US Sanctions on Venezuela Recalls 1980s Embargo on Nicaragua

US Sanctions emptied the shelves at supermarkets in Nicaragua.

Economic sanctions against Venezuela and the warning of another potential economic embargo on Nicaragua revive the sinister ghost of the 1980s.


By José Adán Silva  (La Prensa)    

HAVANA TIMES – The US economic sanctions against the Venezuelan regime and the warnings from US National Security Advisor John Bolton about a potential economic blockade on the Nicaraguan dictatorship have revived the phantoms of scarcity and extreme poverty that ravaged the country during the decade of the 1980s, during the first dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

“It worked in Panama. It worked in Nicaragua one time, and it’s going to work there, again. And it will work in Venezuela and Cuba,” Bolton said last week in Lima during the Lima Group’s International Conference for Democracy in Venezuela.

File photo: La Prensa

When did the US economic blockade start, what was it like, why did it happen and what were the consequences for the country?

Officially, the total embargo on Nicaragua was enacted on May 1, 1985. US President Ronald Reagan made the announcement in Bonn, on the eve of the Group of Seven (G7) summit, using this argument to explain his decision to declare economic sanctions against Nicaragua: “the actions and policies of the Nicaraguan government represent an extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

[Editor’s note: When Reagan was making that announcement, his government had been already financing the Contras for several years in the prelude to the Iran-Contra scandal over financing for the Contra forces with funds from arms sales to Iran.] 

Fidel Castro applauds Daniel Ortega during his 1985 inauguration. LA PRENSA/ARCHIVE/Cruz Flores

What was the context for the embargo?

Diverse democratic countries, with the US in the lead, had been denouncing with greater insistence since 1980, a public policy of repression, persecution, execution, as well as the confiscation of land from campesinos, the expropriation of assets from business owners, media censorship, and the imprisonment, killing and attacks against any citizen considered as to be an “opponent” of the young communist dictatorship.

That year Washington gave the Sandinista regime a 60-day deadline to begin dialogue with the opposition and to hold early free, transparent and supervised elections to restore democracy. Emboldened by the economic and military support from the Soviet Union, the regime reacted by rejecting the call to start a dialogue and by doubling down on military and political repression.

When the economic embargo started in 1985, the country was at war and the regime had imposed a military draft for young men 17 and over, sending thousands of teenagers to die in the mountains. LA PRENSA/PERSONAL ARCHIVE OF OSCAR NAVARRETE

OAS and UN insist on dialogue

Diplomatic forums like the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations, armed with reports documenting the regime’s crimes and abuses, pressured for a peaceful solution to the crisis. This crisis was brought on by the civil war that the Sandinista Army and its intelligence bodies waged against campesinos, who received financial, military and logistical support from the US.

Meanwhile in cities and urban areas, agents of the Ministry of the Interior, the Sandinista Police, the Sandinista Defense Committees on every block, and Sandinista gangs in the streets, crushed any sign of opposition.

Then UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuellar, proposed a national dialogue between the Sandinista regime and the opposition led by the private sector. But Ortega and his commanders denounced internationally that “they are trying to force us to surrender and overthrow the government to impose a puppet regime of the United States.”

“The United States has reiterated its conviction that a political dialogue between the Nicaraguan government and all sectors of the opposition, in the terms proposed by the unified opposition in Nicaragua on March 1, 1985, is the first essential step in the process of national reconciliation in Nicaragua,” warned the White House in 1985. Ortega and his commanders rejected this statement.

When the embargo was imposed in 1985, the country was at war and the regime had established an obligatory mlitary service for men starting from 17 years old. Thousands died in the mountains of Nicaragua. Photo: Personal file of Oscar Navarette / La Prensa

What did the embargo actually do?

The United States’ embargo decree, officially baptized by pro-government propagandists as an “economic blockade,” prohibited the import of Nicaraguan products into the United States and the export of all manufactured products from the United States and allied countries to Nicaragua.

The embargo went even further. Nicaraguan commercial aircraft could not land on US national territory, ships could not dock at US ports, and viceversa.

On April 21, 1987, President Ronald Reagan renewed the May, 1985 economic embargo for six more months. He also requested additional military assistance for the Contras, the campesino guerrilla groups fighting the Sandinista armed forces in the mountains.

Because of the embargo, food and basic goods became scarce throughout the country for several years until the reestablishment of democracy in 1990. LA PRENSA/CORTESÍA IHNCA

Catastrophic Impact of Embargo

The economic embargo in Nicaragua had an immediate and devastating impact. Just seven months later, in December of 1985, 90% of the country’s productive infrastructure ground to a halt because of the cutoff of raw materials.

The distribution difficulties, caused not just by the economic blockade but also by the lack of foreign exchange in the Nicaraguan economy and the war that scared off distributors, led to the collapse of equipment and industrial machinery and a reduction of 20% of total production.

The lack of foreign exchange, combined with the commercial blockade, led to the drop in production in the four main branches of Nicaragua’s small businesses sector: textiles, leather, footwear and foodstuffs.

Stores selling household appliances, clothes, toys and office supplies also collapsed, along with pharmacies, gas stations, distributors, mechanics, eateries, restaurants, recreational centers and an innumerable number of small, medium and large businesses.

In the wake of the embargo, the national economy slid into an inflationary spiral with the Sandinista regime stamping and restamping more zeros on the national currency, the Córdoba. LA PRENSA/ARCHIVE

Micoin, rationing, scarcity and suffering

The regime immediately created a state apparatus to control foodstuffs and a type of special “Gestapo” called the Ministry of Interior Commerce (Micoin), that confiscated any foodstuffs or goods sold outside of state channels.

Then the local Enabas (National Enterprise for Basic Grains) stations appeared, providing a rations card to each family and limiting their access to food.

Because of the embargo, foodstuffs and basic goods became scarce all over the country for several years until the reestablishment of democracy in 1990. LA PRENSA/CORTESÍA/IHNCA

Those who did not have a rations card had to go to the Nicaraguan supermarket chain, which had been confiscated and baptized as The People’s Supermarkets. Before 1985, Nicaraguans could still buy powdered milk and some other controlled goods like soap and toilet paper at these markets.

Once the embargo started, all dairy products, canned goods, meats and sausages in these supermarkets ran out, and the majority of the shelves were empty. This contrasted with the exclusive stores just for the privileged Sandinista elite, where you could buy any product just as if you were in a supermarket in another country.

People in incredibly long lines waiting to obtain the new currency in banks during Operation Bertha, on February 18, 1988. LA Prensa / ARCHIVE

End of embargo in 1990

In February of 1990, with the electoral triumph of the National Opposition Union (UNO), with the country destroyed by the war and the economy in bankruptcy, the administration of George W. Bush announced the end of the 1985 embargo and restored the flow of imports and exports between the two countries. The Bush administration also reopened air and sea traffic between the United States and Nicaragua after the inauguration of President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in April of 1990.

9 thoughts on “US Sanctions on Venezuela Recalls 1980s Embargo on Nicaragua

  • It will be devastating for the ppl in Nicaragua specially the poor which are the majority but it’s a sacrifice worth making to be able to forced the genocide dictator pedophile Ortega out of power. But, the problem is, who’s gonna take over? Obviously that corrupt and unpopular Alianza Civic are a joke. There’s not one single opposition leader capable of have the respect from all the military forces to order them to disband or out of the street. So, what’s going to happen? A civil war? Another Syria?
    The situating here its highly volatile and extremely complicated than just overthrowing a genocide and phdophile dictator.

  • You live in a free country and understand that the liders of the country are elected by the people, not by electoral fraude as Ortega keeps doing helped by a bunch of mafia members. Large demonstrations against Ortega is a clear proof that Nicaraguan people are against corruption and Organized Crime which is the main source of Ortega’s being in Power. Democracy in Nicaragua will sweep those gangsters away. What’s the idea of supporting criminals? Nica

  • Adrianna,
    Is so simple, the politician of Latin-American is the worst cancer to their people. Their motive or interests are for themselves and their families. They are people with no morals that go to church every Sunday of the week give the donation to the church and clean their conscience of any wrong doing to the poor people. Example: The richest family of Nicaragua the Pellas (2 Billions American dollar wealth) have the monopoly of 40% of the most lucrative businesses in Nicaragua. one of the main businesses is sugar. The Pellas can buy any politician with their money. They use illegal and the most lethal pesticides and herbicides prohibit all over the globe but in Nicaragua the Pellas are killing Nicaraguan peasants by the hundred of souls that they have choose from feeding their family or dying in 3 yrs. 3 yrs of work in the sugar fields of the Pellas will guarantee the path to the grave 100%. In the province of Chinandega were most the sugar field are located entire village are without men only women because everyday there are several funerals. This is the example how the business communities in Nicaragua operate without any repercussion from the leftist or the ultra rights they are there to be pay by corporations of foreign powers Rusian or American for example. For the mighty dollars you can create a Revolution in Nicaragua that how poor some Nicaraguan are. The majority of the problem is that a country this rich in natural resource the wealth is disproportional. The politicians are worse that prostitutes not insulting the oldest profession but that is the reality of Nicaragua and the majority of the Latin American countries. Divide and conquer. when we don’t have unity the bigger fish eat the small one. Should we blame American to stablish Dictators like the Somozas or Pinochet of course not. The one to blame is the culture that we create over the years. Latin American love the model to get rich fast at all cost and that mean killing your own. The British empire corrupted the African by selling weapon and buying slave in Africa. A lucrative business selling slaves and weapons the perfect business. The solution lay on the Nicaraguan people to change the way they elect their politicians and demand that the Nicaraguan interest is for the population of Nicaraguan no the family of the ruling families.

  • Let’s face it the US is a hegemonic power and biggest quote, unqote “democratic bully in the world”. And until the rest of the world really see’s that the US wants to dictate it’s will and it’s values rough shoud over foe and Ally alike. Nothing will change. And the US has the almighty dollar and overwhelming military power to back it up.

  • I could not had said it better myself. They call Ortega a Dictator? Then what was the Somaza regime? Oh, that’s right a Dictator selected by U.S to practically run the country on American Interest. The Land of the free and the home of the brave is nothing more than the largest terrorist organization in the world. Let’s welcome democracy to the third world by starving them to death. Why don’t they try this with the Russians?

  • I lived all the nica history, from the year 79 up.just like cuba; a carbon copy.
    I won’ t be long in my telling.
    Very simple.The small group of sandinistas commanders, were just puppets of The Soviet Union, controlled thru its other puppet, Castro’s cuba.
    The Nicaraguan people were betrayed by The Frente(erroneously named Sandinista), who imposed another even crueler, leftist dictatorship.
    When they got the power, they started killing viciously all type of people.
    Stole property from hard working people, and took it to enrich themselves.
    Somoza was not defeated by the frente, but by President Carter.
    True, Somoza was a cruel dictator, but the frentistas were exponentially worst.
    They can only be compared to Pol pot and the kamer rouge of cambodia or Isis from the middle east.U.S.A..stand tall.They should have invaded Cuba, long time ago, and venezuela and Nicaragua cases, would have never happenned.
    Leftists claim, intervention only when The U.S.A. help people regain their freedom,but don’t say a word, now that Castro cubans are intervening openly in Nicaragua and Venezuela, because they are inmoral and hypocrits.
    In short, Leftists in general love living the good life, without working.
    In general, leftism is the creed of Losers.
    Marxism is the refuge of outcast intelectuals, with no principles nor values, universally accepted by hard working people.

  • Adrianna, I have heard people give the same reason to leave Trump alone in the US. The Democrats can’t be trusted so why not let Trump do his thing for another 5 years and stop complaining.

    Personally I think being responsible for crimes against humanity, 19 years of sexual abuse, harrassment and rape of this step-daughter, massive corruption and virtually destroying the Nicaraguan constitution are pretty serious things that should make you at least consider maybe Ortega and his power-crazy wife aren’t so good for the country.

    After the last two fradulent presidential elections in 2011 and 2016, designed to keep Ortega in power for life, maybe the Nicaragan people should be given a chance at a fair, transparent election as soon as possible. If under those conditions Ortega wins, then they would be stuck with him but fairly.

    Personally I think the royal couple belong in a prison, but I wouldn’t treat them like they did the nearly 1,000 political prisoners (120 still in jail). Two wrongs don’t make a right. And I’m sure as an alternative, Putin or Castro would welcome them and their money.

  • Yes, We remember the decade of 1980, It was the hardest time in Nicaragua’s history. It is very difficult to understand why those new organizations and their representatives, who are supposed to fight for the people’s interests are asking and begging for economics sanctions against the country. Indeed They don’t care about people, only about their political ambitions, they care only about their piece of cake. They are showing us, that they aren’t better than Ortega and Murillo. We cannot thrust them. Nicaraguan’s people deserve better.

  • This news make me vomit. How the most powerful nation of the world feel in danger of a small and poor country like Nicaragua. The Haye in the 1980s convicted the most powerful nation on earth of wrong doing of poor Nicaraguan people. They created the contras (the army of mercenaries from south of Honduras and north of Costa Rica) they destroy everything from electric towers, water supplies, burned crops, schools and mine arable land and block the water to stop fishing. All this act of terrorism was well documented in the international court the Hayes and presented by international group of Lawyer from different countries and a group of Nicaraguan group of lawyers. The case was won by Nicaragua against USA, the court at that time demand the USA government to pay $17,000,000,000 billions amarican dollars to compensate Nicaragua for all the terrorism and damage to the Nicaraguan. It was a total defeat for the USA government. Now MR. Bolton and his associates are in charge of Latin American affairs creating chaos and misery to all Latin American one more time. USA like to pick on small countries but will never have the balls to fight a war with an nation with the same strength or power.

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