Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

He Anti-Contra-War Campaign: Organizational Dynamics of a Decentralized Movement

Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

He Anti-Contra-War Campaign: Organizational Dynamics of a Decentralized Movement

Article excerpt

Introduction

The U.S.-directed Contra war against Sandinista Nicaragua in the 1980s sparked an anti-interventionist campaign that involved over one thousand U.S. peace and justice organizations (Central America Resource Center, 1987). The anti-Contra-war campaign (ACWC) was part of a vigorous Central America movement that included efforts to halt U.S. aid to the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments and provide sanctuary for Central American refugees. Scholarly literature on the anti-Contra-war campaign is not extensive. Some scholars have examined the ACWC in the context of the Central America movement (Battista, 2002; Brett, 1991; Gosse, 1988, 1995, 1998; Nepstad, 1997, 2001, 2004; Smith, 1996). Some have concentrated on particular aspects of the ACWC--political influence (Arnson and Brenner, 1993), local organizing in Boston and New Bedford, Massachusetts (Hannon, 1991; Ryan, 1989, 1991), and transnational activities (Kavaloski, 1990; Nepstad, 1996; Nepstad and Smith, 1999; Scallen, 1992).

This essay focuses on the overall design and organizational dynamics of the antiContra-war campaign, a subject that has received only sketchy treatment in the above studies. Unlike the centrally coordinated Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (Solo, 1988; Kleidman, 1993; Wittner, 2003), the ACWC relied on an informal division of labor among national organizations and a cooperative spirit in carrying out its activities. This essay examines 1) the major activist networks involved in the ACWC; 2) the development of common political goals and educational themes; and 3) the national coordination of activities, including lobbying, educational outreach, protests, and humanitarian-aid and sister-city projects. For students of social movements, the largely decentralized ACWC offers a study in contrasts to centrally coordinated campaigns and movements headed by charismatic leaders. For peace activists, the successes and deficiencies of the campaign's coordination arguably hold lessons for ongoing efforts to build a more united, broad-based, and influential peace movement. This essay begins with a brief review of the Contra war and the role of the anti-Contra-war campaign.

The Contra War and the Anti-Contra-War Campaign

The Contra war was an undeclared, "low-intensity" guerrilla war directed by the United States against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, which came to power through a popularly supported revolution in July 1979. Soon after the revolution, scattered groups of former National Guardsmen of the deposed Somoza government began to form guerrilla units under the guidance of Argentine advisers. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began working with these contra-revolucionarios, or Contras, in early 1981 and assumed full control the following year. Operating out of bases in Honduras, Costa Rica, and within Nicaragua, the Contras destroyed economic assets, attacked rural villages, kidnapped young men, and killed thousands of civilians deemed pro-Sandinista. The CIA, in addition to training, arming, and directing the Contras, conducted military actions on its own, including aerial raids against military bases and oil storage tanks, and the mining of Nicaraguan harbors in early 1984. The Reagan administration also blocked international loans to Nicaragua, imposed an economic embargo against Nicaragua in May 1985, subsidized internal opposition groups besides the Contras, sidestepped peace initiatives promoted by Latin American leaders, ignored a World Court decision in 1986 that ruled U.S. actions against Nicaragua illegal, and created a special agency, the Office of Public Diplomacy, to win U.S. public and Congressional support for its policies (LeoGrande, 1998). This agency was shut down by Congress in 1987 after the General Accounting Office found it had engaged "in prohibited, covert propaganda activities designed to influence the media and the public to support the Administration's Latin American policies" (Comptroller General Harry Van Cleve, 1987). …

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