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The UNO Electoral Victory

As a result of the Esquipulas II peace accords, the FSLN government reinstated political freedoms. At first, the various anti-Sandinista groups were weak and divided and did not have a cohesive government program to challenge the FSLN. The Sandinistas, therefore, felt confident of their success at the polls despite deteriorating socioeconomic conditions in the country. On June 6, 1989, fourteen parties, united only in their opposition to the Sandinistas, formed a coalition called the National Opposition Union (Unión Nacional Opositora--UNO), whose support was drawn from a broad base, including conservative and liberal parties as well as two of Nicaragua's traditional communist factions. Despite its determination to vote the Sandinistas out of power, however, the UNO coalition remained a weak opposition lacking a cohesive program.

The UNO and the Sandinistas began their political campaigns in the summer of 1989. Although sharp divisions within the UNO remained, all fourteen parties finally compromised, and on September 2 the anti-Sandinista coalition nominated Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, publisher of La Prensa and former member of the junta, as their candidate for president. Virgilio Godoy Reyes, head of the PLI and former minister of labor under the Sandinistas, was chosen as her running mate. The FSLN nominated Daniel Ortega for the presidency and Sergio Ramírez Mercado as his running mate.

The political campaign was conducted under the close international supervision of the OAS, the UN, and a delegation headed by former United States President Jimmy Carter. The administration of United States president George H.W. Bush provided economic assistance to the Sandinista opposition. Most of this aid was channeled through the National Endowment for Democracy, which contributed more than US$9 million. Despite some violent incidents, the electoral campaign was carried out in relative peace. The FSLN was better organized than the opposition and used government funds and resources--such as school buses and military trucks--to bring Sandinista supporters from all over the country to their rallies. In an effort to divert attention from the critical economic situation, the Sandinista campaign appealed to nationalism, depicting UNO followers as pro-Somoza, instruments of United States foreign policy and enemies of the Nicaraguan revolution. Despite limited resources and poor organization, the UNO coalition under Violeta Chamorro directed a campaign centered around the failing economy and promises of peace. Many Nicaraguans expected the country's economic crisis to deepen and the Contra conflict to continue if the Sandinistas remained in power. Chamorro promised to end the unpopular military draft, bring about democratic reconciliation, and promote economic growth. In the February 25, 1990, elections, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro carried 55 percent of the popular vote against Daniel Ortega's 41 percent. Exhausted by war and poverty, the Nicaraguan people had opted for change.

Although the election results surprised many observers, both sides began conversations to bring a peaceful transfer of power. In March a transition team headed by Chamorro's son-in-law, Antonio Lacayo Oyanguren, representing the UNO, and General Humberto Ortega, representing the FSLN, began discussions on the transfer of political power. However, Sandinista bureaucrats systematically ransacked government offices and gave government assets to loyal government supporters, destroyed records; consolidated many of the government agencies (in particular, the Ministry of Interior, whose security forces were incorporated into the EPS), and passed legislation to protect their interests once they were ousted from the government. On May 30, the Sandinista government, along with the UNO transition team and the Contra leadership, signed agreements for a formal cease-fire and the demobilization of the Contras. Despite continued sporadic clashes, the Contras completed their demobilization on June 26, 1990 (see The Chamorro Government Takes Power , ch. 4).

The FSLN accepted its new role of opposition and handed over political power to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro and the UNO coalition on April 25, 1990. President Chamorro pledged her determination to give Nicaragua a democratic government, bring about national reconciliation, and keep a small nonpartisan professional army. Nicaragua underwent yet another sea change as the country stepped out of the Cold War spotlight.

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Although the study of Nicaragua dramatically increased among scholars all over the world after the 1979 revolution, a comprehensive history of Nicaragua in English is still not available. The most current references on the subject are part of large volumes on Latin American and Central American history, all of which include chapters on Nicaragua. The best volumes currently available are James Dunkerley's Power in the Isthmus: Political History of Modern Central America and Central America: A Nation Divided, written by Ralph Lee Woodward Jr. Nevertheless, there are many books treating specific periods of Nicaraguan history. Information on Nicaragua's colonial history can be found in Benjamin Keen's A History of Latin America as well as in Thomas E. Skidmore and Peter H. Smith's chapter on "Central America: Colonialism, Dictatorship, and Revolution," in their Modern Latin America. The six decades of transition from colonial status to incipient nation-state are brilliantly covered by E. Bradford Burns in Patriarch and Folk: The Emergence of Nicaragua 1798-1858. A detailed account of British and United States interventions is presented by Neill Macaulay in The Sandino Affair. The first half of the twentieth century including the rise and fall of the Somoza dynasty is covered in Politics in Central America by Thomas P. Anderson. Somoza and the Legacy of U.S. Involvement in Central America by Bernard Diederich is a comprehensive look at the Somoza era, and Karl Bermann's Under the Big Stick: Nicaragua and the United States since 1848 covers United States-Nicaragua relations.

Many works cover the history of the Sandinista period. The most comprehensive analysis of the first half of the Sandinista regime is Nicaragua: The First Five Years, edited by Thomas W. Walker. An excellent source for information on the FSLN leaders, as well as the inner workings of the FSLN as a political party, is Dennis L. Gilbert's Sandinistas: The Party and the Revolution. Contra Terror in Nicaragua by Reed Brody presents the testimony of victims of Contra attacks. Banana Diplomacy: The Making of American Policy in Nicaragua, 1981-1987 by Roy Gutman provides a comprehensive account of United States foreign policy toward Nicaragua during the Reagan administration. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1993

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