Nicanotes: Movie Review: American Made: Reagan’s Drug Running and Drug War Featuring Tom Cruise

Nincanotes : A blog about nicaragua by solidarity activists

By John Kotula

According to Rotten Tomatoes, the new Tom Cruise movie, “American Made,” opened in the US on September 27. It opened earlier, playing at the mall in Managua. Never being one to pass up air-conditioning, I went, munched popcorn and thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the Nicaraguan audience that filled the theater. Their laughter was a couple of seconds delayed because they were reading subtitles, but it was loud and enthusiastic. “American Made” is about gun running, drug trafficking, money laundering and dirty deeds in general out of the CIA and the White House during the Reagan administration. Much of it takes place in Nicaragua, although apparently the Nicaraguan locations were actually filmed in Columbia.

In order to enjoy this movie, you will need to adjust your expectations in two ways. First, you’ll have to accept that farce is the correct genre for portraying the Reagan era, the illegal Contra War, and the war on drugs. If you’re more of a Truthout kind of person and you don’t think imperialism is a laughing matter, you may want to pass on this flick. However, I would argue that the sequences of scenes that leads into a news clip of Nancy Reagan declaring the administration’s drug policy to be “Just Say No!” Is comic gold and not to be missed.

The second mental adjustment needed before seeing “American Made” is to recognize that not a word of it is true. This comedy/adventure yarn is laid over real events, the chronology matches more or less, and the characters share names with real people (Barry Seal, Pablo Escobar, Oliver North, etc.) but the places where the movie and reality are congruent are nonexistent. The character Tom Cruise creates is sexy, athletic, hyperkinetic, easily bored, not too bright, disinclined to think through anything, generous, and, despite his many crimes, a likable guy. For my money, it is an excellent job of acting. However, there is no reason to think the real Barry Seal was any of these things. On the other hand, you can put money on the real Seal’s life being more violent, scummier, uglier, scarier, meaner, and way less entertaining than the one led by Tom Cruise on the screen.

Similarly, off the mark is the movie’s unambiguous presentation of the Sandinistas having a direct hand in Pablo Escobar’s trafficking of drugs out of Nicaragua in the 80s. This sequence concerns a White House sting operation, totally illegal and unethical in and of itself, to get photos that would prove the government of Nicaragua was directly assisting Escobar’s operation. Much was made of these photos by the Reagan administration, but in fact they proved nothing and were at best inconclusive. “Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny threw doubt over Seal’s accusations, claiming there was no evidence tying any Nicaraguan officials to the drug shipment.”

On the other hand there is no question that the US-backed Contras and their CIA handlers were up to their armpits in the cocaine trafficking. The documentation of their involvement in introducing crack cocaine to Los Angeles isn’t even disputed. That crime led to an epidemic in the US that devastated political organizing in the inner cities and cost urban African Americans a whole generation. Along the same lines, the movie ends with assassins sent by the Columbians killing Seal. However, people who have looked closely at the story conclude that it is just as likely that the hit was ordered and orchestrated by the CIA, The White House, and/or the Bush family.

In watching this movie, it is important to remember and to tell others, that Nicaragua has not suffered from the effects of drug trafficking that have devastated most of Central America. In contrast to the northern triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, with their close affiliation with the US, Nicaragua is safe and secure. President Daniel Ortega is personally so anti-drug, that he joins with the US in blocking any discussion of decriminalization of even marijuana in Latin American and international forums. The Nicaraguan police and military are the least corrupt in Central America and among the least corrupt in the world.

I say, go to the local megaplex, buy a ticket and some popcorn, fasten your seatbelt, enjoy the action and the laughs, get a peek at Tom Cruise’s butt (twice!), appreciate “American Made” for what it is, a Hollywood action comedy flick, and don’t believe a word of it. Then go home and read any of the well written exposes of the Iran/Contra war and the dirty dealings in the Reagan White House. For example:

Iran-Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power by Malcolm Byrne

Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up by Lawrence E. Walsh

Heads up, Amazon is reportedly developing an Iran-Contra mini-series with Collin Farrell playing Oliver North. That should be a fact checker’s nightmare.


  • The US House of Representatives passed the NICA Act on October 3 by unanimous consent without a voice vote. The Act, which if it passes the Senate and is signed by the president, will require officials representing the US on international lending institution boards to vote no on multilateral loans to Nicaragua. The vote was characterized by one Representative as a “retirement gift” to far right Miami Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Nicaraguan government condemned the bill. “This bill is a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the Nicaraguan people and a denial of all political, social, cultural and economic processes undertaken to promote peace, security and the well-being of all Nicaraguans,” the government statement said. (Nicaragua News, Oct. 4)
  • President of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) José Adan Aguerri said the Tripartite Alliance Model between government, employers and labor has strengthened competitiveness and helped to improve the investment climate in the country. “During the last three years Nicaragua has climbed 15 positions in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index confirming the political stability, legal certainty and sound macroeconomic management of the country,” Aguerri said. (Nicaragua News, Sept. 29)
  • Formal employment grew 7.8% in August over the previous year according to the Central Bank. The report also noted that a total of 919,724 workers are enrolled in social security, which is the definition of formal employment. Sectors such as commerce, services, hotels and restaurants are among the main drivers of this growth in formal employment. (Nicaragua News, Sept. 29)
  • The Central Bank also announced that exports totaled US$1.6 billion during the first seven months of this year, 21.8% above the same period in 2016. Sectors such as agricultural production (26.8%), manufacturing (24.1%) and fisheries (17.7%) were among the main drivers of this growth. (Nicaragua News, Sept. 28)
  • The Organization of American States (OAS) confirmed on Sept. 26 that an Electoral Observer Mission will arrive in Managua on October 10 to accompany the Nicaragua November 5 municipal elections. The press release stated that the Electoral Mission of 60 observers led by Dr. Wilfredo Penco, vice president of the Uruguay Electoral Council, will ensure a wide presence throughout the country consistent with established requirements to obtain a statistically representative sample of the polling places. (Nicaragua News, Sept. 27)
  • Central Bank President Ovidio Reyes announced that the government will present a reform to the Low-Cost Housing Law (ACT 677) and the Urban and Rural Housing Institute (Law 428) to the National Assembly in the coming days. “The purpose of these reforms is to increase the financing ceiling for low cost housing from US$32 thousand to US$50 thousand. The reforms will also provide greater access to subsidies for the building or repair of housing, going from US$23,000 to US$30,000,” the Central Bank President said. (Nicaragua News, Sept. 27)
  • A report by the Italian Tourism Agency, Tour 2000, states that Nicaragua was awarded the Cultural Tourism Prize, which is granted yearly by the Italian government and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Aspects such as sustainable development, community participation, cultural promotion and protection of World Heritage sites are among the parameters evaluated by UNESCO for the granting of this prestigious distinction. (Nicaragua News, Sept. 26)
  • HKND, the Chinese company with the concession to build the proposed inter-oceanic canal across Nicaragua, reported that it will conduct a massive reforestation project. HKND had hired the international company ERM to conduct the required Environmental Impact Study. ERM which states that without appropriate measures, the current ecological trend in Nicaragua “is not positive from any point of view.” The report stated, “Without adequate measures, most of the forests existing in the country will disappear within10 to 15 years.” HKND also announced that it now plans to move both the Western and Eastern locks inland so as to protect them from hurricane storm surge as well as to better protect against salination of Lake Cocibolca and to have less impact on the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and the Booby Key marine reserve. (Informe Pastran, Sept. 27)
  • The Ministry of Health announced that it is completing the equipping of 50 mobile health clinics which will greatly improve access to health care in many areas of the country such as the Mining Triangle, Mulukuku and isolated communities in the North and South Autonomous Regions. Vice President Rosarillo Murillo also announced that ambulances and laboratories will be installed in every municipality this year. (Informe Pastran, Sept. 28)