Nicaragua: A Nation's Right to Survive

“This film is about the people of Nicaragua and their unique struggle to end a cycle of poverty and humiliation. It is also about a threat which, according to President Reagan, this tiny country presents to the most powerful and richest nation on Earth.”

John Pilger turned his attention to Central America when President Reagan was propping up the right-wing El Salvador junta, whose death squads and National Guard were murdering thousands of their own people, and secretly destabilising the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, which had unseated the American-backed dictator Somoza in 1979, by financing the Contra rebels without the approval of Congress. It was the latest instalment in the United States’s long history of intervening in its own “backyard”, to control its resources.

In Nicaragua, Pilger traces a century of this intervention in Latin America, from Cuba, Honduras and Haiti to Panama, Guatemala, Chile and Grenada. He recalls US Marines landing in Nicaragua in 1912 and facing a guerrilla war led by the nationalist Augusto Sandino, who eventually drove them out – only for the country to face 44 years of the Somozas’ tyranny.

Their overthrow in 1979 by a popular uprising led to the Sandinista revolution – with the building of 2,500 new schools giving children the right to an education they were previously denied, middle-aged peasants reading and writing for the first time and illiteracy cut to less than 10 per cent of the population, a national health service established, polio wiped out and serious malnutrition dramatically reduced, and land distributed to both co-operatives and private peasants, with many producing food and heading for self-sufficiency.

However, Pilger says, what Ronald Reagan – backed by the British government – attacks as communism is the threat of “a good example”. This is itself threatened by 15,000 Contras, former members of the National Guard directed and paid for by the CIA, who mount hit-and-run attacks from Honduras.

Pilger concludes: “How impoverished, how helpless does a country have to be before it’s no longer seen as a threat by the United States?”

Nicaragua (Central Independent Television), ITV, 15 November 1983

Producer-director: Alan Lowery (53 mins)

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library