Behind Reagan's Propaganda Blitz; the Smear-Nicaragua Campaign
Borosage, Robert, Kornbluh, Peter, The Nation
On February 16, Ronald Reagan launched a massive propaganda offensive in behalf of U.S. aid to the rebels fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. Reporters who were camped outside the President's Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara were told that his radio address to the nation, in which he hailed the contras as "our brothers" and compared assisting them to French support for the American Revolution, was the beginning of an "educational drive" to win public support for $14 million to renew Central Intelligence Agency operations in Nicaragua.
Since then, the Administration's propaganda machine has shifted into high gear. Its latest production, a glossy multicolored "white paper" titled The Soviet-Cuban Connection, depicts Nicaragua as a military threat to its neighbors and is intended to lend credibility to the Administration's diatribe against what Secretary of State George Shultz calls the Sandinistas' "bad-news government." Almost daily, Shultz and other Administration mudslingers have hurled insults at the Sandinistas. Meanwhile the President had canonized the contras as the "moral equal of our Founding Fathers." In recent weeks, contra leaders from the Nicaraguan Democratic Force and ARDE have trooped through Washington, trying to convince members of Congress that they are not the terrorists guilty of systematic atrocities against civilians, as reported recently by prominent human rights organizations, but rather democratic freedom fighters, deserving of U.S. financial support.
But the Administration is playing for higher stakes than petty cash for the contras. For U.S. policy-makers, Nicaragua has become the test case of a strategy to seize the offensive against the Soviet Union by sponsoring insurgencies in the Third World. The so-called covert war, which ironically has received lavish publicity, is but one component of a broader policy of "low-intensity warfare" against Nicaragua: protracted paramilitary, economic and psychological pressures designed to erode the Sandinistas' popular base until the regime collapses from within, becomes an easy mark for external invasion or, in the President's words, learns to "say uncle." To salvage this war against the Sandinistas, Reagan has escalated his four-year campaign of distortion and disinformation against the U.S. public.
The Reagan Administration's propaganda was actually predates C.I.A. involvement with the contras. On February 23, 1981, two weeks before the President signed his initial authorization for the agency's campaign against the Sandinistas, the Reagan State Department release its first white paper on the region, "Communist Interference in El Salvador," The report, received with great fanfare by the press, subsequently became a major public relations embarrassment for the Administration [see James Petras, "White Paper on the White Paper," The Nation, March 28, 1981]. Claims that "200 tons" of weapons had been delivered to the Salvadoran guerrillas, "mostly through Cuba and Nicaragua," were not substantiated by the captured documents that allegedly had served as the basis for the report. Even the white paper's author, Jon Glassman, admitted to The Wall Street Journal that the statistics on the arms flow were based on extrapolation and that parts of the report were "misleading" and "overembellished."
The use of propaganda became more important to the White House in March 1982, after the C.I.A.'s operations were exposed in the press. To counter the negative public reaction, the Administration began a frenetic campaign "to convince skeptics," according to Time, "that the struggles in Central America are not simply indigenous revolts but rather are crucial battlegrounds in a broad East-West confrontation."
That effort also backfired. On March 12, the State Department held a press conference for Orlando Jose TardencillaS, a Nicaraguan who had been captured by Salvadoran security forces and who, the Administration hoped, would present irrefutable evidence that the Sandinistas were exporting revolution. …