In late April Russia shipped the first 20 of 50 T-72B tanks ordered by Nicaragua—causing a Cold War Back to the Future moment for Latin America watchers. 

The cost of the 50 tanks reportedly totals $80 million. That is $9 million more than Nicaragua’s total 2015 defense budget. The acquisition of tanks is particularly perplexing to many in the region since Nicaragua has relatively good relations with its neighbors, has a growing tourist industry, and can boast in recent years as being the safest country for foreign tourists in all of Central America. Additionally, the ruling Sandinista party (FSLN) does not face a serious a challenge in the pending November elections.

President Vladimir Putin made a quick visit to Nicaragua in 2014, and soon after that visit the Nicaraguan Parliament approved the building of Russian GLONASS tracking station on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Additional sources, including past statements by Russia’s ambassador to Nicaragua, indicate that the satellite tracking station may also include a port facility for Russian ships to use for resupply and refueling when operating in the area. That detail remains unclear at this point.

The space-tracking base also generated media attention last month when thousands of Nicaraguans from the Caribbean coast traveled to the capital, Managua, to protest the continued encroachment on their lands by these foreign-sponsored projects. The building of the Russian base, and especially the Nicaragua Canal mega-project, sponsored by the Hong Kong-based HKND corporation, have met stiff resistance from a coalition of farmers, fishermen, and environmentalists. The eminent domain issues with those foreign projects are forcing thousands of subsistence farmers from their lands.