Colonel Enrique Bermúdez, military head of Nicaraguan Resistance Forces in 1980s

Monday, August 22, 2011

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the assassination in Managua of Colonel Enrique Bermúdez Varela, the founder and for ten years the top official military commander of the Nicaraguan Resistance Forces (Fuerza Democrática Nicaragüense; FDN-Northern Front) the so-called contras. Bermúdez took formal command of the FDN, which in time became the largest military uprising in Latin America since the Mexican Revolution more than sixty years earlier. In that capacity he met with US president Ronald Reagan and other top officials, as did more overtly political leaders, including Alfonso Robelo, Adolfo Calero, and Arturo Cruz. In the 1980s these names were almost household words in Washington during a civil war that was widely but often inaccurately reported by the international media. The contras’ target was the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), or Sandinista, government, which took its name from a self-proclaimed association with Augusto Sandino, a revolutionary leader who was assassinated in 1934 after leading a guerrilla war against US Marines who occupied Nicaragua in the late 1920s and early 1930s. During the 1980s, Nicaraguans opposing the Sandinista government ranged from former Sandinistas of the Anti-Somocista People's Militias (MILPAS), Edén Pastora, and neutral Indians along the Miskito Coast to former National Guard members, including Bermúdez. The vast majority of contra guerrillas in the highlands, however, consisted of what a survivor of Sandino’s early army once called “a whole bunch of really pissed-off peasants!” (See Timothy C. Brown, The Real Contra War, p. 6.) The Hoover Archives, which has long had major resources on the FDN, Robelo, and Pastora, is now adding, by periodic increments, the personal archive of Bermúdez.

Bermúdez graduated from the US Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and from the Inter-American Defense College in Washington. He served as chief of the Nicaraguan Delegation at the Inter-American Defense Board in Washington, DC, in 1976 and as military attaché of the Nicaraguan Armed Forces at the Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington during the country’s civil war, which formally ended in 1987 with the Esquipulas II Peace Agreement, brokered by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, winning him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. In 1991 Bermúdez was lured back to Managua, where he was shot in a hotel parking lot with a small-caliber East German assassination pistol, one of several that had been delivered to Sandinista defense minister Humberto Ortega some years earlier. Bermúdez was survived by family members in Florida and California who are sending the materials in increments to the Hoover Archives.