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There is No Mao-nopoly on Propaganda

Mao Zedong is famous for extensive use of propaganda in China during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, and often when historians talk about propaganda, China is one of the first examples discussed. While the examples of propaganda span the decades, propaganda also spans the world. There are excellent examples of British, French, Canadian, Russian, and U.S. propaganda.

Today I wanted to share a very interesting piece of propaganda I came across in my research about Nicaragua. It was released in Nicaragua in 1986, where it was dropped to Nicaraguan citizens by American intelligence services. This comic did not reveal any orange cats who love lasagna or bored office workers or even superheroes. Rather, it served as an instruction manual for citizens that might want to sabotage their own government.

Manual of the Freedom Fighter

This is a practical guide to liberate Nicaragua from the oppression and the misery paralyzing the military-industrial complex of the traitor Marxist state without the use of specialized tools and with minimal risk to the combatant.

Patriotic Nicaraguans: To sabotage the Marxist tyranny is to reclaim the memory of Sandino! Long live free Nicaragua!

Translation by Colleen Coyle

The opening page of the manual, which calls on patriotic Nicaraguans to free their nation from the Sandinista government, rather ironically invokes the name of Augusto Sandino, who was a revolutionary figure in early Nicaraguan history and a staunchly anti-United States political leader. Raised under thirty years of U.S. marine occupation of Nicaragua, Sandino drew on anarchist, marxist, and nationalist sources to form an ideology that led him to rebel against the beginnings of the Somoza dictatorship, which ruled for decades afterwards.

The next pages of the pamphlet include instructions for how Nicaraguans can sabotage the government with minimal risk to themselves.

Top left: put nails on roads and highways.

Top right: put dirt in gasoline tanks.

Bottom left: Put nails next to tires of parked vehicles.

Bottom right: Put water in gasoline tanks

In my opinion, what’s really eerie about these comics is their stylized presentation. If you didn’t understand the context of these comics, you might not grasp that this comic is literally asking the citizens of a country to commit treason, and not just treason, but treason at the behest of the United States, a country with a long history of intervention and violence in Nicaragua.

And to be clear, the U.S. definitely contemplated intervening violently in Nicaragua. The image on the left comes from the Center for Defense Information, detailing the possibility of a U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. While the briefing pamphlet ultimately advises against invasion, it was considered a viable option if necessary.

These comics are a great demonstration of how U.S. intervention in other countries does not always manifest in violence or direct political confrontation. U.S. intervention has taken many forms, and sometimes it’s even whimsical looking comic strips calling for treason.

Understanding the U.S. relationship with Nicaragua, and Central America more generally, is important as the U.S. grapples with an increased number of immigrants fleeing destabilized nations in Central America. Nicaragua is also currently facing another contentious political moment, as former revolutionary leader Daniel Ortega tightens his now conservative grip on the national pulse of Nicaragua.

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