Our Own Backyard

The United States in Central America, 1977-1992

By William M. LeoGrande

792 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4857-9
    Published: February 2000
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-9880-2
    Published: November 2009

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Awards & distinctions

A Washington Post Book World Pick of the Fall Crop

A 1999 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

In this remarkable and engaging book, William LeoGrande offers the first comprehensive history of U.S. foreign policy toward Central America in the waning years of the Cold War. From the overthrow of the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua and the outbreak of El Salvador's civil war in the late 1970s to the final regional peace settlements negotiated a decade later, he chronicles the dramatic struggles--in Washington and Central America--that shaped the region's destiny.

For good or ill, LeoGrande argues, Central America's fate hinged on decisions that were subject to intense struggles among, and within, Congress, the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House--decisions over which Central Americans themselves had little influence. Like the domestic turmoil unleashed by Vietnam, he says, the struggle over Central America was so divisive that it damaged the fabric of democratic politics at home. It inflamed the tug-of-war between Congress and the executive branch over control of foreign policy and ultimately led to the Iran-contra affair, the nation's most serious political crisis since Watergate.

About the Author

William M. LeoGrande is professor of government at American University. A specialist in Latin American politics and U.S. foreign policy, he has been a frequent adviser to the government and private foundations and has served on committee staffs in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
For more information about William M. LeoGrande, visit the Author Page.


"Compelling and elegantly written. . . . [LeoGrande] has risen above partisanship to produce a book central to any historical evaluation of those troubled times."--Foreign Affairs

"A masterly and comprehensive chronicle of U.S. policy toward Central America in the 1980s. . . . Our Own Backyard makes the reader squirm as it dredges up memories of dishonest arguments concerning the unsavory friends with whom the United States allied itself and the equally nasty enemies against whom it fought by proxy in El Salvador and Nicaragua. . . . The definitive account of America's part in that murderous conflict."--Atlantic Monthly

"LeoGrande's copious study is . . . skillful and accessible. He takes the reader confidently through a complex, often tortuous story, starting with the Carter Administration's paralyzing uncertainty about how to respond to the fall of the Nicaraguan President, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, through the bitter Washington battles over human rights in El Salvador and aid to the Nicaraguan contras, to the Iran-contra affair and ultimately the 1990 Nicaraguan elections that ended Sandinista rule. Throughout, the analysis is thorough and clear."--New York Times Book Review

"Full of unorthodox, original perspectives, LeoGrande's clearly written, magisterial study holds timely post-Cold War lessons that transcend the Central American setting."--Publishers Weekly

"[LeoGrande] offers the most compelling and authoritative account to date of the United States' involvement in Central America from the Carter administration to that of George H.W. Bush. . . . This is a fascinating and thorough study--easily one of the most authoritative studies of U.S.-Latin American relations and the twentieth century."--Historian

"An eminently clear, accessible and restrained account of a lamentable phase in US-Latin American relations. It will undoubtedly be an indispensable work of reference for many years to come."--International Affairs