The Nicaraguan Democratic Force
(Fuerza Democrática Nicaragüense
, or FDN
) was one of the earliest Contra
groups, formed on August 11, 1981
in Guatemala City
. It was formed to oppose Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinista
government following the 1979
overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle
. It merged the 15th of September Legion, which comprised mostly former members of Somoza's National Guard
, with the Nicaraguan Democratic Union
, an émigré
organization. The FDN military was under the command of former National Guard colonel Enrique Bermúdez
. The FDN was heavily backed by the Central Intelligence Agency
and the Reagan administration
The FDN's political leadership was based in Miami, Florida
, though critics always questioned how much control the political wing truly had over the military forces.
Originally, the head of the UDN, José Francisco Cardenal, also assumed political leadership of the new FDN, along with Mariano Mendoza and Aristides Sánchez. However, by autumn 1982 he had alienated both the FDN's military command and its Miami political executive committee, as well as the Argentine advisors.
On December 8, 1982, the FDN announced a new political directorate to replace the triumvirate. It included Lucía Cardenal Salazar (widow of Jorge Salazar), Edgar Chamorro, Alfonso Callejas, Indalecio Rodríguez, Marco Zeledon, and Enrique Bermúdez. There was also a seat for Steadman Fagoth of the allied MISURA, and for an unnamed member supposedly still in Nicaragua. Speculation fingered Adolfo Calero, who decided it would be imprudent to return to Nicaragua from a late December trip. In early 1983, Calero joined the directorate, becoming president of the FDN in early October.
On December 28, 1983, the FDN announced the formation of a civic-military board, consisting of Calero as president and commander-in-chief, Bermúdez as military commander, Chamorro as communications chief, and Rodríguez as chief of civil services. Chamorro was booted from the movement in November 1984, and became a critic of the rebels.
In June 1985, the FDN joined the United Nicaraguan Opposition, headed by a triumvirate of Calero, Alfonso Robelo, and Arturo Cruz. The FDN comprised the overwhelming majority of UNO's military forces, and Robelo and Cruz complained that Calero refused to share real power with them. UNO collapsed in early 1987.
In the fall of 1986, the FDN formed a political party, FODENIC (Fomento Democrático Nicaragüense).
In May 1987, the FDN became a part of the Nicaraguan Resistance. Its directorate announced the dissolution of the separate rebel forces, declaring the FDN to be the "Northern Front" of a united army. Although militarily the practical effect was slight, politically it prevented Calero from dominating the Resistance directorate as he had UNO.
According to the FDN organizational structure, three squads formed a detachment (destacamento) of about twenty men. Three of these combined to form a group (grupo) of around sixty men. In practice, losses, recruitment, and other factors could change these figures. Varying numbers of groups would be put under a task force (fuerza de tarea).
As task forces swelled in size, a new level of organization was created in early 1984, the regional commando (or command, comando regional).
Three regional commandos grew into operational commandos: the Jorge Salazar (widely regarded as the FDN's best troops), Diriangén, and Rafaela Herrera. However, the commanders of the latter two were crippled during the war and unable to take the field, and in 1986 their component regional commandos became independent, leaving the Jorge Salazar as the sole operational commando.
These are some of the FDN's better-known comandantes
- Suicida - Pedro Pablo Ortiz Centeno. Former Guard sergeant, operated in the Jalapa area. Legendary for his eagerness for battle, but never fully adjusted from conventional to guerrilla warfare. Went into virtual mutiny in the fall of 1983, and was executed for committing atrocities.
- Franklin [Franklyn] - Israel Galeano Cornejo. Regional commander of Jorge Salazar II, considered perhaps the FDN's best commander. Supporter of Tigrillo's pre-FDN band. Helped to lead the late 1989 ouster of Bermúdez and the political leadership.
- Toño - Walter Saúl Calderón López. Former Guard lieutenant, first commander of the Jorge Salazar, later led the Tactical Operations Command. Expelled after supporting a bid to oust Bermúdez in 1988.
- Mike Lima - Luis Alfonso Moreno Payan. Ex-Guard lieutenant, commander of the Diriangén. Known for the capture of Pantasma in 1983. Left field command for staff duties after crippling wounds.
- Tigrillo - Encarnación Valdivia [Baldivia] Chavarría. Ex-Sandinista, already leading a ragged guerrilla band before joining the FDN. Commander of the Rafaela Herrera, roaming Jinotega Department. A charismatic leader, credited with recruiting thousands into the FDN. Chronically resentful of Bermúdez's favoritism for ex-Guardsmen, he backed the 1988 mutiny.
- Mack - José Benito Bravo Centeno. Former Guardsman, commander of the Nicarao Regional Commando, operating in the Ocotal area. Gained a reputation for abuses, coupled with a lukewarm will to fight.
- Rubén - Oscar Manuel Sobalvarro García. Surviving member of the MILPAS movement. Originally took the nom de guerre "Culebra" (Serpent), but changed it due to the CIA's public relations concerns. Led the Salvador Perez Regional Commando in lower Jinotega, and became head of the council of field commanders following the late 1989 reorganization.
- Jhonson - Luis Adán Fley González. Former Sandinista and early member of Tigrillo's band. After serving in the Special Operations Command, he founded the 15th of September Regional Commando, in Matagalpa Department's Pancasán region.
- Quiché - Juan Ramón Rivas Romero. Former Guard sergeant, Toňo's deputy commander in Task Force Jorge Salazar. He assumed command after Toňo left, leading it as it grew into the FDN's largest force, with five regional commandos. In 1988, Bermúdez selected him to become chief of staff.
- Rigoberto - Tirso Ramón Moreno Aguilar. Cattle merchant from Jinotega, and member of Dimas' MILPAS band. Regional commander of Jorge Salazar I, expelled for supporting the anti-Bermúdez movement in 1988.
- Moisés - José Efrén Martínez Mondragón. Guard sergeant who led the FDN's first major strike, the demolition of the Somotillo bridge on March 14, 1982. Made task force commander of the José Dolores Estrada. In 1985, Mondragón sought exile in Mexico, where he was sent back to Nicaragua. Under duress, he urged his former comrades to accept amnesty, but was arrested and murdered in March 1988 after making overtures to return to the rebels.
- Fernando - Diógenes Hernández Membreño. Regional commander of Jorge Salazar III; an evangelical pastor who joined the rebels due to Sandinista persecution of his congregation. After being promoted to the general staff, he became disenchanted with Bermúdez, and was ousted after participating in the 1988 mutiny.