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One of the 50 Russian T72 tanks purchased by Daniel Ortega’s government from the Russian Federation was displayed to the public in August 2016. LA PRENSA/Archive.

More than 3500 personnel from the Russian army have entered Nicaragua through exchanges with the Nicaraguan army over the past 10 years.

Since 2014, Nicaragua has allowed the entry of nearly 11,000 military personnel from different countries, including the Russian army

On May 31 of this year, the Nicaraguan dictator, Daniel Ortega sent a decree proposal to the National Assembly, which is controlled by the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The initiative seeks to ratify “urgently” the authorization for the entry of foreign ships, aircraft, and military personnel, including the Russian army, for the purposes of exchange and humanitarian assistance, as well as the exit of Nicaraguan troops, ships, and aircraft between July 1 and December 31, 2024.

With this new authorization from the National Assembly, Nicaragua has approved the entry of 3,690 Russian military personnel between 2014 and 2024, according to data compiled by LA PRENSA based on legislative decrees. This aligns with a decrease in military exchanges between the Nicaraguan Army and the United States Armed Forces.

Thus, for 2024, the National Assembly approved the entry of a total of 410 military personnel from Russia, 360 from Venezuela, 100 from Cuba, and 50 from Mexico, totaling at least 920 foreign military personnel.

Plenary session of the National Assembly which is controlled by Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship. Photo taken from the National Assembly’s social media.

Thus, according to the decrees, Nicaragua has allowed the entry of at least 10,645 military personnel from Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, the United States, Mexico, Taiwan, and Central American countries over the past ten years. However, this count is an approximation, as most legislative decrees do not specify the number of military personnel sent by Taiwan while it maintained diplomatic relations with Nicaragua, nor those sent by other Central American countries.

Since 2019, Nicaragua has not specified the number of military personnel from the United States.

According to Félix Maradiaga, former General Secretary of the Ministry of Defense of Nicaragua and political exile, Nicaragua’s increasing military alignment with Russia amid the ongoing war in Ukraine is an irresponsible action by Daniel Ortega’s regime.

“The concerning aspect of all this is that Russia is currently waging an illegal war against Ukraine, violating all basic principles of international law. It is a country where both the regime and its armed forces are sanctioned. By irresponsibly and even servilely aligning the Nicaraguan military with Russia, Ortega directly involves Nicaragua in a foreign conflict,” he stated.

“He added, ‘Today it is very obvious that Ortega decided to align Nicaragua with the anti-Western bloc that sees Europe and the United States as a threat to its interests.'”

What do these exchanges consist of?

Article 92 of the Political Constitution of Nicaragua states that the establishment of foreign military bases in Nicaraguan territory is prohibited. However, the transit or stationing of foreign military vessels, aircraft, and machinery for humanitarian purposes may be authorized if requested by the government and ratified by the National Assembly.

In the legislative decrees reviewed by LA PRENSA, it is established that exchanges are for humanitarian purposes, training, instruction, sports, exchange of experiences, military integration, and operations for the mitigation and suppression of forest fires with the Nicaraguan Army.

Although this measure has sometimes caused alarm in the region, the truth is that it is a practice that has been carried out since before Ortega returned to power in 2007. In fact, according to archives from La Gaceta, the Official Gazette, the then-president of Nicaragua, Enrique Bolaños, authorized the entry of a contingent of 3,600 members who would arrive in the Central American country in 2005.

Army General Julio César Avilés, head of the Nicaraguan Army, and the dictator Daniel Ortega. Photo: Presidencia de la República.

After the restoration of democracy in Nicaragua in the early 1990s, particularly after 1997, the Nicaraguan government began a process of professionalizing the Nicaraguan Army.

“From the Ministry of Defense, in coordination with the Army, a series of new alliances were developed with the armed forces of democratic and friendly countries. The goal was to enhance the army’s response capabilities to ‘new threats’ from a strategic vision of an army in times of peace,” explained Maradiaga.

According to Maradiaga, the exercises and exchanges before Ortega came to power in 2007 focused on training for joint operations against drug trafficking, organized crime, human trafficking, preparedness for natural disasters and other emergencies, as well as the defense of Nicaragua’s environmental heritage.

However, the Ortega government, starting in 2009, incorporated the arrival of military personnel from the National Army of Venezuela, and until 2012, the arrival of 30 military personnel, ships, and aircraft from the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation was planned for the first time in 2013.

Félix Maradiaga, former General Secretary of the Ministry of Defense of Nicaragua. Photo: LA PRENSA

“That even implied modifying the logic of Nicaragua’s military relationships, re-linking the Army with armed forces of countries that share Ortega’s anti-American vision, such as the armed forces of Russia and Venezuela, among others,” noted Maradiaga.

Decrees do not specify the quantity of U.S. military personnel since 2019

In 2018, the year in which the sociopolitical crisis erupted in Nicaragua following the government’s repression of protests, the Central American country allowed the entry of at least 1,911 foreign military personnel. This quantity was not previously recorded and has not been repeated by the Ortega regime.

However, since June 2019, the decrees no longer specify if the United States sent military personnel. Nevertheless, Nicaragua also did not send military personnel to the United States.

In the case of the United States, the decrees only establish the entry of military personnel, ships, and aircraft to carry out humanitarian aid operations, search and rescue missions in natural disaster situations in support of the Nicaraguan government, without specifying whether it will allow the entry of military personnel or the quantity.

Maradiaga considers that this omission reflects the distancing of the Nicaraguan regime from the United States.

“As a consequence of this radical shift in national security objectives, the Police and the Army have been rapidly distancing themselves from the armed forces of democratic countries and even from the inter-American system, while defining themselves as allies of Russia,” Maradiaga commented on the matter.

Costa Rica expressed its concern in 2022

On June 12, 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica stated that it “took note” of the decree issued by the Ortega regime authorizing the entry of foreign troops, including from the Russian Army.

“We reiterate the policy of peace, good international relations, and permanent dialogue that Costa Rica promotes with its neighbors and the international community, including multilateral organizations upon which Costa Rica bases its defense of national integrity and sovereignty, both of its territory and seas,” expressed the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In that year, 180 Russian military personnel, 130 from Venezuela, 100 from Cuba, and 150 from Mexico entered Nicaragua, according to the two legislative decrees authorizing their entry. Among all the nationalities that LA PRENSA could account for, the arrival of 660 military personnel in Nicaragua was recorded in that year. However, in 2023, the number increased to 920.

However, the measure, on that occasion, elicited a reaction from Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves, who, when asked about it at an official event, stated that he viewed the arrival of these military personnel “with concern.”

“Obviously, Costa Rica, being the peaceful country that it is, which made the historic decision not to have an Army, armed Air Force, Navy, etc., sees with concern that neighbors are starting to build a military force on the other side of the border,” Chaves declared in response to the issue.

Maradiaga considers that the fear of neighboring countries like Costa Rica is legitimate, especially in the context of Nicaragua’s withdrawal from the OAS and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“If Nicaragua under Ortega rejects the principles of the OAS Charter, it could also be said that the Nicaraguan regime no longer feels legally bound to its commitments with its neighbors. In other words, the regime’s alliances and commitments are with foreign states outside the inter-American system, such as Russia and China,” he remarked.

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