COMANDOS by Sam Dillon


The CIA and Nicaragua's Contra Rebels
Email this review


 A much-needed look at the contras, seen from within by Dillon, anchor of the Miami Herald's Pulitzer-winning Iran-contra team. Dillon covers the years 1983-91, centering his report on the experience of Luis Fley, a young Nicaraguan combat officer of distinction (``as close to the freedom fighter of American government rhetoric as you could find'') who took ``a U.S. financed rearguard post that put him in charge of investigating crimes committed by contra fighters.'' Following up on a torture-death, Fley learns of an ambiguous figure named Isaac Blake, meets with contra leader Enrique Bermudez, discovers the extent of the abuse, foils a cover-up, and puts the ``CIA-backed contra intelligence chief [Blake] before a tribunal of young commanders on charges of torture and murder.'' Working from a variety of sources including ex-CIA men, Dillon lays out the scale of American operations in Nicaragua (and Honduras and El Salvador) as they ``utterly transformed every aspect of the rebel force, creating an army that rivalled the armed forces of Honduras in size...with sophisticated weaponry no...armies in South America possessed.'' Supplies are ferried in first by jeep, then by rented Hueys and other airlifts; roads for 18-wheelers are built and truck-fleets are rented, an airport is acquired. But it is no longer an indigenous revolt; Bermudez and all the rebel leaders, dependent on the CIA, lose credibility because ``behind every contra there's an American...'' At the end, Fley returns home to a life of near-poverty, only to see old contra commanders cutting deals and moving into the new Chamorro regime. A fascinating tale--laced with corruption and brutality and full of sharp, revealing facts--that's heavy on the dialogue but very readable.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-8050-1475-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991