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It presents a very accurate if heavily fictionalized portrayal of the events surrounding the murder of American journalist Bill Stewart by Nicuraguan soldiers in June 1979. Some facts have been changed, in real life Stewart was forced to lie face down on the floor, kicked in the ribs and then shot in the back of the head. His murder was captured live on film rather than in still photographs.
Huge, it caused outrage when played on US TV and forced the Carter administration to abandon the Samoza regime which fell a short time afterwards.
Soldiers who were present at the scene testified that a Private Pedro Gonzalez had killed Stewart and was later killed in combat with communist guerillas the same day. In the chaos surrounding the collapse of the Somoza regime the facts of the case were impossible to confirm. The motivations for Stewart's death are impossible to know but the Nicuraguan government had been vociferous in its' condemnation of the international press which it considered to be overwhelmingly supporting the rebels, illustrated in the film by Nolte's character faking a propaganda photograph on their behalf.
The Sandinistas established a repressive communist regime which dominated all aspects of Nicuraguan society and was regularly condemmned for totalitarianism and human rights abuses. It also began to arm and train communist guerilla groups in neighbouring Honduras, Guatamela and El Salvador which used Nicuragua as a safe haven from which to mount cross border attacks. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the new regime, including some who had previously supported them. They would form their own guerilla army in exile which would become collectively known as the 'Contras' (Counterevolutionaries) and were supported by the US government through the CIA in an attempt to topple the Sandinstas. With the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and withdrawl of support from the Soviet Union the Sandinistas were peacefully swept from power and a democratic government installed, the Contras disbanding and participating in the political process. In 2006 the Sandanista's former leader Daniel Ortega was re-elected president although as a popular socalist rather than a hardline communist leader.
Throughout the early 20th century the US had sustained a series of right-wing dictatorships in Latin America for economic benefit and with the onset of the Cold War in order to counter the spread of Soviet inspired communism throughout the third world, referred to as the 'Domino theory'. From the early 70s Cuban backed left-wing rebels known as the 'Sandanistas' waged a guerilla war against the dictatorship of Anastasio Samoza Debayle resulting in his eventual overthrow in 1979.
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