The power dynasty of Somoza ruled Nicaragua
from 1936 to 1979, when the dictator Anastasio Somoza
was overthrown by the Sandlinist guerrilla FSLN. The
guerrillas were then transformed into a socialist party
that ruled the country for a decade, marked by civil war
but also social reform. Liberals ruled from 1990 until
2007, when the Sandinists returned to power.
Anastasio Somoza (the elder) seized power in 1936
through a coup d'état. All opposition was suppressed and
Somoza's rule was characterized by stability and close
relations with the United States. By subjugating many
state-owned companies and other assets, he acquired a
large private fortune.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Nicaragua. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
Somoza was murdered in 1956 by a supporter of the
rebel hero Augusto Sandino (see Older History), but his
family retained power. Anastasio Somoza was succeeded by
his sons, first Luis and then Anastasio (the younger).
The latter was elected president in 1967 after a
blood-soaked election campaign.
From the early 1950s until 1978, Nicaragua
experienced rapid economic growth, which was mainly to
replenish the Somosa family's bank accounts.
In 1961, the Marxist resistance movement formed the
Sandinist Front for National Liberation (FSLN), which
took its name from Augusto Sandino. During the 1970s,
the guerrillas gained new followers in various political
camps, all of whom opposed the dictator Anastasio
A severe earthquake, which required about 10,000
casualties, hit Managua in 1972. When Somoza himself
seized the bulk of the aid, popular resistance within
the country increased and the world became upset.
Somoza is overthrown
The 1978 murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, a
bourgeois opposition leader and editor-in-chief of the
La Prensa newspaper, sparked protests. In the same year,
the Sandinists and the bourgeois opposition formed a
common front against the dictator. Several revolts were
fought before the FSLN guerrillas finally defeated the
Somozar regime. Somoza fled the country in July 1979 and
was murdered the following year in Paraguay.
On July 19, 1979, the Sandinists invaded Managua.
They nationalized the assets that had belonged to the
Somoza family or the National Guard officers. Later, the
banks were also nationalized. The Sandinists carried out
radical land reform and invested considerable resources
in care and education.
For the first time after the revolution, the new
regime received some financial support from the United
States, but when Ronald Reagan took office as US
president in 1981 relations between the countries
deteriorated. The United States feared that the
Sandinists would spread communism in the rest of Central
Many Somoz followers and members of the National
Guard had moved to Honduras in 1979, where they formed a
guerrilla army, contras, whose aim was to
overthrow the Sandinists. Contras received US support
and began to make raids into Nicaragua in 1981.
Even on the Atlantic coast, which had not been
affected by Somoza's repression, opposition to the
Sandinists grew. The government had started to build
mass organizations without taking into account the
indigenous peoples' own organizations. The conflict
between the government and miskito, sumo and rama people
also applied to land ownership.
As the contradictions intensified, Contra's new
The civil war intensified and until 1984, Contras had
the initiative in the fighting. The Sandinists
introduced a state of emergency, which, among other
things, suspended the freedom of the press. The
censorship eased somewhat around the election in 1984,
when the Sandinis' presidential candidate Daniel Ortega
received 67 percent of the vote.
Iran constras affair
US secret assistance to the right-wing guerrilla
contras was suspended in 1984 after it emerged that the
US intelligence service CIA mined Nicaraguan ports. In
1986, the so-called Iran-contras deal was revealed,
which showed that the United States continued to send
money to contras, money received for secret arms sales
to Iran. Despite the scandal this meant in the US,
Washington soon resumed assistance to the contras in the
form of "humanitarian" aid.
A turning point in the war came in 1985, when the
Sandinists claimed to have defeated guerrillas
militarily. The fighting continued, but it was clear
that the contras could not win over the Sandinists. The
same year, the government's policy on the Atlantic coast
also changed. The indigenous people who had been
displaced could return to their ruined villages. 1987
the right of the Atlantic coast to autonomy was written
into the constitution.
In 1987, the Esquipula Agreement was signed, which
became the beginning of a peace process throughout
Central America. In Nicaragua, a National Reconciliation
Commission was formed and in 1988 Contras and the
Sandini government signed a ceasefire agreement.
However, the fighting did not end completely. The Civil
War only ended in the spring of 1990 after a new
The consequences of the civil war were devastating.
Tens of thousands of people had lost their lives, the
defense had devoured over half of the state budget, and
the trade embargo introduced by the United States in
1985 put severe strain on the economy.
The Sandinists lose power
In the 1990 election, the Sandinists lost
surprisingly against the National Opposition Union (UNO)
and its leader, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, became new
president. The main reason for the UN election victory
was the desire of the Nicaraguan for peace and better
living conditions. As a widow after the murdered Pedro
Joaquín Chamorro, Violeta Chamorro was seen as a
With loans from the IMF, the government implemented
financial tightening, which led to increased
unemployment and poorer living conditions. But Chamorro
at the same time gave the Sandinists political room,
which in 1993 led to a break between the government and
large parts of the UN.
In the early 1990s, rural violence increased.
Recontras (ex-contras) and recompas
(ex-Sandinist soldiers) had once again taken up
arms because of dissatisfaction that they had not
received the land and housing promised by the
government. The army was unable to stop the violence.
But since the government in 1993 promised the armed
groups amnesty, they began to lay down their weapons. In
July 1997, disarmament was in principle implemented.
Arnoldo Alemán from the Conservative
Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) won the
presidential election in 1996. A liberal alliance, which
included the PLC, became the largest in the National
Assembly. The Sandinists continued to be a strong
political force despite the fact that the party split
the year before, when the Sandinist renewal movement
(MRS) was formed.
In the fall of 1997, a settlement was reached between
the government and the Sandinists regarding the return
of or compensation for property confiscated by the
Sandinists. Before the change of power in 1990, the
Sandinists had legalized all property transfers. Through
the laws, many leading Sandis ministers became owners of
everything from housing to computers.
The Alemán government implemented a new IMF program.
Government companies were privatized and import duties
were lowered. Economic policy combined with Alemán's
attempt to resolve the ownership conflicts led foreign
investors to start believing in Nicaragua. However,
growth slowed down since Hurricane Mitch advanced across
Nicaragua in October 1998. About 3,000 people perished
and nearly half a million became homeless. In addition,
infrastructure and farmland were damaged.
In the 2001 presidential election, Alemán's vice
president, PLC politician Enrique Bolaños and PLC won
their own majority in parliament. The elections were
boycotted by the MRS, which claimed that democracy was
put out of play because of a pact between the PLC and
the FSLN (see Political system).
Corruption investigation against Alemán
Although the PLC controlled the National Assembly,
Bolaños was given a weak position when he took office as
president in 2002. Most PLC members were loyal to the
party leader Alemán, who was appointed president.
Bolaños surprised most judges when he began
investigating corruption charges against his
representative. In December 2002, Alemán was placed
under house arrest while the investigation was underway.
But he still managed to keep control of the ruling
party, which limited Bolaño's ability to act. In
February 2003, about 40 Alemán-loyal PLC members broke
with the government. Bolaños was forced to rule with the
support of five to ten PLC members, who formed the Azul
y blanco (Blue and White) faction but on some issues
could rely on support from the FSLN.
In December 2003, Alemán was sentenced to 20 years in
prison for money laundering and fraud and irregularities
in connection with elections. He was convicted of using
over $ 100 million of state funds for his own election
campaigns and of earning a personal fortune. In the
following years, he alternately sat in jail and house
In an attempt to create an alternative to PLC and
FSLN, in May 2004, Bolaños launched the Alliance for the
Republic (Apre). This new Liberal Conservative Alliance
consisted of liberal Bolaños supporters, the
Conservative Party (PC), the Social Christian Party
(PSC) and other small parties.
The opposition tried in various ways to reduce
Bolaño's power. PLC and FSLN pushed through
constitutional changes that increased the influence of
the National Assembly at the expense of the president.
The reforms were approved by Parliament in 2005, but
were repealed by the Supreme Court in 2008.
The Sandinists regain power
Ahead of the presidential election in the fall of
2006, Sandinis' candidate Daniel Ortega faced strong
competition on the left by former Managua Mayor Herty
Lewites, who was running for MRS. But Lewites died in a
heart attack four months before the election.
The FSLN formed a Alliance, which included a party
with previous ties to the contras. Ortega emphasized the
need for economic stability and promised to cooperate
with the IMF. It was interpreted as an attempt to win
bourgeois voters. Ortega's opponents tried to score
points with his contacts with Venezuela, who were
accused of meddling in the elections by offering cheap
oil to Sandinist mayors, thereby favoring the Sandinist
In the autumn of 2006, the National Assembly,
supported by Ortega and most of the members of the FSLN,
voted through a total ban on abortion. The Catholic
Church had played a driving role in bringing about the
tightening of legislation. Feminist groups and others
accused Ortega of supporting the law to win the
presidential election with the help of the church.
Ortega won the November presidential election in the
first round. In the parliamentary elections, the FSLN
became the largest party, but did not get its own
majority in the National Assembly.
Ortega's cooperation with the business
After his return to the 2007 presidential post,
Ortega abandoned his socialist economic theories and
kept the state away from business, making him friends
within the economic elite. At the same time, his
position was strengthened by relatively good growth (see
Financial overview) and social initiatives. However, it
was not long before criticism of power was heard.
Shortly after taking power, the Sandinists, with the
support of the conservative PLC, got through a proposal
in the National Assembly that gave the president greater
influence over the military and the police.
The 2008 municipal elections were followed by
accusations of electoral fraud and led to the US, the EU
and other donors withdrawing their assistance to
Nicaragua. According to the official results, the
Sandinists prevailed in the majority of municipalities.
But the government did not allow any independent
observers at the elections and there were suspicions of
irregularities by the Sandinists.
To be eligible for re-election in 2011, Ortega had to
circumvent the constitution, which included a ban on
both direct re-election and more than two terms of
office at the presidential post. He and hundreds of FSLN
faithful mayors appealed against the provisions of the
Constitution, and got it right in the Supreme Court. The
situation became tense when Ortega, through a decree,
extended the mandate of several judges indefinitely,
even though he lacked a mandate for it. The measure
prompted the opposition to boycott the work of the
National Assembly for a time. The opposition also fought
to get the electoral authority to annul Ortega's
candidacy, but failed.
In the November 2011 elections, Ortega outperformed
four right-wing Liberal candidates.
Charges of cheating
Also in the 2011 parliamentary elections, the
Sandinists won big and gained a two-thirds majority,
which gave FSLN the opportunity to amend the
constitution on its own. The election was overseen by
the US cooperation organization OAS and the EU, but
several other organizations were not allowed to do so,
despite pressure from the outside world. The opposition
claimed that the election had been manipulated and was
supported by several of the election observers who were
not officially approved. The OAS and the EU also
expressed criticism but said they had not observed any
"significant irregularities" and approved the election
result. The victory of the Sandinists was expected, but
the critics questioned the large margins they won in
both the presidential and parliamentary elections.
In January 2014, the National Assembly voted
definitively on constitutional amendments, which means
that a president may stand for re-election an unlimited
number of times. This meant that Ortega could run for
another term in 2016.
Contested channel project
An old idea of digging a canal through Nicaragua,
between the Atlantic and Pacific, was revived by the
government in 2013. The waterway would become a
competitor to the Panama Canal and lift Nicaragua out of
poverty, it was called. The government signed an
agreement to build the channel worth about $ 50 billion
with a Chinese telecom magnate, Wang Jing, who founded
the company Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) for
the purpose. Critics claimed that in fact, the
government of Beijing was behind HKND. Environmental
organizations feared major damage to Lake Nicaragua and
social groups protested against intrusion into
Some work on constructing new ports and roads began
in late 2014 and the major construction would have begun
the following year, but postponed. Environmental
concerns were cited as a reason, but in addition, Wang
Jing's wealth was reported to have collapsed sharply due
to a collapse on the Chinese stock exchange. Eventually,
it was clear that the project had completely stopped.