Question? Anyone here familiar with our involvement in Central America during the 1980s?


Mi Private
MI.Net Member
Aug 14, 2020
I was asking because it's a area that I'm curious about. After all, it's not as prominently mentioned as say Vietnam or Korea.
When you say "our" involvement, do you mean the US? It's a subject I'd be interested to read about myself - I don't know a lot myself beyond things like Iran-Contra and my understanding of that is tenuous at best.
Spent some time near the Belize-Guatamala border, that was one of the more interesting periods of my early service....
When you say "our" involvement, do you mean the US? It's a subject I'd be interested to read about myself - I don't know a lot myself beyond things like Iran-Contra and my understanding of that is tenuous at best.

The US, yes.
My limited understanding is that the 1980’s US support for mostly(exclusively?) right wing, death squad loving strong men was an overwhelming success in terms of financial cost, human(US) cost, but lesser so in terms of domestic political cost.

I believe it largely started with the embarrassing loss of an incompetent right wing Somoza in Nicaragua to the communists.

The Reagan Administration had a zero tolerance policy for communism in the western hemisphere, beyond the poor international political optics preventing the turning of Cuba into a parking lot.

It was an “economy of effort“ type of operation, I believe Congress mandated only a max of 55 boots on the ground In Central America.

Rumors include staffers physically counting advisors on and off the planes.

The right wing death squad stuff was pretty rampant across many locations in Central and South America.

Stories of the School of Americas where the US trained death squad participants was true.

But in terms of culpability, it gets grey very quickly.

“By, With, Thru” training of local host nation forces doesn’t lead to an immediate gold standard in human rights.

Teaching and influencing local security forces about the benefit of not liquidating entire villages in reprisal took over a decade to really move the needle. There’s limits to influence when you have no authority, but Hollywood movies in the 80’s turned up US culpability from like a 4-6 to a 12.

Meanwhile, CIA is playing their covert and clandestine games sabotaging the Nicaraguan economy, and getting caught. Which was kinda dumb.

And a facilitator for influencing right wing arms, drugs, and dark money with narcos and Iran-Contra Affair. Which was super dumb.

The “poor little Cuba, why is the US picking on them?” narrative was/is BS. Castro was an aggressive and willing participant in global communist disruption. Not only Central and South America, but Southwest Africa, Central Africa, and East Africa. Something on the order of a quarter million Cuban soldiers rotated thru Southwest Africa over a decade. Cubans were fighting all over the place and needed to be punched in the mouth.

1983’s invasion of Grenada was a mess, but it allowed Reagan to say, “It’s morning in America and it’s open season on Communists with no bag limit” and to play with the shiny new professional military and new military platform toys.

In retrospect, perhaps the way the US ran austere programs in Central & South America should have been replicated in Afghanistan in 2002+.

Perhaps one of the reasons why we don’t read or see much of it is because it can be argued as a pretty substantial(and even messier) success.

The US maintained the lead in regional influence, Communists influence was eradicated, the regional “patient” was stabilised, and if didn’t cost much in terms of money, people, or political capital.

The political capital part was a bigger deal back then. I believe we were more sensitive to regional partner state human rights violations.

But now, with less trusted news, seemingly less sensitivity to conflict violence, combined with politicians either ignoring the violence or conducting end zone self-celebration of different.

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