Cuadra began to become interested in politics, liberation theology, and Marxism while in high school. While attending the University of Central America, he and other students were impressed by one of their professors, Father Uriel Molina, who lived among the poor in Managua's El Riguero barrio. In November 1971, they established a commune with him in El Riguero. Cuadra was recruited into the FSLN by Ricardo Morales and Oscar Turcios in late 1972, and went underground early the next year.
He was a member of the Sandinista Commando that raided the Christmas party of a major Somoza supporter in 1974, exchanging imprisoned Sandinistas for the prominent guests. As the FSLN divided over questions of strategy, he aligned himself with the Tercerista faction. In 1977, he recruited his father to politically support the FSLN as one of Los Doce. As leader of the Sandinista Internal Front, he helped support Eden Pastora's capture of the National Palace in August 1978, and coordinated urban guerrilla actions during the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution.
After the victory he was promoted to general and chief of staff of the new Sandinista Popular Army. He assumed leadership of the Nicaraguan army from the hands of Humberto Ortega on February 21, 1995. After retiring from the army, he founded the National Unity Movement in 2000.
- Shirley Christian, Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family, Vintage Books, 1986. ISBN 0-394-74457-8
- Margaret Randall, Christians in the Nicaraguan Revolution, New Star Books, 1983. ISBN 0-919573-15-0
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