Decision on Nicaragua

February 28, 1986

Report Outline
Intensified Mutual Hostility
Roots of Current Antagonism
Persistent Foreign Influence
Special Focus

Intensified Mutual Hostility

Coming Decision on Anti-Sandinista Funding

The Reagan administration appears to be intensifying its war of nerves against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The Sandinistas' open defiance of the United States and their increasingly close ties to the Soviet Union and Cuba have made them an irritant to President Reagan since he has been in office, and the object of ill-concealed U.S. harassment for most of that time. But the administration's request, sent to Congress on Feb. 25, for $100 million in fresh funding for the anti-Sandinista “contra” guerrillas—including military assistance previously barred by Congress—represents a significant escalation of U.S. pressure on Nicaragua, one that many observers believe could presage direct U.S. military involvement in Central American conflicts.

It has been clear for some time that the administration is deeply committed to the support of a paramilitary campaign against the Nicaraguan government, which Reagan considers to be Marxist and a willing tool of the Soviet Union. Two and a half years ago, Richard H. Uhlman, a professor of international relations at Princeton University, wrote: “The Reagan administration is at war with Nicaragua. Like other wars the United States fought since 1945, it is an undeclared war. No U.S. serviceman has yet fired a shot, but American-made bullets from American-made guns are killing Nicaraguans, and the President of the United States has made the demise of the present Nicaraguan government an all-but-explicit aim of his foreign policy.”

Despite Uhlman's perception of Reagan's policy, the administration's goals in Nicaragua have never really been clear. Initially, White House officials denied that any U.S. funds were being given to Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, then the U.S. representative to the United Nations, said in early 1983 that it was a “myth” that the United States had anything to do with the fighting in Nicaragua. An official State Department spokesman said the Nicaraguan civil war was an “internal problem” resulting from a “spontaneous uprising” that was “diverse, nationalist and independent.” Confronted with extensive media coverage of large amounts of U.S. made equipment and supplies in the hands of the contras, administration officials said U.S. aid was being used to cut off the flow of arms from the Sandinistas to Marxist rebels in El Salvador.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Regional Political Affairs: Latin America and the Caribbean
U.S. at War: Cold War