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The U.S.-Nicaraguan Problem - Economic Justice, Not Guerrilla Warfare

Over the course of 1986 and 1987, The USCCB wrote and approved to publish a CST document called Statement on Central America (SOCA).


This document is important for three reasons. First, it calls for peace in a region experiencing the suffering that comes with revolution, counterrevolution, and a full fledged civil war. Secondly, it condemns the U.S. policy towards this region, and in this instance, particularly the U.S.’s policy towards Nicaragua. Thirdly, it insists that the U.S. reprioritize its efforts in this region and focus on economic justice.


This document is critical to North American CST because it contains the bishops’ critique of U.S.-Central American policies put in place by the Reagan Administration that were wholly inconsistent with CST principles. The most notable of which was what the bishops called the “U.S.-Nicaraguan” problem.


To place the U.S.-Nicaraguan problem in context, it is important to understand the Somoza family dictatorship from 1937 to 1979. The Sandinista Revolution overthrew this dynasty in 1979, and held power until the 1984 election, when the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) attained a majority of votes. The Nicaraguan Civil War, however, continued between the U.S.-backed Contras and the democratically elected government until 1989. In 1990, the socialist democratic FSLN remains one of Nicaragua’s major parties today.


In 1981 President Reagan condemned FSLN as a communist revolutionary movement with ties to Cuba and other Marxist movements in Latin America. He authorized the CIA to arm, train, and provide operational support for the counterrevolutionaries in Nicaragua, aka “Contras,” and a U.S.-backed counterrevolutionary surge was begun. This was what the bishops called the “U.S.-Nicaraguan problem.” It was a “problem” that was internationally condemned for human rights violations and war crimes.


When Nicaragua brought suit against the United States for its involvement in the Nicaraguan Civil War, the International Court of Justice sided with Nicaragua arguing that the U.S. had in fact been in violation of Nicaraguans’ human rights. One of the key evidences used against the U.S. was a field manual written by a CIA operative that was distributed to the Contras entitled, Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare.


Not only had the U.S. been in violation of international laws, they had been in violation of Catholic ones. Here is what the bishops had to say two years after the world court proceedings regarding U.S.-backed guerrilla warfare in the region:


“We have argued that direct military aid to forces seeking to overthrow of a government with which we are not at war and with which we maintain diplomatic relations is at least legally doubtful and morally wrong… Our Catholic teaching demands that several stringent criteria be met before one can discard the overriding ‘presumption in favor of peace and against war’ (The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, 83)… As troubled as we have been by aspects of today’s Nicaragua, it seems to us far from clear that Sandinista abuses could merit such lethal response (SOCA, p. 18).”

The United States was found to be in human rights violation against the Nicaraguan people by both the world and the church.

Today, the Republican party reveres Ronald Reagan as their patron saint. But their reverence white washes his human rights violations against the Nicaraguan people, many of whom were killed and disappeared by his and his administration’s war crimes.

USCCB CST Document, Statement on Central America


Reagan Administration CIA Document, Psychological Operations in Guerilla Warfare

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