Since taking office in 1981, the Reagan administration had used an assortment of means to try to remove the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. President Reagan charged that the Sandinistas were pawns of the Soviet Union and were establishing a communist beachhead in the Western Hemisphere, though there was little evidence to support such an accusation. Nonetheless, Reagan’s administration used economic and diplomatic pressure attempting to destabilize the Sandinista regime. Reagan poured millions of dollars of U.S. military and economic aid into the so-called “Contras,” anti-Sandinista rebels operating out of Honduras and Costa Rica. By 1988, however, the Contra program was coming under severe criticism from both the American people and Congress. Many Americans came to see the Contras as nothing more than terrorist mercenaries, and Congress had acted several times to limit the amount of U.S. aid to the Contras.
In an effort to circumvent Congressional control, the Reagan administration engaged in what came to be known as the Iran-Contra Affair, in which arms were illegally and covertly sold to Iran in order to fund the Contras. This scheme had come to light in late 1987. Indeed, on the very day that Reagan sent U.S. troops to Honduras, his former national security advisor John Poindexter and former National Security staffer Lt. Col. Oliver North were indicted by the U.S. government for fraud and theft related to Iran-Contra.
The New York Times reported that Washington, not Honduras, had initiated the call for the U.S. troops. In fact, the Honduran government could not even confirm whether Sandinista troops had actually crossed its borders, and Nicaragua steadfastly denied that it had entered Honduran territory. Whatever the truth of the matter, the troops stayed for a brief time and were withdrawn. The Sandinista government