A former US State Department liaison to the Contras argues that the Nicaraguan rebels were a collection of large indigenous forces that existed well before Ronald Reagan and Oliver North.
Brown (Research Fellow/Hoover Institution) is no prose stylist. His text is at times stodgy, even soporific, and manifests all the dreary organizational principles of an undergraduate research paper. But this is an important work all the same. For Brown has done his homework—reading the relevant histories of the region, interviewing scores of individuals in Nicaragua, and reviewing thousands of archival documents. He establishes that armed resistance to the Sandinista junta began in the Nicaraguan highlands immediately after their 1979 coup (before the US had become involved) and continued into 1990. He records unspeakable atrocities inflicted on the highlanders (including an account of a suspected Contra whose face was peeled away piece by piece by Sandinistan thugs). Another revelation: The CIA began entering the picture in 1979–80 (during the Carter administration)—so historians can no longer lay the Contra war entirely at Reagan’s feet. Employing a variety of maps, tables, and charts, the author demonstrates that the highlanders—whose ethnic, social, and economic profile differed considerably from that of the generally more prosperous lowlanders—comprised the principal guerilla resistance to the Sandinistas. Brown describes, as well, the informal pyramid of popular support the guerillas required from their regions of operation and has an intriguing, though brief, chapter on the roles of women in battle (about seven percent of combatants were women). The final third of the volume deals swiftly with the country's history and sociology and with the aftermath of the war and the remarkable elections of 1996, which signaled both the end of Sandinistas’ fortunes and the emergence of the previously ignored highlanders’ political power.
Though expressed in prose that is at times eye-glazing, Brown’s evidence demands consideration and must alter our understanding of the recent history of both the US and Nicaragua. (20 b&w illustrations; 9 maps, not seen)