Enrique Bermúdez Varela (December 11, 1932 – February 16, 1991) was a Nicaraguan who founded and commanded the Nicaraguan Contras. In this capacity, he became a central global figure in one of the most prominent conflicts of the Cold War.
Bermúdez founded the largest Contra army in the war against Nicaragua’s Marxist Sandinista government, which was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba. From 1979 until the end of the military conflict in 1990, Bermudez was the Contras’ top military commander.
In addition to being responsible for all of the Contras’ military operations, Bermúdez ultimately helped manage the Contras’ transition to an opposition political party in the early 1990s, after the second election in post-Somoza Nicaragua ended in defeat for the Sandinistas.
The first election, held in 1984, had resulted in an overwhelming victory for the FSLN and its candidate, Daniel Ortega; it was the rejection of this democratic outcome that led the Contras to continue their insurgency until Ortega and the FSLN had been ejected from office.
On February 16, 1991, Bermudez was assassinated in Managua.
Bermúdez was born on December 11, 1932 in León, Nicaragua, the son of a mechanical engineer and a domestic servant. After graduating from the military academy in 1952, he took a commission in the engineer corps of the Nicaraguan Guardia Nacional. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel under former Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and was serving as military attaché to the United States at the time of the 1979 revolution in Nicaragua by the Sandinistas.
Bermúdez moved almost immediately into armed opposition against the new government, ultimately becoming one of the most influential leaders in the armed opposition to the Sandinista government. Together with Ricardo Lau, he created the 15th of September Legion, the first armed opposition movement against the Sandinistas. In 1981, Bermúdez returned to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, from exile in Miami, United States. He would later become commander of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), the primary Contra movement.
During the Contra war, Bermúdez held the nom de guerre, Comandante 380.
In the last years of the Contra War, Bermúdez had taken up reading the works of noted libertarian author Ayn Rand. While serving as commander of the semi-secret Contra headquarters on the Nicaragua-Honduras border code named “Aguacate” – Spanish for Avocado – he was known for taking solitary walks in the nearby jungle, taking photographs of intricate spiderwebs.
Bermúdez is survived by family members, most of whom live in Miami. He was buried in Miami, following a funeral mass that was attended by many of his U.S. and Nicaraguan supporters.
In 2002 and 2004, his daughter, Claudia Bermúdez, now a resident of the San Francisco area, ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Democrat Barbara Lee for California’s 9th congressional district seat. She remains heavily engaged in public policy-related initiatives in the district.