Rising From the Embers of the Contras

My Commentary on the Sydney Embers' Interview

Editor’s note: I apologize for being slow with news readers this week. I am away on a conference in Russia. However, I will be sure to share my conference slides which is about “History of Hijacking Economics” later this week. I also have recorded some amazing interviews and I will be focusing on Russian history that I learn during the trip. Meanwhile, please enjoy my rage rant against this interview.

Last Friday, New York Times wrote an article about Bernie Sander’s activism during the 1980s. Soon after, they published a follow-up interview with Bernie Sanders where reporter Sydney Ember, begins the interview with the following line of questions:

Q. In the top of our story, we talk about the rally you attended in Managua and a wire report at the time said that there were anti-American chants from the crowd.

The United States at that time — I don’t know how much you know about this — was actively supporting the Contras to overthrow the government. So that there’s anti-American sentiment? I remember that, I remember that event very clearly.

You do recall hearing those chants? I think the wire report has them saying, “Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.”

They were fighting against American —— Huh huh —— yes, what is your point?

I wanted to ——

Are you shocked to learn that there was anti-American sentiment?

Here is it clear that they are trying to bring up the idea that Bernie Sanders is Anti-American or had Anti-American sentiments in the past.

Contextually Relevant Information

Let me rewrite the interview from New York Times where I add a bit of context. My additions will be in bold:

As Burlington’s mayor from 1981 to 1989, Bernie Sanders tried to infuse local politics with international issues. From his earliest days in office, Mr. Sanders aimed to execute his own foreign policy, repudiating President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive support for  anti-communist governments and resistance forces, while going further than many Democrats in backing socialist leaders.

President Reagan armed and trained anti-communist governmental forces in Guatemala. In Guatemala, 626 villages were exterminated. One such incident of mass violence was Dos Erres where US-trained forces committed many atrocities including killing babies with a sledgehammer.

In Nicaragua, these anti-communist forces were known as the Contras.  They were trained by the CIA. They were also armed and funded by the US Government.  While President Reagan claimed that the Contras were fighting communists, in reality, they inflicted unimaginable terror upon the countryside.  Here are some of the documented actions of the contras:

  1. They raped a 14-year old girl and beheaded her. After beheading her, they stuck her head on a pike as a warning.

  2. On November 14, 1984, the Contras bayonetted a pregnant woman to death.

  3. They bombed an orphanage.

  4. They set fire to a senior residential community.

In fact, one of the leaders of the Contras said this Edgar Chamorro revealed that the CIA trainers also gave Contra soldiers large knives. "A commando knife [was given], and our people, everybody wanted to have a knife like that, to kill people, to cut their throats.”

Even today, we do not know how many people were victims of the Contras and mass graves are being unearthed in Nicaragua all the time.

In an article on Friday, The New York Times detailed Mr. Sanders’s foreign policy views during his mayoralty, including on the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and on the Soviet Union, and how his activities at the time brought into relief the fervently anti-imperialist worldview that would continue to guide him.


In light of this new context, any anti-American sentiments in Managua seems petty and irrelevant. The questions seem silly.

I am not sure what either the New York Times’ intention was, nor do I understand what motivated the writer to write this piece. Everyone has their own biases and it is surprising how often people’s American Exceptionalism bias manifests itself in the worst possible situations.