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Daniel Ortega's 20 Army Generals

The Army “Cap”: Avilés and his 13 years in command, and 19 generals appointed by Ortega since 2007, among them two major generals

Redacción Confidencial

5 de septiembre 2023


Since his return to power in 2007, Daniel Ortega has promoted 34 members of the Nicaraguan Army to the rank of brigadier general. Nineteen of them continue to serve under the authority of the General Command, which has been headed by Army General Julio Cesar Aviles for thirteen years. With Aviles, there are 20 generals at the top of the Army. 

Among the 19 currently active generals promoted by Ortega, two who reached the rank of major general in May 2017 stand out: the chief of the General Staff, Bayardo Rodríguez, and the inspector general, Marvin Corrales. The two, together with Army General Julio Cesar Aviles, make up the “cap” of the General Command, as they remain enthroned in their posts, extended by orders of Ortega.

Army General Command during an event for the 44th anniversary of the Military Medical Corps, Aug. 19, 2023. // Photo: CCC

On February 21, 2020, Avilés assumed his third term as head of the Army on a platform decorated with the red and black flag of the Sandinista Front. “We will remain highly cohesive, loyal, and unbending,” promised Avilés, the general who surrendered the Army to the dictator, and carries in his file the complicity of the Armed Forces with the repression against the civic protests of 2018, and more than 30 executions in the countryside.

The General Command

Avilés is about to complete fourteen years in office. He assumed in February 2010 and his first reelection in 2015 broke the military succession.

On January 30, 2014, the National Assembly - controlled by Ortega - approved a reform to Law 181 or Military Code. The reform eliminated the prohibition to reelect the military chief, established in the Army's professionalization stage, which began in 1995. Prior to Ortega's reform to the Military Code, every five years a new Army general would come and go. However, Avilés was reelected in December of that year, and again in November 2019. His new term expires on February 21, 2025, which would add fifteen years in command of the Armed Forces.

His second and third in command also have more than six years in their posts. Rodríguez: promoted to brigadier general in 2009. He was previously head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence and Counterintelligence and head of the Directorate of Military Operations and Plans. Corrales is the most senior of the top military commanders promoted by Ortega (2007). He was trained in the area of Intelligence and Counterintelligence and was head of the Directorate of Personnel and Staff and of the Naval Force.

In this way, the three high commanders that make up the “cap” of the General Command also have another condition in common: their background in military intelligence and counterintelligence.

Brigadier generals with more than a decade of active service

Seven other brigadier generals, promoted by Ortega from 2007 to date, have served the dictator for more than a decade.

After the two top commanders in the General Command, the brigadier general with the most years is the second in command of the General Staff: Spiro Bassi Aguilar, promoted to that military rank in September 2010. Prior to that, Bassi Aguilar commanded the Air Force for almost a decade and was part of the Army Corps of Engineers.

CONFIDENCIAL reviewed each of the sixteen annual reports published by the Army from 2006 to 2021, as well as dozens of editions of its quarterly magazine and press releases, to compile the list of who Ortega's brigadier generals are, when they were promoted, and how many years each one has been in this military rank.

The result is the confirmation of a “cap” in the Army leadership, that goes beyond its commander-in-chief and his two other top commanders.

This political circle of power loyal to its supreme commander, Daniel Ortega, is the one that directs and operates the Nicaraguan Army, which this September 2 celebrates its 44th anniversary.

Daniel Ortega and Julio Cesar Aviles at the commemoration of the Army's 43rd anniversary in September 2022. // Photo: CCC

Intelligence, Counterintelligence, and Operations

Next on the list of these seven other brigadier generals, with more years in the circle, is Leonel Gutiérrez López, promoted to brigadier general in 2011. Gutierrez has been head of Military Intelligence and Counterintelligence since 2013. He has remained in the post for a decade since he was transferred from the General Secretariat of the Army in mid-2012.

Next is the head of the Directorate of Defense Information (DID), Rigoberto Balladares Sandoval, also promoted in 2011. This military officer also participates in the National Intelligence Commission (CIN), which is made up of the Police, the Army, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF).

The third person promoted that year was Carlos Eduardo Duarte, who recently (in June 2023), assumed the Directorate of Operations and Plans. Duarte replaced Brigadier General Juan José Membreño López, who was appointed Defense, Military, Naval and Air Attaché at the Nicaraguan Embassy in the People's Republic of China. However, Duarte is not a rookie in the military leadership. For more than a decade he was head of the Mechanized Infantry Brigade.

Finance and Operations

He is followed by the head of the Finance Directorate, Hector Arguello Aguirre (promoted in 2012). He is the little-known face of the Army's accounts and finances.

Then, the head of the Military Industry, Duilio Ramirez Roa, was previously head of the Logistics Support Command, between May 2010 and June 2013.

Finally, the director of Logistics, Oswaldo Barahona Castro, was promoted to brigadier general in 2014. Among its tasks, the Logistics Directorate supports regular and operational plans and military education activities. It also provides human resources training, technical readiness, and improvement of living and working conditions, in close relationship with the Army's Regional Commands. In fact, Barahona came to the position from one of these. Between October 2009 and January 2013, he was head of the Army's Fifth Regional Military Command, which includes the departments of Chontales, Boaco, Río San Juan, and part of the Autonomous Region of the Southern Caribbean Coast.


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Generals of the Army High Command

The list of brigadier generals in the Army High Command also includes the chiefs and a deputy chief of seven directorates.

In addition to Gutiérrez, Duarte, Argüello, and Barahona, there is Bayardo de Jesús Pulido Ortiz, promoted in 2018 and in charge of the Directorate of Personnel and Cadres since 2019. Pulido is the only head of the General Staff Directorate sanctioned for his collaboration with the Ortega regime. The sanction was imposed on January 10, 2022, by the Government of the United States.

The brigadier generals of the General Staff, on the 44th anniversary of the Military Medical Corps. Without mask: Brigadier General Bayardo Pulido, sanctioned by the U.S.A. // Photo: CCC

Also part of this high command is Manuel Salvador Gaitán, promoted in 2019, and currently in charge of the Directorate of Doctrine and Teaching. He was previously head of the Special Operations Command (COE).

Along with Gutiérrez, as second chief of Military Intelligence and Counterintelligence, is the one promoted in 2021: Alberto Ramírez Guevara.

In the General Staff, there is only one head of the Directorate who is not a brigadier general. His name is Colonel José Hilcias Rizo, in charge of Civil Affairs.

Daniel Ortega's other generals

Other Ortega's brigadier generals are in charge of the Military Units. These are:

  • Air Force chief (promoted in 2022), Efrén Marín Serrano.
  • The head of the Naval Force Ángel Fonseca Donaire, promoted to the equivalent of rear admiral in 2017.
  • Mechanized Infantry Brigade chief Guillermo Patricio Lopez, the only one promoted in 2020. Until February 2023, Lopez was head of the Directorate of Doctrine and Teaching, where he was relieved by Manuel Salvador Gaitan. Before that, he was also second in command of the Directorate of Operations and Plans.

These heads of Military Units, with the rank of brigadier general, are completed by Octavio Sanabria Monjarretz. He is one of the last three promoted by Ortega, and current head of the Special Operations Command. Previously, Sanabria was director of the "General Benjamín Zeledón Rodríguez" Staff College.

Daniel Ortega bestows the ranks of brigadier general on Octavio Sanabria Monjarretz, on the 43rd anniversary of the Army, September 2022. // Photo: CCC

The Special Operations Command (COE) is the military unit "trained and equipped with technical means to fulfill special missions, in war and non-war environments". By definition, it is a "quick reaction" unit and is part of the "high combat readiness" units, with the rank to act independently or in joint operations with the Air Force and the Navy. Its objective, it states, is to combat "terrorism, drug trafficking and related activities". The COE is the main tactical-operational unit for "special operations" in any part of the country.

The sanctioned general of the IPSM

The General Command of the Nicaraguan Army is also in charge of common and direct subordination and support bodies, which include: General Inspectorate, General Secretariat, Public and External Relations, Legal Counsel, among others. This list of bodies also includes the Military Social Welfare Institute (IPSM).

The IPSM Board of Directors is composed of:

  • Julio Cesar Aviles, Chief of the General Staff
  • Bayardo Rodriguez Ruiz, jefe del Estado Mayor General
  • Marvin Corrales, Inspector General of the Army
  • Bayardo Pulido, chief of the Directorate of Personnel and Cadre
  • Julio Modesto Rodriguez, executive director of the IPSM
  • Rosa Adelina Barahona de Rivas, Minister of Defense
  • Ivan Acosta, Minister of Finance and Public Credit
  • Roberto Lopez, president of the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security
Roberto Lopez, president of INSS and retired captain, in an act of the Military Medical Corps. At his side, Inspector General, Major General Marvin Corrales // Photo: CCC

All members of the IPSM Board of Directors -with the exception of Marvin Corrales- are sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department, which do not affect, for now, the IPSM as an entity.

The sanctions to the IPSM Board of Directors forced the Ortega regime to decree a Statutory Regulation of the Institute, to create three alternate positions in the Board of Directors to perform the functions of the sanctioned members; particularly General Julio Cesar Aviles and Iván Acosta, who remain as members of the Institute's Board of Directors.

The executive director of the IPSM, Julio Modesto Rodriguez, was promoted to brigadier general in September 2019 and sanctioned by the United States in June 2021. Until November 2012, he was head of the National School of Sergeants.

Other military officers at Ortega's service

Not all of the brigadier generals or high command generals of the Army, promoted by Ortega and sent into retirement, have disappeared from the public radar.

In 2014, Ortega promoted Oscar Mojica Obregon, chief of the General Staff, to major general. Less than three years later, Mojica was sent to "the honorable condition of retirement," and in 2017 Mojica was appointed Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, until the international sanctions that forced his relocation as "presidential advisor on infrastructure issues."

Former number two in the Army, retired Major General and presidential advisor, Oscar Mojica, talks with Daniel Ortega, in August 2023. // Photo: CCC

Other military officers promoted by Ortega, to brigadier general or major general, who continue as officials or collaborators are:

  • Denis Membreño Rivas, director of the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF). The major general and former number three in the Army was included by the United States in the "Engel List" of "corrupt and anti-democratic actors", on July 19, 2023.
  • Juan Jose Membreño Lopez, promoted to brigadier general in 2017. He was removed from the Directorate of Operations and Plans in June 2023 and appointed in August as the new defense, military, naval and air attaché at the Nicaraguan Embassy in the People's Republic of China.
  • Juan Alberto Molinares Hurtado, promoted to brigadier general in 2010 and sent to retirement in 2014. He is the director of the Latin American College, for children of military and Army officials.

The retired military

The Ortega regime also has in its service other retired military personnel, promoted in other periods. Among them:

  • Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, a retired brigadier general who disappeared from the public map until Ortega's return to power, whom he has also served as ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS).
  • The "presidential advisor on infrastructure issues with the rank of minister," Oscar Balladares Cardoza, former chief of the General Staff and number two in the Army, sent to retirement in 2013 by General Avilés, to abort his promotion process in the leadership of the military institution.
  • Roberto López, retired captain and president of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS).

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.


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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.