Boland Amendment

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The Boland Amendment is a term describing three U.S. legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984, all aimed at limiting U.S. government assistance to the Contras in Nicaragua. The first Boland Amendment was part of the House Appropriations Bill of 1982, which was attached as a rider to the Defense Appropriations Act of 1983, named for the Massachusetts Democrat, Representative Edward Boland, who authored it. The House of Representatives passed the Defense Appropriations Act 411–0 on December 8, 1982, and it was signed by President Ronald Reagan on December 21, 1982.[1] The amendment outlawed U.S. assistance to the Contras for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, while allowing assistance for other purposes.[2]

Beyond restricting overt U.S. support of the Contras, the most significant effect of the Boland Amendment was the Iran–Contra affair, during which the Reagan Administration circumvented the Amendment, without consent of Congress, in order to continue supplying arms to the Contras.


During the early years of the Reagan administration, a civil war raged in Nicaragua, pitting the revolutionary Sandinista government against Contra rebel groups. After the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) carried out a series of acts of sabotage without Congressional intelligence committees being made aware beforehand, the Boland Amendment was passed by Congress, cutting off appropriated funding for the Contras. Prior to its passage, an earlier amendment proposed by Tom Harkin that would have disallowed all funding for Contra efforts had failed to pass.

The Boland Amendment, proposed by Edward Boland, was a highly limited ambiguous compromise because the Democrats did not have enough votes for a comprehensive ban. The Amendment gained traction due to a widespread opposition among the American public to funding the Contras: Holly Sklar pegs public opposition to Contra funding at the time of Reagan's re-election at a consistent "trend of two to one."[citation needed] It covered only appropriated funds spent by intelligence agencies (such as the CIA). Some of Reagan's national security officials used non-appropriated money spent by the National Security Council (NSC) to circumvent the Amendment. No court ever made a determination whether Boland covered the NSC and, because the law was a prohibition rather than a criminal statute, no one could be indicted for violating it. Opponents alleged that the White House violated the amendment. Congress later resumed aid to the Contras, totaling over $300 million. The Sandinistas were voted out of power in 1990, and voted back in 16 years later in 2006.

The Boland Amendment prohibited the federal government from providing military support "for the purpose of overthrowing the Government of Nicaragua." It aimed to prevent CIA funding of rebels opposed to the revolutionary provisional junta. The Amendment sought to block Reagan administration support for the Contra rebels. The amendment was narrowly interpreted by the Reagan administration to apply to only U.S. intelligence agencies, allowing the National Security Council (NSC), which is not labeled an intelligence agency, to channel funds to the Contra rebels. To block the funding through the NSC, the amendment was changed to prohibit any funds for military or paramilitary operations.[3][4]

Administration officials argued that the Boland Amendment, or any act of Congress would not interfere with the president's conduct of foreign policy by restricting funds, as the president could seek funds from private entities or foreign governments.[5] In this spirit, and despite the Boland Amendment, Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter, USN, and his deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, USMC, secretly diverted to the Nicaraguan contras millions of dollars in funds received from a secret deal that some alleged had explicit presidential approval – the sales of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Iran in spite of Reagan's public pledge not to deal with terrorists. In November 1986, a pro-Syrian newspaper in Lebanon revealed the secret deal to the world.[6] This came as Democrats won back control of the Senate in the 1986 elections. In public hearings of a joint House–Senate committee convened for purposes of investigating the affair, Democrats sought to prosecute LtCol North for his role. The final report published after the hearings blamed Reagan's passive style of leadership for allowing the conduct of foreign policy without involvement of any elected official. Elections in Nicaragua subsequently ousted the Sandinistas from power; later elections brought them back into power.

Legislature chronology[edit]

A chronology from John Negroponte.[7]

In December 1982 H.J.RES.631 became public law 97-377 making further continuing appropriations for the fiscal year 1983. The amendment S.UP.AMDT.1542[permanent dead link] by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, which aimed to prohibit the use of funds by the CIA or DOD to support military activities in Nicaragua, fell. Amendment S.UP.AMDT.1541[permanent dead link] by Senator Christopher J. Dodd "to declare Congressional support for restrictions on certain types of operations in Central America" was tabled.

But H.R.7355[permanent dead link] made appropriations for the Department of Defense and amendment H.AMDT.974[permanent dead link] to it by Representative Edward P. Boland passed with a recorded vote of 411–0 to prohibit the CIA or Defense Department to use the funds of the bill for military purposes in Nicaragua.

In December 1983, for the fiscal year 1984, H.R.4185[permanent dead link], sponsored by Representative Joseph P. Addabbo, which became public law 98-212, and H.R.2968[permanent dead link], sponsored by Boland, which became public law 98-215 limited the amount to be spent for military purposes in Nicaragua. Amendment H.AMDT.461[permanent dead link] by Boland to H.R. 2968 prohibited covert assistance for military operations in Nicaragua.

In December 1984, for fiscal year 1985, H.J.RES.648[permanent dead link], became public law 98-473, and prohibited funds available to the CIA and the DOD from being used in Nicaragua for military purposes.

In December 1985, for fiscal year 1986, S.960[permanent dead link] became public law 99-83 and also excluded military use for funds to be spent in Nicaragua.

Congressional Research Service[edit]

"In 1984, controversy over U.S. assistance to the opponents of the Nicaraguan government (the anti-Sandinista guerrillas known as the “contras”) led to a prohibition on such assistance in a continuing appropriations bill. This legislative ban is summarized below.

The continuing appropriations resolution for FY1985, P.L. 98-473, 98 Stat. 1935–1937, signed October 12, 1984, provided that: "During fiscal year 1985, no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose or which would have the effect of supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization, movement or individual." This legislation also provided that after February 28, 1985, if the President made a report to Congress specifying certain criteria, including the need to provide further assistance for "military or paramilitary operations" prohibited by this statute, he could expend $14 million in funds if Congress passed a joint resolution approving such action."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Congressional Limitations and Requirements for Military Deployments and Funding
  2. ^ Riesenfeld, Stefan A. (January 1987). "The Powers of Congress and the President in International Relations: Revisited". California Law Review. California Law Review, Inc. 75 (1): 405–414. doi:10.2307/3480586. JSTOR 3480586. The Boland Amendment was part of the Joint Resolution of December 21, 1982, providing further continuing appropriations for the fiscal year 1983
  3. ^ "The Truth is Stranger than Fiction". University of Sydney. Archived from the original on 2006-12-31.
  4. ^ Theodore Draper. A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affair. New York: Hill and Wang. pp. 17–27, 51.
  5. ^ Louis Fisher (October 1989). "How Tightly Can Congress Draw the Purse Strings?". American Journal of International Law. American Society of International Law. 83 (4): 758–766. doi:10.2307/2203364. JSTOR 2203364. S2CID 147213452.
  6. ^ "أرشيف مجلة "الشراع" اللبنانية: نص مقال حسن صبرا عن "إيران – غيت" (3/ 11/ 1986): بين منطق الدولة ومنطق الثورة – هذا ما جرى في طهران".
  7. ^ John Negroponte Nomination: Senate Confirmation Hearings, Debates, Press, Links Archived March 24, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Congressional Research Service, Congressional Use of Funding Cutoffs Since 1970 Involving U.S. Military Forces and Overseas Deployments, January 10, 2001, pg. 6. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2015-04-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]