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The Politics of Transnational Solidarity: Washington Versus Managua

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By Roger Peace

The purpose of this essay is to examine how the Reagan administration in the United States and the Sandinista government in Nicaragua each viewed and related to U.S. citizen activism in opposition to the Contra War, and secondly, to examine the particulars of how the Sandinista government worked with international visitors and supporters through various bureaucratic agencies. This analysis is based on extensive interviews by the author with former Sandinista government officials and other Nicaraguans, cited in the endnotes.

The Reagan administration’s propaganda war

The efforts of U.S. citizens to help the Nicaraguan people and put an end to the Contra War ran directly counter to the Reagan administration’s actions to bring down the FSLN government (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional).  Administration officials decried these citizen efforts as part of a “Sandinista disinformation campaign” backed by the Soviet Union.[1]  A memorandum titled “Public Diplomacy and Central America” (May 1, 1983), written by Kate Semarad, an official with the Agency for International Development, warned of a “Soviet-orchestrated effort to influence the United States Congress, the national media and the general public.”  Soviet propaganda agencies, she wrote, were circulating “fabricated allegations of massacres” by U.S. allies in Central America.  To counter these charges, she advised, “We can and must go over the heads of our Marxist opponents directly to the American people.”[2]
That fall, the Reagan administration formally established the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (S/LPD) under the auspices of the State Department for the purpose of persuading the American public to support administration policies toward Central America.  A December 1984 S/LPD report noted that between October 1, 1983 and November 23, 1984, S/LPD had sponsored 1,870 speaking engagements and interviews in over 1,000 U.S. cities and towns, and distributed information to private organizations so as to create “a multiplier effect for the distribution of our message.”  S/LPD operated for more than four years before it was shut down by Congress 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.”[3]  All in all, S/LPD reports give credence to the influence of the Central America movement, particularly religious leaders, in countering the administration’s framing and in buttressing Congressional opposition to administration initiatives.
A 50-page S/LPD report, titled “Sandinista Disinformation” (September 1, 1984), identified the ringleader of the “Sandinista disinformation campaign” as Maryknoll Father Miguel d’Escoto, the FSLN government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.  “He spearheaded the organization of a Nicaragua solidarity network in the United States and Europe, even organizing training sessions for activists on how to present the message.”  Two other Nicaraguan religious leaders, Gustavo Parajón and Sixto Ulloa, both of CEPAD (Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua), were identified as “fervent spokesmen of Sandinista propaganda and hosts to the many tour groups that visit Nicaragua.”  The Americans most likely to succumb to this “Sandinista propaganda” were those “who are continually in disagreement with all U.S. foreign policy” and “naïve idealists who believe in any movement that calls itself revolutionary.”[4]

A more objective assessment of the domestic forces opposing the administration’s Central America policies was made by the Institute for the Study of the Americas (ISA) in the fall of 1984.  Underwritten by S/LPD, ISA surveyed 250 U.S. organizations involved in Latin American issues, including policy-oriented research institutes, universities, interest groups, humanitarian and human rights organizations, service organizations, and lobby groups.  Its final report, dated January 1, 1985, concluded that a liberal-left orientation was dominant among these groups:

What appears most unusual about the Latin American affairs area – in comparison to those of, say, Europe or the Soviet Union – is the heavily liberal-radical orientation of the vast majority of the entities which are active in the field.  This is not a political judgment on the part of the ISA staff, but rather the obvious empirical result of our research.  The left of center predominance is so striking . . . that it could hardly be ignored even by the most superficial observers.[5]

The report’s conclusion did not change the views of S/LPD director Otto Reich, who remained convinced that Sandinista propaganda was responsible for critical views of U.S. policies abroad.  In an S/LPD report titled “Public Diplomacy Plan for Europe” (July 29, 1985), Reich asserted that the Sandinistas and their allies were turning Western European publics against U.S. policy in Central America.  “Because the Sandinista, FMLN, and other communist propaganda supporters work so effectively in Europe,” he wrote, “our effort to counter their activities and explain our views will have to be intensive and sustained over a long period of time.”  Another S/LPD report (December 17, 1985) predicted, “The Sandinistas will probably mount a campaign [in the U.S.] beginning in early January to persuade Congress to withdraw support from the Nicaraguan armed forces.  The campaign will be run from the grass-roots level and directed at religious groups, the media, and special interest groups.”[6]

The Reagan administration, meanwhile, would run its own disinformation campaign.  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.”[7]

When Robert Kagan took charge of S/LPD in April 1986, he reassessed the situation in somewhat more realistic terms, locating the source of domestic opposition in domestic groups.  In a memo to National Security Council adviser Walter Raymond, Jr. (September 18, 1986), Kagan acknowledged the strength of the administration’s domestic opponents:

. . . 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.  Many of the denominational national offices and their respective justice and peace committees and offices of social policy reflect the views of pro-Sandinista religious activists.  This bias is bolstered by such church-supported groups as the Washington Office on Latin America and Witness for Peace, and is 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.  Because of this, any public diplomacy effort must reach the local level and respond to the charges and allegations made by the various inter-religious networks supportive of the Sandinistas.[8]

Kagan still missed the point that the majority of U.S. religious organizations and activist groups did not base their opposition to the Contra War on their views of the Sandinistas.  As Thomas Quigley, head of the U.S. Catholic Conference’s Office of International Justice and Peace, pointed out, “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.”[9]   What the liberal, mainstream religious community and the FSLN government had in common was the belief that Contra aid “is immoral, illegal, and unwise,” as Bishop Thomas Gumbleton said at a Congressional subcommittee hearing in 1987, speaking for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.[10]  Opinions regarding the nature of the Sandinistas were more diverse, although most liberal religious groups lent support to Sandinista programs in health care, education, and land redistribution that converged with their own missionary efforts.  Reagan administration analysts misinterpreted the philosophical affinity between the liberal religious community in the U.S., liberation theology, the “popular church” in Nicaragua, and the FSLN reform program as evidence of the effectiveness of FSLN propaganda.

What the liberal U.S. religious community and the FSLN government had in common was the belief that U.S. arms and aid to the Nicaraguan Contras was “immoral, illegal, and unwise.”
On April 2, 1985, President Reagan told two Washington Post reporters that the reason why his Nicaragua policy lacked public support was that “we’ve been subjected, in this country, to a very sophisticated lobbying campaign by a totalitarian government – the Sandinistas.”  Three weeks later, with votes pending in Congress, he declared in a national radio address, “The Sandinista Communists are lobbying your Senators and Representatives.  Together with the misguided sympathizers in this country, they’ve been running a sophisticated disinformation campaign of lies and distortion.”[11]  Opponents of the Contra War were thus tagged as “fellow travelers,” a fifth column of foreign “communists.”
Reagan returned to this theme the following year as another round of votes on Contra aid approached.  On March 11, 1986, he claimed that lack of public support for his Nicaragua policy was due to “a great disinformation network that is at work throughout our country.”  As a result, he said, “a great many people are confused.”[12]  The administration also employed this rationale to deflect criticism of the Contras.  At a question-and-answer press conference on June 13, Reagan said that reports of Contra atrocities were not to be believed, as “much of this we have found is a part of a disinformation campaign tending to discredit them.”[13]
The administration’s allies on the right were more extreme in their red-baiting tactics.  A half-dozen think-tanks issued a spate of books and articles in the mid-1980s, aimed at smearing the Central America movement as a communist front.  The book titles convey the message:  The Revolution Lobby (1985); The Washington Battle for Central America:  The Unmet Challenge of the “Red Chorus” (1986); The Red Orchestra:  Instruments of Soviet Policy in Latin America and the Caribbean (1986); Second Front:  Advancing Latin American Revolution in Washington (1986); and Prophets or Useful Idiots?  Church Organizations Attacking U.S. Central America Policy (1986).[14]  One of the more prolific writers of this group, J. Michael Waller, was hired by S/LPD to produce studies such as “The Central American Church Connection,” to be distributed to “a variety of leadership groups and priority audiences.”[15]
Beyond rhetorical attacks, the Reagan administration took action to stop the flow of visitors to Nicaragua.  In mid-1983, it closed six Nicaraguan Consulates in the U.S., thereby making it more difficult for U.S. citizens to obtain visas.  The Nicaraguan government responded by allowing U.S. citizens to enter the country without visas, even placing an advertisement in the New York Times to announce this.[16]  In early 1984, the administration directed FBI and Customs agents to question returning brigadistas (internationals aiding Nicaraguan coffee harvests) and other U.S. travelers to Nicaragua.  “Within months of the first brigades,” wrote sociologist Sharon E. Nepstad, “several brigadistas were contacted by FBI agents who wanted to discuss their trips to Nicaragua and whether they had been approached by representatives of the Sandinista government.”[17]  Nicaragua Network, an U.S. activist group, sent out warning letters to inform travelers of their rights and offer advice as to how to respond to questions.
During a Congressional inquiry into the matter in April 1985, FBI Director William H. Webster testified that one hundred U.S. travelers to Nicaragua had been questioned about their activities and contacts in Nicaragua.  Rep. Don Edwards (D-CA), after hearing Webster’s testimony, said, “These FBI interviews have the odor of harassment.  We want to know what they’re doing with various groups and people who are not even suspected of committing crimes, but are diligent in their opposition to the president’s policies in Central America.”  The Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit on behalf of free-lance journalist Edward Haase, whose diary and address book had been photocopied at the Miami airport on January 16, 1985.  A federal district judge dismissed the suit after the FBI promised to not use any of the “evidence” obtained.  This litigation along with pressure from members of Congress led the Customs Service to issue new rules barring such searches.[18]
The Reagan administration took more forceful action against the Sanctuary Movement and CISPES.  Prominent sanctuary leaders were arrested and put on trial in 1984 and 1985.  CISPES was placed under investigation as a potential illegal foreign agent and supporter of international terrorism.  After years of FBI surveillance, however, no charges were brought against CISPES.  “The CISPES files contain information about domestic political activities that the FBI should never have gathered,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman David Boren (D-OK) and Vice Chairman Sen. William Cohen (R-ME).[19]
Missing the mark.  Regarding Nicaragua, the Reagan administration and its rightist allies misinterpreted three essential elements of the transnational relationships between U.S. and Nicaraguan groups and agencies.  First, these relationships were aimed at encouraging peace and development, not revolution or Soviet influence in the Western Hemisphere.  These benign objectives were clearly stated by all parties, including the FSLN government.  Secondly, the transnational relationships were mutual in nature, with no party giving or taking orders from the other.  The FSLN was not the director of the anti-Contra War campaign in the U.S.  Thirdly, connections between U.S. and Nicaraguan churches were genuine and not a cover for FSLN subterfuge.  Jim Wallis, a founder of two key U.S. groups, Witness for Peace and the Pledge of Resistance, explained that the “major church initiatives undertaken in this country were in response to the invitation and pleas of Christians in Nicaragua.  We responded when they asked for fact-finding delegations to come; when they began to suffer attacks from the Contras; when, in the wake of the Grenada invasion, they feared a U.S. invasion of their own nation.”[20]
Fr. Miguel d’Escoto, the alleged ringleader of the “Sandinista propaganda campaign,” was indeed influential in the U.S., but this was hardly a conspiracy.  D‘Escoto‘s influence stemmed from his long-standing contacts in the U.S. and his well-known advocacy of liberation theology.  D’Escoto was born in Los Angeles, California in 1933, the oldest son of Nicaraguan parents.  His father was a movie actor who doubled for Rudolph Valentino, according to his own account.  The d’Escoto family returned to Nicaragua when Miguel was a young child and he remained there until the age of fourteen.  His maternal grandfather was German and his mother and uncles had been educated in Germany, where they were trapped during World War I.  Being from a well-off family, Miguel was given the option at age fourteen to study abroad.  His father suggested Spain, but Miguel said he wanted to go to the United States where he might learn about democracy.  Spain, he said, was too much like Nicaragua in being ruled by a dictatorship.  Miguel attended a private high school in Berkeley, California, became fluent in English, and found excitement in following the baseball heroics of Jackie Robinson.  He recalled a formative experience at the school when a fellow student told him that Jackie Robinson was not a good baseball player.  Miguel responded that Robinson was indeed a very good player.  The student then told him that “he cannot be good.”  Why “he cannot be good?” asked Miguel.  “Because he is black,” came the reply.  Miguel never forgot the answer.

Maryknoll Father Miquel d’Escoto Brockman served as Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister. A leading advocate of liberation theology, he maintained contact with many U.S. religious leaders. He served as president of the UN General Assembly from Sept. 2008-Sept. 2009 (UN file photo, Aug. 29, 2009, by Juan Karita, AP)

Miguel d’Escoto came to understand American cultural prejudices and also to admire those Americans who challenged prejudice and injustice.  “If I were to choose the people who most influenced me in my life and who were paradigmatic figures for me,” he said, “I would choose four, of which two were American.  One is Martin Luther King and the other one is Dorothy Day. . . . The others would be [Mohandas] Gandhi and [Leo] Tolstoy.”  His study of U.S. history led him to admire William Lloyd Garrison, the famed abolitionist, as well.  He keeps in his office an original painting of Garrison along with two original mastheads of Garrison’s newsletter, The Liberator.  D’Escoto pursued his higher education at a seminary in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where he studied philosophy.  He entered the Maryknoll seminary at Ossining, New York, in 1953, was ordained a priest in 1961, and served as a missionary in Chile from 1963 to 1969, a time when liberation theology was sweeping through Latin America and progressive reform was gaining momentum in Chile.  Upon return to the U.S., he helped found the Maryknoll publishing house, Orbis Books (1970), and became its publisher.[21]  In the late 1970s, d’Escoto became part of the influential Group of Twelve in Nicaragua, which laid the political groundwork for the transition of power to the Sandinista Government of National Reconstruction following the Sandinista military triumph.

As head of the FSLN Ministry of Foreign Relations during the 1980s, d‘Escoto continued to reach out to the U.S. religious community.  In an article in Sojourners (March 1983), a progressive Christian magazine, d’Escoto linked the liberation theology movement in Latin America to Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement in North America.  He declared that King’s spirit was alive and well in Sandinista Nicaragua, where people of faith were undertaking “the common task of searching for a more human and just society.”  He assured readers that a “reservoir of Christian values” underlay the Sandinista Revolution and that, after the revolution, “a great amount of forgiveness was manifested.”  He explained the economics of the new Nicaragua in straightforward moral terms:  “The revolution demands that we abandon ideas of only ourselves becoming better off.  It demands a great amount of brotherhood and sisterhood and sharing and thinking not only of myself but of us.“[22]
D’Escoto’s younger sister, Rita Clark, was also born in the U.S.  During the 1950s, she worked at the United Nations Division of Social Affairs.  She fell in love with a West Point cadet and married in 1956.  Clark remained a U.S. citizen and raised six children in the U.S.  In 1970, her husband was killed in the Vietnam War.  She sent two of her older children, Sophia (age twelve) and Margarita (age ten), to live with family in Nicaragua for a time after their father died.  Sophia returned to the U.S. to go to high school and college, but continued to spend her summers in Nicaragua.  She graduated from the University of Virginia in 1980 with a B.A. in government, writing her final research paper on the Sandinista Revolution.  After graduating, she went to work in the FSLN government’s Foreign Ministry, headed by her uncle, and was assigned to the Department of North American Affairs.  “Father Miguel was truly a mentor for me,” she said.  “He’s my godfather but he was also a political mentor to me.”  Sophia‘s appearance as a gringa – blond hair and light skin – made some of her colleagues wary of her, but she soon won their confidence.  She became a translator at top level meetings between Daniel Ortega and with visiting dignitaries.  She also renounced her U.S. citizenship in protest against the Contra War.  Sophia’s sister, Margarita, worked at the Foreign Ministry as well, but did not renounce her citizenship.  Another brother worked at the Ministry for Reconstruction.
In 1986, Sophia Clark became the First Secretary of the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, D.C., joining her mother and brother, Michael, who were also working there.  Rita remained eternally hopeful that U.S. citizens would come to recognize the grievous error of the Contra War.  “I have a great love for this country,” she said.  “To me, seeing how the U.S. was acting in Nicaragua, I can’t tell you how painful it was.”  After the FSLN party lost the elections of February 1990, Rita continued her transnational solidarity work through a newly created Nicaragua-U.S. Friendship Office.[23]

Views from Managua

The FSLN government greatly appreciated and cultivated the support of non-governmental groups abroad, but this was not its first priority.  Its first set of international priorities was to establish positive relations with other governments and political parties, obtain economic aid from multilateral financial institutions, and enlist the support of international organizations, including the Non-Aligned Movement, Socialist International, Organization of American States, and United Nations.  Securing the support of non-governmental organizations fell into a second broad category.  FSLN leaders often referred to these helpful groups as being in “solidarity with the Sandinista Revolution,” by which they meant the revolutionary process, or the transformational FSLN reform program.
This definition was not necessarily the same employed by the foreign groups themselves.  Among U.S. groups involved in Nicaragua, which is not to say all groups involved in the anti-Contra War campaign, most described themselves as being in “solidarity with the Nicaraguan people,” which itself could mean different things.  Leftist groups such as Nicaragua Network embraced the FSLN definition, supporting the revolutionary process and the FSLN‘s vanguard role; religious groups such as the Religious Task Force on Central America (RTFCA, a Catholic group) identified themselves as part of a progressive religious solidarity network linked to the “popular church” and liberation theology; sister city groups such as Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua (WCCN) emphasized building friendship and people-to-people contacts; and certain “non-political” humanitarian aid groups framed their involvement in terms of aiding impoverished people.
FSLN leaders understood these different venues and encouraged each in their own right, but still identified the various groups as being in “solidarity with the Sandinista Revolution.”  It was in their interest to do so, after all, as international support signified validation of their domestic reform program.  In a corresponding manner, it was in the interest of most U.S. groups to avoid the label of “solidarity group,” as the FSLN was not popular in Congress or the media.  In the case of Witness for Peace, this label could undermine its credibility as an objective witness of Contra atrocities.  Oddly, both Reagan administration officials and FSLN officials regarded U.S. groups involved in Nicaragua as being pro-Sandinista, with the former viewing this connection as diabolical and the latter, as a blessing.
FSLN leaders wanted international validation of their domestic agenda, to be sure, but what they needed most was broad popular support at home for it.  As such, the FSLN mixed international and national solidarity efforts.  Domestic solidarity with the Sandinista Revolution was invoked in a number of ways:  by memorializing those who had fallen in the actual revolution; by emphasizing that “the revolution was made to create a new society,” as Interior Minister Borge declared; by making Sandino the national patriarch (similar to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in the U.S.); by promoting Sandinismo, the spirit of cooperation and sacrifice for the good of the whole; and by enlisting popular participation in the literacy crusade, health brigades, and Sandinista mass organizations.[24]
“The greatest advance of our revolution,” said Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, Minister of Culture, “is the brotherhood it has produced, compañerismo, the introduction in our new daily language of the word compañero – which means fellow companion and before existed only in guerrilla camps.”[25]

Three phases of international support and solidarity

Dora María Téllez was third in command in the FSLN Revolution, then served as Deputy President of the Council of State, 1979–84, and Minister of Health, 1985–90 (photo circa 1979)

The FSLN’s efforts to cultivate international support and solidarity went through three phases.  As described by Comandante Dora María Téllez, during the period of revolutionary struggle (to July 1979), the focus was on “building political and solidarity support” with groups in other countries, and with Cuba.  Following the assumption of power (1979-1982), “solidarity expanded and broadened,” with emphasis placed on generating international support for FSLN’s reform program and the “political perspective of the Revolution.”  During the Contra War (1982-1990), “the solidarity movement took on a different role and became much more important in regard to the aggression begun by Reagan.”[26]

Revolutionary solidarity (1961-1979)
During the first period of revolutionary struggle, FSLN leaders developed connections with other movements, parties, and governments that shared their leftist world-view.  They viewed the Sandinista Revolution in the context of a larger historical struggle against imperialism, repressive rightist governments, and capitalist exploitation of the Third World.  The violence of revolution was rationalized, more or less, as a legitimate response to the structural violence of poverty and powerlessness, perpetrated by imperialism and capitalism, and government repression of progressive social forces.  This structural injustice was not altered by manipulated demonstration elections controlled by powerful interests.  Although the U.S. had become the foe of leftist revolution in the 20th century, its rationale for revolution in 1776 still applied:  “that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends [Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”  The creative addition of the Marxist left in the 19th and 20th centuries was to include economic as well as political oppression as just cause for instituting new governments as well as establishing new economic institutions.
During the 1970s, the FSLN sent people to Mexico, Panama, Honduras, Venezuela, the U.S., and some European countries.  “Their primary mission was to demonstrate with the struggle of the Sandinista movement and develop solidarity committees outside of the country,” said René Nuñez Téllez, who left his studies in civil engineering to join the FSLN in 1967.  In the U.S., FSLN representatives and Nicaraguan émigrés joined with progressive activists to form solidarity committees, raise money, and spread “the story of the Sandinistas.”  Cuban solidarity was most important, according to Nuñez, “because they were there from the very beginning and were there when the Sandinistas grew.”  FSLN guerrillas and supporters found refuge in both Cuba and Panama, with the latter being the site of the first international solidarity conference in September 1978 (see Chapter Three).  That year, FSLN representatives established formal diplomatic relations with the governments of Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico.  “Connections were made with government officials in order that the Sandinista Party, even though it was not in the government, would be able to go to the Organization of American States and make statements,” said Nuñez.  This diplomacy paid off, for when the U.S. came to the OAS in June 1979 with a last-minute proposal to create an interim government to replace Somoza – in order to head off an expected FSLN victory – the OAS rejected the measure and voted instead to demand Somoza’s resignation.  Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, and Ecuador furthermore broke off diplomatic relations with the Somoza government.
Nuñez was imprisoned twice by the Somoza government for his revolutionary activities, spending a total of four years in prison.  His release in August 1978 was part of a hostage exchange deal arranged with Somoza after FSLN guerrillas took over the National Assembly in August 1978.  He left for Cuba and returned when revolution forces were triumphing in León in June 1979.  Nuñez owed his release in part to Dora María Téllez, who was second in command in the occupation of the National Assembly.  She was twenty-two years old at the time.  Téllez began her work with the FSLN in 1972 and went underground in 1976, leaving behind her medical studies at the University of León.  Her family did not see her again for three years.  She led guerrilla units in the final battle for León.  Following the revolutionary victory, Téllez was appointed Deputy President of the Council of State, then Minister of Health in 1985.  Nuñez served in three capacities during the 1980s, all at the same time, as Secretary of the FSLN Directorate, Director of the Office on Religious Affairs, and Minister to the President’s office.[27]
For both Nuñez and Téllez, the revolutionary period embodied the spirit of Sandinismo.  “All the militants trained during that period are the same – forged in the struggle, with a tremendous commitment to the Organization, and to the Nicaraguan people,“ said Téllez.  “That faith in the people, no one really knows where it comes from. . . . We revolutionaries are visionaries to a certain extent.”[28]
Post-revolutionary solidarity (1979-1982)
In the post-revolutionary period, the revolutionary rhetoric that galvanized Nicaraguans to action against the “dictator” was transformed into a call for participation in the revolutionary process.  The triumph of the revolution in July 1979 had the immediate effect of validating revolutionary rhetoric.  In September 1979, representatives from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam visited Nicaragua and praised the Sandinista Revolution as a “victory of a people who with determination rose up to fight the oppressive yoke of imperialism.”  Comandante Carlos Nuñez remarked, “Revolutionary solidarity is international; the peoples of every society are brothers and sisters, and it is the people who break down the barriers.”[29]
What was needed in the post-revolutionary period, however, was not more breaking of barriers but the rebuilding of Nicaraguan society, which required pragmatism in both domestic and international affairs.  FSLN leaders faced the daunting task of meeting the nation’s pressing economic needs with extremely limited resources.  They needed the support of business owners, skilled technicians and managers, and international donors and aid organizations, regardless of political views.  In the international arena, the FSLN was obliged to abide by international rules (UN and OAS) that proscribed any provision of arms and aid to revolutionaries in other countries.  Revolutionary rhetoric was thus limited to offering moral support for the FMLN’s struggle in El Salvador, whereas arms had initially flowed across the border in 1980.  The FSLN’s public statements gravitated toward calling for “a negotiated solution to the Salvadoran conflict.”[30]

Victor Hugo Tinoco served as Nicaraguan Ambassador to the UN 1979-81 (photo), and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1981-90

International support and solidarity in Sandinista Nicaragua were cultivated by a variety of governmental and party agencies, and religious and nongovernmental groups.  The ultimate decision-making body in the new Nicaragua was the nine-member FSLN National Directorate, which managed both party and governmental affairs.  Two overarching agencies were responsible for international and transnational relationships, the Ministry of Foreign Relations (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, or MINREX) and the Directorate of International Relations (DRI).

Coordination of strategy among these top-level agencies fell to a small commission composed of National Directorate members Bayardo Arce and Daniel Ortega, the Minister and Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations, respectively Miguel d’Escoto and Victor Hugo Tinoco, the head of the Directorate of International Relations (DRI), which for many years was Julio López, and, occasionally, the chief of the Army.  This commission was a very stable group, according to Tinoco, holding almost weekly meetings for ten years.  “It oversaw the whole relationship of international solidarity,” said Tinoco.  Arce was the main force in the commission in the first half of the 1980s, but Ortega exerted more influence in the latter half of the decade.

MINREX, as a government bureau, dealt with other governments, foreign political parties, Nicaraguan embassies, multinational agencies, and diplomatic initiatives; and worked with U.S. activist groups, “think tanks,” and members of Congress, particularly through the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, D.C.  DRI, as a party organ, focused on developing solidarity and support within Nicaragua, particularly through the Nicaraguan Committee in Solidarity with the Peoples (CNSP).  DRI was the more ideological of the two.  It had a strong political education component that was shared by the FSLN Department of Propaganda and Political Education and the official newspaper, Barricada, which was published in English as well as Spanish for international audiences.
There were some joint projects of MINREX and DRI.  For example, when Ronald Reagan was elected in November 1980, Bayardo Arce requested that the North American desks of DRI and MINREX work together to produce a chronology of all the statements made by the rightist Santa Fe committee about Nicaragua and the situation in Central America.  The idea was to gain a better understanding the thinking of the new Reagan administration, which largely adhered to this rightist manifesto.
International support and solidarity were also managed through the various governmental departments, which had a large measure of autonomy in coordinating international projects.  “Each ministry had its own kind of work,” said Tinoco, “and its own particular work with solidarity groups as well, such as in the area of health.”[31]  The Ministry of Health (MINSA) managed international aid for health programs and hospital construction.  The Ministry of Construction (MICONS) coordinated assistance in construction projects.  The Nicaraguan Institute for Tourism (INTUR) made arrangements for international visitors.  The Ministry for Agrarian Development and Reform (MIDINRA) worked with CNSP in organizing international work brigades for coffee harvests.  The Directorate of Municipal and Regional Affairs (DAMUR) worked with foreign embassies and local municipalities in arranging sister city partnerships.  The Office of Religious Affairs facilitated transnational connections among religious groups.
At the party level, the various Sandinista mass organizations connected with foreign and international organizations that shared their interests.  AMNLAE developed relationships with other women’s groups abroad; and the Sandinista Association of Cultural Workers (ASTC), headed by Rosario Murillo, made connections with writers and artists in other countries.  At the nongovernmental level, transnational relationships were developed by religious organizations such as the Jesuit-run Central America Historical Institute and Envío, the Protestant-based CEPAD, the Catholic Institute of John XXIII, the Antonio Valdivieso Ecumenical Center, and the Nicaraguan Conference of Religious (CONFER); and by secular organizations such as the Confederation of Professional Associations (CONAPRO) and the Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations.
In the post-revolutionary period, the main tasks of MINREX were to establish positive relationships with other governments and obtain economic aid for Nicaragua.  D’Escoto met with many foreign ministers and dignitaries.  “Because we could not afford to have embassies everywhere in the world,” said d’Escoto, “I was practically forced to travel the whole world in order to meet with heads of state.”  According to Alejandro Bandaña, who represented Nicaragua at the United Nations in 1980, “By the first anniversary celebration, Nicaragua had more than doubled the number of countries with which it enjoyed diplomatic relations.”[32]
MINREX officials worked at a brisk pace to secure loans and aid from other governments and international agencies, and to renegotiate the debt left by the Somoza government.  These efforts paid off.  During its first thirty-two months of existence, the Sandinista government received $1.2 billion in external financing and $260 million in direct aid.[33]  The aid came from countries in different regions of the world – Latin America, Western Europe, the socialist bloc, and Arab oil exporters (mainly Libya) – in keeping with the announced policy of “walking on four legs,” which was designed to reduce dependence on the U.S.[34]  These incoming funds were still not enough to avert an economic crisis in the summer of 1981 and the FSLN government declared a state of national economic and social emergency in September.  More aid was needed, and some of it would come from non-governmental organizations from abroad.

Ana Patricia Elvir coordinated the Nicaraguan Committee in Solidarity with the Peoples (CNSP) during the 1980s (photo: Latina Magazine, 01-07-12)

The Nicaraguan Committee in Solidarity with the Peoples (CNSP) was established in 1980 in order to promote international solidarity and support for the “Sandinista Revolution.”  CNSP functioned at the party level and became the main contact for leftist solidarity groups abroad.  According to staff member Ana Patricia Elvir, CNSP had a two-part strategy.  One part involved experiential education, whereby Nicaraguans would meet with internationalists working on various projects in the country for mutual sharing and education.  The other part involved informational campaigns about foreign issues, such as the Salvadoran people’s struggle for justice, the “Palestinian people’s right for identity and territory,” and “the achievements of countries in the socialist camp.”

This political education component was designed to raise the consciousness of Nicaraguans about liberation struggles in other lands and encourage solidarity with those struggles.  It reflected the FSLN’s leftist, socialist, anti-imperialist world-view, which excluded criticism of the Soviet Union as well as identification with struggles such as the Polish Solidarity movement‘s opposition to Soviet domination.  CNSP was governed by a Board of Directors made up of representatives of Sandinista mass organizations.  The board met twice a year to receive reports of activities and delineate strategies.[35]
The potential for building international solidarity was evident in the number of international visitors who came to Nicaragua in the aftermath of the Sandinista triumph.  Many were inspired by the idealism and excitement surrounding the literacy crusade of 1980, the national health campaign of 1981, and the ambitious agricultural reform program.  “Virtually everywhere I went there were people from other countries,” observed Harvey Williams, a professor of sociology from California.  Many internationalists had come, he said, because they thought “what was happening here was good” and wanted to be part of it.
Richard Fagan, professor of Latin American Studies at Stanford University, observed that “the current government of Nicaragua is the first in the country’s entire history that genuinely attempts to improve the living and working conditions of the majority of citizens.”  What impressed many visitors from the U.S., perhaps even more than the FSLN’s commitment to serve the people, was the freedom they had to travel where they wanted, talk to whom they pleased, and pursue their particular interests.  According to Tom Walker, distinguished Latin Americanist scholar at Ohio University, FSLN leaders “seemed determined from the very beginning to be very open. . . . Their attitude was, ‘This is a Nicaraguan revolution.  This is not a Cuban revolution.  We’re going to do things our way.’  And being open was their way.”[36]
The FSLN government welcomed international support from wherever it came – foreign governments, nongovernmental organizations, religious denominations, solidarity organizations, and individual cooperantes – foreigners with technical expertise working in Nicaragua.  In need of such expertise, it placed dozens of internationalists in governmental positions, including Williams at the Ministry of Labor for six months in 1985.  Williams first came to Nicaragua just after the earthquake struck in 1972.  He worked at the Ministry of Labor and taught courses at the University of Central America in Managua until 1976, then returned regularly thereafter.  During the 1980s, Williams and Walker led annual LASA delegations to Nicaragua.  When meeting with critics of the FSLN, noted Williams, they never had to obtain prior governmental approval.[37]
Nicaraguans welcomed U.S. visitors, it should be noted, despite the long history of U.S. support for the hated Somoza regime.  Friendliness toward American citizens was due in part to the many personal ties Nicaraguans had in the U.S. and in part to a common understanding that distinguished between government policies and people.  FSLN leaders reinforced this distinction by describing egregious U.S. policies as “imperialism,” a policy orientation rather than a national character trait.
With the election of Ronald Reagan in November 1980, FSLN leaders recognized the need for more international support from both citizens and governments around the world.  An international conference was held in Managua, January 26-31, 1981, for the purpose of rekindling solidarity networks abroad.  Nicaraguan Ambassador to the United Nations Javier Chamorro, speaking at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco in mid-1981, highlighted the need for solidarity groups to counter rightist attacks on Nicaragua.  “Though the war is over,” he said, “solidarity work is still important to educate the American public about recent developments in Nicaragua and to counteract the campaign of disinformation that is being conducted against Nicaragua.”  Asked about El Salvador, Chamorro denied that Nicaragua was supplying guerrillas with arms and said, “The only thing we can export is our example.”[38]
Support and solidarity during the Contra War (1982-1990)
The rhetoric of international solidarity became more urgent as Contra attacks expanded into a full-fledged counter-revolutionary war.  FSLN leaders emphasized two themes:  the Nicaraguan government’s desire for peace and the Nicaraguan people’s determination to resist an expected U.S. invasion.  “We have learned through our experience that the struggle against U.S. imperialism is carried out on all fronts,” said Carlos Fernando Chamorro, editor of Barricada, speaking at a meeting of some 250 people in Toronto, Canada, on March 31, 1982.  “Solidarity has a fundamental role to play in isolating the enemy, neutralizing other enemies, encouraging other forces, and directly supporting the struggles of the people.”  Chamorro countered U.S. rationales for aggression point by point and ended with a call for the Canadian people’s support:  “We hope that the solidarity work done here might also become a source of strength for us.  We hope it can be united with the efforts of the people of the United States in order to build a very powerful anti-intervention movement.”[39]
FSLN leaders balanced their dire warnings against U.S. intervention with greater efforts to forge bonds of friendship with progressive sectors in the U.S.
Similar appeals were made at other international conferences, such as the Conference of the Standing Committee of Intellectuals for the Sovereignty of the Peoples of Our America, held in Managua on March 4, 1982, and the Continental Conference for Peace and Sovereignty in Central America and the Caribbean, held in Managua from April 21 to 23, 1983.  At the latter, Carlos Nuñez declared, “Our people have rightly announced that the most urgent task is to defend peace,” a task that included not only self-defense against foreign aggression but also “eradicating the root causes of war.”[40]
National Directorate members Tomás Borge, Daniel Ortega, Luis Carrión Cruz, Humberto Ortega Saavedra, and Jaime Wheelock Román all sounded the call for national defense.  Wheelock, speaking at a “May Day” rally on May 1, 1984, before a crowd of some 30,000 people in Chinandega, a town in northwestern Nicaragua, declared that the “world is with Nicaragua . . . Even allies of the United States are opposed to the policy of the Reagan administration.”  He warned that a Vietnam-like quagmire awaited a U.S. invasion:  “And it will cost them to intervene here, because the people are mobilized for defense.  He who intervenes here can expect to suffer tens of thousands of casualties, to be buried with marines and flags back in the United States – that is, if they manage to get out of Nicaragua.”[41]  FSLN leaders balanced these dire warnings against U.S. intervention with greater efforts to forge bonds of friendship with progressive sectors in the U.S., particularly the growing number of peace organizations involved in the Central America movement.  According to Debbie Reuben of Nicaragua Network, “At this time when U.S. aggression has been continuing to increase, we consider that the friendship between our two peoples has only increased.”[42]
One of the oddities of the U.S.-backed Contra War was that Nicaraguan leaders were allowed to travel and speak in the U.S., even if they sometimes had problems obtaining visas.  On December 2, 1983, Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal spoke in San Francisco, at an event sponsored by the local Nicaragua Interfaith Committee for Action.  In October 1984, Daniel Ortega, Miguel d’Escoto, and Nora Astorga Gadea, Nicaragua’s Deputy Representative at the United Nations, visited the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where the Christian-based Habitat for Humanity was rehabilitating tenement housing.  Ortega thanked Habitat for its plans to build low-cost housing in Nicaragua and told residents of the neighborhood, “May the power of construction always be greater than the power of destruction.”[43]
Vilma Nuñez de Escorcia, Vice-President of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court of Justice and a long-term advocate of human rights, spoke at a number of universities on the Nicaraguan legal system.  In Nicaragua, she assisted former New York District Attorney Reed Brody in gathering data on Contra human rights abuses, published in Contra Terror in Nicaragua: Report of a Fact-Finding Mission, September 1984-January 1985 (March 1985).  “I realized,” said Nuñez, “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.”[44]
Other Nicaraguan visitors to the U.S. included FSLN officials Miguel d’Escoto, Sergio Ramírez, and Alejandro Bandaña, mayors of sister cities, religious leaders, and cultural groups.  Rev. Carlos Escorcia, a 30-year old Assembly of God minister from Managua visited Miami, Boston, Bridgeport, Ithaca, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., on a month-long speaking tour sponsored by Nicaragua Network in December 1983.  Nicaragua’s premier Afro-Latin Band, Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy and Mancotal, toured U.S. cities from September 15 to October 30, 1989, sponsored by Nicaragua Network, Witness for Peace, and various local groups.  FSLN officials also submitted opinion articles to U.S. newspapers.  Daniel Ortega had three published in the New York Times (March 13, 1985, January 14, 1988, and November 3, 1989) and the gifted writer, Sergio Ramírez, had one in the same newspaper (July 26, 1983).  Tomás Borge was interviewed by the Washington Post (July 31, 1983) and by Playboy magazine (August 1983).
These Nicaraguan overtures to the American people took place at the same time that the Reagan administration was denouncing the Sandinistas as totalitarian despots.  In a nationally televised speech before Congress on March 16, 1986, President Reagan described Sandinista Nicaragua as a “cancer,” a base for Soviet and Cuban expansion, a threat to the Panama Canal and Mexico, a source of terrorism and drug running, a totalitarian society, and the impetus for “desperate Latin peoples by the millions” to “begin fleeing into the cities of the southern United States.”[45]  The U.S. political culture, however, did not necessarily follow the president’s lead in this anti-communist revival.  The 1980s, in other words, were not the 1950s.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of the difference between official propaganda and public sentiment took place on July 27, 1986, when Daniel Ortega visited the Park Slope United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York, prior to a scheduled speech at the United Nations.  Speaking through a translator, Ortega admonished President Reagan for not abiding by the decision of the World Court.  “If Mr. Reagan is so sure he had peace and justice on his side, why is he so afraid of going to court?” he asked.  He urged Reagan to listen to public opinion.  “International public opinion does have a role up to a point,” said Ortega, “but what Mr. Reagan must take into account is the opinion of Americans themselves.”  His remarks, according to the New York Times, “met with a thunderous ovation and shouts of ‘Viva Nicaragua libre!’”
Brooklyn had recently established a sister city relationship with the Nicaraguan town of San Juan del Rio Coco, and the Park Slope Methodist Church had established a sister congregation relationship with La Merced, a Roman Catholic church in the town.  Eight days before Ortega’s speech, the “Brooklyn/San Juan del Rio Coco project held a parade with a marching salsa band and steel drums to mark July 19, the anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution,” according to a Brooklyn newspaper.[46]  A few weeks after Ortega spoke, the Contras attacked the town of San Juan del Rio Coco, leaving seven residents dead.  Brooklyn residents held a memorial service, attended by Nora Astorga, and sent $2,500 to the community to support a water project and community health clinic.[47]

The Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry

During the Contra War, the Foreign Ministry directed its efforts to isolating the U.S. internationally, even as the U.S. tried to isolate Nicaragua.  Miguel d’Escoto found that many of his counterparts, including the foreign ministers of NATO countries, understood and sympathized with Nicaragua‘s position vis-à-vis the U.S., even if they would not say so publicly.  “It was really interesting,” he said, “how some who were perceived to be the closest friends of the United States did not agree with the U.S. position. . . . I was amazed to see how they understood exactly what the facts were.”[48]
The underfunded Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry held its own in the competition to gain international support and allies.  The United Nations General Assembly passed resolutions endorsing the Contadora negotiations, opposing the U.S. economic embargo against Nicaragua in 1985, and urging U.S. compliance with the World Court decision in 1986.  Vice Minister Tinoco and UN delegate Astorga successfully lobbied African and Asian nations to vote for Nicaragua in gaining a seat on the Security Council in 1983, over the vehement objection of the U.S.  D’Escoto and Tinoco heavily lobbied Western European leaders to reject U.S. requests to cut off aid to Nicaragua.
In September 1984, Secretary of State George Shultz wrote to the foreign ministers of the Common Market nations, “We strongly urge . . . that region-to-region assistance does not lead to increased economic aid or any political support for the Sandinistas.”  The European ministers disregarded the plea and pledged instead to expand economic aid to Central America without pre-conditions.[49]  In May 1985, in direct opposition to the U.S. embargo, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Canada all increased their trade with Nicaragua and extended new credits.  Mexico began sending oil once again.[50]

Seal of the International Court of Justice

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.”[51]
The favorable World Court ruling was a major diplomatic coup for Nicaragua, buttressing European and Latin American opposition to U.S. aid to the Contras.  It was largely at d’Escoto’s insistence that the Nicaraguan government took its case to the World Court in 1984, as some FSLN leaders feared that the Court would rule against Nicaragua in deference to U.S. pressure.  According to Sophia Clark, during a high-level debate on the issue, d’Escoto asserted, “I am the foreign minister; do I make foreign policy or not?”  The National Directorate approved.  “Father Miguel was very clear in setting certain kinds of goals,” said Clark, and he made sure that the Foreign Ministry was working as a team to implement those goals.  “We would bring two or three times a year all of the ambassadors to Managua . . . [for] an intense seminar on what were our foreign policy objectives.”[52]

Padre Miguel with his niece, Sofia M. Clark, who served in the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, Dept. of North American Affairs (photo: Alliance for Global Justice, Nica Notes)

Clark’s job at the North American division of MINREX was to research and analyze political developments in the U.S., such that, when members of Congress came to visit Nicaragua, FSLN officials would know exactly where they stood on the issues, how they had voted, and their party positions.  Many came.  During the Easter Congressional recess in 1985, for example, twenty senators and representatives, Republican and Democrat, came in five separate delegations.[53]   The FSLN had no formal relationship with the Democratic Party leadership, but MINREX officials worked with various members – Tom Harkin, John Kerry, and Christopher Dodd on the Senate side, and Jim Wright and David Bonior on the House side.  Tinoco, in addition to his diplomatic work in the Contadora negotiations, regularly traveled to Washington to meet with Democratic Party members of Congress.  “I did a lot of lobbying,” he said, especially with those identified as “swing votes.”  President Reagan was thus correct in saying that the Sandinistas were lobbying members of Congress, but the presence of foreign officials and lobbyists in Washington was hardly unusual.  The administration, in fact, organized and subsidized anti-Sandinista Nicaraguans to come to Washington to lobby members of Congress and meet the press.

Relations with transnational activist groups
Tinoco, Clark, and other MINREX staff also worked with nongovernmental groups in the U.S. – “think tanks” such as WOLA, IPS, and the Center for International Policy, and activist groups such as the Central America Working Group and Nicaragua Network.  There was much sharing of information on the positions of representatives and strategies of persuasion.  “My perception was that all these groups were very valuable,” said Tinoco.  Their “activities in Nicaragua,” moreover, had “political repercussions” in the form of putting more “pressure on their members of Congress.”  Although “they could not stop the continuation of Reagan’s policy,” he said, “solidarity made it more difficult for Reagan to carry out what he wanted to do and at one point he had to resort to illegal methods – the Iran-Contra scandal.  Solidarity was very important.”  Clark, who worked at different times for MINREX and the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington, described the solidarity movement as “enormously effective” in countering the Reagan administration’s negative stereotypes of Nicaragua and also in helping Nicaragua “survive the embargo.”[54]
The Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington played a supportive role in the anti-Contra War campaign.  It maintained ongoing communication with U.S. activist groups, arranged speaking tours for Sandinista officials, met with members of Congress, published information on issues, such as Nicaragua’s peace initiatives, and submitted letters-to-the-editor to major newspapers.  The embassy was the site of dueling demonstrations on one occasion.

Bill Callahan, co-director of the Quixote Center and Quest for Peace project that raised millions of dollars for Nicaraguan development projects

On March 26, 1985, at 4:00 p.m., Rev. Bill Callahan, director of the Quixote Center, received a telephone call from the Nicaraguan Embassy.  He was told that a pro-contra demonstration was planned for the next day in front of the embassy, organized by a group from Miami called Concerned Citizens for Democracy.  “Can you do anything about it?” asked the embassy staff person.  Callahan met with his staff and volunteers at the Quixote Center and they decided to hold a counter-demonstration.  A flurry of calls to supporters ensued.  The next day, some 200 anti-Contra demonstrators were literally surrounded 150 pro-Contra demonstrators standing in front of the embassy.  Callahan led the former group in offering prayers for peace.  Afterwards, he and five others visited with Ambassador Tünnermann to express their solidarity.[55]

Among the speakers circulated by the Nicaraguan Embassy was Dora María Téllez, who was invited to the annual convention of the American Public Health Association in Las Vegas in September 1986.  According to Clark, who was working at the embassy, “When groups in the U.S. knew that someone would be coming . . . we would start getting calls from different solidarity groups in the U.S., and we would have to communicate with the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Health to let them know that there was an interest, and would she be willing [to speak], because she has to make the time in her schedule to be able to go and visit the different places.”  The various groups, she said, “knew all about what was going on and who Dora María Téllez was.”
Clark accompanied Téllez on speaking engagements in Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Berkeley, prior to the Las Vegas convention, with side trips to hospitals.  Following a speaking tour, the embassy staff would often have follow-up activities, perhaps some form of material support for a Nicaraguan health center or a political statement from a nurses’ union.  “We were particularly looking for alternative ways to give a different image to the media,” said Clark, which often meant highlighting the involvement of local groups and communities in supporting the Nicaraguan people and opposing the administration’s war against Nicaragua.
On the whole, reflected Clark, “I think Nicaraguans were very, very good in what I would call talking in non-ideological terms and also talking on an equal basis.  We weren’t talking down to people.  We weren’t making excuses for ourselves.  We were just saying, you know, how would you feel if people came in and told you that you couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that. . . . So I think people could disagree with us but at least they didn‘t think that we were this horrible monster . . . threatening the security of their country.”  Clark’s service at the embassy ended rather abruptly.  On July 11, 1988, the Nicaraguan government expelled the American Ambassador to Nicaragua, Richard Melton, along with seven other members of the American Embassy at Managua, claiming they had actively supported opposition demonstrations.  The following day, President Ronald Reagan ordered the expulsion of Ambassador Tünnermann and seven others, including Clark.[56]

International visitors and supporters

During the Contra War, international visitors, study tours, and aid projects in Nicaragua only became more abundant.  Sandinista officials made a special effort to meet with international delegations and make them feel welcome and important.  “Nicaragua was more visited during those years than ever before in its history,” said Miguel d‘Escoto, “and then again, by far, more than half of the visitors came from the United States.”  As a priest as well as the Foreign Minister, d’Escoto was especially sought out by religious groups.  He was personally impressed by the Americans who visited him, as he saw in them a genuine empathy for the Nicaraguan people.  They were opposed the Contra War, he said, not because too many Americans were dying – the rationale for much antiwar activism during the Vietnam War – but because their own government was causing so much death and destruction in Nicaragua.[57]
While visiting Nicaragua did not actually constitute an act of solidarity, many visitors became active in the anti-Contra War campaign upon their return to the U.S.  In mid-1985, Salomon Alarcon, a spokesperson for CNSP, told a Washington Post journalist, “Without neglecting the importance of the rest of the world, we think that solidarity from the North American people has a special role to play.  The visitors are . . . very important, because our objective is not only to have these people pick coffee or build houses, but also to have them inform the U.S. public about our process.”  Alarcon estimated that 3,000 U.S. citizens had visited Nicaragua through his committee in 1984, with more arriving through other agencies.[58]
The mission of CNSP broadened during the Contra War period to include hosting international brigadista delegations and assisting in the distribution of humanitarian aid.  The FSLN government’s call for national and international volunteers to help with the coffee harvest in the winter of 1983-84 was relayed by CNSP to solidarity committees in other countries.  Some 1,500 internationalists volunteered that year.  The pattern was repeated in subsequent years and expanded to include cotton harvests and construction and environmental projects.  For the coffee harvest of 1984-85, the FSLN government estimated that 30,000 volunteers were needed to assist 50,000 campesino coffee pickers; and requested 1,000 international volunteers.
CNSP, working with MIDINRA, made arrangements for the international brigadistas and welcomed them when they arrived.  CNSP spokesperson Julia Connelly encouraged a mixed group from England, Scotland, Ireland, and New Zealand “to develop close contact with the Nicaraguans you are working with, to discuss the problems there have been and their hopes for the future.”  Their experiences in Nicaragua would give them “more weight” in their own countries “to describe what things are like.”[59]
For staff member Ana Patricia Elvir, a typical day in 1986 involved receiving an international solidarity brigade in the morning – for example, from the U.S. – and conducting an educational seminar for the group.  Topics would include the state of the counterrevolution, the efforts for peace on behalf of the Sandinista government, the human and material needs resulting from the situation of aggression, and, in that context, the importance of the international volunteers to Nicaragua.  In the evening, she might devote her time to answering the questions of interested foreign journalists or perhaps attend a meeting or demonstration in support of solidarity with the people of South Africa against the apartheid regime and its intervention in Angola.
On June 1, 1985, President Daniel Ortega inaugurated a new international solidarity campaign called “Nicaragua Must Survive” (La Campaña Nicaragua Debe Sobrevivir).  It was designed to help Nicaragua overcome the effects of the recently imposed U.S. embargo by increasing the volume of international material aid received – food, medicines, educational and agricultural supplies – and improving the efficiency of its distribution.  Although Nicaragua received much support from the international community, a large portion of it went to specific projects and particular communities.  CNSP attempted to remedy this situation by creating a centralized distribution system and spreading the aid more evenly.  It also assigned certain kinds of aid to particular foreign groups.  The response to the new campaign from the international community was very positive, according to Elvir, with an estimated 2,000 “international solidarity committees” joining the campaign worldwide.
In Mexico, Argentina, and Canada, the Nicaragua Debe Sobrevivir campaign became known as “Ships for Peace” (Barcos por la Paz), in reference to the ships that embarked for Nicaragua full of supplies collected by “people’s organizations” in these countries.  Elvir estimated the total value of the material contributions to Nicaragua at $5 million annually.  The process of collecting these goods also provided “opportunities to condemn the war and disseminate information about its consequences,” she noted.[60]
In the U.S., the “Nicaragua Must Live” campaign was translated as “Let Nicaragua Live” and primarily promoted by Nicaragua Network.  The latter created a separate Let Nicaragua Live (LNL) project, with its own bank account and staff, of which there were three in 1987.  With the help of local solidarity committees, LNL raised money and gave it directly to CNSP.  LNL also undertook a unique “Oats for Peace” program to supply Nicaraguans with this food staple.  LNL contracted with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a network of African American family farm cooperatives in the South, to grow and process approximately 225 tons of oats, paid for through LNL fundraising efforts.  The program was designed to help struggling black farmers in the South as well as provide a nutritious oatmeal drink for Nicaraguan orphanages and children’s hospitals.  “The first harvest,” noted Nicaragua Network coordinator Chuck Kaufman, “was largely a learning experience with lots of technical problems.  We finally had to bring the oats back to the U.S., rough mill them here, re-bag them, and ship them back for final processing in Nicaragua.”[61]
In 1987, CNSP merged with three other organizations – the Nicaraguan Committee for Peace (CONIPAZ), the Anti-Imperialist Tribunal of Our America, and the Nicaraguan Association of Friendship with the Socialist Countries – to become the Nicaraguan Council for Friendship, Solidarity, and Peace (Consejo Nicaragüense de Amistad, Solidaridad y Paz, or CNASP).   The merger was designed to make the political education tasks of these groups more coherent and efficient.  The goals, according to Elvir, were to promote a unified “new vision of international relations between the peoples of different countries” and secure global condemnation of “the injustice of the war of aggression against Nicaragua” and the U.S. “economic blockade.”[62]
Religious connections
The economic embargo prompted a personal response by Miguel d’Escoto.  On July 7, 1985, at the age of fifty-two, he began a fast that lasted for twenty-six days.  As he explained in Envío, his decision to fast was an act of conscience by a Christian priest “faced with the death and destruction in Nicaragua due to the war of aggression declared against us by the government of the United States.”[63]   Sympathy poured in from around the world.  More than 5,000 people from twenty-eight countries visited d’Escoto in Managua during the first three weeks.  Among them was a delegation of eight American church leaders, including Dominican Sister Marjorie Tuite, founder of the Women’s Coalition to Stop Intervention in Central America in 1982.  Tuite joined d’Escoto in his fast, as did Rev. Philip Cousins, president of the National Council of Churches, and Rabbi Irwin Blank, president of the Synagogue Council of America.  In Mexico, over 700 priests fasted in support of d’Escoto.  The Nicaraguan government declared a “National Fast Day” on July 26.  Thousands of Nicaraguans fasted, and prayer groups and vigils were held around the country that day.  In the U.S., the Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America (IRTFCA, a Protestant group) sponsored “National Fast Days” on July 26 and July 27.  Fifty people in the Detroit area, including Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, fasted during those forty-eight hours.[64]
As a result of their direct experiences in Nicaragua, international visitors “would see the reality of this small country and the injustices of such a small country under attack. So it was the reality, the plain reality, that they were seeing and that they were living that raised their consciences.” – René Nuñez
The FSLN government facilitated transnational religious connections through the Office of Religious Affairs, headed by René Nuñez Téllez.  The office welcomed visiting religious delegations, gave them an overview of developments in Nicaragua, and, in some cases, arranged for their active participation in projects.  Most foreign religious groups already had contacts in Nicaragua, often a sister church.  “The vehicle for communication and for bringing people down was always Nicaraguans and people from the church, specifically,” said Nuñez.  Regarding the many religious delegations that arrived, organized by denominational committees, Witness for Peace, Religious Task Force on Central America, and other groups, “We would give them an introductory talk about Nicaragua and answer questions they had,” then arrange for them to visit various programs, such as “the vaccination effort, the literacy drive, the adult education projects, health projects. . . . At the end, we would have another meeting to have a political interchange, suggestions, questions, anything.  This is to say, there was a government very interested in sharing with them.  After visiting different places in the country, seeing the programs that were in place, seeing the necessities of the people, they would come and say they wanted to help the Revolution, help Nicaragua” – which, for Nuñez was one and the same.  Their desire to help, he judged, was the result of their direct experiences in Nicaragua.  “Their consciences would be raised because they would see the reality of this small country and the injustices of such a small country under attack.  So it was the reality, the plain reality, that they were seeing and that they were living that raised their consciences.  And that’s where we saw them rejecting the official government line of the U.S. and working so that Nicaraguans would have the right to develop their own country.”  The religious groups that undertook projects in Nicaragua developed both “solidarity amongst the different churches that were doing work here” and “solidarity with Nicaragua,” he said.

René Nuñez Téllez, served as Secretary of the FSLN Directorate, Director of the Office on Religious Affairs, and Minister to the President’s Office (Managua Institute of History)

Nuñez himself had grown up Catholic.  He had gone to church and confessed once a year during his youth.  “But once I became a university student,” he said, “I left my religious practices for my political evolution.  At that point, liberation theology was not around then, and it seemed to me that it was more important to dedicate myself to struggling for poor people than to be praying in church.”  With the advent of liberation theology, however, Nuñez found congruence with his political beliefs.  “There is no contradiction between being both Christian and Marxist,” he said.

The Office of Religious Affairs mixed its encouragement of transnational religious solidarity with the promotion of the “popular church” and liberation theology within Nicaragua.  One of its activities was to sponsor annual international conferences in Managua for “representatives of this line of thinking,” said Nuñez.[65]  This, of course, exacerbated tension with the institutional church, which viewed state support for the “popular church” as an attempt to undermine its authority and usurp religion for political purposes.  There was, however, an ongoing progressive religious movement in Nicaragua that had its own bases of support apart from the FSLN, notably in the Maryknoll and Jesuit Catholic orders, the Protestant-based CEPAD, and the Nicaraguan Conference of Religious (CONFER), which regularly hosted delegations of international visitors.  Father Donald Mendoza, an educator, priest, and member of CONFER, began working with Christian base communities in the mid-1960s.  During the 1980s, he helped establish the León-Minnesota sister state program and traveled to Minnesota on a fifteen-day speaking tour.[66]
Sister city connections
The sister city movement played a major role in stimulating and securing international support and solidarity at the local level during the 1980s.  In 1979, only one partnership existed, the pairing of Nicaragua and the state of Wisconsin, established in 1964.  This partnership was a product of the Alliance for Progress and designed to reinforce Cold War anti-communism.  By 1988, there were 293 pairings – 209 with European cities and eight-four with U.S. cities.[67]  These new pairings rejected the Cold War framework of old and embraced a kind of grassroots détente that emphasized a common sense of humanity.  According to Nicaraguan researchers Manuel Ortega Hegg and Günther Maihold, the principal motor of what would become the Sister City Movement were the numerous foreign delegations that arrived in Nicaragua between 1980 and 1983, with Europeans being the most influential.  Nicaragua attracted much solidarity and sister cities provided a practical means for expressing support.  It was “a solidarity movement without precedent,” according to Hegg and Maihold.
The purposes of sister cities, from the Nicaraguan side, were threefold:  to establish cooperation, solidarity, and interchange between Nicaraguans and the peoples of different countries; to develop and assist local development projects in Nicaragua; and to resist the Reagan administration’s attempt to isolate Nicaragua internationally and strangle it economically.[68]  The visiting Western European delegations generally viewed sister cities through the lens of the economic divide between rich and poor countries.  The leftist and humanitarian groups that took the lead in the sister city movement saw an opportunity to heal this division on a small scale.  Nicaraguan-European sister cities took on specific developmental projects on the Nicaraguan side, the top three areas being education, health care, and municipal services.
Larger Nicaraguan cities quickly developed multiple partnerships, with each partner tackling a different project.  Estelí, the third largest city in Nicaragua, partnered with no less than seventeen European cities – four in Germany, three in France, two in Italy, two in Sweden, and one each Holland, Great Britain, Austria, Spain, Finland, and Norway.[69]  The good works produced by these partnerships included the construction of rural schools, a recreational center, and a children’s park, and funds for hospital repairs and health services.

The Norwalk (CT)-Nagarote Sister City Project began in 1986 and continues today. Projects include reforestation and a teen afterschool program (photo)

Sister city connections were much like religious connections in that the impetus came largely from the grassroots.  The FSLN government encouraged these partnerships, viewing them as an arena for both popular participation and international solidarity, but offered only limited assistance and little direction.  Of 138 sister cities surveyed by Hegg and Maihold, exactly one-half received some type of governmental assistance in getting started, while the other half received none.  Ten percent received help from religious agencies.  The help provided by the FSLN government came in the form of making initial contacts, assisting with communication and travel arrangements, and, in some cases, helping local committees get started.

There were many initial problems at the outset, according to Hegg and Maihold.  The identified three sets:  the first involved maintaining communication between cities; the second involved the planning, management, and execution of projects, reflecting a lack of technical expertise and sometimes financial resources; and the third involved group dynamics of sister city committees (Comités de Hermanamientos) and their relationship to local municipalities.  Political controversy was not reported as a significant problem in local committees, indicating widespread agreement on the basic objectives.[70]   The spirit of Sandinismo seemed to prevail, enabled by the participatory character and productive results of sister city projects.
The point person in the FSLN government for sister cities was Comandante Mónica Baltodano Marcenaro, working in the capacity of Minister for Regional and Municipal Affairs.  She welcomed foreign delegations and helped arrange their local meetings, at least until DAMUR was created in 1985 and assumed some of this responsibility with the growing number of pairings.  In one instance, Baltodano welcomed a delegation from the Spanish city of Santa Coloma de Gramenet, led by Mayor Miguel Nuñez, and encouraged a partnership with Estelí.  Upon arriving in the city, the Spanish delegation and local representatives agreed on the construction of a large health center as the main cooperative project.[71]
Partnerships with cities in the United States emerged gradually in the first half of the 1980s, then surged between 1986 and 1988.  The number of U.S.-Nicaragua pairings grew from ten in 1985 to twenty in June 1986, to seventy-seven in mid-1987, to eighty-four in 1988.  WCCN’s first annual conference in Boulder, Colorado in April 1985 was attended by fifteen U.S. organizers and Luís Mendez from the Nicaraguan Embassy.  Three years later, representatives from fifty-five U.S. cities were on hand at the sister city conference held in Managua from July 20 to 26, 1988, in conjunction with the ninth anniversary of the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution.[72]
The Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington helped with initial contacts and applications to DAMUR.  A letter from the Nicaraguan Embassy to WCCN on July 16, 1987, encouraged the group to continue working “for a peaceful settlement to the conflict that is killing so many of our people and causing turmoil in the Central American region.”[73]  Once approved, U.S.-Nicaragua partnerships settled into a direct relationship between the sister city committees and respective municipal governments.  According to Elizabeth Sander, coordinator of the Minnesota-León sister state project, “The Sandinistas do very little in telling us what to do or what to tell people back in the States.  I’m given a free hand here.  I’ve never been told not to do something, and they’ve never given me information and said, ‘You’ve got to send this back to Minnesota.’” Sander was one of a number of paid staff persons, sponsored by the U.S. committee, who lived and worked in their Nicaraguan sister city.[74]
Danger zones
International brigadistas, Witness for Peace volunteers, and cooperantes working in remote areas of Nicaragua all lived in the midst of Contra violence.  The Contras killed two internationalists in the spring of 1983, Pierre Grosjean, a French doctor, and Albrecht Phlaum, a West German doctor, both of which elicited protests in their home countries.  Many internationalists were detained or kidnapped, including Americans, but eventually released unharmed.  The tolerance shown to internationals was presumably due to the Reagan administration not wanting to antagonize Congress or its Western European allies.  This tolerance did not extend to Nicaraguans working alongside them.  MIDINRA reported that during the coffee harvest in the winter of 1984-85, the Contras killed 131 Nicaraguan civilians engaged in picking, processing, or transporting coffee beans.[75]
The FSLN government was very concerned with the safety of internationalists in Nicaragua.  According to René Nuñez, the various delegations that “arrived with the idea of being a shield to protect the Nicaraguan people by their presence” would still have a measure of government protection.  “What we would do is have our military intelligence scout areas where they wanted to go beforehand and if battles were not being fought there at that moment, we would say, go ahead; but if the area was a heavy conflict zone, then we would ask them not to go to that area. . . . When they would travel to a more dangerous zone, the Army would know that and would actually open a periphery zone around them enabling the Army to confront anything that would happen before it got to them.”  With regard to Witness for Peace volunteers, Nuñez noted it was not in the interest of the Contras to harm Americans, given that their sponsor was the U.S. government.  As such, the presence of WFP volunteers in communities seemed to deter Contra attacks.  “It is obvious,“ said Nuñez, “that the presence of the North Americans in more heavily fought over zones limited the actions that the Contras would take in those areas.”[76]
Contra tolerance toward internationals grew thin in 1986.  The Contras began mining roads to remote areas, resulting in the indiscriminate killing and maiming of civilians.  On February 16, 1986, a pick-up truck driven by Swiss agronomist Maurice Demierre hit a land mine; following the explosion, the Contras, waiting in ambush, killed two women, two children, and Maurice.  The Contras also began to warn internationals to leave Nicaragua.  In May, eight West Germans were kidnapped while working on a construction project for displaced families in the farming community of Jacinto.  They were held for twenty-five days, during which time Contra leader “Franklin” told them that their detention was intended as a lesson for other internationals in the country.  On July 28, the Contras ambushed two civilian vehicles in the northern province of Jinotega, killing five, including three internationals – from West Germany, Switzerland, and France.
The following day, nearly 2,000 internationalists and Nicaraguans rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in Managua in protest.  Yet the murders appeared to have their intended effect, which was to cut off international support for governmental programs.  The Swiss and West German governments demanded that the Nicaraguan government take measures to protect their citizens or else they would have to halt their development projects.  The FSLN government acceded to these requests, calling back 430 foreign brigadistas then working in war zones and requiring all internationalists working on government projects to relocate to well-protected areas.  Exempted from the FSLN order were religious groups not directly involved in governmental projects, such as Witness for Peace.  “We want to show you don’t have to die to be in solidarity with Nicaragua,” said Salomón Alarcón, CNSP spokesperson.  Many internationalists were saddened by the order, as they hoped to finish the schools, health clinics, and other projects they had begun.  The Contras, meanwhile, continued to press their case.  “In a broadcast Sept. 5 on its Honduras-based radio,” reported the Washington Post (September 21, 1986), “the Nicaraguan Democratic Force called on foreign governments to warn their citizens of the perils of traveling in areas of its operations.  It named 11 regions as war zones, covering nearly all of Nicaragua.”[77]

Ben Linder, an engineer from Portland, OR, was well known for his unicycle clowning

Some internationals continued to work in areas where Contras were active.  One was Ben Linder, a young engineer from Portland, Oregon, working on a rural hydroelectric project near the village of El Cua.  He was killed by the contras on April 28, 1987, the only American to die at the hands of the Contras.  In his honor, U.S. citizens living in Nicaragua named their Managua meetinghouse Casa Ben Linder.  In Washington, a one-day hearing on Linder’s death was held in the House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs on May 13, 1987.  Chairman Rep. George Crockett (D-MI) opened the meeting with a statement calling for “an end to a policy which threatens American lives” as well as “innocent citizens of Nicaragua.”  He noted that since 1981, “2,032 women, 1,996 children, 176 school teachers and 52 doctors have been kidnapped, killed or wounded.  There are 9,132 war orphans and 250,000 displaced persons.”

Elliot Abrams, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, made no apologies for the Contras and instead called for Americans to leave Nicaragua.  He said that “there is an enormous amount of danger for those roughly 1,500/2,000 Americans in Nicaragua.  And this hearing may actually do some good if it alerts more Americans who are thinking of going down there to the danger.”  He did not mention that the source of the danger was the U.S.-backed Contras.  Michael Ratner, Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, testified that actions by the Contras and statements by their leaders in 1986 indicated a new policy of killing internationalists in order to scare them away.  “I believe the Contras are now willing to take the risk of one or two days of bad publicity in order to stem the flow of foreigners to Nicaragua,” he said.[78]

Whatever the official policy of the Contras, their violence against internationalists did not stop them from coming to Nicaragua.  According to the Envío team (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.[79]

The internationals who served in Nicaragua won the respect of the Nicaraguan people.  A Washington Post reporter who embedded himself in a volunteer work brigade in 1985 noted, “The word ‘brigadista’ carried power.  Unlike the Spanish world for journalist, ‘periodista,’ which often inspired more questions than it answered, ‘brigadista’ implied work, political support and comradeship.”[80]  The various international groups also developed a sense of comradeship with each other.  Pacifist, leftist, veterans, feminist, human rights, and humanitarian groups found common ground in working to end the Contra War and help the Nicaraguan people.


[1] In September 1981, President Reagan signed a “counterpropaganda initiative” proposed by Charles Z. Wick, head of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), designed “to cope with Soviet propaganda and disinformation.”  Dubbed “Project Truth,” the initiative established working groups for various regions and issues, with one devoted exclusively to Nicaragua.  This USIA operation set the tone for later creations such as the Office of Public Diplomacy (S/LPD) and White House Outreach Group.  Wick had no international or foreign policy experience prior to his appointment in 1981.  His credentials for office lay in being a long-time friend of Ronald Reagan, an excellent fundraiser, and a conservative ideologue.  See Nicholas J. Cull, The Cold War and the United States Information Agency:  American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 408.

[2] S/LPD Summary Report, Dec. 1, 1984, 2-4, NSA, Iran-Contra collection, No. IC00639; and 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, NSA, Iran-Contra collection, IC04287.

[3] Kate Semarad, Associate Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, “Public Diplomacy and Central America,” Memorandum to Gerald Helman, May 1, 1983 (11 pp.), 1, National Security Archive (NSA), Iran-Contra collection, IC00092,

[4] Geraldine O’Leary de Macias, “Sandinista Disinformation,” Public Diplomacy Office Review, Sept. 1, 1984, non-classified report (50 pp.), 1-3, 6, 13, NSA, Nicaragua collection, NI02192.

[5] William Perry and Peter Wehner, Institute for the Study of the Americas, “The Latin Americanist Establishment: A Survey of Involvement; An Interpretive Report,” Jan. 1, 1985, Public Diplomacy Office Review copy, NSA, Iran-Contra collection, IC00683. William Perry signed a contract with S/LPD for $9,850 on July 19, 1984. Regarding Perry’s proposed study, the contract stated: “His proposal is essential to achieving our public diplomacy objectives. Mr. Perry’s study on the present Latin Americanist establishment will provide an important first step in identifying principal groups, programs and institutions currently active in Latin American affairs area.” Quoted from “Purchase Order Contract for William Perry” (Non-classified Memorandum), July 11, 1984 (9 pp.); NSA, Iran Contra collection, IC00479.

[6] Otto J. Reich, “Public Diplomacy Plan for Europe,” Secret Memorandum to Walter Raymond, Jr., July 29, 1985 (4 pp.), 1, NSA, Iran-Contra collection, IC01369; and U.S., State Dept., Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (S/LPD), “Ninety-Day Plan,” Revision 5, Dec. 17, 1985 (12 pp.), 2, NSA, Iran-Contra collection, IC02006.  The specious charge that the peace activists in the U.S. were responsible for the decline of support for U.S. Central America policies in Europe was a roundabout way to avoid the conclusion that U.S. policies themselves were not supported abroad.  See a full discussion of this in the linked page, Special resources for research on the Central America Movement, Section 6, “U.S. Information Agency surveys of European and Latin American opinion – an interpretive essay and primary sources.”  The section utilized surveys and reports of the U.S. Information Agency.

[7] Col. Daniel Jacobowitz, “Public Diplomacy Action Plan: Support for the White House Educational Campaign,” March 12, 1985, NSA, Iran-Contra collection, IC00934, 2-3.

[8] 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 (7 pp.), 1, NSA, Iran-Contra collection, IC03439.

[9] Joanne Omang, “Catholic Groups Differ With Pope Over Nicaragua,” New York Times, July 23, 1984, A1.

[10] 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.

[11] “A Reagan Interview,” Washington Post, April 2, 1985, p. A12 (the interviewers were Lou Cannon and Dave Hoffman); and President Ronald Reagan, “Radio Address to the Nation on the Central American Peace Proposal,” April 20, 1985, The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library,  See also, David Hoffman, “Reagan Attacks Nicaragua Plan, Washington Post, April 21, 1985, A1.

[12] John Felton, “Reagan and the ‘Contra’ Question: Cloudy Policy Goals, Cloudy Outlook on Hill,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report Online (March 15. 1986): 601-605,

[13] President Ronald Reagan, “Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a White House Luncheon for Regional Editors and Broadcasters,” June 13, 1986, The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan.

[14] Allan C. Brownfield and J. Michael Waller, The Revolution Lobby (Washington, D.C.:  Council for Inter-American Security and the Inter-American Security Educational Institute, 1985); Curtin Winsor and the Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy, The Washington Battle for Central America:  The Unmet Challenge of the “Red Chorus” (Washington, D.C.:  Washington Institute for Values in Public Policy, 1986); Dennis L. Bark, ed., The Red Orchestra:  Instruments of Soviet Policy in Latin America and the Caribbean (Stanford, CA:  Hoover Institution Press, 1986); Stephen S. Powell, Second Front:  Advancing Latin American Revolution in Washington (Washington, DC:  Capital Research Center, 1986); and James Tyson, Prophets or Useful Idiots?  Church Organizations Attacking U.S. Central America Policy (Washington, DC:  Center for Public Diplomacy Studies/Council for the Defense of Freedom, 1986).  See also, Francis L. Bouchey, ed., The Real Secret War:  Sandinista Political Warfare and Its Effects on Congress (Washington, D.C.:  Council for Inter-American Security and the Inter-American Security Educational Institute, 1987); and J. Michael Waller, Consolidating the Revolution:  How the Sandinistas’ Support Apparatus Operates in the United States (Washington, DC:  Council for Inter-American Security, 1986).

[15] “Contract Purchase Order to Pay J. Michael Waller – Resume Attached” (Non-Classified Purchase Order, August 3, 1984), 5 pp., NSA, Iran-Contra collection, IC00524.

[16] “The Embassy of Nicaragua Informs U.S. Citizens Traveling to Nicaragua” (advertisement), New York Times, July 3, 1983, E6.

[17] Sharon E. Nepstad, “Nicaragua Libre:  High-Risk Activism in the U.S.-Nicaragua Solidarity Movement” (Ph.D. diss., Sociology, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, 1996), 67.  Nepstad’s study involved in-depth interviews with thirty-two U.S. brigadistas.

[18] David Burnham, “F.B.I. Questions Visitors to Nicaragua,” New York Times, April 18, 1985, p. A3; and Howard Kurtz, “FBI Probing Nicaragua Visitors; Bureau Declines to Explain Purpose; Rep. Edwards Plans Hearings,” New York Times, May 12, 1987, A12.  See also Ross Gelbspan, Break-Ins, Death Threats, and the FBI:  The Covert War against the Central American Movement (Boston:  South End Press, 1991); Brian Glick, War at Home:  Covert Action against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It (Boston:  South End Press, 1989); and Margaret Leahy, “The Harassment of Nicaraguanists and Fellow-Travelers,” in Thomas Walker, ed., Reagan Versus the Sandinistas:  The Undeclared War on Nicaragua (Boulder, CO:  Westview Press, 1987): 228-46.

[19] 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 “Senate Panel Criticizes FBI Investigations,” Washington Times, July 17, 1989.

[20] Jim Wallis, “U.S. Churches and the Contra War,” Sojourners, May 1989, 4.

[21] Miguel d’Escoto, in person interview with the author (Roger Peace) and Joseph Mulligan, S.J., Managua, March 12, 2010; and “Maryknoll Welcomes Nicaraguan,” New York Times, June  30, 1986, p. B2.

[22] Miguel d’Escoto (based on an interview by Sojourners), “An Unfinished Canvas,” Sojourners, March 1983.

[23] Rita Clark, telephone interview with the author, Oct. 30, 2006; and Sophia Clark, in person interview with the author, Managua, March 9, 2010.

[24] Tomás Borge, “This Revolution Was Made to Create a New Society” (excerpts from speech given in Managua on May 1, 1982), reprinted in Bruce Marcus, ed., Nicaragua:  The Sandinista People’s Revolution; Speeches by Sandinista Leaders (New York:  Pathfinder Press, 1985), 22.  See also Tomás Borge, “Combatientes de la Solitaridad y Defensa de la Revolución,” in La Dirección Nacional en el Primer Encuentro Internacional de Solidaridad con Nicaragua El Salvador Vencerá (Managua:  Centro de Publicaciones “Silvio Mayorga,” Departamento de Propaganda y Educación Politica del F.S.L.N., Febrero de 1981).

[25] Ernesto Cardenal, “Toward a New Democracy of Culture” (excepts from the statement of Ernesto Cardenal before UNESCO in Paris, April 17, 1982), reprinted in Peter Rosset and John Vandermeer, eds., Nicaragua:  Unfinished Revolution; the New Nicaragua Reader (New York:  Grove Press, 1986), p. 417.

[26] Dora María Téllez, in person interview with the author, Managua, March 8, 2010, with Joseph Mulligan translating.  Note that Dora María went on a hunger strike in 2008 and again in 2022 to protest against President Daniel Ortega’s “institutional dictatorship,” which included banning opposition parties and imprisoning critics.

[27] René Nuñez Téllez, in person interview with the author, Managua, March 11, 2010, with translation by Galen Cohee Baynes; and EPICA Task Force, Nicaragua:  A People’s Revolution (Washington, D.C.:  EPICA, 1980).

[28] Margaret Randall, Sandino’s Daughters:  Testimonies of Nicaraguan Women in Struggle, edited by Lunda Yanz (Vancouver/Toronto:  New Star Books, 1981), 53.

[29] EPICA Task Force, Nicaragua:  A People’s Revolution, 97.

[30] Against Imperialist Aggressions and Intervention in Central America and the Caribbean:  Continental Conference for Peace and Sovereignty in Central America and the Caribbean, Managua, Nicaragua, April 21-23, 1983 (Managua:  Conference Proceedings, 1983), 27.

[31] Victor Hugo Tinoco, in person interview with the author, Managua, March 10, 2010, with Joseph Mulligan translating.  The independence of agencies was also noted by Dora María Téllez in an interview with the author.

[32] Miguel d’Escoto interview with the author; and Alejandro Bandaña, “The Foreign Policy of the Nicaraguan Revolution,” in Thomas W. Walker, ed., Nicaragua in Revolution (New York:  Praeger, 1982), 323.

[33] Junta for National Reconstruction, “The Philosophy and Policies of the Government of Nicaragua” (March 1982), reprinted in Peter Rosset and John Vandermeer, eds., The Nicaraguan Reader:  Documents of a Revolution under Fire (New York:  Grove Press, 1983), 261.

[34] Richard Fagan, “The Nicaraguan Crisis,” Monthly Review, Vol. 4, No. 6 (Nov. 1982); reprinted in ibid., 30.

[35] Ana Patricia Elvir, email communication with the author, September 2007 and December 2009.  Elvir joined CNSP staff in 1986.

[36] Harvey Williams, in person interview with the author, Managua, June 26, 2006; Fagan, “The Nicaraguan Crisis,” 37; and Thomas W. Walker, telephone interview with the author, May 21, 2007.

[37] Harvey Williams interview with the author.

[38] Annie O’Connor, “Nicaraguan Ambassador to U.N. Urges Solidarity,” Nicaraguan Perspectives, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Fall 1981), 15.

[39] Carlos Fernando Chamorro, “Without Solidarity It Is Difficult to Talk About Revolution” (Toronto, Canada, March 31, 1982), reprinted in Bruce Marcus, ed., Nicaragua:  the Sandinista People’s Revolution; Speeches by Sandinista Leaders (New York:  Pathfinder Press, 1985), 14, 17.

[40] Against Imperialist Aggressions, 21.

[41] Jamie Wheelock, “The Sandinista Front Is the Organization of the Working People” (May 1, 1984), reprinted in Marcus, ed., Nicaragua:  the Sandinista People’s Revolution, 284.

[42] Edward Cody, “Americans Pay Tribute to a Revolution,” Washington Post, July 23, 1985, A9.

[43] “Construction Brigade Leaves for Nicaragua,” Brigadista Bulletin #10, November 1984, NACLA archives, reel #11, Latin America Collection, University of Florida Smathers Library.

[44] Vilma Nuñez de Escorcia, interview with the author, Managua, June 26, 2006, with translation by Harold Urbina Cruz.

[45] Bernard Weinraub, “Reagan Condemns Nicaragua in Plea for Aid to Rebels,” New York Times, March 17, 1986, A1.

[46] “Sandinista Makes His Case On a Brooklyn Church Visit,” New York Times, July 28, 1986, A2; and Liz Koch, “Marchers Bridge Nicaragua/U.S. Gap,” The Phoenix (Brooklyn community newspaper), July 29, 1986, 1, quoted in Liz Chilsen and Sheldon Rampton, Friends in Deed:  The Story of U.S.-Nicaragua Sister Cities (Madison:  Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua, 1988), 50.

[47] Lydia Chavez, “Nicaragua Is Aided by Sister City Projects,” New York Times, Feb. 1, 1987, E6.

[48] Miguel d’Escoto interview with the author.

[49] George de Loma, “Europe vows to expand Latin Aid,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 30, 1984, 3.

[50] William M. LeoGrande, In Our Backyard:  The United States in Central America, 1977-1992 (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 430.

[51] “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.

[52] Sophia Clark interview with the author.

[53] Envío team, “The Embargo:  A Time for Solidarity,” Envío, No. 47 (May 1985).

[54] Victor Hugo Tinoco interview with the author; and Sophia Clark interview with the author.

[55] Bill Callahan, in person interview with the author, Hyattsville, MD, May 25, 2006; and “Pro-Sandinistas, Opponents March,” Washington Post, March 28, 1985, D5.

[56] Sophia Clark interview with the author; and John M. Goshko, “Expelled Nicaraguan Envoy Beats Deadline; Tunnermann, 7 Others Ousted in Retaliation for Sandinista Action Against U.S.,” Washington Post, July 16, 1988, A16.

[57] Miguel d’Escoto interview with the author.

[58] Edward Cody, “Americans Pay Tribute to a Revolution,” Washington Post, July 23, 1985, A9.

[59] Mary Dakin, et. al., eds., Nicaragua:  4th Battle of the Coffee Harvest (London: The Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign, circa early 1986), 1.

[60] Ana Patricia Elvir, email communications with the author.

[61] Chuck Kaufman and Katherine Hoyt, Nicaragua Network coordinators, email communications with the author, September 2007.

[62] Ana Patricia Elvir, email communications with the author.

[63] Envío team, “Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Fasts for Peace:  An Interview with Father Miguel D’Escoto,” Envío, No. 49 (July 1985).

[64] “Nicaragua Official Expected to End Fast,” Washington Post, August 3, 1985, A25; Katherine Hoyt, 30 Years of Memories:  Dictatorship, Revolution, and Nicaragua Solidarity (Washington, D.C.:  Nicaragua Network Education Fund, 1996), 141; and Millie Thayer, “Priest’s Fast Ignites Widespread Support,” Central America Update, Vol. 2, No. 6 (Sept. 1985), 3.

[65] René Nuñez interview with the author. See also, Envío team, “The Views of René Núñez,” Envío, No. 132, July 1992,

[66] Father Donald Mendoza, conversation with the author, Managua, June 18, 2006.  A compilation of letters and statements by Catholic and Protestant leaders and groups, both Latin American and North American, was published in Guillermo Meléndez, ed., Queremos Los Paz!  documentos de organizaciones y grupos cristianos sobre la paz en Centroamérica (San Jose, Costa Rica:  Departamento Ecuménico de Investigaciones, 1984).

[67] Chilsen and Rampton, Friends in Deed, appendixes.

[68] This outline of objectives is a summary of those listed by Manuel Ortega Hegg and Günther Maihold in La Cooperación Intermunicipal e Intercomunal y Los Hermanamientos de Ciudades en Nicaragua 1980-1990 (Managua:  Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 1991), 13, 8, 18-19.

[69] This list combines information from Hegg and Maihold, 56, and Chilsen and Rampton, Friends in Deed, 138.

[70] Hegg and Maihold, La Cooperación Intermunicipal, 10, 27-29.

[71] Mónica Baltodano, “Desde Nicaragua,” La Factoría, No. 37 (September-December 2008),

[72] Chilsen and Rampton, Friends in Deed, 3, 6, 22; and Hegg and Maihold, La Cooperación Intermunicipal, 14.

[73] Zelmira Garcia C. (Counselor, Nicaraguan Embassy, Washington, D.C.), letter to WCCN, July 16, 1987, WHS archive, Box 1, Folder 27.

[74] Chilsen and Rampton, Friends in Deed, 49.

[75] Mary Dakin, et. al., eds., Nicaragua:  4th Battle of the Coffee Harvest, 2.

[76] René Nuñez, interview with the author.

[77] “Foreign Volunteers Ordered to Quit Nicaraguan War Zones – Move Follows Contra Attacks on West European Workers,” Washington Post, Sept. 21, 1988, p. A21; and “Prepared Statement of Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights,”  United States volunteers in Nicaragua, 96.

[78] United States volunteers in Nicaragua, 2, 65, 96.

[79] Envío team, “International Solidarity on the Upswing,” Envío, No. 80 (February 1988),

[80] Neil Henry, “Inside the Revolution,” Washington Post, Sept. 29, 1985, 6.

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Cite this article:

Bibliography:  Peace, Roger. “The Politics of Transnational Solidarity: Washington Versus Managua.”  United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2022,
Endnotes or footnotes:  Roger Peace, “The Politics of Transnational Solidarity: Washington Versus Managua,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2022,