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.
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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