Documents on the Nicaraguan Resistance/Document 3

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Documents on the Nicaraguan Resistance
United States Department of State • Bureau of Public Affairs
Office of Public Communication • Editorial Division
Document 3: Letter from Assistant Secretary Abrams to Senator Pell, March 11, 1986 by Elliott Abrams
244254Documents on the Nicaraguan Resistance — Document 3: Letter from Assistant Secretary Abrams to Senator Pell, March 11, 1986Elliott Abrams

Document 3

Letter from Assistant Secretary Abrams to Senator Pell, March 14, 1986

Dear Senator Pell:

I agree fully that accurate information on the military leaders of the FDN is important to the debate over U.S. policy in Central America. I welcome the opportunity to answer your questions of March 4.

Let me first say, however, that our identifying 41 out of 153 members of the FDN senior personnel as former Guardsmen does not confirm the principal contention of the April 1985 Caucus staff report that the FDN "army is organized and commanded by former National Guardsmen."

Allowing for growth and force expansion, but counting the positions performing the same functions the Caucus report used to base its claim that 46 out of 48 were former Guardsmen, we found 29 former Guards out of 82 individuals whose backgrounds were identified. Thirty-five per cent is not the same as 96 per cent.

Who are the almost two thirds of the FDN's military leaders who are not former Guardsmen? In response to your inquiries, I am enclosing a list [see Document 6] of Senior FDN military personnel. It identifies their positions and their previous occupations, including discrepancies when they have come to our attention. It shows that a majority are civilians, that they come from both urban and rural backgrounds, and that many previously served in Sandinista army or militia units.

This brings me to a second key point: the resistance forces have grown steadily since 1982. This means that more people now joining were previously with the Sandinistas than with the Guard, which ceased to exist more than six years ago. It also means that the FDN's organization and components are themselves constantly changing. For example, the Jorge Salazar Regional Command began in 1983 as a task force of some 250 men operating in northern Nicaragua. It was effective, it attracted ralliers and grew. It became a regional command. It continued to grow. By November 1985 it had become an operational command with three regional commands and ten task forces; the initial force of 250 fighters had grown to nearly 5,000.

These remarkable increases in fighters and combat units have had a direct impact on the headquarters staff and services their operations require. The Nicaraguan resistance is not a conventional army. It is an irregular army of volunteers, and volunteers follow who they want to follow. Operating in the field against larger Cuban-trained and advised forces, FDN units must of necessity be led by individual commanders who can inspire a following. And the headquarters must not only link these men and the troops they control to each other, it must also act as a link between them and the political leadership in the FDN directorate and now beyond the FDN in UNO. No single component can be said to dominate the resistance movement; all elements must be taken into account.


Answers to your specific questions follow.

(1) Who served on the ten-member General Staff referred to in Ambassador Motley's letter last April, and who now holds their title or duty?

Ambassador Motley's letter, like the Caucus report, used "general staff" as short-hand for senior headquarters positions. In its early days, the FDN did have an entity called a "General Staff", but it was dissolved in January 1984 as part of a political and military restructuring. The Strategic Command and a variety of specialized services were developed to coordinate as coherently as possible the actions undertaken in the field by the growing number of individual units.

As I noted in my letter to Senator Lugar, a count of the senior headquarters leadership today is not complete unless it includes "all members of the strategic and civil-military commands, all operational commanders, and all chiefs of support services." As of the November 1985 survey, this came to a total of 23 positions. The positions and the 21 individuals occupying them are identified in the enclosed list of FDN military personnel.

(2) Are nine of the ten-member General Staff still, as Ambassador Motley confirmed in the letter, former members of the National Guard?

No. As noted above, there is no "General Staff." Of the 21 individuals in senior headquarters positions as of last November, 12 (including Bermudez) once served in the Guard. A former Sandinista Army officer and eight civilians from professional or technical backgrounds held the other nine positions.

As noted in the enclosed list, one former guardsman has been replaced by a civilian since November.

(3) Is Walter "Tono " Calderon Lopez coordinating the regional commands as commander of theater operations?

No. There is no "commander of theater operations". The growth of the FDN forces has been such that no one person coordinates all regional commands. Walter Calderon Lopez, "Tono", still heads the Tactical Operations Command (TOC). But three other commands now operate independently of the TOC and at the same hierarchical level: Operational Command Rafaela Herrera (commanded by a former Lieutenant in the Sandinista armed forces, Encarnacion Baldivia Chavarria, "Tigrillo"); Operational Command Diriangen; and Operational Command Jorge Salazar.

(4) Is "El Venado" serving as G-1, General Staff Commander for personnel?

With the understanding that there is no "General Staff," yes. Harlie Duarte Pichardo, "Venado", is the assistant for personnel in the Strategic Command.

(5) Is "El Toro" serving as G-2 General Staff commander for personnel?

No. I presume question meant to refer to intelligence, which is where the Caucus report located him, and not personnel, covered in question 4 above. The Strategic Command assistant for intelligence is Rodolfo Ampie Quiroz, "Invisible". Donald Torres, "Toro", is in charge of counterintelligence.

(6) Is "Mike Lima" serving as G-3, General Staff commander for operations?

Yes, subject to the same qualifications noted above. The Strategic Command assistant for operations is Luis Moreno Payan, "Mike Lima." Denis Pineda Carcamo, " Benny", was listed in this position in November.

(7) Is Armando "El Policia" Lopez serving as G-4, General Staff commander for logistics?

No. The Strategic Command assistant for logistics is Carlos Jose Guillen Salinas, "Gustavo Pajarito", a former medical student. Armando Lopez, "Policia", left this position last December, and now carries out other logistics functions.

(8) Is "El Invisible" serving as G-5, General Staff commander for logistics?

No. Logistics was dealt with in question 7. I presume this question was meant to refer to "psychological warfare," which is where the Caucus report listed "Invisible". No position was so designated in the November survey. Today, Rodolfo Ampie Quiroz, "Invisible", is Strategic Command assistant for intelligence and commander of a task force.

(9) Is Juan Gomez serving as commander of air operations?

Yes. Juan Gomez, "Juanillo", is the FDN's senior pilot, and is often referred to as head of air operations.

(10) What is the current role in the FDN and whereabouts of Ricardo Lau, who press reports placed in contra camps as recently as last month?

Ricardo Lau, "Chino Lau", left the FDN more than a year and a half ago. He is said to reside in Guatemala. We have no information on his presence in FDN areas this year.

(11) Who commands the 14 regional commands cited in your letter to Senator Lugar, and what is the name of each command?

See enclosed list.

(12) Who commands the 52 task forces cited in your letter to Senator Lugar, and what is the name of each task force?

See enclosed list.

(13) Who are the roughly 75 individuals tabulated in your letter to Senator Lugar who are neither General Staff, regional commanders or task force commanders, and what are their specific duties?

See enclosed list.

(14) What are the positions and who are the occupants of the leadership posts referred to in the chart entitled "Background of FDN Military Leaders: Late 1985" that accompanied Secretary Shultz's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 27?

The chart is based on Table I in my letter to Senator Lugar.


Let me conclude with two final thoughts on the military and the political aspects of the war in Nicaragua.

The first is that, despite internal shortcomings and the steady growth of the Sandinista armed forces and internal security units in numbers, operational capability, and weaponry, the resistance is militarily viable.

Keeping together some 20,000 fighters is in itself not a small achievement given existing conditions inside and outside Nicaragua. Over the past several years, between one-third and one-half of these fighters have been operating inside Nicaragua at any given time.

The UNO/FDN forces can be considered the "cutting edge" of a broader national resistance movement. This broader movement includes such organizations as:

  • UNO/FARN under the leadership of Fernando "El Negro" Chamorro operate small units in the Northern Rio San Juan and Southern Zelaya;
  • Sandino Revolutionary Front (ARDE/FRS), under the leadership of Eden Pastora, also operates along the southern region of Nicaragua; and
  • UNO/KISAN and MISURASATA Miskito and independent Creole fighters operate from Northern Zelaya to North of Bluefields along the Atlantic Coast .

By 1985 armed resistance forces were engaging in military operations in more than half of Nicaragua's 16 departments. Comparing the areas in which resistance forces operated in 1982–83 with those in which they have been active since 1984–85 reveals a steady expansion, from hit-and-run raids primarily concentrated along the northern Nicaraguan border to multi-taskforce operations in such departments as Matagalpa, Boaco and Chontales in central Nicaragua, including the lengthy presence of some 1500 members of the Jorge Salazar Command in southern Zelaya and along the Rama Road. Some of these areas are as much as 45 days' march from the Honduran border.

While non-FDN forces remain small and are largely organized into small tactical units of 40–70 men, they do continue to make their presence known. The military leaders of these groups are either former Sandinistas or independents. Like the experience within the FDN itself, where former Guardsmen and former Sandinistas fight side by side, the former Sandinistas in these non-FDN forces are increasing their coordination with the FDN in the strengthened political framework of cooperation with UNO.

For a movement some have declared ineffective , defeated, or even dead, the Nicaraguan resistance is displaying a resiliency that is given little recognition by anyone but the Sandinistas.

This brings me to my final point. The United States supports all the major groups in opposition to the Sandinista dictatorship. Our only conditions are that any group we support subscribe to democratic principles, that it respect internationally-accepted standards of conduct and refrain from criminal activity, and that it cooperate with other like-minded groups. In this regard, I am enclosing for your convenient reference a copy of UNO's Declaration of Principles and Objectives, signed in Caracas, Venezuela, on January 22, 1986.

As I wrote Senator Lugar, the people of Nicaragua and the resistance forces are struggling for a future of freedom and peace, and they deserve our support.

Elliott Abrams