The Somoza Dynasty

  • 1926 : Augusto Sandino was a member of a revolution fighting against the Conservative ruler of Nicaragua, Adolfo Díaz (who was backed by the U.S.) and continued fighting after a cease-fire.
  • 1932 : The outgoing Liberal president appointed Anastasio Samoza García to head the guard the National Guard; Sandino maintained some land and a small army that the new President gave him upon the departure of U.S. Marines.
  • 1936 : García takes power, and his dynasty rules for the next 43 years.

Creation and Expansion of the Sandinistan National Liberation Front

  • 1961 : The Sandinistan National Liberation Front (FSLN; named after Sandino) is founded in opposition to the regime. Ideologically, it sees itself as a Marxist-Leninist vanguard organization whose goal is to create a socialist state. They were inspired by the Cuban revolution and were anti-U.S. intervention.
  • 1967 : Anastasio Somoza Debayle comes to power.
  • 1972 : An earthquake rocks Nicaragua, and President Somoza Debayle takes some relief aid for himself.
  • 1974 : The FSLN launches an attack and a kidnapping, which results in Somoza declaring a state of siege and a brutal counterinsurgency campaign. Pedro Joaquín Chamorro also founds the UDEL (Union for Democratic Liberation).
  • 1977 : Jimmy Carter takes office at a time when Americans were wary of foreign intervention due to the Vietnam War. He subsequently cuts off all aid to the Nicaraguan government until it improves its human rights status; Somoza thus lifts the state of siege in order to receive aid. The Sandinistas renews and expands their attacks against the regime with the support of some academics, businessmen, and priests, including Adolfo Calero (a businessman).
  • Business elites, including Alfonso Robelo, are angry at Somoza’s failure to promote business interests and the fact that his dynasty prevents others from participating in politics. Major political parties are not powerful and, therefore, these people had nobody to represent their interests. However, the UDEL grows, attracting Robelo and Calero.
  • January 10, 1978 : Chamorro is assassinated, setting off protests throughout the country.
  • Summer 1978 : The FAO, an umbrella group of opposition movements, is formed. It includes moderates and the more radical FSLN.
  • August 22, 1978 : Sandinistan forces, led by Éden Pastora, captured the National Palace where the Nicaraguan legislature is in session. Pastora gets the regime to give money, release prisoners, and provide means of publicizing the Sandinista cause. However, the FSLN reads a communiqué by brothers Humberto and Daniel Ortega, two powerful Sandinistan leaders, which suggests their Socialist aims. This frightens some moderates in the FAO.
  • Uprisings against the state continue. The Sandinistas, with materiel support from Venezuela and Panama, continue fighting. Carter tried to get all sides together to find a solution to the conflict to no avail. However, the U.S. forces the FAO to moderate its positions, leading to the departure of the FSLN from the group.
  • As the fighting continued, FSLN is bolstered by international opposition to the regime, as well as by Cuban support in the form of arms and military advising.

Sandinistas Take Power and Create a Nicaraguan Socialist State, Carter Administration tries to Appease

  • July 19, 1979 : The Sandinistas take power. They soon declare a state of emergency and expropriate land and businesses owned by the old dynastic family and their associates; nationalize banks, mines, transit systems; abolish the old courts, the constitution, and the legislature; organize peasants and workers into Civil Defense Committees; and declare that elections are unnecessary because the FSLN made the decisions. This prompted criticism from the Catholic Church and business interests, and the Sandinistas arrested dissidents.
  • Carter sends $99 million in aid to the FSLN so that it would become pro-U.S. Meanwhile, Cuban officials fly to Nicaragua to advise the FSLN on foreign and domestic policy and the FSLN sought an alliance with the Soviet Bloc.
  • August 28, 1979 : The FSLN passes three decrees limiting the freedom of the press and political organizing.
  • September 12, 1979 : Carter releases remaining aid that is due to Nicaragua.
  • February 1980 : Alfonso Robelo and his MDN party begin vocal opposition to the regime and call for democracy, elections, and political pluralism.
  • March 1980 : The FSLN sign economic, cultural, technological, and scientific agreements with the USSR.
  • Violent opposition to the new regime begins, and attacks are carried out by peasants and farmers wary of the new regime’s agrarian policies.
  • Early 1980 : Once it becomes clear to policymakers in Washington that the FSLN would not moderate its position, Carter authorizing a finding in allowing the CIA to support resistance forces in Nicaragua with assistance for organizing and propaganda purposes but not for armed action.
  • Mid-1980 : José Cardenal and Enrique Bermúdez form what would become the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, or FDN (the main contra group).
  • 1980 : It becomes clear that the FSLN is supporting revolutionaries in neighboring El Salvador. Carter initially ignores this and continues to give the Sandinistas aid in order to curry favor.

Regan Administration cuts off support to Sandinistas and Begin Aiding Contras

  • January 20, 1981 : Reagan is inaugurated in the context of a rightward shift in U.S. politics and concern about the Soviet Union. Due to the continued unwillingness of the Sandinistas to stop their support of Salvadoran rebels, Reagan soon cuts off all aid to the FSLN indefinitely. This prompts the FSLN to suggest that the U.S. would invade, thereby justifying further consolidation of power and crackdowns on perceived enemies.
  • Early 1981 : FSLN becomes more radical as moderates are kicked off of the governing junta. Eventually, Arturo Cruz and Éden Pastora became disaffected with the revolution and defected.
  • March 9, 1981 : Reagan authorizes the CIA to help interdict arms trafficking to El Salvador, but this does not give them the power to arm rebel groups. Concurrently, the administration tries to convince the FSLN to stop their activities.
  • December 1, 1981 : Reagan signs the order allowing the CIA to support the contras with arms, equipment, and money in order to put pressure on the regime. This is concurrent with U.S. efforts at diplomatic initiatives and the strengthening of pro-U.S. regimes in Central America. Covert activities are viewed as the best way to pressure the regime. The Contras are trained by Argentineans and operated out of Honduras.
  • March 14, 1982 : Opposition forces blow up 2 bridges, including one used to ship supplies to Salvadorian rebels. The Sandinistas impose state of emergency and crack down on the opposition while tightening press restrictions.
  • April 1982 : Pastora declares that he is going to take up arms against the regime. In May, Robelo declares his support and soldiers leave the Sandinistan army to join Pastora.
  • June 1982 : The birth of the Reagan Doctrine is publicly announced. This is Reagan’s policy of supporting democratization everywhere. Thus, the goal of covert operations in Nicaragua shifts from one of ostensibly interdicting arms to supporting a change in government.
  • December 7, 1982 : The CIA introduces the “political directorate of the FDN;” this included Edgar Chamorro, Adolfo Calero, and Enrique Bermúdez, a former guardsman. Chamorro later resigned due to the fact that, in his view, contras purposely targeted civilians.

Boland Amendment I

  • December 21, 1982 : The first Boland Amendment is passed into law, which barrs “the use of funds ‘for the purpose of’ overthrowing the government of Nicaragua or provoking a war between Nicaragua and Honduras
  • 1982-1983 : Some in Congress, especially liberal Democrats, are angry at the continued support of the Contras and the growing war in Nicaragua. They think that it might violate the Boland Amendment.
  • Spring 1983 : McFarlane thinks that Israel could give some of its U.S. appropriations to the Contras.
  • Late 1983 : The CIA assists the contras in attacking transportation and economic targets in Nicaragua.
  • January 1984 : A retired Army general, John Singlaub, offers to help the contras get money, supplies, and recruit military advisers; he continuously meets with North and gets his approval for his actions. Singlaub tires to get money from Taiwan and South Korea for the Contras. Eventually, North and Richard Secord stop him from doing further business for the contras.
  • January 7, 1984 and February 29, 1984: The CIA mines harbors in Nicaragua. Oliver North knew of the plan and recommended that the President sign off on it.
  • February or March 1984 : McFarlane meets with his Israeli counterpart David Kimche and asked him if Israel would help train the Contras.
  • March 27, 1984 : Casey says that McFarlane should look for funding from Israel and others; Israel declined, and Shultz at first questioned the legality of getting money from other countries.
  • Spring 1984 : Congress finds out about the CIA’s mining of the harbors, which Casey had barely informed the intelligence committees about. There was great uproar and backlash against aid to the contras.
  • June 1984 : McFarlane gets money from Saudi Arabia for the Contras; he later stated that he had not solicited it but had merely mentioned the problem of losing aid for the Contras, and the Saudis gave money.
  • Summer 1984 : North asks Richard Secord to get involved with the contras by getting supplies to them. He and Albert Hakim join the cause. They strike a deal with Calero to supply arms.
  • 1984 : Some in the Administration have the idea of having someone set up a private tax-exempt organization to raise money for the Contras. Carl Channell spearheads this effort to solicit private funds for the Contras. He would seek out potential donors, many of whom would meet with North or Reagan.

Boland Amendment II

  • August 1, 1984 : House passes the second Boland Amendment, which reads “During fiscal year 1985, no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose or which would have the effect of supporting directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization, movement or individual.” Boland states that U.S. support for the contras gave the FSLN an excuse to be repressive and undemocratic.
  • October 12, 1984 : Boland II becomes law. Two ways for the administration to potentially bypass the act are to solicit third-party funds (private donors/third countries) or use the NSC on the logic that it was not covered under Boland. Oliver North, on loan to the NSC from the Marine Corps, spearheads this activity.
  • November 4, 1984 : Nicaraguan elections are held; Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s president, wins.
  • November-December 1984 : North gives intelligence to the contras regarding Soviet helicopters sold to the Sandinistas.
  • 1985-1986 : Channell’s organizations take in over $12 million, of which $2.7 million went to the Contras.
  • February 1985 : When the initial Saudi contribution runs out, they donate more. In total, they gave $32 million.
  • 1985 : North helps to get a $1 million contribution for the contras from Taiwan.
  • May 1, 1985 : Reagan announces an economic and trade embargo against Nicaragua due to a trip Ortega took to Moscow.
  • Summer 1985 : Secord and Hakim become Calero’s sole arms suppliers. In all, they sell about $11 million in arms and other equipment to the contras.
  • June 1985 : Cruz, Robelo, and Calero unite as the UNO (United Nicaraguan Opposition).
  • July 1985 : North approaches Secord about conducting air supply operations for the contras.
  • August 1985 : President Reagan signs into law legislation giving $14 million in humanitarian assistance directly to the contras.

Boland Language Loosens

  • Late 1985/Early 1986 : Boland language is loosened in the 1986 intelligence authorization bill to say that the CIA can provide training and intelligence to the Contras as long as it does not “amount to participation in the planning for execution of military or paramilitary operations” or participation in “logistics activities integral to such operations.” New legislation also allows the Administration to get funds from third countries and private parties provided there is no quid pro quo.
  • February 1986 : Taiwan gives another $1 million.
  • March 7, 1986 : Ghorbanifar allegedly suggests the diversion to Cave
  • April 1, 1986 : The first resupply mission is flown, but initial only supply contras in Honduras.
  • April 4, 1986 : North writes the Diversion Memo.
  • Late April and June 1986 : News gets wind of some of North’s activities; while some in Congress press for an investigation, little is done.
  • May 1986 : The UNO and the Southern Opposition formed the Nicaraguan Resistance.
  • May 1986 : Resupply operations begin to supply contras in the north and south.
  • May/June 1986 : Only $1.2 million+ of as much as $11 million in the enterprise’s accounts was spent on the Contras.
  • August 13, 1986 : North tells Secord to shut operation down and leave the planes and supplies. Secord at first refuses.
  • Summer 1986 : Congress passes $100 million in aid to the contras. At this point, most in Congress were tired of the Sandinistas.
  • October 5, 1986 : A plane flying supplies to the Contras was shot down in Nicaragua and Eugene Hasenfus was captured; it seemed the USG was involved but Reagan denied it and Congress didn’t look into it too thoroughly. This eventually led to the full exposure of the operation and the Iran-Contra affairs.