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The Contras (Spanish contrarevolucionario, "counter-revolutionary") were the armed opponents of Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinista government following the July 1979 overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle and the ending of the Somoza family's 43-year rule. The label as commonly used by the US press to cover a range of groups with little in the way of ideological unity; thus some references use the uncapitalized form, contra.

The earliest Contra groups formed in 1980-1981 in Honduras, Nicaragua's northern neighbour, allying in August 1981 as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force[?] (Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense, FDN) under the command of former National Guard (army) colonel Enrique Bermudez. A joint political directorate was created in February 1983 under businessman and anti-Sandinista politician Adolfo Calero.

A second front in the war opened with the creation in Costa Rica in April 1982 of the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE) and its armed wing the Sandino Revolutionary Front (FRS) by the Eden Pastora ("Commandante Zero"), former Sandinista hero of the August 1978 seizure of Somoza's palace. ARDE was formed by Sandinista dissidents and veterans of the anti-Somoza campaign who opposed the increased influence of Cuban officials in the Managua regime. Proclaiming his ideological distance from the FDN, Pastora nevertheless styled his force the "southern front" in a common campaign.

A third anti-Sandinista force, again with little in common with the FDN's founders, appeared among the Miskito, Sumu and Rama Amerindian peoples of Nicaragua's Atlantic coast, who in December 1981 found themselves in conflict with the revolutionary authorities following an ill-judged modernisation drive. In 1983 the Misurasata movement led by Brooklyn Rivera split, the breakaway Misura group of Stedman Fagoth allying itself more closely with the FDN.

A key role in the development of the Contra alliance was played by the United States following Ronald Reagan's assumption of the presidency in January 1981. Accusing the Sandinistas[?] of importing Cuban-style communism and aiding leftist guerrillas in El Salvador, Reagan in November authorised $19 million in military aid to the FDN in the form of arms and training.

Nicaragua v. United States

Meanwhile, Nicaragua had filed a suit in the World Court[?], against the United States, which resulted in a guilty verdict against the US on grounds of its violating international law in conducting covert terrorist operations to destabilize the Nicaraguan government.

After direct military aid was interrupted by the Boland Amendment (passed by the U.S. Congress in December 1982 and extended in October 1984 to forbid action by not only the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency but all U.S. government agencies), Administration officials sought to procure third-party funding of military supplies, culminating in the Iran-Contra Affair of 1986-1987.

On February 3, 1988 the United States House of Representatives rejected President Ronald Reagan's request for $36.25 million to aid the Contras.

U.S. officials were also active in drawing the various Contra groups together in June 1985 as the United Nicaraguan Opposition under the leadership of Calero, Arturo Cruz and Alfonso Robelo: after its dissolution early in 1987, the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) was organised along similar lines (May 1987). Splits within the rebel movement emerged with Pastora's defection (May 1984) and Misurasata's April 1985 accommodation with the Sandinista regime: a subsequent autonomy statute (September 1987) largely defused Miskito resistance.

Mediation by other Central American governments under Costa Rican leadership led finally to the Sapoa ceasefire agreement of March 23, 1988, which with additional agreements (February, August 1989) provided for the Contras' disarmament and re-integration into Nicaraguan society and politics, and internationally-monitored elections which were subsequently won (February 25, 1990) by an anti-Sandinista centre-right coalition.

Some Contra elements and disaffected Sandinistas returned briefly to armed opposition in the 1990s, sometimes calling themselves recontras or revueltos, but these groups were subsequently persuaded to disarm again.

The Reagan administration's support for the Contras continued to stir controversy well into the 1990s. In August 1996, San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb published a series titled "Dark Alliance (http://gary.webb.home.attbi.com/)," linking the origins of crack cocaine in California to the contras. Freedom of Information Act inquiries by the National Security Archive and other investigators have unearthed a number of documents showing that White House officials including Oliver North knew about and supported (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/nsaebb2.htm) using money raised via drug trafficking to fund the contras.

Contra is also the name of an anti-socialist organization in Sweden.

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