The Family-Party-State Nexus in Nicaragua

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1603 ... May 9, 2018

The Family-Party-State Nexus in Nicaragua

Trevor Evans

In 1979 a popular uprising led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) overthrew the U.S.-backed Somoza-family dictatorship which had ruled Nicaragua since the 1930s, and in 1984 the Sandinistas and their presidential candidate, Daniel Ortega, decisively won the country’s first free elections in decades. The Sandinistas introduced a major programme of land redistribution and a significant expansion of public health care and education services. However, initial gains were undermined under the impact of an armed opposition (‘the contra’) organized and promoted by the U.S., a collapse of international raw material prices in the early 1980s, and Sandinista policy errors, including an over-ambitious programme of large-scale investments.

In 1990, a war weary population voted for a broad... coalition led by Violetta Chamorro, the widow of a distinguished journalist murdered on Somoza’s orders. Chamorro’s government pursued a policy of national reconciliation but, in order to obtain much needed finance, was required to adopt exceptionally austere economic policies by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Following a resumption of economic growth in the mid-1990s, elections in 1996 were won by a right-wing populist, Arnoldo Aleman, who was subsequently convicted to 10 years’ jail for corruption, and Aleman was followed in 2001 by his former vice-President, Enrique Bolaños, a fiercely anti-Sandinista business leader.

Following the Sandinista’s electoral defeat in 1990, many activists left the party as a result of dissatisfaction with Ortega’s leadership and the lack of internal party democracy. Some formed the small breakaway Movement for Sandinista Renovation (MRS), while others became involved in local development projects and in building an independent women’s movement. In 2006, however, the fractious liberal and conservative parties were unable to agree on a joint candidate for the presidential elections and this made it possible for Ortega, who had stood at every election since the 1980s, to win with a minority of the vote.

Despite a constitutional prohibition on consecutive terms in office, the electoral commission allowed Ortega to stand for the presidency again in 2011, and he was elected for a further term. The Sandinista dominated National Assembly subsequently agreed a constitutional change to allow consecutive terms, and in 2016 Ortega stood for the presidency yet again, this time with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as vice-presidential candidate. Shortly before the election, the main opposition candidates were disenfranchised, leaving Ortega and Murillo with a sure victory.

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