>– Nicaraguan Air Force Commander: Special Military Brigade to Man New Control Tower at Punta Huete
– Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Holds Consultations with Red Regimes in Managua and San Salvador
– Ortega Coddles Alleged FARC Funder as Moskito Indians Occupy Regional Airport, Defy Sandinistas
– Happy Customer Hugo Chavez Orders 18 More Chinese-Built Trainer/Light Attack Jets
Punta Huete, with its new equipment, is ready.
— Brigadier General Jorge Alberto Miranda, Commander of Nicaraguan Air Force, interviewed by La Prensa (Managua), May 21, 2010
In late 2008 we reported on one of Igor Sechin’s official visits to Nicaragua. Sechin is Deputy Prime Minister of Russia but, in an earlier incarnation, was the GRU’s pointman in Latin America, coordinating the supply of arms to the region’s communist insurgents. The GRU refers to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet/Russian Armed Forces. At the time the Nicaraguan media noted that Moscow and Managua were considering the possibility of rehabilitating Punta Huete, a military runway north of Lake Managua that the Soviets and Cubans built between 1982 and 1987. The air base is also known as Panchito Aerodrome.
During the first Sandinista regime, President Daniel Ortega intended to purchase a number of MiG-21 fighter jets from the Soviet Union or Cuba, ostensibly to “export” red revolution throughout the region. In 1984 the White House formally warned the Soviets that it would not permit Moscow to base aircraft in Nicaragua, in particular, maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine planes. In the July 26, 1987 edition of the New York Times Bernard E. Trainor discussed Nicaragua’s importance to Soviet strategic aviation:
Most experts who have followed the construction of Punta Huete say they believe the airfield will be completed but will not be used to its full potential unless Nicaragua and the Soviet Union judge they can do so without unduly provoking the United States. Even so, it is generally believed that Moscow will not try to base tactical aircraft like MiGs there.
More likely, experts say, Punta Huete may be eventually used as a landing and refuelling base for Soviet maritime aircraft. That would make it possible for the Russians to fly long-range reconnaissance and electronic eavesdropping flights along the west coast of Alaska and North America from bases in Soviet Asia.
During 1986-1987 testimony in the Congressional Iran-Contra hearings, US Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North “specifically cited the air base at Punta Huete and two small ports as potentially useful to the Russians as based in the Western Hemisphere.” The ports to which North referred more than two decades ago were probably Corinto on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast and Monkey Point on the Caribbean coast. Two years ago, in connection with Punta Huete, we noted that the Russians are in fact interested in helping Ortega transform Monkey Point into a deep-water port. Incidentally, North briefly re-emerged from retirement in 2006 to campaign against Ortega’s re-election bid. North’s personal website can be found here.
In December 1986 US citizen Sam Nesley Hall was arrested outside the Punta Huete air base and charged with spying. Hall was released the following January after the Nicaraguans deemed him mentally unstable. In 1990, after Ortega lost the presidency, everyone forgot about the Sandinistas and Panchito fell into disrepair.
Meanwhile, Latin America’s guerrillas traded in their machine guns for suit jackets, democratically assuming power in countries like Venezuela (1999), Bolivia (2005), Uruguay (2009), and El Salvador (2009). The USA also changed after the Cold War, especially in terms of threat perceptions. Communism was no longer viewed as the main enemy of freedom, hence Barack Hussein Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008. With the return to open power of the Sandinistas in January 2007 and in view of President Obama’s commitment to strip the USA of its nuclear deterrent, it appears that the time has arrived where Washington will not be “unduly provoked” by the presence of Russian strategic aviation in Central America.
Pictured here: New control tower at Punta Huete.
Last week in Managua the Russia-Nicaragua Intergovernmental Commission convened for the first time in 18 years. Co-chairing the commission for the Nicaraguans and Russians were Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel Kautz and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov, respectively. Accompanying Riabkov were 37 high-ranking Russian “civil servants and industrialists.” On the agenda were bilateral relations in the areas of energy production, technology, tourism, transportation, construction, fishing, and education. More ominously, on June 1, 2010 El Nuevo Diario reported:
The Russians are interested in helping the government of Ortega finish the rehabilitation of the airport in the locality of Punta Huete—next to Lake Xolotan, 50 kilometers northeast of Managua—that the Sandinistas began to construct during their first government (1979-1990).
The relations between Nicaragua and Russia were established in 1979 with the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution, which received the economic and political support of Moscow during the Cold War. These relations were suspended between 1990 and 2006, during the right-wing governments of the time, but were started again in 2007 with the return to power of Ortega.
The purpose of Panchito, as publicized by the current Sandinista regime, is to handle aircraft during “emergencies” and “natural disasters,” as well as large aircraft that cannot be adequately serviced at Augusto Sandino International Airport in Managua. This includes commercial aircraft such as Boeing 747s and cargo planes such as the Russian-built AN-124 and US-built C-5 Galaxy.
Not insignificantly, the 3,000-meter runway at Punta Huete is the only landing strip in Central America that can accommodate Soviet/Russian strategic bombers, such as the Tu-160 Blackjack. From Nicaragua, this airborne cruise missile platform can approach the coasts of California and Texas in about 60 minutes and fire its lethal load. Nicaragua’s small, Soviet-equipped air force has never had any requirement for such a large runway.
In the May 21, 2010 edition of Managua’s La Prensa Nicaragua’s air force commander, Brigadier General Jorge Alberto Miranda (pictured here), related the current status of Punta Huete, which boasts a new control tower with modern communications and air navigation systems.
The runway was constructed with military aims, as a place where Russian-built MiG-21 airplanes could land.
President Daniel Ortega was disposed to coordinate the rehabilitation of the airport.
There is a special brigade that can be immediately transferred to the airport’s control tower. These personnel are ready to enter and operate the control tower when necessary. The Nicaraguan Army is able to use contingency equipment there in case of emergencies.
The approach to Punta Huete is safe, whether by land or air. We are speaking of an eight-kilometer land access that can be crossed perfectly, without problems. There is no possibility of flooding in or around the runway. It is for that reason that Punta Huete’s qualifications are very positive. The geographic location of the aerodrome is very suitable.
This runway can operate by day or night following a contingency plan prepared by the army.
After some preparation the runway will be ready to receive aircraft in case Sandino Airport is disqualified. The International Civil Aviation Organization approved of the runway’s rehabilitation.
Punta Huete, with its new equipment, is ready.
Captain Carlos Salazar, director of the Nicaraguan Civil Aeronautical Institute, explained that “We are assuring that the main airport [in Managua] has an effective contingency plan that includes an alternative runway, to avoid any tragic event. Our main objective [at Punta Huete], first of all, is to watch and supervise [all?] air operations in Nicaragua.” Writing for La Prensa, journalist Roberto Morales reveals that the Central American Corporation of Airplane Navigation Services (Cocesna) donated US$5 million to renovate Punta Huete.
Following last week’s meeting of the Russia-Nicaragua Intergovernmental Commission, Moscow extended a US$10 million loan to help Central America’s most impoverished country. Ortega also relies heavily on petrodollars from Venezuelan comrade Hugo Chavez—funnelled through front companies controlled by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—to re-consolidate his grip on Nicaragua.
Pictured here: In this undated but apparently recent photograph, the runway at Punta Huete appears to be in good shape. The Russians want to help the Sandinistas finish “rehabilitating” this Soviet-built air base.
In a related story, the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s decades-old alliance with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was once again exposed this week when Managua granted political asylum to Ruben Dario Granda. Ruben is the brother of Rodrigo Granda, who is known as FARC’s “foreign minister.” Ruben was detained by Colombian authorities in April on suspicion of allegedly securing funds for FARC, but released for lack of evidence. He sought refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy in Bogota on May 31. The neo-Sandinista regime previously gave refuge to four survivors of the March 2008 Colombian military raid in Ecuador that killed FARC commander Raul Reyes and 24 others.
While Ortega huddles with his Moscow masters and coddles putative FARC terrorists, the second FSLN regime faces serious domestic challenges to its continuity from the main opposition group, the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, which last month declared a “general rebellion” against Ortega’s government. Nicaragua’s indigenous groups along the Caribbean coast are also defying the Sandinistas, including the Moskito Indians, who nominally seceded from the country last year.
Last Friday, Moskitos allied under the banner of the YATAMA political party occupied an airport in northern Nicaragua, demanding fulfillment of an agreement that indigenous leaders signed with the Sandinistas a week ago. Among other things, Ortega promised to provide the Moskitos with loans, houses, and jobs. YATAMA leader Hector Poveda warned Managua that his followers would occupy other government buildings in Bilwi if the Sandinistas did not fulfill their obligations. The occupation of Rigoberto Cabezas Airport prompted the suspension of flights to the capital. The native Nicaraguans also blocked the road between Minas and Waspan municipalities. During the 1980s the Moskitos joined the US-backed Contras in trying to dislodge the first Sandinista regime. Poveda claims to lead nearly 4,000 former Moskito combatants.
More than a year after peacefully assuming power in El Salvador, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) is deepening relations between the Central American country and Russia. On June 3, fresh from co-chairing the Russia-Nicaragua Intergovernmental Commission, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Riabkov flew to San Salvador (pictured here). There he conferred with counterpart Carlos Castañeda, to analyze the possibility of boosting collaboration in the areas of sports, tourism, science, and technology.
“We have already had many achievements with other Central American and Latin American countries and I am glad to have found such a positive attitude here,” Riabkov told a news conference. For his part, Castañeda announced Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez’s visit to Moscow during the second half of October 2010 to sign several cooperation agreements.
During the 1980s, while the FMLN operated as a guerrilla army, the military-backed center-right governments that ruled El Salvador did not have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba. This was probably due to the fact that El Salvador’s communist insurgents received ideological, logistical, and weapons support from the Soviets, Cubans, and Nicaraguans. In 1992, after the end of the civil war, El Salvador established diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation, but only via its embassy in Berlin, while Russia’s ambassador in Nicaragua also covered Russian-Salvadoran relations. Now the Salvadorans and Russians are contemplating establishing embassies in the other’s capital.
Last year, after center-left frontman and ex-TV journalist Mauricio Funes was elected president, the FMLN Politburo dispatched the real ruler of El Salvador, Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, to Havana where he consorted with his Cuban mentors. The FMLN’s former battlefield commander, Sanchez Ceren is known as a “doctrinaire Leninist” and, according to more cynical Salvadorans, is only one bullet away from assuming Funes’ position.
Finally, on June 5 Venezuela’s red dictator Hugo Chavez announced that his regime will spend another US$82 million to buy a second shipment of 18 Chinese-made K-8 trainer/light attack jets. Venezuela received an initial shipment of six K-8 planes earlier this year. Chavez also acknowledged that Venezuela plans to buy “large amounts” of appliances from the People’s Republic of China, including refrigerators, washing machines, and television sets. In addition to its commercial relations with Red China, Venezuela has also purchased US$4 billion of Russian military equipment and weapons since Chavez established his strategic partnership with Moscow in 2001.