Latino: America's Secret War in Nicaragua (1985) - Movie Review for History Teachers | Student Handouts
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Latino: America's Secret War in Nicaragua (1985) > U.S. History > New Conservatism > Books and Films
Latino: America's Secret War in Nicaragua (1985) Movie Review and Guide for History Teachers Length: 105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes)

Age appropriateness: Latino: America's Secret War in Nicaragua is not officially rated in the United States. This film includes profanity, war-related violence, and partial nudity (male buttocks, and a brief shot of the breasts of a woman dancing for American soldiers). This film should be fine for mature high school students, but consult your school's film standards.

Creators and stars: LucasFilm, Americo Gonzalez, Ana Maria Garcia, Annette Cardona Charles, Benjamin Berg, Diane Louie, Emilio Rodriguez, Gavin MacFadyen, Haskell Wexler, James Becket, James Karen, Juan Carlos Ortiz, Julio Medina, Luis Torrentes, Marta Tenorio, Michael Goodwin, Pamela Yates, Ricardo Lopez, Robert Beltram, Robert Dalva, Tom Sigel, Tony Plana, Walter Marin

Accuracy: This fictionalized story accurately depicts United States military involvement with the Contras along the Honduran-Nicaraguan border in the 1980s.

Review: Artistically, Latino: America's Secret War in Nicaragua is not a good movie. It seems like a great story, plot, and director fell victim to budget and time constraints. Fortunately, poor artistry has no effect on this movie's educative value.

Today, the reality of U.S.-supported Contras is a fact that no one really disputes. But at the time that this film was made, American involvement in Nicaragua was being denied by the White House. In fact, a CIA operative was planted within writer/director Haskell Wexler's film crew. Because of the ongoing controversies and debates in the United States regarding Ronald Reagan and his policies, the topic of Contras vs. Sandinistas is not covered in any detail in most high school classrooms. If you plan to cover this in your class, students will need some basic background on the events.
1936-1979 - Somoza family rules Nicaragua as dictators
1979 - Anastasio "Tachito" Somoza Debayle overthrown by the FSLN; he is assassinated in Paraguay in 1980
1979 - Contras, the name given to describe a number of groups, begin to fight the FSLN for power in Nicaragua
1981 - FSLN comes to dominate Nicaragua, instituting leftist (socialist) programs for mass literacy, gender equality, etc., and nationalizing many farms and businesses (that is, putting them under public rather than private control) which had been owned by United States corporations
1981 - Ronald Reagan becomes U.S. president; Reagan Doctrine is one of military support for those fighting against socialism
1982 - Reagan's National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17) gives the Contras $19,000,000.00 in military aid
1985 - U.S. Congress ends all Contra funding with the Boland Amendment
1985 - Daniel Ortega, who had received military training in Cuba, becomes president of Nicaragua
1985 - Reagan institutes an embargo against Nicaragua
1985 - Fact-finding mission of the International Human Rights Law Group and the Washington Office on Latin America finds that the Contras deliberately attack and terrorize Nicaraguan citizens
1986 - Ruling against the United States in the International Court of Justice (Nicaragua v. United States) for violating international law in its support of the Contras
1986-1987 - Iran-Contra Affair involving Lt. Col. Oliver North, in which the Reagan administration funded the Contras by selling arms to Iran
1989 - George H.W. Bush becomes president of the United States
1990 - Following a 40% drop in Nicaragua's GDP, Violeta Chamorro elected president; FSLN peacefully hands over power

Review and discussion questions: (1) American special forces parachute into what country? (2) Marlena works at the compound as a what? (3) Describe what happens when U.S. forces cross the border and enter a Nicaraguan village. (4) What happens to the prisoners of the Contras? (5) What happens to Marlena's father? (6) What does Marlena learn about the FSLN in Nicaragua? (7) Describe the attack planned on the village. (8) Imagine that you are Luis. Might you behave similarly or differently? Explain your answer. (9) U.S. President Ronald Reagan referred to the Contras as "the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers." Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? (10) Locate Honduras and Nicaragua on a map.

Vocabulary terms and names: Anastasio Somoza, automatic weapons, collective farm, commandos, communists, companeros, Contras, covert, Daniel Ortega, dog tags, FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front), harvest, Honduras, maneuvers, military aid, national literacy campaign, Nicaragua, operation, parachute, prisoners of war, revolution, Sandinistas, secret war, special forces, Reagan Doctrine, Ronald Reagan, torture, village
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Latino: America's Secret War in Nicaragua Movie Review Publication Date for Citation Purposes: July 13, 2012