Twenty Years After Iran-Contra, Washington’s Role in Nicaragua Still a Scandal

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Imagine Osama bin Laden visiting the United States ten or
15 years from now, telling Americans who to vote for if they
want to avoid getting hurt. It would never happen, but in
Nicaragua something very similar happened in the run-up
to their election on November 5.
Former US Lt. Col. Oliver North, who helped organize
and raise funds for a terrorist organization that decimated
Nicaragua in the 1980s, returned to that country’s ground
zero in late October to warn the citizens there against reelecting
Daniel Ortega.
Ortega first came to power in a 1979 revolution led by
the Sandinistas, which overthrew the brutal Washingtonbacked
dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. The Somoza
family had ruled the country since US Marines invaded and
occupied Nicaragua from 1927-1933.
But the US Central Intelligence Agency soon brought guns
and money to the enforcers of the toppled dictatorship,
Somoza’s hated National Guard. Before long these re-named
“contras” were killing health care workers, teachers, and elected
officials—the CIA actually prepared a manual which advocated
the assassination of the latter. The Contras preferred
attacking these “soft targets” rather than the national armed
forces. In that sense they were very much a terrorist organization;
they also used torture and rape as political weapons.
These atrocities brought the Contras universal condemnation
from humans rights groups such as Amnesty International
and Americas Watch. The Sandinistas took the
United States to the World Court for its terrorist actions—
the same court where the US had won a judgment against
Iran just a few years earlier, for the taking of American
hostages. The court ruled in favor of Nicaragua, ordering
reparations estimated at $17 billion.
The heinous nature of these crimes and the direct
involvement of the Reagan Administration disgusted millions
of Americans, even more so after Ortega was democratically
elected in 1984. Led by activists in the religious community,
some hundreds of thousands of US citizens organized
against US funding for the Contras and convinced
Congress to cut it off. That’s where Ollie North came in: on
behalf of the Reagan Administration, he illegally sold arms to
Iran and used the proceeds to fund the Contras. This became
the infamous “Iran-Contra” scandal of twenty years ago.
North was convicted of various felonies for his Iran-Contra
crimes, but never served time because his conviction was
overturned due to a technicality on appeal. In 1990, the Sandinistas
were voted out of office by a public weary of war,
with President George H.W. Bush making it clear that the
violence would continue if the Sandinistas were re-elected.
Nicaragua’s economy never recovered from the war and the
US embargo. Today it is the second poorest country in the
hemisphere, with a per capita income less than it was in 1960.
Now Washington is trying to capitalize on its past terrorism,
combined with present threats, to achieve the same result as in
1990. US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez warned that
“relations with our country have been limited and damaged
when the Sandinistas have been in power” and Republican
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher warned of another economic
embargo and the cutoff of vital remittances that Nicaraguans
here send home to their families. The US Ambassador to
Nicaragua Paul Trivelli has also breached protocol by openly
warning that the United States would “reevaluate relations”
with Nicaragua if Ortega won the elections, as he handily did.
U.S. officials’ intervention went so far as to prompt a public
rebuke from the Organization of American States, which
asked them to stay out of the election. Meanwhile, millions
of US taxpayer dollars are funding “democracy promotion”
activities in Nicaragua, which have previously been used to
influence elections there. And TV commercials showed
footage of corpses from the 1980’s war, a warning of what
might happen if Nicaraguans voted the “wrong” way. Washington’s
intervention in this election remains—as it was in
the 1980s—an international disgrace for the United States.

This article is an updated version of one that was published
on November 3 in the Bergen County Record (NJ)—and
the Passaic County HeraldNews.

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