The Nicaraguan Army wants to use Russian fighter jets, including MiG-29 aircraft, to combat drug trafficking in Nicaragua, Brigadier-General Aldolfo Zepeda told reporters this week. “In order to prevent drug-smuggling aircraft passing through our airspace,” Zepeda said, the Nicaraguan authorities are “taking steps to buy jet interceptors.”
He described the move as “purely defensive, not aggressive.” But some have speculated the military upgrade will prompt Nicaragua's neighbors, including Colombia, to grow its own aerial firepower in retaliation. The International Court of Justice in The Hague awarded Nicaragua 75,000 square kilometers in the Caribbean that used to be Colombia’s in 2012.
“Nicaragua does not constitute a threat for any country to argue that they are arming themselves in case of an eventual strike from Nicaragua,” Zepeda said, according to the PanAm Post. “We are a peaceful country, we respect international law. Our differences at the international level are taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and Nicaragua upholds those decisions."
Nicaragua will buy more Russian MiG-29 aircraft, which will be used in the fight against drug trafficking pic.twitter.com/EUTmRmuDBw
— Gabriel (@qwertys4171) February 11, 2015
The Nicaraguan army is also considering purchasing eight patrol vessels, as well as navy ships from Russia, a firm military ally during the Sandinista regime between 1979 and 1990. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu was expected to visit Nicaragua this year on a Latin American tour that also will include Venezuela and Cuba, according to Itar-Tass, a Russian news agency widely criticized for being a mouthpiece for the Kremlin.
Nicaragua is generally considered one of the least violent countries in Central America, but it is often used by drug traffickers as a prime route connecting to other nations in the Western Hemisphere. The government has imposed maximum prison sentences for offenders and the country has free education and health care that has been credited with limiting drug problems.
In a speech last year, President Daniel Ortega defended Nicaragua's right to military defense and said the country would turn to Russia for support. “It’s just as important now to defend our right, the right that we Nicaraguans have to arm ourselves, to strengthen ourselves militarily; we have to modernize the army to provide these services,” Ortega said. “It’s just that simple.”
Russian lawmakers passed a bill in April 2014 to allow the country to build a satellite navigation monitoring system in Nicaragua, according to the Russian press.