cover image The Real Contra War: Highlander Peasant Resistance in Nicaragua

The Real Contra War: Highlander Peasant Resistance in Nicaragua

Timothy C. Brown. University of Oklahoma Press, $32.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-8061-3252-5

In 1979, the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua was overthrown and replaced by the radical regime of the Sandinistas. Almost immediately the Sandinistas themselves faced armed rebellion from a group that became known as the Contras. Supporters as well as detractors assumed the Contras to be merely a U.S.-funded mercenary force of former soldiers of the Somoza era. Brown, senior liaison to the Contras for the State Department from 1987 to 1990 and now a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, contends the Contra uprising was primarily a peasant rebellion among the long-neglected and discriminated-against indigenous people of Nicaragua's Segovian highlands, or as one of Brown's interviewees put it, ""a whole bunch of really pissed off peasants."" Traditionally rebellious, alarmed by Sandinista plans to collectivize their private farms and distrustful of the ethnically different lowlanders sent to implement this plan often quite brutally the peasantry took up arms. While eventually this peasant force did align itself with former Somoza soldiers, as these were the groups receiving U.S. arms and funding, their success lay not in U.S. largesse but in their deep roots among the highland peasantry. Today, while the Sandinistas are gone from power, defeated in elections in 1990, the highland rebels have become a peaceful but influential political force. Brown makes an interesting case, but also neglects certain issues. For instance, while he writes in detail on Sandinista human rights abuses against the highlanders, he has nothing to say on Contra abuses except that they did occur. Without such discussion, this remains a partial, though important, account of the complex phenomenon of the Contras. B&w illus. (Mar.) Forecast: The Contras were a hot topic in the 1980s (thanks to the Iran-Contra affair during Reagan's presidency), but interest now will be primarily among specialists in Central American history and politics, and perhaps among former activists who either supported or opposed the Contras efforts.