US Human Rights Violations in Nicaragua – Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Pamphlet – PDF

1984 US Human Rights Violations in Nicaragua

Nicaragua, the largest of the Central American countries, is approximately the size of the state of Iowa. It is a land rich in agriculture, mineral resources and timber, bordered by Honduras and Costa Rica. Nicaragua’s diverse land is crossed by several ranges of volcanic peaks and stretches between the Pacific and Caribbean oceans. Its waterways provide an ideal site for the location of interocean canals.

Besides mining gold, Nicaragua produces coffee, bananas, cotton, sugar, lumber, cacao and cattle. Its 2.5 million people are predominantly “mestizo,” people of mixed Indian and Spanish blood, with Miskito, other Indian tribes and Blacks in the Caribbean region. Catholicism is the major religion.


Nicaragua had been continuously invaded and controlled by foreign governments since the sixteenth century. The Spanish ruled Nicaragua until 1821, exporting Indians as slaves and battling with the British over control of the east coast.

United States involvement began in the mid-1800s. For a short period, William Walker, a U.S. citizen, was installed as Nicaragua’s President. By the time of the Civil War, the U.S had invaded Nicaragua four times.

In 1909, the U.S. played a major role in ousting Nicaraguan President Zelaya. U.S. Marines invaded and maintained a military presence until 1933. U.S. financial advisors took over the banks and major industries, dictating Nicaraguan fiscal policies and controlling the Nicaraguan economy.

From 1927 to 1933, an army of peasants and farmers led by Augusto Cesar Sandino waged continuous guerrilla warfare against the occupy­ing Marines. “We will respect the Americans,” wrote Sandino, “as long as you treat us as equals and not in the erroneous manner of today, believing yourselves lord and master over all our interests. We want a free country or death.”

The U.S. Marines finally withdrew in 1933, but not before they had created a new police force–the National Guard–and appointed Anastasio Somoza Garcia to head it.

The first Somoza assassinated Sandino, then staged a coup appoint­ing himself president. For the next 46 years, the Somoza family dynasty ruled Nicaragua. It was a reign of terror, backed by the brutal repression of the National Guard and billions of dollars in military aid from the United States.

The Fall of Somoza

In 1961, a group of Nicaraguans organized the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN), named after Sandino and dedicated to over­throwing Somoza and eliminating the National Guard. For 18 years the FSLN worked to unite the Nicaraguan people in the struggle against Somoza. Over 40,000 Nicaraguans were killed during the revolution. The National Guard used napalm and heavy mortar fire in the major cities. Thousands of civilians were massacred, tortured or “disappeared.” On July 19, 1979, the victorious FSLN entered Managua, greeted by a crowd of 200,000 people.

The diverse population of Nicaragua came together for the monumental task of reconstructing the country from the terrible devastation of war and eradicating Somoza’s legacy of crippling poverty. Thousands of young volunteers immediately began a nationwide literacy campaign; others worked to set up health clinics. Agricultural cooperatives were mobilized to feed the population. A pluralistic, participatory government was formed, establishing new standards to facilitate the freeing and pardoning of more than 3,000 National Guardsmen to reintegrate them into society. Young, inexperienced, and passionately committed to a humane revolution, the Sandinista Government began to create the “New Nicaragua.”


With the overthrow of the Somoza dynasty, the U.S. lost its power in Nicaragua. Long the preeminent foreign actor in that country, the U.S. was again on the losing side of a successful social revolution. Since 1979, the U.S. government has utilized subtle, and now overt, means to destabilize the Nicaraguan government. Almost immediately after the Sandinistas took power, the U.S. suspended loans previously approved for Nicaragua, freezing international aid for desperately needed development. Since then, the U.S. has used economic strangleholds including boycotts and suspension of trade, other political and social pressures, such as propaganda, disinformation and religious manipulation, and military might to destabilize Nicaragua.

The Reagan Policy

During the Reagan presidential campaign, the Republican Party made its Nicaragua policy public: “We deplore the Marxist Sandinista taking of power in Nicaragua.” Campaign literature made clear that a victory for Reagan would seriously affect the Nicaraguan economy: Reagan sup­porters proclaimed that “United States foreign assistance programs should be vehicles for exporting American ideas.”

The Republican platform stated that their Administration “will look for ways to increase intelligence service capacities in order to assure use of technical and clandestine information, convincing analysis, a co­ordinated counterintelligence service and covert action…”

The CIA Plan

In November 1981, Reagan authorized at least $19 million in CIA funds to finance, train and supply weapons to anti-Sandinista para­military forces. These forces would attempt to destroy vital Nicaraguan targets such as power plants, bridges and factories, in an attempt to disrupt the economy and divert the attention and resources of the government. These funds were funneled through “friendly” Latin Ameri­can countries and conveyed directly by CIA operatives. In April 1982, the National Security Council wrote, “In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas are under increased pressure as a result of our covert efforts.”

United States officials including then Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Thomas Enders, confirmed that the CIA plan included the provision of money, training and weapons to former mem­bers of Somoza’s National Guard to enable them to carry out incursions into Nicaragua. Enders also stated the U.S. was “winking at viola­tions of the [U.S.] Neutrality Laws,” by aiding, abetting, supporting, and encouraging, within and without the U.S., acts of terrorism against a sovereign nation with which the U.S. is not at war.

U.S. Officials Support the Anti-Sandinista Death Squads

The Reagan Administration has never denied its financial, logistic, military, and political support for terrorist paramilitary organizations. Typical of U.S. involvement is its support for UDN-FARN, one of the largest contra (anti-Sandinista) groups. In June 1981, before the CIA plan was approved, the leaders of UDN-FARN were given at least $17,000 by the U.S. to purchase arms which were shipped from Miami to Hondu­ras training camps. In August 1981, UDN-FARN leaders were invited to meet with State Department officials in Washington, D.C., where they were assured continued support for their activities. In August 1981, fed­eral officials authorized at least an additional $50,000 which was passed through Argentine intelligence officers. Promised continued support for their activities, the receipt of an additional $50,000 was conditioned upon the formation of a united front group by various paramilitary organizations.

This group, financed by the U.S., destroys crops and livestock and raids villages, ransacking homes, torturing and raping civilians, kill­ing townspeople, and kidnapping others.

Contra Camps in the U.S.

There are numerous contra camps in the U.S., the majority located in the Miami, Florida area. Typical of these training camps is CAMP LIBERTAD just outside of Miami. Owned by 3 Cuban exiles, and encom­passing 600 acres, the camp’s instructors are former Green Berets and a “few very camera shy Americans.” Trainees are instructed in conven­tional and nonconventional warfare: infantry, guerrilla training and ideological preparation. Several hundred Nicaraguans were trained there and transferred to clandestine bases in Honduras. A former Somoza guardsman is the leader at Libertad. “We train here and then we decide where it is best to go to wage the fight to free our country.” As another contra leader said about Reagan “Thank God we finally have a Presi­dent in the White House with balls.”

Human Rights Violations

The terror campaign of U.S. backed contras has received limited cur­rency in U.S. news reports. Over the past three years the frequency and violence of these attacks has greatly increased. Torture and mutilation of people in front of family members is a technique frequently employed. In January 1983, this technique was used against a Catholic lay leader of a village near Rama in the southern part of the province of Zelaya. A month earlier another lay worker from the literacy campaign was hacked to pieces with machetes.

Terror directed at religious groups involved in social programs and at medical personnel is increasing. Another Catholic lay leader was killed by contras who smashed his spine with rifle butts. An entire family was killed because they housed Cuban teachers. A daycare center was at­tacked by mortar shells, killing seven children.

Two European doctors and one Cuban doctor were killed. A young woman teacher was kidnapped and killed by slitting open her body and stuffing it with weeds. The contras gouged out the eyes of the two farm technicians who had accompanied her.

Myrna Cunningham, a 35 year-old doctor who is the regional health director in northern Zelaya, was kidnapped, beaten and raped repeatedly. The contras told her that they wanted the people to be afraid to seek medical care in Nicaragua, so that they would want to cross the border to Honduras. She said that the contras were extremely proud of the support they were receiving from the U.S.


Sanchez v. Reagan

On November 30, 1983, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven Nicaraguan citizens, Congressman Ronald Dellums and two Florida residents against President Reagan, Secretary of State Shultz, CIA Director William Casey, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Negroponte, and a number of Nicara­guan exile organizations and their leaders. Additional plaintiffs are being added in an amended complaint.

The Nicaraguan plaintiffs are victims of cross-border raids. They have been tortured and kidnapped and members of their families have been killed. They allege that their injuries result from a conspiracy that stretches from the U.S. National Security Council to the contras in the border camps. They sue under a statute called the Alien Tort Claims Act which gives them the right to bring a damage action in federal court where there has been a violation of international law.

Congressman Dellums asserts that the illegal war violates the constitutional precept that only Congress can declare war, and that the war violates the Neutrality Act.

The Florida plaintiffs complain that the camps in Miami, where the invasionary forces train, violate state nuisance law because the op­eration of the camps poses a threat to the health and welfare of Floridi­ans and violates criminal statutes. The lawsuit details the connections between the U.S. defendants and the raids that resulted in the in­jury and death of innocent Nicaraguans.