In June 1987, Lt. Col. Oliver North (Ret.) gave testimony in front of the Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition and the House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Sales with Iran. The hearings had cast a dark cloud over Washington and the administration of President Ronald W. Reagan (1911-2004) doubled down on anything that could be conceived as illegal pursuant to United States law. I can still recall the shock on my father’s face when the news of the scandal broke across media outlets. The two of us watched the nightly news to learn more about a situation that had danger written all over it. Those who remember the Iran-Contra affair most likely have images in their minds of North testifying in his military dress before Congress. Details of the Reagan administration’s covert plans became unraveled but the full truth about the affair remained elusive for many years. The sale of weapons to foreign nations did not surprise me at all and military hardware has always been big business. But what did catch my attention was the atmosphere in Central America, a region that suffered extensively due to Washington’s support of dictatorships thirsty for blood and determined to crack down on all opposition.
Over the years I have made the acquaintance of men and women who fled El Salvador at the height of the nation’s civil war. And the stories they have told me have remain firmly entrenched in my mind as examples of how much suffering occurred to innocent people who were forced to leave the only home they had ever known. In Nicaragua, revolution and turmoil had taken place as the Sandinista National Liberation Front successfully forced the Somoza regime to flee into exile. The victory by the Sandinistas caused anger and embarrassment in Washington which was determined not to let the leftist remove the puppet government it preferred. However, the people of Nicaragua had other plans and wanted a new direction for their country. This book is the story of how the Somoza dictatorship met its end in Nicaragua.
The author provides a good explanation on the history of Nicaragua dating back to the era of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). As the story moves into the 1800s, affairs in Central American begin to heat up. Foreign governments begin to take notice of the small Central American nation and intervened in the nation’s affairs. I was quite amazed at how involved both the United States and Britain became in the country’s policies but soon realized it was a premonition of what would follow. A revolution in 1912 resulted in the arrival of U.S. Marines in Nicaragua and the occupation lasted until 1933. But the local population had no desire to live under Washington’s rule at any time and a young revolutionary named Augusto César Sandino (1895-1934) was intent on seeing his country liberated from imperialist domination. Francois tells the story with the right amount of suspense and keeps the pace flowing at the right speed to move the book forward. It soon becomes apparent that Sandino’s time is limited, and it is not long before Nicaragua is taken over by Anastasio Somoza García (1896-1956) who placed the country in a vice grip with the assistance of his sons Anastasio Somoza Debayle (1925-1980) and Luis Somoza Debayle (1922-1967). And for nearly fifty years they ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist and made it their personal kingdom. But as the author explains, the revolutionaries were far from done. In fact, the Somozas had only increased the determination of the opposition to remove the family from power.
American readers might be surprised to learn of the enormous amount of assistance Somoza received from Washington. The United States was aware of Somoza’s tyranny yet continued to supply arms and money to the regime. The eye-opening details provided here are bound to cause anger and shock and will cause others to wonder if “freedom” was really part of American foreign policy. Opposition forces were continuing to mount against Somoza, and it may be challenging to keep track of the the groups that were formed. A table of the acronyms used by the groups is included at the beginning of the book by Francois and will be helpful during the story. The group that emerges as the main opposition force is the Sandinista National Liberation (FSLN) formed by Carlos Fonseca (1936-1976), Tomás Borge (1930-2012) and Silvio Mayorga (1934-1967). On the side of Somoza, the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua (GN) steps up to the plate to do battle with the FSLN and the war that breaks out is nothing short of brutal. At this point, the story heats up significantly and readers will not want to stop reading as the suspense continues to build. Francois’ narration of the events resurrects the past with vivid detail.
Similar to other conflicts, Nicaragua’s war was not as cut and dry as one may have believed. In fact, the country essentially became a battleground between the right and left with Washington deeply concerned about Soviet and Chinese influence. And as we see in the story, Beijing was fully aware of the events in Nicaragua and attempted to get into the mix. Even Israel enters the story, and this part of the book is mind bending. Francois proves that there are many dark secrets to every conflict. As the two sides are locked in a deadly battle, Somoza begins to lose popular support. The initial descent of the Somoza regime into oblivion takes center stage and Francois takes us through the series of events that not only gave the Sandinistas the upper hand but also saw the disappearance of support from Washington. At this part of the book, I had to step back for a minute and digest what I was reading. The abrupt change in policy from Washington is a move we have seen in other places where death and destruction have taken place. Somoza was once the darling of the U.S. policy in Central America but soon learns that when Washington no longer wants or needs your services, the cold from being hung out to dry can be chilling.
The end for the regime finally came in July 1979 and for the administration of President James E. Carter, Jr., Somoza’s removal was long overdue. However, the new president had his hands full and the situation in nearby El Salvador was heating up. In Nicaragua, the long road taken by the opposition had ended and the country faced a new and uncertain future. Francois explains it best with this statement:
“The date 19 July 1979 marked a turning point in the history of Nicaragua and the FSLN. Not only had a powerful dictatorship that reigned over the country for nearly 40 years, with the support of the US, ended, but the long and patient fight started by the Sandinistas in the early 1960s finally came to fruition.”
The Carter administration continued its policy of reigning in dictators in Central America yet failed to completely achieve its goal. In January 1981, a former actor and one-time Governor of California took office and his policy towards Central America and the “threat” of Soviet influence helped plunge Central America further into chaos. Congress initially had no idea just how deadly things had become but it soon learned and what was revealed remains one the darkest moments in U.S. foreign policy. And the key to understanding those events is the story here about the Somoza downfall that had ramifications which spread across Latin America.
Readers who find this book to highly informative will appreciate Raymond Bonner’s Weakness and Deceit: America’s and El Salvador’s Dirty War and Malcolm Byrne’s Iran Contra: Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power. Both are exceptional accounts of America’s involvement in Central American affairs. Francois has a winner here and I am eagerly anticipating volume two.
ASIN : B07RPBY857