Violeta Chamorro

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Violeta Chamorro
Violeta Chamorro 1993.jpg
President of Nicaragua
In office
April 25, 1990 – January 10, 1997
Vice President Virgilio Godoy
Julia Mena
Preceded by Daniel Ortega
Succeeded by Arnoldo Alemán
Personal details
Born (1929-10-18) October 18, 1929 (age 85)
Rivas, Nicaragua
Political party National Opposition Union

Violeta Barrios Torres de Chamorro (born October 18, 1929) is a Nicaraguan political leader, former president and publisher. She became president of Nicaragua on April 25, 1990, when she unseated Daniel Ortega.[1] She was elected as the head of a 14-party anti-Sandinista alliance known as the National Opposition Union (Unión Nacional Opositora, UNO), an alliance that ranged from conservatives and liberals to communists. She left office on January 10, 1997. Chamorro was the first and only woman to hold that position in Nicaragua. Chamorro was the first elected female head of state in the Americas, and the second in the Western Hemisphere after Iceland's Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She was also the second woman elected in her own right as a head of government in the Western Hemisphere (after Eugenia Charles of Dominica), and the first woman in the world to defeat an incumbent president.[2]

Venezuela's former President, Carlos Andrés Pérez, was put to trial in his country after it was discovered that he had embezzled funds to support the campaign that got Violeta Chamorro to the Presidency.

Personal life[edit]

Chamorro was born in 1929 to a wealthy family in Rivas, a small city near the Nicaraguan border with Costa Rica. She was educated in private Catholic schools in Granada and Managua.[3] Chamorro's parents wanted her to perfect her English and sent her to an American boarding school. She first attended Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, and then transferred to Blackstone College for Girls in Virginia. In June 1947, her father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and after her father's death she returned to Nicaragua, cutting her schooling in the United States short.[4] She met Pedro Joaquín Chamorro in 1949 and they married in 1950, with whom she had five children. In 1952, Chamorro's husband, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, took over the anti-Somoza newspaper La Prensa and was frequently jailed for its content. She took over the newspaper after her husband's assassination on January 10, 1978.

Over the years, Chamorro's family has been split into feuding factions based upon political association. Two of her children, Pedro and Cristiana, worked at La Prensa, although Pedro left Nicaragua in 1984 to join the contras. Her other children were active Sandinistas; Claudia was ambassador to Costa Rica and Carlos became the editor of the FSLN daily newspaper Barricada. In spite of the conflicting political views of her children, Chamorro encouraged and hosted family dinners during which she insisted political affiliations were temporarily forgotten in the interest of family harmony.[5]

Rise to power[edit]

Violeta Chamorro's rise to power began with the assassination of her husband when she took over as editor of La Prensa. The paper was traditionally anti-Somoza, and initially backed the Sandinistas. As a result, she was invited to join the Sandinista First Coalition Junta, however she resigned in 1980 when she claimed to have felt slighted and manipulated by the junta, and shocked by their socialist agenda. She then turned to the opposition: the Contras.[6] As a result La Prensa was temporarily shut down.[7] During that time, Chamorro was appointed the presidential candidate for UNO.[8]

Her rise to power can be attributed to more than her affiliation with La Prensa, and in part was the result of the lack of international support for the Sandinista regime, the tiring of the masses of civil war, the symbol she meant to the people, and her strong campaign focus on being the opposition rather than trying to convince people to accept a political program. Furthermore, Chamorro was portrayed as the mother figure, a hero, and a martyr whereas Ortega was depicted as a macho rooster.[9]

The scheduled 1990 elections were about to take place, and opposition parties took advantage of this opportunity to run and the UNO was created, combining the fourteen most prominent political parties in the country. Violeta Chamorro was selected as their candidate.

At the beginning, no one thought she could win against the government-financed campaign Ortega was running, but in the final days, she was able to defeat the incumbent president. The United States Embassy spent more than $1 million on her behalf.[citation needed] A broad desire for an end to the 11-year-long civil war led to her besting Ortega in the elections. Upon her election, the United States stopped funding the insurgents better known as "Contras."


Presidential styles of
Violeta Chamorro
Coat of arms of Nicaragua.svg
Reference style La Honorable Violeta Chamorro, Presidenta de la República de Nicaragua The Honorable Violeta Chamorro, President of the Republic of Nicaragua
Spoken style Presidenta Chamorro President Chamorro
Alternative style Señora Presidente Madam President

In 1990, after nearly a decade of civil warfare and economic sanctions, Chamorro became the presidential candidate of the National Opposition Union (UNO), a coalition of 14 political parties that ran against the Sandinistas in that year's national elections.[10] Chamorro won the election with a 55% victory over the incumbent, Daniel Ortega.[11] These elections were internationally monitored and provided a relatively smooth transition. The elections were known for being tremendously influenced by the United States: in addition to the White House's insistence that the embargo would continue if Chamorro were not elected, the White House also contributed $9 million to Chamorro's UNO party. Chamorro's presidency is primarily known for the peace her election allowed for war-ravaged Nicaragua, as the US was expected to continue funding the Contras (and maintain the embargo) if she did not win.

Cement-covered tank in Chamorro's Peace Park (Parque de Paz) symbolizing the wish of Nicaraguans that "never again" will their country be plagued by such violence.

When Chamorro was sworn in, it marked the first time in decades that a sitting government had peacefully surrendered power to the opposition.

Chamorro’s peace reforms are perhaps her most enduring. Most noteworthy was her official declaration of the end of the war; she maintained this peace by a reduction in the size and power of the military, an end to the national draft, and the demobilization of the military.[12] This demobilization included the removal of the US-backed Contras thereby leaving the Sandinistas with no one to fight, and therefore creating a highly effective peace.[13] Chamorro additionally allowed for the Sandinista’s agrarian reform movement’s redistribution of land to be maintained, and retained Daniel Ortega’s brother, Humberto Ortega, as a military leader. While Chamorro received criticism for this accusing her of supporting the Sandinistas, it proved to be a valuable political move.[14] Chamorro also granted unconditional amnesties for political crimes, resulting in little room for protest from the Sandinistas, and creating a smooth transition of power. The only time the “recontras” attempted to resurface was in 1994, and Chamorro quickly suppressed the violence through a peace agreement. Chamorro’s fierce weapon-buying campaign eradicated the threat of persisting violence, and all weapons were covered in concrete at the Plaza de la Paz (Peace Square), specifically built in downtown Managua to symbolize “never again.”[15]

The Nicaraguan civil war devastated the economy, and Chamorro did succeed in developing general economic stability.[16] Chamorro controlled hyperinflation and attempted to turn to a neoliberal model outlined by the Mayorga Plan by attempting to re-integrate Nicaragua into the world market, increase foreign investment while reducing foreign backing, and increase privatization, however this plan was very unpopular in Nicaragua.[17]

Cement-covered AK-47s held by unknown boy in Chamorro's Peace Park in central Managua

The plan failed to solve the overwhelming economic devastation of Nicaragua and was coupled with a rise in unemployment and underemployment.[18] Further aggravating the plight of the poor, in order to control inflation Chamorro was forced to cut government spending by eliminating social programs, particularly for females, though she did encourage the development of a strong educational system.[19] Chamorro was also criticized for rejecting constitutional reforms that included a prohibition of nepotism, a requirement for legislative approval to tax and spend money, a decrease in the length of the presidential term from six to five years, and the expansion of constitutional liberties.[20]

Relations with the United States[edit]

The United States contributed to the 1990 election that brought Violeta Chamorro to power as they allocated $9 million to aid her party and created systems that monitored the electoral process.[21] Additionally, when Chamorro was elected, George H. W. Bush removed the embargo that Ronald Reagan had imposed during Sandinista rule and promised economic aid to the country.[22] Some people in Chamorro’s campaign team were hoping to get $1 billion worth of aid from the United States to help rebuild the country after years of civil war.[23] However, the Bush administration instead gave $300 million to the country in the first year of Chamorro’s presidency, 1990, and $241 million the year after.[24] Given the devastation that Nicaragua had faced, this amount of aid was not enough to make any serious improvement.[25]

A plaque in Chamorro's Peace Park thanking US President George H. W. Bush for his contribution to the re-establishment of democracy in Nicaragua.

Chamorro’s presidency faced decreased US interest to the point that when Chamorro came to the US in April 1991 to ask Congress for more economic aid, few members even showed up to listen to her.[24] Because the Sandinistas were defeated and peace talks were being established, U.S. foreign policy did not treat Nicaragua with as much importance anymore.

In 1992, Senator Jesse Helms worked to cut off financial aid to Nicaragua. Helms stated in his Senate report that the Sandinistas were still controlling much of the Nicaraguan government and suggested that the government replace all former Sandinista officers with ex-contras, replace all judges, and return all US property that was taken from US citizens during the revolution. Chamorro’s administration denied the allegations while still trying to meet Helms’ demands. Helms ended up winning and the US government denied Nicaragua the $104 million that they had been promised for that year.[26] Predictably, the aid cut-off, subsequent freeze, and Helms' demands were put forward in October, the month after Chamorro withdrew the compensation claims associated with the Nicaragua vs. United States verdict.[27]


  • Isaiah Thomas Award in Publishing from the Rochester Institute of Technology.[28]
  • 1986 - Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.[29]
  • 1991 - Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy.[30]
  • 1997 - Path to Peace Award from the Path to Peace Foundation.
  • 2001 - Award for Leadership in Global Trade[31]


  1. ^ Chamorro, Violeta. Dreams of the Heart. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, ISBN 0-684-81055-7
  2. ^ Skard, Torild. "Violeta Chamorro" in Women of Power - Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, Bristol: Policy Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1--44731-578-0
  3. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico. eds. Women in World Politics Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995, ISBN 0-89789-410-3, 34
  4. ^ Chamorro, Violeta Dreams of the Heart, 38, 40.
  5. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico, eds., Women in World Politics, 34-36
  6. ^ Guillermoprieto, Alma. The Heart that Bleeds: Latin American Now. New York: Random House Inc.,1995. 40
  7. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico.eds., Women in World Politics, 37
  8. ^ Guillermoprieto, Alma The Heart That Bleeds, 40
  9. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico.eds., Women in World Politics, 37-39
  10. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico.eds., Women in World Politics, 31
  11. ^ Guillermoprieto, Alma. The Heart that Bleeds, 39.
  12. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico.eds., Women in World Politics, 40-41
  13. ^ Guillermoprieto, Alma. The Heart that Bleeds 40
  14. ^ Walker, Thomas W., ed. Nicaragua Without Illusions. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1997, 49
  15. ^ Skidmore, Thomas E., and Peter H. Smith. Modern Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-19517012-2, 344-345
  16. ^ Walker, Thomas W., ed. Nicaragua Without Illusions, 86
  17. ^ Prevost, Gary and Henry E. Vanden. Politics of Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, 116
  18. ^ Walker, Thomas W., ed. Nicaragua Without Illusions, 49
  19. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico, eds., Women in World Politics, 40
  20. ^ Prevost, Gary and Henry E. Vanden. Politics of Latin America, 115
  21. ^ Jauberth, H. Rodrigo, Gilberto Castaneda, Jesus Hernandez, and Pedro Vuskovic. 1992. The Difficult Triangle: Mexico, Central America, and the United States. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 34
  22. ^ LeoGrande, William M. 1998. Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977-1992. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 563
  23. ^ Close, David. 1999. Nicaragua: The Chamorro Years. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, ISBN 1-55587-643-9, 136
  24. ^ a b Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977-1992, 563
  25. ^ Coerver, Don M., and Linda B. Hall. 1999. Tangled Destinies: Latin America and the United States. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 169
  26. ^ Nicaragua: The Chamorro Years, 136
  27. ^ "Feud between a widowed president, Jesse Helms snags U.S. aid to Nicaragua - Baltimore Sun". 1992-11-04. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  28. ^ "Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to Receive RIT Isaiah Thomas Award in Publishing". Rochester Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  29. ^ "1986 Louis Lyons Award: Violeta Chamorro". The Nieman Foundation for Journalism (Harvard University). Retrieved 2007-10-23. [dead link]
  30. ^ "1991 Democracy Award". National Endowment for Democracy. Archived from the original on 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  31. ^ "". Association of Bi-National Chambers of Commerce in Florida. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Ortega
President of Nicaragua
Succeeded by
Arnoldo Alemán