Nicaragua Table of Contents
The long years of strife between the liberal and conservative political factions and the existence of private armies led the United States to sponsor the National Guard as an apolitical institution to assume all military and police functions in Nicaragua. The marines provided the training, but their efforts were complicated by a guerrilla movement led by Augusto César Sandino that continued to resist the marines and the fledgling National Guard from a stronghold in the mountainous areas of northern Nicaragua.
Upon the advent of the United States Good Neighbor Policy in 1933, the marines withdrew from Nicaragua, but they left behind the best-organized, -trained, and -equipped military force that the country had ever known. Having reached a strength of about 3,000 by the mid-1930s, the guard was organized into company units, although the Presidential Guard component approached battalion size. Expanded to more than 10,000 during the civil war of 1978-79, the guard consisted of a reinforced battalion as its primary tactical unit, a Presidential Guard battalion, a mechanized company, an engineer battalion, artillery and antiaircraft batteries, and one security company in each of the country's sixteen departments.
The National Guard's main arms were rifles and machine guns, later augmented by antiaircraft guns and mortars. Nicaragua declared war on the Axis powers in 1941, immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Although Nicaragua was not actively involved in World War II, it qualified for United States Lend-Lease military aid in exchange for United States base facilities at Corinto on the Pacific coast. Additional shipments of small arms and transportation and communication equipment followed, as well as some training and light transport aircraft. United States military aid to the National Guard continued under the Rio de Janeiro Treaty of Mutual Defense (1947), but stopped in 1976 after relations with the administration of Anastasio Somoza Debayle (1967-72, 1974-79) worsened. Some United States equipment of World War II vintage was also purchased from other countries--Staghound armored cars and M4 Sherman medium tanks from Israel and F-51 Mustang fighter aircraft from Sweden.
Except for minor frontier skirmishes with Honduras in 1957 over a border dispute, the National Guard was not involved in any conflict with its neighbors. In its only mission outside the country, one company participated in the peacekeeping force of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the Dominican Republic in 1965. The guard's domestic power, however, gradually broadened to embrace not only its original internal security and police functions but also control over customs, telecommunications, port facilities, radio broadcasting, the merchant marine, and civil aviation.
Upon the departure of the United States marines in 1933, General Anastasio Somoza García was selected by the presidentelect of Nicaragua as first Nicaraguan commander of the National Guard. Although initially regarded as a malleable compromise candidate, Somoza soon indicated that he would exploit his position as head of the guard to consolidate power in what became the Somoza dynasty (see The Somoza Era, 1936-79 , ch. 1). Through its control of all security, police, and intelligence functions, the guard became far more than simply a military institution. Command of the National Guard always remained in the hands of Somoza family members, and key officers were promoted mainly on the basis of personal loyalty to the ruling family. This loyalty was reinforced through kickbacks, perquisites, and special opportunities for personal gain that led to a pervasive system of corruption. At the time of Anastasio Somoza Garcia's assassination in 1956, his oldest son, Luis Somoza Debayle, became president and his second son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, took over as commander of the National Guard. After the death of Luis Somoza Debayle in 1967, control of the presidency passed to Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
The National Guard's close association with the Somoza family and its instinct for self-preservation through protection of the Somoza dynasty resulted in increasing alienation of large segments of the Nicaraguan population. This alienation was exacerbated by repressive measures and ruthless urban warfare employed by the guard during the last two years of fighting that led to the ouster of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. As a result, many Nicaraguans saw the struggle of the FSLN against the government as an anti-National Guard crusade as well as an anti-Somoza crusade.
Data as of December 1993
Nicaragua Table of Contents