Reagan’s Contra War on Nicaragua | Under the Shadow, Ep. 10, Part II

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration illegally funded counter-revolutionary warfare in Nicaragua. As scandal engulfed Washington, the solidarity movement pushed back against intervention. 

June 24, 2024

An explosion at the port of Corinto, Nicaragua, during an attack by Contra group Fuerza Democrática Nicaraguense on a petroleum tank, 1983. (Carlos Chavarria / Nueva Imagen / NACLA archives)


Read the transcript. 

In the early 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan launched a covert war to destroy the fledgling Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. It was brutal: paramilitary war, CIA attacks, economic blockade, and more. 

The war wreaked havoc on the country, killing tens of thousands and ravaging the economy. But an international solidarity movement stood up in response. Meanwhile, the Reagan government's hubris and drive to fuel its war on Nicaragua broke U.S. laws and led to a shocking scandal in Washington: the Iran Contra affair.

In this episode, host Michael Fox walks back into the 1980s, diving into the U.S. response to Nicaragua’s revolution and the international solidarity that pushed back against Washington’s intervention. 

This is Part 2 of Episode 10. 

Two leaders of the Miskito Indigenous resistance, Nicaragua, 1986. (Mario Lopez / Nueva Imagen / NACLA Archives)

Under the Shadow is an investigative narrative podcast series that walks back in time, telling the story of the past by visiting momentous places in the present. 

In each episode, host Michael Fox takes us to a location where something historic happened—a landmark of revolutionary struggle or foreign intervention. Today, it might look like a random street corner, a church, a mall, a monument, or a museum. But every place he takes us was once the site of history-making events that shook countries, impacted lives, and left deep marks on the world.

Hosted by Latin America-based journalist Michael Fox.

This podcast is produced in partnership between The Real News Network and NACLA.

Alex Aviña
William Robinson
Alex Cox
Marvin Ortega Rodriguez
Eline Van Ommen
Peter Kornbluh
Coleen Littlejohn
Grahame Russell
Jose Francisco Artola

Edited by Heather Gies.
Sound design by Gustavo Türck.

Theme music by Monte Perdido and Michael Fox. Monte Perdido's new album Ofrenda is now out. You can listen to the full album on Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube or wherever you listen to music.

Other music from Blue Dot Sessions.

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You can also see pictures and listen to full clips of Michael Fox’s music for this episode.

For declassified documents on the U.S. Contra war on Nicaragua and the Iran Contra affair, you can visit Peter Kornbluh's National Security Archives here and here.

Brian Wilson's memoir, Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson, is available here. His interview on Democracy Now! is here

Eline van Ommen’s book, Nicaragua Must Survive: Sandinista Revolutionary Diplomacy in the Global Cold War (University of California Press, 2023), is available here

William Robinson's book, A Faustian Bargain: U.S. Intervention In The Nicaraguan Elections And American Foreign Policy In The Post-cold War Era about the U.S. role in Nicaragua's 1990 election is available here

For the 2007 documentary American Sandinista, you can visit the website of director Jason Blalock.

Here are links to the 1980 documentaries about Nicaragua's literacy campaign that I mentioned in part 1: La Salida and La Llegada.

For a deeper analysis of opposing views on role of the U.S. government today in Nicaragua, I recommend the following resources:

This pair of NACLA articles by professor William Robinson argues that "Washington's principal concern in Nicaragua is not getting rid of Ortega but preserving the interests of transnational capital."
"Crisis in Nicaragua: Is the Ortega-Murillo Government Leftist? (Part I)" and "Crisis in Nicaragua: Is the US Trying to Overthrow the Ortega-Murillo Government? (Part II)"

This 2020 collection written by "a collective of historians, researchers, and activists committed to finding and sharing the truth about U.S. intervention in Nicaragua" presents an opposition view: The Revolution Won’t Be Stopped: Nicaragua Advances Despite US Unconventional Warfare.

Photos from the NACLA archives were identified, researched, and scanned by Pace University students Ana Armstrong, Mya Galan, Leslie Madera, Arwen Saenz, and Valeria Salazar, who have conducted research in the NACLA archives with the support of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives and the Project Pericles Foundation.

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