In the 1980s during the Reagan administration, the Nicaraguan Communist regime of Daniel Ortega was a thorn in the side of Washington. Reagan had made it clear that another Communist regime wasn’t going to be tolerated in this hemisphere.

President Ronald Reagan did little to hide his disdain for the Marxist Nicaraguan leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), who had seized power after the notorious dictator Somoza was ousted. The Somoza family had ruled the country with an iron fist for 46 years.

Reagan was convinced that the Soviet Union and Cuba were helping to arm Communist guerrillas in neighboring El Salvador via the Sandinista regime of Daniel Ortega. And he was going to turn up the heat on them.

Reagan never shied away from calling out Ortega and the regime for being little Soviet stooges. At various times he called Ortega a “dictator in designer glasses,” after he had learned that he had gone on a shopping spree while visiting the United Nations in New York City.

“Nicaragua today is an imprisoned nation; it is a nation condemned to unrelenting cruelty by a clique of very cruel men; by a dictator in designer glasses and his comrades, drunk with power and all its brutal implications,” Reagan had said. He had also dismissed the Marxist leader Ortega as “the little dictator who went to Moscow in his green fatigues.”

So, it was no surprise that his administration prioritized the creation of an anti-Sandinista force to oust the Marxists from power. On November 23, 1981, the President signed National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17), a top-secret document. Directive 17 gave the CIA the authority to identify, recruit, train, and support a 500-man Nicaraguan rebel force whose goal was to rise against and ultimately oust the leftist, Marxist Sandinista regime. That force would be the Contras.

The Contras were Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries. They were organized in several groups, the largest of these was the FDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Force). They were tough, but brutal and were accused of numerous human rights violations, many of the accusations being accurate. 

Thirty-four years ago, on October 5, 1986, an event occurred that would mark the U.S.’s involvement in Nicaragua. One of the CIA’s resupply aircraft dropping arms and ammunition to the Contras in Nicaraguan territory was shot down by a surface to air missile. Three of the crew (pilot, co-pilot, and radio operator) were killed. One man, Eugene Hasenfus, who was at the rear of the aircraft by the open door, survived as he was wearing a parachute and was able to leap out and deploy his chute just prior to the crash.