Bringing Democracy to Nicaragua (Part 2 of 2)

More from the archives, part one here.


The End of Enterprise

In December of 1982, a group of 70 departed from the Nicaraguan town of Esteli to take part in the annual coffee harvest. Among the group was Felipe Barreda, 51, and his wife Mery, 49. Both were devout Catholics and religious teachers who had worked the Sandinistas in the uprising against Somoza just a few years earlier, and had subsequently assisted in the government’s literacy programs. Departing just before Christmas meant that the town’s holiday festivities would be missed, and Mery expressed her disappointment in a letter left to her close friends. “We have been awaiting this Christmas with real joy,” she wrote. “The best Christmas gift the Lord could give me would be this Christmas to share with you. But then I suddenly had the chance to give you a very fine present, although it means I will not be with you at Midnight Mass. It is the chance to pick coffee for ten days. The little bit that I pick will be transformed into healthcare, clothing, house, roads, education, and food for our people… In every coffee bean I pick I will see each of your faces.”i

The coffee picker’s journey took them to a farm near on the Honduran border, which they reached on the 28th of December. Their labor would be cut short quickly as the tranquil morning air was pierced by a volley of gunfire. “Get down,” one of the pickers began to shout. “The Contras are coming!” The rebel assault succeeded in splitting up the team – “bullets were raining on us from all sides,” another picker, Alicia Huete, would recall. The Contra’s assault lasted until five in the evening. When the pickers regrouped, it was discovered that four were missing, including the Barredas.

The Barredas were captured by the rebel fighters, and forced to march, blindfolded and shackled, through the forest. Noel Benavides, another prisoner, later told reporters that Felipe had been in immense pain from beatings he had sustained and had a hard time navigating the dense foliage of the Nicaraguan jungles. Several times when he fell, and he begged his captors to let him pray. “But they just beat him, kicked him, slapped him in the face, and cursed him.” Their forced march took them to a Contra base camp across the Honduran border, where the four were split apart. Mery was left behind with a group of soldiers, informed that she would be raped “by the whole troop.” The other three were stripped, beaten, and tied to trees, where they would remain for two days. Mery was eventuall returned to the group, “beaten and hemorrhaging. She collapsed upon arriving due to the extenuation, the fatigue, and the blows.” Their suffering at the hands of the Contras lasted for nearly another week before Noel had the opportunity to escape. Reaching the Nicaraguan Embassy in the city of Tegucigalpa, he was able to contact Sandinistan authorities and return home.

Over a year later the Nicaraguan government captured a young Contra rebel who went by the alias of “El Muerto.” Identified by Noel as one of his captors, the fighter described his crimes on national television, which included the utilization of “psychological warfare” on Mery and beating Felipe with the butt of pistol. Finally, El’s Muerto’s commanding officer, “El Suicida,” instructed him to “kill the Barredas and I carried out the order, shooting them in the head with the help of Juan and Tapir [two other Contra rebels].”



Horrifying events such as these were not the exception when it came to the Contras. They were the norm, and they happened time and time again. In 1984 rebels slaughtered seventeen civilians (including a mother and her sixteenth month old child) at the state owned farm of La Sorpresa. In another incident, Contras attacked the town of Sumubila, setting aflame a hospital and senior citizen’s artisanry center.ii In yet another, a brigade of 350 fighters assault four townships; in one of them the Contras executed six unarmed civilians and torched people’s home. One survivor testified that as this violence was conducted, the Contras told the villagers that “they wanted to free the people from communism… they were very proud of the arms they received from Reagan.”iii


Acting as an international watchdog, Americas Watch concluded that the “disregard for the rights of civilians has become the de facto policy of the Contras.”iv The same conclusions were reached by another investigator, Kathleen Bertlesen, of the Washington Office on Latin America.v In a protest of the tactics being utilized by the Contras, she castigated the rebels as a “roving band of terrorists.” Bertlesen’s searing indictment summed up some of their worst atrocities and demanded critical answers:

What economic objective or military gain is there to be had in killing a five year old, or in raping a grandmother? What military objective can be found in slaughtering a young bride in front of her parents, or in burning a home of a coffee picker, or in slitting the throat of an old man? The only achievement is that of imposing a climate of total fear. And therein lies the contra’s objective: to blanket the population in fear. The most disturbing thing in all of this is that these acts of brutality cannot be attributed to the errant behavior of a few renegade contras. It appears to be the conscious policy of the contra leadership and it permeates the whole

The U.S. government, looking to quell potential public outcry for their complicity in the death squad’s rampage, went straight for the jugular. Robert Kagan dismissed findings of Americas Watch report as “totally unfounded.”vii Another official admitted that yes, maybe the Contras had murdered civilians, but he was equally dismissive – “It seems what you would expect to have in a war.”viii Ronald Reagan himself praised the actions of the rebels, informing the American people that the death squads had “the moral equal of our founding fathers.”ix Yet as much of the American government was turning its back on the consequences of its actions down south, the Contras themselves were being a bit more cavalier. “I love killing,” one fighter told a reporter. “I have been killing for the past seven years. There’s nothing I like better. If I could, I’d kill several people a day.”x

And so the rampage continued. In one raid on the village of El Nispero, Contras left two Sandinista soldiers, two elderly women, a mother, and two infants dead.xi Another attack saw forty-seven killed in the town of Pantasma.xii As the New York Times repeatedly hammered away, reporting on the murders, the kidnappings, the rapes, and other atrocities, Christian leading lights and Texas oilmen continued to funnel money to them through North’s intricate web. Bolstered by NED money, La Prensa continued to openly support the Contras, as their co-director identified himself as “a member of the Nicaraguan Resistance.”xiii

images (71)Everything collapsed in October of 1986. As a foreign C-123 cargo plane flew over Southern Nicaragua, it was fired upon and shot down. The plane’s two pilots and radio operator were killed in the crash, but the forth passenger, Eugene Hasenfus, a former marine, had managed to narrowly escape death by parachuting to safety. Hasenfus’s victory was short lived, however; he was promptly picked up by a Sandinista patrol in the area. On his body was found an item of interest – a small black book, containing a series of phone numbers.

Inside the wreckage of the plane authorities discovered a cache of shoulder-launched heat seeking missiles, but it was the call sign on the body of the fuselage, N4410F that contained the most interesting revelations. Utilizing this number, the plane was traced back to Southern Air Transport, a small airline company run out of Miami. This small flight firm was a subsidiary of Air America, a CIA-front company that had supplied the agency with planes used in specials operations ranging from the early covert war against Vietnam to the failure of Bay of Pigs.xiv Under interrogation, Hasenfus admitted that he was in the employ of the CIA, and that his plane, bound for a rendezvous with Contra rebels, had departed from an airstrip in El Salvador.xv With corroborating evidence found in the mysterious black book, it was later revealed that this airstrip was managed by a Felix Rodriguez CIA asset and Bay of Pigs veteran (who also, incidentally, had been assisted in capturing Che Guevara and was present when he was executed).xvi

Meanwhile, on the Iranian front, things were not progressing much better. An Islamic cleric, Mehdi Hashemi, dismayed at his country’s willingness to indulge in arms deals with the “Great Satan,” had leaked to a Jordanian newspaper confidential information pertaining to the conspiracy.xvii Though Hashemi, labeled a “deviant and [a] plotter” with “selfish ambitions,” was summarily arrested and executed, his actions, coupled with the downing of Hasenfus’s aircraft, had blown the lid on the entire operation. Piece by piece, the best laid plans were crumbling to dust. Federal investigators under the direction of Lawrence Walsh dove into North’s complex, unraveling the myriad of twist and turns. The never-ending train of revelations ranged from the (cynically) expected – North shredded critical files as Justice Department officials sat in his office, waiting to read themxviii – to the extraordinary. In one instance, it was revealed that North’s ‘Project Democracy’ included work on a domestic “contingency plan… that would suspend the American constitution” by “turning control of the government to FEMA, emergency appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments and the declaration of martial law.”xix441236_Lieutenant-Colonel-Oliver-North

In the end, North, Poindexter, Macfarlane, and Abrams were convicted for their role in the conspiracy. Casey never made it to the trial, falling ill to brain cancer just hours before his testimony. All were ultimately pardoned within a few years by President Bush, but the fallout did indicate a large shift in power in the Washington establishment. Poindexter was succeeded as National Security Adviser by Frank Carlucci, who, as discussed in the previous chapter, had aligned himself with the liberal transnational elite by controversially promoting the interests of the Portuguese socialists. He also mended the ties between the NSC and George Schultz; as opposed to North’s rivalry with the Secretary of State, Carlucci had “long enjoyed a very good personal relationship.”xx The friendship had begun years earlier in the Nixon administration, when Carlucci had served in the Office of Management and Budget under Shultz.xxi


With this transformation, the NED moved forward and took lead as one of the primary operators of US policy in Nicaragua. Support for the Contra rebels was still strong in the Washington establishment, but the new approach operating along lines far more similar to the one being implemented simultaneously in Chile. But Nicaragua was a far cry from Chile – whereas democracy promotion in Chile followed the path of common discontent in both the nation’s elite and its lower classes, the objective in Nicaragua was remained removing a government that continued to rule with the majority’s consent. That said, by the later years of the 1980s the Sandinista’s power base was not as strong as it had been in the years immediately following Somoza’s removal; continued Contra terror and economic woes, resulting from both the civil war and the trade embargo, were creating fissures of doubt in the party’s leadership. Ortega was already searching for financial assistance from the neoliberal moneymen in the World Bank and IMF, yet the White House was continuing to wield its diplomatic might in blocking any such aid from reaching a country with constitutionally mandated elections on the immediate horizon.xxii

It was against this backdrop that led NED officials to convene a meeting with the State Department and White House officials to help formulate the new approach. The results of this meeting, which occurred in 1988, acknowledged that while a Contra-centric policy was rapidly becoming impossible, the anti-Sandinista opposition “need[ed] political and financial support from multiple sources,” and that they “should be encouraged to mobilize and channel popular discontent.”xxiii The meeting resulted in an increase of funding for the NED, which went to Delphi International Services (still being overseen by North’s comrade, Henry Quintero) to help bring together the country’s fourteen opposition parties into the Nicaraguan Opposition Union (UNO).xxiv In a later analysis, investigative journalist Jacqueline Sharkey was told by coalition leaders that reluctant oppositional parties were pressured into joining the UNO by the Confederation of Trade Union Unity (CUS) – a so-called “apolitical body” funded by the NED.xxv Soon enough Carl Gershman was travelling to Nicaragua with a team of his NED colleagues, seeking to consultant with the coalition.

images (72)In the same year as the NED’s White House summit, Freedom House organized a Working Group on Central American, consisting of Penn Kemble, the AIFLD’s William Doherty, Mark Falcoff of the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime Democratic Party operator, Bernard W. Aronson.xxvi The group’s recommendations followed the NED’s tune, but still urged Washington to not neglect the Contras – the US needed to transfer funding to a more politically viable opposition while “simultaneously maintaining the ‘cohesion’ of the Contras.”xxvii The mentality was reflective of the group’s more hawkish members, Kemble and Doherty – both had been in PRODEMCA, while Kemble had been a cog in Enterprise. Meanwhile Doherty had been particularly close with Arturo Cruz, Jr., a leader in the United Nicaraguan Opposition umbrella group,xxviii and had also maneuvered the AIFLD to support and fund the pro-Contra Nicaraguan Council of Trade Union Unification.xxix

As in Chile, these organizations began to foster a beneficial political climate and reinvigorate Nicaragua’s civil society. Knowing that support of the left would be essential for the success of the UNO, concessions were made and several communist parties were allowed into the coalition, and the FTUI went to work bringing together the country’s moderate trade unions into a single bloc. What emerged was the Permanent Congress of Workers (CPT), which quickly aligned itself with the UNO. To strengthen these ties, the FTUI assisted in propping up the electoral campaigns in each of the country’s administrative districts. They trained thousands of activists to operate these campaigns, hold polls and increase voter awareness. The base of operations for this network was at an NED-financed headquarters in Managua, staffed with CPT This operation also provided an opportunity to try to build a multinational solidarity network between the ‘emerging democracies’ of Latin America – the NED brought Genaro Arriagada, one of their key players in Chile, to Nicaragua to consult with the UNO’s electoral network.xxxi Logistical support was also flowing in from the NDI, which held a series with opposition leaders to “provide training in how to formulate oppositional strategy and tactical planning to the civic opposition… [the seminars] were designed around three core themes: party planning and organizational planning, constituency planning, and coalition building.”xxxii


A well-oiled propaganda campaign, produced by NED funds, was also hoisted on both the Nicaraguan people and the American intelligentsia. In May/June 1988 issue of its journal, Freedom at Large, Freedom House published an article depicting the Sandinista government as a ‘dictatorship’ and described the decaying state of the Nicaraguan education system. The article’s findings were the result of an NED-funded study done by the American Federation of Teachers, where the NED/SD-USA’s Albert Shanker was holding post.xxxiii Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, Peter Finn, and NDI employee and USAID consultant, created television commercials for the UNO; with the tagline “now Nicaragua has the opportunity to choose democracy,” one clip utilized imagery of the Berlin Wall falling and Lech Walsea leading Solidarity against the Soviets.xxxiv In another case, NED grants were passed through Freedom House and the AIFLD to the Costa Rican publishing house, staffed with “prominent personalities and intellectuals from Nicaragua’s elite,”xxxv Libro Libre, which “funded and distributed transcripts and recordings of procontra conferences and seminars.”xxxvi

Even the UNO’s selection of a presidential candidate was, in many ways, tantamount to US propaganda. Bowing to pressure from Washington, the coalition selected Violeta Chamorro, who so long ago had been a member of the Junta of National Reconstruction with Ortega. Chamorro was neither particularly well-versed in politics nor economics; her selection was more of a symbolic act and her place in the perspective administration was little more than that of a figurehead. Imagery of motherhood and religion pervaded the UNO’s campaign. Professor William Robinson has taken note of this maneuver of “Chamorro the Symbol,” as opposed to “Chamorro the Politician:”violeta-chamorro

Washington planned flashy meetings between Chamorro and other world leaders, including Pope John Paul II, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and other European leaders, and President Bush. The purpose of these visits, in which photo-opportunities were stressed and statements kept to a minimum, was to have the image of Chamorro beside world leaders reverberate in the minds of the Nicaraguan electorate. What was important that Chamorro be seen as capable of securing the political and economic support of the developed capitalist world at a time of severe crisis in Nicaragua and diminishing options for its resolution.xxxvii

The emphasis on motherhood had also played another role – female empowerment and gender equality had long been one of the central tenets of the Sandinista governments, and the party was still drawing strong support from women. Hopefully a strong woman figure, powerful enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the top of the transnational elite, could turn the tides of the trend. Likewise, Delphi utilized NED funds to create the Nicaraguan Women’s Movement (MMN) to link female leadership in the UNO with potential electorates. As one Delphi document explained, “As the program advances, women will play a significant role in the electoral process as never before seen in the history of Nicaragua.”xxxviii

1989 saw a skyrocketing increase in the budget for Nicaraguan activities. The CIA was given over $10 million to provide logistical support for the UNO, nearly $3 million for the NED, and $1 million for organizations to travel to Nicaragua to observe in the run-up to the election cycle.xxxix One of these organizations had been the Carter Center, founded by the The_Carter_Centerformer president in 1981 to “advance peace and health worldwide.”xl The impressive co-founder list, published in their annual reports, shows a diverse cross-section of the burgeoning transnational capitalist class, including many of Carter’s colleagues in the Trilateral Commission (Warren Christopher, Sidney Harman, David Packard), members of the CFR (James Robinson III), the Committee on the Present Danger (David Packard), the Rockefeller Foundation (Mathilde Krim), the BCCI (Agha Hasan Abedi), and one of the founders of the WACLxli (Ryoichi Sasakawa).xlii

Problems were certainly arising – the Nicaraguan elite, a longtime band of warring brothers, continued to bicker amongst themselves and threaten the UNO’s hegemony over the oppositional field. The NED’s reports had duly observed that it was “essential that the opposition understands that failure to unify jeopardizes external assistance.”xliii To ensure that an acceptable unification continued on track would require direct NED intervention with the UNO party, yet such the endowment was barred from such an act by its charter. To avoid these regulations the NED took a page from the CIA’s book and organized a civic opposition group, the Institute for Electoral Promotion and Training (IPEC). US strategists hand-picked the members of IPEC’s five-person board, selecting individuals who were all top leaders in the UNO – including Alfredo Cesar, Chamorro’s primary campaign adviser.xliv The Institute faced temporary setbacks; in one instance, the Sandinistas froze its US funds, amounting to $1.5 million, in the Nicaraguan Central Bank, for failing to register as nonprofit organization.xlv The funds were only released to IPEC after negotiations, spearheaded by Jimmy Carter, assured Ortega and the government that the money wasn’t going to support the UNO. Regardless of Carter’s protestations, however, the money went to UNO aligned forces. Cesar later told representatives from the Latin download (16)American Studies Association that IPEC only trained election monitors who were “associated with the UNO and YATAMA, an Indian alliance backing the UNO on the Atlantic coast.”xlvi A later audit also showed that IPEC was also paying the salaries of UNO employees and candidates, and was helping to cover the costs of television commercials, radio spots, and other promotional techniques.xlvii

ifeslogosmallIf the IPEC was the primary vehicle of NED support for the UNO itself, then the endowment’s primary operator in the extended civil society network was the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). IFES, boasting the tagline that “the art of building a democracy should be based on the science of designing free and fair elections,”xlviii drew its leadership primarily from pro-Contra advocates in the US; there was F. Clifton White, a close colleague of William Casey and a board member of the IRI; Richard Scammon, who had been a member of the Kissinger Commission, Richard Stone, Reagan’s special envoy to Latin America, NED founder and director Charles Manatt, executive director of the Young Americans for Freedom (a youth organization affiliated with the John Birch Society) Randal Teague; and Henry Quintero.xlix

The main target of the IFES’s NED money was Via Civica, “a nonpartisan grouping of notables” that promoted “ballots, not bullets.”l The organization’s stated agenda attempted to depict itself as nonpartisan, free from affiliation with any political party. But like IPEC and all other NED-funded adventures, it was aligned primarily with the UNO and interlocked with the party’s management. All ten directors of the group “were prominent UNO activists;” three representing parties within the coalition, two from the CPT, and five from the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), a “big business umbrella group” that had received support from both the CIA and the The cozy relationship between the democracy promotion networks and these in-country organizations often presented opportunities for the US operators to make money on the side; shortly after the IFES began working with Via Civica, Quintero was hired as a consultant for the Managua-based construction company Construcciones y Proyectos, which had been owned by Jeronimo Sequiera, one of the interlocks between Via Civica and COSEP.lii

The NED had effectively created an incestuous and rigid hierarchy running through the Nicaraguan civil society, with the UNO sitting alone at the top. Both trade unionists and country’s economic elite were conjoined under its umbrella, and the progressive female voice was being roped in through the MMN. However dynamic this system was, so close to the one being crafted in Chile at the same time, Washington believed that they still had use for their freedom fighters. They had the potential to give the UNO an entirely new level of power and influence.

The Democracy Manipulators

Iran-Contra had been dead for nearly two years when the foreign policy devisers in Washington decided that Contras had proved to be far too useful a tool to cast aside. Following along the lines of recommendations laid out in the Freedom House report, Congress released a $67 million dollar aid package to rebels. The money was meant to “keep the Contras alive, intact, and in existence throughout the electoral process,” Secretary of State James Baker explained, understanding that they had potential to be “an insurance policy until after February elections are certified free and fair.”liii An additional $4.5 million went to enlightening the Contras to the UNO’s cause; they were taught to understand the strategic ramifications of a civic victory in the electoral arena over their opponents.liv

Contras In Prayer

With the sudden influx of money the fighters, who had been lying rather dormant since the end of the multinational arms funnel, began a rapid mobilization back into Nicaraguan from the surrounding countries. Violence, terrorism, and intimidation once again began to dot the landscape as the Contras voluntarily turned themselves in the militant wing of the so-called peaceful coalition. Some fifty Sandinista activists were executed in the latter months of 1989, and over a hundred cases of harassment were reported. Yet the Contras attempted to maintain an altruistic rhetoric about their operations – “our infiltration into Nicaragua has nothing to do with combat,” one Contra explained. “Our only goal is to maintain a presence in our fatherland and alert people about elections and who they can vote for.”lv

In light of these events it becomes perfectly clear what Baker meant when he described the Contras a potential insurance policy – even after the NED’s creation of a unified power bloc of once divided elites, it was still up in the air whether or not the UNO had the power to unseat the Sandinistas. But the war weighed on people’s minds; it had ravaged their country for six long years and had visited horrors on innocent populations. With the sudden resurgence of Contras, the memories of roving death squads and burning towns came flooding back. It was common knowledge that the Contras had the mighty hand of the US riding behind them, and this rendered a stark choice: vote UNO, or watch terror overtake the country once again.

On April 25th, 1990, Violeta Chamorro was elected president, winning 55% of the votes _63433567_nicaragua_chammoro_gover Ortega.lvi The AIFLD and the Carter Center were on hand, acting as election monitors. A poll conducted shortly after her victory revealed the extent of success in the US’s manipulation of democratic sentiment by asking the yes-no question “If the Sandinistas had won, the war never would have ended.” With 91.8% of those polled being pro-UNO voters, 75.6% said yes.lvii The NED was also on hand to commend Chamorro for the victory she had secured. They bestowed her with the Democracy Award during the same ceremony where they also granted one to Vaclav Havel; in her acceptance speech she extolled the UNO’s ability to rouse the passions of the Nicaraguan populations into change. “Democracy was born in Nicaragua – it was done patriotically.”lviii

The US lifted the trade embargo on the country, allowing the long-awaited (albeit unpopular with the majority of the population)lix neoliberal reforms to take place. Chamorro appointed Francisco Mayorga to the position of governor of the central bank, a post from which he could implement new economic policies. The choice was surely to please the Washington establishment, as Mayorga had served as the executive secretary of the International Commission for Central American Recovery and Development, a US-led program that was funded by the Carnegie Corporation and Ford and Rockefeller Foundations.lx Serving alongside Mayorga on the Commission were a number of principles tied to democracy promotion circles; among them were John T. Joyce (of the NED, Freedom House, the AFL-CIO, the SD/USA and PRODEMCA), Enrique Dreyfus (the head of the NED-funded COSEP), Lawrence Eagleburger (at the time serving as the president of Kissinger Associates), Edelberto Torres-Rivas (the Secretary General of the NED-funded FLASCO), and Viron P. Vaky (a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).lxi

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Among Mayorga’s moves was the rapid liberalization of trade, removing tariffs and the creation of a new currency, the “cordoba oro,” which was pegged to the US dollar.lxii The plan was ultimately a failure, as hyperinflation quickly took place and underemployment hit a record high of 44.6%. 17% of the GNP was swallowed while exports grew, albeit at a lower level than they had a year earlier under the Sandinistan government.lxiii Likewise, the deconstruction of public infrastructure had intense ramifications – food consumption fell by 30% in the two years after the reforms began, and diseases that had been eradicated during the Sandinista’s rule (including cholera, malaria, and the measles) returned and reached “epidemic proportions.”lxiv Infant mortality rates, which had leveled off at around 50 per 1000 births in the 1980s, rose to 83 per 1000 in the early 90s. lxvChamorro’s government was forced to make concessions to their leftist opposition – in an agreement with the National Union of Agricultural Producers, the rapid shock therapy-esque reforms were rolled back into a process of gradual liberalization. Despite protestations from COSEP, privatization plans were slowed in exchange for a promise from the unions to not organize strikes at the critical juncture. Finally, just as Pinochet had been forced to do in Chile, the government fixed the cordoba oro’s exchange rate.lxvi

Seeing the possibility of the great democratic victory collapsing, USAID began to pump money into the flailing economy – with a package of over $500 million to be spread over two years, it was the largest program the agency was conducting in the world.lxvii The cost was great, but the aid money finally gave the new Nicaraguan government the opportunity to fully integrate its economics into the international market and secure its place in the world order. By 1992 its position was fully cemented in place, with the country’s foreign debt standing at $11 billion.lxviii Nicaragua paid $495 million in debt interest that year, a number that double the revenue brought in by exports in 1991.

The triumph in Nicaragua had been a significant one, similar to the one that was happening concurrently in Chile. Both countries had a long history of populism and left-wing politics; while the Sandinistas were met with opposition from elements in the elite and from foreign elements, the population at large had seen no contradiction between democracy and socialist governance. For them he real enemy of the democracy was the multinational economic system that forced dictators upon them and their neighboring countries. It is extremely unlikely that the election of Chamorro would have ever occurred with the many years of a war that left untold numbers dead and the economy in tatters. The events of Iran-Contra and the subsequent electoral cycle pose something unique in the machinations of the democracy-industrial complex – low-intensity democracy at literal gunpoint.

f1aOnce cemented in place, the reforms proved impossible to roll back. Chamorro’s successor, Arnoldo Alemán, a former Somoza official, furthered Nicaragua’s place in the global by increasing the number of foreign investments to an all-time high. In 2005 the country had signed into CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), a Bush, Jr. – era initiative that had been overseen by his trade representative Robert Zoellick, who had played a small but supporting role in Nicaragua’s history by urging Bush Sr. to embrace free elections, as opposed to further covert Contra support.lxix Within a few years of helping devise CAFTA, Bush went on to appoint Zoellick as the head of the World Bank.


By the time Danny Ortega and his Sandinista comrades were elected back into power in 2007, they had shunned their previous commitment to Marxism, embracing instead the Washington Consensus with open arms. The CFR has touted Ortega’s conversion, with a recent Foreign Affairs article noting that “IMF approval has reassured private investors that Ortega will not return to the bad old days of the 1980s… notwithstanding occasional rhetoric outbursts against ‘imperialism,’ Ortega has kept Nicaraguan policy well within the boundaries of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement.”lxx The article also boasts that former leftist firebrand has lost his colorful opposition to sweatshops, opting instead to court blue jeans and t-shirt makers to bring their business to Nicaragua’s free trade zones, where workers, in some cases, are routinely verbally and physically abused while working 90 plus hours a week in exchange for as little as $90 a month.lxxiworkers-middlemanager-02-detail-04-www_marekbennett_com

Oliver North may have lost his battle in the 1980s, and pushed the nationalist elite further onto the backburner, but in the long run his ultimate goal, as well as that of the US foreign policy apparatuses, has been accomplished. “Democracy” has been brought to Nicaragua.

i Reed Brody Contra Terror in Nicaragua: Report of a Fact-Finding Mission, September, 1984 – January, 1985 South End Press, pgs. 33-38

ii Ibid, pg. 43

iii Ibid, pg. 48

iv Elaine Sciolino “U.S. Group Finds No Improvement in Contra’s Human Rights Record” New York Times February 10th, 1987

v The criticisms of the North network and subsequent fall-out from Iran-Contra illustrate quite clearly inter-elite divisions according to their aligned faction. As noted several times in this chapter, the entire scheme firmly existed within the realm of the ‘nationalist’ conservative network. Elite criticism of North’s action was extremely commonplace – much of the this portion of the text is derived from reports done by Americas Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), both of whom have received Ford Foundation funding. Ironically, given the NED’s support for the Contras and USAID’s support for the moderate, anti-Sandinista opposition, WOLA’s director, Diane La Voy, went on the become a policy adviser for USAID; while her successor, Joseph Eldridge, has been close to the circles that laid the groundwork for the NED. Later in its existence WOLA has established interlocks with the NED through its Solidarity Center, the AFL-CIO adjunct entity that consolidated the operations of the AIFLD and FTUI. (See Michael Barker “Imperialism and the Washington Office on Latin America” Swans Commentary May 17th, 2010) In a similar vein, the Christic Institute, a public law firm that charged Oliver North with being involved with a secretive assassination cabal that they dubbed the “Secret Team,” was receiving funding from the New World Foundation. At the time of this funding Hillary Clinton was sitting on the board of directors.

vi Brody Contra Terror in Nicaragua pg. 7

vii Sciolino “U.S. Group Finds No Improvement”

viii Brody Contra Terror in Nicaragua, pg. 6

ix William E. Pemberton Exit with Honor: The Life and Presidency of Ronald Reagan M.E. Sharp, 1998 pg. 173

x Ibid., pg. 4

xi Thomas Bodenheimer, Robert Gould Rollback! Right-Wing Power in US Foreign Policy South End Press, 1989 pg. 90

xii Ibid. pg. 89-90

xiii Noam Chomsky Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies South End Press, 1987, pg. 327

xiv Sklar Washington’s War on Nicaragua pg. 258

xv “Nicaragua Downs Plane and Survivor Implicates C.I.A.” New York Times, October 12th, 1986, Gary Web Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion Seven Stories Press, 1998, pg. 319

xvi William Grant “CIA man recount’s Che’s death” BBC News October 8th, 2007

xvii Laurence Louėr Transnational Shia politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf Columbia University Press, 2008

xviii “Oliver North Admits Shredding Files” CNN, July 9th, 1987

xix Scott The Road to 9/11 pg. 23 The roots of this program, later referred to as the “Continuity of Government” (or COG) for short, laid in a “massive domestic intelligence-gathering” operation conducted in the Nixon administration, dubbed “Operation Garden Plot.” (Ibid, pgs. 26-27) Other facets could be traced to the Emergency Operating Center in Dallas, Texas, an operation that was headed up by Jack Crichton, a Texas oilman (not to mention an associate of the father of Oliver North’s benefactor, Nelson B. Hunt) and a member of the 488th Army Intelligence Reserve unit. (Peter Dale Scott “The Doomsday Project and Deep Events: JFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and 9/11” Centre for Research on Globalization, November 22nd, 2011 By the 1980s, when North became affiliated with the COG planning, both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had become involved as well. (Scott, The Road to 9/11, pg. 23)

xx “Carlucci says he’s not feuding with Schultz” The Associated Press April 27th, 1987

xxi Ibid

xxii Robinson Promoting Polyarchy pg. 238

xxiii Ibid, pg. 244

xxiv Ibid, pg. 233

xxv Beth Sims “Democratization, Political Aid, and Superpower Intervention: The U.S. Role in the 1990 Elections” The Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center, April 4th 1991

xxvi Sims Workers of the World Undermined pg. 49, Z Magazine, Volume 3, Institute for Social and Cultural Communications, January 1st, 1990, pg. 55, Nicaraguan Perspectives Volumes 17-20, Nicaraguan Information Center, East Bay Nicaraguan Solidarity Committee, pg. 16

xxvii Sims, Workers of the World Undermined, pg. 49

xxviii Bruce P. Cameron My Life in the Time of Contras University of New Mexico Press, 2007 pg. 97

xxix Sklar Washington’s War on Nicaragua pg. 66

xxx Robinson Promoting Polyarchy pgs. 227-228

xxxi Ibid, pg. 224

xxxii Ibid, pg. 223

xxxiii Sims Workers of the World Undermined pg. 48

xxxiv Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pg. 253

xxxv Ibid., pg. 232

xxxvi Sims Workers of the World Undermined pg. 232

xxxvii Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pg. 225

xxxviii Ibid, pg. 229

xxxix Ibid, pg. 226

xli Bodenheimer, Gould Rollback! pg. 69. Sasawaka, a self-proclaimed fascist, had ties to Japan’s Yakuza criminal underworld and in 1963 he became an adviser to the Unification Church. (David E. Kaplan, Alec Dubro Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld University of California Press, 2003 pg. 65) Working with the Kuomintang (or KMT, forces under Chiang-Kai-Shek that smuggled opium under the watchful eye of the CIA) and the Church, Sasawake set up the Asian People’s Anti-Communist League. In the 1950s, as the agency moved into place to stage their coup in Guatemala, the CIA’s E. Howard Hunt set up an equivalent organization in Mexico City. When the two branches merged they became the World Anti-Communist League. (Scott American War Machine, pg. 52)

xlii Carter Center annual report, 2005-2006

xliii Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pg. 224

xliv Ibid, pg. 226

xlv Richard Bourdeaux “Managua Frees U.S. Funds for Poll Monitors” Los Angeles Times, January 29th 1990

xlvi Beth Sims “Democratization, Political Aid, and Superpower Intervention”

xlvii Ibid.

xlviii International Foundation for Electoral Systems “Democracies Don’t Grow on Trees” brochure, 1989

xlix “International Foundation for Electoral Systems” Right Web

l Robinson Promoting Polyarchy pg. 230

li Ibid, pgs. 230, 222

lii Robinson A Faustian Bargain pg. 76

liii Robinson Promoting Polyarchy pg. 235

liv Ibid, pg. 236

lv Ibid

lvi Alma Guillermoprieto The Heart that Bleeds: Latin American Now Random House, 1995, pg. 39

lvii Robinson Promoting Polyarchy pg. 238

lix Gary Prevost, Henry E. Vanden Politics of Latin America Oxford University Press, 2002, pg. 16

lx International Commission for Central American Recovery and Development The Report of the International Commission for Central American Recovery and Development Duke University Press, 1989 pg. xiii

lxi Ibid, pg. x

lxii Alex E. Fernández Jilberto Liberalization in the Developing World: Institutional and Economic Changes in Latin America, Africa, and Asia Routledge, 1996 pg. 125

lxiii Ibid, pgs. 125-126

lxiv Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pgs. 251-252

lxv Ibid, pg. 252

lxvi Fernandez, Jilberto Liberalization in the Developing World, pg. 127

lxvii Robinson Promoting Polyarchy, pg. 242

lxviii Ibid

lxix Robert Kagan A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990 The Free Press, 1996 pg. 635

lxx Richard Feinberg “Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua’s Soft Authoritarianism: The Story of the Sandinista Survivor” Foreign Affairs November 2nd, 2011

lxxi Carrie Antlfinger “Nicaragua: US Retailers Contract With Sweatshops” Associated Press, August 22nd, 2000

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6 Responses to Bringing Democracy to Nicaragua (Part 2 of 2)

  1. S.C. Hickman says:

    Hey, buddy.. been a while, I see you’re working hard. Looks like you could almost put a good book together now from what I’ve read so far in the past few posts. At least looking a lot slimmer and to the point.

    Yea, I’ve returned mainly to my poetry and my novel writing now. About 20,000 words into a 80,000 word noir fiction set in the deep south. Good luck my friend!

  2. Pingback: The Uses and Abuses of Global Civil Society | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

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