Date of Thesis



Under President Ronald Reagan, the White House pursued a complex foreign policy towards the Contras, rebels in trying to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, in Nicaragua. In 1979, the leftist Sandinista government seized power in Nicaragua. The loss of the previous pro-United States Somoza military dictatorship deeply troubled the conservatives, for whom eradication of communism internationally was a top foreign policy goal. Consequently, the Reagan Administration sought to redress the policy of his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, and assume a hard line stance against leftist regimes in Central America. Reagan and the conservatives within his administration, therefore, supported the Contra through military arms, humanitarian aid, and financial contributions. This intervention in Nicaragua, however, failed to garner popular support from American citizens and Democrats. Consequently, between 1982 and 1984 Congress prohibited further funding to the Contras in a series of legislation called the Boland Amendments. These Amendments barred any military aid from reaching the Contras, including through intelligence agencies. Shortly after their passage, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Casey and influential members of Reagan¿s National Security Council (NSC) including National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, NSC Aide Oliver North, and Deputy National Security Advisor John Poindexter cooperated to identify and exploit loopholes in the legislation. By recognizing the NSC as a non-intelligence body, these masterminds orchestrated a scheme in which third parties, including foreign countries and private donors, contributed both financially and through arms donations to sustain the Contras independently of Congressional oversight. This thesis explores the mechanism and process of soliciting donations from private individuals, recognizing the forces and actors that created a situation for covert action to continue without detection. Oliver North, the main actor of the state, worked within his role as an NSC bureaucrat to network with influential politicians and private individuals to execute the orders of his superiors and shape foreign policy. Although Reagan articulated his desire for the Contras to remain a military presence in Nicaragua, he delegated the details of policy to his subordinates, which allowed this scheme to flourish. Second, this thesis explores the individual donors, analyzing their role as private citizens in sustaining and encouraging the policy of the Reagan Administration. The Contra movement found non-state support from followers of the New Right, demonstrated through financial and organizational assistance, that allowed the Reagan Administration¿s statistically unpopular policy in Nicaragua to continue. I interpret these donors as politically involved, but politically philanthropic, individuals, donating to their charity of choice to further the principles of American freedom internationally in a Cold War environment. The thesis then proceeds to assess the balance of power between the executive and other political actors in shaping policy, concluding that the executive cannot act alone in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.


Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Nicaragua, Contras, New Right, Conservatism, Non-State Actors, Carl "Spitz" Channell

Access Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Mike Schmidli