U.S.-Waged “Low Intensity” Warfare in Nicaragua

December 1, 1989

Excerpt from Report of Veterans Peace Action Team
Pre-election Observation Delegation to Nicaragua
November 30 to December 14, 1989


Delegation Members

  • Charlie Litkey, 58 years, U.S. Army, Vietnam, 1967-1970, recipient of Congressional Medal of Honor;
  • Jack C. Ryan, 51 years, U.S. Army, 1961-1963, guarded nuclear weapons, FBI agent, 1966-1987, specialist in organized crime;
  • Robert Spitzer, 63 years, U.S. Navy, WW II, psychiatrist and behavioral science book publisher;
  • S. Brian Willson, 48 years, U.S. Air Force, Vietnam, 1969, former attorney, a founder of VPAT and Nuremberg Actions;
  • Noel Corea served as our translator and guide for the entire period.


The Nicaraguan elections are scheduled for Sunday, February 25, 1990. The Central American Presidents continued their peace initiatives at Tela, Honduras, on August 7, 1989, when they agreed to a process that would require the U.S. created and sustained Contras to be demobilized and repatriated by December 5, 1989. On August 8, "Nicaraguan rebel leaders said…that they will respect an agreement by Central American presidents to close the contra bases in Honduras, but they also said they will send at least half their guerrillas into Nicaragua rather than disarm" (San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 9, 1989). Nonetheless, the U.S. Contras have continued to commit terrorist acts against the Nicaraguan people. In October 1989, they escalated the intensity of their attacks, even though their latest U.S. Congressional appropriation in April 1989, was and continues to be conditioned on the contras remaining in their Honduran sanctuary camps, refraining from all military operations. The President of the U.S., and the Congress, have not condemned the terrorism, nor has Congress moved to cut off the aid to the Contras as the appropriation bill authorized them to do by November 30, 1989, if the Contras were violating their mandate to refrain from military operations.

President Bush continued the U.S. economic embargo against Nicaragua by again declaring on October 25, 1989, that Nicaragua posed an "unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." The economic situation throughout Nicaragua continues to force the majority of people to live in painful depravity.

The U.S. Congress and the CIA have combined to finance, with what are believed to be unprecedented amounts of money, the so-called opposition political parties in an effort to defeat the majority Sandinista Party in the February 1990 elections.

In effect, the U.S. orchestrated and financed 3-pronged attack through use of "low intensity" warfare against Nicaragua is in full force: (1) continued Contra terrorism throughout Nicaragua’s rural areas, (2) continued economic strangulation, and (3) unprecedented efforts to purchase the internal political process and elections.

It is time to sense the mood and situation in Nicaragua at a moment when: (1) the Contras are escalating their terrorism at a time when they were to have been demobilized (Dec. 5) ; (2) the official political campaign was to be launched (Dec. 4), including inclusion of the heavily U.S. financed opposition parties; (3) the economic embargo has only recently been renewed aggravating the economic crisis among Nicaraguans.


Fact-finding Activities

It was important to talk to many people in the rural areas as well as in Managua, observing campaign slogans and promotions for the FSLN, Nicaragua National Opposition Union (UNO), and other parties as they prepare for the elections:

  1. December 6-7, Region 6, Department of Matagalpa. Travel from city of Matagalpa to cooperatives in or near San Ramon, La Dalia and La Tuma. Met with 75 Mothers of the Heroes and Martyrs. Met with an ex-Contra who returned to Nicaragua under amnesty in 1986. Attended an event in Matagalpa City with a number of people injured from the war. Received briefing from Col. Manuel Salvatierra on status of war. Met with Francisco Javier Sanz, head of UNAG for the 6th region.


  2. December 8, Region 4, Departments of Carazo and Masaya, travel from Managua through the communities of El Crucero, Diriamba, Dolores, Jinotepe, San Marcos, Masatepe, Niquinohomo, Masaya and Nindiri. Received briefing by Creamer sisters in Jinotepe of their solar cooking oven project. Brief meeting with Commander William Ramirez in Niquinohomo.


  3. December 9, Region 5, Departments of Boaco and Chontales. Travel from Managua through the communities of Tipitapa, San Benito, Las Banderas, Teustepe, San Jose De Los Remates, San Lorenzo, Tecolostote, San Esteban, Juigalpa, Lovago, Santo Tomas, and San Pedro De Lovago. Observed an UNAG (National Union of Farmers and Ranchers) event, the opening of a new general store, and the annual bull fight with corresponding festivities in San Jose De Los Remates. Met with Daniel Nunez, UNAG President, as well as with the president of UNAG for Region 5.


  4. December 12-13, Region 1, Departments of Esteli, Madriz, and Nueva Segovia. Travel from city of Esteli through communities of Condega, Yalaguina, Totogalpa, Ocotal, Mozonte, San Fernando, Santa Clara, Susucayan, and Quilali. Noted the beautiful mountain, El Chipote, north of Quilali, which furnished the headquarters for Augusto Cesar Sandino in his battles against the U.S. Marines during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Examined the October 29, 1988, site where Dora and Erick and 20 others were ambushed a few miles west of Quilali. Received briefing from Jose Martinez "Chepe", head of UNAG for the 1st region. On return trip to Managua stopped at La Trinidad and participated in a lengthy discussion with local UNO supporter, Didier Hernandez Lorente, a shoemaker, in his living room with many family and neighbors listening.


  5. November 30-December 5, December 10-11, Managua (Region 3). The most important meetings are identified below:


    1. Attendance at three different vigils in front of the U.S. Embassy, including one protesting the continued U.S. funding of the repressive government of El Salvador.
    2. Meeting with Dr. Rodolfo Sandino Arguello, the Notable (neutral) member of the 5 person Supreme Electoral Council. Dr. Arguello was a member of Somoza’s Supreme Court and currently is on the faculty of U.C.A. in Nicaragua. Briefed on the electoral law and the status of the election process.
    3. Meeting with Jorge and "Patricio", respectively, Salvadorans living in Nicaragua in communication with the people of El Salvador, who briefed us on the latest situation on El Salvador.
    4. Meeting with Sister Mary Hartman, Director of the official Human Rights Commission. Mary Hartman, a nun, has been in Nicaragua for over 25 years. She is a U.S. citizen.
    5. An interchange with a number of North Americans at the Ben Linder House.
    6. A briefing by Mr. Lacayo of the UNO campaign staff and a tour of the UNO campaign headquarters.
    7. Meeting with UNO political leaders, Dr. Gustavo Toblada, Director of the UNO Commission for International Relations, Dr. Danilo Lacayo, Director, Public Relations and Press Affairs for UNO political office, and Roberto Guzman, and aide to UNO Presidential candidate Violetta Chamorro. We were given a tour of the political offices providing space for UNO operations.
    8. Phone conversation with Donald Reasoner, long time Nicaragua church worker, about conditions in Nicaragua.
    9. Meeting with Sixto Garache, Chief Editor, Barricada, and Sergio D’Castro, Chief Editor, Barricada International.
    10. Meeting with Leslie Toser and Dr. Derek Summerfield at the Witness For Peace office. Ms. Toser and Dr. Summerfield, a psychiatrist, had recently conducted an in-depth study of the residents of a community near La Esper
      anza in Zelaya and the effects of "low intensity" warfare on their individual and community lives.
    11. Attendance at mass at the La Merced Catholic Church in the La Reynaga economically poor neighborhood. Participated in the mass at the priest’s request.
    12. Meeting with Carlos Escorcia, an evangelical Baptist minister, about the preparations for the February 1990 elections by the church community and their desire to host North Americans as observers, official and unofficial.
    13. Visit to Aldo Chavarria Rehabilitation Hospital.
    14. Meeting with Oscar Olnas, a criminologist on the staff of the Ministry of the Interior (MINT).
    15. Meeting at the Ministry of the Exterior (MINEX), equivalent to the Foreign Ministry or State Department, with Miguel D’ Escoto, Foreign Minister, Alejandro Bendana, Secretary General of MINEX, Manolo Cordero, Director of the North American Section of MINEX, Roberto Vargas, Assistant Director, North American Section, and Eduardo Aviles, staff with North America Section. Discussed the recent meeting of the 5 Central American Presidents in San Jose, Costa Rica, the situation in El Salvador, the legal case of Nicaragua against Honduras in the World Court, the upcoming Nicaragua elections and the U.S. intervention in the elections, the continued Contra war, the economic conditions in Nicaragua, and the merits of water only fasting to effect consciousness.
    16. Meeting with Edgar Chomorro, ex-Contra Nicaraguan, now with the Institute for Media Analysis’ Nicaragua Election Monitoring Project, and David MacMichael, also of the Project, about the flow of U.S. money to UNO.
    17. Attempted meetings with La Prensa and Cardinal Miguel Obando Y Bravo were met with a denial from the former and bureaucratic obstacle from the latter.


The Current Context: Brief History of Recent Intervention Attitudes and Activities in Nicaragua by the United States

The obsessive U.S. intervention to undermine the 1979 Nicaragua revolution was initially based on the need to interdict alleged flow of arms moving from Nicaragua to the FLMN in El Salvador. However as no evidence was discovered to support this claim, the U.S. dropped this pretense and openly demanded that the Sandinista-led revolution "cry uncle." As the Nicaraguans struggled to continue their programs for the poor despite the U.S. directed Contra terrorism that was destabilizing many of the revolution’s gains, the U.S. policy became one of openly orchestrating the complete overthrow of the Sandinista-led government.

The following is a brief chronology:

  • 1978 — Pres. Carter authorized CIA to support "moderate" opposition groups as Somoza’s tenure came in doubt due to the escalating revolutionary activity in Nicaragua
  • Mar. 1980 — Congress freezes aid to Nicaragua, something it had never done since Somoza came to power in 1936
  • Mid-Nov. 1980 — Pres. Reagan’s transition team met with small group of exiled Nicaraguans in Honduras who desired to fight the Sandinistas
  • Apr. 1981 — Pres. Reagan terminates $118 million in U.S. aid to Nicaragua obtained under Pres. Carter
  • Nov. 1981 — Pres. Reagan signed secret directive (NSDD #17) providing $20 million through the CIA to train a 500 man paramilitary force to begin operations in Nicaragua
  • Mar. 1982 — Contras (the newly developed paramilitary force created by U.S. NSDD #17) blew up two bridges in northern Nicaragua beginning the "Contra War"
  • June 1982 — Argentina advisers leave contra camps after the U.S. supports Britain, not Argentina, in war over Falkland Islands; CIA then enter camps directly
  • 1982 — Congress provides $19 million covert aid to Contras through the CIA; CIA uses $10 million additional money from a contingency fund for the Contras
  • 1983 — Congress provides $24 million overt aid to the Contras
  • Sept. 1983 — Contras sabotage Managua airport, Corinto port facilities, and oil pipeline in Puerto Sandino
  • Jan.-Feb. 1984 — CIA mines Nicaragua’s harbors
  • 1984 — CIA and NED money begins supporting various non-military, internal opposition activities
  • Oct. 1984 — CIA assassination manual discovered in Contra hands
  • May 1, 1985 — Pres. Reagan signed initial economic embargo on Nicaragua
  • June 1985 — Congress approves $28 million in "humanitarian" aid for the Contras
  • 1986 — Congress approves $100 million, including $70 million for military aid, for the Contras
  • 1987 — Congress approves $20 million "nonlethal" aid for Contras
  • 1988 — Congress approves $48 million overt aid for Contras
  • 1988 — Congress began openly financing opposition political parties in Nicaragua
  • Apr. 1989 — Congress approves $50 million overt aid for the Contras
  • Oct. 1989 — Congress approves $9 million for UNO

It is obvious that the United States is scared of peace. Various statements and actions of the U.S. continue to reveal her fear of peace, and her defiance of the rules of international and domestic laws and agreements.

The so-called bi-partisan agreement on Contra aid, signed by the President and Congressional leaders on March 24, 1989, to continue funding the existence of the terrorist army, though supposedly only as a ready force in their Honduran sanctuary camps, and not as an active fighting force, directly contradicted the peace plan agreed to by the 5 Central American presidents in their meeting in El Salvador on February 14, 1989. The Central American plan calls for the demobilization and resettlement, not perpetuation, of the Contras. The $50 million of bi-partisan aid actually appropriated on April 13, 1989, was to continue until February 28, 1990, unless Congress learned that the Contras had left their Honduran camps and initiated military operations inside Nicaragua, in which case Congress could terminate by November 30 any further aid. The aid was not linked to or conditioned on Contra demobilization as the Central American presidents had requested. Just the opposite! One day after the so-called bipartisan aid became law, on April 14 to be exact, the Contras launched one of their biggest attacks in several months when they ambushed and murdered 7 Nicaraguan soldiers along the Kurinwas River in the central Zelaya region. We know the Contras have continued to be militarily active conducting a number of terrorist actions throughout the period the bi-partisan aid has been in force.

Earlier, in May 1986, a National Security Planning Group meeting of Cabinet-level officials was convened due to their alarm that Nicaragua was prepared to sign the Contadora peace plan. Remember Contadora? Washington’s strategy was to portray the plan as unacceptable to others in the region "while denouncing the Sandinistas for refusing to negotiate." One official who attended the meeting was reported to have said it had been convened because "there was a peace scare." (New York Times, Aug. 6, 1987, article by Joel Brinkley.)

Alfonso Chardy, writing in a May 10, 1987, article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, said that "U.S. officials sought to disrupt the efforts of the Contadora group of nations to negotiate an end to conflict in Central America because the peace talks complicated efforts to persuade Congress to approve Contra aid."

Anthony Lewis, in his November 19, 1987, New York Times column discussing the Central American peace process declared about the Reagan administration: "They want war. That is the policy…As Mr. Wright said, they ‘are scared to death that peace will break out.’"

Peace absolutely requires justice as a foundation. The U.S. cannot afford justice in Central America (or elsewhere) unless it is willing to endure a painful but liberating revolution of consciousness and values that no longer lives
by the principles of greed , unlimited consumerism and domination.


U.S. Defies Tela Accords: Actions Oppose Contra Demobilization

As stated above, the funding of the Contras in April 1989 to last until after the Nicaraguan elections on February 25, 1990, defies the Central America peace plan. The Tela accords, signed August 7, 1989, in Honduras, set in motion a specific demobilization plan for the contras to be completed by December 5, 1989. We know that the Contra attacks have intensified since the Tela agreement. The U.S. has not even condemned the attacks. Under the terms of the bi-partisan agreement, Secretary of State James Baker assured Congressional Democrats that the Contras would not carry out offensive military operations inside Nicaragua. A State Department statement in response to Congressional inquires about Contra attacks admitted that it lacked the "strong intelligence ability" to assess responsibility for the attacks.

Robert Pear of the New York Times summarized the U.S. defiance of the August 1989 Tela accords (published in San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 3, 1989) by citing four actions of the U.S. government: (1) Statement that they want the Contras to remain intact as a fighting force until after the elections; (2) Distributed cash to Contras inside Nicaragua at a rate of $150,000 to $200,000 per month; (3) Statement that they were and are aware of movement of large numbers of armed Contras into Nicaragua; and (4) Consciously ignored and allowed Contras to carry out hostile acts they hoped would provoke Ortega to do something "intemperate."

In a Nov. 2, 1989, news story (San Jose Mercury News). Secretary of State Baker said the U.S. would cut off the April 1989 "humanitarian" aid appropriation to the Contras if they are "found to be engaging in offensive operations." On the same day, Nov. 2, another news story (San Francisco Chronicle) reported that "Contra sources admit that the rebels are responsible for some violations." Again on the same day, another San Francisco Chronicle article reported that the "Contras are short of ammunition" but there are "huge stocks of ammunition and missiles left from the $100 million package" that expired in 1988. Again, on the same day, Marlin Fitzwater, the White House Press Secretary acknowledged in a San Francisco Chronicle article "that the Contras have been involved in military action."

On Nov. 4, the San Francisco Examiner quoted an anonymous rebel source in Costa Rica as saying, "Our soldiers scarcely have any ammunition." But on the same day Wilson Ring of the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting from Yamales, Honduras, stated that "the 6,000 contra rebels based here have been rearmed."

The facts speak for themselves. Whether officials of the U.S. government or the Contras can get their stories straight or not is just further evidence that U.S. policy is lawless, based on lies, and full of Orwellian doublespeak. The fact of the matter is that the Contras continue to carry out terrorism throughout Nicaragua with U.S. money and support. The U.S. has only encouraged the Contras to continue their terrorism. It has done nothing to order or even encourage them to demobilize.


The Sadistic Nature of "Low Intensity" Warfare: The Witness For Peace Sponsored Study Conducted by Leslie Toser and Dr. Derek Summerfield



"Low Intensity" warfare is a euphemism for terrorism. It attempts to demoralize the lives and spirits of the people. It intends to instill fear in people’s hearts and minds through a variety of means. 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" (Washington Post, Aug. 27, 1989).

National Security Decision Directive #124 signed by President Reagan in February 1984 requested development of "such economic sanctions against Nicaragua that are likely to build pressure on the Sandinistas." This same directive also authorized various pressures on the Mexican government to reduce its "economic and diplomatic support for the Nicaraguan government."

In July 1985, Col. Oliver North developed a written plan for overthrowing the Sandinistas by directing the Contras "to repeatedly…disrupt the economic infrastructure of Nicaragua with priority to the electrical grid, water, transportation and communication systems" that would be a "show of force action with maximum psychological benefit."

Bob Woodward’s book, Veil, p. 281, reports that CIA director William Casey demanded from his people working in Nicaragua: "What more can we do about the economy to make those bastards sweat?"

In a January 1986 meeting with Garrett Sweeney, political consular at the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua, I was told that two of the critical factors determining the future of Nicaragua are: (1) Reaction of the Nicaraguan population to internal economic trends and conditions (economic embargo), including "food shortages", and (2) the military "fortunes" of the contras. Regarding U.S. policy in Nicaragua, Mr. Sweeny said, "Our goal is peaceful but the manner in which we pursue it is not." In effect, the U.S. policy toward Nicaragua is one dominated by military terrorism and creation of starvation.

In September 1988, House Speaker Jim Wright said "he had ‘clear testimony’ from the CIA of its involvement in instigating civil disturbances in Nicaragua" (AP story, San Francisco Examiner, Sept. 24, 1988). He further stated that the Reagan administration "covertly sought to provoke the Sandinista government into cracking down on its political opposition."

In January 1989, an international conference of specialists in treatment of torture survivors met in San Francisco. They are "alarmed by the use of systematic torture around the world to break the will of entire populations." They declared that fear is the object of terrorism. "People become terrorized, and therefore they give up their life projects," such as where to live and work, ability to safely raise children, travel to markets and to see friends and relatives, for example. "That is the effect that the government intended," therapists stressed. "The effects are a frightened, angry, impotent society of people…The government seeks to restrict your actions and thoughts and the very way you exist," said Dr. Paul Davis, a South African physician who has documented use of torture by his country’s white-minority government. (San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 19, 1989)


The Witness For Peace-Sponsored Study Conducted by Leslie Toser and Dr. Derek Summerfield

Dr. Derek Summerfield, a psychiatrist from England, worked with Leslie Toser of Witness For Peace (WFP) from August to November 1989, studying the effects of the Contra war on campesinos.

One in twelve, or 300,000 Nicaraguans have been displaced by the contra war. But one in six rural Nicaraguans have been displaced by the terrorism. Dr. Summerfield and Ms. Toser studied the community of Urvina, in the Rama and La Esperanza area in Zelaya. The community had been attacked 3 or 4 times during the war, with people killed, maimed and kidnapped during each attack, as well as experiencing destruction of houses and crops. The communal infrastructure becomes destroyed as loss of family members, houses and crops forces the people to move to safer, "foreign" areas. Virtually all the original Urvina residents, numbering about 200, including 90 adults, are now
living in an asentamiento for their safety.

Nearly 90% of the women demonstrate psychosomatic symptoms. Nearly 100% of the women and 50% of the men report regular tension headaches. The military mobilization of the men, a regular occurrence, tends to demoralize the community as it regularly deprives the people of much of the labor necessary for economic and social survival. People subjected to the constant fear of attacks become worn down, both emotionally and physically. Even in the asentamiento, vigilance is required for security every day and night. Virtually every able-bodied man spends 4 months each each year in the army reserves, and the other 8 months in vigilance every third night. They tend to never receive adequate rest and therefore remain in constant exhaustion.

The Contras are communicating to virtually all rural campesinos, through word of mouth, distribution of U.S. funded leaflets, and direct threats, that they will "make the war worse than ever if the FSLN wins the elections." Dr. Summerfield suggested that a lot of people may not vote because of the fear of terrorist reprisals, like murder and maiming.

Dr. Summerfield stated that economic and political/social effects of the war are easier to document than the psychological effects. He also indicated that as terrorism from military activities is the primary issue in the rural areas, economic strangulation is the issue in the urban areas more dependent upon a cash economy.


Contra Activity During the Period of Visit to Nicaragua (Nov. 30 to Dec. 14)

The Contras have been very active in 1989, and the activities since October have markedly escalated. There are many bands of Contras in numbers of 10 to 30 each, roaming in most rural areas. Selective assassinations and kidnappings are common, as are ambushes. Attacks on cooperatives and farms continue.

Assassinations: There have been a number of assassinations of FSLN members and others perceived as providing leadership in the communities. Many ex-Contras who have returned under amnesty are being selected for assassination. On December 1, ex-contra Fermin Cardena Cardena was assassinated in an ambush just north of Wiwili in Jinotega Department. He had received training in the U.S. several years ago in North Carolina. In an interview in late 1988 or early 1989, he stated that Contra commander Enrique Bermudez was directly involved in approving operations to destroy U.S. citizen Ben Linder’s hydroelectric project in the El Cua area, as well as to murder Linder himself. Cardena also indicated that Bermudez gave a reward to the Contra who executed Linder.

On December 13, the Contras executed a man about 12:30 p.m. near the village of Susucayan in Nueva Segovia Department. The man executed had been named by UNO to be a local candidate in the upcoming elections. He chose not to be a UNO candidate, and he was identified as a traitor by the Contras and removed from his house, tortured and then murdered.

Visited a cooperative near San Ramon, Matagalpa on December 7 and learned that a man had recently been assassinated in a neighboring cooperative.

Ambushes and attacks: While in Matagalpa City on December 6, learned of a Contra attack the evening before (about 7 p.m.) at a cooperative near the neighboring city of Jinotega. Several people were killed and wounded, and some facilities were destroyed.

While in San Pedro De Lovago briefly on December 9, a public transport vehicle was blown up by a mine on the public road, killing or wounding over 20 civilians.

On December 13 traveled from Esteli to Quilali to visit the Lopez ambush site. Heavy Contra activity on and along the road from Palacaguina and San Juan Telpaneca in Madriz Department forced us to travel the longer, more northern route to Quilali.

U.S. Reconnaissance Overflights: Overflights continue at the rate of one every other day providing the Contras with regular photographic intelligence of positions of Nicaraguan army units and transportation patterns. Several flights occurred in December, tracked by Nicaraguan radar.

Visit with 75 Mothers of the Heroes and Martyrs in La Dalia, Matagalpa: Estimated that these 75 mothers experienced a collective loss of nearly 300 family members due to Contra terrorism during the war. One mother had lost 22 family members, having only her mother left. They expressed in powerful ways that they had suffered enough. "How can you help us," they asked? "We want peace." Who and in what manner will represent the suffering, and vision, of those mothers? If we can feel the suffering within us, that it is our suffering as well, and feel the vision within us, that it is our vision as well, then we will be motivated to act in ways we are not even aware of yet.


The Economic Situation

President Reagan signed NSDD #124 in February 1984 calling for economic sanctions against Nicaragua that are likely to build pressure on the Sandinistas. On may 1, 1985, the economic embargo was instituted, based on the U.S. 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 embargo has been renewed every 6 months since, most recently by President Bush at the end of October 1989. This embargo has been supplemented by an "invisible blockade" of Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) loans. The U.S. government has vetoed or stopped loans by the World Bank and the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB). The U.S. has applied pressure on European governments to not help Nicaragua. The U.S. refused any help to Nicaragua after Hurricane Joan, the most devastating natural disaster to ever hit Central America. A high government official of the U.S. happily proclaimed that Hurricane Joan was the most successful Contra victory ever.

Again, I am reminded of U.S. Embassy official Garrett Sweeney’s statement to me in 1986 that creation of food shortages was very much a part of U.S. policy to undo the Sandinista government.

Throughout Nicaragua we asked people about the economic situation as they personally experienced it. In general it seemed that more items were available than a few months ago but there was less money to purchase the items. Medicines and basic food stuffs were beyond the means of many people. Though most people understand the reasons for the economic depression, nonetheless people are tired and worn down by the constant struggle to eat and to have basic clothes and shelter. The embargo makes unavailable many items such as spare parts that further aggravates conditions of daily life.


The Election Process: United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO)

In a June 11, 1989, New York Times article, "Bush Pressing Congress to Permit CIA Role in Nicaragua Elections," a State Department official is quoted as saying, "We want to keep the Sandinistas guessing." This again reflects the arrogance, the interventionist attitude and sadistic nature of U.S. foreign policy directed to Nicaragua. Furthermore, President Bush is on record saying he would lift the embargo if Violeta Chomorro, Presidential candidate for UNO, is elected. This is an admission that the U.S. government is not going to honor the decision of the Nicaraguan voters unless they select the U.S. candidate. It is also an admission that economic depravity and food shortages are a very conscious policy the U.S. exacts upon people who refuse to "cry uncle."

The Nicaragua elections will be the most extensively observed ever in the history of Central America, perhaps in the world. At least 1500 outside observers are expected. Several Nicaraguan observers will be present at each of the nearly 4400 voting places. There will also be United Nations and Organization of American States observers.

On December 2 we met with Rodolfo Sandino Arguello, the independent "Notable" member of the five-person Supreme
Electoral Council (SEC). As there has been no census in Nicaragua since 1971, a 1989 population estimate was developed by demographers to be about 1,970,500 eligible voters. As of the end of October 1989, nearly 90%, or 1,750,550 had registered. Each registered voter receives a card with the voting place identified. Unlike "democratic" El Salvador, one is not required to vote in Nicaragua. This is the first time the U.N. has observed an election of an independent, sovereign country, as opposed to one being de-colonized such as Namibia in Africa this past November.

All money contributed to the political campaign from outside Nicaragua must come through the Central Bank, 50% of which then goes to the SEC for election process expenses; all goods must come through the Ministry of Foreign Cooperation. As of December 2 no money from the U.S. or Congress had been registered with the Central Bank. Speculation is that the very visible funds financing UNO at this point are arriving in cash with individuals working out of Miami and Venezuela. There have been reports that key UNO organizers are receiving $5,000 a month.

The February 25, 1990 elections are not just for the President and National Assembly. All municipal candidates will be elected as well throughout the country.

A budget of $25 million is required to fund the election process. West Germany, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Canada, and Venezuela are assisting with meeting the budget. The U.S. has contributed far more than this figure to the opposition party efforts to topple the Sandinistas, but absolutely none to the election process.

In Nicaragua only 45 people are necessary to form a political party. In the February 1990 elections, there are actually 10 parties or alliances on the ballot. UNO (United Nicaragua Opposition), the U.S. sponsored, organized and funded alliance of 11 parties, and the FSLN, are the 2 primary groups seeking votes. But there are 8 other parties on the ballot: Social Christian Party (PSC), Democratic Conservative Party (PCD), Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement (MAP-ML), Workers Revolutionary Party (PRT), Central America Unionist Party (PUCA), National Unity Liberal Party (PLIUN), Movement of Revolutionary Unity (MUR), and the Conservative Socialist Party (PSOC).

We learned that in the poor neighborhoods of Nicaragua, UNO is distributing $10 U.S. bills enticing people to UNO meetings. They are also distributing consumer items like radios and designer jeans. In the countryside the Contras are threatening people to either vote for UNO or to abstain from voting. Frequently this is done at the point of a gun as people are told the Contras will know who voted for the FSLN.

In fact, in some communities where UNO is popular, the minority of FSLN supporters are already known, and the Contras will be able to easily speculate on February 26, 1990, the day after the elections, from examining the voting figures which people voted for the FSLN. There is expressed concern among many people of reprisals after the elections directed against FSLN supporters.

UNO officials invited us to attend other demonstration on Saturday, December 9, in Masatepe, Carazo Department. We traveled through Masatepe the day before but had a conflict on Saturday and could not attend. The demonstration actually turned out ugly. A 4 year old child of a FSLN family was killed, a U.N. vehicle was burned, a FSLN house was stoned, and a number of people were injured. There was confusion about how the incitement was precipitated and as to what happened. UNO blames the FSLN. The FSLN blames UNO. Two of the local UNO organizers resigned over the incident. However, U.S. and UNO officials declared that this incident furnished proof that free and fair elections could not be held in Nicaragua.

This response can be seen as a sign that as the election date nears and the perception of a FSLN victory becomes more likely, that the U.S. will order UNO to withdraw from the elections, citing the Masatepe and other incidents as evidence that a fair election is impossible.

Of course the U.S. funded Nicaraguan newspaper, La Prensa, is the "official" news organ for UNO. To give you a flavor of their bias against the government of Nicaragua, their reporting of the alleged Nicaraguan plane that crashed in El Salvador carrying missiles for the FMLN, included publication of a map of the route of the plane from Nicaragua to El Salvador revealing a fictitious common border between the two countries. In fact, a section of Honduras separates the 2 countries, making it a bit more difficult to transport supplies across the "border."


Conversations About El Salvador

There is a lot of solidarity among Nicaraguans with the struggle for democracy and justice in El Salvador. UNO has expressed regular support for the Christiani government and their efforts to put down the popular movement. How this will play out in the elections remains to be seen. However it is difficult to believe that UNO wins votes by supporting the Christiani government. Even among people who are opposed to the FSLN, they all remember Somoza. To most Nicaraguans, the Salvadoran government reminds them of the Somoza years. "It is very close to home."

We learned a bit about the FMLN November 1989 offensive in El Salvador from Salvadorans temporarily living in Nicaragua. During the first 2 weeks, there were about 860 government casualties, with a 9:1 casualty rate for the FMLN. Therefore, one could estimate 100-150 FMLN casualties. There were 1000-1500 civilians killed, mostly due to the bombings by the Salvadoran air force. U.S. pilots are believed to have directed much of the bombing with some U.S. pilots flying the planes dropping the bombs. It is believed that the FMLN had surrounded the Ilopango air base in eastern San Salvador making it difficult for most of the Salvadoran pilots to reach the planes. Thus it is believed that many of the bombers came from U.S. bases in Honduras.

The FMLN destroyed 27 government vehicles and shot down 1 plane. Twelve helicopters were hit and 2 small planes were damaged as well. The FMLN intelligence sources inside the Salvadoran army report that the Green Berets discovered in the Sheraton Hotel in San Salvador were on a mission connected to training for and transportation to Panama to capture or kill Noriega.

These same intelligence sources indicate that the Salvadoran army has adopted the Jakarta plan, patterned after the CIA efforts to eradicate the Communist party in Indonesia in the 1960s. The Jakarta plan aims to eliminate the heads of all leaders of the popular movement–unions, church, civic, etc.


A Final Note About the U.S. Embassy in Managua

We observed one interesting change in the physical make up of the small observation building adjacent to the main gate of the U.S. Embassy in Managua. During previous vigils in front of the Embassy, employees could be seen through windows as they photographed and observed the vigil participants. Now, however, the windows are one way, so that the employees can see out but the vigilers can only see dark glass.

This is but one other example of the need for the people carrying out U.S. policy to be insulated, detached from the people. They cannot even work knowing the people can see them. Perhaps deep down they are ashamed of their complicity and must work ever harder in remaining in denial. They do not want to be seen by the people clamoring for justice outside their window. The existing system and its values of greed and domination must entrench all the more as it becomes surrounded with ever more reminders if its illegitimacy.


ADDENDUM A: Casualties from Contra Attacks–Nicaragua

Source: Witness For Peace (WFP) and Nicaraguan Government
  Nicaragua U.S. Equivalent (x71)
Murdered 736 52,256
Wounded 1,153 81,863
Kidnapped 1,481 105,151
Total Casualties 3,370 239,270
TO OCT. 30, 1989
Source: WFP Reports dated Nov. 2 and April 13-Oct. 14, 1989
  Nicaragua U.S. Equivalent (x71)
Murdered 71 5,041
Wounded 47 3,337
Kidnapped 78 5,538
Total Casualties 196 13,916
Source: Nicaragua Ministry of Defense
  Nicaragua U.S. Equivalent (x71)
  Civilian Military Civilian Military
Killed 18 45 1,278 3,195
Wounded 18 75 1,278 5,325
Kidnapped 14 994
Total Casualties 50 Plus 120 3,550 Plus 8,520
Grand Total
Oct. 1989 Casualties
170 12,070


ADDENDUM B: Ambush Site

On October 29, 1988, the U.S.-funded contras ambushed an El Carmen state coffee farm truck on its way from El Carmen to San Juan del Rio Coco, a few miles west of the city of Quilali in the Department of Nueva Segovia, just a few miles from the Honduran border. Dora and Erick Lopez (and Marlon Lopez, 10 months, who subsequently died from his wounds) were riding in the truck with about 19 others. The truck had just turned a curve about 2 miles north of San Juan del Rio Coco when about a dozen contras appeared on the road and opened fire with automatic weapons. Over 120 bullet holes were found in the truck. Apparently at least one grenade (40 MM) hit the truck as well. According to an area resident whose cousin was murdered in the ambush, a total of 18 persons were murdered, and only 4 survived, including Dora and Erick.


On Wednesday, December 13, 1989, Charlie Liteky, Jack Ryan, Bob Spitzer, and Brian Willson, comprising a VPAT pre-election observation team, traveled to the October 29, 1988 ambush site. Photo at left, above, shows curve in road where contras ambushed the truck. The truck continued another hundred yards or so and crashed in a ditch alongside the road. The photo on right, above, shows Brian at the spot where the truck came to rest in the ditch, marked by a cross designating the ambush. Name on cross is Felipe Zelaya Lopez (16 yrs.) who was murdered in the ambush.

In investigating the spot and its environs, we discovered that it was at a location of a very well traveled contra infiltration trail from Honduras through eastern Nueva Segovia. Also discovered was a man-size hole in the ground, like a foxhole, adjacent to the road but hidden from view of the road, that we speculated was being used by the contras to conceal themselves while conducting ambushes with trip wire mines, M-79 grenade launchers, or automatic weapons.

One Comment

  1. Posted August 25, 2021 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I participated in the VPAT mission to Nicragua en November-December 1989, and visited three camps in Honduras with Dr. Holbrook
    as part of the Joint Plan for the voluntary demobilization, repatriation or relocation in Nicaragua or third countries, of members of the Nicaraguan resistance and their families. I did not see any of that in your report…

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