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Political slogans painted on walls in Managua
Courtesy Nina Serafino

The National Opposition Union (UNO) Coalition

A loose coalition of political parties, UNO traces its origins back to the Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinating Group (Coordinadora Democrática Nicaragüense--CDN), which was formed in 1982 by opposition groups that had protested actions of the Sandinista government as early as November 1980. In 1980 these groups had temporarily withdrawn their members from the corporatist legislature set up by the Sandinista government, the Council of State, to protest the imposition of three emergency decrees that restricted civil liberties and to call for municipal elections that the Sandinistas had stated would be held soon after the revolution. The CDN coalition consisted of three political parties and two factions of a fourth; two labor unions, the Confederation of Nicaraguan Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores Nicaragüenses--CTN) and the Confederation for Trade Union Unity (Confederación de Unificación Sindical--CUS); and the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada--Cosep), an umbrella organization uniting producer and commercial business groups along the lines of the United States Chamber of Commerce. These groups all formed the earliest opposition to the Sandinista government.

In the mid-1980s, as a result of Nicaragua's 1984 presidential and legislative elections, the opposition broadened with the incorporation of three political parties, which up to that point had cooperated closely with the government: the Independent Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Independiente--PLI), the Popular Social Christian Party (Partido Popular Social Cristiano--PPSC), and the Democratic Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Demócrata--PCD). In the late 1980s, while the CDN parties remained outside the legislative arena, the three other parties, which had run candidates in the elections, became known as the "parliamentary opposition." From inside and outside the legislature, opposition groups became increasingly vocal against the Sandinista government.

Their opposition to the Sandinistas, did not forge these groups into a firm coalition, however. Instead, the parties were known for personal rivalries and factionalism. There were animosities and distrust among the leaders of each of the groups, stemming from the degree of cooperation and confrontation each had taken toward the Sandinista government. The groups also held conflicting and ambivalent attitudes toward the United Statessupported Nicaraguan Resistance (Contra) forces that had carried out a war against the Sandinista government since early 1982.

Nevertheless, during the later years of the Contra war, the "civic opposition," as these political parties, unions, and business organizations came to be called, became of great interest to the international community, which was interested in seeking a negotiated solution to the Contra war through the Central American peace process. The political parties gained the support of international groups such as the Christian Democratic International, the Conservative International, and the Liberal International organizations. Esquipulas II, the Central American peace agreement signed by the presidents of five countries in Central America (see Glossary) on August 7, 1987, gave a major role to the Roman Catholic Church and the opposition political parties in negotiating the terms for national reconciliation and democratization in Nicaragua. Although the arrangements specified in this agreement were never implemented as planned, the accord itself was a major factor in stimulating the Sandinistas to lift various constraints on the civic opposition, creating the opportunity for greater political activity. The accord also played a part in the Sandinista decision to advance the election from November to February 1990 and to allow an extensive system of United Nations (UN) and Organization of American States (OAS) monitors to observe the entire electoral process, beginning several months before the election.

By the time the various political parties coalesced into an electoral coalition in September 1989, the fourteen political parties that had evolved from the earlier opposition parties were committed enough to the goal of opposing the Sandinista government that they united around a single candidate. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who had largely stayed outside party politics during the 1980s, was chosen after two bitter rounds of voting eliminated the two other popular candidates. Virgilio Reyes Godoy (who became vice president) and Enrique Bolanos Geyer of Cosep. Both had been active in internal politics throughout the 1980s. At the time of the elections, of the UNO coalition's fourteen political parties, four were considered conservative, seven fell under a broad definition of centrist parties, and three had traditionally been on the far left of the political spectrum (see table 10, Appendix A).

Of all the parties, the largest of the centrist group were the Democratic Party of National Confidence (Partido Demócrata de Confianza Nacional--PDCN), which was one of several breakaway factions of the Nicaraguan Social Christian Party (Partido Social Cristiano Nicaragüense--PSCN), and the PLI of Virgilio Godoy. Among the conservative factions, viewed as the most important was the Conservative Popular Alliance (Alianza Popular Conservadora-- APC) of Míriam Argüello Morales, a leading figure in conservative politics since the 1970s. All the other parties were seen as small groups. In the centrist camp, these were the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal--PL), the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional--PAN), the Popular Social Christian Party (Partido Popular Social Cristiano--PPSC, another faction of the PSCN), and the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (Movimiento Democrático Nicaragüense--MDN). In the conservative arena, the smaller groups were the Conservative National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional Conservadora--PANC), the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (Partido Liberal Constitucionalista-- PLC), and the National Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Nacional--PCN).

Two years after the inauguration, however, the UNO was still viewed as having a narrow political base. Only three of the fourteen parties, among them the PLI, whose leader was Vice President Virgilio Godoy Reyes, had done local-level political organizing across the country. Although some trade union organizations supported the UNO coalition, the UNO parties did not have the type of widespread organizations of labor, peasant, and women's groups that had provided support for the FSLN.

Friction between the executive branch circle, named the Las Palmas group after the neighborhood in which President Chamorro lived, and the UNO legislators was first apparent in the contest for the presidency of the National Assembly. Held days before the president's inauguration, the struggle for leadership of the National Assembly was one of the first tests of power between the Political Council, composed of the leaders of the fourteen political parties, and Chamorro's advisers, whom many of the traditional political party leaders viewed as interlopers. One of Chamorro's closest advisers, Alfredo César Aguirre, was defeated for an UNO position by the Political Council's candidate, Míriam Argüello Morales, a leader of the APC. During this and subsequent debates, Vice President Godoy sided with the Political Council. Frictions between the Las Palmas group and the UNO were further exacerbated by President Chamorro's cabinet selections. All were members of her inner circle; none was a leader of a traditional political party.

The dynamic changed slightly with a shift of characters when César was elected leader of the National Assembly for the 1992 legislative session. Within months of his election, however, he had taken a leadership role on the volatile issues of Sandinista property rights and presence in government, this time against the government. The UNO bloc in the assembly seemed to be reuniting on the same issues, but this time under a younger generation of leaders.

Despite the importance of the National Assembly in shaping national policy, much of the nation's future was increasingly shaped by the evolving politics of the municipalities. The 1990 elections established a new class of political leaders. The UNO parties were weak in organization at the grassroots level, and the creation of new political posts at the municipal level offered opportunities and incentives for the development of a broad base of popular support for the UNO. Because of the UNO parties' weaknesses at the national level, however, the leading UNO mayors viewed themselves as enjoying a far greater level of popular support and legitimacy than the national UNO authorities. The local UNO officials, who had power in about 100 of the country's municipal governments, have at times taken united stands challenging the Chamorro government. In general, the UNO municipal authorities, the most visible of whom is Managua's mayor, Arnoldo Alemán, are more conservative than the Las Palmas group and have taken positions similar to that of the Godoy group and later the César group, at the national level.

Data as of December 1993

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