In the recent wave of mass uprising and consequent genocidal repression in Nicaragua the United States maintained its 45-year-old policy of acting in favor of the Somozas' interests and in opposition to the interests of the Nicaraguan masses. In the midst of the fighting, the U.S.:
--sent the guided missile cruiser Richmond K. Turner with 400 marines to Nicaragua's Pacific coast;
--maintained the "advisory" U.S. military mission in Managua;
--and oversaw the Central American Defense Council actions involving the use of Guatemalan and Salvadoran troops in northern Nicaraguan cities.
Earlier this year Congress approved a $12 million loan and the State Department sent $25,700 in military grants and $400,000 in grants for training the military and police. In June, President Carter sent Somoza a letter commending his human rights record.
Why does the United States government continue to support one of the bloodiest dictatorships in the world--thereby continuing in its role as an accomplice to the crimes and human rights violations perpetrated against the Nicaraguan people by the U.S.-created, U.S.-trained, and U.S.-armed Nicaraguan National Guard?
To answer this question, one must look back to the Cold War era and recall long-range U.S. strategy for the Central American and Caribbean region. This strategy is basically the same as it was a quarter-century ago: to prevent communist forces from rising to power, thereby keeping the doors open for U.S. multinational corporations, and maintaining the region under U.S. domination.
At that time Anastasio Somoza Garcia, father of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, was dictator. Somoza was brought to power by the marines in the early '30s and enjoyed Washington's consistent support. Somoza, a fervent capitalist who, like his son, never hesitated to use the state apparatus to augment his personal fortune, was logically enough fervently anti-communist. Given Somoza's anti-communism, Nicaragua's strategic position in the heart of Central America, and the possibility of building a second transisthmian canal through Nicaraguan territory, the U.S. was more than happy to prop up the Somoza regime both militarily and economically.
A U.S. military mission arrived in 1950 to help administer military aid and advise the National Guard. From 1946 to 1976 the Somozas received more than $29 million in direct aid through Military Assistance Programs, as well as more than $300 million in "economic" aid, much of which has been used to buy military equipment from the U.S. and other countries (particularly Israel in recent years).
What has Somoza done for Washington in exchange? Aside from repressing any domestic movement for popular power, the Somozas have had a strong regional anti-communist consciousness. In 1954, for example, the elder Somoza lent his private estate for CIA training of right-wing Guatemalan exiles led by Castillo Armas, and allowed U.S. bombers supporting the exiles to take off from Nicaragua. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the Somozas began to develop tighter relations with right-wing Cuban exiles who, with the CIA, were plotting to overthrow the Castro government. In 1961, the Somozas' private lands were used to train the exiles; furthermore, the planes participating in the Bay of Pigs invasion took off from Nicaraguan territory.
Anti-Somoza forces increasingly turned to armed struggle in the 1950s. But the invasions of 1948, 1954, 1958, 1959 and 1960 all resulted in military defeat. The Cuban Revolution inspired many popular guerrilla movements throughout Latin America. The 1962 founding of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) represented a new and greater threat to the Somoza regime. The Sandinistas, many of whom were young intellectuals, soon began to work among the peasants of the north, where they began to gradually build a mass base.
To counter the new wave of armed opposition, the U.S. stepped up its military aid to Latin American governments in the early 1960s. A few statistics help illustrate the extent to which U.S. aid has propped up the Somoza dynasty over the years:
--between 1950 and 1976, 5176 Nicaraguan National Guard troops, of a total force of 7500, were trained by the U.S. military;
--in 1962, U.S. military aid per soldier amounted to $930, while per capita income in Nicaragua was only $205;
--in the mid-1970s Nicaragua received the greatest U.S. military aid per capita of any Latin American country;