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Iran Contra Affair

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The Iran-Contra scandal had a big effect on the United States but it had a huge effect on Nicaragua. Through out 1985-86, the Reagan administration was selling weapons to Iran illegally in order to encourage Iran to free hostages in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Reagan administration wanted to support the Contras in Nicaragua, a rebel group fighting to overthrow the Sandinista government. The administration decided to use the money made from selling arms to Iran, and had it sent to the Contras without passing through the United States. Walsh, p2. ) In this paper, I am going to provide the background of the situation. I will explain how the money from the missile sales was used to support the Contras. I will also tell how everything became public, the end of United States support for the Contras and about then investigations and public hearings in the United States. But finally this paper is about the significance, or impact, of the Iran-Contra affair. The Sandinista National Liberation Front was founded in 1963.

Named after Augusto Ceser Sandino, it was an extreme leftist organization “of Castroite and Maoist direction. ” There were only about 150 members as of 1975, but sympathy was growing. (Times, 1/3/75) By August 1975, the SNLF had “begun to gain strength as discontent with the Somoza regime [had] spread through the middle classes. ” (Times, 8/6/75) By August 1977 according to The New York Times, Amnesty International said that “there had been widespread abduction, torture and killing of peasants by the National Guard” during the previous year. 8/16/77) The strength of the SNLF continued to grow. In October 1977, the SNLF, for the first time, was “joined by non-Marxist opponents of the regime” including some conservatives. (Times, 10/20/77) By May 1978 opposition groups, including the SNLF, were proposing a coalition government that would exclude Somoza. (Times, 5/1/78) By November 1978, the Carter Administration was trying to push Somoza “into a compromise with his opponents. ” (Times, 11/21/78) After 4 years of growing violence, including street fighting in the capitol, Somoza finally resigned. 9/17/79) After the Sandinistas took power in 1979, the remnants of Somoza’s National Guard scattered. As Kornbluh and Byrne describes The Iran Contra Scandal, they were reduced to small bands of some 250 men, hiding in Honduras and Guatemala, where they resorted to random violence and stealing to survive. The CIA brought these small groups together. After the Contras started receiving money from the CIA, the number of attacks on the Sandinistas increased a lot. Attacks during this period included, sabotage of highway bridges, sniper fire on small military patrols, the burning of customs warehouses and crops, and ‘the assassination of minor government officials’”( Kornbluh, p. 2; they are quoting from a document in the National Security Archives). On December 1, 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed a finding allowing our government to help the Contras. Beginning in March 1982, the whole thing became public as articles in the Nation, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Newsweek reported on CIA aid to the Contras.

Congress reacted to this by passing the Boland Amendment, which read: None of the funds in this Act may be used by the Central Intelligence Agency of or the Department of Defense to furnish military equipment, military training or advice, or other support for military activities, to any group or individual, not part of a country’s armed forces, for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua or provoking a military exchange between Nicaragua and Honduras. (Kornbluh, p. ) In spite of this, the Reagan Administration continued to aid the Contras, all the time denying that they were doing so. Among the aid they sent was the Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare training manual, referred to by those who knew about it as the “murder manual. ” (Kornbluh, p. 2) The Reagan administration later on came up with a new strategy, to portray the Contras as freedom fighters and the Sandinistas as oppressors. In 1984, the CIA sowed mines in a major port in Nicaragua causing a severe amount of damage. The Contras took credit for this.

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But a few weeks later the press exposed the CIA involvement. In response, Congress passed a second Boland Amendment, which said that neither the CIA nor the Defense Department could fund the Contras, either directly or indirectly. From then on the administration worked through the National Security Council, and NSC staff member Oliver North. NSC William Clark established Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (housed in State Department but reported to the NSC), Oliver North attended the meetings: responsible for all Contra affairs.

Because the CIA was prohibited from operating inside the United States, Director William Casey had senior propaganda specialist Walter Raymond transferred to the NSC. As Raymond declared, his job was to “concentrate on gluing black hats on Sandinistas and white hats on Contras. ” (Kornbluh, p. 5) All this time, CIA intelligence analysts were saying that the Contras couldn’t win, even with American support. Robert Owen, Oliver North’s personal intermediary with the Contras is quoted as saying they were simply “profiteers. 1 Meanwhile, during 1985-86, as mentioned earlier, the Reagan administration was selling weapons to Iran illegally in order to encourage Iran to free hostages in the Middle East. After the 1979 hostage situation at the United States Embassy in Tehran, Carter had imposed an embargo on selling weapons to Iran. When Reagan came to power in 1981, the Embassy hostages were freed, but Reagan continued the embargo policy. In 1983, the administration strengthened it through operation STAUNCH, a worldwide voluntary arms embargo against Tehran. But for several reasons, some people in the administration supported softening the stance toward Iran.

The idea that selling weapons would help win the release of hostages encouraged them to act. The way the United States diverted the funds is complex. Basically, the United States sold arms to Iran, hoping to get hostages freed, then used the money they got to arm and support the Contras. All of this was done secretly. On October 5th, 1986, an American plane was shot down by Sandinistas over southern Nicaragua. The two pilots were killed, but the “cargo kicker,” Eugene Hasenfus, parachuted out and was captured by Sandinista soldiers. He told the Sandinistas everything he know about United States involvement with the contras.

The next day, the story was on the front page of every major United States newspaper. Then, on November 3rd, 1986, a Lebanese paper published a story that revealed the United States trading of arms for hostages. (historycommons. org, p. 1) Having these two pieces of the puzzle soon led to people discovering the connections between the arms-for-hostages deals and secret aid for the Contras. Once the Iran-Contra connection had become public, Reagan appointed John Tower, Edmund Muskie and Brent Scowcroft to a President's Special Review Board charged with investigating the affair.

People expected the Tower Commission to be a whitewash, but its report brought to light many of the details of what had happened. On November 26, 1986, Attorney General Edwin Meese ordered the FBI to begin an investigation of the Iran-Contra episode. December 19, 1986, Lawrence E. Walsh was named to the Office of Independent Counsel to take over that investigation. The Tower Commission, congressional investigations and the work of the Independent Counsel led to indictments of Oliver North and John Poindexter on March 16, 1988.

North was convicted on charges of obstruction of justice, misleading Congress, and accepting an illegal gratuity, but an appeals court overturned the verdict because testimony to Congress given under immunity might have affected his trial. Poindexter was also convicted and his convictions overturned on appeal. (Kornbluh, p. xxviii) In 1992, George H. W. Bush pardoned six others who had been indicted or convicted of crimes in the affair. The Iran-Contra affair made the United States look untrustworthy internationally, as well as causing people to distrust their government.

The United States government depends on a system of checks and balances among the congress, executive and judicial branches. If the executive branch does whatever it wants and hides its actions from the congress, then the people are no longer in charge of their government. This is a genuine threat to democracy. When Somoza resigned in 1979, the Sandinistas and others who had opposed Somoza formed a junta to govern until there were elections. The country was a mess. There was poverty, malnutrition, disease, pollution from pesticides, factory runoff and raw sewage into Lake Managua.

The Sandinistas tried to address these problems and might have succeeded if the Contras had not undermined a lot of what they did. Money from Cuba and Eastern Europe was spent on building up an army to combat the Contras instead of being used for other important needs. The Sandinistas won an election in 1984 with 67% of the vote; most international observers deemed the elections fair. Exhaustion on both sides, fear of losing to the Contras, and mediation by other governments in the area led to the “Sapoa ceasefire” between the Sandinistas and the Contras on March 23, 1988.

In the elections that followed in February 1991, the Sandinistas, who were expected to win, were soundly defeated. The new President was Violeta Chamorro, widow of a prize winning newspaper editor who had struggled against Somoza. When the Chamorro government took power, the situation of the country was even more desperate than in 1979. 2 All in all, the Contras and the United States support for them were disastrous for Nicaragua. Notes 1 This paragraph is based on information from Kornbluh. 2 This paragraph is based on information from Britanica.

Works Cited Britinaca. com. http://www. britinica. com/EBchecked/topic/413855/Nicaragua . “Iran-Contra and Arms-for-Hostages Scandals: Eugene Hasenfus” http://www. historycommons. org/jsp? irancontraaffair_key_figures . Kornbluh, Peter, and Malcom Byrne. The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History. New York: The New Press, 1993. The New York Times, January 3, 1975-September 17, 1979. Walsh, Lawrence E. Independent Counsel Report. “Executive Summary,” p. 2. http://www. fas. org/irp/offdocs/walsh/execsum. htm .

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