Nicaraguan Armed Forces
Fuerzas Armadas de Nicaragua (Spanish)
MottoPatria y Libertad (English: "Fatherland and Freedom")
Founded1925; 99 years ago (1925) (as National Guard)
2 September 1979; 44 years ago (1979-09-02)
Current form1995; 29 years ago (1995)
Service branches
Supreme Commander-in-ChiefDaniel Ortega
Minister of DefenseRosa Adelina Barahona Castro
Commander-in-Chief of the ArmyJulio César Avilés Castillo
Military age18 years of age
Available for
military service
1,309,970 males, age 15–49,
1,315,186[2] females, age 15–49
Fit for
military service
1,051,425 males, age 15–49,
1,129,649 females, age 15–49
Reaching military
age annually
65,170 males,
63,133 females
Active personnel45,000[1]
Budget$32 million[3]
Percent of GDP0.9% (2012 est.)[4]
Domestic suppliersIndustria Militar Coronel Santos López
Foreign suppliers China
 Czech Republic
 North Korea
Related articles
HistoryNicaraguan Revolution
RanksNicaragua military ranks

The Nicaraguan Armed Forces (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas de Nicaragua) are the military forces of Nicaragua. There are three branches: the Navy, the Army, and Air Force.


Nicaraguan military members train during a visit by the U.S. Navy

National Guard, 1925–1979

Main article: National Guard (Nicaragua)

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.[5] The marines provided the training, but their efforts were complicated by a guerrilla movement led by Augusto César Sandino.[5] Sandino opposed the United States-backed military force, which was composed mostly of his political enemies, and continued to resist the marines and the fledgling National Guard from a stronghold in the mountainous areas of northern Nicaragua.[5]

Upon the advent of the United States Good Neighbor Policy in 1933, the marines withdrew.[5] 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.[5] Despite hopes for an apolitical force, however, the National Guard soon became the personal tool of the Somoza dynasty.[5] 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.[5]

The National Guard's main arms were rifles and machine guns, later augmented by antiaircraft guns and mortars.[5] Although Nicaragua was not actively involved in World War II, it qualified for United States Lend-Lease military aid in exchange for U.S. base facilities at Corinto.[5] Additional shipments of small arms and transportation and communication equipment followed, as well as some training and light transport aircraft.[5]

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.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5]

Military under the Sandinista government, 1979–1990

Main article: Sandinista Popular Army

See also: FSLN

To replace the National Guard, the Sandinistas established a new national army, the Sandinista Popular Army (Ejército Popular Sandinista—EPS), and a police force, the Sandinista Police (Policía Sandinista).[6] These two groups, contrary to the original Puntarenas Pact were controlled by the Sandinistas and trained by personnel from Cuba, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union.[6] Opposition to the overwhelming FSLN influence in the security forces did not surface until 1980.[6]

Meanwhile, the EPS developed, with support from Cuba and the Soviet Union, into the largest and best equipped military force in Central America.[6] Simultaneously, with the introduction of Patriotic Military Service (1983), a conscription system, EPS forces reached approximately 80,000 active-duty members by 1990.[6] Patriotic Military Service required males, ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-six, to serve four years in the military (two years active duty and two years in the reserves).[7] This conscription system did not require women to enlist; however, they could do so voluntarily.[7]

The Patriotic Military Service system was an extremely unpopular initiative taken by the Sandinista government.[7] Draft dodging was rampant as young men fled the country in order to avoid conscription.[7] Additionally, massive demonstrations and antidraft protests plagued the country.[7] The unpopularity of the draft was believed to have been a large factor in the Sandinista election defeat in 1990.[7]

Armed Forces performed very well in terms of human rights under the Sandinistas. Upon visiting Nicaragua, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Americas Watch, and the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States found “little evidence of the extreme types of human rights violations so common under…US-backed regimes.”[8] These organizations were also unable to find any examples of: state-sponsored death squads, use of physical torture propagated by the state, and very few disappearances/executions.[8] Although, the investigations led by human rights organizations excluded unruly soldiers acting violently on their own accord. In this context, it was discovered that the government's “usual response…was to investigate and discipline those responsible.”[8]

Nicaraguan Armed Forces, 1990–1995

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.[9] By a law that took effect in April 1990, the EPS became subordinate to President Chamorro as commander in chief.[9] Chamorro also retained the Ministry of Defense portfolio.[9]

Chamorro's authority over the EPS was very limited.[9] There were no Ministry of Defense offices and no vice ministers to shape national defense policies or exercise civilian control over the armed forces.[9] 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.[9] He contracted for weapons procurement and drafted the military budget presented to the government.[9] Only an overall budget had to be submitted to the legislature, thus avoiding a line-item review by the National Assembly.[9]

Sandinista officers remained at the head of all general staff directorates and military regions.[9] The chief of the army, Major General Joaquín Cuadra Lacayo, continued in his pre-Chamorro position.[9] 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.[9] 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.[9] This date was later advanced to the first half of 1995.[9]

The army reform measures were launched with deep cuts in personnel strengths, the abolition of conscription, and disbanding of the militia.[9] 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.[9] 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.[9] Most of these bodies appear to have been retained, although they have been trimmed and reorganized.[9] The Nicaraguan Air Force and Navy were also subordinate to the army general staff.[9]

Since 1990 the mission of the EPS has been to ensure the security of the national borders and to deal with internal disturbances.[9] Its primary task has been to prevent disorder and violence wrought by armed bands of former Contra and Sandinista soldiers.[9]

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.[9] The EPS and the Frontier Guards also assist the police in narcotics control.[9] A small EPS contingent works alongside demobilized Contras in a Special Disarmament Brigade to reduce the arsenal of weapons in civilian hands.[9]

National Army of Nicaragua, 1995–2006

In 1995, the National Army of Nicaragua (Ejército de Nicaragua), having never previously been fully apolitical evolved, through constitutional reforms, into a more traditional Central American military.[10] As ties to the FSLN weakened, military leaders turned over power regularly without “fuss,” refrained from becoming involved in the political realm, and the overall size of the military significantly decreased.[10]

National Army of Nicaragua, 2006–present

Under President Ortega, multiple changes have occurred strengthening FSLN control over the national military. During 2010, the national assembly “passed changes that allowed [the] politicization of the country’s security forces, while expanding these agencies’ domestic powers.”[11] This change effectively erased the shift towards being an apolitical force from 1995 to 2006. Then in 2014, President Ortega supported a constitutional reform removing the defense and governance ministries “from the security forces’ chain of command, reducing oversight and leaving [President] Ortega in charge of appointing military and police commanders.”[12] This action enhanced President Ortega’s political and personal control over the nation’s security forces and personnel.

President Ortega has also strengthened his ability to control the general population through two different national security initiatives. In 2015, the Sovereign Security Law, “erased barriers between internal and external security, and gave the Ortega government wide discretion to use coercion against any person or entity deemed a threat to the state, society, or economy.”[12] The Sovereign Security Law provided the Ortega administration the right to infringe upon the basic human rights protected in the Nicaraguan constitution, if deemed necessary. Also, CPCs “have been replaced by Family, Community, and Life Cabinets (Gabinetes).”[12] These cabinets are linked to the police and provide the government with a means to keep communities under constant surveillance.[12]

In the contemporary period, multiple changes have taken place in the military regarding purpose and structure. The military currently serves as a force for national defense, public security, civil defense, and national development. In 2014, an expansion of institutional powers granted the military with the opportunity for greater involvement in international security initiatives.[10] The National Army of Nicaragua also has the highest public approval ratings of any Nicaraguan institution.[10]



Armoured fighting vehicles

Model Image Origin Quantity Details
Main battle tanks (~82)
T-55  Soviet Union ~62 65 more in store.[13]
T-72B1MS  Russia ~20 [13]

Light equipment

Anti-aircraft equipment

EW radars


Military careers

The Nicaraguan military, Fuerzas Armadas de Nicaragua, exists in a top-down hierarchy and is partitioned into multiple ranks. In order to become a Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel, a candidate must attend Staff College (ESEM).[16] Alternatively, one may begin a military career as a Lieutenant, with the opportunity for advancement, by obtaining a bachelor's degree in Military Sciences.[17] Individuals may also attend Officers School, to gain the rank of Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, and General Staff or Army General.[16]

The Nicaraguan navy offers training other than that offered through ESEM, a bachelor's degree in Military Sciences, and Officers School. Candidates seeking to advance in the Nicaraguan navy may attend navy-specific training to become Lieutenant Commanders, Commanders, Captains, fleet Admirals, Generals, Major Generals and Generals of the Army.[16]

Despite offering advancement through ESEM training, Officers School, and a bachelor's degree in Military Sciences, most high-ranking officers choose to receive their formal military education from training opportunities in Mexico, Spain, France, China, Russia, and Cuba.[18]

Military size (manpower)

Nicaragua has a small military force with only 9,412 members as of 2010. This number includes 1,500 officers (16%), 302 non-commissioned officers (3%), and 7,610 troops (81%).[19] This relatively small armed force is supported by an extremely small $41 million-dollar defense budget (2010).[20] Such a small military budget has resulted in severe deficiencies in terms of manpower (i.e. cannot supply and employ) and modern weaponry.[21] This budget represents approximately 2.84% of the country's overall expenditures.[22]

Civilian police

The National Police of Nicaragua, established in 1979, was created to maintain domestic tranquility, prevent crime, ensure security for all civilians, prosecute offenders, and enforce any other nationally mandated laws.[23] As a non-political, non-partisan, and non-deliberative organization, the National Police of Nicaragua was a revolutionary agency when created.[24] This body is unaided by the national military, since it exists as a completely separate entity; however, in accordance with Article 92, the President may order the army to intervene on the National Police's behalf.[25] There is also a volunteer police force that aids the National Police force, not just in times of dire need. The National Police Force is organized into several different tiers: the national specialized organizations (i.e. investigation departments), support organizations (i.e. Police Academy), police delegations (i.e. department, municipal), and advisory structures (i.e. National Council).[26] Those wishing to become members of the National Police Force must pass through rigorous hours of training and multiple examinations.


  1. ^ "Nicaragua Armed Forces". 25 July 2006.
  2. ^ "World Factbook Redirect — Central Intelligence Agency". Archived from the original on 8 May 2007.
  3. ^ Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine Rank Order – Military expenditures – dollar figure
  4. ^ "NationMaster – Nicaraguan Military statistics".
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Tartter, Jean R. "National Guard, 1927-79". In Merrill 1994, pp. 195–197.
  6. ^ a b c d e Bras, Marisabel. "Consolidation of the Revolution, 1979-80". In Merrill 1994, p. 41.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Tartter, Jean R. "Sandinista People's Army, 1979-90". In Merrill 1994, p. 199.
  8. ^ a b c Walker, Thomas W. (1985). Nicaragua: The First Five Years. New York: Praeger Publishers. p. 114.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Tartter, Jean R. "Armed forces after 1990". In Merrill 1994, pp. 207–210.
  10. ^ a b c d Millett, Richard L. (2018). "Nicaragua: An Uncertain Future". In Kline, Harvey F.; Wade, Christine J.; Wiarda, Howard J. (eds.). Latin American Politics and Development (Ninth ed.). New York: Westview Press. p. 387.
  11. ^ Thaler, Kai M. (April 2017). "Nicaragua: A Return to Caudillismo". Journal of Democracy. 28 (2): 159. doi:10.1353/jod.2017.0032. S2CID 152214826 – via Project Muse.
  12. ^ a b c d Thaler, Kai M. (April 2017). "Nicaragua: A Return to Caudillismo". Journal of Democracy. 28 (2): 160. doi:10.1353/jod.2017.0032. S2CID 152214826 – via Project Muse.
  13. ^ a b International Institute for Strategic Studies (13 February 2024). The Military Balance 2024 (1st ed.). Routledge. p. 444. ISBN 978-1032780047.
  14. ^ Caballero Jurado, Carlos; Thomas, Nigel (2005). Central American wars, 1959 - 89 (Repr ed.). Oxford: Osprey. p. 20, 45. ISBN 978-0-85045-945-6.
  15. ^ "Communist Military Aid to Nicaragua:Trends and Implications" (PDF). 8 December 1987. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 January 2017. Retrieved 27 December 2023.
  16. ^ a b c De León-Escribano 2011, p. 12.
  17. ^ De León-Escribano 2011, p. 11.
  18. ^ Premo, Daniel L. (March 1996). "The 'New' Nicaraguan Military: Sandinista To The 'Corps'". MACLAS Latin American Essays. 16: 117 – via Gale Group.
  19. ^ De León-Escribano 2011, p. 16.
  20. ^ De León-Escribano 2011, p. 17.
  21. ^ De León-Escribano 2011, p. 18.
  22. ^ De León-Escribano 2011, p. 37.
  23. ^ De León-Escribano 2011, pp. 28–29.
  24. ^ De León-Escribano 2011, p. 29.
  25. ^ De León-Escribano 2011, pp. 29–30.
  26. ^ De León-Escribano 2011, p. 30.

Works cited