salvador Perspectives, December 10, 2017, 1, http://www.elsalvadorperspectives.com/2017/12/the-massacre-of-children-and-others-at.html. See also, Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote (New York: Vintage, 1994).
 “Reagan and Guatemala’s Death Files,” Consortiumnews.com, Nov. 3, 2011, http://consortiumnews.com/2011/11/03/reagan-and-guatemalas-death-files.
 “Statement of Admiral Stansfield Turner, Former Director of Central Intelligence” (April 16, 1985), U.S. Support for the Contras, Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-Ninth Congress, First Session, April 16, 17 and 18, 1985 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985), 4.
 President Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at the Annual Dinner of the Conservative Political Action Conference,” March 1, 1985, The American Presidency Project, www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=38274.
 “Case Concerning the Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America),” http://www.icj-cij.org/en/case/70. See also, Abram Chayes, “Nicaragua, the United States, and the World Court,” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 85, No. 7 (Nov. 1985): 1445-1482.
 See Cynthia Arnson, Crossroads: Congress, the President, and Central America, 1976-1993 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993), Appendix, which lists each major player, the charges, and the results.
 Harry Van Cleve, Comptroller General of the U.S. General Accounting Office, non-classified letter to Rep. Jack Brooks and Rep. Dante B. Fascell, Sept. 30, 1987, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra collection, IC04287.
 Central America Resource Center, Directory of Central America Organizations, Third Edition, 1987 (Austin, TX: Central America Resource Center, 1986), Introduction.
 From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador (1993), page 36, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/file/ElSalvador-Report.pdf; Guatemala, Memory of Silence: Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification (1999), pages 17, 42, https://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/mos_en.pdf; and Stephen G. Rabe, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 168.
 Rabe, The Killing Zone, 167; and John A. Booth, Christine J. Wade, and Thomas W. Walker, Understanding Central America: Global Forces, Rebellion, and Change. (Boulder: Westview Press, 2006), 79. According to the latter authors, the total of U.S. military and economic aid between 1980 and 1992 was close to $6 billion (p. 103). The figure of $5.7 billion is cited in Brian D’Haeseleer, The Salvadoran Crucible: The Failure of US Counterinsurgency in El Salvador, 1979-1992 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2017), 7.
 According to Lynn Horton, in Peasants in Arms: War and Peace in the Mountains of Nicaragua, 1979-1994 (Athens: Ohio Univ. Center for International Studies, 1998), “Out of a population of approximately 3.5 million, 30,865 Nicaraguans were killed during the war” (p. xv). Internal displacement figures are cited in Thomas Walker, ed., Revolution and Counterrevolution in Nicaragua (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), 52. The number maimed by Contra-laid mines was most likely larger; see Don Mosley, with Joyce Hollyday, With Our Own Eyes: The Dramatic Story of a Christian Response to the Wounds of War, Racism, and Oppression (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1996).
 Rabe, The Killing Zone, 168.
 Guatemala, Memory of Silence, 30.
 Rabe, The Killing Zone, 194.
 Undersecretary of State Robert Olds, Memorandum, January 2, 1927, quoted in David F. Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side: The United States & Right-Wing Dictatorships, 1921-1965 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of N. Carolina Press, 1999), 50-51.
 Rabe, The Killing Zone, 17.
 Office of the Historian, “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Guatemala” (Introduction), https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54Guat/intro; and Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 335.
 See CIA Directorate of Intelligence, “Liberation Theology: Religion, Reform, and Revolution,” April 1986. This research paper, declassified in 2011, notes, “While liberation theology has served to promote US interests by assisting popular efforts to bring democratic reform to authoritarian states, it has also posed a major threat to US interests by providing a fertile ground for Communist exploitation” (p. vi).
 Rabe, The Killing Zone, 24.
 Ibid., 33-34.
 Ibid., xiii. That same month, March 1953, the CIA, working with British intelligence, succeeded in overthrowing the democratic government of Iran under Mohammad Mosaddegh and installing a dictatorship under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
 See Piero Gleijeses, Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States 1944-1954 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); and Nick Cullather, Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).
 Schoultz, Beneath the United States, 344.
 On U.S. support for repressive regimes in Latin America during the Cold War, see Rabe, The Killing Zone; Schoultz, Beneath the United States; Patrice McSherry, Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005); Jeremy Kuzmarov, Police Training and Nation-Building in the American Century (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), Chapter 10; and Peter H. Smith, Talons of the Eagle: Dynamics of U.S.-Latin American Relations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
 Lesley Gill, The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 72, 74; and D’Haeseleer, The Salvadoran Crucible, 47-48.
 Max Paul Friedman, Rethinking Anti-Americanism: The History of an Exceptional Concept in American Foreign Relations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 155.
 See James N. Green, We Cannot Remain Silent: Opposition to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship in the United States (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).
 Smith, Talons of the Eagle (1996), 157-58.
 Peter Kornbluh, “The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, National Security Archive Briefing Book Number 110,” February 3, 2004, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB110.
 Lars Schoultz, Human Rights and United States Policy toward Latin America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), 75. See also, William Michael Schmidli, The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere: Human Rights and U.S. Cold War Policy toward Argentina (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013).
 David Weissbrodt, “Human Rights Legislation and U.S. Foreign Policy: An Overview,” University of Minnesota Law School, 238-42, 256, http://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2141&context=gjicl.
 Ibid., 241-42.
 President Jimmy Carter, “Address at Commencement Exercises at the University of Notre Dame, May 22, 1977,” The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/jimmy_carter.php; President Carter, “Tehran, Iran Toasts of the President and the Shah at a State Dinner,” December 31, 1977, ibid., and President Jimmy Carter, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights Remarks at a White House Meeting Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Declaration’s Signing,” December 6, 1978, ibid.
 See Margaret E. Keck and Kathyrn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), Chapter 3; and Kathryn Sikkink, Mixed Signals: U.S. Human Rights Policy and Latin America (New York: Century Foundation, 2004).
 Schoultz, Human Rights and United States, 60.
 Flora Montealegre and Cynthia Arnson, “Background Information on Guatemala, Human Rights, and U.S. Military Assistance,” in Stanford Central America Action Network, Revolution in Central America (Boulder: Westview Press, 1983), 294.
 United Nations, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml.
 See, for example, Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973, 1997).
 Ronald Reagan, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1980, 1, cited in Walter LaFeber, America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-2000 (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 316; and President Reagan, “Address before a Joint Session of the Congress Reporting on the State of the Union, January 25, 1984,” The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, http://www.reagan.utexas.edu (hereafter referred to as the Reagan Public Papers).
 “Excerpts from Haig’s Remarks at First News Conference as Secretary of State,” New York Times, January 29, 1981.
 Walter LaFeber, “Marking Revolution Opposing Revolution,” New York Times (op-ed), July 3, 1983, E13.
 Lt. Col. Oliver North, “U.S. Political/Military Strategy for Nicaragua” (Plan to Overthrow the Sandinista Government), July 15, 1985, reprinted in Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne, eds., The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History (New York: New Press, 1993), 50.
 John A. Booth, Christine J. Wade, and Thomas W. Walker, Understanding Central America: Global Forces, Rebellion, and Change (Berkeley: Westview Press, 2014), 139.
 See Aldo A. Lauria-Santiago, “The Culture and Politics of State Terror and Repression in El Salvador,” in Cecilia Menjívar and Néstor Rodríguez, eds., When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009).
 Booth, Wade, and Walker, Understanding Central America (2014), 142, 103.
 Booth, Wade, and Walker, Understanding Central America (2006), 98.
 “Catholic Bishops: Medellín Declaration (1968),” reprinted in Robert S. Leiken and Barry Rubin, eds., The Central American Crisis Reader (New York: Summit Books, 1987), 126. See also, Phillip Berryman, The Religious Roots of Rebellion: Christians in Central American Revolutions (Orbis Books, 1984), and Berryman, Liberation Theology: Essential Facts About the Revolutionary Movement in Latin America and Beyond (Pantheon, 1987).
 Robert A. Pastor, “The Carter Administration and Latin America: A Test of Principle,” July 1992, 47, https://www.cartercenter.org/documents/1243.pdf; see also Paul D. Almeida, Waves of Protest: Popular Struggle in El Salvador, 1925-2005 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
 “The 1970s: The Road to Revolt,” in Richard A. Haggarty, ed. El Salvador: A Country Study (Washington: Government Printing Office for the Library of Congress, 1988), http://countrystudies.us/el-salvador/9.htm.
 William M. LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977-1992 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of N. Carolina Press, 1998), 39.
 D’Haeseleer, The Salvadoran Crucible, 48.
 Ibid., 45; and Thomas Carothers, In the Name of Democracy: United States Policy toward Latin America in the Reagan Years (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 266, note 7. The U.S. dispensed military aid and training through the Military Assistance Program, International Military and Education Training program, Foreign Military Sales program, Office of Public Safety (police aid), and School of the Americas.
 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 38.
 See Robert A. Pastor, “The Carter Administration and Latin America: A Test of Principle,” July 1992, page 47, https://www.cartercenter.org/documents/1243.pdf; and LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 44.
 “Romero’s Letter to President Carter,” February 17, 1980, http://www.esnavillages.org/documents/Romero%20letter%20to%20Pres%20Carter.pdf.
 “Archbishop Oscar Romero: The Last Sermon,” in Robert Leiken and Barry Rubin, eds., The Central American Crisis Reader: The Essential Guide to the Most Controversial Foreign Policy Issue Today (New York: Summit Books, 1987), 377.
 Michael Getler, “New Diplomacy Tested by U.S. In El Salvador,” Washington Post, April 17, 1980.
 Cynthia Brown, ed., With Friends Like These: The Americas Watch Report on Human Rights and U.S. Policy in Latin America (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 118; and Amnesty International, USA, “Repression in El Salvador” (from testimony before the Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives, March 1981), in Marvin E. Gettleman, ed., El Salvador: Central America in the Cold War (New York: Grove Press, 1982), 152-53.
 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 62-63; and Gettleman, ed., El Salvador: Central America in the Cold War, 64-65.
 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 86-87.
 Brown, With Friends Like These, 14, 26, 246.
 Arnson, Crossroads, 71-74.
 “The massacre of children and others at El Mozote,” El Salvador Perspectives, December 10, 2017, 1, http://www.elsalvadorperspectives.com/2017/12/the-massacre-of-children-and-others-at.html; and Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Case of the Massacres of El Mozote and Nearby Places Versus El Salvador, Judgment of October 25, 2012, pp. 76, 82, http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_252_ing1.pdf. See also, Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote (New York: Vintage, 1994); and D’Haeseleer, The Salvadoran Crucible, 72-73.
 Raymond Bonner, “The diplomat who wouldn’t lie,” Politico, April 23, 2015, http://www.politico.eu/article/robert-white-the-diplomat-who-wouldnt-lie; and Mark Danner, “The Truth of El Mozote,” The New Yorker, December 3, 1993), 4, 50. Bonner arrived at the site with photojournalist Susan Meiselas to record the results a few days after the massacre.
 Rabe, The Killing Zone, 166-67.
 Brown, With Friends Like These, 122-23, 125.
 In 1984, the president of El Salvador’s Central Elections Council, Armando Rodriquez, admitted that more than a 25% inflation in the vote totals had taken place. “It’s clear that there was fraud. We didn’t denounce it because we didn’t want to foul up the good results and the good image of the election,” said Hugo Barrera, a leader of ARENA; cited in Brown, With Friends Like These, 121. Regarding the four guardsmen convicted of murdering the American churchwomen, in 1998, while serving 30-year sentences, they divulged that they acted only after receiving “orders from above.” See Larry Rohter, “4 Salvadorans Say They Killed U.S. Nuns on Orders of Military,” New York Times, April 3, 1998.
 Arnson, Crossroads, 151; and LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 188.
 D’Haeseleer, The Salvadoran Crucible, 126.
 Ibid., 112-16.
 Ibid., 163; and Mark Hatfield, Jim Leach, and George Miller, Bankrolling Failure: United States Policy in El Salvador and the Urgent Need for Reforms (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Congress, Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, 1987).
 D’Haeseleer, The Salvadoran Crucible, 115, 120.
 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 189.
 D’Haeseleer, The Salvadoran Crucible, 143, 149.
 Ibid., 150.
 Robert Pear, “U.S. Official Links Salvadoran Right to Priests’ Deaths,” New York Times, November 21, 1989, cited in Arnson, Crossroads, 248.
 Arnson, Crossroads, 249; and D’Haeseleer, The Salvadoran Crucible, 154.
 Arnson, Crossroads, 231.
 “Truth Commission: El Salvador,” United States Institute for Peace, https://www.usip.org/publications/1992/07/truth-commission-el-salvador; “Charter: El Salvador: Mexico Peace Agreements—Provisions Creating the Commission on Truth,” https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/file/resources/collections/commissions/El%20Salvador-Charter.pdf; and “The massacre of children and others at El Mozote.”
United States Department of Justice, Department of Public Affairs, “US Extradites Former Salvadoran Military Officer to Spain to Face Charges for Participation in 1989 Jesuit Massacre,” November 29, 2017; and Robin Maria DeLugan, Reimagining National Belonging: Post-Civil War El Salvador in a Global Context (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012), 122.
 Paul Dosal, Doing Business with the Dictators: A Political History of United Fruit in Guatemala, 1899-1944 (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 1993), 17.
 Peter H. Smith, Talons of the Eagle: Latin America, The United States, and the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 149; and Douglas W. Trefzger, “Guatemala’s 1952 Agrarian Reform Law: Critical Reassessment,” International Social Science Review, Spring-Summer, March 22, 2002, http://www.ditext.com/trefzger/agrarian.html.
 Trefzger, “Guatemala’s 1952 Agrarian Reform Law,” 151.
 Smith, Talons of the Eagle (1996), 137-38.
 Rabe, The Killing Zone, 57, 55.
 Booth, Wade, and Walker, Understanding Central America (2014), 176, 177, 122.
 Flora Montealegre and Cynthia Arnson, “Background Information on Guatemala, Human Rights, and U.S. Military Assistance,” in Stanford Central America Action Network, Revolution in Central America (Boulder: Westview Press, 1983), 294; and Brown, With Friends Like These, 183.
 Booth, Wade, and Walker, Understanding Central America (2006), 122.
 Sikkink, Mixed Signals, 165.
 Jennifer Schirmer, The Guatemalan Military Project: A Violence Called Democracy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 23-24; and Sikkink, Mixed Signals, 167.
 Sikkink, Mixed Signals, 168; and Brown, With Friends Like These, 185, 201.
 Sikkink, Mixed Signals, 168.
 Brown, With Friends Like These, 191, 193.
 Bernard Gwertzman, “U.S. Lifts Embargo on Military Sales to Guatemalans,” New York Times, January 8, 1983.
 Brown, With Friends Like These, 196; Sikkink, Mixed Signals, 159; and Elisabeth Malkin, “In Effort to Try Dictator, Guatemala Shows New Judicial Might,” New York Times, March 16, 2013.
 Dennis J. Bernstein, “Seeking Justice for Guatemalan Slaughter” (interview with Allan Nairn), Consortium News, January 27, 2016, https://consortiumnews.com/2016/01/27/seeking-justice-for-guatemalan-slaughter; and “Reagan and Guatemala’s Death Files,” Consortium News, Nov. 3, 2011, http://consortiumnews.com/2011/11/03/reagan-and-guatemalas-death-files.
 Tanya Broder and Bernard D. Lambek, “Military Aid to Guatemala: The Failure of U.S. Human Rights Legislation,” Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 13, Issue 1 (1988), http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjil/vol13/iss1/6.
 Booth, Wade, and Walker, Understanding Central America (2014), 124-26, 180.
 Guatemala, Memory of Silence, 20, 17, 42.
 Mariano Castillo. “Guatemala’s Ríos Montt Guilty of Genocide.” CNN, May 13, 2013, www.cnn.com/2013/05/10/world/americas/guatemala-genocide-trial.
 Richard Grossman, “The Blood of the People: The Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua Fifty Year War Against the People of Nicaragua, 1927-1979,” in Cecilia Menjíar and Néstor Rodriguez, eds., When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005); and Gill, The School of the Americas, 76.
 The brutality of the Somoza government was documented by Amnesty International in The Republic of Nicaragua (London: Amnesty International Publications, 1977) and by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Republic of Nicaragua: Findings of the “On-site” Observation in the Republic of Nicaragua, October 3-12, 1978 (Washington: Organization of American States, 1978).
 Booth, Wade, and Walker, Understanding Central America (2006), 76.
 Mary B. Vanderlaan, Revolution and Foreign Policy in Nicaragua (Boulder: Westview Press, 1986), 65.
 Pierre Hurel, “Ortega ne red pas les armes” (interview with Daniel Ortega), Paris Match, March 22, 1990, quoted in Thomas Walker, ed., Revolution and Counterrevolution in Nicaragua (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), 10. In regard to the nine-member Sandinista Directorate, two were from upper class families, four from middle class homes, three from the working class, and one was the son of a peasant family who grew up in poverty. See Dennis Gilbert, Sandinistas: The Party and the Revolution (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 42.
 FSLN National Directorate, Participatory Democracy in Nicaragua (Managua, 1984, English translation), 75-77; Envío team, “The Agrarian Reform Law In Nicaragua,” Envío, No. 3 (August 1981); and Larry Rohter, “Nicaragua Has a Postwar Baby Boom,” New York Times, Feb. 24, 1985, 15.
 On the tension between the FSLN vanguard approach and participatory democracy, see Katherine Hoyt, The Many Faces of Sandinista Democracy (Athens: Ohio Univ. Center for International Studies, 1997).
 William R. Long, “Radicalism Not Necessary, Castro Advises Sandinistas,” January 13, 1985, Los Angeles Times.
 “Official Communiqué of the National Directorate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front on Religion,” October 7, 1980, in FSLN National Directorate, Participatory Democracy, 133-37. See also, Teófilo Cabestrero, Revolutionaries for the Gospel: Testimonies of Fifteen Christians in the Nicaraguan Government, translated from the Spanish by Phillip Berryman (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1986); and Michael Dodson and Laura O’Shaughnessy, The Other Revolution: The Church and the Popular Struggle in Nicaragua (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1990).
 See Stephen Kinzer, Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 181-82.
 Lawrence A. Pezzullo (U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua), “Confidential Cable to the U.S. State Department,” Aug. 23, 1979, National Security Archive, Nicaragua collection, NI01063, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/index.html.
 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 30; and Holly Sklar, Washington’s War on Nicaragua (Boston: South End Press, 1988), 41-42.
 Rep. Jim Wright, Worth It All: My War for Peace (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1993).
 Gerry E. Studds, “Central America, 1981: Report to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives,” quoted in Robert E. Surbrug Jr., “’Thinking Globally’: Political Movements on the Left in Massachusetts, 1974-1990” (PhD diss., Univ. of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2003), 428-31.
 “U.S. Ambassador Lawrence Pezzullo, Cable to Secretary of State Alexander Haig Jr., Dept. of State, Secret, February 18, 1981,” 1-2, Declassified Documents Retrieval System (DDRS) online.
 The Committee of Santa Fe, A New Inter-American Policy for the Eighties (Washington, D.C.: Council for Inter-American Security, 1980), 1; “1980 Republican Party Platform,” The Patriot Post, http://patriotpost.us/histdocs/platforms/republican/rep.980.html; and Sergio Ramírez, “The Unfinished American Revolution and Nicaragua Today,” July 14, 1983, reprinted in Marlene Dixon and Susanne Jonas, eds., Nicaragua Under Siege (San Francisco: Synthesis Publications, 1984), 211.
 “Finding Pursuant to Section 662 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as Amended, Concerning Operations Undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency in Foreign Countries, Other Than Those Intended Solely for the Purpose of Intelligence Collection” (Presidential Finding, declassified sections), March 9, 1981, National Security Archive, Nicaragua collection, NI01287.
 Bernard Weinraub, “Congress Renews Curbs on Actions Against Nicaragua: Measure Forbids U.S. Support for Military Moves Aimed at Toppling Sandinists,” New York Times, Dec. 23, 1982, A1.
 David Hoffman and George Lardner Jr., “Hill Panel to Disclose Criticism of Intelligence on Central America,” Washington Post, Sept. 22, 1982, A3.
 Philip Taubman, “In From the Cold and Hot for Truth,” New York Times, July 11, 1984, B6.
 Defense Intelligence Agency Report, July 1982, quoted in Peter Kornbluh, Nicaragua: The Price of Intervention; Reagan’s Wars Against the Sandinistas (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Policy Studies, 1987), 23.
 Ariel C. Armony, Argentina, the United States, and the Anti-communist Crusade in Central America, 1977-1984 (Athens: Ohio Univ. Center for International Studies, 1997), 115. See also, Alejandro Bendaña, Una Tragedia Campesina: Testimonios de la Resistencia (Managua, Center for International Studies, 1991); Dieter Eich and Carlos Rincón, The Contras: Interviews with Anti-Sandinistas (San Francisco: Synthesis Publications, 1985); Christopher Dickey, With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985); and Lynn Horton, Peasants in Arms: War and Peace in the Mountains of Nicaragua, 1979-1994 (Athens: Ohio Univ. Center for International Studies, 1998).
 Sklar, Washington’s War on Nicaragua, 101-05; and Thomas W. Walker, Nicaragua: Living in the Shadow of the Eagle (Boulder: Westview Press, 2003), 114.
 Jonathan Lemco, Canada and the Crisis in Central America (New York: Praeger, 1991), 17.
 “Allegations of Contra Massacre,” Confidential Cable from Ambassador Anthony Quainton to Dept. of State, Aug. 13, 1983, 1-2, National Security Archive, Nicaragua collection, NI01791.
 “C.I.A. Said to Produce Manual for anti-Sandinistas,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 1984.
 Joel Brinkley, “Democrats Assail C.I.A. Primer for Latin Rebels,” New York Times, Oct. 18, 1984, A6.
 Reed Brody, Contra Terror in Nicaragua: Report of a Fact-Finding Mission, September 1984-January 1985 (Boston: South End Press, 1985); and Larry Rohter, “Nicaragua Rebels Accused of Abuses: Private Group Reports Pattern of Attacks and Atrocities,” New York Times, March 7, 1985, A1.
 Joanne Omang, “Inquiry Finds Atrocities By Nicaraguan ‘Contras,’” Washington Post, March 7, 1985, A14.
 “Statement of Adm. Stansfield Turner, Former Director of Central Intelligence” (April 16, 1985), U.S. Support for the Contras, Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-Ninth Congress, First Session, April 16, 17 and 18, 1985 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985), 4.
 Edgar Chamorro, “Letter to the Editor,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 1986, A22. See also, Edgar Chamorro, Packaging the Contras: A Case of CIA Disinformation (New York: Institute for Media Analysis, 1987).
 President Ronald Reagan, “Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a White House Luncheon for Regional Editors and Broadcasters,” June 13, 1986, Reagan Public Papers.
 Arnson, Crossroads, ix.
 Harry Van Cleve, Comptroller General of the U.S. General Accounting Office, non-classified letter to Rep. Jack Brooks and Rep. Dante B. Fascell, Sept. 30, 1987, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra collection, IC04287.
 Committee on Foreign Affairs Staff Report, U.S. House of Representatives, State Department and Intelligence Community Involvement in Domestic Activities Related to the Iran/Contra Affair, Sept. 7, 1988, 24, National Security Archive, Nicaragua collection, NI02137.
 President Ronald W. Reagan, “Address to the Nation on the Situation in Nicaragua, March 16, 1986,” Reagan Public Papers.
 “Public Diplomacy Action Plan: Support for the White House Educational Campaign,” Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean, March, 12, 1985, cited in Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2007), 125.
 Thomas W. Walker, ed., Reagan Versus the Sandinistas: The Undeclared War on Nicaragua (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987), 3-4.
 Rabbi Balfour Brickner, “What’s Jewish in Nicaragua” (Guest Opinion), Philadelphia Daily News, Dec. 1, 1984, 14.
 See Philip Taubman, “Key Aides Dispute U.S. Role in Nicaraguan Vote,” New York Times, Oct. 21, 1984, A12. Taubman writes: “Since May , when American policy toward the elections was formed, the Administration has wanted the opposition candidate, Arturo José Cruz, either to not enter the race or, if he did, to withdraw before the election, claiming conditions were unfair. ‘The Administration never contemplated letting Cruz stay in the race,’ one official said, ‘because then the Sandinistas could justifiably claim that the elections were legitimate, making it much harder for the United States to oppose the Nicaraguan government.’” See also, Taubman, “U.S. Seeks to Sway Opinion on Nicaragua,” New York Times, Nov. 14, 1984, A10.
 Philip Taubman, “The Nicaraguan Vote; Results Will Probably Heighten Tensions Between Washington and the Sandinistas,” New York Times, Nov. 5, 1984, A12.
 “Election Draws Many U.S. Observers,” New York Times, Nov. 4, 1984, 21. See also, “Nicaragua’s 1984 Elections—A History Worth the Retelling,” Envío, No. 102 (Jan. 1990).
 Latin American Studies Association (LASA), The Electoral Process in Nicaragua: Domestic and International Influences (Austin, TX: LASA, 1984), 1, 31-32. Other reports of international observers include: Thom Kerstiens and Piet Nelissen (official Dutch government observers), “Report on the Elections in Nicaragua, 4 November 1984”; Irish Inter-Party Parliamentary Delegation, The Elections in Nicaragua, November, 1984 (Dublin: Irish Parliament, 1984); Parliamentary Human Rights Group, “Report of a British Parliamentary Delegation to Nicaragua to Observe the Presidential and National Assembly Elections, 4 November 1984”; and Willy Brandt and Thorvald Stoltenberg, “Statement [on Nicaraguan Elections on behalf of the Socialist International],” Bonn, Nov. 7, 1984.
 President Reagan, speeches on April 27, 1983, May 9, 1984, October 21, 1984, March 1, 1985, March 30, 1985, Feb. 4, 1986, and Feb. 2, 1988, Reagan Public Papers; Bernard Weinraub, “President Calls Sandinista Foes ‘Our Brothers,’” New York Times, Feb. 17. 1985, A1; President Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on “Central America,” Feb. 16, 1985, American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=38231; and Col. Daniel Jacobowitz, “Public Diplomacy Action Plan: Support for the White House Educational Campaign,” March 12, 1985, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra collection, IC00934, 2-3. On the College Republican “Save the Contras” campaign, see Terry Atlas, “Contra Aid Pipeline Goes Private As U.S. Funds Dry Up,” Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1985.
 “Public Diplomacy Strategy Paper: Central America,” March 19, 1984, 7, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra collection, IC00369; and John Goshko, “Diplomacy by Wright, Ortega Hit,” Washington Post, Nov. 15, 1987.
 Gill, The School of the Americas, 83.
 Philip Taubman, “The Speaker and His Sources on Latin America,” New York Times, Sept. 12, 1984, B10.
 Rep. David Bonior, telephone interview with Roger Peace, June 27, 2011; and LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 487.
 Poll results are tabulated in Richard Sobel, ed., Public Opinion in U.S. Foreign Policy (Lantham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993), 22-28, 59-70.
 “Secret, Presidential Finding, September 19, 1983,” https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/documents/d-nic-24.pdf. See also, Peter Kornbluh and Malcolm Byrne, The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History (New York: The New press, 1993), 382.
 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 392.
 Booth, Wade, and Walker, Understanding Central America (2006), 79.
 Kenneth E. Sharpe, “The Post-Vietnam Formula under Siege: The Imperial Presidency and Central America,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 102, No. 4 (Winter 1987-1988), 564.
 LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard, 361; and Smith, Talons of the Eagle, 212.
 Senator James M. Jeffords, An Independent Man: Adventures of a Public Servant (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 184.
 “Case Concerning the Military and Paramilitary Activities In and Against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America).” See also, Abram Chayes, “Nicaragua, the United States, and the World Court,” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 85, No. 7 (Nov. 1985): 1445-1482.
 “Joanne Omang and David Hoffman, “Reagan Sends Dole to Seek Pope’s Advice on Central America, Washington Post, April 6, 1985, A16; Shirley Christian, “Reagan Aides See No Possibility of an Accord with Sandinistas,” New York Times, Aug. 18. 1985, A1; and Elaine Sciolino, “Reagan Will Seek Contra Arms Aid Despite New Move; Managua Vow Dismissed,” New York Times, Jan. 18, 1988, A1.
 CIA officials admitted this to Loch K. Johnson, “the dean of American intelligence scholars,” cited in Scott Shane, “America Meddles in Elections, Too,” New York Times, February 18, 2018, Week-in-Review, p. 5.
 “1990 Election Results,” Nicaraguan Perspectives, Issue No. 19, Fall/Winter 1990, 3; and María Lopez Vigil, director of Envío magazine in 2006, comments at a meeting with a visiting group of U.S. citizens, Kairos House in Managua, June 19, 2006.
 According to Lynn Horton, in Peasants in Arms, “Out of a population of approximately 3.5 million, 30,865 Nicaraguans were killed during the war” (page xv). Internal displacement figures are cited in Thomas Walker, ed., Revolution and Counterrevolution in Nicaragua (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), 52. Economic damage costs of $9 billion are cited in both of the above studies.
 Walker, Reagan Versus the Sandinistas, xiii.
 Central America Resource Center, Directory of Central America Organizations, Third Edition, 1987 (Austin, TX: Central America Resource Center, 1986), Introduction.
 Inter-religious Task Force on Central America (IRTFCA), Peacemaking II: U.S. Religious Statements on Central America (New York: IRTFCA, July 1984), 49, 39-40. Denominational statements were issued by the American Baptist, American Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Church of the Brethren, Episcopal, Mennonite, Moravian, Presbyterian, Religious Society of Friends, United Church of Christ, Unitarian, and United Methodist churches, and the United Hebrew Association. Pastoral letters were issued by five Catholic bishops and archbishops.
 Cynthia J. Arnson and Philip Brenner, “The Limits of Lobbying: Interest Groups, Congress, and Aid to the Contras,” in Sobel, ed., Public Opinion in U.S. Foreign Policy, 195.
 Robert Kagan, “Public Diplomacy Plan for Explaining U.S. Central American Policy to the U.S. Religious Community,” Confidential Memorandum to Walter Raymond Jr., Sept. 18, 1986, 1, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra collection, IC03439. For a comprehensive account of the Nicaragua campaign within the Central America movement, see Roger Peace, A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).
 United States volunteers in Nicaragua and the death of Benjamin Linder; Hearings before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, first session, May 13, 1987 (reprint from the collection of the University of Michigan Library, 2010), 118; and Joanne Omang, “Catholic Groups Differ With Pope Over Nicaragua,” New York Times, July 23, 1984, A1.
 Jim McGinnis, “Notes (rough copy) from Nicaragua Conference, Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit, November 16, 17, 18 ,” Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Central America Working Group files, DG-145; Diane Passmore, “Outcomes, Resolutions, Directions from the Second National Conference on Nicaragua,” ibid.; “Second National Conference On Nicaragua, Detroit, Michigan, Nov. 16-18, 1979, Conference Agenda,” Wisconsin Historical Society, Nicaragua Network files, box 3; and Judith Valente, “D.C.-Area Hispanics Collect Funds to Spread Revolutionary Information,” Washington Post, Feb. 25, 1980, A20.
 “Resolution from the East Coast Conference,” Oct. 11-12, 1980, quoted in Van Gosse, “’The North American Front’: Central American Solidarity in the Reagan Era,” in Michael Sprinker and Mike Davis, eds., The Year Left, Vol. 3: Reshaping the U.S. Left: Popular Struggles in the 1980s (New York: Verso, 1988), 45-46, note 15.
 Van Gosse, “Radical, Pragmatic, and Successful,” Crossroads Magazine, No. 40 (April 1994), http://www.nathannewman.org/EDIN/.mags/.cross/.40/.40salv/.40salv.html.
 Philip Shenon, “Papers Show Wide Surveillance of Reagan Critics,” New York Times, Jan. 28, 1988, A1; Kathy Bodivitz, “U.S. Salvador Policy Foes: Big FBI Probe of Protest Groups,” San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 28, 1988, A1; Ross Gelbspan, “Suit Seeks FBI’s Files on Dissidents,” Boston Globe, Nov. 30, 1988, 8; and Michael Wines, “Panel Criticizes F.B.I. for Scrutiny of U.S. Group,” New York Times, July 17, 1989.
 Joel Brinkley, “Four Veterans Ending Fast on Policy in Nicaragua,” New York Times, Oct. 17, 1986, A16; “War Medals Returned To Protest U.S. Policy,” New York Times, Oct. 10, 1986, A22; and Penny Pagano, “Four Veterans Say Other Efforts Will Go On, Fast Over Central America Policy to End,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17, 1986, 14.
 S. Brian Willson, letter to Captain Lonnie Cagle, Commander Concord Naval Weapons Station, Aug. 21, 1987, WHS archive, VFP files, box 2, folder 11; and “Excerpts from Testimony Prepared and Presented by S. Brian Willson for Hearings Conducted by the U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Investigations, Washington, D.C., November 18, 1987,” http://www.brianwillson.com/evracnwstest.html.
 Father Alvaro Argüello, in person interview with Roger Peace, Managua, June 26, 2006; Vilma Nuñez de Escorcia, in person interview with Roger Peace, Managua, June 26, 2006; and Inter-religious Task Force on Central America (IRTFCA), Peacemaking II: U.S. Religious Statements on Central America (New York: IRTFCA, circa late 1984 or 1985), 55,57.
 “Policy and Guidelines for Thursday Vigils, CUSCLIN,” Managua, no date. CUSCLIN organizational records and literature were made available to author Roger Peace by Penn Garvin.
 Joanne Omang, “Nicaraguan Leader Makes U.S. Tour,” Washington Post, October 9, 1984.
 See Ed Griffin-Nolan, Witness for Peace: A Story of Resistance (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991).
 Liz Chilsen and Sheldon Rampton, Friends in Deed: The Story of U.S.-Nicaragua Sister Cities (Madison: Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua, 1988), 20, appendixes; and Alexandra Early and Jan Morrill, “Sister Cityhood is Powerful Learning From Twenty-Five Years of Solidarity, Struggle, & Tortilla-Making in El Salvador,” Social Policy 41, 2 (Summer 2011), 36.
 Andrew Battista, “Unions and Cold War Foreign Policy in the 1980s: The National Labor Committee, the AFL-CIO, and Central America,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Summer 2002), 39, 410-11, 442; and Neil Henry, “Inside the Revolution,” Washington Post, Sept. 29, 1985, 6.
 Envío team, “International Solidarity on the Upswing,” Envío, No. 80 (Feb. 1988).
 USIA Office of Research, “West Europeans Critical of U.S. Central American Policy” Research Memorandum, August 30, 1984, 1, 4, 5, National Archives and Record Administration (NARA), RG 306, Regular and Special Reports of the Office of Research, 1983-1987.
 R. W. Apple, “Ireland’s Premier Chides President,” New York Times, June 4, 1984, A1.
 Jack Nelson, “Latin Policy of U.S. Viewed as Dividing NATO,” Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1985.
 “Spaniards Protest Visit by Reagan,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 6, 1985, 13.
 Susan Gzesh, “Central Americans and Asylum Policy in the Reagan Era,” Migration Information Source, April 2006, http://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?id=384.
 Norma Stoltz Chinchilla, Nora Hamilton, and James Loucky, “The Sanctuary Movement and Central American Activism in Los Angeles,” Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 36, Issue 6, December 18, 2009, 106-107. At least sixteen books and dissertations have been written on the Sanctuary Movement alone. See books by Ignatius Bau, Ann Crittenden, Hilary Cunningham, Miriam Davidson, Renny Golden and Michael McConnell, Robin Lorentzen, Gary MacEoin (editor), Judith McDaniel, Elma L. Otter and Dorothy F. Pine, Dick Simpson and Clinton Stockwell, and Robert Tomsho; and dissertations by Jeanne Clark, Susan Coutin, Anne Marie Hildreth, Rachel Ovryn-Rivera, and Angela Stout.
 Sharon Erickson Nepstad, Convictions of the Soul: Religion, Culture, and Agency in the Central American Solidarity Movement (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), 132-33.
 Doug Liman, “American Made,” 20th Century Fox, 2017. See also, Robert Parry, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ (Arlington, Virginia: The Media Consortium, 1999).
 Abraham Riesman, “Doug Liman on Crash Allegations, American Made and Living with Tom Cruise,” Vulture, September 22, 2017, http://www.vulture.com/2017/09/liman-speaks-about-tom-cruise-and-american-made-crash.html.
 For details on Seal’s escapades and government connections, see Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press (London: Verso, 1998); Michael Hopsicker, Barry and the Boyz: The CIA, the Mob and America’s Secret History (Mad Cow Press, 2001); Roger Morris, Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1996), 389-427; and for a skeptical view see Del Hahn, Smuggler’s End: The Life and Death of Barry Seal, ed. Tom Ashwell (Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2016).
 See Jonathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott and Jane Hunter, The Iran Contra Connection: Secret Teams and Covert Operations in the Reagan Era (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1987).
 See Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 2003).
 Marshall, Scott and Hunter, The Iran Contra Connection, 11.
 See Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 201-412; Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987 (New York: Pocket Books, 1987).
 Caspar Weinberger, Handwritten Notes of Meeting in White House Family Quarters, December 7, 1985, Lawrence Walsh investigation, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB483/.
 National Security Planning Group (NSPG) Meeting, “Subject: Review of US Policy in Central America, January 10, 1986, Secret,” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB483; Holly Sklar, Washington’s War on Nicaragua (Boston: South End Press, 1988), 326.
 Sklar, Washington’s War on Nicaragua, 326; Malcolm Byrne, Iran Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2014). See also more document revelations at https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB483/
 Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State also knew more than they testified publicly though both opposed aspects of the arms-for-hostages scheme.
 Marshall, Scott and Hunter, The Iran Contra Connection, 16.
 Sklar, Washington’s War on Nicaragua, 236-241.
 Jane Hunter, Israel’s Foreign Policy (Boston: South End Press, 1987); Marshall, Scott and Hunter, The Iran Contra Connection.
 Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017).
 “Handwritten Notebooks of Oliver North,” National Security Archive, The Contras, Cocaine and Covert Operations, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/index.html; Hahn, The Life and Death of Barry Seal, 286; Jon Roberts, American Desperado: My Life – From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government Asset (New York: Crown Publishers, 2011), 2, 493. FBI agent Del Hahn mentions the U.S. governments’ ties with smugglers Gerardo Duran, Gary Wayne Betzner who flew weapons missions and returned with loads of cocaine and Frank Moss, while mafia trafficker Jon Roberts specified in his memoirs that he smuggled guns and in turn received special radio codes that allowed he and his associates to fly back to the U.S. with impunity while smuggling in cocaine.
 Douglas Valentine, The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues That Shaped the DEA (Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2009), 379, 394.
 William LaJeunesse, “U.S. intelligence assets in Mexico reportedly tied to murdered DEA agent,” www.foxnews.com, October 10, 2013; Russell H. Bartley and Sylvia E. Bartley, Eclipse of the Assassins: The CIA, Imperial Politics, and the Slaying of Mexican Journalist Manuel Buendía. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2015). The latter book provides new evidence which shows that U.S. intelligence assets collaborated with Mexican intelligence in the murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena after Camarena arrested onetime CIA asset Rafael Caro Quintero, who was likely part of the Contra supply network, and had overseen the training of Guatemalan death squads on his ranch. A CIA contract pilot initially helped Quintero to flee to Costa Rica after the murder, though this escape was short-lived. Phil Jordan, former Director of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center said that “the CIA was involved in the movement of drugs from South America to Mexico and to the U.S.”
 Gary Webb, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998). The original series appeared with the San José Mercury News in 1996.
 Cockburn and St. Clair, Whiteout; Nick Schou, Kill the Messenger: How the CIAs Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (New York: The Nation Books, 2006).
 “Handwritten Notebooks of Oliver North,” National Security Archive, The Contras, Cocaine and Covert Operations, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/index.html. See also, Jonathan Marshall and Peter Dale Scott, Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies and the CIA in Central America, rev ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); The Contras, Cocaine and Covert Operations, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/index.html.
 Lawrence E. Walsh, Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters, vol. 1, Investigations and Prosecutions, Aug. 4, 1993, Washington, D.C., Executive Summary, http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/walsh. See also Kornbluh and Byrne, The Iran-Contra Scandal, 338.
 Hyde, Iran-Contra.
 The Iran-Contra scandal may be compared to the Watergate scandal fourteen years earlier. President Richard Nixon was held accountable for a burglary but not for his secret, unauthorized bombing of Cambodia that caused massive death and destruction.
 Charles Babington, “Clinton: Support for Guatemala Was Wrong,” Washington Post, March 11, 1999, A1. See also, Rabe, The Killing Zone, 187; and Guatemala, Memory of Silence: Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification (82 pages), 1999, https://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/mos_en.pdf.
 Ibid., 194.
 D’Haeseleer, The Salvadoran Crucible, 6, 10.