(Archived document, may contain errors)
THIRTY MYTHS ABOUT NICARAGUA by W. Bruce Weinrod
I am pleased to have the'opportunity today to discuss the U.S. and
Nicaragua. Whatever one's policy conclusions concerning the U.S.
roley it seems to me that it is important to reach those
conclusions with a clear understanding of the facts.
It is with this in mind that I would like to review the current
policy debate on the U.S. role in Nicaragua and present to you my
thoughts on a number of arguments made by critics of current U.S.
policies. one may indeed call at least some of these arguments
myths, since they have continued to be-believed long after there wa
s even a remote basis of'factual justification.
Critics of U.S. policy raise three different kinds of arguments:
the first set minimizes the problems in Nicaragua and the challenge
they present not only to the U.S., but to Nicaragua's neighbors and
its own people. In the second cluster of arguments, the critics
cast aspersionAbn the-nature and competence of the people in the
resistance forces..often r eferred to as the "contras." Lastly,,
many of these critics focus on U.S. involvement and argue that it
is in fact the U.S. itself that is responsible for many problems
related to Nicaragua.
Let me now examine each set of arguments -in some detail.
PART 1: THE NATURE OF THE SITUATION IN NICARAGUA
h #1: Nicaragua is not a security threat to the United
The argument has been repeated countless times that a nation of
3 million can hardly be a threat to the security interests of a
great power such as t he United States. of course, no one is
arguing that San Diego can be taken by the Nicaraguan military;
W . Bruce Weinrod is Director of Foreign -Policy and Defense
Studies at The Heritage Foundation- and Acting Director of the
Arthur Spitzer Institute for Hemispheric Development. These remarks
were prepared for delivery at a seminar at the'Washington and Lee
School of Law, March 11, 1986.
ISSN 0273-1155. Copyright 1986 by The Heritage Foundation.
does pose a military and a geopolitical challenge to U.S.
security interests as well as a direct threat to the pro-U.S. and
anti-Communist democracies on its borders.
Militarily o Nicaragua can potentially provide a bass for Soviet
military operations. An airstrip being constructed at Punt a Huete
could be used by Soviet Bear and Backfire bombers and other
aircraft. Such planes could be used for intelligence and
reconnaissance activities against the U.S.; they would also exert a
psychological influence by demonstrating to Latin America a gr
owing Soviet presence in the Western hemisphere. The deep port
under construction at El Bluff on Nicaragua's east coast could also
provide the same kind of submarine base of opera:tions as now
provided to Moscow at Cienfuegos in Cuba.
In addition to the sh ift in the normal peacetime military
balance that this would represent, such a Soviet presence would
have serious implications at a time of crisis or conflict. Combined
with Cuba, already the largest non-U.S. military force in the
Western hemisphere, a So v iet-Cuban military presence in Nicaragua
would present a real military challenge to U.S. efforts to resupply
its forces in Europe or to shift forces from the Pacific to the
European theatre. It should be recalled that in the first five
months of World War 11, the U.S. lost'153 ships to German
submarines in the Caribbean; today Soviet submarines are much more
capable and less easy to detect 'than those German subs. U.S.
defense officials say that the Soviet-Cuban military capability in
Cuba already is suffi c ient to cause problems for the-U.S. If
Nicaragua were added to this capability, then at a time of crisis
or conflict the U.S. might have to divert significant military
resources that otherwise could be directly employed in the
protection of our.allies in Europe or elsewhere.
o One further implication of this situation should be noted:
should the USSR ever attack Western Europe, it is the agreed
strategy of the U.S. and its fellow NATO democracies that the
employment of nuclear weapons should be avoided if at all possible,
and at the least, delayed until the last possible moment. To the
extent that the U.S. cannot reinforce -its forces, NATO is less
likely to be able to delay or block a Soviet conventional thrust
into Western Europe. In this situation.-the U .S. would be forced
to consider utilizing tactical nuclear weapons at perhaps a
significantly earlier point than would otherwise be the case.
Delays in reinforcing U.S. forces in Europe caused by Western
Hemisphere military problems could be significant. Critics of U.S.
aid to the democratic resistance, who are in some' cases also
critics of nuclear weapons, should consider this potentially
o Interestingly, many critics of U.S. policy toward Nicaragua
suggest that if the Soviets were to establish bases or supply
weaponry to Nicaragua this would, in the words of Arthur
Schlesinger, "produce the same U.S. response as in 1962," referring
of course to the Cuban missile crisis. For some reason, such
critics seem perfectly willing to calmly contemplate a repeat of
the m ost serious nuclear crisis in history rather than see the
U.S. provide small amounts of funds preventing this possibility
from ever developing by aiding Nicaraguans who wish to fight for
their own freedom. Such critics ignore the fact the nuclear balance
h as shifted significantly from 1962 when the U.S. had a decisive
nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union. A similar confrontation
today would not necessarily be resolved so neatly. Further, given
past behavior, many of these critics would find ways to ra
tionalize each modest increment of Soviet military involvement and
would urge acceptance of the new status quo, as the'U.S. has done
with-Soviet involvement in Cuba.
Geopolitically o Nicaragua, with a military larger than all its
Central American neighbors combined, can militarily*intimidate
bordering nations, all of which are developing nations with fragile
democracies.that can be easily destabilized. -It can also
destabilize.emerging fragile ' democracies throughout Latin
America, thereby causing polariz ation and chaos---=nditions in
which small, disciplined Communist factions can possibly seize
power. (As will be noted in the discussion on Nicaraguan
expansionism, this is no mere hypothesis; Nicaragua-has been doing
and is doing exactly this today.)
o Ni caragua could cause particular problems with respect to the
Panama Canal and Mexico--both very important to U.S. security.
one-half of U.S. foreign trade goes through the Panama Canal or the
Gulf of Mexico; two-thirds of U.S. imported oil and one-half of i
ts strategic minerals pass through the Panama Canal. In addition,
many of our allies in Europe, Asia, and Latin America depend even
more heavily than the U.S. on the Canal for their external
commercial activities. Further, the ability of the U.S. to resup
ply its forces in Europe, or to quickly shift forces from the
Pacific to Europe in time of conflict or crisis, would be
substantially hampered if the Canal were to be inoperable.
o For decades, the U.S. has been able to fulfill its
security-related obligat ions to its allies without having to be
greatly concerned about its own borders. If this were to change,
the U.S. might well need more military forces in this hemisphere. A
reassessment of our military deployments in Europe, Asia, and
elsewhere could resu lt in a pullback of some of our forces to this
Myth #2: The Sandinistas are not Communists.
The Sandinistas, it is said, are not primarily ideologically
motivated. Rather they are intense nationalists with an
understandable antipathy towards the U.S. given the past U.S. role
Nicaragua. This is an interesting theory, but unfortunately for
its proponents it is overwhelmingly contradicted by the facts.
Evidence of the Sandinista leadership's fealty to Communism can be
found in the statements of those who knew them best,, members ofthe
U.S. Congressf their own statements, and the general language they
o There are now numerous individuals who,, having fought with
the Sandinistas against Somoza or worked with the Sandinistas once
they were in power, decided to abandon the Sandinista cause. There
is not one of them who does not unhesitatingly say that the
Sandinistas are Communists. To give only two examples: Eden
Pastora, perhaps the most inspirational of the anti-Somoza military
leaders,' states that the Sandinistas are "the leaders of Marxist
orthodoxy" and carry out policies of "subservience to the Soviet
Union." Arturo Cruz,-who served as a high official of the
Sandinistas, now says that they "are dominated by Marxist-Leninist
o Although it took some years for the truth to finally get
through, there is probably not a single member of Congress today
who would disagree with Senator William Cohen's assertion that the
Sandinistas "are indeed committed Marxist-Leninists.11 Thus,,
although there are important differences among members of Congress
concerning U.S. policy, there is aimost total agreement on the
nature of the Sandinista regime.
o The Sandinistas have themselves made clear for some time to
all who care to listen that t hey are Communists. In 1981, Minister
of Defense Humberto Ortega statedi "Marxism-Leninism is the'
scientific doctrine which guides our revolution, the instrument of
analysis of our vanguard to understand the historical process and
to create the revolutio n ... without Sandinismo we cannot be
Marxist-Leninist and Sandinismo without Marxism-Leninism cannot be
revolutionary and because of that they are indissolubly united and
because of that ... our doctrine is Marxism-Leninism." In September
1983, Thomas Bor ge, Minister of Interior, stated that he was
a*Commiunist and later stated that one cannot be a true
revolutionary in Latin America. without being Marxist-Leninist.
o Interestingly, many of the stateme .nts and documents,
especially those captured and unin tended for Western audiences,
illustrate the use of pure Marxian language and analysis by the
Sandinista leadership. For example, Humberto Ortega on August 25,
1981,, argued that "On July 19, 1979,, world society was polarized
into two major camps ... the camp of capitalism, headed by the
United States, and the rest of the capitalist countries in Europe
and throughout the world ... and the socialist camp made up of
various countries ... with the
1 . Indeed, shortly after these remarks were delivered, even House
Speaker Tip O'Neill acknowledged that the Sandinistas are
Soviet Union in the vanguard." This statement,, quite typical of
Sandinista analysis, indicates that Sandinistas think politically
in Marxian terms. This fact takes on added significance when
considered in the context of the Grenada documents captured aft e r
the U.S military action there. These documents, which confirmed
beyond any doubt that the Grenadian leadership was indeed
Communist,, showed their leaders using exactly the same Marxian
analysis. Although some critics of U.S. policy have difficulty appr
e ciating it,, the Sandinistas, as did the Grenadians, take ideas
seriously and act upon them. In their case,, the ideas are those of
Marx,, Lenin,, and Castro. o Finally, the Sandinistas' ciose ties
to the Soviet union and its allies and proxies (which are covered
in detail in the section on Nicaraguan "non-alignment93 undermines
the suggestion that the Sandinistas are simply anti-U.S.
nationalists rather than Communists. Myth #3: Nicaragua is not
Even 'if Nicaragua is Communist-controlled, so the argument goes,
it is in any event not a threat to its neighbors,, and therefore
the. United States need not be overly concerned. In fact,
Nicaragua's expansionism is confirmed by opponents of current U.S.
policies, journalists, those receiving Nicara guan assistance,
governments being undermined by that assistance, captured
documents, and Nicaragua's own statements.
o You as law students are undoubtedly aware.that "an admission
against interest" is an admission by someone'whose case will be
hurt by mak ing that admission. You also know that it is an
especially interesting factor when weighing conflicting arguments.
in line with this -principle,' it is quite significant that even
those who oppose U.S. policies toward Nicaragua by and large
acknowledge Ni c araguan expansionism. For example, then U.S.
ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White,, a strong critic of U.S.
Central American policy,, cabled the White House in early 1980
stating, "sworn enemies of the U.S. are mounting a tightly
orchestrated campaign o f propaganda and political manipulation to
cover the introduction over the last few months of hundreds of tons
of sophisticated military equipment and hundreds of foreign-trained
guerrilla fighters into this country." White also told Congress in
February 1 981, that the Salvadoran guerrillas had "imported
massive quantities of arms by way of Nicaragua." Senator Daniel
Moynihan, a critic of U.S. policy, has also stated flatly that
Nicaragua is providing aid to El Salvador's insurgents. He said in
1984, "It i s the judgment.of the Senate Intelligence Committee
that Nicaragua's involvement in the affairs of El Salvador, and to
a lesser degree, its other neighbors, continues." Perhaps most
decisive,, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which
has oppos ed U.S.
2. @See page 8.
policy toward Nicaragua and is chaired by Rep. Edward Boland, a
close friend of House Speaker Tip O'Neill, the most prominent
critic of U.S. policy toward Nicaragua, concluded as early as March
1982 that Nicaragua was "thoroughly involved in the El Salvador
insurgency." In its report filed on May 13, 19830 the Committee
stated that: a major portion of the arms and other material sent by
Cuba and other Communist countries to the Salvadoran insurgents
transit Nicaragua with the perm i ssion and assistance of -the
Sandinistas. The Salvadoran insurgents rely on the use of sites in
Nicaragua some of which are located in Managua itself, for
communications, command-and-control, and for the logistics to
conduct their financial, material and p ropaganda activities. The
Sandinista leadership sanctions' and dtrectly facilitates all'of
the above function'se Nicaragua provides a range of other support
activities, including secure transit of insurgents to and from
Cuba, and assistance to the insurge n ts in planning their
activities in El Salvador. In addition, Nicaragua and Cuba have
provided training to the Salvadoran insurgents. The conclusions in
the report were reaffirmed by Chairman Boland in a 1984 discussion
on the floor of the House of Represe n tdtives; and as late as
August 1985, the entire Congress approved without dissent a
statement in the PY 85 Foreign Aid Authorization legislation that
"Nicaragu4 has committed and refuses to cease aggressiori in the
form of armed subversion against its nei g hbors.... o Several
journalists have reported on their own direct observation of
Nicaraguan assistance to anti-government-forces in neighboring
nations. Washington Post reporter Sam Dillon reported on a
September 1983 visit to the Nicaraguan town of La Co n cha where "a
radio-equipped warehouse and boat facility disguised as a fishing
cooperative on an island in northwestern Nicaragua, has served for
three years as a trans-shipment point for smuggling arms to El
Salvador, numerous residents here say." In fac t , the evidence of
ng Nicaraguan expansionism is now so overwhelming that even such a
stro critic of U.S. policy as Washington Post columnist Steven
Rosenfeld acknowledged in a February 1986 column that the
Sandinistas "have not left their neighbors alone. The
Administration has good claim for concern." o In unguarded
moments,, some of those'rece 'iving Nicaraguan assistance in other
countries have acknowledged this fact. In February 1985, Guillermo
Manuel Ungo, leader of the political wing of the anti-gove r nment
forces in El Salvador, according to The New York Times, "offered
tacit confirmation of Nicaraguan assistance when he said that the
rebels would be willing to suspend all aid from Nicaragua ... if
the Salvadoran government stopped accepting aid from the United
States." in April 1985, Napoleon Romero, one of the
highest-ranking.Salvadoran guerrilla leaders ever to turn himself
stated flatly,, "Nicaragua is a directional center of the
[Salvadoran rebels]." He added that "Nicaragua gives many f orms of
aid and has given us logistics assistance and since 1981 has given
us weapons." o The governments of several democratic Latin American
nations have officially charged the Sandinistas with interference
in their countries. As early as March 1982, Co s ta Rican security
forces raided a San Jose, Costa Rica house and captured nine
terrorists, including two Nicaraguans. El Salvador's President
Duarte has charged Nicaragua with subversion many times, such as in
a July 1984 statement that "we have a problem of aggression by
Nicaragua against El Salvador ... they are sending in weapons,
training people, transporting bullets and bringing all of that to
Nica'raguals other neighbor, Honduras, has also officially
denounced N'icaraguan expansionism many times, including an
official protest to the Organization of American States in August
of 1982 outlining a series of specific hostile acts by Nicaragua.
In November 1981,.captured individuals stated that Nicaragua had
provided them with funds and exp l osives and that'they had been
trained in Nicaragua and infiltrated into Honduras from Nicaragua.
In November 1983, a guerrilla unit was captured by Honduran
military forces and acknowledged that it had infiltrated from
Nicaragua. 'The Sandinistas have als o spread their
destabilization-efforts beyond their immediate neighbors. In late
1985, M-19 guerrillas in Colombia occupied the courthouse in
Bogota; after they were ovdrwhelmed,, weapons traceable to
Nicaragua were found with the guerrillas. Colombia sent an .
official protest to Nicaragua but that did not stop' Tomas Borge
from attending a memorial service for the guerrillas.
o Finally, statements by Nicaraguan leaders.have both explicitly
and implicitly acknowledged Nicaraguan involvement in such activit
ies. Congressman James Sensenbrenner recounted a visit with Daniel
Ortega in which the Congressman asked Ortega to publicly reject the
doctrine of "revolution without borders." According
to*Sensenbrenner,, Ortega refused to do so; rather,, "he said-that
N i caraguans would talk about stopping their exportation of
revolution if the U.S. would cut off aid to the Contras.... 11 In a
June 1985 a New York Times interviewer reported that Ortega
"conceded that Nicaragua had'once been used to ship weapons to
guerril l as in El Salvador.... 11 This is a parti'cularly
interesting admission since during that period Nicaragua
consistently denied that it was providing such assistance. Thus,
any claims it makes now or in the future that it is not providing
such assiptance .s hould be viewed in the context of earlier
Since coming to power in 1979, the-S andinistas have beer provided
bases, training, weapons, and logistical support for numerous Latin
American revolutionaries and have been working with such
international terrorists as the Palestine Liberation Organization
and Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi. The Sandinistas also work
closely with Cuba in supporting terrorism and smuggling narcotics
into the U.S. Drug
trafficking is used not only to addict and undermine American
society, but to provide operational funds for terrorism.
h #4: Nicaragga is non-aligned.
Nicaragua, it is said, has not joined-the Soviet bloc but rather is
merely exercising the prerogative of any nation to conduct an
independent foreign policy. This was a popular argument several
years ago, but very few now care to present a position so dif
ficult to defend. The Nicaraguan political and military alliance
with the Soviet bloc is made clear by the Sandinistas' own
statements as well as their actions.
o On numerous occasions over the years Sandinista leaders have
forthright;y stated their sympat hies for the Soviet bloc. As
recently as February 1986, Daniel Ortega attended the Third Party
Congress of the Cuban Communist Party and stated that Nicaragua's
relationship with Cuba was "unalterable,, nonnegotiable and sealed
with the blood of Cuban int ernationalists fallen on Nicaraguan
soil.... "- Ortega also praised "the extraordinary effort that the
Soviet Union carries out in favor of peace....
o Sandinista actions over the years have also'made their sympathies
clear. Shortly after the Sandinista ta keover, Nicaragua was one of
the few nations to abstain on a U.N. vote to condemn the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan. The Sandinistas have.also welcomed the key
sectors in the "international totalitarian consolidation force"
from East Germany, Czechoslova k ia, Libya and elsewhere into their
country; and they have also established links between the
Sandinista party and Communist parties of those European nations
most subservient to the Soviet Union--East Germany,
Czechoslovakia,, and Bulgaria. Nicaragua is a lso affiliated with
all the major international Communist front organizations, such as
the World Peace Council and the World Federation of Trade Unions.
Myth #5: The situation in Nicaragua isn't that bad.
It is true that Nicaragua is not yet a fully consolidated Communist
state. However, it is clearly moving rapidly in that direction and
the result is that: human rights are abused,'civil liberties are
denied, and religious sentiment is repressed.
o Numerous.defectors from the Sandinistas, along with indep endent
human rights observers, have revealed extensive human rights abuses
by the Nicaraguan government. The Nicaraguan Permanent Commission
on Human Rights,, which had also exposed abuses by the Somoza
regime,, has reported that in the first year of the S andinista
government there were over 2,500 human rights complaints,,
including 520 "disappeared persons" and around 200 alleged summary
executions along with the establishment of secret detention
centers. The Sandinistas also have severely suppressed the
Miskito'Indians of Nicaragua.
Quite recently, Sandinista defector Alvaro Baldizon has
estimated that 2,000 Nicaraguans have been kidnapped,, tortured,,
or executed by the Sandinistas since the revolution. Baldizon, who
had worked for Interior Minister To mas Borge, has said that Borge
approved-a secret plan for assassinations to be carried out against
low and mid-level opposition activists, peasants judged sympathetic
to the rebels, captured prisoners, and Miskito Indians. The free
trade union publication has been banned.
It is also worth noting that, unlike the El Salvador government
and the democratic resistance 'in Nicaragua, there are no
self-imposed independent human rights commissions operating inside
Nicaragua authorized by the government. Further, while there exists
outside pressure on the democratic resistance from the United
States government as well as U.S. and Western independent human
rights groups, there is certainly no equivalent pressure on 'the
Nicaraguan government from its allies such as the Soviet Union,
Cuba,, and Libya.
0 Th e Sandinistas also hold an estimated 4,000 political
prisoners which is more than Somoza jails held at their most full
point. They have also forcibly.evacuated upwards of 80,000 peasants
against their .will in thei r effort to'remove popular support for
the resistance forces. The published reports of the independent
Permanent Commission on Human Rights have been banned.
o Sandinista harassment of the Catholic Church has increased. In
October, 1985, the Church's newspaper was confiscated and its '
facilities occupied. On January 1. 1986, the Church's radio station
was permanently closed.
o Civil liberties have been curtailed almost since the start of
the Sandinista regime. As early as 1981, the Sandinistas issued a "
state of economic and social emergency" which made strikes illegal
and provided for jail sentences of up to three years for the very
vague crime of "economic sabotage." The Sandinistas also'declared a
"state of emergency" in March of 1982, which they used as an excuse
for imposing formal censorship. Recently, on October 15, 1985, the
Sandinistas issued a new decree suspending the rights of
free-speech, assembly, personal security and movement,, and the
right-to organize strikes. Throughout the Sandinista y ears, the
Nicaragua government has particularly harassed the one remaining
independent newspaper, !La Prensa.
As only one example of hundred s, in November 1985, the
Sandinistas censored all of the essentially non-political
information in 'La Prensa about the visit of Cardinal Obando y
Bravo to the city of Camuapa where the Cardinal said that the first
thing a Christian must do is obey God. It also censored a note sent
to all Catholics who were goingto receive Confirmation on
The former director of the Permanent Commission on Human Rights,
Jose Esteban Gonzalez,, has said,, "The official Sandinista press
regulations permit less free dom of the press in Nicaragua today
than under the 'black code' of the Somoza dictatorship." Violetta
Chamorro,, the widow of Pedro Chamorro whose assassination
triggered the downfall of Somoza,, has called,, the Somoza era the
"bloodiest dynasty this hem isphere has had" but that "I feel now
that I am reliving that horrible nightmare." In addition,, since
1979,, 20 radio news programs have stopped broadcasting and both TV
stations are controlled by the Sandinistas.
The Sandinistas have also suppressed oppo sition political
activities which could threaten their power. In March 1981, the
Sandinistas blocked a political rally and a mob sacked the houses
of supporters.of Alfonso Robelo, then a leader of one of the
political parties aligned with the Sandinistas. In 1984, the
supporters of Arturo Cruz were harassed when they sought to have a
rally in support of his potential candidacy for president of
Myth #6: Nicaragua still has a Rrivate sector.
This is'-factually correct but:
o Key leaders of the private sector have been harassed and
intimidated since the Sandinistas took 'control. Shortly after
the.Sandinista takeover, for example, Jorge Salazar, a key leader
of the business .community, was assassinated by government
o Because of the decl ining economy, the strength of the private
sector has weakened considerably. While there is some business
community support for the government, it comes only from a few who
have made their own bargains with the Sandinistas in which they are
allowed to kee p their enterprises in return for support of the
Sandinista goverment. The Sandinistas find this is a useful
arrangement for the time being since it allows them to seduce the
naive with claims of a mixed economy. in any event, the key sectors
of the-econom y such as the banks, foreign and internal trade, and
currency exchange rates are in the hands of the Sandinistas. Only
29 percent of the land in Nicaragua now remains in private
Myth #7: The "PeoRle's Church" is the authentic avenue of
Ropular religious expression.
This is in fact what the Sandinistas would like outsiders to
believe but the facts are that:
0 The'Sandinistas have forbidden outdoor masses and banned'the
Catholic radio station precisely because they understand how deep
the wellsprings of popular affection for the traditional church are
among .the people of Nicaragua.
o In fact, the leader of the Church in Nicaragua has bedn
consistently critical of the suppression of human rights under both
Somoza and the Sandinistas. Bishop Ob ando y Bravo acted as an
intermediary to arrange the release of Sandinista political
prisoners from Somoza's jails and issued statements,in effect
legitimizing armed revolt against Somoza. He has preached "unity
and national reconciliation" in his homilie s to the Nicaraguan
people. Another top church official, Bishop Pablo Vega, was
attacked by Somoza as "the red Bishop." Ironically,, both have been
harshly denounced by the Sandinistas and Obando y Bravo has been
called "an imperialist agent." And Somoza r eserved particular
venom for Obando y Bravo in his memoirs.
o The real situation with respect to the popular church was
summed up by Peruvian writer Mario-Vargas Llosa.who.said that "the
efforts of the leaders,of the 'People's Church' to combine politics
and religion have only found a response in the intellectuall y
militant members of the middle class, most of whom were already
converts." The popular church "is largely composed of members'of
the religious elite ---; priests and layman whose intellectual
dispositions and socio-political work lie beyond the scope of most
of the Catholic poor."
.o As reporter Edward Sheehan noted in February 1986,, 11 ...
after travelling throughout Nicaragua, after observing the
multitudes who flock to the traditional church, after entering so
many hovels with pictures of Obando and t he pope,,-1 am convinced
the traditional church commands the loyalty of most Nicaraguans and
that the popular church attracts only a small minority. John Paul
11 and Miguel Obando, in that order, are the most popular men in
Mh #8: The Nicaragua government is higLh-ly DoRular.
Some Sandinista excesses can be accepted at least temporarily,
it is argued, since the government retains the support of the great
mass of the Nicaraguan people. There is definitely.a hard care of
Sandinista support, espe cially among members of the urban youth
and the intelligentsia, but much of Nicaragua's population is
o It is difficult for organized opposition to develop and
express itself'simply because of the Sandinista mechanisms of
intimid ation, particularly such institutions as the "block
committees," similar to those in Cuba, in which fanatical
supporters of the Sandinista's report on those who actively oppose
the regime or even voice criticisms. As an official of the
Independent Permane n t Commission for Human Rights, which attacked
Somoza as well, has observed,, "The fact is that we are constantly
hearing of members of political parties and independent. labor
unions who are being arrested or pressured to become informers for
the security police. The government allows these groups to exist
only as long as they remain small and pose no threat." Further,, as
Alfonso Robelo, a former Sandinista official now-a leader of the
democratic resistance has observed, "In a totalitarian regime
you have block committees, where you have such control you have
rationing cards if you want to eat rice and beans, you do not get
internal fronts working very easily. You.do get it in authoritarian
regimes ... so, it's a huge difference between fighting a n
authoritarian regime than if you are fighting a totalitarian regime
that.has controls of all the goods and besides that controls the
cities very tightly."
o In the countryside many peasants and farmers are increasingly
sympathetic to the resistance. As e arly as May 1983, Charles Lane,
who had visited Nicaragua, wrote in The New Republic that few
people supported the government and most blamed the Sandinistas,,
not the United States, for their problems. As Robert Leiken
concluded after a visit to Nicaragu a in late 1984,,
"SympathymitX_the Contras is becoming more open and more pervasive.
I was stunned to hear peasants refer to the Contras as I'los
muchachos,,11 the boys--the admiring term used to describe the
Sandinistas when.they were battling the'Nationa l Guard." Leiken
observed a political rally and concluded that,, "These thousands of
demonstrators were hardly "bourgeosiell as the Sandinistas claimed.
They were overwhelmingly workers, peasants and young people ...
They chanted slogans like "El Prente y S omoza son la misma cosa.11
(The Sandinistas and Somoza are the same thing.) Reporter. Edward
Sheehan wrote in February 1986 that "The regime--exc'ept for the
few who benefit from it--has become vastly unpopular." Reflective
of all this is the fact that ov er 200,,000 people have fled
Nicaragua since the Sandinistas took control.
o In a recent interview, the newly elected president of Costa Rica,
who opposes U.S. military assistance to the democratic resistance,
has himself said that the Sandinistas would get only 12 percent to
15 percent of the vote if honest elections'were held.
Myth #9: Whatever else may be wrong or bad. at least the peoples'
lives are better.
This argument is the last refuge of those intellectually honest
enough to concede that other ar guments in defense of the
Sandinistas are basically invalid. It is possibly correct that for
a portion of the very worst off people in Nicaragua, some aspects
of their living conditions, particularly relating to health care,
are better. Nonetheless, for m ost Nicaraguans things are no-better
and in many ways worse than in the past.
o The economy itself is in extremely bad shape (and this was
already true, as discussed later, much before the U.S. economic
boycott.) The general economic level is that of the e arly 1960s
and thus all except the privileged few must struggle within this
economic reality. As Boston Globe reporter Edward Sheehan noted in
February 1986 after a visit,, "In Somoza's time the Nicaraguan
cordoba sold seven to the dollar. When I arrived in Managua in
mid-December, it sold on the black market 800 to the dollar. When I
left in late January, it was
selling for 1220 to the dollar. The cordoba has become essentially
worthless--today in Nicaragua, paradoxically, only dollars count.
The poo r--whom the revolution was supposed to redeem--suffer'most
of all." He added that,, "The streets swarm with begging children,,
unemployment is high,, and most of the population lives in squalor.
The Sandinistas have built housing, but by most accounts it i s
reserved for the party faithful." o The massive economic problems
and growing corruption have cancelled out a good deal of whatever
modest advances-in attention for the very poor had actually
occurred. Robert Leiken observes that "during the winter of 1 984
and 1985, many of the public clinics were without medicine and
equipment, but [medicines] ... turned up on the black market."
Further, Sandinista policies have caused.manyte-alth specialists-to
o The old Somoza privileged class has been replaced by a Sandinista
privileged class, a Nicaraguan version of the Soviet nomenklatura,
which has special privileges and access to special stores with
imported goods. As Robert Leiken has noted,
The lifestyle s of the new rich contrast vividly with-that of the
rest-of the country and with official rhetoric .... Party members
shop at hard-currency stores, dine at luxury restaurants restricted
to Party officials and vacation in the mansions of the Somoza
dynasty ,, labeled as "protocol houses." Vans pull up daily at
government and Party offices to'deliver ham, lobster, and other
delicacies not available elsewhere.
Corruption, which also damages the economy, is widespread. The
chief of the Sandinista police has said, "The problem of corruption
and economic crime is so great that it could damage Nicaragua as
much as counterrevolutionary activities."
o Even if it were true that more Nicaraguans can read and write
since the downfall of Somoza, the tragedy is that they have no
choice as to what to read. The textbooks are full of
Marxist-Leninist indoctrination, the only independent newspaper is
heavily-censored, the Catholic Church's newsletter has been banned,
and only publications from Communist bloc nations are read i ly
available to the general public; and even those who can now write,
of course, are not able to write anything that publicly deviates
from Sandinista orthodoxy. As Pedro Joaquim Chamorro, the
self-exiled former editor of ,La Prensa has said, the Sandinis tas
have instituted "the most terrible censorship in the history of
Latin American dictatorships."
Myth #10: The Sandinistas have a better human rights record than
other nations. Particularly Guatemala. This particular argument has
been a longstanding :@ivorite of critics of U.S. policy. of course,
today Guatemala is a democracy. It was certainly true in the past
that an a given day the excesses of the Guatemalan military may
have exceeded those of the Sandinistas,, and those excesses should
have been and were vigorously denounced, and pressure exerted to
o Even in those awful past days,, however, there was still an
important difference between a totalitarian regime such as the
Sandinistas and an authoritarian regime such as that of Guatemal a
at that time. As Michael NoVakhas noted,, "The totalitarian regime
ciaims, as the authoritarian regime does not, to embody right and
wrong in its own will. It allows for no gap between the claims of
state and-the claims of morality.- What it says, what i t does,
that is moral. Neither in principle nor in practice does it allow
for any other justification. That is what makes totalitarianism
novel. That is what makes totalitarianism monstrous." Finally,, as
Novak observed,, "Totalitarian regimes do not meas u re their
success by the number of corpses they keep up but by the degree to
which they render all citizens living corpses; and,, "Authoritarian
regimes--like democratic regimes--derive legitimacy by reference to
values outside the will of the rulers and t he state. It is this
gap between the claims of the state and the moral principles from
which it derives its legitimacy that makes the progress of liberty
and individual rights possible."
o Further, unlike the Sandinistas' totalitarian system, there
existed in Guatemala at that earlier time the seeds of a potential
evolution toward more humane and more democratic structures and
systems. That is because Guatemala, as an authoritarian regime,
permitted to exist and even allowed to be strengthened many of the
k ey infrastructures of democratic evolution. Thus, while it was
certainly not inevitable, it is also not surprising that Guatemala
has now joined.the ranks of those nations consolidating fragile
democracies, much as I and many other observers had long pred icted
could happen. The result is to take away one of the very last props
used by critics of U.S. policy toward Nicaragua.
a Another key difference is that it is usually easier to moderate
or end the excesses of authoritarian regimes such as Guatemala's pr
evious government, and indeed even end that regime entirely, than
it is to do the same.for a totalitarian-regime. in fact,,'while
there are numerous examples of improvement or evolution of
authoritarian regimes into systems which institutionalize human ri
g hts and civil liberties, there is not a single such example for
such changes among communist systems. One reason was suggested by
Alfonso Robelo, whom I quoted earlier, based on his own
experiences. Let me repeat what he said,," ... so,, it's a huge
diffe rence between fighting an authoritarian
regime than if you are fighting a totalitarian regime that has
controls of all the goods and besides that controls the cities very
h #11: Elections have legitimized Sandinista power.
It is contended that the U.S. should not be supporting forces
struggling against the Sandinista government because it has
subjected itself to elections and is now the legitimate government
of Nicaragua. For the moment,, the Sandinistas clearly are the
effective governing force in Nicaragua but their raw power was in
no-way legitimized-by the elections of 1985.
o The test for a free and fair election has two parts: firstf
whether the campaign itself was free and fair,, and second,,
whether the .election day balloting was free and fair. on the first
point alone, the elections were not free and fair. In fact, the S
andinistas controlled every aspect of the election process,
including the electoral machinery, the police, the army, the
courts, and mass organizations such as neighborhood watch
committees. Precisely because of the unfairness of the electoral
process, Ar turo Cruz, the only real threat to the Sandinistas,
declined to become a presidential candidate.
o The'elections themselves were not run fairly. Two-thirds of the
precincts did not have a single observer from any-party except the
Sandinistas to monitor-the conduct of voting operations and report
o Outside observers have also questioned the legitimacy of the
elections. Carlos Andres Perez, who was President of Venezuela at
the time the Sandinistas took power and who played an important ro
le in supporting them at that time and subsequently,, stated that
"sufficient guarantees were not provided." Perez refused to attend
the inaugural ceremony and stated that he felt "cheated." Arturo
Cruz called the proceedings an "electoral charade." The W a
shington Post stated that the Sandinistas"I'Marxist-Leninist side
showed throuqh,,.and the democratic opposition, faced with a
measure of harassment that prevented fair campaigning, withdraw."
And The New York Times stated,, "Only the naive believe that S
unday's election was democratic or legitimizing proof of the
o None of this should come as a surprise to those who have reviewed
statements made by the Sandinistas themselves about elections. In
August of 1981,, Humberto Ortega st ated that elections-"will ih no
way decide who is going to hold power ... power belonqs,to the
Sandinistas, our directorate. in the spring of 1984, Bayardo
Arce-called elections a "nuisance,," and said that the Sandinista
goal was to build "dictatorship o f a proletariat."
o Some might.respond that it is unfair to hold Nicaragua to a high
standard of,fres elections at a time of conflict. That contention
was dealt with astutely by Mexican writer Octavio Paz, who wrote
that,, "In the midst of a bloody ci vil war El Salvador held free
elections ... if political freedom is not a luxury for El Salvador
but a vital concern of its people, why is it not an equally vital
concern of the people of Nicaragua?" In fact, in El Salvador all
factions were offered the o pportunity to participate in the
elections and make their views known, and all non-Communist
observers have agreed that the election day proceedings were free
o The legitimacy of the elections can also be judged by the fact
that not a single leader of a Latin American democracy, or for that
matter any..democracy-in the world,,.attended the inaugural
ceremonies after the elections.
=h #12: The Sandinistas reRresent the "Wave of the Future."
Some critics, taken in by the misappropriation of the rhetoric of
compassion by the Sandinistas,, conclude that.1'radical social
change" is the wave of the future and.that it is not only wrong but
futile for the U.S. to oppose it. But they are wrong.
o Given the historical record beginning with the Soviet revo lution
and continuing through Cuba and now Nicaragua, it is clear that
social and economic conditions do not improve markedly And in many
ways remain stagnant or decline under Communist rule. The real wave
of the future are market-oriented countries such as South Korea and
the Republic of China, whose living conditions have improved
dramatically, and the newly-emerging democracies around the world.
o These same critics have been proved wrong in the past. It is
possible to block the so-called wave of the fu ture. In 1983, for
example,, Robert White,, a strong critic of U.S. iCentral American
policy stated flatly that "the brutal and corrupt Salvadoran
government is falling apart and no amount of military assistance
will enable it to contain the revolutionari es." That has proved to
be just plain wrong. U.S. action played a key role in preserving
the possibility of democratic pluralism there.
PART 11: THE NATURE OF THE RESISTANCE
By now, a number of critics have essentially conceded that most
if not all of the above arguments are indeed myths. Nonetheless,
they cling to the basic essential of their position, which is that
U.S. should not be involved in aiding the democratic resistance.
Much of their fallback argument is addressed to the alleged
failings and wea knesses of the democratic resistance.
Myth #13: The resistance is a "creature" of the CIA."
This argument is made in a way that implies that CIA involvement
in the creation or growth of a resistance movement automatically
disqualifies it for out sympathy. But this is not necessarily the
o For example, suppose that the CIA or its predecessor the OSS,
were to have been involved in the creation of a resistance to Adolf
Hitler. Would the fact of U.S. intelligence involvement
automatically discre dit it? of course not. or what about similar
resistance against Muammar Qadhafi? Again, of course not. Many
forget that CIA operations played important roles-in stabilizing
democracy in Europe after World War 11. At its inception, the
resistance did have a considerable CIA assistance. There is no way
the resistance could have grown to upwards of 20,,000 active
fighters just on CIA involvement alone. Interestingly, the same
critics who have argued for years that a guerrilla force of 6 to 10
thousand among E l Salvador's population of 5 million represents a
genuine popular uprising absolutely refuse to accept that a
resistance force of upwards toward 20,000 among.Nicaraguals
population of 3 million indicate's a genuine resistance. In any
event,, the real issue is not the resistance's origins, but what it
represents today; and today it a force whose strength lies in the
allegiance of a sizable percentage of the Nicaraguan
h #14: The resistance is dominated by Somocistas.
It is argued that the most i mportant elements of the resistance
are in reality dominated by former supporters of Somoza and members
of his national guard. The further implication is that their
objective would be to restore a Somoza-like regime if they were in
control. Nobody of cour se knows exactly what would happen if the
Sandinistas had to yield power but there are very strong reasons to
discount the arguments based on the supposed Somocista mentality of
o The resistance political leadership is composed exclusively of
people who were actively opposed to Somoza as, for example, Adolfo
Calero and Arturo Cruz, individuals who were actually jailed by
Somoza. Further, a number of leaders, including Arturo Cruz and
Alfonso Robelo having been a part of the original Sandini sta
government, can hardly be accused of being Somocistas;
o In terms of the military leadership of the resistance,
approximately 48 percent of the leaders are actually former
Sandinistas, whereas roughly only 23 percent are former national
guardsmen under Somoza. Such individuals make up less than 2
percent of the total military force. In fact, the great bulk of the
resistance is composed of peasants and farmers, most of whom are
under 22 years of age. By simple arithmetic one can see that these
people'we re only 12 years old
or younger during the last part of the Somoza era and obviously
in no way actively involved in supporting Somoza. in fact, some
high-ranking Sandinista military officials, such as Bernadino
Larios, the first Sandinista Defense Min ister, as well as
political and block committee activists, are ex-Somocistas. That,
unfortunately, has not seemed to discredit them or the Sandinistas
in the eyes of last-ditch Sandinista defenders.
o Most of the resistance forces are paid $23 a month or less,
which is about 1/5 of the average monthly wage for a worker in
Nicaragua. others receive no pay at all. To call them "mercenaries"
is the height of absurdity. o It is true that
Colonel.ZnriqqeL_B%=udez,, the leader of the military wing of the
resist a nce, was in the national guard under Somoza. However, it
is also true that he was "exiled" to Washington during the last
years of the Somoza regime and therefore was in no way involved in
the excesses perpetrated by some members of the guard during that t
i me. in addition, it is worth noting that Bermudez was in fact the
choice of the Carter Administration as a transition figure during
the negotiations for the possible removal of Somoza from office. If
even the Carter White House found him acceptable,, one can assume
that Bermudez,is'not a Somoza henchman itching to restore a
o In any event,, Bermudez and the other military leaders have
all publicly pledged.their dedication to democratic values and to
the establishment of a democratic po litical structure in Nicaragua
in the future. Arturo Cruz recently stated,, "I assure you that
[ex-Guardsmen] are aware of the need for democracy and to forget
about the past."
o Some critics have made a more sophisticated argument which
should not be dis missed out of hand. They contend that even if the
great bulk of the resistance is democratic, those who have the
leadership and guns may not be and could "steal" the revolution.
What I find most interesting about this argument is that it is now
being made by some of the same critics who have never apprehended
or appreciated this problem when it comes to rebel forces that
include hard-core Communists. In fact, one of the reasons the
Sandinistas are in control today is precisely because of the
failure of U.S . officials in power at the time to take this
reality into account.
In the current situation, however, I think that this legitimate
concern should not invalidate a policy of support for the
resistance because: 1) all the democrat ic forces are aware of how
their earlier revolu'tion was stolen; this awareness alone makes
repetition less likely since the democratic forces would act with
the past in mind; 2) there is simply no reason at this point to
discount the pledges of democrati c orientation by the military
wing of the resistance; 3) in 4 transition period, all Latin
American democracies, the OAS, and other
Western democracies would mobilize to assist the democratic
resistance in institutionalizing democracy; and 4) unlike t he
mistakes of 1979, when the U.S. essentially refused to involve
itself in the transition, the U.S., at least under the.current
Administration, would no doubt take a most active role in the
process of democratic consolidation.
Interestingly, this exact a rgument was made by the same critics
in opposition to U.S. policy in El Salvador. It was said that U.S.
military aid would only strengthen anti-democratic forces; and the
same argument has been raised with respect to Honduras. In both
cases the critics ha ve been proved dramatically wrong; both
nations now have functioning democracies.
Myth #15: The Contras are not DoRglarly based and have little
If the resistance has little popular support, that would
certainly raise legitimate questions as to the wisdom of U.S.
support. o The resistance itself, however, is now composed
primarily of peasants and farmers who are disaffected with
Sandinista economic policies and with treatment of the Roman
Catholic church. -As The Ne York Times reported in 1 986,, "The
rebels appear to have more support than their harshest critics
concede. They have been described as little more than mercenaries,
but in fact most combatants are conservative Roman Catholic
peasants from northern Nicaragua who reject the Sandin i stas
leftist program and have volunteered to fight against it. They have
been able to Win enough support in the countryside to lead
the-Sandinistas to forcibly relocate tans of thousands of peasants
in the last year ... to keep then from aiding the guerri llas." And
Newsweek reporter James LeMoyne reported as early as spring 1983
that northern peasants "seem to welcome the insurgents."
Myth #16: The resistance violates human rights and commits
There is no doubt that certain elements of the resistance have
on some occasions engaged in human rights violations. But to cut
off all support for the resistance on this basis ignores a number
of very important points.
o Actual human rights violations are scattered and there have
been no significant viol ations in recent months. In other words,
the situation is already improving. Further, as Alfonso Robelo has
observed,, "It is the government that is relocating campesinos in
the -war zones. If the resistance is committing atrocities they
should be fleeing from our zones, but it is the government that is
moving them. And it is the government that has the draft and it is
the resistance that has volunteers coming to our side."
o There is also a difference between the isolated acts of the
resistance and a systematic policy of human rights violations. The
Nicaraguan government's policies, modeled on those of the Soviet
Union and Cuba, are of total and systematic repression of human
rights. The resistance, on the other hand, has now established its
own inde p endent human rights commission to monitor and condemn
human rights abuses and in fact has already punished some of those
involved in such excesses. It is currently training 60 officers to
monitor human rights abuses. Similarly, the resistance receiv4s con
t inual scrutiny and pressure from human rights groups,, the media,
the Congress of-the United States and other Western institutions,
to check and eventually get rid of all such abuses. in contrast,
there is obviously no similar pressure and checks being pl a ced on
the Sandinistas by their allies in the Soviet bloc, Libya, and
elsewhere. When was the last time -you"lear'd about Soviet or Cuban
or Libyan governments urging Nicaragua or the El Salvador rebels,,
for that matter,, to improve their human rights re cord?
o If one had followed the logic of the critics' position, then
aid-to the Salvadoran government should have been cut off in the
early 1980s as well since human rights abuses were certainly
evident at that time. Rather, the U.S. sought to pressure-the
Salvador 'an government and the elements in the Salvadoran
government which were involved in such abuses, and also instituted
training programs with the intent of ending this problem. While the
situation in El Salvador today is not perfect it is substant i ally
better in the humanrights and civil liberties areas than in the
early i98Os when the critics would have had us cut off aid, and it
is certainly better than in Soviet-style nations. As Joanne Omang
of The Washington Post reported in September 1985,, " T o an extent
unthinkable even a year ago,, leftist groups are visible now in El
Salvador declaring in the streets what they once dared to say only
in whispers for fear of death squad retaliation." And she added
that "the death squads no longer make public t hreats or publicly
claim responsibility for killings. None of the estimates of the
number of persons killed this week equals the total number of
killings in a two week period in 1981. Many more people are
speaking out openly." Thus, the better policy is t o actually work
with the resistance and train their people so that they are
sensitive to human rights concerns and subJect. to penalties for
o Further, if human rights abuses should be the deciding
criteria in providing assistance to resistanc e forces, then
presumably the critics of U.S. policy, to be consistent, should
oppose the aid to the Afghan resistance. For a long-period of time,
ths@ Afghans have dealt quite ruthlessly and brutally with their
opponents. If the opponents are consistent, let them also actively
oppose such aid to the Afghans.
Myth #17: The resistance cannot win. The final fallback position
of critics of U.S. policy is that the resistance really does not
have the capability to "win." It is true that as we most today the
resistance probably would not be able to defeat the Sandinistas in
a classic set-piece battle for the control of Nicaragua and indeed
it may never be able to do so. But this is not, I must emphasize,
the same t hing as saying that the resistance cannot achieve its
objectives,, which by and large are our objectives as well, in
o On a purely military level, the resistance already has roughly
four times as many fighters as the Sandinistas had at their max
imum point. At an early point, two to three years ago, when the
resistance was receiving military assistance from the U.S.,, it
demonstrated in a variety of actions that it was capable of moving
deep inside the country and creating considerable concern fo r the
Sandinistas. Let us not forget that there is a resistance-movement
not only in the north,, .but in the south and in the.east in the
Indian areas as well.
o The Sandinistas were clearly very nervous about the resistance
capabilities at that earlier po int, and even now it does not take
much for them to become concerned. For example, in January of 1986,
Victor Tirado Lopez, a member of the Sandinista leadership,
conceded, after a .single Sandinista helicopter was shot down by a
SAM-7 missile, that "Ther e has been 'a great change in the balance
of military forces."
o Of course, it is understandable that the resistance forces
have not scored significant military successes in the past two
years, since this is precisely the time period in which the
Congress has cut off military assistance, It is a very reasonable
assumption that they can only get better if they are provided with
the necessary equipment and appropriate training in its use.' The
resistance could clearly utilize long-range mortars and artillery
which could hold off the Sandinista military if the rebels ever
took control of some territory, and also enable it to take delivery
of supplies without dependence upon a third country. The resistance
could also use more anti-tank weapons,, particularly RP G-71s, and
better surface-to-air missiles for use against the Sandinistas'
Soviet attack helicopters.
o The most fundamental and'important response to this argument,
however,, is simply that the resistance can "win" not through one
decisive military battle but rather through a gradual process which
contains important political and psychological, as well as
military, dimensions. The Sandinistas did not actually militarily
triumph against the Somoza regime. Rather, the Somoza regime
gradually unravelled unde r pressure from the U.S. other Latin
American countries, the Organization of American States, and
elsewhere, in addition to popular antipathy.
A roughly similar scenario could emerge again in Nicaragua in
the future. The Sandinista regime is not yet a fully consolidated
Communist totalitarian state. Further, there are not only divisions
within the leadership,, but there is no reason to believe all of
the military forces fighting under the Sandinista flag are totally
loyal to the Sandinistas and their objectives.
Significant-military pressure by the resistance would encourage
forces within Nicaragua,, including those in urban areas that have
thus far been reluctant to take a high profile, to become more
involved in the resistance. This can only increase the repressive
response of the Sandinistas, thus creating even more
dissatisfaction and dissent even among some forces now aligned with
the Sandinistas. At the same time neighboring nations in particular
will be emboldened to take a more. forthright stan c e in
condemnation of the Sandinistas and their policies. The
Organization of American States could also be reconvened to pursue
the question of the legitimacy of the Sandinista government. All of
this and other actions as well,, could lead to an under-min i ng of
the Sandinistas' ability to govern and an eventual flight to their
natural homelands of Cuba or the Soviet Union. I must stress,,
however,, that all of this is a speculative scenario since
except-for the 1920 unseating'of Bela Kun's regime in Hungar y by a
conventional attack, there is thus far no historical precedent for
the dissolution of a Communist regime once it is in power.
P ART III: THE U.S. ROLE IN NICARAGUA
To the extent that critics of U.S. policy concede the above points,
they then present an entirely different series of arguments based
on concerns about the U.S. role in Nicaraguan developments. As you
know, there is a legal doctrine known as "Clean Hands.', If a party
to a case has itself done something questionable with respect to
the iss u es in controversy, then it is said in legal jargon that
that particular party does not come into the case with "clean
hands." In this situation, the argument is that the U.S. does not
have "clean hands" with respect to Nicaragua and has been-at fault
in n umerous ways with respect to the current situation in
Nicaragua. Therefore, the critics argue, the U.S. must be very
circumspect in its own involvement.
Because the role and attitude of the U.S. is crucial to several of
the myths that I will discuss shortly, I think it is important to
first give you a quick overview of the U.S. role in the late 1970s
and early 1980s. Let me make the following points:
o U.S. policy essentially abandoned Somoza by mid-1978. From that
point on, our government worked in various ways to get Somoza out.
Eventually it cut off all military assistance to Somoza and made
clear in every way possible, including direct public statements,
that Somoza should leave. it also supported and encouraged the
organization of American States, neighboring Central American
nations, and other nations around the world to withdraw legitimacy
from the Somoza regime. o When the new government took power,, the
U.S. immediately welcomed it with praise and open arms. It supplied
short-term emergency food and medical assistance and over a
longer'period provided very substantial amounts of financial aid.
It did so with direct financial aid of $118 .million for the first
two years, and encouragement of international fina n cial
institutions to provide $260 million of aid, and of U.S. -banks to
refinance Nicaraguan debts at very favorable terms. Total aid--from
democratic nations was $1.4 billion. It was only.in March of 1982
that,the U.S. began actively supporting the resis tance forces and
there were no significant forces until 1983. Therefore, keep in
mind as I continue with this discussion that any statements or
actions of the Sandinistas prior to that point cannot legitimately
be attributed to U.S. hostility.
With this in mind,, let us review the arguments made about the U.S.
role in Nicaragua:
h #18: The U.S. caused the Sandinistas to become Marxist-Leninists.
This argument holds that U.S, policies of antagonism towards the
Sandinistas somehow caused them to become Communists. This argument
is also trotted out with respect to Castro and other similar types
and, as with Castro, it is without merit.
o In their earliest statements after taking power, the Sandinistas,
particularly in a document subsequently labeled the 1172 Hour
Document" clearly identified themselves as Communists. The document
defines "democracy" in Marxist-Leninist terms; that is,, with the
Sandinistas as the "vanguard" of the people with a historic right
to power. As New York Times reporter Shirley Chri s tian has
written: "The Sandinistas were gradually putting into place a
Leninist. structure--the vast network of defense committees, youth
and children's groups, militia:, internal security police and army
created as an extension of the Sandinista Front.11
o Even before taking power, key leaders of the Sandinistas had long
been Communists. Tomas Borge now Minister of the Interior was a
Communist in college. Bayardo Arce also has made clear his
commitment to Marxism-Leninism.
At an early point in the Sandinista control, school children began
to be taught-to sing an anthem which included the line "We shall
fight against the*Yankee,, enemy.of humanity."
o The fact that the Sandinistas were Communists much before the
U.S. aid to the resistance began is co nfirmed by the dozens of
former Sandinista supporters who left the government or fled
Nicaragua prior to that point. Among the most prominent were Arturo
Cruz, Alfonso Robelo, Alfredo Cesar, Eden Pastora, Pedro Joaquim.
Chamorro, Jaime Montealegre, Jose C ardenal,, and Miguel Bolanos.
h #19: The U.S. drove the Sandinistas into an alliance with the
With this argument,, critics implicitly acknowledge that in fact
Nicaragua has become a de facto member of the Soviet bloc alliance.
Again,, however ,, the chronology of events clearly indicates that
the Sandinistas had made their decision to become a part of this
bloc much prior to any.. U.S @ h9stil-ity. o In the 1112 Hour
Document" prepared in 1979, the Sandinistas repeatedly denounced
the United S tates as "the rabid enemy of all peoples.,,
o Literally within weeks of gaining power, the Sandinistas were
already providing direct material assistance to the Marxist forces
in neighboring El Salvador. Even the Carter Administration, during
its final days , was forced to acknowledge the fact of Sandinista
expansionism and subversion and announced formal suspension of aid
to Nicaragua. In an attempt to give the Sandinistas more than the
benefit of the doubt, such aid was subsequently resumed.
o The S'andini stas invited Cuban security advisors into
the.country immediately upon taking power. Former junta member
Alfonso Robelo has observed that at that early point Nicaragua was
"an occupied country [with] eight thousand Cubans ... the national
decisions are .. . in the hands of the Cubans."
o Soon after taking power, the Sandinistas were one of the very few
nations to abstain on a vote condemning the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan. Sandinista leaders also travelled to the Soviet Union
to establish party to party relations with the Communist P arty and
to sign an agreement for Soviet use of Nicaragua's Pacific port.
Tomas Borge travelled to Stalinist North Korea and there denounced
the U.S. presence in South Korea. At the Sixth Summit of
Non-Aligned Nations, Daniel Ortega endorsed the Vietnames e
occupation of Cambodia and denounced the Camp David Accords and
U.S. support for South Korea. Soon after taking power, thousands of
Soviet bloc, Libyan, and PLO advisers were invited to Nicaragua.
The Sandinistas Party song included the phrase "We shall fight
against the Yankee, enemy of humanity." Daniel Ortega endorsed the
PLO and Vietnam's actions in Cambodia at a non-aligned nations
conference in 1981.
Once more, all of these actions and statements took place prior to
U.S. aid to the resistance.
h #20: The U.S. caused Nicaragua's military build-up. o The
Sandinistas planned from the outset to create a large military
establishment on the Cuban model. Long before any serious armed
opposition arose, the Sandinista Peoples' Army (controlled at all
le vels by the FSLN party) developed plans for increasing its
manpower, building numerous bases, and training personnel in the
use of sophisticated military hardware. The current growth in the
Sandinista. Army reflect the decisions made by 1980. o The milita r
y equipment in the Sandinista arsenal is not of the type that would
be useful against a U.S. military intervention. Nicaragua
understands the obvious fact that it simply could not engage one of
the world's superpowers-and-.-thus-liaLp.-.not been motivated in
its military build-up by such concerns. Rather, its forces are
structured in a way that has the effect of intimidating neighboring
nations and it now has the largest military force in Central
America--even larger than that of Guatemala which has three times
the population. On a proportional basis, its troop strength is six
times as large as the U.S. .
Myth #21: The U.S. caused Nicaragua's economic mess.
The U.S. is also blamed for just about everything else wrong in
Nicaragua, including its economic me ss. 'But in fact, Nicaraguan
economic performance is consistent with other nations that have
chosen the Marxist-Leninist path to development,, including the
Soviet Union itself. Nor did the U.S. economic boycott cause
Nicaragua's economic problems as it d i d not begin until May 1985.
Prior to that point, as I already noted, the U.S. had directly and
indirectly been most generous with financial assistance to Managua,
providing even more aid than to democratic Costa Rica, but the
Sandinistas' disastrous polic ies were already having negative
results: o When Somoza left, there was a foreign debt of $1.1
billion; by 1985, it had ballooned to around $5 billion despite a
o Other symptoms of the economic problems include: a 1982
International Mone tary Fund Report concluded that real wages had
declined 72 percent since 1979; United Nations statistics indicted
a 24 percent decline in average income. Another analysis indicated
that in 1983 an average peasantis purchasing power had declined two
and ha lf times between 1982 and 1985 and that it was then at a
1960 level. Prior to 1979, Nicaragua exported foodstuffs; now it is
a net importer.
o The U.S. did not cause this situation. As Robert Leiken has noted
11 ... the economic situation had been worsening since the end of
1981 before the war with the rebels became"a major factor and after
U.S. and other Western governments contributed $1.6 billion to aid
the Nicaraguan government." Myth #22: The U.S. caused the
Nicaraggan reRression of human rig hts and civil liberties. This
defense of the Sandinistas simply does not hold water. A look at
the chronology shows that even before 1982 the following (and many
other events) had occurred: o In November 1980, Sandinista security
forces assassinated Jorge Salazar, the vice president of the
private sector umbrella group, Supreme Council of Private
Enterprise (COSEP). o In November 1980 and again in
MarcbL.-19.&l,,-.-the...Sandinistas prevented the Nicaraguan
Democratic-Movement party headed by former junta member Alfonso
Robelo from holding peaceful rallies.
o In early 19.81,, the Sandinistas arrested the President of the
Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH),, Jose Esteban
Gonzalez,, occupied the Commission's office,, and then condemned
him to prison. o In February-1981,, the Sandinistas arrested
numerous Miskito Indian leaders for pr6testing Sandinista
mistreatment of the indigenous population of the Atlantic Coast
region. In late 1981-early 1982, the Sandinistas forced
approximately 10,000 Miskitos to move to distant camps.
o Since 1981, the independent daily La Prensa was shut down several
times and its owners threatened.
o In October 1981, five private sector leaders were imprisoned for
signing a letter protesting the Sandinistas' actions to impla nt
Marxism-Leninism in Nicaragua. Myth #23: Th@ U.S. is injecting an
East-West dimension. Some critics have argued that U.S. policy has
made Nicaragua into an East-West battleground and has militarized
the conflict. This argument only makes sense if one i gnores the
chronology of outside involvement or if one by definition excludes
Soviet bloc involvement as outside interventions.
o At a time when the U.S. and other democratic nations were
providing generous assistance, the Sandinistas invited in Soviet
bloc and Cuban security and military forces. o Even to this day,
the U.S. has only 55 military advisers in El Salvador while the
Cubans have several thousand mi litary personnel in Nicaragua along
with hundreds of others from Soviet bloc nations. Soviet bloc
military advisers in Nicaragua and Cuba outnumber U.S.
advisers in the Caribbean by 20 to 1. Moscow has transferred some
$500 million in arms to Managua over the last 5 years while the
U.S. has not even given any military aid to the resistance for two
years. o Moscow is giving tan times more military aid to Nicaragua
and Cuba than the U.S. is giving to all of Latin America. Libya has
provided over $400 mi llion in'aid.
o A doctrine of non-intervention in Central America, to be even
theoretically appropriate for U.S. policy, would only be
appropriate if others also did not intervene. As John Stuart Mill
observed over a century ago, "The doctrine of non-inter vention,,
to be a legitimate principle of morality, must be accepted by all
governments. The despots must consent to be bound by it as well as
the free 'states. Unless they do,, the profession of it by free
countri'es come's-but to this miserable issue, t hat-the wrong side
may help the wrong,, but the right must not help the right."
h #24: U.S. involvement is counterproductive.
U.S. involvement, it is suggested, causes many Nicaraguans who are
not Sandinista sympathizers to make common cause with them aga inst
"Yankee-intervention,," thereby actually strengthening Sandinista
control. This is a serious argument which should not be dismissed
out of hand, but ultimately it is not persuasive.
o This analysis assumes that an obsessive anti-U.S. animus operates
among most Nicaraguans at all times regardless of historical
circumstances. WhileVicaraguans clearly-would not like a repeat 6f
the 1930s U.S. occupation, there is every reason to believe a great
many Nicaraguans welcome U.S. aid to the resistance and hav e no
objection to U.S. efforts to help implement the original democratic
objectives of the 1979 revolution.
o As a matter of record, the size of the resistance has increased
at those times when U.S. involvement has increased.
o Many of the same critics ma de the same analysis of the Grenada
situation but no one today-denies that U.S. involvement did not
cause Grenada to rally to the Communist side but rather caused
positive feelings towards the U.S. Myth #25: The U.S. should permit
Nicaraguans to determine their own destiny.
Critics argue that the U.S. is somehow preventing the Nicaraguan
people from deciding their own destiny. This argument makes no
sense in the current historical context. After all:
o The U.S. welcomed the new government and gave it extensive aid;
it also encouraged early and fair elections.
o It was the Soviet bloc that "intervened" militarily first; any
U.S. involvement was in response.
o The critics always avoid the question of how the Nicarag uan
people can determine their own destiny when one particular faction
inside Nicaragua is using Leninist techniques of power
consolidation and is actively abetted by extensive Soviet bloc
involvement. The end result is that the Nicaraguan people will be
able to determine their own destiny in exactly the way the people
of Cuba.and the USSR are able to--that is to say, not at all.
o Certainly, the U.S. does not have any-divine mission to take an
activist role everywhere regardless of historical circumstance s.
But in areas of importance to-our security, where our adversaries
are actively involvedf and especially where there is a critical
mass of indigenous resistance, the U.S. has a responsibility to be
involved. This is reinforced by the fact that there is not one
single historical example of a people being able to end
Marxist-Leninist rule once it hasbeen firmly consolidated. Only
outside aid might prevent that consolidation.
Myth #26: U.S. Rast role Rrecludes NicaraMlan involvement.
This argument is the r eal hidden agenda of many opponents of U.S-.
policy. They are so indignant about perceived past failures of U.S.
Nicaraguan policy, particularly the U.S. military presence and its
role in the Somoza era,, that they automatically reject any current
involve m ent. This analysis rests on an'assessment of past U.S.
policies that is not necessarily accurate. Latin America experts
Mark Falcoff and Shirley Christian have pointed out that the U.S.
did not always have the ability to influence Nicaraguan events that
c ritics of U.S. policy give it credit for. However,, even.assuming
for the moment that the U.S. did some things wrong with respect to
Nicaragua in the past, this does not preclude current U.S.
o Due to proximity and the great disparities in size, wealth and
security concerns, the U.S. inevitably is "involved" in Central
America-one way or another. It can either be consciously involved
or merely take unfocused actions which will inevitably have
significant impact in the region. There is really no p ossibility
for the critics, preferred policy of non-involvement; and other
nations will also continue to actively intervene regardless of what
the U.S. does.
.o The foreign policy of a great power cannot be a foreign policy
based on historical guilt. The U .S. would-simply be paralyzed and
unable to act if it could not take actions anywhere where at some
point in the past it had made some kind of policy mistake, or at
least a mistake as perceived by critics of U.S.. policy.
oEven on the level of moral analysis, the critics' argument fails.
For example, at the time the U.S. fought the Nazis during World War
II,, the U.S. had a morally objectionable system of racial
segregation in place. Did that make us morally unqualified to take
on the Nazis? Of cours e not. Nazism, as is communism, is a greater
evil than the imperfections of U.S. policy.
o Whatever historical "sins" the U.S. may have committed in Central
America have more than been atoned for by recent U.S. policies. In
the late 1970s, the U.S. played a key role in ending the Somoza
regime and then welcomed the successor government with open arms;
and the U.S. has in the last several years played an important role
in establishing or strengthening democratic pluralism in
El-Salvador,, Honduras and Guate mala. The purpose of current U.S.
policy is precisely to encourage that process in Nicaragua as.well,
not to install another dictatorship.
Myth #27: The U.S. is isolated diplomatically.
Diplomatic considerations are important. But, and this is where the
c ritics'.view differs from that of the Administration, diplomatic
factors cannot be the exclusive deciding criteria for U.S. policy
where its vital interests are involved. Nonetheless, while it is
correct that there is not a great deal of active public sup port
for U.S. policies at this time, the following should be kept in
o All Latin American democracies have denounced, some in rather
harsh terms, the-policies of the Sandinistas; in other words,
support for the U.S. analysis of the anti-democratic and
expansionist nature of the Sandinista regime is rather solid.
o Some nations have gone further. El Salvador and Honduras are in
various ways playing important roles in the implementation of
current U.S. policies; democratic Ecuador has broken relations with
the Sandinistas.1 There are subtle shifts elsewhere which indicate
concern about Nicaragua. As Latin American expert Susan Kaufman
Purcell observed in Foreigm Affairs, "Mexico no longe3@ supplies
petroleum to Nicaragua on more favorable terms than to other
clients.... 11 Argentina's Foreign Minister Dante Caputo has
recently said that the prospects for peace in Central America were
non-existent,, "if Nicaragua is or continues being in one form or
another, a beachhead or a political bass of the East or its allies
in Latin America .... It is indispensable that a Nicaragua be Latin
American and enjoy full democracy. We shall never raise high the
flag of a Marxist-Leninist regime."
3. Thcn-President of Costa Rica Monge said in 1983 that "in 40
years of Somocismo, we never had the threat that we have in 4 years
o Even the Contadora nations' official position is that U.S. aid
to the resistance should end simultaneously with Sandinista
implementation of democ ratic pluralism and an end of expansionism.
o There is strong evidence from public opinion polls that a
majority of people in Central America see the Sandinistas as a
threat and accept an active U.S. role. o It is unrealistic to
expect the small nations o f Central Americal threatened by the
Sandinista military build-up, to get out in front of the U.S. If
the leader of the free world will not commit to a consistent,
sustained policy, the leaders of these small, fragile nations are
not-likely to do so.
o Whi le an *active diplomatic'role by Latin American nations,
and indeed the OAS, is to be welcomed, these nations are not in a
position to enforce any agreements which may be reached.
Ultimately, it is the U.S. which would have to do so, and thus it
cannot de fer,completely to those who have a very legitimate
interest but cannot enforce that interest.
o The critics' argument is reminiscent of the'U.S. and El
Salvador several years ago. The same critics argued that the U.S.
was diplomatically isolated in its inv olvement there. Supporters
of U.S. policy argued that the U.S. should persevere and that such
consistency and eventual improvement in this situation would lead
to more. diplomatic suppqrt. This is in fact what has
happened,,.and the result is general Lati n American and U.S.
public acceptance of U.S. policy in' El Salvador, a significant
shift from 1981. Ironically, some of the same critics who argue so
adamantly that the U.S. must not go beyond what the public
pronouncements of Latin American governments w ill allow, are in
the forefront of those calling for a vigorous U.S. response to
terrorism even if our European allies are not willing to publicly
endorse such action.
=h #28: The U.S. should Rursue the negotiating tra ck.
This is a favorite argument in recent months. of course,
diplomacy should be a part of U.S. policy but what the critics
overlook is that:
o The U.S. has been negotiating for several years. Over the
years, it has made dozens of direct and indirect approaches to the
Nicaraguan government; and the internal opposition as well as the
democratic resistance have also offered to negotiate.
Unfortunately, the' Sandinistas have constantly rejected any
attempt at meaningful negotiations on the issues of most concern
not only to the U.S. but to nei ghboring nations. Further, Managua
has reneged on its 1979 pledge to'establish 'democratic pluralism..
Why is it any likelier to abide by a pledge of non-aggression?
While El Salvador's democratically
elected President Duarte has nonetheless expressed willingness
to talk with the Marxist insurgents, the Sandinistas have made
clear, in the words of Daniel Ortega, that: "We are not willing to
enter-.into a dialogue with the instruments of aggression used by
the U.S. government; with those it likes to ch a racterize as the
leaders of the counterrevolution. We will never.enter into talks
with those people.,, o The U.S. made clear its good will by its
initial policies after the Sandinistas took power. The U.S. really
has nothing to prove in this regard. o For c e, or the threat of
force, is an essential element in much of diplomacy. The only time
when there were even hints of flexibility by the Sandinistas was
when the resistance was scoring military-gains at the time of
earlier U.S. assistance. Critics have yet to satisfactorily explain
why they think the Sandinistas will voluntarily change their
policies just because others ask them to nicely. While it is not
certain that the Sandinistas will ever negotiate in earnest, the
only possibility that this will happen is if they are under real
Myth #29: U.S. Roligy-will lead to another Vietn
When you explore below the surface,, this is one of-the
fundamental concerns of many critics. The first problem is that
different people define the meaning and implicati ons of Vietnam
differently. No one can, of course, state with absolute certainty
what will not happen in the future. But there is considerable
reason to conclude that U.S. policy in Nicaragua will not be
another Vietnam because:
o This ' Administration ha s shown itself quite prudent and
calculating in the application of military force. If the U.S. uses
military force in a major way, it is likely to be a Grenada-type
action where overwhelming force is applied in order to make a
conflict as short as possibl e, rather that a Vietnam-type slow and
o The same argument was used by critics of our support for El
Salvador. They claimed that if the U.S. got involved, it would be a
"slippery slope" leading to a major U.S. military involvement. But
that, of course, has not happened; nor is there any more r eason to
think it will in Nicaragua.
Myth #30: The U.S. is violating international la
The objectives of international law are noble indeed. The real
issues here are two: the relationship between international law and
current world realities, and the legal issues concerning U.S.
o U.S. long-term policy should be to strive for a world where
the rule of law is followed, and it should do whatever it can to
gradually build up those institutions and legal approaches which
can serve that goal.
o At the same time, U.S. policy must take into account the fact
that any legal system can only be fully effective if there are
either or both shared values by participants or effective
enforcement mechanisms. In the world today, neither of these
conditions e xists. Therefore, the utility of international law
must be.evaluated with this in mind, especially if vital U.S.
security interests are at stake. If we accept and observe
international norms, while our adversaries do not, as was the case
with Hitler for e xample, then the entire structure of Western
institutions painfully built up over centuries is at risk.--.
o Having said all this, I would nonetheless assert strongly that
the U.S. is in a strong position to contend 'that its actions are
perfectly legitima te under current treaties and norms of
international law. For example, as international law expert O'ohn
Norton Moore has pointed out,,
Article 51 of the U.N. 'Charter says that countries have the
right to individual and collective defense.
Given Nicarag ua's subversion of El Salvador, the United States
is entitled to respond with whatever action is .necessary and
proportional in order to create and sustain an effective defense.
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and Article 3 of the Rio
Treaty, and Articles 21, 22, 27, and 28 of the OAS Charter, make it
clear that such actions in reiponse to an armed attack are
(O]ne point which is often ignored is that under Article 3 of
the Rio Treaty such a defensive response is obligatomr. That is ,
if there is an armed attack on an' American state, there is an
obligation of the United States to go to the assistance of that
state. This obligation is virtually identical to the same
obligation of the United States under Article 5 of the NATO
Such assistance, whether it consists of U.S. combat forces,
.whether it is assistance that takes the form of aid to the
contras, or whether it is assistance that-takes the form of mining
of harbors, it is lawful under Article 51 of the United Nations Ch
arter and Article 3 of the OAS Charter.
Further, the Congress has concluded in legislation that,
...by providing military support (including arms, training, and
logistical, command.and control, and communications
facilities) to groups seeking to overthrow the Goverment of El
Salvador and other Central American governments, the Government ...
of Nicaragua has violated article 18 of the Charter of the [OAS]
which declares that no state has the right to intervene, di rectly
or indirectly, for any reason whatsoever, in the internal or
external affairs of any other state....
What I have tried to do here today is pierce the shroud of-
mythology which has gradually built up around the current situation
in Nicara gua. As you know, courts will often take "judicial
notice" of certain facts which are so well-established that there
is no point in wasting the court's time on litigating them. In the
case of Nicaragua, it seems to me that we are at this point
entitled to take "judicial notice" of at least the following:
first, Nicaragua is controlled by a small Communist-faction;
second, the goverment has increasingly suppressed civil liberties
and.is inexorably moving towards a Cuban-style society; third.,
a-significant s ector of the population is already in open
rebellion and many others harbor the same grievances; fourth,
Nicaragua is a de facto member of the Soviet bloc of nations; and
fifth, Nic'aragua has actively sought to destabilize emerging
democracies in Latin A merica.
These facts are, I think, now beyond dispute. What the appropriate
policy response should be may still be debated, but it seems to me
that once these facts are recognized, along with many of the other
points I have discussed, there is no alternativ e but for the U.S.
to actively support the democratic resistance to the Sandinistas.
It does seem to me that-we are beginning to move towards a
consensus that U.S. action is justified. It was not that far in the
past that U.S. policy towards El Salvador w as as contentious as
that towards Nicaragua today. But now we find that a consensus has
formed behind the general thrust of current U.S. policy. I suggest
the same may well happen with respect to Nicaragua.
Underlying much of the other specific criticisms of U.S.-Nicaraguan
policy, I believe, is a general distrust of the current
Administration's motives and intentions. But surely at this point,
after the support that this Administration has given to democratic
evolution and consolidation not only in Latin America, but
elsewhere, including most recently the Philippines, it does seem to
me that it is about time that these critics, who have been proved
wrong about U.S. policy in El Salvador, give the Administration the
.of the doubt when it says that its objective is to see democratic
pluralism established in Nicaragua. A remarkable trend of
transition'toward democratic pluralism has been underway in Latin
America and elsewhere. in the case of Nicaragua, U.S. geostrategic,
political, and moral in t erests all converge to support a policy
of assistance to the democratic resistance. with such a policy
there is a genuine possibility that before too long we may see a
Nicaragua no longer a threat to its neighbors and whose people have
been liberated from the yoke of oppression.