Part two: from 1979
1979 – Broad coalition of forces led by the Sandinistas (FSLN) overthrows
the Somoza dictatorship that ruled Nicaragua for 43 years.
Part of celebratory poster for
AMNLAE, the Luisa Amanda Espinosa Association for Nicaraguan Women, which was set up in August 1979. Luisa Amanda was the
first woman (mujer) to die in combat against Somoza's
1980 – Sandinistas launch a UNESCO-acclaimed literacy crusade.
Urban volunteers (brigadistas) worked alongside peasants in the
day and taught them reading, writing, basic arithmetic and other subjects in
the evenings. Illiteracy was reduced from over 50% to 12% in under six
Photo by Fiona Macintosh
1981 – In an attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government the Reagan
administration begins financing and training the contras, a mercenary army
based in Honduras.
1984 – First free and fair elections
Nicaragua’s history won by the FSLN with 67% of the vote. Daniel Ortega
Sandinista National Directorate 1985.
Left to right: Tomás Borge, Victor Tirado,
Humberto Ortega, Henry Ruíz, Daniel Ortega,
Jamie Wheelock, Bayardo Arce, Carlos Núñez, Luís
Photo by Lou Dematteis
1985 – The Reagan administration declares that Nicaragua poses a
threat to the national security of the US and uses this as a justification
for imposing a trade embargo.
1986 – World Court rules that the US war against Nicaragua is in
violation of international law and orders the US to pay reparations. The US
refuses to accept the jurisdiction of the Court or to pay the estimated £12
billion damage to the country’s infrastructure.
1987 – Contadora peace agreement signed by the presidents of the five
Central American countries. This leads to the beginning of negotiations
between the Sandinista government and the contra.
1987 - Nicaraguan Constitution approved by the National Assembly
after nation-wide consultation.
1981 to 1990 – US backed contra war leads to the deaths of 30,000 on
1983 to 1987 - Gradual recognition of indigenous demands for autonomy.
Peace negotiations and wide public consultation culminate in passing of a
Law of Autonomy of the Atlantic Coast.
free and fair elections give shock
result; they are won by US- backed 14-party UNO coalition led by Violeta
FSLN becomes largest opposition party.
Photo credit: United States Library of
Congress, Public Domain
1990 – Demobilisation of 22,000 contras and 235,000 army personnel.
1992 – The US temporarily suspends aid to Nicaragua demanding the
return of property to former owners (now US citizens).
1991 to 2002 Imposition of IMF/World Bank ‘free’ market economy which
stabilises the economy but results in cutbacks in public expenditure,
privatisation and a flood of foreign products into the country which
undermines local production. Unemployment reaches 70% and 40% of the
population live in extreme poverty.
and National Assembly elections won by the right wing Liberal Alliance.
Arnoldo Aleman becomes President, Eduardo Bolaňos
Photo taken at the inauguration in 1997
Credit: Tomas Starhardte
1997 – Nicaragua’s foreign debt stands at
$6.4 bn, one of the highest per capita debts of any country in the world.
1998 – Zoilamerica Narvaez accuses her stepfather Daniel Ortega of
1998 – New 3 year Enhanced Structural Adjustment (ESAF) package
signed between the Nicaraguan government and the IMF.
1998 – Liberal (PLC) government implicated in a scandal involving a
plane used for the transport of cocaine - the first of many such scandals to
come to light.
1999 - A controversial pact is signed between the FSLN and the
Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) to reform state institutions and the
2000 - Municipal elections result in considerable gains for the FSLN
(Sandinista Party) in urban areas where they win the main towns in 11 of the
17 departments including Managua. However, the PLC (Constitutionalist
Liberal Party) secures overwhelming victories in rural areas.
2000 - Nicaragua enters the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC)
initiative along with 22 other countries. Providing that Nicaragua complies
with IMF/World Bank structural adjustment conditionality, the country’s
debts will be reduced from $6.4bn to $1.9bn over the next few years.
The conditions, however, are resulting in drastic cuts in public services.
Coffee workers and others displaced
by Hurricane Mitch still survive in appalling conditions. The Oxford Leon
Trust is working with communities to rebuild their lives.
2001 - President Bush nominates Cold War warriors Otto Reich and John
Negroponte to key foreign affairs posts. In the 1980s Reich ran a government
office that engaged in covert propaganda activities to undermine the
Sandinista government and Negroponte was US ambassador to Honduras.
Negroponte’s candidature is ratified by Congress immediately after September
11th. Otto Reich’s candidature proves so controversial that the Bush
administration bypassed Congress and appointed Reich during a Congressional
recess over Christmas 2001 (Reich later resigns in June 2004)
2001 - Convicted Iran-contra criminal Elliot Abrams is appointed by
President Bush as National Security Council’s senior director for democracy,
human rights and international operations.
2001 – With the FSLN ahead in the polls the Bush administration sends
an envoy to Nicaragua to undermine the position of the FSLN in the
forthcoming elections and to help forge an anti Sandinista alliance. Post
September 11th, the US intensifies the campaign to undermine
the FSLN in general and Daniel Ortega in particular with the Bush
administration labelling past, present and future opponents of US foreign
policy as ‘terrorists.’
November 2001 – Elections for the presidency, National Assembly and
Central American Parliament. PLC candidate Enrique Bolaños wins the
presidency with 56% of the vote. The second placed candidate was the FSLN –
Convergence candidate Daniel Ortega with 42%.
2002 – President Enrique Bolaños attempts to bring corrupt members of
the Aleman administration to trial. Arnoldo Aleman, ex-President and now
President of National Assembly, uses his majority in the assembly to block
December 2003 - Aleman sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $17
million for money laundering, embezzlement of public funds, fraud and
electoral crimes. A year later he is transferred to house arrest. Between
2003 and 2007 this sentence is gradually relaxed to 'house' imprisonment,
'regional' imprisonment and 'within-country' imprisonment as a result of
deals with the FSLN as part of the pact.
Jan 2004 - World Bank cancels 80% of Nicaragua's debt to the
2004 - Mayagna people of Awastingni win landmark ruling on land
rights in the Interamerican Court of Human Rights.
Bolaños government instructed to demarcate lands within the year.
July 2004 - Agreement with Russia to write-off Nicaragua's
multi-billion-dollar Soviet-era debt.
October 2005 - Political crisis eases as the National Assembly agrees
to delay constitutional reforms, which will weaken the powers of the
president, until President Bolaños leaves office in 2007.
April 2006 - The National Assembly approves the Dominican Republic - Central
American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) with the US.
November 2006 – Elections for the presidency, National Assembly and
Nicaraguan representatives to the Central American parliament. Despite
massive interference by the US Daniel Ortega becomes president with 37% of
the vote and the FSLN wins the largest number of seats in the National
Assembly but does not have overall control.
December 2006 – President-elect Daniel Ortega announces appointments to
key government agencies and ministries, several of whom held posts in the
Sandinista government of the 1980s.
January 2007 – Miguel de Castilla Urbina, the new Minister of
Education, announces that school fees will be abolished from 11 January.
Previously 50% of all pupils dropped out by the end of the school year
because parents could not afford to pay the fees.
March 2007 – President Ortega highlights the failure of the US to
recognise the 1986 World Court ruling declaring the 1980s contra war illegal
and the refusal of the US to pay Nicaragua’s US$17 billion claim for
March 2007 -The National Assembly ratifies Nicaragua’s membership of
ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas). ALBA includes Venezuela,
Cuba, and Bolivia is an alternative to the proposed Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA). Under the agreement Venezuela begins to provide Nicaragua
with oil on more favourable terms than the international market.
March 2007 - Ministry of Education begins consultation with civil
society on a Plan of Operations 2008 – 2012 and curriculum proposals. To
meet increased enrolments, the Plan outlines the development of school
infrastructure, increases in teacher numbers to meet increased enrolments,
improvements in teacher training, and a programme of social action to tackle
the causes of school absenteeism and dropout.
April 2007 – As part of a health plan the government commits to a
free health service starting with the end of fees for consultations and
payment for medicines.
May 2007 – Launch of Zero Hunger programme which the government hopes
will benefit 75,000 campesinos in the first 5 years. The programme
focuses on environmental protection, prevention of deforestation,
diversifying production, increasing self-sufficiency in food and fuel and
thereby decreasing imports.
* Nicaragua declared almost free of landmines, 20 years after the end of
the contra war.
* The government outlines plans to deal with the economic crisis, stressing
its links with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA)
* The US and European countries withhold aid from Nicaragua alleging fraud
in the Nicaraguan municipal elections in November 2008.
* 94% of school students complete the academic year – the highest figure in
* Municipal elections on the Atlantic Coast won by FSLN
* US government continues the suspension of $64million from the
Millennium Challenge Account for infrastructure projects and support for
small farmers in the Leon area.
* The basic basket of goods for a family costs $450 per month compared to
the average agricultural wage of $70 per month.
* At the Summit of the Americas an hour-long meeting takes place between
between the presidents of Central American countries (plus Panama and the
Dominican Republic) and President Obama. Obama’s cordiality towards
Presidents Ortega and Chávez is condemned by former Vice-President Dick
* Dole successfully appeals against the 2007 award against them for using
Nemagon pesticide in Nicaragua after it was banned in the US.The case
against Dole is thrown out by the judge in the US after Dole accuses lawyers
for Nicaraguan banana workers of presenting false evidence.
May 2009 - Nicaraguan pig-farmers say they are
being bankrupted by US pork imports, the result of DR-CAFTA.
* Nicaragua government provides refuge to Honduras president Manuel
Zelaya illegally ousted in a coup
30th anniversary of the Nicaraguan
To mark this occasion NSC published an anniversary briefing entitled "The
Sandinista Revolution, its legacy and the contribution of international
. You can request a printed copy or follow the
You can also read Nicaraguan perspectives on
the legacy of the revolution by following this link
Photo: Women Sandinistas celebrating the 30th anniversary.
For books and reports on Nicaragua go to
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