The purpose of the Boland Amendment was to prohibit the U.S. federal government from spending financial resources and military equipment to overthrow Nicaraguan authorities.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan wanted to destroy a pro-communist regime that had aggressively established itself in Nicaragua. He believed that the threat of an ongoing civil war in Nicaragua could lead to unprecedented consequences for the region and the United States.


During his second term, Reagan faced the first major crisis in his political career: the Iran-Contra affair, which almost led to his impeachment. Among many covert operations, one was associated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Nicaragua.

In 1979, the Nicaraguan dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, supported by the United States, was overthrown by the Sandinista Socialist movement. After taking control, the Sandinistas disbanded the Nicaraguan National Guard, whose members had committed numerous crimes. Some of the guards were arrested and executed. The remaining members of the Guard formed the backbone of the Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary forces, called the Contras.

The Special Activities Center of the United States was deployed to train these forces and organize an armed struggle against the Sandinista movement. The fighters were trained in Honduras and Costa Rica by American instructors, and then fought with American weapons.

Republican President Reagan was determined to destroy the communist contagion in Nicaragua led by the Sandinistas. However, the U.S. Congress, where the Democrats held the majority, looked at the matter quite differently. Members of Congress had long tried to limit the President’s right to spend taxpayers’ money to support the Contras.

Finally, the Democrats succeeded, and Edward Boland, a Democratic representative from Massachusetts, read a statement in the House of Representatives that suggested prohibiting the use of government funds to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. This suggestion was immediately dubbed the Boland Amendment, and it was adopted unanimously as an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act.

Several amendments were passed between 1982 and 1984 to limit the U.S. government’s support of the Contras. The Boland Amendment, passed in 1982, began to unravel the scandal. More amendments were passed, prohibiting the CIA, the Department of Defense, and any other agency or body of the United States government to spend money on direct or indirect support of any operations in Nicaragua.

President Reagan had asserted his right to engage in foreign policy, and in return, Congress began to assert its right to manage the country’s budget. Nevertheless, the Contras still received money from the United States via other sources.

For instance, Oliver North, a historian and political commentator, raised private donations for the Contras. As a result, the funds allocated by the CIA to support the Contras increased from thirty million dollars in 1983 to fifty million dollars in 1984.

In addition, President Reagan continued to fight to support the Contras. His administration found a creative way to violate the Boland Amendment, using the National Security Council to support the Contras. When it became clear that the administration continued to assist those Nicaraguan forces, the third Boland Amendment was adopted to prohibit the financing of the anti-communist fighters in Nicaragua.