Nicaragua’s plans to buy Russian fighter jets is ruffling feathers in the region

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Nicaragua’s sudden interest in purchasing a squadron of MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia could trigger a pointless arms race between one of the smallest and one of the largest militaries in Latin America.

Nicaragua says it wants combat jets to fight the war on drugs. But that argument has failed to convince anyone. Instead, skeptics wonder if Nicaragua’s efforts to purchase military aircraft isn’t somehow tied to its canal plans, or — more likely yet— an effort to assert a stronger military presence in disputed Caribbean waters bordering Colombia.

Though Nicaragua has legal claim to Caribbean waters out to 200 miles off its eastern shore, Colombia has all the naval muscle in the area — a fleet of 232 ships, including submarines and battleships. Nicaragua, meanwhile, has only a few dozen coastal patrol boats, which are basically suped-up pangas equipped with spare parts stripped off of intercepted drug boats.

Nicaragua’s acquisition of a few Russian MiGs wouldn’t shift the balance of power with Colombia, but it would give the government of Daniel Ortega a much louder presence over its troubled waters.

“Nicaragua is sending the wrong message…and it’s not a friendly message,” Colombian Senator Jimmy Chamorro, who heads the congressional commission on national defense, told Fusion. “We aren’t perturbed, but we’re taking note. Colombia will be prepared for anything that might happen.”

Part of Colombia’s preparation could be a modernization of its own air force, something the country’s military has been lobbying for for years. Now that Nicaragua is in the market for Russian fighter jets — something that was most certainly discussed during this week’s visit to Managua by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — the Colombian military might finally have the excuse it has been waiting for to buy new aircraft of its own “with the air superiority to create a credibly dissuasive force,” according to international defense industry publication

Southern neighbor Costa Rica, a country without an army, is watching the situation with mild apprehension. Costa Rican officials last month took their concerns about Nicaraguan armament directly to Washington for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, according to Costa Rica’s foreign ministry. To the north, the former head of the Honduran armed forces has also expressed concern that the Sandinistas’ purchase of fighter jets could disrupt what’s known as the “reasonable balance” of armed forces in Central America.

Nicaraguan Brigadier General Adolfo Zepeda says other countries have nothing to worry about. He says the fighter jets — Nicaragua’s first modern combat planes since the former Somoza dictatorship sold off its P-51 Mustangs and F-47 Thunderbolts in the early 1960s—will be “strictly for defensive” purposes in the drug war, and never used as “attack jets.”

Military experts, however, say Nicaragua’s argument lacks cogency for two reasons. Firstly, fighter jets are are not used to fight the war on drugs; and secondly, they are precisely offensive weapons.

This story first appeared in Fusion. Read full story here.

  • John Perry

    Tim – no mention that Honduras bought Brazilian Super Tucano turboprop fighter planes last year?

    • gcblues

      whoopie. mine is bigger than yours. Tucano has zero offensive capability and can be brought down with a strong wind. since Nicaragua is the only country in Central America seeking to expand its ground and sea territory, morris thinks that is all okie dokie, says a lot about him, maybe other C.A. counties should beef up. the Tucano’s primary roles are training and recon despite what is written about them. they are slow, have no heads up capability and are therefore useless for offensive air to air combat. the avionics that would give it ability are not operable or maintainable in 3rd world countries and it travels only slightly faster than the slowest Cessna. it is basically a patrol aircraft.

      “The Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano ( pronunciation), also named ALX or A-29 is a turboprop aircraft designed for light attack, counter insurgency (COIN), close air support, aerial reconnaissance
      missions in low threat environments, as well as providing pilot
      training. Designed to operate in high temperature and humidity
      conditions in extremely rugged terrain, the Super Tucano is highly
      maneuverable, has a low heat signature, incorporates 4th generation avionics and weapons system to deliver precision guided munitions. It is currently in service with the air forces of Angola, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Indonesia, and has been ordered by Senegal, Honduras and the United States Air Force.[4]”

      after production began the Brazillian air force rejected it so it is used as a jungle hopper.

  • Mark Oshinskie

    Que mala idea!

  • Pepe Turcon

    You are right…but let them. They are the seed of their own destruction. Coming 2016 with a Republican in the Oval plus Congress and Senate all the criminals from Ortega to Maduro, Correa and Lugo will be sent to the reopening of Guantanamo. That is if the people hasn’t burned them alive beforehand as it looks.

  • Marta

    Nicaragua wants to protect its borders against drug traffic, but Colombia is opposed because “Nicaragua’s acquisition of a few Russian MiGs wouldn’t shift the balance of power with Colombia”

  • Ken Morris

    Not a welcome development, that’s for sure. However, it is true that Colombia has been less than respectful of Nicaragua’s legitimate territorial claims, as determined by the world court, and also true that nominally pacifist Costa Rica not long ago tried to get Colombia’s military on its side against Nicaragua.

    It’s probably best for Nicaragua not to get the fighter jets, but then again it’s hard to deny any country the right to develop military power proportionate to its threats. Ortega is of course a consideration, but this would be an issue for Nicaragua regardless of who is president

    • randypower

      I agree. It’s just that because of who’s president, the rationale given cannot be believed.

      • Ken Morris

        I don’t believe the drug-fighting or defensive rationale either. These are offensive fighters, and the article is right to point that out.

        There are political considerations too. Putin is strapped for cash, Ortega probably got a fire sale deal, and both are in desperate need of allies. Even if Nicaragua can’t afford the fuel and just lets fighters sit, my guess is that Ortega considers it a good political deal.

        Which it probably is for him, though I’m inclined to think that another president would calculate differently. Don’t let me sound like Pepe, but the truth is that Ortega’s Nicaragua is close to friendless in the world. He really wants a Russian buddy, and a few fighter jets are a plus. A president with more global friends probably wouldn’t do this.

  • gcblues

    of all things relevant re: the MIg 29 and it’s various configs this is the most important as for those of us actually here in Nicaragua and that have actually seen their tanks and armored personal carriers note the sole maintenance they get is frequent washing and painting. they sit in Managua for all to visit, drive around and see. they are very cute.

    “The Soviet Union exported MiG-29s to several countries. Because
    4th-generation fighter jets require the pilots to have extensive
    training, air-defense infrastructure, and constant maintenance and
    upgrades, MiG-29s have had mixed operational history with different air

    fantasy is a principle component of left wing systems from green energy to “free” health care and “free” education to the government is your benevolent mom. what a waste of money or in this case internet space. hey don’t look at the Cordoba, stupid spending, rich Sandinistas in Land Rovers, look at our Mig 29s and our fabled canal.

    • Ternot MacRenato

      Why is it that every attempt to improve society has to be done or be attempted by “left wing systems.” Ideologues are not moved by common sense or logic (try and use what works, loic would dictate), but by a rabid ideology, not much different from that rabid fanaticism that drives such groups as ISIS, the Spanish Inquisition and the Sandinistas when they were in power. Perhaps the ideologue should start by defining his terms. “Left wing system,” how far to the left? Like the governments of France, the Scandinavian countries, Holland, Belgium, Italy, the UK, or are we talking about Pol Pot, Stalin, and other Marxists societies? What about a specific example in the real world. The same goes for “right wing systems.” Are the conservative governments of Angela Merkel in Germany and David Cameron in the UK “right wing systems? They both have the programs and “left wing” social programs listed below and decried by gcblues.
      Unemployment benefits, social security, medicare, medicaid, minimum wages, paid vacations, etc. These programs have been adopted by most advanced Western societies, and Israel. Everywhere, including China, are beginning to see that destroying the environment is not necessarily good for business or the “common good,” a phrase often used by the Founding Fathers. Governments and individuals have joined these efforts. Health care, like advanced Russian MIgs are not free, every citizen pays for them with their taxes. Nicaragua -Daniel y Rosario, have decided to close one of the best educational experiments in the history of Nicaragua, the IDEAS school in Diriamba, for lack of money, but “they have millions” for their jet fighters. When I went to the school and offered to raise thousands of dollars for the school, both Daniel and Rosario declined my offer.
      “Free” health care? Members of the U.S. Congress and the military have “free” health care. It’s in the best interest of all nations to insure that their citizens, not just the privileged few, are free of disease and the society must provide it to those who can’t afford it. Is the fight against Ebola part of the “free” health care gcblues decries? The concept of universal education began to be promoted in the 19th c. By “left wing systems”?
      Adam Smith, in “The Wealth of Nations,” has this to say on “government as benevolent mom.” “…the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain; because the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.” Then there is what this other “pendejo” had to say on the subject. “I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, sick, in jail, and you welcomed me. What you have done for the least human being, you have done for me.” Matthews 25-35-40. I don’t usually pay attention to what “communists” or “socialists” have to say, but in this case, I made an exception with these two “socialists,” Adam Smith and Jesus.

      • gcblues

        i know Diriamba, i drive by it often but do not know of the school you refer to.
        you make good points re: over used terminology
        as a resident foreigner i defer to Nicas, but not gringos, particularly those that know little about Nicaragua other than what they read and write.
        free health care is never free, indeed it is very expensive in cost and result. individual health care is not public health in terms of controlling specific communicable disease. your point in no way mandates total health care of every sort for every person, things that are achieved privately through payment or charity in a much better way than public hospitals. my opinion.
        Adam Smith was wrong in the wealth of nations, as Hayek pointed out in the “Road to Serfdom” that necessary social provisions in “democracies” result in an end in the same place as Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler, they just take a longer time getting there.
        in no way is Europe or the USA capitalist or right wing. Ortega however, is correct. crony capitalism is not capitalism, and unfortunately there is nowhere left in the world where human liberty and property is well protected any longer.
        to me, individual liberty and property protection would be societal and government improvements enough.
        lastly, i am an Atheist, so i have nothing to say about Mathew, i will leave that to you.
        Thank you for your response.

        • Ternot MacRenato

          I see that you refer to Nicas but not gringos…Well, good. I happen to be a native of Diriamba and my deep roots are in Driamba. But it’s not a question of deferring to anyone person in particular but to the arguments made. Is it logical? Is it based on evidence? Regarding Hayek, Adams Smith has influenced several generations of economists world wide since he published his ideas in The Wealth of Nations in 1776. His laissez-faire system was adopted by the British empire and later by most of the western world. It was the basis for what we know now as “19th c. liberalism.” Today it’s be the policy conservatives have adopted with its emphasis o hands-off policies, or few regulations by the government, regulations that they argue hamper economic development. His ideas also appeal to certain Libertarians. What is left out is, who guards the society from the greed of the few? Who draws the line? Does greed ever affects the well-being of a community? Who has more power to dictate the rules by which a society is to live, the plutocrats or unorganized citizens? Teddy Roosevelt argued that society must protect itself from the monopolies but only the central government had the wherewithal to stand up to them. And that he did. Wilson also decried the power of the few over the many. Eisenhower was not talking about Stalin when he warned the nation about the military-industrial complex. In today’s world, human liberty and property is threatened more by greed than any ideology, especially communism. If you defer to Nicas, you might want to read some Matthews, it’s a good idea to learn some local culture, since you live there. Most Nicas would defer to Matthews. If in China, I’d read Confucius and figure out if what he said makes any sense and why the majority of Chinese citizens defer to his teachings. And why his teachings have lasted as long as they have. So you know, I’m in no way attacking you. I welcome a civilized intercourse with anyone. I am a nonpracticing Catholic even though I went to Catholic Schools. A religious person has as much to say as any atheist or viceversa. I’d like to believe that I judge a person on the merits of his arguments not his religious beliefs. Metaphysics and religion have their place in history but this in not what this discussion is about. And I thank for your words regarding your respect for Nicas and their opinions.

          • gcblues

            i wish i could say laissez-faire had been adopted somewhere at sometime, but it never has. i admire greed. i also admire legal means, with a strong distinction between law and order and the rule of law.. left and right use the law to dial in results they wish to accomplish and always fail. the end result is things are worse. there is nowhere the government is solely used to protect individual liberty and property rights;. no, they need to do everything for all from safety nets to education, to health care etc etc etc. none of which is done well, fairly or in a sustainable manner. i would prefer the hardships in my hands with a government applying laws of liberty and property to all equally. i am not interested in improving “society” at the expense of family which is what we now have in every country modern or not. the protection most people need is from government.

            when you live in someone elses country you should act like you live in someone elses country. if you don’t live in a country, come from that country or have family in that country you should shut up. that was what i was saying in reference to deference.
            i find it sad to see the destruction of lives and families that social programs with good intentions cause by forcing labor laws that reduce incomes, social programs that offer substandard service all the while destroying the currency making comidas por las familias mas caro todo las mesas. that is the result of left wing societal improvement. here, there and everywhere. only the political classes grow fat.

          • Ternot MacRenato

            Look in the archives of this journal, Nicaragua Dispatch, for an article on the school IDEAS. I think it came out in the fall 2012

          • gcblues

            i read your letter and my two principle thoughts were;
            1.the Nica diet is indeed deadly. white rice is the equivalent of sugared soda. the water in addition to having parasites is high in particulates causing kidney problems in almost everyone.
            2. that your experience with this school would have been much more positive if the government followed Mr and Mrs Milton Friedman’s proposals of universal vouchers with no public schools.

            public institutions are inherently geared to perpetual crisis and the benefit of public employees. this is why every Nica wants their kids out of public school and why private schools are all full here. if you opened a private school here with the guarantee that every graduate would graduate with an education that enabled them to be self employed or their money back. the school would be full in a New York minute, tuition be damned. if poverty and education could be cured with public institutions and tax money the USA would have no poor and every student would be a genius. it is the public part that is a fail. i think your experience both here and the CC system in Cali would make you a libertarian for life:)

          • Ternot MacRenato

            The head of the Libertarian Party here in San Diego County was a regular visitor to my American Government and History classes for years. I am with the Libertarians on the social issues. (Drugs, gays, prostitution, abortion, gambling, etc. I asked my friend, how about a woman who is 8 months pregnant, should she have the right to an abortion? “That’s a tough one,” he replied. (There is nothing black and white in life. Lots of gay areas.) You have to draw the line somewhere. Take prostitution, any age limit? Ten year old girls? (It goes on in Cambodia.) It is legal here in the U.S. and China to abort a child just because it’s a female fetus. ???? There are no simple answers, just intelligent choices, they say.
            On the economic issues not so much. But it depends on the specific issue. There are captains of industry that I truly admire. And public men that I also admire, Churchill, Conrad Adenauer, Lee Kuan Yew, just to name a few.
            A Libertarian response to my question: what to do with a drug company that sells products that cause death? Lib answ: You don’t need gov’t regulations for that problem. The co. will simply go out of business. I my opinion, the same goes for selling food. Two weeks ago, a few Chinese restaurants in Tijuana were found to be selling dog meat. OK in Korea, Vietnam and China, but not in Mexico. He should investigate, the municipal authorities or “the people.” You see my problem?
            OK Tell me, How do U define “freedom.” And “greed.”

            By the way, now that Daniel decided to close the school, IDEA, I’d like to purchase it. But neither Daniel nor Rosario would answer my inquiries.

          • gcblues

            libertarians are not anarchists and rely on strong government to protect individual rights. selling dog meat or drugs that are not what they claim, killing babies, or minors being prostituted is not allowed in any in any libertarian concept i have ever heard about. abortion is a divided topic in libertarian circles traditionally however medical science has made it less so. killing babies is anti-antithetical to most libertarians today. there is nothing in libertarian texts anywhere that cover your examples as legal.

            i define greed and freedom by looking the words up in Websters.
            why buy a school? in Nicaragua it is not hard to open one. unlike the USA or California.

      • gcblues

        oh, and i stand by the fantasy comment, the road to Hades is paved with good intentions.

  • randypower

    Many good points already in the discussion. I wouldn’t think Nicaragua would have the budget to operate such fighters. The fuel alone would be extremely expensive. So i wonder if the high grade jet fuel will be supplied by Venezuela, and if there is some sort of multiparty arrangement here.

    Aside from that, i can see Ortega using these for canal activities/patrols, but that gets interesting with China. Not that hknd has anything to do with the Chinese government.

  • Ben

    Danny Boy will probably resell them to ISIS.