World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000007548
Reproduction Date:

Title: Contras  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Sandinista National Liberation Front, History of Nicaragua (1979–90), Iran–Contra affair, Reagan Doctrine, Gang of Four (pro-Contra)
Collection: 1980S, Anti-Communist Organizations, Central Intelligence Agency Operations, Cold War Conflicts, Cold War Rebellions, Counter-Revolutionaries, Far-Right Politics, Guerrilla Organizations, History of Nicaragua, History of the Foreign Relations of the United States, Iran–contra Affair, Nicaraguan Anti-Communists, Nicaraguan Contras, Nicaraguan Revolution, Nicaragua–united States Relations, Rebellions in North America, Terrorism in Nicaragua, Wars Involving the United States
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Nicaraguan Contras
Participant in the Nicaraguan Revolution
Nicaraguan Contra militia
Active 1979–1990
Ideology Various
Leaders FDN – Commandante Franklin
ARDE Frente Sur – Cupula of 6 Regional Commandantes
YATAMA – Commandante Blas
Misura – Steadman Fagoth
Area of operations All rural areas of Nicaragua with the exclusion of Pacific Coast, from Rio Coco in the north to Rio San Juan in the south
Strength 23,000
Allies  United States
Opponents FSLN
Battles and wars Major operations at La Trinidad, Rama highway, and Siuna and La Bonanza. Numerous government bases overrun throughout Jinotega, Matagalpa, Zelaya Norte, Zelaya Sur, Chontales, and Rio San Juan provinces.

The contras (some references use the capitalized form, "Contras") is a label given to the various rebel groups that were active from 1979 through to the early 1990s in opposition to the Nicaraguan Resistance.

From an early stage, the rebels received financial and military support from the U.S. government, and their military significance decisively depended on it. After U.S. support was banned by Congress, the Reagan administration covertly continued it. These covert activities culminated in the Iran–Contra affair.

The term "contra" comes from the Spanish contra, which means against but in this case is short for la contrarrevolución, in English "the counter-revolution". Some rebels disliked being called contras, feeling that it defined their cause only in negative terms, or implied a desire to restore the old order. Rebel fighters usually referred to themselves as comandos ("commandos"); peasant sympathizers also called the rebels los primos ("the cousins"). From the mid-1980s, as the Reagan administration and the rebels sought to portray the movement as the "democratic resistance," members started describing themselves as la resistencia.

During the war against the Sandinista government, the contras carried out many human rights violations, and evidence suggests that these were systematically committed as an element of warfare strategy. Contra supporters often tried to downplay these violations, or countered that the Sandinista government carried out much more. In particular, the Reagan administration engaged in a campaign to alter public opinion on the contras which has been denoted as "white propaganda."


  • History 1
    • Origins 1.1
    • Main groups 1.2
    • Unity efforts 1.3
  • U.S. military and financial assistance 2
    • Political background 2.1
    • Illegal covert operations 2.2
    • Propaganda 2.3
    • International Court of Justice ruling 2.4
  • Human rights violations 3
    • Controversy 3.1
  • Military successes and election of Violeta Chamorro 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9



The Contras were not a monolithic group, but a combination of three distinct elements of Nicaraguan society:[1]

  • Ex-guardsmen of the Nicaraguan National Guard and other right-wing figures who had fought for Nicaragua's ex-dictator Somoza[1]—these later were especially found in the military wing of the FDN.[2] Remnants of the Guard later formed groups such as the Fifteenth of September Legion, the Anti-Sandinista Guerrilla Special Forces, and the National Army of Liberation. Initially however, these groups were small and conducted little active raiding into Nicaragua.[3]
  • Anti-Somozistas who had supported the revolution but felt betrayed by the Sandinista government[1] – e.g. Edgar Chamorro, prominent member of the political directorate of the FDN,[4] or Jose Francisco Cardenal, who had briefly served in the Council of State before leaving Nicaragua out of disagreement with the Sandinista government's policies and founding the Nicaraguan Democratic Union (UDN), an opposition group of Nicaraguan exiles in Miami.[5] Another example are the MILPAS (Milicias Populares Anti-Sandinistas), peasant militias led by disillusioned Sandinista veterans from the northern mountains. Founded by Pedro Joaquín González (known as "Dimas"), the Milpistas were also known as chilotes (green corn). Even after his death, other MILPAS bands sprouted during 1980–1981. The Milpistas were composed largely of the campesino (peasant) highlanders and rural workers.[6][7][8][9]
  • Nicaraguans who had avoided direct involvement in the revolution but opposed the Sandinista regime.[1]

Main groups

Contra Commandos from FDN and ARDE Frente Sur, Nueva Guinea area in 1987
Members of ARDE Frente Sur taking a smoke break after routing the FSLN garrison at El Serrano in southeast Nicaragua in 1987.

The CIA and Argentine intelligence, seeking to unify the anti-Sandinista cause before initiating large-scale aid, persuaded 15 September Legion, the UDN and several former smaller groups to merge in September 1981 as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (Fuerza Democrática Nicaragüense, FDN).[10] Although the FDN had its roots in two groups made up of former National Guardsmen (of the Somoza regime), its joint political directorate was led by businessman and former anti-Somoza activist Adolfo Calero Portocarrero.[11] Edgar Chamorro later stated that there was strong opposition within the UDN against working with the Guardsmen and that the merging only took place because of insistence by the CIA.[12]

Based in

  • Confessions of a Contra: How the CIA Masterminds the Nicaraguan Insurgency by The New Republic, 5 August 1985
  • "The Contras' Valley Forge: How I View the Nicaragua Crisis", by Enrique Bermúdez (with Michael Johns), Policy Review magazine, Summer 1988.
  • The Contras and U.S. Funding from the Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
  • U.S. Policy Towards the Contras from the Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
  • "The World Stopped Watching", a documentary film directed by Peter Raymont. White Pine Pictures, 2003.
  • "The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations" – National Security Archive.
  • US administration disregarding the UN verdict Video provided by BBC.
  • , by Timothy BrownWhen the AK-47s Fall Silent

External links

  • Asleson, Vern. (2004) Nicaragua: Those Passed By. Galde Press ISBN 1-931942-16-1
  • Belli, Humberto. (1985). Breaking Faith: The Sandinista Revolution and Its Impact on Freedom and Christian Faith in Nicaragua. Crossway Books/The Puebla Institute.
  • Policy Review magazine, The Heritage Foundation, Summer 1988.
  • Brody, Reed. (1985). Contra Terror in Nicaragua: Report of a Fact-Finding Mission: September 1984 – January 1985. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-313-6.
  • Brown, Timothy. (2001). The Real Contra War: Highlander Peasant Resistance in Nicaragua. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3252-3.
  • Chamorro, Edgar. (1987). Packaging the Contras: A Case of CIA Disinformation. New York: Institute for Media Analysis. ISBN 0-941781-08-9; ISBN 0-941781-07-0.
  • Christian, Shirley. (1986) Nicaragua, Revolution In the Family. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Cox, Jack. (1987) Requiem in the Tropics: Inside Central America. UCA Books.
  • Cruz S., Arturo J. (1989). Memoirs of a Counterrevolutionary. (1989). New York: Doubleday.
  • Dickey, Christopher. (1985, 1987). With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Garvin, Glenn. (1992). Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras. Washington: Brassey's.
  • Gill, Terry D. (1989). Litigation strategy at the International Court: a case study of the Nicaragua v United States dispute. Dordrecht.  
  • Gugliota, Guy. (1989). Kings of Cocaine Inside the Medellin Cartel. Simon and Schuster.
  • Horton, Lynn. Peasants in Arms: War and Peace in the Mountains of Nicaragua, 1979–1994. (1998). Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies.
  • *Hamilton, Lee H. et al. (1987) "Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran/Contra Affair"  
  • Johns, Michael "The Lessons of Afghanistan: Bipartisan Support for Freedom Fighters Pays Off", Policy Review, Spring 1987.
  • Kirkpatrick, Jeane J.. (1982) Dictatorships and Double Standards. Touchstone. ISBN 0-671-43836-0
  • Miranda, Roger, and William Ratliff. (1993, 1994) "The Civil War in Nicaragua: Inside the Sandinistas." New Brunswick, NY: Transaction Publishers.
  • Moore, John Norton (1987). The Secret War in Central America: Sandinista Assault on World Order. University Publications of America.
  • Pardo-Maurer, Rogelio. (1990) The Contras, 1980–1989: A Special Kind of Politics. New York: Praeger.
  • Persons, David E. (1987) A Study of the History and Origins of the Nicaraguan Contras. Nacogdoches, Texas: Total Vision Press. Stephen Austin University Special Collections.
  • Sklar, H. (1988) "Washington's war on Nicaragua" South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-295-4
  • Webb, Gary (1998). Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, Seven Stories Press. ISBN 1-888363-68-1 (hardcover, 1998), ISBN 1-888363-93-2 (paperback, 1999).


  1. ^ a b c d Lee et al. 1987, p. 29
  2. ^ "The contras are made up of a combination of: ex-National Guardsmen (especially the military wing of the FDN),..." As seen at: Gill 1984, p. 204
  3. ^ Dickey, Christopher. With the Contras, A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua. Simon & Schuster, 1985.
  4. ^ "The contras are made up of a combination of: ... anti-Sandinista opponents of ex-dictator Somoza (some of the members of the FDN political directorate eg Messrs. Chamorro and Cruz)..." As seen at: Gill 1984, p. 204
  5. ^ International Court of Justice (IV) (1986), p. 446
  6. ^ Dillon, Sam (1991). Comandos: The CIA and Nicaragua's Contra Rebels. New York: Henry Holt. pp. 49–56.  
  7. ^
  8. ^ Padro-Maurer, R. The Contras 1980–1989, a Special Kind of Politics. NY: Praeger Publishers, 1990.
  9. ^ Brown, Timothy C. The Real Contra War, Highlander Peasant Resistance in Nicaragua. University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.
  10. ^ "Contra Organizations: The Contra Story — Central Intelligence Agency". Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  11. ^ "Although Calero had opposed Somoza, the FDN had its roots in two insurgent groups made up of former National Guardsmen..." As seen at: Lee et al. 1987, p. 29
  12. ^ "The UDN, including Cardenal, initially opposed any linkage with the Guardsmen. The CIA, and high-ranking United States Government officiais, insisted that we merge with the Guardsmen. Lt. General Vernon Walters, then a special assistant to the United States Secretary of State (and formerly Deputy Director of the CIA) met with Cardenal to encourage him to accept the CIA's proposal. We were well aware of the crimes the Guardsmen had committed against the Nicaraguan people while in the service of President Somoza and we wanted nothing to do with them. However, we recognized that without help from the United States Government we had no chance of removing the Sandinistas from power, so we eventually acceded to the CIA's, and General Walters', insistence that we join forces with the Guardsmen. Some UDN memhers resigned because they would not associate themselves with the National Guard under any circumstances, but Cardenal and I and others believed the CIA's assurances that we, the civilians, would control the Guardsmen in the new organization that was to he created." As seen at: International Court of Justice (IV) 1986, p. 446
  13. ^ "On the basis of the available information, the Court is not able to satisfy itself that the Respondent State "created" the contra force in Nicaragua, but holds it established that it largely financed, trained, equipped, armed and organized the FDN, one element of the force." As seen at: International Court of Justice 1986, VII (4)
  14. ^ "The largest and most active of these groups, which later came to be known as ... (FDN), ..." As seen at: Lee et al. 1987, p. 29
  15. ^ a b c Williams, Adam (26 November 2010). "Edén Pastora: A wanted man". The Tico Times. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  16. ^ a b c Lee et al. 1987, p. 32
  17. ^ "He insisted on operating in the southern part of Nicaragua." As seen at: Lee et al. 1987, p. 32
  18. ^ The Americas Watch Committee. "Human Rights in Nicaragua 1986" (print), Americas Watch, February 1987.
  19. ^
  20. ^ [1]
  21. ^ a b Gill 1989, p. 328
  22. ^ Gill 1989, p. 329
  23. ^ "The United States has played a very large role in financing, training, arming, and advising the contras over a long period. The contras only became capable of carrying out significant (para)military operations as a result of this support." As seen at: Gill 1989, p. 329
  24. ^ "In spite of the Sandinista victory being declared fair the United States continued to oppose the left-wing Nicaraguan government." Cited in: "1984: Sandinistas claim election victory" BBC News, 5 November 1984
  25. ^ "President Reagan renewed his commitment to the Nicaraguan insurgents Sunday, though he appeared to shift the focus of his Administration's policy away from the military situation to the need to restore democracy to the Central American country". Cited in: "President Shifts Emphasis From Contra Warfare" Los Angeles Times, 4 May 1987
  26. ^ "The Foreign Connection" Washington Post 6 Jan. 1987
  27. ^ "MUDSLINGING OVER CONTRAS" New York Times, 12 March 1986
  28. ^ a b "NSDD – National Security Decision Directives – Reagan Administration". 30 May 2008. Retrieved 17 August 2011. 
  29. ^ "Nicaragua". Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  30. ^ 1984: Sandinistas claim election victory
  31. ^ "NICARAGUAN VOTE: 'FREE, FAIR, HOTLY CONTESTED'" New York Times, 16 November 1984
  32. ^  
  33. ^ Lee et al. 1987, p.3
  34. ^ a b c d Lee et al. 1987, p. 3
  35. ^ "In December 1982, the New York Times reported intelligence officials as saying that Washington's ‘covert activities have... become the most ambitious paramilitary and political action operation mounted by the C.I.A. in nearly a decade...‘" As seen at: Lee et al. 1987, p. 33
  36. ^ "...opinion polls indicated that a majority of the public was not supportive." As seen at: Lee et al. 1987, p. 3
  37. ^ "Following disclosure...that the CIA had a role in connection with the mining of the Nicaraguan harbors..., public criticism mounted and the administration's Contra policy lost much of its support within Congress". As seen at: Lee et al. 1987, p. 3
  38. ^ "U.S. DELAYED REPORT ON SOVIETS IN NICARAGUA" The Miami Herald, 18 September 1984
  39. ^ Riesenfeld, Stefan A. (January 1987). "The Powers of Congress and the President in International Relations: Revisited". California Law Review (California Law Review, Inc.) 75 (1): 405.  
  40. ^ magazine, The Heritage Foundation, Spring 1987Policy Review"The Lessons of Afghanistan", by Michael Johns,
  41. ^ "Executive Order 12513--Prohibiting trade and certain other transactions involving Nicaragua" National Archives
  42. ^ "Ortega collects warm words of support on European trip. Yet his visit is unlikely to drum up much concrete aid " Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 1985
  43. ^ a b c d e Lee et al. 1987, p. 4
  44. ^ Lee et al 1987, p. 4
  45. ^  
  46. ^ "The Oliver North File". Retrieved 17 August 2011. 
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^ Webb, Gary (1999).  
  50. ^ a b c Lee et al. 1987, p. 5
  51. ^ "It also disseminated what one official termed "white propaganda": pro-Contra newspaper articles by paid consultants who did not disclose their connection to the Administration." As seen at: Lee et al. 1987, p. 5
  52. ^ a b c Lee et al. 1987, p. 6
  53. ^ "Having reached the above conclusion, the Court takes the view that the contras remain responsible for their acts, in particular the alleged violations by them of humanitarian law. For the United States to be legally responsible, it would have to be proved that that State had effective control of the operations in the course of which the alleged violations were committed." As seen at: International Court of Justice 1986, VII (5)
  54. ^ "...Finds that the United States of America, by producing in 1983 a manual entitled "Operaciones sicológicas en guerra de guerrillas", and disseminating it to contra forces, has encouraged the commission by them of acts contrary to general principles of humanitarian law." As seen at: International Court of Justice 1986, (9)
  55. ^ "In the case of shooting "a citizen who was trying to leave the town or city in which the guerrillas are carrying out armed propaganda or political proselytism", the manual suggests that the contras "explain that if that citizen had managed to escape, he would have alerted the enemy." As seen at: Sklar 1988, p. 179
  56. ^ Sklar 1988, p. 181
  57. ^ International Court of Justice 1986, VIII (1)
  58. ^ "In any event the evidence is insufficient to satisfy the Court that the Government of Nicaragua was responsible for any flow of arms at either period." As seen at: International Court of Justice 1986, VIII (1)
  59. ^ "But the Court, remarkably enough, while finding the United States responsible for intervention in Nicaragua, failed to recognize Nicaragua's prior and continuing intervention in El Salvador." As seen at: International Court of Justice 1986, Dissenting Opinion of Judge Schwebel
  60. ^ "...concluded that the United States essentially acted lawfully in exerting armed pressures against Nicaragua, both directly and through its support of the contras, because Nicaragua's prior and sustained support of armed insurgency in El Salvador was tantamount to an armed attack upon El Salvador against which the United States could react in collective self-defence in El Salvador's support." As seen at: International Court of Justice 1986, Dissenting Opinion of Judge Schwebel
  61. ^ Morrison, Fred L. (January 1987). "Legal Issues in The Nicaragua Opinion". American Journal of International Law 81 (1): 160–166.   "Appraisals of the ICJ's Decision. Nicaragua vs United State (Merits)"
  62. ^ "Human Rights Watch World Report 1993 – Nicaragua". Retrieved 18 September 2009. 
  63. ^ The Americas Watch Committee (February 1987). "Human Rights in Nicaragua 1986". Americas Watch. 
  64. ^ a b c d Human Rights in Nicaragua 1986, p. 21
  65. ^ a b Human Rights in Nicaragua 1986, p. 19
  66. ^ Human Rights in Nicaragua 1986, p. 19, 21
  67. ^ Human Rights in Nicaragua 1986, p. 24
  68. ^ a b "NICARAGUA" Human Rights Watch, 1989
  69. ^ "Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicaragua V. United States of America): Affidavit of Edgar Chamarro" International Court of Justice, 5 September 1985
  70. ^ New York Times, 23 November 1984.
  71. ^ The New Republic, 20 January 1986; The New Republic, 22 August 1988; The National Interest, Spring 1990.
  72. ^ David Asman, "Despair and fear in Managua", Wall Street Journal, 25 March 1985.
  73. ^ Power Kills Line 2558
  74. ^ "ADDENDUM A: Casualties from Contra Attacks–Nicaragua". Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  75. ^ Smolowe, Jill (22 December 1986). "Nicaragua Is It Curtains?". Time Magazine. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  76. ^ Todd, Dave (26 February 1986). "Offensive by Nicaraguan "Freedom Fighters" May be Doomed as Arms, Aid Dry Up". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  77. ^ "The last major attack, in October along the Rama Road in southern Nicaragua, was considered a success for the guerrillas." As seen at: Lemoyne, James (22 December 1987). "Both Sides Report Heavy Fighting In Rebel Offensive in Nicaragua". New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  78. ^ a b c Lemoyne, James (22 December 1987). "Both Sides Report Heavy Fighting In Rebel Offensive in Nicaragua". New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  79. ^ Lemoyne, James (2 February 1988). "Contras' Top Fighter Vows No Letup". New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  80. ^ Meara, William R. Contra Cross: Insurgency And Tyranny in Central America, 1979–1989. U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2006.
  81. ^ Kinzer, Stephen (23 July 1987). "Sandinistas report capture of RedEye Missile". New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  82. ^ Wicker, Tom (14 August 1989). "Enough Have Died for Nothing in Nicaragua". Wilmington Morning Star. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  83. ^ Ulig, Mark (14 August 1989). "New Regional Accord Leaves Contras in Honduras Fearful but Defiant". New York Times. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  84. ^ "Sometimes they used force as they rounded up young men for military service, and there were occasional confrontations. But only in the town of Masaya, 19 miles southeast of the capital of Managua, did the conscription spark a full-blown street clash...For several weeks before the latest outburst in Masaya, the opposition newspaper, La Prensa, had been reporting isolated protests against the draft." As seen at: Kinzer, Stephen (28 February 1988). "THE WORLD: Nicaragua; Pushed From Left or Right, Masaya Balks". New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  85. ^ "Sandinistas Surviving in a Percentage Game". Envio. December 1988. 
  86. ^ "Nicaraguans Try Peace Moves While Waiting for U.S. Voters". Envio. November 1988. 
  87. ^ "Contra Insurgency in Nicaragua". December 2000. 
  88. ^ "U.S. Endorses Contra Plan as Prod to Democracy in Nicaragua" The Washington Post, 9 August 1989
  89. ^ Uhlig, Mark A. (27 February 1990). "Turnover in Nicaragua; NICARAGUAN OPPOSITION ROUTS SANDINISTAS; U.S. PLEDGES AID, TIED TO ORDERLY TURNOVER". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  90. ^ a b "After the Poll Wars-Explaining the Upset". Envio. March 1990. 
  91. ^ "Bush Vows to End Embargo if Chamorro Wins", The Washington Post, 9 November 1989
  92. ^ "The policy of keeping the contras alive ... also has placed in jeopardy the holding of elections by encouraging contra attacks on the electoral process. Thus, while the Bush administration proclaims its support for human rights and free and fair elections in Nicaragua, it persists in sabotaging both." As seen at: "Nicaragua" Human Rights Watch, 1990
  93. ^ "U.S. trying to disrupt election in Nicaragua, Canadians report" The Toronto Star, 27 October 1989
  94. ^ A-JAX~コナミ・ゲーム・ミュージック VOL.4 A-Jax: Konami Game Music Vol. 4 (booklet). G.M.O. Records / Alfa Records. 28XA-201. 


See also

  • Carla's Song, a fictional film by Ken Loach set in part against the backdrop of the conflict in Nicaragua.
  • Contra (video game series) While it is unclear whether the game was deliberately named after the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, the ending theme of the original game was titled "Sandinista" (サンディニスタ), after the adversaries of the real-life Contras.[94]

In popular culture

Possible explanations include that the Nicaraguan people were disenchanted with the Ortega regime as well as the fact that already in November 1989, the White House had announced that the economic embargo against Nicaragua would continue unless Violeta Chamorro won.[91] Also, there had been reports of intimidation from the side of the contras,[92] with a Canadian observer mission confirming 42 people killed by the contras in "election violence" in October 1989.[93] This led many commentators to assume that Nicaraguans voted against the Sandinistas out of fear of a continuation of the contra war and economic deprivation.[90]

In the resulting February 1990 elections, Violeta Chamorro and her party the UNO won an upset victory of 55% to 41% over Daniel Ortega,[89] even though polls leading up to the election had clearly indicated an FSLN victory.[90]

After a cutoff in U.S. military support and with both sides facing international pressure to bring an end to the conflict, the contras agreed to negotiations with the FSLN. With the help of five Central American Presidents, including Ortega, it was agreed that a voluntary demobilization of the contras should start in early December 1989, in order to facilitate free and fair elections in Nicaragua in February 1990 (even though the Reagan administration had pushed for a delay of contra disbandment).[88]

There were isolated protests among the population against the draft implemented by the Sandinista government, which even resulted in full-blown street clashes in Masaya in 1988.[84] However, polls showed the Sandinista government still enjoyed strong support from Nicaraguans.[85] Political opposition groups were splintered and the Contras began to experience defections, although United States aid maintained them as a viable military force.[86][87]

By 1986 the contras were besieged by charges of corruption, human-rights abuses, and military ineptitude.[75] A much-vaunted early 1986 offensive never materialized, and Contra forces were largely reduced to isolated acts of terrorism.[76] In October 1987, however, the contras staged a successful attack in southern Nicaragua.[77] Then on 21 December 1987, the FDN launched attacks at La Bonanza, La Siuna, and La Rosita in Zelaya province, resulting in heavy fighting.[78] ARDE Frente Sur attacked at El Almendro and along the Rama road.[78][79][80] These large-scale raids mainly became possible as the contras were able to use U.S.-provided Redeye missiles against Sandinista Mi-24 helicopter gunships, which had been supplied by the Soviets.[78][81] Nevertheless, the Contras remained tenuously encamped within Honduras and weren't able to hold Nicaraguan territory.[82][83]

Military successes and election of Violeta Chamorro

U.S. political scientist Rudolph Rummel estimated that by 1987, the contras had murdered about 500 people while the Sandinistas had murdered 4,000 to 7,000 people in democide.[73] In contrast, Witness for Peace and the Sandinista government claimed at least 736 civilians were murdered by the contras between March 1987 and October 1988 alone.[74]


Three weeks ago, Americas Watch issued a report on human rights abuses in Nicaragua. One member of the Permanent Commission for Human Rights commented on the Americas Watch report and its chief investigator Juan Mendez: "The Sandinistas are laying the groundwork for a totalitarian society here and yet all Mendez wanted to hear about were abuses by the contras. How can we get people in the U.S. to see what's happening here when so many of the groups who come down are pro-Sandinista?"[72]

In 1985, the Wall Street Journal reported:

U.S. news media published several articles accusing Americas Watch and other bodies of ideological bias and unreliable reporting. It alleged that Americas Watch gave too much credence to alleged Contra abuses and systematically tried to discredit Nicaraguan human rights groups such as the Permanent Commission on Human Rights, which blamed the major human rights abuses on the Sandinistas.[71]


Contra leader Adolfo Calero denied that his forces deliberately targeted civilians: "What they call a cooperative is also a troop concentration full of armed people. We are not killing civilians. We are fighting armed people and returning fire when fire is directed at us."[70]

In his affidavit to the World Court, former contra Edgar Chamorro testified that "The CIA did not discourage such tactics. To the contrary, the Agency severely criticized me when I admitted to the press that the FDN had regularly kidnapped and executed agrarian reform workers and civilians. We were told that the only way to defeat the Sandinistas was to...kill, kidnap, rob and torture..."[69]

Human Rights Watch released a report on the situation in 1989, which stated: "[The] contras were major and systematic violators of the most basic standards of the laws of armed conflict, including by launching indiscriminate attacks on civilians, selectively murdering non-combatants, and mistreating prisoners."[68]

  • targeting health care clinics and health care workers for assassination[64]
  • kidnapping civilians[65]
  • torturing civilians[66]
  • executing civilians, including children, who were captured in combat[67]
  • raping women[64]
  • indiscriminately attacking civilians and civilian houses[65]
  • seizing civilian property[64]
  • burning civilian houses in captured towns.[64]

Americas Watch – which subsequently became part of Human Rights Watch – accused the Contras of:[63]

Human rights violations

The United States, which did not participate in the merits phase of the proceedings, maintained that the ICJ's power did not supersede the Constitution of the United States and argued that the court did not seriously consider the Nicaraguan role in El Salvador, while it accused Nicaragua of actively supporting armed groups there, specifically in the form of supply of arms.[57] The ICJ had found that evidence of a responsibility of the Nicaraguan government in this matter was insufficient.[58] The U.S. argument was affirmed, however, by the dissenting opinion of ICJ member U.S. Judge Schwebel,[59] who concluded that in supporting the contras, the United States acted lawfully in collective self-defence in El Salvador's support.[60] The U.S. blocked enforcement of the ICJ judgment by the United Nations Security Council and thereby prevented Nicaragua from obtaining any actual compensation.[61] The Nicaraguan government finally withdrew the complaint from the court in September 1992 (under the later, post-FSLN, government of Violeta Chamorro), following a repeal of the law requiring the country to seek compensation.[62]

In 1984 the Sandinista government filed a suit in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the United States (Nicaragua v. United States), which resulted in a 1986 judgment against the United States. The ICJ held that the U.S. had violated international law by supporting the contras in their rebellion against the Nicaraguan government and by mining Nicaragua's harbors. Regarding the alleged human rights violations by the contras, however, the ICJ took the view that the United States could only be held accountable for them if it would have been proven that the U.S. had effective control of the contra operations resulting in these alleged violations.[53] Nevertheless, the ICJ found that the U.S. encouraged acts contrary to general principles of humanitarian law by producing the manual Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare (Operaciones sicológicas en guerra de guerrillas) and disseminating it to the contras.[54] The manual, amongst other things, advised on how to rationalize killings of civilians[55] and recommended to hire professional killers for specific selective tasks.[56]

International Court of Justice ruling

On top of that, [52] Channell, in turn, used part of that money to run a series of television advertisements directed at home districts of Congressmen considered to be swing votes on contra aid.[52] Out of the $10 million raised, more than $1 million was spent on pro-contra publicity.[52]

During the time the US Congress blocked funding for the contras, the Reagan government engaged in a campaign to alter public opinion and change the vote in Congress on contra aid.[50] For this purpose, the NSC established an interagency working group which in turn coordinated the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (managed by Otto Reich), which conducted the campaign.[50] The S/LPD produced and widely disseminated a variety of pro-contra publications, arranged speeches and press conferences.[50] It also disseminated "white propaganda"—pro-contra newspaper articles by paid consultants who did not disclose their connection to the Reagan administration.[51]


The Reagan administration's support for the Contras continued to stir controversy well into the 1990s. In August 1996, San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb published a series titled Dark Alliance, alleging that the contras contributed to the rise of crack cocaine in California.[47][48] In his subsequent 1999 book, also titled Dark Alliance, Webb asserted that the Reagan administration helped harbor known drug traffickers, offering political asylum to some, to help raise funds for the rebel effort.[49]

According to the National Security Archive, Oliver North had been in contact with Manuel Noriega, the military leader of Panama later convicted on drug charges, whom he personally met. The issue of drug money and its importance in funding the Nicaraguan conflict was the subject of various reports and publications. The contras were funded by drug trafficking, of which the United States was aware.[45] Senator John Kerry's 1988 Committee on Foreign Relations report on Contra drug links concluded that "senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems".[46]

With Congress blocking further contra aid, the Reagan administration sought to arrange funding and military supplies by means of third countries and private sources.[43] Between 1984 and 1986, $34 million from third countries and $2.7 million from private sources were raised this way.[43] The secret contra assistance was run by the [43] It also received assistance from personnel from other government agencies, especially from CIA personnel in Central America.[43] This operation functioned, however, without any of the accountability required of U.S. government activities.[43] The Enterprise's efforts culminated in the Iran–Contra Affair of 1986–1987, which facilitated contra funding through the proceeds of arms sales to Iran.

Illegal covert operations

On 1 May 1985 President Reagan announced that his administration perceived Nicaragua to be "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States", and declared a "national emergency" and a trade embargo against Nicaragua to "deal with that threat".[41] On May 16, 1985, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega redeclared "a position of nonalignment" during his failed mission to try and collect military aid from France, Spain, and Italy. Ortega managed to gain warm words of political and economic support but military aid was ruled out. In 1982, France sold Nicaragua about $17 million worth of arms before U.S. anger made them terminate the deal. A French Foreign Ministry official explained that this reticence resulted, "because we have limited power to maneuver in Central America, and after all, the region is in America's backyard."[42]

Nevertheless, the case for support of the contras continued to be made in Washington, D.C., by both the Reagan administration and the Heritage Foundation, which argued that support for the contras would counter Soviet influence in Nicaragua.[40]

In the fiscal year 1984, the U.S. Congress approved $24 million in contra aid.[34] However, since the contras failed to win widespread popular support or military victories within Nicaragua,[34] opinion polls indicated that a majority of the U.S. public was not supportive of the contras,[36] the Reagan administration lost much of its support regarding its contra policy within Congress after disclosure of CIA mining of Nicaraguan ports,[37] and a report of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research commissioned by the State Department found Reagan's allegations about Soviet influence in Nicaragua "exaggerated",[38] Congress cut off all funds for the contras in 1985 by the third Boland Amendment.[34] The Boland Amendment had first been passed by Congress in December 1982. At this time, it only outlawed U.S. assistance to the contras for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, while allowing assistance for other purposes.[39] In October 1984, it was amended to forbid action by not only the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency but all U.S. government agencies.

By December 1981, however, the United States had already begun to support armed opponents of the Sandinista regime. From the beginning, the CIA was in charge.[33] The arming, clothing, feeding and supervision of the contras[34] became the most ambitious paramilitary and political action operation mounted by the agency in nearly a decade.[35]

On 4 January 1982, Reagan signed the [28] giving the CIA the authority to recruit and support the contras with $19 million in military aid. The effort to support the contras was one component of the Reagan Doctrine, which called for providing military support to movements opposing Soviet-supported, communist governments.

[32] [27][26] and opposed its ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union.[25][24] The US government viewed the leftist Sandinistas as undemocratic

Political background

In front of the International Court of Justice, Nicaragua claimed that the contras were altogether a creation of the U.S.[21] This claim was rejected.[21] However, the evidence of a very close relationship between the contras and the United States was considered overwhelming and incontrovertible.[22] The U.S. played a very large role in financing, training, arming, and advising the contras over a long period, and the contras only became capable of carrying out significant military operations as a result of this support.[23]

U.S. military and financial assistance

U.S. officials were active in attempting to unite the Contra groups. In June 1985 most of the groups reorganized as the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), under the leadership of Adolfo Calero, Arturo Cruz and Alfonso Robelo, all originally supporters of the anti-Somoza revolution. After UNO's dissolution early in 1987, the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) was organized along similar lines in May.

Unity efforts

A third force, Misurasata, appeared among the Miskito, Sumo and Rama Amerindian peoples of Nicaragua's Atlantic coast, who in December 1981 found themselves in conflict with the authorities following the government's efforts to nationalize Indian land. In the course of this conflict, forced removal of at least 10,000 Indians to relocation centers in the interior of the country and subsequent burning of some villages took place.[18] The Misurasata movement split in 1983, with the breakaway Misura group of Stedman Fagoth Muller allying itself more closely with the FDN, and the rest accommodating themselves with the Sandinistas: On 8 December 1984 a ceasefire agreement known as the Bogota Accord was signed by Misurasata and the Nicaraguan government.[19] A subsequent autonomy statute in September 1987 largely defused Miskito resistance.[20]

In April 1982, Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE)[15] – and declared war on the Sandinista government.[16] Himself a former Sandinista who had held several high posts in the government, he had resigned abruptly in 1981 and defected,[16] believing that the newly found power had corrupted the Sandinista's original ideas.[15] A popular and charismatic leader, Pastora initially saw his group develop quickly.[16] He confined himself to operate in the southern part of Nicaragua;[17] after a press conference he was holding on 30 May 1984 was bombed, he "voluntarily withdrew" from the contra struggle.[15]

[14] it emerged as the largest and most active contra group.[13]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.