Country Listing

Nicaragua Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security


Members of the Sandinista People's Army, Nicaragua's national army

FREE ELECTIONS IN NICARAGUA in 1990 ended eleven years of government by the Marxist Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional--FSLN), but under the new government, the Sandinista People's Army (Ejército Popular Sandinista--EPS) is still controlled by the FSLN. The commanding general of the EPS, Humberto Ortega Saavedra, and his general staff function independently of civilian authority, although President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro is nominally commander in chief and minister of defense.

Under the Sandinista (see Glossary) administration, the EPS had grown from a force of a few thousand guerrillas to an army that at its peak had a strength of 97,000 troops, augmented by militia and reserve forces, bringing the number of total activeduty personnel to 134,000. Since the restoration of peace, the armed forces have undergone comprehensive reform. Their strength was cut back to 15,200 in 1993, the militia has been disbanded, and obligatory military service has been terminated. Armor and heavy weapons supplied by the Soviet Union and its allies had enabled the Sandinistas to field the most powerful army in Central America. Although some of these items have been sold, Soviet weaponry still predominates in the inventory of the depleted army. However, much of it is not in service because of lack of maintenance, money, and personnel to operate it.

The conclusion of the civil war in 1990 was accompanied by the demobilization of some 22,000 Contra (see Glossary) fighters of the Nicaraguan Resistance. Nevertheless, violence in the heavily armed society remains commonplace. The Chamorro government has failed to make good on its promises of land and credits to the former Contras to facilitate their reintegration into Nicaraguan society. Several thousand of them--known as Recontras--have formed armed bands in rural areas. Their targets are often local Sandinista officials and Sandinista farm cooperatives. Disgruntled veterans of the EPS, known as Recompas, have formed similar groups in protest against the government's failure to relieve their economic distress.

Government amnesties offered during 1993 have reduced the number of Recontras and Recompas threatening the countryside. Political murders and kidnappings remain serious threats in the polarized society, however, although the level of violence has eased somewhat since the years immediately after the civil war. The National Police and the criminal justice system are not effective in arresting and convicting persons responsible for the lawlessness. Harassment of former resistance members by local security forces is a source of friction, but few such crimes by the EPS or police result in any punishment. Under pressure from domestic and international critics, Chamorro has removed a number of high police officials to reduce Sandinista control over law enforcement, has replaced many Sandinista judges in the judicial system, and has sought to gain control over the state security apparatus, which had been the principal source of human rights abuse during the Sandinista era.

Data as of December 1993