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Why and How Did U.S. Policies Toward the Iran and Nicaragua Become Intertwined With One Another?

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The Iran-Contra Affairs of the 1980s stemmed from the Reagan Administration's foreign policies toward two seemingly unrelated countries, Nicaragua and Iran

The Administration believed that changes to these countries that occurred in the 1970s threatened U.S. national interests. In Nicaragua, a socialist movement (the Sandinistas) seized power through a revolution in 1979. The Administration, fearful of the potential spread of socialism throughout Latin America, eventually backed paramilitaries (the contras) who sought to overthrow this revolutionary regime. In the section on Nicaragua, you will find a brief background of U.S. policy toward the region since the 19th Century; information on the history, composition, ideologies, and policies of the Sandinistas and contras; and a detailed description of the actions the United States took in Nicaragua from 1979 until the Iran-Contra Affairs. You will also find a brief description of Nicaragua since the affairs.

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Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti, has had a difficult path to democracy, characterized by ongoing struggles between rival caudillos (strongmen), generations of dictatorial rule, and civil war. Since 1990, Nicaragua has been developing democratic institutions and a framework for economic development. Nonetheless, the country remains extremely poor and its institutions are weak. Former revolutionary Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, was inaugurated to a new five-year presidential term in January 2007 and appears to be governing generally democratically and implementing market-friendly economic policies

The United States, though concerned about Ortega’s ties to Venezuela and Iran and his authoritarian tendencies, has remained actively engaged with the Ortega Administration. The two countries are working together to implement the U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), control narcotics and crime, and promote economic development through the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). Nicaragua is receiving some $28.6 million in U.S. assistance in FY2008 and could benefit from the proposed Mérida Initiative for Mexico and Central America. Nicaragua is a Central American nation bordering both the Caribbean sea and the Pacific ocean between Costa Rica and Honduras. Slightly smaller than the state of New York, Nicaragua has a population of roughly 5.4 million. With a per capita income level of $1000 (2006), Nicaragua is classified by the World Bank as a lower middle income developing country. Nicaragua is still largely an agricultural country, but its nontraditional exports (textiles, tobacco products, vegetables, gold) have expanded rapidly in the last few years. Nicaragua’s key development challenge is to boost growth rates to a level that can reduce poverty, which is especially severe in rural areas.

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Thirdly, mainly after the 1980s besides dollar diplomacy to Latin American, the US gave more concentration to Central America and Caribbean area as their most urgent task and changed their military and political strategy to a low intensity one. Nicaragua and EI Salvador can be good examples to understand the policy. (Priestland 2010 p51) Nicaragua is quite different from other communism country, the reform of the Sandinistas was relatively soft and did not rose much class conflicts maybe partly because the avaricious Somoza regime that only the Somoza family owned 20% of the country’s cultivable land. (Skidmore & Smith 2005 p386)And also the Sandinistas’ different attitudes to capitalist countries relatively friendly and their nonaligned foreign policy make sure at the very beginning of 1980 its relationship with US was not bad, it was still able to get financial help from US (Priestland 2010 p51). But the implement of the Reagan doctrine changed the situation

US started to sanction Nicaragua economically and politically and fostering any anti Sandinista force to subvert the communism government (Skidmore and Smith 2005 p387-388). The action was brutal almost 1% of the population died in the contra war. Combine with many other factor it finally lead the Sandinista lost the election to weak but pro US candidate (Priestland 2010 p60). In the EI Salvador case, even under very much domestic pressure, US had not stopped its military intervention. Unit any possible force within Latin American, gave economic aid and sent military advisor to support anti communism regime. (Nigel 1990 p103) Many criticisms had put Vietnam label on this time. This led to 12 years civil war responsible for more than 75,000 deaths (Skidmore and Smith 2010 p388). But the US attitudes changed from purge to negotiation. Partly because the reform nature and the popularity among people of the FMLN or partly the weakening soviet power, two conflict regime under supervision of US finally ceased fire and lead the EI Salvador to a direction to democracy (Nigel 1990 p105). But the American influence seemed hard to get rid of, even in 2004 when the election seems to be a victory of FMLN, American warned right wing with possibility of economic and political sanctions (Skidmore & Smith2010 p385).

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Generally speaking, Poindexter was convicted of making false statements to Congress, conspiring to obstruct official inquiries and proceedings, obstruction of Congress, and destruction and removal of records; however, on appeal, his conviction was reversed by virtue of his immunized testimony. North was convicted of aiding and abetting in the obstruction of Congress, accepting an illegal gratuity, and altering and destroying documents. On appeal, his conviction was reversed, and charges against him were later dropped on the grounds that witnesses at his trial had been tainted by North’s testimony on television before the Iran-Contra committees

Weinberger was also prosecuted, but in December 1992 then president George H.W. Bush pardoned him and five others involved in the affair, including McFarlane and Abrams. As a result of the scandal, Reagan’s public image was tarnished, and the United States suffered a serious, though temporary, loss of credibility as an opponent of terrorism.

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Kriele, Martin. Nicaragua: Das blutende Herz Amerikas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. Print.

Leogrande, Leonard. Making the Economy Scream: US economic sanctions against Sandinista Nicaragua. Third World Quarterly,17.2(1993).

Nigel, Thomas. Central America WAR 1959-1989. London: Osprey publishing Ltd, 1990. Print.

Priestland, David. The Red Flag. London: Penguin books press, 2010. Print.

Skidmore, Smith. Modern Latin America. London: Oxford university press, 2005. Print.

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