This Day in History

Oct. 5, 1986: Eugene Hasenfus Captured During Iran-Contra Scandal

Time Periods: Post-Civil Rights Era: 1975 - 2000
Themes: Imperialism, US Foreign Policy, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements, World History/Global Studies

On Oct. 5, 1986, the cover-up of the Iran-Contra scandal began to unravel when Eugene Hasenfus was captured by Nicaraguan troops after the plane in which he was flying was shot down. 

Sandinista soldiers with Eugene Hasenfus after his plane was shot down in Nicaragua while on a CIA-funded supply drop for Contra guerrillas. Source (c) Leo Dematteis.

Hasenfus had been shipping military supplies into Nicaragua for use by the Contras, an anti-Sandinista force that had been created and supported by the U.S. in violation of congressional action stopping the funding, and run by the CIA. 

Documents found on the men killed in the plane crash gave evidence to the fact that the U.S. government was using proceeds from the illegal sale of weapons to Iran to support the Contra rebel groups in Nicaragua. One of the people responsible for this operation was Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. (Recently North served as President of the National Rifle Association in 2018 and 2019.) Others who were responsible were pardoned by President G. W. Bush with the assistance of then Attorney General Bill Barr.

Historian Greg Grandin notes that it is important to examine:

Iran/Contra not as crime or conspiracy but as a consequential historical moment that both helped unite the various political constituencies that made up the Reaganite New Right, including first-generation neoconservatives, theocons, law-and-order anticommunists, economic free-traders, and disgruntled Vietnam vets, mercenaries, and covert operators.

We highly recommend reading Grandin’s article in The Nation, “Iran/Contra Was the Prototype for Post-Vietnam Imperial Adventure: On the 30th anniversary, we can see that it was an ideological project, with the New Right reasserting the righteousness of militarism and markets.

Below are resources for teaching outside the textbook about Nicaragua, including the free downloadable teaching guide, Inside the Volcano and a textbook critique on this era, Disguising Imperialism: How Textbooks Get the Cold War Wrong and Dupe Students.