Who Won Nicaragua?
On Sunday, February 25, 1990, Nicaraguans went to the ballot boxes and quietly voted out of office Marxist President Daniel Ortega, running for reelection against Mrs. Violeta Chamorro, publisher of the opposition daily La Prensa and head of a fourteen-party coalition known by its Spanish acronym UNO. By this act Ortega’s Sandinista Front, which has ruled Nicaragua for ten years through a combination of guns, guile, rationing, and advanced police technology, lost whatever claims to continued power it once might have had.
Mrs. Chamorro’s victory was all the more stunning for being wholly unexpected. Virtually no one in the international press corps-many of whose members reportedly wept openly as Ortega conceded defeat on election night-saw the story coming. Worse still, no one gave proper emphasis in the first place to the most important single fact about the election-namely, that at stake in Nicaragua was something more than a periodic renewal of authorities. Though this was the second presidential election in Nicaragua since the overthrow of the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, it was the first in which voters had a real choice, since in 1984 Ortega obtained the presidency in a virtually uncontested race. The exercise of February 25 was thus a plebiscite in which Nicaraguans were determining the kind of institutions they wanted in the future, much as the Chileans had done the year before last when they refused a new eight-year term to Augusto Pinochet. And Nicaraguans were also expressing their views on the kind of relationship they wanted with the outside world, particularly the United States.
About the Author
Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.