Nicaragua Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Nicaragua is a country located in North America. With the capital city of Managua, Nicaragua has a population of 6,624,565 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. 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.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Nicaragua.

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 Somoza.

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 America.

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 supporters won.

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 ceasefire agreement.

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 unifying force.

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 arrest.

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 party.

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 community

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.

constitutional Disputes

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 indigenous areas.

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.

Nicaragua Modern History