In 1979, Nicaragua underwent a revolution when rebels called Sandinistas deposed dictator Anastasio Somoza. When President Reagan took office, he cut off all U.S. aid to Nicaragua, claiming that the Sandinistas were funded by the Soviet Union. This had the effect of strengthening the ties between the Sandinistas and the Soviets. Therefore, Reagan decided to throw the support of the United States to the Contras, a rebel army trained and paid by the CIA. He hoped that the Contras would defeat the Sandinistas.
Even though Reagan was a popular president and argued that a Contra victory would bring democratic government to Nicaragua, the public was generally disapproving of the United States intervening in civil unrest in another nation. Memories of the losing struggle in Vietnam’s civil war were too raw. In 1984, Congress passed the Boland Amendment, which banned the White House, the CIA, and all other government agencies from aiding the Contras.
In 1986, the American public learned that the Reagan White House had secretly sold weapons to Iran and used the money to aid the Contras. Under the Boland Amendment, this was illegal. Responding to public outrage, Reagan ordered an investigation. He was cleared of any role in the crime, but investigation revealed that others, notably Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, had sent millions of dollars made in Iranian arms sales to the Contras. Some of Reagan’s aides resigned, and criminal charges were filed against North and Admiral John Poindexter. They were convicted, but the conviction was later overturned on a technicality.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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