Nicaragua: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1978-1990
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Photo: Daniel Ortega, standing in front of a mural portraying Augusto Sandino.
(Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos).

Intervention and Revolution in Central America

The National Security Archive's Nicaragua collection documents the most controversial foreign policy issue in recent memory: U.S. relations with the Sandinista Revolution. A detailed declassified history emerges from this set; from the overthrow of Somoza, through the advent of the U.S.-sponsored Contras, to the February 1990 electoral defeat of the revolutionary government.The collection provides the most comprehensive case study of intervention and revolution in Central America currently available to the public.

Focus of the Collection

Nicaragua, 1978-1990 contains over 3,500 documents totaling 13,000 pages, many of them recently declassified Department of State cables obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The collection provides a centralized source of documentation for primary research and analysis of U.S. policy toward the Nicaraguan revolution from beginning to end. It is composed of documents dating from 1978, when widespread opposition to the Somoza family dynasty became visible, through the decade of the 1 980s, when Nicaragua emerged as a hotly debated foreign policy issue in the United States and abroad. Hitherto inaccessible documents generated by the Contras, around whom much of the debate swirled, are also included. Materials on the U.S. role in the Nicaraguan elections of February, 1990, which unseated the Sandinista party, complete the set.

Access to Critical Events in U.S. Policy toward the Nicaraguan Revolution

Key events covered by the collection include: the U.S. attempt to mediate an end to the crisis between Anastasio Somoza and political opponents of his rule in 1978; the U.S. Embassy effort to arrange the departure of Somoza, and orchestrate the transition of power to the moderate opposition in July 1979; the Carter Administration's initial relations with the Sandinista government; the advent and early history of the Contras; key Congressional votes on Contra aid between 1982 and 1988; the efforts by the Contadora nations in Latin America to negotiate a peaceful end to the strife in Nicaragua; the CIA's mining of Nicaragua's harbors in 1984; Nicaragua's first national elections under the Sandinistas in November 1984; the Reagan Administration's imposition of a full trade embargo in 1985; the discovery of the Reagan Administration's illicit contra resupply operations in 1986; and the Bush Administration's successful campaign, through the National Endowment for Democracy, to defeat the Sandinista party in Nicaragua's February 1990 elections.

Unprecedented Indexing Makes Every Document Accessible

The Archive prepares extensive, printed finding aids for its collections. The Guide contains a detailed events chronology, glossaries of key individuals, organizations, events, legal terms and acronyms, a selected bibliography of relevant secondary sources and a document catalog. The catalog, organized chronologically, provides bibliographic information about the documents and lists all the indexing phrases generated for each. This facilitates browsing through the document descriptions and allows researchers to preview key details about documents before perusing the microfiche. The Index contains rich contextual references to subjects, individuals and organizations. The detail provided in indexing allows researchers to pinpoint relevant documents in particular areas of study.

Primary Source Materials Facilitate In-depth Research

Nicaragua, 1978-1990 offers a comprehensive case study of intervention and revolution in the Third World. In these primary source documents--many of them cables between the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Managua, and only recently declassified through the Freedom of Information Act--researchers will find a vast, untapped wealth of information on relevant topics including:

  • U.S. policy toward revolutionary upheaval in Central America
  • Nicaraguan politics under Sandinista rule
  • Embassy reporting on political, economic, military and cultural components of the Nicaraguan revolution
  • National security decision making in the Reagan White House
  • The "Reagan Doctrine" of supporting pro-insurgency movements against leftist governments
  • CIA covert paramilitary operations
  • The political history of the Contras
  • Public Diplomacy efforts to influence Congress and the American public in support of the Contras
  • Nicaragua's World Court case against the United States
  • Regional peace efforts by the Contadora nations and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias

  • This Collection is a Necessity For:

  • Scholars and students of U.S. foreign policy and international relations
  • Foreign policy analysts
  • Regional specialists on Central America and Third World affairs
  • Legal scholars
  • Librarians and bibliographers
  • Investigative reporters
  • Government and business consultants
  • Concerned citizens
  • Documents in this collection include:

  • Cables
  • Memoranda
  • Intelligence Reports
  • Briefing Papers
  • Contra Papers
  • Presidential Findings
  • Congressional Reports
  • World Court Briefs
  • Previously unpublished documents originate from:

  • Department of State
  • National Security Council
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • Defense Intelligence Agency
  • Department of the Treasury
  • The White House
  • The World Court
  • Various Contra organizations

  • Overview


    Nicaragua: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1978-1990


    Reproduces on microfiche 3,500 documents totaling over 13,000 pages recording U.S. policy toward Nicaragua from the overthrow of Somoza to the 1990 electoral defeat of the revolutionary government.

    Arrangement and Access

    Documents are arranged chronologically. For ease of use, the unique identification numbers assigned to the documents are printed in eye-legible type at the top right hand corner and precede each document on the microfiche strip.


    Documents are reproduced on silver halide positive- reading microfiche at a nominal reduction of 24x in envelopes. They are archivally permanent and conform to AIIM, BSI and ANSI standards. Any microfiche found to be physically substandard will be replaced free of charge.


    A printed guide and index totaling over 1,000 pages accompanies the microfiche collection. The Guide contains an events chronology, glossaries of names and organizations, a bibliography of secondary sources and a chronological listing of documents. The Index provides in-depth, document-level access to subjects, individuals and organizations.

    Date of Publication

    June 1991

    Orders and Inquiries

    Praise for Nicaragua, 1978-1990

    "It is important to my work, as a scholar, that I have access to actual government documents ... such documents allow me to have a more accurate understanding of events. In addition, students learn, from actual documents, how our government makes foreign policy decisions. By publishing the Nicaragua collection the National Security Archive is providing an invaluable service."

    Rachel M. McCleary, Ph.D.
    Lecturer, Department of Politics
    Princeton University

    "The declassified documents, which cannot be obtained anywhere else, are a boon to scholars in the field of American foreign policy."

    Robert Kagan
    Former Director Office of Public Diplomacy
    Latin America and Caribbean
    U.S. Department of State

    Return to National Security Archive Microfiche sets.