CIA Terrorism, Dirty Wars and Destabilization in Latin America during the 1980’s

One of the hallmarks of terrorism is the use of violence against civilians. The CIA network, to defend and extend the dominant order, has used violence against civilians in countries around the world. A notable example is the dirty wars carried out in Nicaragua and throughout Central America during the 1980’s.

The Nicaraguan revolution ended the rule of the Somoza family and its association of elite landlords. The revolution brought Nicaragua into the sphere of Soviet influence and ushered in attempts at social reform. Additionally, the new leaders of Nicaragua were committed to the international dimensions of social revolution and aided ongoing struggles in neighboring El Salvador and elsewhere. The success of the Nicaraguan revolution and the example it would set for others throughout Latin America was something the US could not allow. Thus, immediately after the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Sandinistas) came to power in 1979, the US began funding political opposition in the country. (23)  By the end of 1981, US President Ronald Reagan approved a plan to organize and aid anti-Sandinista paramilitary operations based out of Argentina and Honduras. (24) On March 4th, 1982 Jaime Wheelock, a Sandinista leader, delivered a speech claiming CIA operations were being conducted against his country. Meanwhile, the CIA and US government publicly denied such operations existed while engaging in a propaganda campaign to justify them. (25)  On March 10th, the Washington Post ran a front page article confirming that the CIA was indeed backing anti-Sandinista paramilitary operations. (26)  Within a year, the now-public covert operations in Central America expanded to include Contra training sites throughout the region with the de facto aim of overthrowing the fledgling people’s republic. (27)

With the aid of the CIA, the Contras (the Spanish abbreviation for ‘counter-revolutionaries’) carried out a wave of terror and paramilitary assaults against the Nicaraguan government, public officials, civilians and infrastructure. In one case, the Augusto César Sandino Airport in Managua was attacked by a CIA-contra terrorist while at the same time two members of the US Congress, William S. Cohen and Gary Hart, were en route. (28)

Francis Anthony Boyle, a professor of international law, claimed the Contras were engaged in “a gross and consistent pattern of violations of fundamental human rights and particularly, the Geneva Conventions of 1949.” (29)

As described by William Blum,

“For eight long years, the people of Nicaragua were under attack by Washington’s proxy army, the Contras… It was an all-out war, aiming to destroy the progressive social and economic programs of the government, burning down schools and medical clinics, raping, torturing, mining harbors, bombing and strafing.” (30)

The CIA also published two manuals for distribution to Nicaraguans. One was a manual on how to conduct guerrilla warfare, written for use by the Contras in their bid to overthrow the progressive Nicaraguan government. (31) The other was entitled The Freedom Fighter’s Manual. It was dropped over Nicaragua in 1983 and instructed average citizens on ways to disrupt civil life in the country to the end of overthrowing “marxist tyranny.”

From the cover:

“Practical guide to liberating Nicaragua from oppression and misery by paralyzing the military-industrial complex of the traitorous marxist state without having to use special tools and with minimal risk for the combatant.”

The manual suggested calling in sick and delaying at work; leaving lights on and water running; spreading rumors; destroying tools, books and typewriters, breaking windows and clogging drains; damaging vehicle and machines; pulling down and cutting telephones wires; attacking police stations; leaving nails and other objects on roads; and instructed on how to conduct arson and make deadly petrol bombs. (32)

Prior to the 1990 Nicaraguan general election, the US funded opposition candidates with 45 million dollars and threatened to continue an embargo against the country unless ‘their’ candidate won the presidency. As well, the CIA continued its aid to the Contras as they carried out assassinations against Sandinista candidates. In the weeks prior, the US invaded Panama to oust Manuel Noriega, formerly on CIA payroll, from leadership of the client state there. Despite the tens of thousands of people killed due to CIA/Contra-initiated violence throughout the prior decade, 41% percent of Nicaraguan voters still voted for the Sandinista candidate, Daniel Ortega. (33)

During the same period, the CIA was also training and funding ‘death squads’ in El Salvador and many other Latin America countries to combat growing popular support for similar left-wing political parties. (34) As well, beginning in 1975 and lasting into the late 80’s, the US/CIA supported armed factions in an Angolan civil war, supported an invasion by the Apartheid regime of South African and trained and delivered settler mercenaries for combat in the east African country. (35)

The CIA in Afghanistan

During the same period but on the other side of the globe, another major terrorist campaign was initiated by the CIA. This one occurred in Afghanistan and helped spawn the now infamous Al Qaeda network, which later allegedly planned and carried out the attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

On April 27th, 1978 in Afghanistan, a military coup preceded by popular demonstrations overthrew the regime of Mohammed Daoud Khan. Unlike the many military coups that were taking place around the world at the time, this one was directed by a civilian party, The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), and immediately carried through a wide range of progressive social reform projects, including land reform and the canceling of peasant debt, upholding the rights of non-Pashtun minorities and taking active steps to end the domination of women. Though the new regime was able to consolidate control around Kabul, the territorial scope of Afghanistan was itself a product of British colonialism and the countryside remained fragmented culturally and wracked by the effects of uneven development. Moreover, both the US and China (which the latter by that time had fully embraced the pro-US, capitalistic ‘Three Worlds Theory’) had reacted with hostility to these events, which became known as the Saur Revolution. Hence, the PDPA and the newly founded Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) were pushed into the orbit of Soviet aid and protection. (36)

In one purported interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Foreign Policy Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, said the US and CIA “knowingly increased the probability that” the Soviet Union would intervene militarily. This was accomplished through covert aid and propaganda meant to further destabilize the PDPA regime. Once the Soviet Union had invaded the country at the behest of the PDPA on December 24th, 1979, the CIA nexus began establishing stronger links with Islamist and feudal forces known as the Mujahadeen. (37)  Under Ronald Reagan, CIA support for Mujahadeen forces dramatically increased and by 1985 the latter were utilizing satellite reconnaissance provided by the US and arming themselves with advanced weaponry including anti-aircraft rockets.

The Soviet Union withdrew the last of its forces on February 14th, 1989, and in 1992 insurgent forces known as the Taliban consolidated control in Kabul, ushering in an Islamic theocracy with ties to both Western capital and Islamic feudalists throughout the Muslim world. (38)  The US spent over $2 billion funding terrorism and militancy in Afghanistan. Around half of the population of the country had died, been maimed, or became refugees. It was the only (known) covert action in which the CIA actually caused significant causalities to Soviet military personnel. (39) (40)

Purveying WMD’s; Collecting Hit Lists

Also during the 1980’s the CIA was a major purveyor of chemical and biological weapons. Many of these weapons were supplied to the government of Iraq, then under the rule of Saddam Hussein.  Mustard gas, anthrax and botulinum, among other chemical and biological weapons, were delivered to the Iraqi government and later used on Iranians and the Kurdish minority in the north of the country. (41)

The CIA has also been known to provide lists of opposition members to its client states. For example, when Saddam Hussein initially came to power through a CIA-backed coup in 1963, thousands of suspected members of of the Communist Party of Iraq were rounded up and executed. The list of Iraqi dissidents was provided to Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party by the CIA. (42) A similar scenario occurred in Indonesia in 1965 following a CIA-backed military coup against the civilian government led by President Sukarno. A hit-list of up to 5,000 names of members of and supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party was provided to the Indonesian military by the CIA. (43) All told, around half a million people were killed in countrywide massacres carried out by the Indonesian military, an effective wing of the vast CIA network. (44)


  1. Woodward, Bob. Veil: the secret wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. New York: Pocket Books, 1988. p 111-112. Print.

  2. Woodward, Bob. Veil: the secret wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. New York: Pocket Books, 1988. p 186-189. Print.

  3. Woodward, Bob. Veil: the secret wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. New York: Pocket Books, 1988. p 205, 207-208. Print.

  4. Patrick E. Tyler and Bob Woodward, ‘US Approves Covert Plan in Nicaragua’, Washington Post,

March 10, 1982, pp. A l , A16.

  1. Woodward, Bob. Veil: the secret wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. New York: Pocket Books, 1988. p 247-257. Print.

  2. Woodward, Bob. Veil: the secret wars of the CIA, 1981-1987. New York: Pocket Books, 1988. p 303-304. Print.

  3. Boyle, Francis Anthony. Defending civil resistance under international law. Ardsley: Transnational Publishers, 1987. p. 5. Print.

  4. Blum, William. Rogue state: a guide to the world’s only superpower. Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2000. p 190-191. Print.

  5. Omang, Joanne, and Aryeh Neier. Psychological operations in guerrilla warfare: with essays.. New York: Vintage Books, 1985. Print.

  6. “The Freedom Fighter’s Manual.” Central Intelligence Agency. 1983. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. <>.

  7. “How the U.S. Purchased the 1990 Nicaragua Elections” S. Brian Willson., 1 June 1990. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. <;.

  8. Herman, Edward S.. The real terror network terrorism in fact and propaganda. 1 ed. Boston: South End Press, 1983. p. 115-119. Print.

  1. Halliday, Fred. “Revolution In Afghanistan.” New Left Review Nov. – Dec. 1978: n. pag. Platypus. Web. 31 Oct. 2001. <;

  2. Brzezinski, Zbigniew. 1998. “The CIA’s Intervention in Afghanistan: Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser.” Interview by Le Nouvel Observateur. Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris). 15 January: 15-21. <;

“Context of ‘1973-1979: US Starts to Provide Support to Islamists Opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan’.” History Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2011. <;

  1. Such partnership between capital and retained feudal social relationships is fairly common under imperialism. Imperialism in essence uses traditional oppression of women, ethnic minorities, etc and often promotes existing relations of oppression to facilitate more modern exploitation of the Third World.

  2. Coll, Steve. “Anatomy of a Victory: CIA’s Covert Afghan War.” Free Republic. Washington Post, 19 June 1992. Web. 5 Nov. 2011. <;.

  3. The Soviet Union (and China, among other) should be a lesson regarding how social-imperialist bureaucratic capitalism can develop out of and eventually hinder or counter revolutionary causes.

  4. Blum, William. Rogue state: a guide to the world’s only superpower. Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2000. p 158-159. Print.

  5. Blum, William. Rogue state: a guide to the world’s only superpower. Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2000. p 172-173. Print.

  6. Blum, William. Rogue state: a guide to the world’s only superpower. Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2000. p 181. Print.

Wines, Michael. “C.I.A. Tie Asserted in Indonesia Purge – New York Times.” The New York Times. N.p., 12 July 1990. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. <;.

  1. Allerd, Tom. “Indonesia unwilling to tackle legacy of massacres .” The Sydney Morning Herald. N.p., 13 June 2009. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. <;.

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