a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial


Nicaragua Govt vs Contras

Years: 1981-1990
Battle deaths: 29,965 [1]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2016-03-26 23:44:40
Upon assuming office in 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan condemned the FSLN for joining with Cuba in supporting Marxist revolutionary movements in other Latin American countries such as El Salvador. His administration authorised the CIA to begin financing, arming and training the remnants of Somoza’s National Guard as anti-Sandinista guerrillas that were branded "counter-revolutionary" by leftists. (contrarrevolucionarios in Spanish) This was inevitably shortened to Contras, a label the anti-Communist forces chose to embrace.

They operated out of camps in the neighbouring countries of Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The U.S. also sought to place economic pressure on Nicaragua; the Reagan administration imposed a full trade embargo, and the CIA disrupted shipping by planting underwater mines in Nicaragua’s Corinto harbour, an action condemned by the World Court as illegal. As was typical in guerrilla warfare, the Contras were engaged in a campaign of economic sabotage in an attempt to combat the Sandinista government.

The armed resistance to the Sandinistas in Honduras initially called itself the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Democratic Alliance (ADREN) and was known as the 15th of September Legion. It later formed an alliance, called the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), which included other groups including MISURASATA and the Nicaraguan Democratic Union. Together, the members of these groups were generally called Contras. The Sandinistas condemned them as terrorists, and human rights organisations expressed serious concerns over reports of Contra attacks on civilians. In 1982, under pressure from Congress, the U.S. State Department declared Contra activities terrorism. The Congressional intelligence committee confirmed reports of Contra atrocities such as rape, torture, summary executions, and indiscriminate killings. After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the Contras in 1983, the Reagan administration continued to back the Contras by covertly selling arms to Iran and channelling the proceeds to the Contras (The Iran-Contra affair.) When this scheme was revealed, Reagan admitted that he knew about the Iranian "arms for hostages" dealings but professed ignorance about the proceeds funding the Contras; for this, National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Oliver North took much of the blame.

The Contra war unfolded differently in the northern and southern zones of Nicaragua. Contras based in Costa Rica operated in Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast, which is sparsely populated by indigenous groups including the Miskito, Sumu, Rama, Garifuno, and Mestizo. Unlike Spanish-speaking western Nicaragua, the Atlantic Coast is predominantly English-speaking and was largely ignored by the Somoza regime. The costeños did not participate in the uprising against Somoza and viewed Sandinismo with suspicion from the outset.

Source: Wikipedia, published under the GNU FDL. Retrieved [dat]


UCDP: "The two major counter-revolutionary forces (or “contras”) against the Sandanista regime consisted of the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN – Movimiento Democrático Nicaragüense) and the Nicaraguan Democratic Forces (FDN – Fuerzas Demotráticas Nicaragüenses). From 1981, the Contras, which initially consisted of about 2 000 former National Guards, recruited peasants disaffected by the Sandanistan agrarian reform. By 1985, the Contras had recruited about 10 000 members. With support of the Honduran army and financial aid from the US, the Contras were able to organise numerous incursions into Nicaragua beginning in the early 1980s."

Source: Uppsala Conflict Data Program (Date of retrieval: ) UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia, Uppsala University


Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: PRIO Battle Deaths Dataset v3.0 (link) (1946-88) UCDP Battle-Related Deaths Dataset v. 5-2015 (link) (1989-2014) ID: #140
Low: 10,365 High: 42,716

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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