Unusual Campaign: NGOs' Long Battle to End Contra Aid
Dean, Paul T.
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In April 1985 the Reagan administration asked for $14 million in nonmilitary Contra aid. The House of Representatives rejected the request by a vote of 215 to 213. Shocked CIA director William Casey credited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) saying, "If Tip O'Neill didn't have Maryknoll nuns who wrote letters, we would have a contra program." The Reagan administration's efforts to discredit, harass, and discredit various NGO's throughout the 1980s showed how powerful they believed the movement of NGOs to be. Finally, after the House of Representatives narrowly voted down renewed funding for the Contras in February 1988, both the leaders of the anti-Contra aid and the Contra aid backers credited or blamed NGOs for the defeat of Contra funding. This study examines how and why NGOs were able to play a decisive role in the decision making of United States foreign policy over the Sandinista-Contra conflict in Nicaragua. This study defines NGOs as a non-state actor who attempted to influence United States foreign policy, and focuses on NGOs that were propelled by altruism rather than profit. Some of these groups were formed specifically to influence United States foreign policy; for example, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Witness for Peace, and Countdown 87. Others, like individual churches and denominations, believed that influencing foreign policy fit within their preexisting purposes to work for the peace and prosperity of citizens of every nation. After years of trial and error these religious and humanitarian organizations found that they could influence United States foreign policy with a mixture of grass roots organizing, strategic alliances with political parties, and targeted political pressure. This study primarily utilized the papers of Democrat Representative David Bonior and House Speaker, Tip O'Neill, who kept extensive records of the efforts of various NGOs who worked to change US foreign policy. It also examined published works from members of the Reagan Administration, debates in congress, US government publications, and influential US periodicals who reported on the major actors of the US policy toward Nicaragua as Congressional debates unfolded.