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Restriction on Arms Imports: A Message from the U.S. to the Nicaraguan Army

Imports of defense articles from the U.S. are almost nil, but the U.S. measure also limits shipments from third countries

Daniel Ortega (in cap) during a graduation at the Nicaraguan Army's Higher Center for Military Studies. Photo: Taken from El 19 Digital

Redacción Confidencial

19 de marzo 2024


The restriction on the import and export of US-origin defense articles and services destined for Nicaragua, imposed by the US State Department, is a measure that blocks access to US technology. At the same time, it also represents "a window of opportunity" for the international community to insist that the Nicaraguan regime is violating human rights, defense analysts said.

Political scientist Javier Meléndez, the founder of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP), shut down by the regime in 2018, considers that the impact of this measure is more diplomatic than commercial. This is because exports of US military technology and defense devices to Nicaragua have been almost nil for several years. However, this provision attempts to dissuade third countries from supplying Nicaragua with these types of devices.

The U.S. is warning the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo that “because of the internal situation of violation of human rights and because (Nicaragua) is a country that is potentially a focus of regional instability in terms of security in Central America, it is going to close the possibility for them to have access to technology and any type of transfer in the defense sector from the United States,” explained Meléndez, current director of Open File. 

The US State Department informed on Thursday, March 14, that it modified the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), to update its “defense trade policy towards Nicaragua.”

The move is part of a series of diplomatic and economic tools the U.S. government has implemented to promote accountability for the Ortega-Murillo regime and to support the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Nicaraguans.

“The United States remains deeply concerned about the continued brutal repression by the Ortega-Murillo authorities against the people of Nicaragua, including the recent electoral farce on the Caribbean coast, populated primarily by indigenous and Afro-descendants,” said Matthew Miller, State Department spokesman, in a statement.

According to Meléndez, this instrument implemented by the U.S. has already been used at other times in Central America, to stop any kind of military collaboration with the armies that have been systematically violating human rights in the region.

“A big diplomatic implication”

For political scientist Felix Maradiaga, who was secretary general of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Defense (between 2002 and 2006), the measure “does not have an immediate practical implication, but it does have a large diplomatic implication.” Because sanctions such as these “are the most difficult to remove,” he stressed.

He recalled that it took the governments of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Arnoldo Alemán, and Enrique Bolaños more than twelve years to unblock security and defense sanctions that had been imposed on the Army and Police in the 1980s.

Maradiaga also explained that one of the characteristics of the changes in the defense sector is that their impacts are not immediate, unlike actions that can be seen in other public policy areas. “In defense and national security the implications, being geopolitical, tend to have unexpected impacts on a large scale, beyond the immediate term of time,” he said. 

For Meléndez, this measure imposed by the U.S. represents "a window of visualization for the international community" to insist that the Ortega and Murillo regime is violating the human rights of Nicaraguans. 

"Because it is a measure that is taken because of the systematic violation of human rights in Nicaragua," he commented. 

Restriction would prevent third countries from selling to Nicaragua

Another important element highlighted by Meléndez is that the measure imposed by the U.S. would block the possibility of third countries transferring U.S. equipment to Nicaragua. This is because the legal administrative body, which regulates the import and export of arms, clearly indicates that Nicaragua will not be able to import any type of equipment or technology coming from the United States. 

“There are many cases worldwide where countries cannot sell equipment to a third country because it has parts or technologies that come from the United States and the United States must approve the transfer of that military equipment to a third country. This is important because it prevents the police, for example, from receiving any type of technology or equipment that is licensed or branded from the United States through Spain, Mexico, etc., ", explained Meléndez. 

Meanwhile, Maradiaga emphasized that even the importation from a third country, of a computer instrument, automobile, construction, or any other type of input that has a U.S. part, would be included in this regulation.

A message to the Nicaraguan Army

Maradiaga also considered that this is “a proactive measure,” in which the U.S. determines that “the Nicaraguan Army is on the wrong side of history.” In addition, it sends a message to other Latin American and European states that have maintained “a rather timorous position” concerning the Nicaraguan Army.

“Although it is not a measure of enormous forcefulness in the short term, it is a measure in the right direction of what we (opponents of the regime) have been demanding for years. The Army has blood on its hands in serious human rights violations in Nicaragua and this is precisely a message,” said Maradiaga. 

The political scientist valued that the US measure is “an element of preparation” for a possible future scenario in which conflicts linked to Russia escalate, and in this way neutralize any possibility of modernization of the Army in technological matters.”

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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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.