chapter  5
11 Pages

Nicaragua: From Revolutionaries to National Army

The transformation of the armed forces in Nicaragua is perhaps the most profound in Central America. Nicaragua’s military went from being the vanguard of a revolutionary movement that swept aside a 40-year family dynasty to a respected and subordinate institution at the service of the nation. What was widely perceived as a partisan political instrument, posing a threat to constitutional order and liberty, has been transformed into a national military establishment without allegiance to any political faction. Previously denounced by right-wing politicians in the United States as a supporter of regional insurgencies and banned from receiving military assistance, the Nicaraguan military dispatched a small unit to Iraq and now has students in U.S. military schools. Yet the transition is far from complete. Civilian control remains weak, the potential for clashes with neighbors over disputed maritime borders still exists, and mutual suspicions between military and civilian leaders persist. The return to power of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) in 2006 and the subsequent consolidation of power in the hands of President Daniel Ortega has undermined earlier progress and placed civil-military relations on a perilous road. Unlike most Latin Amer ican nations, Nicaragua never had a truly autonomous military institution before the past decade. The military had been the instrument of traditional political parties (prior to the 1920s the Liberals and Conservatives), the creation and supporter of a foreign intervention (the United States from 1926 through 1932), the instrument of a single family (the Somozas until 1979), and the bulwark of a revolutionary regime (the FSLN, from 1979 until the mid1990s). Military command was determined by political loyalties and every effort was made to suppress institutional independence. The pattern was one of partisan political control over the military, not of military control over the political process.1 When the FSLN triumphed in the revolution of 1979, it replaced the National Guard with a new military structure-the Sandinista People’s Army (Ejército Popular Sandinista (EPS)). The EPS became the armed wing of the FSLN. From 1979 until 1990, it was impossible to separate the state, the army, and the party.