Not very many Americans know the truth that lies beneath the U.S.’ involvement in Nicaragua. Most would be surprised to find out that U.S. armed forces and politicians violated U.S. laws and deliberately sabotaged Nicaragua’s stable government by paying the dictator’s henchmen to kill Nicaraguan citizens. The United States is considered one of the major superpower nations in this world. It is highly influential to other countries and often takes responsibility to intervene with other another country’s problems—especially when it deals with the spreading of communism. When Nicaragua’s dictatorship was overthrown by the popular Sandinistas, a communist regime was successfully put in place. The U.S. immediately feared that Nicaragua’s surrounding countries would eventually become communist due to the Domino Theory. The negative impact of becoming further engaged in the Nicaraguan politics was destructive to both the U.S. and Nicaragua. These actions destabilized the Nicaraguan economy, encouraged civil violence, and motivated members of the American government to violate certain laws to continue their aid to the guerillas.
To fully comprehend the negative impacts of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua, one must be somewhat familiar with Nicaragua’s history. The period in which the Somoza family ruled Nicaragua started on New Year’s Day in 1937, when Anastasio Somoza Garcia had himself elected president. The Somozas ran Nicaragua as their own private estate; “…all three Somozas were dictators who ran the affairs of their country to their personal benefit and against the interests of the vast majority of their countrymen” (Walker 16). Under their dominion, life for the Nicaraguan citizens was harsh, because they suffered from abject poverty. They lived in inadequate housing, ate and dressed poorly, and were overall extremely oppressed by their leaders’ corruption. When the people finally realized that life wasn’t going to get any better, they decided to turn to their only other option, the communist Sandinista government. The U.S. were so anti-Communist that they began to send large sums of money to Somoza’s Guardsmen (who the leaders of the Contras) in order to sabotage the Sandinista government.
One of the goals the U.S. would like to achieve when dealing with Third World nations is to help them become more industrialized and economically stable. Unfortunately, the opposite of this occurred in Nicaragua. Before U.S. involvement, Nicaragua’s economy was reasonably sturdy in the sense that there was a consistent flow of money in and out of the country. “With increasing investment in Nicaragua, as a result of the Alliance for Progress, and the Central American Common Market, this was a period of unprecedented progress” (Pastor, 35). It is obvious that stronger nations would not invest their time and money into a country that was economically declining, thus displaying that at this time, Nicaragua was doing quite well for a Third World nation. With the correct equipment and help from richer nations, Nicaragua could have benefited from the high quality of its land and resources, which would raise the citizen’s yearly income and help with overcoming destitution. U.S. money for the reconstruction of Managua after the incredibly huge “Christmas Earthquake” in 1972 never reached where it was most needed. Instead, Anastasio Somoza Debayle (the president of Nicaragua at the time) “transformed a tragic national loss into a personal financial gain” (Pastor, 36). Somoza’s greediness enticed him to pocket the money instead of directing the funds where they were intended to go. Thus very little was done to help the disaster victims and this is just another example of how his dictatorship was oppressive to the people. This quandary could have been simply avoided if the U.S. had sent an official to manage the money and secure its proper usage.
Through the 1960’s, Nicaragua received from the U.S. $92.5 million in economic aid, and $11 million in military aid. From 1971 to 1976, Nicaragua received three times that amount in economic aid but less in military. (Pastor, 43) From these statistics, it seems that Nicaragua’s economy is being supported by U.S. funding more each year. It is fair to say Nicaragua’s economy was dependent on U.S. aid. When Somoza issued terror raids on his people, the U.S. chose to impose sanctions withdrawing all funding to Nicaragua. By advertising Somoza’s acts of human brutality, the U.S. was able to persuade other countries to consider terminating their current aid to Nicaragua. Not only did Nicaraguan slip further into debt, but also the situation worsened for the poverty-stricken people. “Nicaragua’s economy had failed to attain its prerevolution level in 1983. Investment had stagnated or declined, depending on the sector. The external debt, which was high at $1.5 billion in 1979, reached $3.8 billion in 1983. Agriculture—the dynamic center of the economy before the revolution—declined markedly…. As the war intensified, the economy sank even further” (Pastor, 245). Nicaraguans were so focused on fighting that they didn’t realize that their land was being destroyed and that there weren’t enough people to farm the existing crops. Although the U.S. had intended on using the sanctions as a way to promote human rights and to pressure Somoza to stop the killing, they exacerbated the failing economy.
When the U.S. entered Nicaragua, it sent the people mixed messages. They hoped that the violence would eventually end with the U.S.’ help, but the U.S. did not take an active part in resolving that violence. They did not walk away either. They carried out their own agenda, which consisted of having a non-communist regime. They withdrew military aid from Somoza, because the American citizens disapproved of Somoza’s brutal and tyrannical actions, but they would not support the Sandinistas (the communist group trying to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship) either. Instead, the U.S. financed Somoza’s Guardsmen, the only institution capable of restraining the Sandinistas if they came into power. The constant fighting and bickering among the different groups in Nicaragua had caused the people to become impatient with the U.S. “You Americans have the strength, the opportunity, but not the will. We want to struggle, but it is dangerous to have friends like you… Either help us or leave us alone” (Pastor, 259). The Nicaraguans were very committed to ending the civil war that has haunted their lives for so long. If the U.S. wasn’t going to help them achieve this goal, they should stop watching them over their shoulders. Around 50,00 lives, or approximately two percent of the population had been lost, but the Nicaraguans claimed that “freedom, justice, and national dignity were sometimes worth such a price” (Walker, 20). When people feel strongly about changing something, they are willing to lose their valuables, pride, and sometimes their lives to achieve it. By not letting the people know which side the U.S. opposed or supported, tension mounted between the groups, which indubitably lead to a bloody massacre. “The U.S. is not very knowledgeable. [It] does not know how much blood, how many sacrifices, how much frustration that generations of Latin Americans have gone through” (Pastor, 281). The U.S. worried so much about Nicaragua having a communist government that they overlooked how many lives were lost in their effort to change the government. If the U.S. had made it clear where they stood in the situation, it would have resulted with in a lower death toll.
When the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza regime in 1979, they became the government of Nicaragua. The “rebels” then were the ex-Guardsmen (men from Somoza’s military), who were now running the contra-rebellion. “Aid to the Contra’s had been prohibited by [U.S.] Congress” (History). However, members of the Reagan Administration and the CIA devised a scheme providing illegal funding “under the table.” The plan was to sell shipments of arms to Iran via Israel. The money paid was diverted to the Contra’s resistance force and was overseen by Lt. Colonel Oliver North. The transaction first took place in 1985. (Jewish) The men indicted were: Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger; Head of the Sate Department’s Latin American Bureau, Elliot Abrams; Reagan’s National Security Advisor, Robert C. McFarlane, among many others. (Men) The U.S.’ obsession with anti-Communist groups brought a handful of its leaders to break congressional laws to provide financial assistance to a group that had previously been engaged in a series of war crimes. They ignored the fact that the group of men they supported were ones that killed and abused Nicaraguan citizens during the Somoza dictatorship. The only excuse that they were able to use to uphold their actions in assisting the Contras was that they were in the process of destroying the Communist-backed Sandinista government.
The U.S. participation during Nicaragua’s time of crisis caused its economy to become unstable, bolstered the civil war, and inspired criminal activities by high level politicians and officials in the U.S. Nicaragua’s economy was at an all time high before the U.S. became immersed in it. As more aid was provided to the people, Nicaragua became more dependent upon the U.S. for financial support. This caused further problems when the U.S. decided to sanction Nicaragua. The people had expected the U.S. to stop the brutality when they entered the situation. Unfortunately, the U.S. chose not to do anything and merely observed the circumstances. If the U.S. had let the Nicaraguans deal with their problems their own way, more lives would’ve been saved. The U.S. feared that if communism were successful in Nicaragua, it would soon diffuse to the surrounding nations. When Congress halted the aid to the Contras, many government officials illegally earned money to send to them. “The Nicaraguans are fully aware of the role the United States has played in Nicaragua and that the resentment against the American government is very deep.” Although U.S. politicians were capable of covering up the truth to the American public, the people most effected by these traumatizing experiences will remember the U.S.’ involvement for years to come. A more productive action on the part of the U.S. would have been to pick a side and support if or walk away and let the Sandinista government rebuild Nicaragua on its own. Despite the U.S.’ efforts to help the dilemmas in Nicaragua, they were only able to worsen it.