Ronald Reagan’s Death Reopens Old Wounds

June 11, 2004

GRANADA, Nicaragua – The deathand mourning of former U.S. PresidentRonald Reagan (1981-1989) this weekforced Nicaragua to revisit its recentbloody past, and reminded the country justhow divided it still is 14 years after the warended.In Nicaragua, Reagan is rememberedas a fanatical anti-communist who sponsoredthe counterrevolutionary war in1980s against the left-wing government ofthe Sandinista National Liberation Front.The low-intensity Contra war leftsome 50,000 dead and countless injured ormaimed, destroyed much of Nicaragua’sinfrastructure, strangled fledgling healthand literacy campaigns and sunk the countrydeeper into the abyss of poverty andunderdevelopment.But the war also forced the Sandinistasto concede to some democratic reforms,including national elections in 1990, whichousted the revolutionary front from power.As a result, Reagan is remembered inNicaragua as both amonster and messiah,depending on whoyou ask.PRESIDENT EnriqueBolaños thisweek sent officialcondolences to theU.S. government andthe Reagan family,remembering the 40thU.S. President as aman who “contributedto the establishment of democracy and libertyin Nicaragua and the world.” Bolaños,a U.S.-educated businessman, was temporarilyjailed and had his property confiscatedby the Sandinista government in the1980s.Other conservative foes of theSandinistas also remember Reagan fondly.A group of former Contras celebrated amass in his honor in Managua on Tuesday.“I will remember Reagan with greatrespect, appreciation and fondness,” saidAdolfo Calero, former president andcommander-in-chief of the NicaraguanDemocratic Force, the largest of theContra groups.Calero, nicknamed “Sparkplug” by U.S.Lt. Col. Oliver North, was the United States’point man on the northern front.“Reagan was instrumental in liberatingNicaragua and democratizing Nicaraguaand the world,” Calero told The TicoTimes this week.MANY Nicaraguans, however, rememberReagan as the architect of a warthat brought misery and suffering to thecountry.“[Reagan] will be remembered as anassassin guilty of an eight-year illegal waragainst Nicaragua. He armed criminals andcaused thousands of deaths here,” ErnestoCardenal, the guerrilla poet-priest whoserved as the Sandinista’s Minister ofCulture, told The Tico Times this week.Daniel Ortega, Sandinista secretary generaland former revolutionary president, willnot be sending flowers to Reagan’s statefuneral today in Washington, D.C.“We don’t celebrate anyone’s death,but we have to speak the truth [aboutReagan]. We can’t now say that he respectedinternational law or treated Nicaraguawell,” Ortega told Sandinista supportersthis week at a party rally in Masaya. “MayGod forgive him, because the God’s capacityfor love is great.”THE Reagan administration’s dark andturbulent relationship with Nicaraguabegan shortly after he took office for hisfirst term in 1981 – less than two yearsafter the Sandinista National LiberationFront ousted theSomoza dictatorshipand tookpower of Nicaragua.By 1982, itwas revealed thatthe CIA wastraining, arming,and directing some10,000 Contrasat secretebases, mostly insouthern Honduras.In 1984, the CIA mined Nicaraguanports, and a year later Reagan declared aU.S. economic embargo against Nicaraguaafter Congress voted to cut off military aidto the Contras.Reagan’s unveiling of the so-called“Reagan Doctrine” in 1985 attempted to justifyU.S. aid to any and all “anti-communist”movements in the world. When Reaganannounced the doctrine during his State ofthe Nation address, he made specific mentionof his Nicaraguan Contra allies, whomhe later referred to as “the moral equivalentof the [U.S.] Founding Fathers.”THE next year, the Iran-ContraScandal broke revealing that Lt. Col.Oliver North of the National SecurityCouncil and CIA Director William Caseywere illegally funding the Contras inNicaragua through profits from secretiveweapons sales to Iran, a country theUnited States had denounced as a terroristnation.The icing on the cake came in 1986,when Reagan refused to respect the rulingof the International Court of Justice thatfound the U.S. war on Nicaragua in violationof international law and orderedWashington D.C. to “make reparation tothe Republic of Nicaragua for all injury.”“The Yankee government’s debt withNicaragua is still pending, and will have tobe paid someday when the United Stateshas a government that is honest, respectfulof international law and in favor of peace,”Ortega said.REAGAN’S death last Saturday alsohighlighted the editorial differences betweenthe country’s two leading daily newspapers:the more-conservative La Prensa and theSandinista-sympathizing El Nuevo Diario.La Prensa’s editorial page on Tuesdaycelebrated Reagan.“If it had not been for [Reagan’s]vision and energetic international policyagainst communism, Nicaragua wouldnow be a communist state, Nicaraguanswould not have individual liberties, therewould be no democracy and most Nicaraguanswould be subject to espionage,”La Prensa concluded.El Nuevo Diario, meanwhile, ran severalscathing articles blasting the modelof democracy and liberty that Reagan’sso-called “freedom fighters” helped tobring to Nicaragua: “Now Nicaraguansare so free that health care and educationhave become merchandise and webecome more like East Los Angeles, withgangs on corners in front of McDonaldsand beautiful girls in miniskirts offeringtheir charms.”

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