General Somoza elected president, heralding the start of a 44-year-long dictatorship by his family. [1]


General Somoza assassinated, but is succeeded as president by his son, Luis Somoza Debayle. [1]


Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) founded. [1]


Luis Somoza dies and is succeeded as president by his brother, Anastasio Somoza. [1]


Assassination of the leader of the opposition Democratic Liberation Union, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, triggers general strike and brings together moderates and the FSLN in a united front to oust Somoza. [1]


The Carter Administration attempts to use the Organization of American States (OAS) as the "outside catalyst" that could usher Somoza out and usher in that "moderate third choice." Somoza refuses to step down. [2]


The Carter Administration decides to remove Samoza from power unilaterally, to orchestrate the transfer of government to moderate forces and to salvage the U.S.-created National Guard in order to forestall a complete Sandinista victory. Even as Somoza’s widely despised praetorian army rampage through civilian sectors of Nicaragua, indiscriminately killing teenage boys and girls, U.S. officials labor to find a means to save the National Guard. "Some national security forces must remain to maintain order after Somoza’s departure," Ambassador Pezzullo wrote in a June 30, 1979, cable entitled "National Guard Survival." "Otherwise the vacuum we all wish to avoid will be filled by the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front], with all the negative consequences that would bring." With "careful orchestration we have a better than even chance of preserving enough of the GN to maintain order and hold the FSLN in check after Somoza resigns." [2]

Somoza departs for Florida at 4:00 a.m. on July 17; Francisco Urcuyo, the U.S.-backed "interim" president, balks on his agreement to call for an immediate cease-fire with the guerrilla forces and pass the reins of government to the Sandinistas’ provisional junta; and within hours, the National Guard utterly disintegrate. Two days later, Sandinista troops march, unopposed, into Managua and the revolution becomes a reality. [2]

Attempting to salvage what influence it could in the face of a Sandinista victory, the Carter Administration shift its policy from one of counterrevolution to one of cautious accommodation. Employing economic aid as an enticement to moderate the course of the revolution, the Administration advance $15 million in emergency reconstruction aid and push a $75 million assistance package through Congress. And in September 1979, the Sandinista comandantes are invited to meet with Jimmy Carter at the White House. [2]


Somoza assassinated in Paraguay; FSLN government led by Daniel Ortega nationalises and turns into cooperatives lands held by the Somoza family. [1]


Ronald Reagan comes into office predisposed to replace President Carter’s carrot, economic aid, with a heavy stick. [2]

Within several weeks the Administration releases its first "White Paper" on Central America, charging that the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua are together funnelling massive amounts of arms to fuel the insurrection in El Salvador—charges that later turn out to be severely distorted. And, within a couple of months, U.S. officials are already contemplating destabilization programs, using Nicaraguan exiles and economic sanctions to undermine the Sandinista revolution. [2]

December – Ronald Reagan authorises CIA paramilitary operations against Nicaragua. [2]

Britain provides strong diplomatic support to US and nod and wink to ‘security’ company, KMS, to train and recruit contra guerillas and conduct gun-running operations. [3]


US-sponsored attacks by Contra rebels based in Honduras begin; state of emergency declared. [1]

Edgar Chamorro, a former FDN public relations director who played a major role in the Contra myth-making process, agreed that they were not "freedom fighters," nor were they the nationalist, independent force depicted by the Reagan Administration. "We were a proxy army, directed, funded, receiving all intelligence and suggestions, from the CIA," Chamorro wrote in his book, Packaging the Contras. "We had no plan for Nicaragua, we were working for American goals." [2]

Starting with the FDN in August 1981, every major Contra coalition formed over the next seven years was made-in-the USA. [2]


The war on the ground quickly takes a discernible toll on Nicaragua’s economy and social order. "Fighting in the countryside has reduced traditional seasonal labor migration and cut into harvests," notes a June 1983 CIA National Intelligence Estimate on the insurgency. [2]

Even with Contra forces fighting in the Nicaraguan countryside, U.S. paramilitary strategies call for ever more dramatic and devastating assaults against the Sandinistas. In his book Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, on the late William Casey, journalist Bob Woodward records the CIA director ordering his subordinates: "Let’s make them sweat. Let’s make the bastards sweat." Accordingly, the CIA, and later the NSC, take a direct operational role in special paramilitary attacks on Nicaraguan installations. Economic sabotage focuses on oil storage tanks and pipelines, port facilities, communication centers and military depots, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. As a propaganda ploy, the Contras claim credit for these attacks; in reality they played no part. [2]

Paramilitary sabotage on the ground was supplemented by the Reagan Administration’s concerted program of punitive economic sanctions against Nicaragua. In its 1985 State Department booklet, "Misconceptions about U.S. Policy Toward Nicaragua," the Administration promoted the myth that "the U.S. Government has not imposed any form of economic boycott on Nicaragua" and was not "trying to strangle Nicaragua economically." But, as documents in this set suggest, strangling Nicaragua economically was precisely the policy of the United States. First bilateral aid and then all economic trade was terminated. In addition, U.S. officials orchestrated an "invisible blockade" of multilateral bank credits to Nicaragua. Some loans from the World Bank or the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) were simply vetoed; where a U.S. veto was not possible, Administration officials quietly moved "to persuade the Managements of the [multilateral development banks] not to bring these loans forward," according to internal Treasury Department memorandum (memoranda?~) included in this collection. "We did help effect [Treasury Department] interventions in the IDB and World Bank to not go ahead and lend to Nicaragua," stated one former NSC official. After September 1983, Nicaragua received no further loans from the World Bank or the IDB. [2]

The Reagan Administration also attempted to pressure U.S. allies in Europe and Latin America to halt their economic trade with, and aid to, Nicaragua. "We were very active in trying to reduce Western financial flows," admitted a former NSC official. [2]

In addition to the CIA and U.S. monetary agencies, the Pentagon played a key—and largely unreported—role in the Reagan Administration’s LIC approach to Nicaragua. On July 12, 1983, President Reagan directed Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger to aid the CIA’s Contra war: "The Department of Defense will provide maximum possible assistance to the Director of [Central Intelligence] in improving support to the Nicaraguan resistance forces." The Pentagon’s assistance to the covert war took a number of forms: In 1983 and 1984, Department of Defense (DOD) collaborated with the CIA on "Operation Tipped Kettle," a joint operation to acquire armaments captured by Israel from the PLO during the siege of Lebanon, and transfer them to the Contras. During the same time period, the Pentagon conducted "Operation Elephant Herd," a covert program to help the CIA circumvent congressional budget restrictions on the Contra war by transferring "surplus" DOD planes and other equipment to the Agency free of charge. U.S. special operations forces conducted support operations on behalf of the Contras, and, in 1986, the Pentagon began training Contra commanders in tactical insurgency warfare at military bases in the United States. [2]

An unprecedented U.S. military build-up in Central America, undertaken as part of a series of highly visible military maneuvers along Nicaragua’s coasts and near its borders, represented the largest Pentagon contribution to the U.S. war against the Sandinistas....With Sandinista government coffers already drained from the fight against the Contras and the unofficial U.S. economic blockade, the constant threat of direct U.S. military intervention forced Nicaraguan leaders to divert personnel and resources from non-military programs into preparing for the worst-case war scenario. [2]

President Reagan’s July 1983 directive also called for a "public affairs action educate and heighten the perceptions of the American people regarding the situation in Central America and the dangers posed by the Marxist/Leninist government of Nicaragua." [2]


Daniel Ortega elected president; US mines Nicaraguan harbours and is condemned by the World Court for doing so. [1]

January-April - CIA operatives known as Unilaterally Controlled Latino Assets (UCLAs) sow mines in major Nicaragua ports on both the Pacific and Atlantic side of the country. The Contras begin issuing communiqués, drafted by the CIA, warning the shipping insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, that freighters and tankers entering Nicaraguan harbors risk major damage. [2]

The explicit purpose of the mining operations, North and NSC colleague, Constantine Menges, report to McFarlane in a top-secret March 2, 1984, memorandum entitled "Special Activities in Nicaragua," is "to severely disrupt the flow of shipping essential to Nicaraguan trade during the peak export period." In order to "advance our overall goal of applying stringent economic pressure" and to "further impair the already critical fuel capacity in Nicaragua" they recommend an even more dramatic operation—to sink an oil tanker in a Nicaraguan harbor. "It is entirely likely that once a ship has been sunk, no insurers will cover ships calling in Nicaraguan ports," states the memorandum, effectively ending Nicaragua’s access to Western petroleum. McFarlane authorizes the plan and briefs President Reagan on March 5. But the operation never comes to fruition, perhaps because the CIA’s mining of Nicaragua’s harbors explodes into an international scandal three weeks later. [2] [6]

October – Congress terminates funding for the CIA’s Contra operations, but NSC takes over operational control of the rebel war. [2]


The Pentagon begins training Contra commanders in tactical insurgency warfare at military bases in the United States. [2]

25th June - The House of Representatives reverses its previous position and passes Reagan’s request for $100 million in funds for CIA/Pentagon support for the Contras. [2]

5th October - As the CIA prepares to disburse the $100 million in new funding, an antiquated cargo plane used by the NSC-run "Enterprise" is shot down over southern Nicaragua. The story told by the lone survivor of the crash, Eugene Hasenfus, coupled with the discovery in Oliver North’s files of a memorandum which stated that $12 million in "residual funds" from the sale of arms to Iran "will be used to purchase critically needed supplies for the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance Forces," leads to the now famous Iran-Contra scandal and the denouement of the official Contra program. [2] [4] [5]

The World Court orders the US to pay $17 billion to Nicaragua. The U.S. never pays. [11]


August - Nicaraguan leadership signs peace agreement and subsequently holds talks with Contra. [1]

The U.S. sponsored war has left 50,000 dead and reduced the country to poverty. [7]


3rd February - The House of Representatives narrowly rejects a White House request for $36 million in new war funds. Although Congress agrees to continue non-lethal assistance to the Contras, official military aid comes to an end, as does the Administration’s hopes for a Reagan Doctrine victory. [2]

Hurricane leaves 180,000 people homeless. [1]


The new Administration of President George Bush chooses to make virtue out of necessity: because congressional opposition to aiding the Contras was impossible to overcome, the Bush White House shifts its focus to the more promising path of fostering an internal front against the Sandinistas and the February 25, 1990, elections. Old-guard Contra leaders are removed from the payroll as Bush officials close down Contra offices in Washington and Miami. While the new Administration maintains the Contra option through a bipartisan agreement with Congress to send $66 million in non-lethal assistance to the Contras in 1989, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Bernard Aronson informs Contra commanders that after the February 1990 elections only repatriation aid would be available. [2]

Under the Bush administration Contra leaders are urged to return to Nicaragua and participate. U.S. advisors work closely with the National Opposition Union, fashioning an electoral strategy and campaign for presidential candidate Violeta Chamorro and her running mate, Virgilio Godoy. [2]

The CIA draws up a major covert plan to influence the election, only to meet stiff resistance from the House intelligence committee. White House officials make it clear that they reserve the option to funnel covert funds to the political opposition, even as they agree with Congress to send $9 million in overt assistance through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Since NED is prohibited from spending money to finance campaigns for public office, the Bush Administration claims the funds are intended to assist "political organizations, alliances, independent elements of the media, independent labor unions, and business, civic and professional ensure the conduct of free, fair and open elections." [2]


25th February - Extensive U.S. efforts to install a new government through the electoral process come to fruition. The upset victory of Violeta Chamorro and the National Opposition Union coalition is judged free and fair by international monitors, including former President Jimmy Carter. Given the catastrophic economic crisis wrought by 10 years of U.S. low-intensity warfare against Nicaragua, the Sandinista loss is hardly surprising, despite pre-election polls that had predicted an overwhelming Sandinista victory. Indeed, while White House officials laud the opposition for their democratic triumph—and even compliment the Sandinistas on the conduct of the elections—the vote represents the predictable culmination of a decade of concerted U.S. efforts to reverse the Nicaraguan revolution and unseat the Sandinista government. [2] [10]

Chamorro’s state visit to the USA in April 1991 is the first by a Nicaraguan president for over 50 years. In exchange for Nicaragua dropping its claim to the damages of $17 billion awarded it by the World Court against the USA, President Bush pledge economic support for Nicaragua, whose total international debt is almost $10 billion. The cost to Nicaragua of the US economic and Contra warfare was estimated at $15 billion, with 30,000 people killed. [11]


June - US aid is suspended because of concern about the extent of Sandinista’s influence in Chamorro’s government. In an effort to end the suspension, Chamorro dismisses 12 high-level police officers linked with Sandinista. [11]

Earthquake renders 16,000 people homeless. [1]


Arnoldo Aleman becomes president after questionable election. [9]


Hurricane Mitch causes massive devastation. Some 3,000 people are killed and hundreds of thousands are left homeless. [1]


FSLN win Managua municipal elections. [1]


November - Liberal party candidate Enrique Bolaños beats his Sandinista party counterpart, former president Daniel Ortega, in presidential election. [1]

A decade of IMF and World Bank tutelage has left Nicaraguans with the most crushing debt burden in the hemisphere, 70 percent of its people in poverty, and—alone among Latin Americans—less income per person than they had 40 years ago. [12]


March - Opposition Sandinista party re-elects Daniel Ortega as its leader despite his three consecutive defeats since 1990. [1]

USA resumes military aid to Nicaragua for the first time since 1979. [11]

August - Former president Arnoldo Aleman charged with money laundering, embezzlement during his term in office. [1]


December - Arnoldo Aleman jailed for 20 years for corruption. [1]

Nicaragua - along with Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador - agrees on free trade agreement with US. [1]


January - World Bank wipes 80% of Nicaragua's debt to the institution. President Bolaños says it is the best news for the country in 25 years. [1]

July - Agreement with Russia to write-off Nicaragua's multi-billion-dollar Soviet-era debt. [1]

November – Rumsfeld's visit Nicaragua looks ominous. [8]