The Military: The Challenge of Transition

  • James Dunkerley
  • Rachel Sieder
Part of the Institute of Latin American Studies Series book series (LASS)


The armed forces of Central America have been important and often decisive political actors over the last fifteen years. In three cases — El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua — this importance derives immediately from the waging of civil war, where operational considerations came to determine much of public policy. However, in all the countries the military were influential in politics before the generalisation of the conflict in the mid-1970s. In Guatemala this dominance has a particularly long history and appears to transcend alterations in the ideological landscape at home and abroad. In other cases, such as Panama and Honduras, the influence of the soldiery emerged much later and proved to be ideologically more malleable, albeit highly resilient in strictly institutional terms. Nicaragua has manifested a persistent strain of partisan armies (Liberal and Constitutionalist until the 1920s; Guardia Nacional (GN) and Sandino’s nationalist guerrillas; Ejército Popular Sandinista and the contras), each linked more or less directly to an ideological current since the 1850s. In the case of El Salvador, a most energetic and confident civilian political elite was displaced from administration of the central state by officers in the 1930s, and when they returned thanks to US pressure fifty years later even the most reactionary elements remained prey to the military lobby, which retained important powers of veto.


United Nations Armed Force Security Force Truth Commission Officer Corps 
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© Institute of Latin American Studies 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Dunkerley
  • Rachel Sieder

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