MANAGUA – President Daniel Ortega’s recent promotion of Major General Julio César Avilés as the next head of the Nicaraguan Army is being hailed as a “very positive sign” of respect for the institutionalization of the country’s armed forces.
In keeping with military tradition, Maj. Gen. Avilés, the no. 2 – ranked officer inNicaragua’s army, was recommended by the military council to replace Gen. Moisés Omar Halleslevens, who is scheduled to retire on Feb. 21, 2010. Ortega approved the council’s recommendation Nov. 21.
Military analysts consulted this week by The Nica Times say Ortega’s appointment of Avilés, a respected officer who’s expected to continue with the professionalization of the military, reaffirms the institutional strength and independence of Nicaragua’s armed forces.
“Ortega respected the unwritten law of the military,” said military expert and defense consultant Roberto Cajina, former advisor to retired Gen. Humberto Ortega, who was the army’s head until 1995. “President Ortega knows he can’t play with the army.”
Cajina said the army is “very careful about maintaining its strategic institutional continuance” and respecting “the natural process of generational succession.” So the fact that Ortega respected that process and did not try to promote someone else instead, is a “great message,” Cajina said.
Retired Gen. Hugo Torres, a Sandinista revolutionary hero and military leader who later played a major role in early efforts to professionalize the army following Ortega’s electoral defeat in 1990, said Avilés’ promotion shows the army has achieved a level of institutional autonomy and strength that other government institutions don’t have.
“I think the army is the most solid institution in the country,” Gen. Torres told The Nica Times this week. “All of the other institutions – the Supreme Electoral Council, the judicial system, the Attorney General’s Office, the Comptroller General’s Office, the Human Rights Ombudsman – they are all controlled by Ortega. But the army remains the most solid and the most respected institution in the country.”
Following Ortega’s irregular promotion of several police officers last year, there was some speculation that the president might try something similar with the army.
On Sept. 5, 2008, Ortega signed a presidential decree creating three new police commissioner´s posts, which he promptly filled with three officers loyal to him, including his in-law Francisco Díaz, now in line to become the next top police boss after Commissioner Aminta Granera retires in 2011.
At the time, the opposition media likened Ortega’s restructuring of the police command to a “coup” against the institution of the National Police, which has been increasingly criticized as a partisan institution ever since.
But when it came to the military, Gen. Torres says, Ortega respected the institutional order and promoted Maj. Gen. Avilés because “he didn’t want to take the risk” of going against the military tradition and violating “the unwritten law.”
Guerrilla to Officer
Born in 1957 in Jinotepe, in the department of Carazo, Julio César Avilés became involved in the struggle against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza at a young age, and was captured by the National Guard when he was only 14 years old.
In the mid 1970s, Avilés studied law at theNationalUniversityin León, but remained very active in protests against Somoza.
In 1976, he joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and fought in various insurrectional campaigns in and around Managua.
By 1979, Avilés was fighting in guerrilla columns in mountains of Estelí, Jinotega and Matagalpa, alongside the man he is going to replace next year, Gen. Halleslevens.
After the triumph of the revolution in July 1979, Avilés became one of the founding members of the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) and received military training in Cuba before returning to Nicaragua to assume a battlefield leadership role against “contra” raiders in the northern departments of the country.
Since being appointed successor to the top military post, Maj. Gen. Avilés has limited his public declarations, saying he doesn’t want to speak for the army until he assumes the post next year. However, he says he realizes that the post represents a “great responsibility to the country and to the people.”
“I am a general, but before anything else, I am a solider of this country, a solider for the people of Nicaragua and the nation ofNicaragua,” Avilés said during a Dec. 2 meeting with President Ortega and Gen. Halleslevens.
“I am committed to do well by Nicaragua, and do everything in my reach and use all my energy to bring the best possible benefits to the Nicaraguan nation,” he said.
‘Gov’ts Come and Go’
For Retired Gen. Joaquín Cuadra, a former Sandinista rebel hero who later headed the Nicaraguan Army for five years after Gen. Humberto Ortega stepped down in 1995, the promotion of Avilés shows the weight of the army’s institutional strength, especially in Nicaragua’s current political climate.
The Ortega government, Gen. Cuadra said, has “shown little respect for the other institutions of the country.” But with the army, Cuadra said, Ortega has had to “respect the natural flow of promotions.”
“The fact that the army’s leadership has been rotated normally and without trauma, is a positive signal for the country,” Gen. Cuadra told The Nica Times in an interview this week. “The last thing Daniel Ortega wants is a crisis with the army; he’s already fighting too many enemies on too many fronts.”
The army, Cuadra said, is viewed as the last institutional fortress in Nicaragua – the singular organization that represents stability and power.
Over the past thirty years of Nicaragua’s tumultuous history, the army has been a constant, Cuadra stressed.
“The army has learned that governments come and go, but the army stays – and so it won’t commit suicide for any one administration,” the retired general said.
“After 2011, we could have another president and the army will have to work with a new government. Ortega could be out after 2011 – he was voted out once before and the army stayed,” Cuadra said.
“Ortega knows the army is not going to follow him on any adventures.”