NicaNotes: US Imperialism and Nicaragua – 2nd Installment

by Chuck Kaufman

“US Imperialism and Nicaragua: ‘They would not let our flower blossom,’” which we began serializing last week, is the first chapter of Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup, published on April 18, 2019, the first anniversary of failed coup that rocked Nicaragua for three months last year. At over 300 pages, this free electronic book, available in pdf or e-book formats, tells the true story of the US-sponsored coup attempt – a story even now that is ignored by the corporate media in favor of a fantasy written in the bowels of the State Department. You can download the pdf version here and the e-book version here.

Over the next few months NicaNotes will print bite-sized portions of the book for those who are too busy to tackle the entire thing. Live from Nicaragua is a Reader containing both original writing and reprints of articles published during the violent coup attempt. We will concentrate on the newly-written material for our excerpts.

This chapter is fully sourced. The footnotes have been removed here for easier reading but can be found in the pdf and e-book versions.

US Imperialism and Nicaragua: “They would not let our flower blossom”

By S. Brian Willson and Nils McCune

 

Sandino’s Anti-Imperialism

During the US military occupation of Nicaragua from 1912 to 1926, non-military elements of imperialism developed. For example, the Rockefeller Center, funded through the Standard Oil monopoly, began sanitation drives that accompanied US military activities with rural census taking, hiring of local volunteers, and public meetings on hookworm control and prevention. This is one of the first examples of a non-governmental organization riding on the coattails of the US military.

Meanwhile, the United Fruit Company (UFC) was the largest landowner between Colombia and Mexico. In the countries that United Fruit dominated—referred to as “banana republics,” it controlled the ports that ran the postal service, and even created the first network of radio stations across Central America, effectively developing the first mass media (and media monopoly) that reached millions of people. The company vigorously resisted all worker efforts to organize unions, going as far as tearing down all houses and schools as it abandoned whole areas where union organizing was taking place. Although it paid no taxes, United Fruit gave governments money and weapons to repress the many rebellions taking place among the hundreds of thousands of highly exploited banana workers in the region, leading, for example, to the 1928 “Banana Massacre” of several hundred striking workers in Guatemala. In addition, politicians needed support from UFC’s radio network, and so were afraid of creating any tension with the conglomerate.

The geopolitical hegemony of the United Fruit Company was reinforced by the US Marines, which were deployed in Central America and the Caribbean to defend the interests of the corporation dozens of times between 1901 and 1934. The “Banana Wars,” as these were called, produced such a trove of experiences in capitalist combat against impoverished rebels that the Marines systematized their learning in the “Small Wars Manual,” published in 1940.

In Nicaragua, banana interests were slowed by the need for a railroad system. The US commercial bank Brown Brothers financed the railway system and came to control Nicaragua’s National Bank. Bundy Cole, a manager of one of Brown Brother’s subsidiaries in Nicaragua, famously said in the 1920s, “I do not think any Indian or any Negro is capable of self-government.” After a Liberal uprising against a US-supported Conservative government led to civil war in 1926, the United States intervened to prevent a Liberal victory, forcing all parties to agree to a power-sharing government that would preserve US interests.

Liberal general Augusto César Sandino refused the terms of the US plan, and, with just 29 men, embarked on a guerilla war against the US occupation of Nicaragua. Sandino’s first armed action was the occupation of the San Andrés Mine in Nueva Segovia, where he drove off the US managers and turned over the mine to the workers to run collectively. Sandino was declared an outlaw and US marines were sent to Ocotal to initiate a counter-insurgency campaign. Internationally, Sandino became a symbol of resistance to the US empire, and grassroots anti-imperialist leagues and Communist parties across the Americas debated whether his guerrilla tactics were acceptable or represented a threat to the dominant parliamentary political methods promoted internationally by the Soviet Union.

The world’s first use of airplanes to drop bombs occurred in Nicaragua, as US marines leveled the countryside and forcibly displaced peasants from small towns of the Segovia region in repeated attempts to eliminate Sandino’s forces. Use of mercenary troops to hunt Sandino eventually became a concerted US effort to build a National Guard in Nicaragua, which US planners assumed would strengthen democratic institutions. Meanwhile, Sandino’s writings took on class dimensions, as he insisted that the success of prolonged anti-imperialist struggle would need the unique qualities of workers and peasants.

By 1933, the US government withdrew troops from Nicaragua and announced its “Good Neighbor” policy towards Latin America. The leader of Nicaragua’s recently formed National Guard, Anastasio Somoza Garcia, assassinated Sandino in 1934, and massacred his disarmed troops. Two years later, Somoza Garcia staged a coup d’état and installed himself as Nicaragua’s strongman, with US support. Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said of Somoza, “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” The Somoza family ruled as a US-supported dictatorship from 1934 to 1979.

 

The Sandinista Popular Revolution and the Contra War

During the early 1960s, inspired by the success of the Cuban revolution, radical Nicaraguans led by student activist Carlos Fonseca created the Sandinista National Liberation Front. Known as the FSLN for its Spanish initials, this Sandinista Front created an “historic” program to break free from US tutelage and the agro-export model.

After nearly 20 years of sustained clandestine activities, the FSLN managed to lead a massive people’s insurrection that ousted Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the first Somoza’s son, in 1979, after his regime had inflicted tens of thousands of casualties on the civilian population in a US-supported counter insurgency. Thus ended the “stable” playground for the wealthy, right-wing Nicaraguan families and their affluent US investor friends, preserved at the expense of the vast majority of the Nicaraguan people. To this day the US has never forgiven the social-minded Sandinistas (“Sandinismo”) for having forced the end of the Somoza era. The US Congress quickly froze aid to Nicaragua, something it had never done since Somoza came to power in the 1930s. Even earlier, in 1978, as it appeared the Somoza dynasty was nearing defeat, US President Jimmy Carter had authorized covert CIA support for Nicaraguan “democratic” press and labor union elements.

In March 1980, Carter, alarmed at this loss of a US investor haven, ordered Major General Robert Schweitzer to Honduras to confer with its armed forces about becoming a “bulwark” against communism in the Central American region. Carter authorized $1 million for the CIA to support anti-Sandinista labor groups, media, and political organizations. In mid-November 1980, newly elected, but not yet inaugurated, President Reagan’s transition team met with a small group of exiled Nicaraguans in Honduras in preparations to fight the Sandinistas.

In March 1981, during President Ronald Reagan’s second month in office, he issued a Presidential Finding authorizing the CIA to undertake covert activities directed against Nicaragua and its new Sandinista revolutionary government, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN). The government was not called that; it was called El Gobierno de Reconstrucción Nacional. An initial $19 million was allocated for the purpose of destroying the Sandinistas, beginning with a 500-man “action team” to engage in paramilitary and political operations.

By summer 1981, Reagan’s State Department aide Robert McFarland prepared a report, “Taking the War to Nicaragua”, and by December 1981, Nicaraguan exile groups, or “Contras,” began combat training at a site west of Miami, and subsequently at training camps in California, New Jersey, and in Florida’s Panhandle. Also in December 1981, the “Red Christmas” CIA Operation occurred in the Miskito territory of Northeastern Nicaragua along the Honduran border, where Indigenous communities were forcefully relocated to create a beachhead inside Nicaraguan territory before the Sandinista government forces could establish control of the area. The hope was to create a breakaway state that could ask for US military support. In January 1982, Reagan requested and received $5.1 million in US Agency for International Development (USAID) funds to provoke dissent against the new Nicaraguan government among Somocistas and among the Catholic Church hierarchy.

By March 1982, the Contra paramilitary force had grown to 1,000 combatants, and CIA-trained Contra demolition teams blew up two bridges near the Honduran border. A secret US Defense Intelligence Agency reported that between March 14 and June 21, 1982, a 100-day period, the Contra’s “terrorist group” participated in 106 various “insurgent” attacks in Nicaragua, including the killing of Sandinista government officials, the sabotage of highway bridges, sniper attacks against small military patrols, and the burning of a customs warehouse and food crops. This was an average of an armed attack every day, a pace that dramatically accelerated throughout the 1980s, daily crippling much of the country. By November 1982, membership in the Contras had grown to 4,000, each combatant being paid $23/month.

In December 1982, Contra leaders met in Miami to develop strategies to topple the Sandinista government, utilizing a growing number of border sanctuary camps in Honduras. In February 1983, worried about growing stories of Contra atrocities – the blinding, burning, beheading, dismembering, kidnapping, raping and killing of civilians – Reagan spent $300,000 hiring the Miami-based public relations firm, Woody Kepner Associates, to produce positive images. Soon Reagan began calling the Contras “freedom fighters”, the “moral equals of our Founding Fathers”, accusing the Sandinista government of “spreading cancer,” calling it just downright “malignant,” and claiming it was operating as a “totalitarian dungeon”.

Reagan’s CIA chief, William Casey, gave instructions: “What more can we do about the economy to make those bastards sweat,” emphasizing, “I want something that’ll make them hurt.” This was reminiscent of President Nixon’s policy in the early 1970s in Chile when he directed the CIA to engage in psychological warfare against democratically elected Dr. Salvador Allende’s “socialism” by making the economy “scream.” Thomas Pickering, the US Ambassador to El Salvador at the time, described the Sandinistas as an “infected piece of meat that attracts insects.” The hatred was both intense and irrational, satanic-like. A commander of the Contra FDN (Fuerza Democrática Nicaragüense – Nicaraguan Democratic Force) stressed the need to “cut the head off the Sandinistas.”

In October 1983, the CIA produced 2,000 copies of a 90-page Manual to guide Contra activities, Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare. It was referred to as a “murder manual” for terrorists based on an earlier one used by the US’s “Phoenix” assassination program in Viet Nam in the late 1960s and utilized in El Salvador during the 1980s, when the US funded and directed the death squad government against revolutionary rebels. This Manual’s section, “Selective Use of Violence”, described the need to hire professional criminals, or thugs, for selective jobs, including sabotage and murder; the neutralizing of key officials, including judges, local Sandinista leaders, police and state security officials; creating martyrs for the Contras by staging violence at demonstrations, causing deaths of their own supporters with strategically located cameramen to assure images to enhance public relations; and coercing locals to carry out disruptive assignments. The Manual, in effect, was a primer on committing war crimes – grotesque violations of US and international law – directing the Contras to “overthrow” and “replace” the Sandinista government.

Additionally, about the same time, the CIA created a 16-page illustrated comic book, Freedom Fighter’s Manual, air-dropped in 1983 over northern Nicaragua. It described its purpose as providing a practical guide to liberating Nicaragua from “oppression and misery” by “paralyzing the military-industrial complex of the traitorous Marxist state”, causing “civil disorder”, sabotaging industries, and undermining the Nicaraguan economy. It very explicitly described how ordinary citizens could disrupt the everyday workings of the Sandinista government:

* hiding or destroying important tools

* calling in sick for work

* leaving lights and faucets on

* breaking light bulbs and windows

* stealing food from government supplies

* releasing or stealing livestock from farming coops

* spreading rumors

* making false reports of fires and crimes

* cutting telephone cables, severing telephone and electric lines

* stopping up toilets

* disabling government vehicles, putting dirt and water in government gasoline tanks and carburetors

* cutting down trees, blocking highways

* placing nails on roads and highways

* instructions on making Molotov cocktails to firebomb police stations

* etc.

 

Reagan’s initial efforts to destabilize, promote fear, discontent and demoralization, and to accelerate economic collapse, became a ten-year almost fanatical campaign to completely destroy the Sandinistas. A June 1983 CIA National Intelligence Estimate on Contra activity stated, “Fear and uncertainty stemming from the violence have crippled investment, exacerbated capital flight and cut off commercial lending. Fighting in the countryside has reduced traditional seasonal labor migration and cut into harvests.” This, of course, was exactly the Reagan administration’s intention.

In March 1983, the CIA established a $50 million intelligence network in Central America, with over 150 CIA operatives and technicians that planned infiltrating US agents into Nicaragua and piloting low-altitude spy planes. In June, President Reagan created a massive domestic propaganda agency, “Project Democracy.” Congress later provided $24 million overt aid to the Contras. Soon after, the Contras sabotaged Managua’s airport, the Corinto port facilities, and an oil pipeline in the western coastal town of Puerto Sandino. In January-February, 1984, CIA “assets” mined Nicaragua’s harbors in flagrant violation of all international law.

In November 1983, Congress created the “National Endowment for Democracy” (NED) to openly perform one of the tasks that the CIA had secretly been carrying out for years, i.e., interfering in elections in other countries to promote what US Americans describe as “democratic” processes. It immediately began funding printing supplies and salaries for the right wing Chamorro-owned daily newspaper La Prensa to promote the cause and image of the Contras as achieving “democracy” in Nicaragua. Soon it was receiving $100,000 a year, and after La Prensa was shut down for over a year by the government for its pro-Contra articles, it resumed operations with $250,000 from the NED.

CIA and NED money increasingly supported various non-military, internal opposition disruptive activities as well. Manipulation of public opinion through controlling news stories that included staging photogenic events, became a daily exercise. The CIA created clandestine radio stations in Honduras, Costa Rica, and one on Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast aimed at the Miskito Indians. The goal was to distort facts and intelligence to make the Contras look good, and especially to convince the US Congress and the US American people of the nobility of the Contra effort, and the repression of the “Marxist tyranny” of the Sandinistas. These efforts continued ad nauseum until the 1990 elections.

The US supplied the Contras with almost daily aerial reconnaissance intelligence identifying the location and movement of Nicaraguan army troops. Aerial violations of Nicaraguan airspace occurred thousands of times from Costa Rican and Honduran territory throughout the 1980s, especially by helicopters and small planes. US ships off the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran coasts were equipped with electronic surveillance devices, in addition to the constant presence of US aircraft carriers, destroyers and battleships. US CIA pilots flew hundreds of air-drop supply missions, keeping the Contras steadily equipped with weapons, ammunition and other supplies.

It was a Goliath versus David operation, the giant US obsessed with destroying the small country of Nicaragua, governed by the “evil” Sandinistas. At various times there were as many as 11,000 US National Guard and regular army troops, including Green Berets plus US Marines in neighboring Honduras, staging threatening maneuvers with Honduran forces, such as “Big Pine” ground, air, and sea operations. Honduras became known as the USS Honduras since it was so saturated with US-constructed military bases, in addition to a growing number of more than two dozen Contra sanctuary camps along Nicaragua’s northern border, housing at any one time as many as 12,000 combatant terrorists, and 50,000 to 60,000 of their family members. Several thousand more Contra troops resided inside Nicaragua, or were in camps along the southern Costa Rican Front. Unauthorized USAID combat helicopters regularly ferried Contra troops to various locations as well as supplying their camps. The US Ambassador to Honduras at the time, John Negroponte, was a key figure in USS Honduras conducting the Contra war against neighboring Nicaragua. The famous US Peace Corps was also present with the largest contingent of any nation in the world, well over 300, serving as teachers and basic health care providers for Contra families in the camps.

Reagan’s war was an intentional campaign to “harass” and “pressure” the Sandinistas with “vicious” attacks on small villages, state-owned agricultural cooperatives, rural health clinics, bridges, electricity generating stations, and, especially, key Sandinista leaders. Reagan dismissed reports of Contra atrocities as “Sandinista disinformation”, maintaining a mythology of the Contras as “good” guerrillas.

In light of mounting Congressional opposition to funding the Contra war, via the restrictive Boland Amendments, Reagan officials met in June 1984 to discuss a way to sustain it by asking third countries to privately fund and maintain the effort, circumventing Congressional power to curtail the CIA’s paramilitary operations. Israel, Brunei, South Africa, Taiwan, and South Korea were among the nations that made contributions, while Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd alone sent over $30 million, in addition to funds from other members of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL) headed up by retired US General John Singlaub. Further, many wealthy US citizens contributed millions of dollars for the Contras, among them beer magnate Joseph Coors.

Edgar Chamorro, member of the prestigious Chamorro family, a former Jesuit priest and full professor at the University of Central America (UCA) in Managua, was an early member of the Directorate of the main Contra fighting force, the Fuerza Democrática Nicaragüense (FDN), serving as their major public relations spokesperson. In 1984, he resigned in disgust at the operations and behavior of the Contras, which were almost totally dictated by the CIA’s repackaging techniques, where lies became the rule to confuse the general public, Congress and the press. This even included creating human rights organizations to perpetuate the deception and false propaganda.

From Chamorro’s 1987 pamphlet, Packaging the Contras: A Case of CIA Disinformation: “In the excesses of inventing an artificial force, and in the need to stage events and to create impressions without consideration for substantial realities, there was no longer a distinction between reality and fiction. The secondary became the primary; image and impression were more important than substance….[L]ies were used to manipulate people and events to such an extent that behind the lies there was nothing but self-illusion and self-deception….[A] negation of the moral distinction between good and evil…led to a legitimization of concepts such as a good war, a good crime, a good rape, a good lie. This is how murder and torture were justified, how the destruction of property and the sabotage of an economy and the social fabric of a nation were excused, all in the name of patriotism and anticommunism.” His comments are profoundly relevant to understanding the rhetoric and techniques of the April 2018 US orchestrated coup described further below.

Earlier in 1984, President Reagan had signed National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) #124 ordering economic sanctions against Nicaragua to build pressure on its people. On May 1, 1985, a severe economic embargo was instituted, applying a ridiculous US statutory premise that the “policies and actions of the Government of Nicaragua continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” This ludicrous claim has been repeated in the context of the 2018 coup attempt. The embargo was renewed every 6 months through 1990, and was supplemented by an “invisible blockade” of Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) loans, as the US vetoed or stopped all loans by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The US also applied pressure on European governments to refuse help to Nicaragua. In a particularly cruel, sadistic policy, the US refused any help to Nicaragua after its Atlantic Coast was struck head-on in 1988 by Hurricane Joan, one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to hit Central America. A high US government official cheerfully proclaimed that Hurricane Joan was “the biggest victory for the Contras, yet”.

In July 1985, Col. Oliver North of Reagan’s National Security Council, developed the “U.S. Political/Military Strategy for Nicaragua,” a comprehensive three-phase plan explicitly designed to overthrow the Sandinista government, that included the defeat and demobilization of Sandinista armed forces and the implementation of FDN programs.” The plan included directing Contras “to repeatedly…disrupt the economic infrastructure of Nicaragua with priority given to the electrical grid, water, transportation and communication systems”, as a “show of force action with maximum psychological benefit.” Of course this plan egregiously violated international law prohibiting the targeting of civilians or civilian infrastructure. By the end of 1985, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health estimated that 3,652 civilians had been killed, 4,039 wounded, and 5,232 kidnapped during Contra raids. The toll was mounting.

 

Continued next time with Brian Willson’s story.

 

BRIEFS

by Susan Lagos

Loan for roads approved
The National Assembly approved a loan of US$182 million from the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (CABEI) for three stretches of roads totaling 107 kilometers: from Sahsa to Bilwi/Puerto Cabezas (NE), from Caiguina to Potosi (NW), and Sapoa to Penas Blancas on the border with Costa Rica, four lanes (SW). (Informe Pastran and Channel 4, May 17)

Prisoner killed in melee
At the Modelo Penitentiary in Tipitapa during a visit of the International Red Cross, some inmates attacked a guard attempting to take away his weapon, and in the scuffle several guards were wounded and one inmate, Eddy Montes (a dual US-Nicaraguan citizen), who was sentenced to prison for wounding policemen at the roadblocks in Matagalpa, was killed. (Informe Pastran and channels 4, 6, 8, May 16)

Local Peace Commissions formed
All of Nicaragua’s 153 municipalities have formed Peace Commissions which are composed of citizens desiring peace and harmony and who are being trained in workshops to mediate in situations of resentment and loss due to the violence and hate propagated by the opposition during the attempted coup April to July, 2018. (Informe Pastran, May 17)

Opposition media caught on fake news report
The opposition spread what is called a “False Positive” on the internet, Channel 10 and 100% Noticias, using a photo of a man with severe face wounds, and saying he was Professor Gabriel Potoy of Masaya. The segment reported that he was a political prisoner in a hospital bed since what the announcer called “the regime hordes” gravely wounded him in his prison cell. The same day, the patient’s daughter was interviewed, saying her father Jose Maria Jimenez Garcia, truck driver in Liberia, Costa Rica, is the man in the photo, where he had a traffic accident, and has nothing to do with politics. She asked that her family be respected. This “false positive” method of spreading a lie originated in Colombia, where soldiers and death squads who get paid for killing guerrillas, kill innocent people in the countryside, dress them to look like guerrillas, and get credit for their body count. (Informe Pastran; May 20, Channels 4, 6, 8, May 18)

Nicaragua: second best surfing destination
Playa Maderas in Nicaragua is the #2 best destination for surfing in the world according to Conde Nast Traveler, after Keralan, India, and before Hawaii, Portugal, Morocco, Australia, and Bali. It has off shore winds more than 300 days a year, and offers a boutique hotel with excellent restaurant, yoga lessons, etc. (Informe Pastran, May 17)

Healy and Granera’s position on Charter causes kerfuffle
Michael Healy, President of the Union of Agricultural producers (UPANIC), and Violeta Granera, Coordinator of the Broad Democratic Front–Sandinista Renovation Movement (FAD-MRS), participated in an Inter-American Dialogue program in Washington DC where they discussed whether to apply the “Democratic Charter” of the OAS, which could remove Nicaragua from the OAS if it was determined that Nicaragua had broken the democratic order. Healy said this was not the time to impose the Charter while Granera said that they should be working along those lines. This caused a great kerfuffle within the opposition not only because a recording of the meeting was leaked but because Healy and Granera did not strongly support invoking the Charter at this time. (Informe Pastran May 17)

Sandino’s birth celebrated
Six hundred ceremonies took place around the country over the weekend in honor of the 124th anniversary of the birth of Augusto C. Sandino, General of Free Men and Women, on May 18. Cooperatives—which were part of Sandino’s project in Wiwili in the 1930’s but were wiped out by the National Guard when he was assassinated in 1934—now produce 40% of the Gross Domestic Product, and many rural communities celebrated the occasion with fairs. At Cerro el Chipote in Nueva Segovia, near Quilali, a special parade and ceremony were held where Sandino’s headquarters was located.

In Niquinohomo, Sandino’s birthplace, President Daniel Ortega gave a well-attended speech honoring Sandino’s anti-imperialist stance—demanding sovereignty for Nicaragua without interference from the US Marines, who trained Somoza’s National Guard. Ortega remembered Jose Santos Lopez, who escaped the assassins the night Sandino was killed after signing the 1934 peace treaty and lived to meet with Carlos Fonseca, Tomas Borge and Silvio Mayorga, who rescued Sandino’s ideals and formed the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN). Ortega also mentioned two other events that occurred on May 18: the murder of three student protesters, Edwin Castro Sr., Cornelio Silva, and Jose Alberto Narvaez, who had been tortured in Somoza’s prison and who died on May 18, 1960; and the execution of Tupac Amaru II, indigenous leader of a rebellion against the Spanish on May 18, 1781, in Peru. (Channel 4, May 18)

Marti and Pomares also honored on May 19
Commemorated on the 19th of May was the 124th anniversary of the death of Jose Marti, who died just a day after the birth of Sandino in 1895. Marti was also an anti-imperialist who fought for the independence of Cuba. And the 40th anniversary of German Pomares’ death in Jinotega on May 19, 1979, at the very beginning of the final offensive of the revolution, was remembered there with a ceremony. (Channel 4, May 20)

3,000 property titles to be presented on Mothers’ Day
This month for Mothers’ Day, May 30, 2019, 3000 property titles will be presented to their owners in several municipalities. (Channel 4, May 20)

Taiwan donates firetrucks
Taiwan presented to Nicaragua two new firetrucks that can hold 500 gallons of water each. Over the weekend, there was a firetruck exhibition on the Paseo de Estudiantes for the public to see the new trucks. (Channel 4, May 20)