Nicaragua Table of Contents

The Chamorro victory in the 1990 elections surprised most of the participants and many observers, both domestic and international. Many Nicaraguans did not view Chamorro as a politician and found her unprepared a for leadership role. The election date had been advanced nine months by the Sandinistas from the constitutionally set month of November 1990. This decision was taken in response to the meeting of representatives of the Nicaraguan government with the Nicaraguan Resistance (commonly referred to as Contras--short for contrarevolucionarios) at SapoŠ. The talks represented a Sandinista effort to secure a definitive end to United States assistance to the Contras and an end to the civil conflict that was debilitating the economy and eroding the Sandinistas' base of support. The talks seemed designed to project the Sandinistas' image as peacemakers, and the Sandinista leadership was confident of winning the upcoming election.

From the moment on election night that the UNO victory was evident, there was widespread fear that the Sandinistas would block the Chamorro government from taking power. In hopes of securing a stable transition, Chamorro took a conciliatory approach toward the defeated Sandinistas. The three most influential international groups that came to observe the elections became a crucial element in ensuring a peaceful transition. Nevertheless, the negotiated transition created problems that would haunt the Chamorro government through at least the early years of its existence.

Negotiations on the transition began on February 27, 1990, in Managua. A meeting between the FSLN and UNO leaders took place in the presence of former United States president Jimmy Carter, Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jo„o Baena Soares, and the head of the United Nations (UN) electoral mission, former United States attorney general Elliott Richardson. The Nicaraguan parties agreed to continue negotiations on important transition issues and named two chief negotiators: Antonio Lacayo Oyanguren, Chamorro's son-in-law and campaign manager for UNO; and Humberto Ortega Saavedra, minister of defense and President Ortega's brother, for the FSLN.

Negotiations between UNO and the Sandinistas led to a series of arrangements on amnesty, property, and media laws, as well as a Protocol on Procedures for the Transfer of Presidential Powers, signed by representatives of the UNO and the FSLN, one month after the elections. The agreement gave the Sandinistas on March 27, guarantees that the changes they had instituted in their eleven years in power would not be overturned. The protocol pledged to carry out efforts toward reconciliation "on the basis of a national understanding that will take into account the achievements and transformations implemented thus far for the people's benefit, and all must be based on full respect for rights, Nicaragua's Constitution, and the laws of the Republic."

Specific guarantees were given on property rights: the protocol provided "tranquility and legal security to the Nicaraguan families who have benefited from grants of urban and rural properties by the state before 25 February 1990, harmonizing such grants with the legitimate legal rights of Nicaraguans whose property was affected, for which purpose actions must be taken according to law. Methods to provide adequate compensation to those who may be affected will be established." The protocol also provided guarantees of job stability to government officials and employees "on the basis of their efficiency, administrative honesty, and years of service. . ."

On paper at least, the Chamorro government secured guarantees that the military would submit to civilian rule, that it would be amenable to restructuring and downsizing, and that it would be nonpartisan because members on active duty would not be allowed to hold leadership posts in political parties. The Sandinistas, however, obtained guarantees of their continued control of the military because the protocol provided for respect "for the integrity and professionalism of the Sandinista People's Army (Ejťrcito Popular Sandinista--EPS) and of the forces of public order as well as for their ranks [hierarchy and], promotion roster, and . . . [command structure] in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the Republic . . .." These guarantees were confirmed on inauguration day, April 25, 1990, by President Chamorro's decision to retain the Sandinista minister of defense, General Humberto Ortega Saavedra, as army chief.

These transition agreements formed the basis for the relationship between the outgoing Sandinista and the incoming Chamorro governments. They facilitated a peaceful transfer of power. Along with the follow-up "transition" laws that the lameduck Sandinista-dominated National Assembly passed in the interregnum before Chamorro's inauguration, the transition agreements became part of the legal structure under which the Chamorro government would operate. In the first months of the Chamorro regime, the transition agreements provided the basis for Sandinista challenges on the scope and interpretation of laws. They also created a rift between the Chamorro government and most of the leaders of the coalition that had supported it, who charged that the Chamorro team had made unnecessary and detrimental concessions to the FSLN. The Chamorro government, however, argued that its options were limited. It had inherited a Sandinista-constructed constitutional and legal system and owed its existence to the Sandinista revolutionary process; its existence was not the result of a military victory that would have enabled to construction of a new political system that may have been more to its constituents' liking.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress