Country Listing

Nicaragua Table of Contents



An end to war-related violence in 1990 brought a brief period of conciliation between the competing political factions in Nicaragua. That year, the last 1,000 persons detained in connection with the Contra conflict were released. That action followed the release in 1988 and 1989 of some 2,800 members of the National Guard and others held by the Sandinista government on security-related grounds.

Frequent episodes of political violence continue to plague the heavily polarized Nicaraguan society. Clashes resulting in bloodshed are often the outgrowth of demonstrations and protests in areas of the country where Chamorro's strength is greatest or in border areas where support for the Contras has been strong. Disputes over resettlement and land title have brought violent confrontations in many rural areas. By invading government-owned cooperatives both ex-Contras and former EPS soldiers have attempted to regain land that had been expropriated from the Somozas. The assassination of former Contra leader Enrique Bermúdez Varela in February 1991, followed by an inept police investigation and the failure to identify any suspects, has undermined confidence in the ability of the government and the security forces to maintain order.

The Contra war left Nicaragua bitterly divided and heavily armed. An estimated 25,000 to 100,000 weapons remain in civilian hands. By mid-1991, some demobilized Contras had begun to rearm in small groups. These Recontras, as they were called, carried out numerous raids, originally intended to pressure the government into honoring its promises of jobs, farms, and credit for land purchases and to bring about an end to harassment by police and security forces. The Recontras' actions included kidnappings of Sandinistas for ransom and attacks on members of farm cooperatives. In 1993 the United States Department of State described their activities as principally criminal, with political overtones (see The Ex-Contras and Recontras , ch. 4).

The best known of the Recontra groups is Northern Front 3-80 (Frente Norte 3-80), whose strength in 1993 was estimated at 1,400. The Recontra guerrillas survive because of support from sympathetic local peasants in mountainous areas north of Managua where police and army patrols rarely venture. They also receive some financial help from conservative Nicaraguan and anti-Castro Cuban groups in Miami.

A number of armed bands composed of dismissed members of the EPS call themselves Recompas, a name taken from compañeros, the term by which Sandinista soldiers referred to one another. The main Recompa group is the Revolutionary Front of Workers and Peasants (Frente Revolucionario de Obreros y Campesinos--FROC). In July 1993, FROC gained control of the northern town of Estelí, reportedly looting some US$4 million from banks and shops before regular army troops drove them out, incurring numerous civilian casualties. A month later, a large government delegation that had been invited to discuss an amnesty offer was taken hostage by Northern Front 3-80. In retaliation, pro-Sandinista gunmen kidnapped thirty-four UNO government officials, including the country's vice president, who were meeting in Managua. Following intense negotiations, both sides released their hostages.

The grievances against the government by Recontras and Recompas are similar in many ways. Although the predecessor organizations of both groups fought each other in the 1980s, the Recontras and Recompas have, for the most part, avoided violent confrontations with each other in the 1990s. An amnesty proclaimed by the National Assembly in 1993 resulted in the surrender of large numbers of personnel from both rebel groups, leaving some 600 from each side still in the field.

Data as of December 1993