Throughout the history of colonialism, many policies were enunciated by foreign powers in colonial territories with the pretence of a civilizing mission (such as the so-called white man’s burden and other similar doctrines). In America, one does not have to look very far for any trace of this in history through policies such as the Monroe Doctrine, in which America posited itself to be the prime power in the hemisphere. Another powerful idea in popular discourse was that of Manifest Destiny, where expansion was seen as a fundamental right of Americans. Both drew a great deal of support and approval from the pre-ordained institutions of power, and garnered great popular interest in American society.
Clashing interests following the second World War resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union both undertaking their very own civilizing missions to establish and expand states that held their own compelling interest in high regard. An interesting instance of this competing interest is the case of the Latin American states, notably Nicaragua, where the United States traditionally had strong ties (as a result of the already mentioned Monroe Doctrine) but where an indigenous movement was being supported by the Soviet Union following unwarranted American aggression.
The justification for such aggression, through what could either be described as ‘democratic assistance’ or as ‘democratization by force’ depending on one’s outlook, was articulated in 1986 by Secretary Schultz in an address to Kansas State University. He claimed that the Soviet Union and its satellites, “once thought immune to popular pressures,” were then experiencing waves of popular resistance as a result of which the United States stood in a position to nurture the seeds of democracy abroad and foster the “ideals we hold so dear.” With recommendations to militarily aid the opposition, he gave many examples of how this could be done, such as weapons sales and other forms of covert aid by the CIA, plans which were subsequently executed. A particularly illuminating quote by Schultz was that “strength and diplomacy go hand and hand.”i
That same year, in Nicaragua v. United States (1986), the United States was found guilty by the International Court of Justice for acting in a criminal capacity by supporting the Contras against the Nicaraguan government, and by mining the harbours of Nicaraguan ports. Judge Schwebel, in his dissenting opinion, called into question the legality of the Sandinista support for the Salvadoran insurgency, which was resisting the United States sponsored regime. In particular, he said that the nations of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica all recognized Nicaragua for behaving in a criminal capacity for supporting socialist rebellions. Furthermore, he argued that the Sandinistas were not complying with the standards of a free democratic society and were relying on authoritarian measures. He also cited inconsistencies between the Nicaraguan counsel who denied any support for revolutions, and the representative of Nicaragua to the United Nations who had made statements to the exact opposite effect.ii
One year prior to this, the CIA released a report which, in a very detailed manner, explained the military capabilities of a Soviet-backed Nicaragua. By their account, support from the Soviets had increased by more than 30% from 1984 to 1986. It was also noted that military advisers direct from Russia were on the ground training the Sandinista army.iii
In a study of the elections in Nicaragua, conducted in 1984 and published right after the election, the Latin American Studies Association examined several claims, made by the United States and opposition groups, of the Sandinistas’ undermining the elections. While it was disputed that there was a lack of representation by many political parties, the LASA examined the elections carefully to determine the parties that were registered, who dropped out, and who refused to put up a candidate. Arturo Cruz, the Washington-backed candidate, had been compelled to drop out of the election upon the request of Washington in order to undermine the elections, and to make them appear unfair.iv
In reality, though, the elections were as fair as they could have been. The Sandinistas actually funded and protected the campaigns of their opposition. Sanctions placed upon the Nicaraguan government forced them to turn to Russia, Cuba, Libya, East Germany, and others, for their defence, which they were ramping up as they were expecting an American invasion or attack. In fact, the reason for such a hasty free election was due to the expected re-election of Ronald Reagan, whom the Sandinistas viewed as a man who would wage a war against their people. Rightfully so, considering the funding of anti-government terrorists by the Reagan administration. The regimes condemning the Sandinistas in the region were either American puppets, in the case of El Salvador, who committed crimes against their own people, or were responding to the growing military presence. And again, this presence was prompted by constant American aggression, direct or through proxies.
Evidence of any Soviet intervention in the region, which was used as the justification for American intervention, can only be described as marginal. There was hardly any to begin with. Today, mainstream scholars and media personalities will call upon this historical example as evidence of the bogeyman of some outside threat placing itself at the door of the American Empire. What we really see is exactly what we see today—falsification of facts to bolster public opinion and allow for unquestioned conquest.
i Secretary Shultz “Moral Principles and Strategic Interests: The Worldwide Movement Toward Democracy,” State Dept. Bureau of Public Affairs, Current Policy no. 820, address at Kansas State University, April 14, 1986; LeMoyne, NYT, Feb. 7, 1988.
ii Dissenting Opinion of Judge Schwebel, Nicaragua v. United States of America – Merits, ICJ, June 27, 1986, Factual Appendix, paras. 15-8, 22-5.
iii “Nicaragua: Soviet Bloc and Radical Support for the Sandinista Regime.” Central Intelligence Agency, 1985.
iv “The Electoral Process in Nicaragua,” LASA, Nov. 19, 1984.