Nicaragua to (again) build the largest force of parade panzers in Central America
The military forces of Central America have traditionally been restricted to light infantry, which are easy to move around in areas with few good roads but lots of mountains and jungles. A basic fact of life is that the region between Mexico and Colombia, other than a few urban areas and tourist spots, is largely stuck in about the 1900s.
Another basic piece of military history is that besides border tensions (see Guatemala and Belize off and on for the past 50 years and Nicaragua/Honduras during the Contra wars) is that open conflict between nations in the region is rare.
In the past century or so only El Salvador and Honduras came to an all-out scrap in the “Soccer War” of 1969 and that campaign lasted less than a week, sadly resulting in far more civilian casualties than military. In fact, most countries in the region are more likely to use their armed forces in instances of civil war and coups than against outside aggression. Excepting the Banana Wars and occasional filibuster adventure, these countries have never had to deal with an invasion from outside of the region.
Nicaragua under the Soviet-backed Sandinista government picked up 156 T-54/55 main battle tanks and over 200 BTR-152 armored personnel carriers in the 1980s (both of which were obsolete even then) and used them in a few parades over the years as a sign of military might in a part of the world where an armored column is four Ford F-150s with an M60 machine gun in the lead truck.
At the time, swelled via national conscription and trained by Cuban and East German advisers, the Sandinista Popular Army was pushing 100,000 men under arms.
Now, as reported by War is Boring, even though conscription went away in 1990 and the renamed and much more mellow Ejército de Nicaragua (National Army of Nicaragua) is now just 14,000 strong, the Nicaraguans are picking up 50 upgraded T-72B3s straight from Moscow. These will augment the 31 remaining T-55s.
The country will be the only Central American nation to operate the model and one of only three (to include Venezuela and Cuba) in the Western Hemisphere. These tanks aren’t your father’s 1970s T-72s, they have improved fire-control system, a ballistic computer for better accuracy, thermal weapon sights, and next-generation communications equipment. This makes them comparable to a later generation M60 or an early M1 Abrams.
From War is Boring:
The Kremlin has several obvious reasons for going forward with the deal. Arms exports are an important source of revenue for Russia’s arms industry, and Venezuela — for years one of the top foreign recipients of Russian hardware — is undergoing an economic meltdown.
“It does not appear to be domestic politics, or some ambitious plan of the Nicaraguan government; rather, it is more likely driven by Putin’s desire to create mischief in America’s sphere of influence at a low cost, while providing some direct benefit to Russia’s ailing economy,” retired U.S. Navy CDR Daniel Dolan wrote at USNI News.
As for their neighbors, Costa Rica to the south has no military, relying only on a local police force, the Fuerza Pública; while Honduras to the north has 40,000~ man army but only 19 British FV-101 Scorpion light tanks with 76mm main guns which, like the Nicaraguans, are typically just used for parades.