Sandinista Popular Army
The Sandinista Popular Army (or People's Army; Ejército Popular Sandinista, EPS) was the military established in 1979 by the new Sandinista government to replace the National Guard, following the overthow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In post-Sandinista Nicaragua, it has been remolded into the National Army of Nicaragua. Joaquín Cuadra was chief of staff, serving Defense Minister Humberto Ortega. A draft, called the Patriotic Military Service (Servicio Militar Patriótico), (SMP) was instituted in 1983. It later became Obligatory Military Service (Servicio Militar Obligatorio) (SMO).The special forces Tropas Pablo Ubeda initially came under the Ministry of Interior and then the BLI'S were Created.
Sandinista Guerrilla Movement, 1961–79
The FSLN was officially founded in Honduras on the symbolic date of July 26, 1961, the eighth anniversary of the launching of the Cuban revolution by Fidel Castro Ruz. The FSLN operated at first in the mountainous region that forms the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. Early successes were few, however, and the hardships and sheer effort of surviving led to discontent and desertions. Between 1970 and 1974, the FSLN struggled to broaden its bases of support by conducting guerrilla operations in the countryside while recruiting new supporters in the cities. Its rural guerrilla tactics were patterned after those of Castro's forces, and FSLN forces were trained in Cuba.
For many observers, the FSLN first became a force to be reckoned with when it executed a spectacular raid and hostagetaking at a reception for the United States ambassador in Managua in December 1974 (see The End of the Anastasio Somoza Debayle Era, ch. 1). The Anastasio Somoza Debayle administration was forced to accede to humiliating FSLN demands for ransom and political freedom for fourteen FSLN prisoners. The National Guard followed with a major counteroffensive that reduced armed resistance in the countryside. The FSLN remained on the defensive until 1977, but the guard's harsh reprisals caused popular feeling to swing even more toward the Sandinistas.
The seizure of the National Palace by a small group of Sandinistas in August 1978 sparked a mass uprising in the following month. The uprising was a turning point in the struggle to overthrow Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The FSLN no longer was fighting alone but rather was organizing and controlling a national insurrection of citizens eager to join the anti-Somoza movement. Hard-core Sandinista guerrillas numbered perhaps 2,000 to 3,000; untrained popular militias and foreign supporters added several thousand more to this total. Although the "first offensive" of September 1978 declined toward the end of the year, fighting did not completely stop. The FSLN mounted its "final offensive" in May 1979, capturing a number of cities in June, and launching a three-pronged assault against Managua in early July. When Anastasio Somoza Debayle, strongly urged by the United States, resigned on July 16 and fled the country, the National Guard collapsed two days later.
Sandinista People's Army, 1979–90
Sandinista ranks had ballooned during the final weeks of the insurrection with the addition of thousands of untrained and undisciplined volunteers. These self-recruits with access to weapons were the source of considerable crime and violence. By late 1979, the situation was clearly deteriorating, as petty crime mounted and some Sandinistas abused their authority for personal gain. To end the chaotic situation, FSLN combatants were regrouped into a conventional army framework. At its core were 1,300 experienced guerrilla fighters. Most of the remainder were members of the popular militias and others who had played some role in the defeat of Somoza. Cuban military personnel helped to set up basic and more advanced training programs and to advise the regional commands. The new army, known as the EPS, was placed under the command of Humberto Ortega, one of the nine FSLN commanders and brother of Daniel José Ortega Saavedra, the Sandinista junta coordinator.
The Sandinistas announced initially that their goal was to build a well-equipped professional military of some 25,000. Their primary missions were to deter attacks led by the United States, prevent a counterrevolutionary uprising, and mobilize internal support for the FSLN. The strength of the EPS increased steadily during the Contra war in the 1980s. At the time the peace accords for the Contra War went into effect in 1990, the EPS's activeduty members numbered more than 80,000. Supplemented by reservists and militia, the Nicaragua armed forces had an overall fighting strength of more than 125,000.
The build up of the regular army depended at first on voluntary enlistments, but later in 1983 a universal conscription system, known as Patriotic Military Service, was adopted. Males between the ages of seventeen and twenty-six were obligated to perform two years of active service followed by two years of reserve status. Service by women remained voluntary. Mandatory conscription was bitterly resented. Thousands of youths fled the country rather than serve in the armed forces, and antidraft protests were widespread. The unpopularity of the draft was believed to have been a large factor in the Sandinista election defeat in 1990.
Inheriting only the battered remnants of the equipment of Somoza's National Guard, the Sandinistas eventually acquired enough Soviet heavy and light tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) to form five armored battalions. The Soviets and their allies delivered large amounts of other equipment, including 122mm and 155mm howitzers, 122mm multiple rocket launchers, trucks, and tank carriers. A mix of infantry weapons employed by the Sandinista guerrillas was gradually replaced by Soviet AK-47 assault rifles in the EPS and eventually among combat elements of the militia as well.
The Sandinistas upgraded the modest air force left by the National Guard after sending personnel to Cuba and East European countries for pilot and mechanic training. The most important acquisitions were Soviet helicopters for battlefield transport and assault missions. Although pilots were trained and runways constructed in preparation for jet fighters, neither the Soviet Union nor France was willing to extend credits for the purchase of modern MiG or Mirage aircraft. The United States warned that the introduction of sophisticated jet fighters would risk retaliatory strikes because of the potential threat to the Panama Canal. Armed patrol craft and small minesweepers replaced the old patrol boats left by the National Guard, to defend against attacks on harbors and shore installations.
Under an agreement between President-elect Chamorro of the National Opposition Union (Unión Nacional Oppositora—UNO) and the defeated FSLN party, General Humberto Ortega, former defense minister and commander in chief of the EPS under the Sandinistas, remained at the head of the armed forces. By a law that took effect in April 1990, the EPS became subordinate to President Chamorro as commander in chief. Chamorro also retained the Ministry of Defense portfolio. Chamorro's authority over the EPS was, however, very limited. There were no Ministry of Defense offices and no vice ministers to shape national defense policies or exercise civilian control over the armed forces. Under the Law of Military Organization of the Sandinista Popular Army enacted just before Chamorro's election victory, Humberto Ortega retained authority over promotions, military construction, and force deployments. He contracted for weapons procurement and drafted the military budget presented to the government. Only an overall budget had to be submitted to the legislature, thus avoiding a line-item review by the National Assembly.
Sandinista officers remained at the head of all general staff directorates and military regions. The chief of the army, Major General Joaquín Cuadra Lacayo, continued in his pre-Chamorro position. Facing domestic pressure to remove Humberto Ortega and the risk of curtailment of United States aid as long as Sandinistas remained in control of the armed forces, Chamorro announced that Ortega would be replaced in 1994. Ortega challenged her authority to relieve him and reiterated his intention to remain at the head of the EPS until the army reform program was completed in 1997.
The army reform measures were launched with deep cuts in personnel strengths, the abolition of conscription, and disbanding of the militia. The size of the army declined from a peak strength of 97,000 troops to an estimated 15,200 in 1993, accomplished by voluntary discharges and forced retirements. Under the Sandinistas, the army general staff embodied numerous branches and directorates—artillery, combat readiness, communications, Frontier Guards, military construction, intelligence, counterintelligence, training, operations, organization and mobilization, personnel, and logistics. Most of these bodies appear to have been retained, although they have been trimmed and reorganized. The air force and navy were also subordinate to the army general staff.
Since 1990 the mission of the EPS has been to ensure the security of the national borders and to deal with internal disturbances. Its primary task has been to prevent disorder and violence wrought by armed bands of former Contra and Sandinista soldiers (see Internal Security, this ch.).
In November and December 1992, the EPS was deployed alongside the National Police to prevent violence during demonstrations by the National Workers' Front for improved pay and benefits. The EPS and the Frontier Guards also assist the police in narcotics control. A small EPS contingent works alongside demobilized Contras in a Special Disarmament Brigade to reduce the arsenal of weapons in civilian hands.
As of 1993, the army's strength was estimated at 13,500 personnel. The EPS is organized into six regional commands and two military departments subordinate to the general staff. The largest unit is a motorized infantry brigade of four battalions. In addition, there are a mechanized infantry battalion and three artillery battalions. The Irregular Warfare Battalions have been reduced to ten infantry companies. A Special Forces battalion has been formed from airborne and Special Forces personnel. Most of these units are neither fully staffed nor adequately equipped.
The army continues to depend on Soviet weapons delivered during the 1980s. Most of these are out-of-date and poorly maintained. The EPS's inventory of armor—heavy and light tanks, APCs, and reconnaissance vehicles—remains large by Central American standards. However, most of the Soviet T-55 tanks are reportedly in storage because of a lack of funds and personnel to maintain them. The PT-76 light tanks form the primary armor of the mechanized infantry battalion. Only about seventy-five APCs and reconnaissance vehicles are operational, and some of the armored weapons have been sold to other Latin American countries.
The army retains a considerable supply of 122mm and 152mm towed artillery pieces and multiple rocket launchers. Twelve of its APCs are mounted with Soviet AT-3 (Sagger) antitank guided missiles. The army retains numerous antitank guns and a stock of Soviet shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile launchers
Irregular Warfare Battalion (Batallón de Lucha Irregular) Recognizing the need for troops trained for counterinsurgency or anti-guerilla warfare, the Sandinistas began deploying BLIs in 1983, Bli's were special troops that operated in a fastlighting mode or for long period of time, these troops were operating in the deeps of Nicaragua dense jungles, Very well trained to adapt in any climate or terrains and expanded their numbers after instituting the draft. BLIs could have from four to nine 120-man companies, but typically numbered around 700–800 men. It was the need of forming this battalions to try to stop the invasion of contras whose base was in Honduras and some in south border of Costa Rica, since the Reagan administration tried to push the Nicaraguan revolution. The Nicaraguan country was forced to defend and prepare the whole country against the attacks of the United States invasion, this is how hundreds of militantes joined or were forced into the militias. BLI's in a simple words were special fierce soldier-commandos that were committed to serve 2 years, others stayed for 8 years of service, gaining high combat experience as non army recorded in the Latin American countries, the heavy history of combats were recorded in the North of Nicaragua were dense mountains and jungles are, journalists from around the world were fascinated to be there to report this war.
Some of these Bli's were between 2 to 8 years of combat experienced soldiers until the contras were disbanded in the period of 1988/1989/1990 . The world was following up the sandinistas-contras war due to a long civil war like none to compare in the Latin American Countries, in both side of the History they were fierce soldiers, mercenaries, sentinels, devils and angels as people from all nations appointed them.
12 BLI'S well armed with heavy fire power were created :
- Farabundo Martí
- Francisco Estrada
- Germán Pomares Ordóñez
- Juan Gregorio Colindres
- Juan Pablo Umanzor
- Miguel Ángel Ortez
- Pedro Altamirano
- Ramón Raudales
- Rufo Marín
- Santos Lopez
- Simón Bolívar
- Sócrates Sandino
Light Hunter Battalions (Batallón Ligero Cazador, BLC). The BLCs were another type of counterinsurgency unit, first deployed in early 1986. They were about half the size of the BLIs, at 300-400 men. While BLIs were designed to be able to operate independently, the light hunters worked in conjunction with other units, providing anti-ambush protection for more conventional forces. Reportedly, about 23 BLCs were raised including the following:
- Carlos Agüero
- Crescencio Rosales
- Cristóbal Vanegas
- Edgar Munguía
- Eduardo Contreras
- Ernesto Cabrera
- Facundo Picado
- Gaspar García Laviana
- Jorge Alberto Martínez
- José Benito Escobar
- Laureano Mairena
- Mario Alemán
- Mauricio Duarte
- Modesto Duarte
- Óscar Benavides
- Óscar Turcios Chavarría
- Pedro Aráuz Palacios
- Ramón Prudencio Serrano
- Reynerio Antonio Tijerino
- Ricardo Morales Avilés
- Rigoberto Cruz
When the Sandinistas assumed control in 1979, the Sandinista Air Force/Air Defense Force (Fuerza Aérea Sandinista/Defensa Anti-Aérea—FAS/DAA) inherited only the remnants of the National Guard's small air force. Equipment included a few AT-33A armed jet trainers, Cessna 337s, and some transports, trainers, and helicopters. The time required to train pilots and construct airfields precluded a rapid FAS/DAA buildup. Beginning in 1982, the Sandinistas received from Libya the Italian-made SF-260A trainer/tactical support aircraft and the Czech L-39 Aero Albatros, a subsonic jet trainer that could be missile-armed for close-in air defense. In addition to light and medium transport aircraft, the air force acquired a fleet of helicopters from the Soviet Union that served as a vital asset in the war against the Contras. They included Mi-8 and Mi-17 transport helicopters and later the Mi-24, followed by its export variant, the Mi-25, a modern armored assault helicopter. After Humberto Ortega revealed that Nicaragua had approached France and the Soviet Union for Mirage or MiG fighter planes, the United States warned against introducing modern combat jets to the region. Although Nicaragua began construction of a new airbase with a longer runway and protective revetments, it did not succeed in acquiring new fighter aircraft.
A series of radar sites were constructed to give the Sandinistas radar coverage over most of Nicaragua, with the added capability of monitoring aircraft movements in neighboring countries. A Soviet-designed early-warning/ground-control intercept facility gave the air force the potential to control its combat aircraft from command elements on the ground.
After 1990 the FAS/DAA was no longer able to maintain its full aircraft inventory without Soviet support. The personnel complement fell from 3,000 in 1990 to 1,200 in 1993. Airbases at Bluefields, Montelimar, Puerto Cabezas, Puerto Sandino, and Managua remained operational. Combat aircraft were reduced to a single mixed squadron of Cessna 337s, L-39s, and SF-260As. However, the serviceability of all these aircraft was doubtful. In 1992 a number of helicopters and six radar units were sold to Peru. A small fleet of helicopters, transports, and utility/training aircraft was retained.
The "navy" of Somoza's National Guard consisted of a few old patrol boats. The Sandinistas acquired more modern vessels, although none was larger than fifty tons. The navy's mission was to discourage seaborne Contra attacks and to deter CIA-run operations such as the destruction of diesel storage facilities at Corinto in 1983 and the mining of Nicaraguan harbors in 1984. The Sandinista navy (Marina de Guerra Sandinista—MGS), which had reached a peak strength of 3,000 personnel in 1990, suffered a sweeping reduction to 800 by 1993.
The commander of the navy is an EPS officer with the rank of major. The principal bases of the MGS are at the ports of Corinto on the Pacific and Puerto Cabezas on the Caribbean. Other installations are at El Bluff near Bluefields and San Juan del Sur on the Pacific.
The Sandinistas had acquired eight Soviet minesweeping boats, of which seven remained in 1993, but none is known to be in operating condition. Three Soviet Zhuk-class patrol boats are believed to be seaworthy, out of seven that remained at the end of 1990. Also believed to be operational are three North Korean fast patrol boats as well as two Vedette-type boats built in France and armed with Soviet 14.2mm machine guns.
Sandinista People's Militia
Following the example of Cuba, the Nicaraguan government established the Sandinista People's Militia (Milicia Popular Sandinista—MPS) to augment the regular troops and to gain the services of enthusiastic supporters of the revolution who could not be accommodated in the EPS. The militia represented both a massive political mobilization and the primary means of defending the countryside against the forces of the Nicaraguan Resistance. Individual militias received weekend training in basic infantry weapons and were assigned as guards in sensitive installations or as neighborhood night watches. A typical militia battalion of 700 persons consisted of five infantry companies and various support units.
The principal weapons of the MPS were older-model rifles and machine guns and mortars. Militia members displaying aptitude during weekend training sessions were selected for several months of full-time training, followed by up to six months of service in the field. During 1982 and 1983, the militia had primary responsibility for border defense and thus sustained heavy casualties, while the regular army was concentrated at permanent bases. After the installation of the draft in 1983 enabled the EPS to widen its operations, the main function of the mobilized militia became the protection of rural communities. The FSLN claimed that 250,000 persons had received some form of military training, of whom 100,000 were mobilized in active units.
Before Anastasio Somoza Debayle's overthrow, women had constituted up to 40 percent of the ranks of the FSLN and 6 percent of the officers. Six women held the rank of guerrilla commander in the late 1970s. After the Sandinista victory, however, women were gradually shifted to noncombatant roles or to the Sandinista Police. Many women fighters resisted the redeployment, and their role became a national issue. As a compromise, seven all-women reserve battalions were formed, but these were gradually converted into mixed battalions. Women's mobilization continued in other forms. Women constituted 50 percent of the Sandinista Defense Committees organized in the neighborhoods and up to 80 percent of Revolutionary Vigilance volunteers, who carried out nighttime patrols in urban neighborhoods and at industrial sites.