Documents on the Nicaraguan Resistance/Document 1

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Documents on the Nicaraguan Resistance
United States Department of State • Bureau of Public Affairs
Office of Public Communication • Editorial Division
Document 1: Letter from Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Elliott Abrams to Senator Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, February 24, 1986 by Elliott Abrams
244258Documents on the Nicaraguan Resistance — Document 1: Letter from Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Elliott Abrams to Senator Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, February 24, 1986Elliott Abrams

Document 1

Letter from Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Elliott Abrams to Senator Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, February 24, 1986

February 24, 1986

Dear Mr. Chairman:

You asked about the allegation that the Nicaraguan resistance consists of, or is led by, supporters of the late dictator Anastasio Somoza. We have reviewed the facts carefully and conclude that this charge is incorrect and misleading.

The leaders of the main resistance organization, the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), are Adolfo Calero,

Background of Senior
FDN Military Personnel,
November 1985

Background of Senior FDN Military Personnel, Novembere1985
Background of Senior FDN Military Personnel, Novembere1985
Total Civilian 53%
Total National Guard 27%
Total Sandinista 20%
Source: Document I, Table 1

Arturo Cruz, and Alfonso Robelo. All three actively opposed Somoza while he was still in power. Calero was jailed by Somoza; first Robelo then Cruz became Junta members with the Sandinistas.

The largest guerrilla forces belong to the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), headed by Calero since 1983. Other important resistance organizations include ARDE, built by Robelo and former Sandinista Comandante Eden Pastora, and MISURASATA and KISAN guerrillas active among the Indians of the Atlantic Coast.

We expect the UNO coalition to continue to broaden, both inside and outside of Nicaragua, but UNO is already far more representative of the wishes of the Nicaraguan people than Somoza ever was or than the Sandinistas are today.

Resistance fighters are overwhelmingly rural youths. Most are between 18 and 22 years old; when Somoza fell in 1979, they were in their early teens. They fight today in response to Sandinista attempts to control their farming, their churches, and in some cases their indigenous cultures. Many joined the resistance in preference to being drafted to fight for the Sandinistas against their friends and neighbors. In defending their families and communities, these young Nicaraguans are fighting for self-determination above all else. Their struggle is not on behalf of the old dictatorship—it is against the new dictatorship armed by Cuba and the Soviet Union.

The commanders are older than their troops (most are 25–35) , are more likely to come from urban areas, and have more diverse occupations and backgrounds. They include both former National Guardsmen and former Sandinista fighters, but most are civilians from the very groups the Sandinistas claim to represent: peasants, small-farmers, urban professionals, and students . One was a primary school teacher; another. an evangelical pastor. Even in the FDN, which has the largest number of former military professionals, less than half the commanders have prior military experience, either in the National Guard under Somoza or in the army, militia, or security services under the Sandinistas.

We have obtained information on the backgrounds of all senior FDN military leaders, including the incumbents of every position from the civil-military command down to task force deputy commander or executive officer. The results, based on a November 1985 survey, are summarized in Table I, below. Allowing for casualties, transfers, and other personnel changes, we believe that this general pattern holds today.


KISAN—Nicaraguan East Coast Indian Unity

UNO—United Nicaraguan Opposition

FDN—Nicaraguan Democratic Forces

FRS—Sandino Revolutionary Front

MDN—Nicaraguan Democratic Movement

ARDE—Democratic Revolutionary Alliance

FARN—Nicaraguan Revolutionary Armed Force

MISURASATA—Miskito, Sumo, Rama, and Sandinista Unity

MISURA—Miskito, Sumo, and Rama

EPS—Sandinista Popular Army

MPS—Sandinista Popular Militia

Table I
Prior Occupations of Senior FDN
Military Leaders
Civilian 78
Professionals or urban employees 39
Peasants or small farmers 34
Students 5
Military 71
National Guard 41
Officers 23
Soldiers 18
Sandinista army, militia, or security services 30
Officers 8
Soldiers 22
No information available 4

While accepting that most FDN fighters are peasants, a report prepared last year for the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus (Who are the Contras?, April 18, 1985) claimed that the FDN "army is organized and commanded by former National Guardsmen." This allegation, though false, has become almost an article of faith for many who oppose U.S. support for the Nicaraguan resistance.

The Caucus staff claimed that "46 of the 48 positions in the FDN's command structure are held by former Guardsmen." "[A]ll but one of the 12 top central staff" and "five out of six regional commanders, and all 30 task force commanders" were said to be Guardsmen.

The Caucus staff is correct in identifying the FDN's military commander, Enrique Bermudez, as a former Guard officer. It is also correct in describing the FDN's regional and task force commanders as "the key military field leaders." But the report's overall figures and conclusions are incorrect.

The FDN has 14 regional commands (each has roughly 800 combatants organized into 2 to 4 task forces). At the time of the survey, the FDN had 52 task forces or equivalent commands (task forces have from 60 to 700 members). Tables II and III show the backgrounds of the regional and task force commanders. They are based on the same data as Table I.

Table II
Prior Occupations of FDN
Regional Commanders
Sandinista Soldiers 6
National Guard Soldiers 2
Peasants or Small Farmers 2
National Guard Officer 1
Civilian Medical Doctor 1
Evangelical Pastor 1
Student 1

Rather than 5 of 6 regional commanders being former Guard members as asserted in the Caucus report, we find 3 of 14.

Table III
Prior Occupations of Commanders of FDN
Task Forces or Equivalent Commands
Peasants or Small Farmers 19
National Guard 14
Officers 5
Soldiers 13
Sandinista Army or Militia 13
Officers 4
Soldiers 9
Medical Student 1
No Information 4
Vacant 1

Whereas the Caucus report claimed that 30 out of 30 task force commanders were former Guardsmen, we find that 14 out of 47 did have prior Guard service, but that 33, more than twice as many, never served in the Guard in any capacity.

FDN headquarters links the strong willed and independent field commanders who control the troops with the UNO political leadership. The Caucus claim of 11 former Guardsmen in 12 top positions omitted several positions held by persons who were not former Guardsmen. A complete count must include all members of the strategic and civil-military commands, all operational commanders, and all chiefs of support services. Of the 21 individuals in these positions late last year, 12 (including Bermudez) once served in the Guard. A former Sandinista Army officer and eight civilians from professional or tech

nical backgrounds held the other key positions.

As noted above, it is true that the FDN's military commander was in the National Guard. But it is wrong to call Enrique Bermudez a backer of Somoza. Somoza had him posted out of Nicaragua during the last three years of his regime. Not even the Sandinistas accused Bermudez of human rights abuses under Somoza. In 1979, Somoza rejected a Carter Administration suggestion that Bermudez, then a colonel, might assume command of the National Guard after Somoza's departure.

The presence in the resistance of men like Bermudez seems unobjectionable unless one is seeking to deny to the resistance the services of all former Guardsmen simply because they once served in the Guard. That is a standard not followed by the Sandinistas themselves, who have used former Guardsmen together with Cuban, Soviet and other foreign advisors and technicians to consolidate their power on the basis of a pervasive military security apparatus.


The Sandinista armed forces are the largest and best equipped in the history of Central America. They are at least six times larger than the armed forces of any of the Somozas at their height.

Although the Sandinistas frequently portray themselves as nationalists, their soldiers are trained and supported in combat by thousands of Cubans and other foreigners known as "internationalists." When Daniel Ortega spoke in Havana on February 5 to the Congress of the Cuban Communist Party about "the blood of Cuban internationalists fallen on Nicaraguan ground," he was talking about Cubans killed fighting Nicaraguans inside Nicaragua.

Resistance to the Sandinistas and to their Cuban and other foreign allies is eroding past differences and gradually forging a new national coalition similar to the one that rose up against Somoza. In the early days, who fought with whom typically depended on relationships that went back to the Somoza era. When Pastora, for example, first took up arms against his former comrades, he refused to have anything to do with former Guardsmen or with anyone else who had not been actively Sandinista at least for a time. The increased coordination within UNO between ARDE commanders associated with Pastora and FDN commanders also operating on the southern front is therefore a significant change.

More must be done to improve the human rights performance of the armed resistance (UNO has begun a program one of whose objectives is to assign at least one fully trained person in human rights to every task force). More must be done politically to develop, articulate, and coordinate the programs of the armed resistance with those of the civil opposition.

Sandinista abuses have aroused entire sectors of the population. Some FDN units are made up of men from the same cluster of villages or the same department. Other units reflect a new Nicaraguan nationalism: Four of the fourteen regional commands have among their commanders both former Guard and former Sandinista military personnel. In three of the four, former Sandinista military personnel outrank (and hence give orders to) former Guardsmen.

To continue to associate Nicaragua's resistance forces with Somoza is patently misleading. Somoza is dead. The Central American dictatorships associated with Somoza have all given way to elected governments committed to democracy. Today, the only Central American President who wears a military uniform is the Sandinista president of Nicaragua.

We join with the Nicaraguan democratic resistance forces and the people of Nicaragua in our commitment to a democratic outcome for that country. The people of Nicaragua and the resistance forces are struggling for a future of freedom and peace, and they deserve our support .

Elliott Abrams