Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 101 | Diciembre 1989



Ideologies in Conflict: Platforms of Four Nicaraguan Parties

Envío team

Nicaraguan voters face a daunting array of parties and presidential candidates in the coming elections; three far left parties, four center parties, one far right alliance and the Sandinista Front (FSLN). Ten candidates, ten political platforms and innumerable slogans, ads, campaigns and t-shirts. In an attempt to make sense of the electoral smorgasbord, envío presents here a summary of four representative electoral platforms; the FSLN, the National Opposition Union (UNO), the Social Christian Party and the Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement (MAP-ML).

The platforms, while not exhaustive summaries of positions and programs, serve to illustrate the fundamental differences between the four tendencies going into the elections. The FSLN platform consolidates the achievements of ten years of revolution and proposes further advances in the revolutionary process. The Social Christian Party (PSC) talks of reforming the revolution within a Christian Democratic framework. The MAP-ML seeks to radicalize the revolution, rejecting all dialogue with large landowners, big business and the counterrevolution and even abandoning the Esquipulas peace process. UNO is a bit more complicated, because while the platform itself talks of the "true revolution," the source of its policies is the Blue and White plan, a controversial document calling for the dismantling of all revolutionary institutions.

As Bayardo Arce, Vice Coordinator of the FSLN, has stated, no party platform advocates a total rollback of the revolution. Ten years of Sandinista leadership have institutionalized many of the initial revolutionary programs and reshaped people's basic expectations to include agrarian reform, a national health system, broad educational opportunities and a mixed economy. UNO, while its goals are clearly to return to a free market economy and private enterprise, to win votes has had to adopt language and policies common to revolutionary Nicaragua. La Prensa, mouthpiece for UNO, has even gone so far as to say that it will carry out the "true revolution," and is the true follower of Sandino.

The actual UNO program, however, leaves room for the total dismantling of the revolution, especially in the area of agrarian reform, with the possibility of returning lands that were confiscated in the early days of the revolution to their former owners. Although no literal rollback of the revolution is in the UNO agenda, its insistence upon coincidence with the US policies and strengthening of the large private entrepreneurs together with the dismantling of a national and popular army amounts to such a rollback in practice.

Much of the PSC's program is framed within the context of international Christian Democracy. The PSC advocates a "Third Way" between Somocismo and Sandinismo. The party would reform the revolution, reducing the state sector in favor of private enterprise and a "communitarian" sector based on worker ownership and self-management. Social Christians say they would resist alliances with dominant power blocs and would seek relations with all nations. The other major center party, the Democratic Conservative Party (which won 14% of the vote in 1984) is calling for "evolution, not revolution," but appears to be far behind even the Social Christians.

"Everything Will Be Better," says the FSLN; with Daniel and Sergio, the next seven years will be better than the last ten. Confident of working out a definitive peace, convinced that the current austerity program will stabilize the economy, the FSLN platform promises to re-initiate many of the social programs that have had to be put on hold for the duration of the eight-year war. Lower infant mortality, lower illiteracy, improved infrastructure and improved educational and job opportunities for youth will all result from peace and the increased production and international aid expected to follow in its wake. The revolution, with its promise of creating a society that benefits its poorest members, will be able to continue, consolidated by peace and the resulting increases in production and foreign aid.

The MAP-ML is one of three leftwing parties running in the elections (both the Socialist and Communist parties are now members of UNO). The Workers' Revolutionary Party and the Revolutionary Unity Movement, both formed since the 1984 elections, are the other two. The MAP participated in the 1984 elections and won two seats in the National Assembly. It has consistently advocated radical Marxist positions. The MAP platform calls for an end to the Esquipulas peace process and to the dialogue between the government and large producers known as concertation, as well as increased worker and mass participation in production, politics and the military. None of the three leftwing parties have a significant social base within Nicaragua, although the Revolutionary Unity Movement, whose presidential candidate Moisés Hassán is a former Sandinista mayor of Managua, may benefit from his name recognition.

Recent polls indicate what analysts have long known—that while there are nine parties divided into four tendencies, only two, the FSLN and UNO, have any significant social base. The Social Christians, along with the Conservative and Liberal factions outside of UNO, have not even been able to capture the social base they commanded in 1984. Neither have they succeeded in drawing substantial funding from Christian Democratic allies. The far Left continues to demand a more radical revolution, but with minimal response from the people. The FSLN, with a large core of dedicated followers organized in mass organizations around the country, has, in ten years, increased the number of people who identify with it. UNO, in existence only since June of this year, has garnered millions of dollars of support from the US, as well as the hard core right wing that never left Nicaragua. The elections will thus be what Daniel Ortega has termed a choice between revolution and reaction, between Sandinismo and imperialism.

The accompanying chart titled “Ideologies in Conflict” briefly summarizes areas touched on in each political platform. The following is an analysis of the most salient points by party, to give the reader a grasp of the political forces in the 1990 Nicaraguan presidential election.

The National Opposition Union: Rolling back the revolution?

Origins and Background

In July 1988, US Ambassador to Nicaragua Richard Melton was expelled from the country after a mere three-month tenure. Nicaraguan officials cited the Vienna convention, which prohibits diplomats from taking political action against their host countries. At the heart of the government's objection was the plan for a so-called "government of national salvation," a thinly-disguised call for the overthrow of the Sandinista government.

By mid-1989, the July 1988 plan for national salvation, also known as the "Melton Plan," had evolved into the Blue and White Plan for National Salvation (blue and white being the colors of the Nicaraguan flag). In essence, the 71-page plan proposed a return to Somocismo. It did not recognize Nicaragua's 1987 Constitution (a document drafted after more than a year of consultation with people from every walk of life all over the country) and called for a gradual dismantling of the Nicaraguan armed forces, "until they no longer exist, to be replaced by a police force." Firmly rooted in a liberal economic vision giving such privilege to the private sector that the bulk of the economy would be in private hands, the plan also proposed a generalized re-privatization of the economy, including the social service sector.

That same plan—with considerably softened rhetoric—is the core of the electoral platform put forward by the National Opposition Union (UNO). In essence, UNO is a reincarnation of the Coordinadora, a far right alliance of parties, unions and the business association COSEP that took shape in the early 1980s. The Coordinadora never registered its candidates for the 1984 election (its slate was headed by Arturo Cruz as presidential candidate), rather engaging in a series of delays then finally withdrawing.

In 1987, after the signing of the Esquipulas II Accords, the Coordinadora was at the core of a new alliance, known as "the group of 14”—14 political parties including some new rightwing splinters, as well as several more moderate parties. The novelty in this new alliance, which eventually evolved into UNO, was the addition of the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN) and the Communist Party of Nicaragua (PCdeN), which claim that the perestroika policies underway in the Soviet Union have paved the way for their participation in this "progressive" alliance.

There was a bitter struggle over who would serve as UNO's presidential candidate. It finally boiled down to La Prensa's Violeta Barrios de Chamorro and Enrique Bolaños, a well-known Nicaraguan businessman and leader of COSEP. Even her closest advisers admit Chamorro’s lack of political experience and savvy.

By the time UNO filed its candidates, it had dropped from 14 to 11 parties. The Social Christian Party (PSC) had already withdrawn and the bulk of the Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC), led by Mauricio Díaz, abandoned UNO at the last minute to unite with its old rival, the PSC, creating a broad Social Christian option. An editorial in La Prensa lauded the "fact that all the political tendencies of the country...came together" to form the UNO, yet many election watchers feel that the UNO alliance is shaky at best, and will only hold together for the duration of the electoral period.

The 11 parties under the UNO umbrella are the National Conservative Party (PNC); the Popular Conservative Alliance (PAPC); the National Confidence Democratic Party (PDC); the Independent Liberal Party (PLI); the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC); the Neo-Liberal Party (PALI); the Social Democratic Party (PSD); the National Action Party (PAN); the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN); the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN) and the Communist Party of Nicaragua (PcdeN).

The PNC, PAPC and PDC are all splits from the Nicaraguan Conservative Party; while the PLC and PALI are more recent offshoots of the National Liberal Party (PLN, Somoza's party) from which the PLI split in the early 1940s. The PAPC, PDC, PLC, PSD and PAN were all founding members of the Coordinadora alliance. The PSN was the original Marxist party from which the PCdeN parted ways in the 1970s, to take a "more communist" route.

Principal problems facing Nicaragua

The UNO platform cites as among its fundamental beliefs or promises to the Nicaraguan people potential or already-implemented programs or policies of the revolutionary government. Yet it centers primarily around several themes used by the opposition during the last ten years, including the charge that the Sandinistas betrayed their original revolutionary promises, which can now be fulfilled only by the "true" Sandinistas and patriots, and which would lead to a Western-style, representative democracy.

Another oft-heard refrain is that in 1979 Nicaragua made the transition from one dictatorship to another. La Prensa has long charged that the presence of two brothers among the FSLN's National Directorate is akin to the family dynasty imposed by the Somozas. UNO also regularly blames the Sandinistas for the war. In an October 21 campaign speech in San Rafael del Norte, Violeta Chamorro said that by forming "a government for all Nicaraguans, we won't be the target of hate," implying that the current government's attitude is responsible for the attacks the country has suffered daily over eight years.

International Relations

The platform promises that the government "will establish relations on all matters with all states and peoples of the world," and will "support the Esquipulas II Accords," two areas in which the Sandinista government's moves have been path-breaking. Much of UNO's funding and political advice comes directly from the United States and the essence of UNO's candidacy, consistently enough, is a realignment with the US.

Constitution and Government

As the Blue and White Plan did, the UNO platform calls for a new Constitution to replace the "current eminently autocratic and totalitarian Political Constitution imposed by the Sandinista regime."

The section covering rights and guarantees calls for unrestricted freedom of speech, broadcasting of ideas and information. The subtext here is the longstanding demand for a privately controlled television station. It also says the new government would implement "respect for and guarantee of the right to private property." The national policy section also demands "abolition of the President of the Republic's position of absolute power, by means of the limitation of his excessive faculties." The powers accorded to the executive branch in Nicaragua, while indeed skewed in favor of the other branches, are similar to those in many Latin American countries.

Popular Participation

UNO's platform says very little about popular participation in general, other than to state that the "historically marginalized and exploited sectors of Nicaraguan society [will be given] access to the material and spiritual benefits that society produces." It emphasizes the right to strike as "one of the pillars on which labor legislation will be based."


In its preamble, the UNO platform squarely places the blame for the economic crisis facing Nicaragua on "the dictatorial and totalitarian system and administrative disaster of the Sandinista regime." Nowhere in UNO's platform or its publicity does the war appear as an ongoing fact of life. La Prensa's editorial page often takes a specific aspect of the US war and points to it as something "caused" by the Nicaraguan government. In an October 25 editorial laying the blame for the disastrous October 21 Honduran air crash on Nicaragua, La Prensa also claimed that Nicaragua's attitude towards the US "provoked" the 1985 economic embargo.

UNO's platform echoes programs enacted in other countries, including the United States. It urges an end to state intervention in the economy, but at the same time yearns for a return to a known paternalistic past, where private businesspersons were given plenty of economic protection and political power as well. A La Prensa editorial discussing the platform praises UNO for "offering free commerce, which in the past created solvent Nicaraguans at all levels [and] allowed everybody the opportunity to advance." Ramiro Gurdián of COSEP, which is entrusted with formulating UNO's economic policy, says that "the new government will intervene [in production] solely to help the producers." He doesn't indicate which producers he means, but COSEP was formed to represent the country's large ones. Gurdián also says that the private sector would be greatly expanded under an UNO government.

Some of the key points in the sections dealing with the economy call for "austerity in the making of the Republic's budget..." and list measures that will be taken to deal with inflation. Many UNO leaders have been among the strongest critics of the government's austerity program implemented early this year. A "drastic reduction in military expenditure" is also envisioned (a curious call coming from former contra leaders), along with a reduction in bureaucratic spending. The platform also states that the new government "will make use of...loans acquired from various international finance sources" to encourage production. Although UNO does not specify where the hard currency necessary to avoid the painful effects that inevitably accompany sweeping austerity measures will come from, campaign appearances and publicity assume that the US will be the source.

Agrarian reform

No mention is made of the agrarian reform that has taken place since 1979, and in the chapter dealing specifically with the country's economic problems the wording is such that a complete rollback of the agrarian reform would be possible. Such a rollback was more overtly called for in the Blue and White Plan. The economic chapter states, among other things, that "confiscation that took place under Decree No. 3 will hold firm, but deserving cases will be guaranteed reassessment." Decree No. 3 (July 1979), along with Decree No. 38, paved the way for the confiscation of all rural properties owned by the Somoza family and its close cronies—some 20% of all Nicaragua's cultivable land.

It goes on to say that "cases of private property affected by confiscation, expropriation, land invasion and intervention, outside the law or based on laws that violate human rights...can be reassessed upon request." The decisions as to which cases are deserving or which original confiscations were made "outside the law" would presumably fall into the hands of authorities whose interests are similar to those of UNO's core—wealthy landed interests. According to La Prensa, UNO "intends to reestablish the old family relationship levels that existed before the Sandinistas wanted to impose state control over family relations and do away with the values most dear to Nicaraguans."

Social programs

The revolution's achievements in the areas of health and education have received international attention and acclaim. With Nicaragua's current economic crisis, strides made in both those areas are being slowed and sometimes reversed. In these areas, the UNO's platform looks to private enterprise as its savior. It calls for the abolition of the current health care system, to be replaced by one "scientifically organized," and offers privatization of health care services—in both clinics and hospitals—as the way out. That step would little serve the needs of the vast majority of Nicaraguans who can ill afford to pay the kind of prices commanded by private clinics.

Education, another sector severely affected by the 1989 austerity plan, is only discussed insofar as it is asserted that parents must have "the right to choose their children's education." The real problem facing both education and health care—lack of sufficient financial and human resources—is not dealt with in any specific policy statement.

UNO also declares that "childhood [would be] considered one of the most important issues by the new government," although its plans for health and education make it clear that it is speaking about children of one class only.

Women, environment and indigenous rights

UNO promises to create "programs specifically directed at women with the intention of establishing a true concept of their dignity." Activist women in Nicaragua remember that issues such as domestic violence, economic equity and abortion weren't even talked about until the onset of the revolution.

In a section dealing with public administration, UNO promises to satisfy "the needs of national ethnic minorities... respecting their languages, cultures and religious and personal beliefs….” The drafting process and resulting autonomy law dealing with Nicaragua's vast Atlantic Coast, one of its kind in the world, are not acknowledged, an omission that has been severely criticized by non-FSLN Coast residents.

As regards the environment, the platform mentions briefly that measures (not specified) will be taken to protect it.


While the platform makes no specific policy statements regarding religion, La Prensa, an essential actor in the UNO campaign, projects UNO as morally superior, most clearly in the constant linking of Violeta Chamorro with Cardinal Obando y Bravo. The two are frequently featured together in front-page photos, although Obando has made no official endorsement in the election.

This sense of UNO as more moral, more Christian, than its opposition also comes out in the platform itself. In a chapter dealing with the family, it declares that "priority will be given to plans directed at the complete moral, economic and social recovery of the Nicaraguan family unit."


The question of the composition of Nicaragua's armed forces has long been a sore spot between the far right opposition and the government. UNO calls for an overhaul of the armed forces, declaring that its members should "not belong to [or work for] any political party." This measure would effectively eliminate the Nicaraguan army as it is currently stands and constitute an irreversible step towards the dismantling of the entire revolution.

Human Rights and Amnesty

The platform declares that the new government will "support human rights, condemn apartheid and racism, and be for the abolition of any other kind of discrimination." No mention is made in the platform or in any UNO publicity of the fact that the contra forces—many of whom have been warmly received among UNO's ranks—have won international notoriety as consistent human rights violators. Regarding amnesty, the platform states that "in the case of the present government's failure to fulfill the conditions it has agreed upon, the government of national salvation will decree a general amnesty for political prisoners."

Social Christian Party: Searching for the Center

Party history and general politics

The Social Christian Party (PSC), founded in 1959, claims to represent a reformist Christian Democratic model that is neither capitalist nor communist. Never a Sandinista ally, the party joined the rightwing Coordinadora alliance in 1984 and was the largest opposition party to respond to US pressure to boycott that year's elections. That decision provoked several splits in the party. It has since moderated its policies under pressure from the Christian Democratic International (CDI), which criticized its 1984 abstention.

The PSC decided not to join UNO and recently announced alliances with the more progressive Popular Social Christian Party (PPSC) and the former Miskito contra group, Yatama, which have both accepted the PSC political platform. Former contra leader Edén Pastora has also offered his support. Yatama decided to run five candidates for National Assembly on the PSC ticket because no other party offered it room on their slate of candidates. The FSLN has its own indigenous candidates from the Atlantic Coast as part of its National Assembly slate. UNO, said Yatama leader Brooklin Rivera, "did not understand our concerns.... Any party that wants the backing of the Atlantic Coast has to make a commitment to the rights and demands of the people of the coast." The Miskito organization will run as an independent force in elections for regional councils on the Atlantic Coast and has not yet decided what party it will support for President and Vice President. Yatama claims to represent nearly all Miskito groups on the Atlantic Coast, though Rivera, Stedman Fagoth and its other leaders have only recently returned after many years of exile, and their support is untested.

As a member of the Popular Revolutionary Front until 1984, the PPSC defended the revolutionary process in alliance with the FSLN. After 1984, the party moved rapidly to the right and initially affiliated with UNO. Though individual members remained in UNO, the PPSC officially split from the coalition in September 1989, in part because of UNO's multimillion dollar backing from the US Congress. "We should not be pawns of an interventionist policy in our own country," said party leader Mauricio Díaz. The PPSC garnered 6% of the vote in 1984 and holds 6 seats in the National Assembly. A recent poll shows the PSC in third place after the FSLN and UNO with .8% of the vote.

Principal problems facing Nicaragua

The PSC criticizes the extent of state ownership and control of the economy—the state sector represents less than 40% of the total—and the resulting large government apparatus. It claims the FSLN has politicized state institutions and used them to its advantage. Social Christians object to Nicaragua's close ties with socialist countries and antagonistic relationship with the United States.

International relations

PSC presidential candidate Erick Ramírez insists that theirs is a program "...independent of dominant power blocs, completely separate from Cuba, the Soviet Union and Washington." According to its platform, the party would normalize relations with the US and renew relations with Israel while maintaining its membership in the Non-Aligned Movement. Only South Africa would be excluded as a diplomatic partner as long as it maintains its apartheid policies. One of the Sandinistas' founding principles is non-alignment. However, Nicaragua has been rebuffed by the United States and some of its allies because of the challenge Sandinista Nicaragua poses to US economic and political domination of the region.

The Social Christians' main ideological allies are Christian Democratic parties in Europe and Latin America, though these parties have yet to come up with significant funding for the PSC-PPSC-Yatama alliance. This may indicate a reluctance to challenge US policy favoring UNO. The Christian Democratic International recently expressed its approval of UNO, though the PSC enjoys official CDI recognition.

The PSC platform says that all treaties made by the Sandinistas would be reviewed and military-related debts would not be honored. The party would demand that "the US and the Soviet Union effectively contribute to peace in the region, definitively ending military aid to Central America." It is worth noting that, in 1984, Nicaragua made such a proposal through the Contadora group. The proposal failed to win approval from other governments that receive US military assistance.

Constitution and government

As in most other Latin American countries, Nicaragua's Constitution provides for a strong executive power vis-à-vis other branches of government. In Nicaragua, it has been an important tool for waging political struggle against the powerful economic interests that continue to exist in the mixed economy framework. The PSC plan calls for constitutional reforms that would erode the power of the presidency in certain areas, decrease the likelihood of continued Sandinista access to that power and move towards a separation of party from state. These reforms include a list of 17 demands drawn up last year by a coalition of 15 opposition parties, most of which are now in the US-backed UNO coalition.

The PSC plan would prohibit a "single or hegemonic party," such as the PRI in Mexico, leaving unclear what relation this bears to a situation where a single party—the FSLN—has widespread popular support. There are provisions in the platform for reducing terms of office from six to four years and prohibiting presidential reelection. If a party failed to win an absolute majority, runoff elections would be held between the two top vote-getters. Mayors, now chosen by an elected Municipal Council from among its members, would be chosen by direct popular vote. This could improve the chances of election of a charismatic figure from a small party unable to win enough votes for its slate to dominate the Council. On the other hand, it would decrease the Council's power of oversight and make removal of a corrupt or incompetent mayor harder.

Unlike the United States, where the President selects Supreme Court justices and the Senate ratifies them, they are chosen in Nicaragua by the National Assembly from a list of candidates submitted by the President. The Social Christians would change this system to allow political parties and lawyers' associations to suggest candidates as well. Other than several similar reforms that would expand the power of the political parties, the PSC seems to have no quarrel with the authority currently granted to the executive to appoint ministers, conduct foreign relations, direct the economy and declare states of emergency (which National Assembly must ratify within 45 days).

Popular participation

The PSC advocates a system of worker-owned and self-managed enterprises similar to that proclaimed by Christian Democratic governments in Chile in the 1960s and in Venezuela today. Freedom to organize and to strike would be guaranteed. Changes in what everyone, including the pro-Sandinista labor federation, agrees is an antiquated labor code would be made to "guarantee labor harmony without diminishing workers' victories," in the words of PSC National Assembly candidate Ramón García Vílchez. This rosy vision overlooks underlying class conflicts that will continue to exist. In some countries governed by Christian Democratic parties, despite guarantees of workers' rights, police repression has at times been used against strikers and those protesting economic conditions.

A PSC government would replace the Sandinista Defense Committees (CDS), a major vehicle for popular participation, with non-partisan neighborhood committees, says Garcí Vílchez, a move already underway in the existing communal movement (see envío, September 1989).


In the section of the PSC platform titled "Economic Aspects," one point reads, "The state will guarantee the existence of private enterprise, watching over the fulfillment of its social function and its contribution to national development." The program promises to offer a "more attractive policy of stimuli for production" and prohibit "confiscations for political reasons," the latter a pledge also made by the Sandinistas in the National Dialogue held last August.

PSC National Assembly candidate García Vílchez claims, "The mixed economy hasn't worked." His party's program would reduce the state sector, turning "badly administered state enterprises" over to "communities of workers and/or local and foreign investors." How the decision about beneficiaries would be made and other key details are not specified. The worker-owned sector of the economy would be governed by a "self-management law" to allow worker participation.

Rejecting a liberal Sandinista foreign investment law that guarantees access to hard currency and repatriation of both capital and profits, the PSC would replace it with new legislation offering what the party says would be greater incentives to local and foreign capital. The PSC would also seek to attract private financial institutions to operate "alongside" the now nationalized banking system.

The program offers no dramatic new measures to confront inflation and the economic crisis, but repeats many of those already being implemented by the FSLN: cutting public spending, rationalizing the state bureaucracy, revising interest rates and avoiding monetary emissions without backing in increased production. Like all other political parties, the Social Christians recognize the need for international aid and call on all political and economic forces to design an "economic reactivation plan" to be presented to the European Economic Community, COMECON, Japan, the US and Latin American countries.

Agrarian reform

Despite its claim to a peasant base of support, the PSC's platform is vague about the party's plan for agrarian reform. While promising to "extend benefits for peasants," the program does not explicitly say whether more land would be distributed. Though doubtless intended to reassure, the statement that "no land given justly will be returned" leaves some room for interpretation of which farms were distributed "justly." Party leaders say this refers to what they say is Sandinista favoritism towards their own followers.

Social Programs

The PSC's platform on social issues is more a critique of the FSLN than a coherent program. A series of proposals aim at capitalizing on popular grievances without making any concrete promises. For those angry about water shortages and electricity brownouts, the PSC offers uninterrupted service; for those struggling with inadequate public transportation, it offers an increase in buses; for teachers and health workers protesting low wages, it offers "worthy salaries;" to dissatisfied workers in general it offers an end to the government-mandated wage scale, already widely disregarded. Where the funding to pay for these reforms would come from is not directly addressed.

There is a tendency in the platform to urge the formation of offices or commissions to address problems. Two enemies in particular are singled out for extermination: drugs and AIDS. The anti-AIDS campaign is a distinctive feature of the PSC program, but is not elaborated on.

As elsewhere, there are direct and indirect references to the removal of party influence from state institutions. A national education commission would change the current objectives of schooling; health administration would be carried out by "persons qualified in the field of medicine" (an implied criticism of Sandinista leadership of the Ministry of Health) and sports organizations would be de-politicized.

Women; environment; the Atlantic Coast

The PSC emphasizes a return to "the authentic cultural and traditional values of the Nicaraguan people." The underlying implication is that the Sandinistas represent the imposition of imported values and customs. The platform advocates the creation of a "National Office for the Protection of the Family" and urges the reunification of families divided and scattered by war. Women's issues are mentioned only once when the platform calls for "the promotion of women so that they, as well as men, may take on public positions and responsibilities." This narrow conception of emancipation fails to address the many other aspects of women's lives and the obstacles to full participation they face.

The Social Christians' approach to the Atlantic Coast bears some resemblance to Sandinista policies, with none of the specifics. Like the current government, they assert the primacy of the nation-state, ruling out separatist models of government for indigenous or ethnic groups. "Nicaragua is a unitary and national state," reads the program, "that will respect the rights of minorities and indigenous communities, seeking their development and incorporation into the national community." There is no reference to the current autonomy law, which Yatama leader Brooklin Rivera wants to drastically revise, but the PSC program, unlike UNO's, does at least mention the word, referring to the promotion of "an integral autonomy process for the Atlantic Region."

The PSC proposes the creation of an "autonomous institute for the conservation of natural resources, ecological balance ... and protection of the environment."


As explicitly Christian parties, the PSC and the PPSC hope to capitalize on the strongly Catholic sentiments of the Nicaraguan people, particularly in the countryside. Traditionally, the PSC has been the party most closely identified with the Catholic bishops, though the figure of Cardinal Obando y Bravo has been liberally used in UNO campaign propaganda.


Both the FSLN and the PSC programs call for reducing the army. The difference seems to lie in the pace and extent of the reduction being proposed. PPSC leader Mauricio Díaz suggests 16,000 troops as an appropriate size for the army, a significant drop from its current strength. The PSC would end the military draft, leaving the country with slim protection against potential ongoing US hostility.

The army has served as an important source of political education for young men. The PSC and other opposition parties claim this makes it an army of one party—the FSLN—rather than of the nation as a whole. The Sandinistas say that soldiers are trained to defend the sovereignty of a country that is pluralistic and non-aligned. The PSC would professionalize and de-politicize the army. The military would be denied the right to vote.

Human rights and amnesty

The PSC, like all other political forces on the Nicaraguan scene, portrays itself as the party of peace. The first point in the platform states: "The PSC promotes the end of the war and the attainment of peace as a fundamental basis for achieving reconciliation, democratization and the reconstruction of Nicaragua." The Social Christians demand a general amnesty based on the Esquipulas accords. It is not clear how this would differ from the amnesty currently in effect.

The Sandinista National Liberation Front: Consolidating Ten Years of Revolution

Party history and general politics

"We Have Won, and Now We Go Forward." So goes one of the slogans for the Sandinista electoral campaign, and such is the theme as well of their 37-page electoral platform. Premising their plans for the next six years on the outbreak of peace, the Sandinistas address all the major areas that they have worked for in the ten years since the triumph of the revolution.

The 1990 platform combines the best of the Sandinista historical program with well-known Sandinista flexibility. Ranging from agrarian reform to sex education, the platform addresses the current issues facing the Nicaraguan people: the war and the search for peace, democracy, economic stabilization and social issues.

The platform, approved at the Sandinista "Great Peoples' Convention" in September, grew out of a series of meetings with Sandinista mass organizations. Vice President Sergio Ramírez met with Sandinista supporters throughout Nicaragua—AMNLAE (the women's organization), youth organizations, rural workers, neighborhood organizations and so on. Each group put forward its priorities and these suggestions, combined with the Sandinistas' historical program, formed the basis for the 1990 electoral platform.

Principal problems facing Nicaragua

The FSLN program addresses, as it must, the reality that the last ten years of war have left in the country. The US-sponsored war and economic blockade have left Nicaragua with thousands of victims and a crippled economy. The first section, titled "Peace," outlines the plans for the next six years. "We will achieve a firm and lasting peace...through open negotiation with the Central American countries and a respectful accord with the United States."

The Sandinistas must, through their platform and consequent political organizing, convince Nicaraguans that they are the best party to bring a final peace, currently dangling just out of reach, as well as the best-suited to carry out the austerity measures needed for increased production and economic stability.

Will the FSLN really be able to achieve peace after the elections? In areas such as Río Blanco, where October's contra ambush of a group of army reservists left 17 dead, people find it hard to believe that the electoral process will convince the contras to put down their arms. In the war zones, the line is fuzzy between UNO and the contras, and it is not entirely clear that the elections, given a Sandinista victory, will bring immediate peace. Some form of rural banditry is bound to continue, even if a serious military challenge is not possible.

International relations

The 1990 platform maintains the same foreign policy framework in place since 1979: non-alignment and defense of national sovereignty. Specific foreign policy objectives include ending the economic and financial blockade against Nicaragua, working for peace and security in Central America, fighting against drug-trafficking and continuing the struggle for a New International Economic Order.

In addition, the platform makes clear that while non-alignment allows Nicaragua to have relations with any country it chooses, it also demands that Nicaragua condemn imperialism, apartheid, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Thus, Nicaragua remains well within the non-alignment camp.


Nicaragua's Constitution guarantees representative and participatory democracy, and the 1990 program reaffirms that right. The platform reiterates existing civil rights and advocates a consolidation of the existing Constitution.

Writing the Constitution was the first task of the National Assembly elected in 1984. A draft was completed in 1986, after which a series of public meetings were held to afford the opportunity for broad input. Community groups, women's groups, religious groups, labor organizations and others offered their comments and criticisms. The modified Constitution was ratified in early 1987.

Popular participation

The Sandinistas have always maintained that political pluralism is based on the right to vote and on the free functioning of parties, but that participatory democracy includes the right to union and community organizing as well as communication between the people and their leaders. Participation in the democratic process is not only through political parties, but also through other organizations that can express demands and opinions.

"Western-style" democratic principles, as UNO defines civil liberties-focused democracies, including the party system, the role of opposition, freedom of religion and "respect for individual, social and human rights...and democratic access of the great majority," are all included in the 1990 platform.

The 1990 elections will include, for the first time in Nicaraguan history, elections for local Municipal Councils. The Councils will consist of five, ten or twenty people depending on the size of the town, and will be responsible for running their municipalities.

Small-scale "conventions" were held throughout the country to choose municipal candidates as well as outline specific municipal platforms. In a spirit of festivity, local Sandinista supporters made tough demands. The principal issue in the city of Matagalpa is to establish a safe drinking water system, while in Jinotega the improvement of roads to bring in the coffee harvest is a key concern.

These municipal demands, given the community commitment to work for them, work well with the national program. The section on democracy refers directly to emerging municipal autonomy: "We will give strong support to municipal autonomy, strengthening popular participation through the municipal process."


The 1990 platform reaffirms the mixed economy, based on mixed ownership of land and the means of production. Private, state, cooperative and mixed endeavors all have their place in the economy. The platform emphasizes the Sandinistas' intentions to fortify the cooperative movement in both small industry and farming.

The current austerity program to contain inflation and stabilize the economy will continue, with renewed emphasis on increasing production. The Sandinistas hope to attain an annual growth rate of 5% by increasing production, diverting money from defense to credits and using foreign aid to strengthen the economic stabilization plan.

Much of the economic planning depends on concertation—the government initiative to increase cooperation among private producers, the state and workers in order to increase production. Concertation is politically charged, as it is the very private producers who have never wanted to acknowledge the Sandinista government to whom the Sandinistas are now appealing for cooperation.

Agrarian reform

Agrarian reform continues to be the cornerstone of Sandinista economic policy. The Agrarian Reform Ministry estimates that 25,000 peasant families are still without land, and the platform pledges to grant them primarily under-utilized state lands. There is no mention of confiscation of land, in accord with an August agreement with the opposition that no land confiscations for political reasons will take place. The FSLN reaffirms certain premises—that no property will be seized for failure to pay debts, that technical advice forms an integral part of the agrarian reform program and that there will be free trade in basic grains (corn, beans, rice) while a minimum price to producers is assured.

In addition, the platform pledges to give land titles to all those peasants who have land but have not yet received official titles.

Social programs

The bulk of the 1990 platform addresses very specific social and infrastructure issues ranging from resolving the chronic flooding in Managua to lowering the illiteracy rate to 6% (currently around 15%). The social programs all share in common that they are programs the FSLN was forced to postpone during the eight-year war.

Since 1979, the Sandinistas have succeeded in lowering infant mortality from 120 per 1,000 live births to 64. The goal is to further lower the rate to 30 per 1,000. Programs to achieve this range from hygiene education to maintaining free health service to building five new hospitals nationwide.

Other programs—for youth, housing, education and infrastructure, present similar proposals for both small- and large-scale projects. Building new roads, improving the telephone network and building new houses are all among the specific proposals.

Lack of funding—historically a problem in Nicaragua—has resulted in a general weakness in social programs. However, the Sandinistas learned a hard lesson in the early years when they funded programs with no backing. They will not make that mistake again. All of the proposed programs will be based on increased production, renewed international financing, new foreign investment as well as local community initiative. The FSLN program recognizes the short-term need for austerity, but expects, too soon perhaps, to stabilize the economy and move forward.

Women, environment and the Atlantic Coast

The Sandinista revolution has come a long way in terms of its official, and unofficial, policy on women's issues. The 1984 political platform included a section on women that defined them as "the heart of the family." While advocating increased women's participation in the political and professional sphere, the bias that women are the sole maintainers of the family remained.

In sharp contrast, the 1990 platform declares that the FSLN will promote "responsible parenting and the duty of the couple to share in the care and education of their children as well as home responsibilities." The rest of the section on women that addresses the struggle for "full women's emancipation and participation, without discrimination, in the political, economic and social life of the country" takes on new significance given this basis of mutual responsibility in the home. The progressive language and legislation results from the long struggle of Nicaraguan women to carry the revolution throughout society and to all strata, including women.

Over the last few years, reports of incest, rape, child abuse and sexual harassment on the job have been much more openly reported. Women have seen the increasing need to enforce existing legislation protecting women's and children's rights as well as developing laws that increase that protection. That, too, is in the platform—public recognition of the long-private problem of sexual abuse and the need to combat it with effective legislation. Adequate family planning and sex education are also an integral element of the platform's proposals for women.

A growing environmental movement is taking shape in Nicaragua. Its impact on development policies is reflected in the 1990 platform. The platform specifically addresses issues of erosion, reforestation, marine life, water sources and irrigation. "We will concern ourselves with the conservation of the environment and with the protection and correct use of our natural resources."

Autonomy forms the basis for the Sandinistas' Atlantic Coast program. The 1990 elections will mark the first-ever elections for Regional Councils on the Atlantic Coast, which will be the legislative bodies that put autonomy into practice.

Other Atlantic Coast concerns include rational exploitation of the Coast's natural resources, improvement of transport between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and better communication. Bilingual and bicultural education will be continued. Special mention is made of the continuing commitment to rebuild the communities damaged by Hurricane Joan in 1988.


Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Nicaraguan Constitution, and the Sandinista platform reaffirms that. In addition, the platform states, "We will work with the Catholic Church and with the other churches in Nicaragua for the consolidation of peace, harmony and national reconciliation."


Because the 1990 platform takes peace as its starting point, the FSLN states that the army will be diminished, "taking into account the needs for the defense and security of Nicaragua." The military draft will continue, but in fewer numbers, since the army will not need to be as large. The inclusion of this in the platform is significant as it clearly contradicts the argument that the FSLN is a militaristic party. The government already cut the military budget by over 30% in 1989, even at a time when the contra forces were continuing their activities inside Nicaraguan territory.

While continuing to defend Nicaragua's sovereignty, the army will also "contribute to economic and social development programs where possible, in the same way as it assists and defends the population in the case of natural disasters."

Human rights and amnesty

The FSLN platform reaffirms constitutional guarantees of broad human rights ranging from freedom of religion and of speech to union organizing and the right to decent housing and health care. The "western" definition of human rights is expanded to include social justice issues.

The government has offered amnesty since 1984. Originally, applied only to Miskitos on the Atlantic coast, but was expanded to include all contras in 1985. In 1987, after Esquipulas, the amnesty process was simplified to allow contras to return more easily. Amnesty of prisoners accused or convicted of counterrevolutionary activity began in 1988, and all but 39 former National Guardsmen were released in 1989. The platform does not directly address the amnesty issue, but its support for the Central American peace process includes the provisions for amnesty as outlined in the Esquipulas documents.

Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement: Returning to the Socialist Path

Party history and general politics

The Marxist-Leninist Popular Action Movement (MAP), founded in 1972, was the only current of Nicaraguan non-Sandinista Marxism that decided to collaborate with the FSLN to overthrow Somoza in 1979. The Marxist-Leninists saw the overthrow of the dictatorship as an important step toward the long-range construction of socialism in Nicaragua. After the triumph, they tried to maintain armed militias independent of the state's army and fought through wildcat strikes for the rapid radicalization of the revolution.

Among the MAP's basic principles are the construction of socialism, the independent organization of the workers and the struggle against US imperialism. Its political program includes promoting the unity of workers, peasants and popular masses to organize in defense of their own interests.

Unlike the Communist and Socialist parties, the MAP has never entered into a coalition with the Right. It is strongly committed to defending the interests of workers and peasants, and its primary social base consists of workers organized in the Frente Obrero, a union with its greatest presence in Managua and Carazo. The MAP won 1% of the popular vote in the 1990 elections, giving it two seats in the National Assembly.

Though the three far Left parties agree on a number of issues, the MAP chose not to align with the Revolutionary Workers Party (Trotskyist) or the United Revolutionary Movement (a group mostly formed out of disenchanted Sandinistas) for the 1990 elections. Such an alliance would improve the far Left's slim chance of winning seats in the National Assembly, but the MAP has focused its goals, according to party militant and leader Fernando Malespín, beyond February and beyond the Assembly.

The MAP has no illusions about its chances of winning the elections. According to Malespín, the MAP's objectives are to consolidate the party, increase its influence and "create the best conditions in which to continue the political struggle after February 25th." For this reason, the MAP's platform is not called a government plan but a plan of action. It is a fairly short set of somewhat incomplete goals around which the party will organize, not a set of policies under which they would govern. Says Malespín, "What [the MAP has] done is develop a program that brings together the main economic, social and political demands of the grassroots sectors, taking advantage of the political space opened by the electoral process to struggle for the satisfaction of these demands. This is the difference between the MAP and all the other parties, which talk about what they'll do when they're in power. From our point of view, that immobilizes the masses, because it fosters the idea that the party is the government. And we believe that the masses themselves are the government."

Principal problems facing Nicaragua

The introduction to the MAP platform calls it a "plan of action against social pacts between classes and against reconciliation between the FSLN and the counterrevolutionary forces." The MAP defines the FSLN as a party that promotes class reconciliation and, therefore, has betrayed socialism and the workers. In the MAP's opinion, the FSLN has abandoned the revolutionary process in favor of staying in power and maintaining a privileged standard of living that separates its leaders from the Nicaraguan masses. It considers the FSLN a petty bourgeois social democratic party.

The MAP rejects the right wing entirely, even as a legitimate opposition, due to its counterrevolutionary position. It claims that the FSLN gave life to a militarily defeated counterrevolution by allowing it political space as a civilian opposition. The MAP's analysis, however, does not consider alternative measures for ending the U.S.-funded contra war or the consequences of its continuation.

International relations
The MAP's foreign policy is clearly anti-imperialist and promotes self-determination and proletarian internationalism. It opposes normalization of relations with the United States and would combat all political, ideological and economic manifestations of U.S. imperialism in Nicaragua, including the bourgeoisie and the counterrevolution.

The MAP criticizes the FSLN for focusing its attention on the more powerful nations of the world and instead proposes the formation of a new international movement closely tied to revolutionary processes. A united international proletariat, according to the MAP, would guarantee the sovereignty not only of Nicaragua’s peoples but also of those of other countries, and would be more effective, in the long run, in the defense of the revolution.

The MAP supports maintaining relations with the most countries possible, while preserving national sovereignty and self-determination. It opposes the Central American peace process. In the MAP's opinion, the FSLN sold out Nicaragua's national sovereignty at the bargaining table. "Everything's been solved by Shevardnadze, Carter and Carlos Andrés Pérez, and the Nicaraguan people haven't been allowed to say anything," says Malespín. Again, the MAP's analysis does not include the consequences of an ongoing contra war, a likely result of its uncompromising stance.

Constitution and government

The MAP refused to sign the Constitution that became law in 1987. The current Constitution establishes representative and participatory democracy in Nicaragua. The MAP, says Malespín, promotes guaranteeing "mechanisms of direct participation and organization of the masses in the power structure [...] at all levels—government, business, neighborhood." He also spoke, however, of giving power over to the masses slowly, with the appropriate experience and conditions. It is unclear how this differs from an effective participatory democracy.

The MAP would also dissolve the separation of powers in government. Currently the executive, judicial, legislative and electoral are four independent branches of government. The MAP would make them all one.

The MAP would introduce into the Constitution the commitment to an economic model that specifically promotes development related to solving "the problems of the majority of Nicaraguans." The MAP considers the Constitution too abstract regarding economic development. These changes would include putting limits on freedom of the press and on the free market.

Popular participation

The MAP platform calls for the installation of a popular, democratically elected Assembly as the highest decision-making body of the revolution. Malespín calls the present Sandinista-controlled National Assembly "in the style of any European Parliament,” with nothing revolutionary about it "except an occasional speech." A MAP Assembly, he says, would create the conditions for the masses to have the real possibility of taking power and would represent all popular sectors. The platform does not explain how the selection of an elected Assembly representing the masses would differ from the existing democratically elected National Assembly.

The MAP would institutionalize worker control in factories, businesses and government. The party calls for the formation of committees of workers that would oversee the administrators and other functionaries, guarding against corruption and abuses of power. The MAP promises to fight and punish corruption and "to eliminate Sandinista government functionaries' privileges."


The MAP's political program calls for price controls on basic products and a minimum wage based on the cost of living that increases with inflation. It would eliminate all incentives to big private businesses, instead providing support to small industry and small-scale production and promoting production that leads to self-sufficiency. The MAP would reform the current liberal foreign investment law "so that investment is only carried out by the state."

The Marxist-Leninist Party supports the idea of a mixed economy, or at least of diverse forms of ownership, but claims that the current Nicaraguan economy is rampantly capitalist and controlled by big business interests. The MAP supports an economic model that emphasizes the distribution of nationalized resources. Distribution under the Sandinistas, says Malespín, benefits wealthy capitalist interests; the FSLN policy of "concertation", he says, has given more and more concessions to private enterprise, including to counterrevolutionaries. The MAP platform calls for the "confiscation of the big businesses of those who are decapitalizing or are speculators or conspirators against the revolutionary process or accomplices to foreign enemy forces."

Malespín admits that the economic crisis, caused by external factors, would still have occurred. But the MAP has no specific policies on how to address the current crisis, instead criticizing the measures that have been taken and offering only vague alternatives. For example, Malespín claims that with different policies starting in 1979, the masses would have been better prepared to face the economic crisis and continue defending the revolution. (The polls seem to indicate that the people are, in fact, continuing to defend the revolution.)

In addition, under the MAP, according to Malespín, the economic difficulties would have been distributed not more to the bourgeoisie than to the workers and peasants, as under the FSLN. Despite the crisis and last year's hyperinflation, the MAP simply does not believe there are no resources with which to substantially raise workers' salaries or continue subsidies on basic food items.

Agrarian reform

With respect to land ownership, the MAP calls for a more extensive agrarian reform that involves giving more land to poor peasants, providing preferential interest rates to small individual farmers and cooperatives and confiscating land from large landowners as necessary. The platform clearly states that absolutely nothing confiscated will be returned to the prior owner.

The MAP supports continued confiscations of large landholdings, and, according to its platform, would immediately confiscate the plantations of counterrevolutionaries. But the party would also confiscate any large plantation that was necessary to provide land to the landless and condemns the Sandinistas for looking for alternatives to affecting large private landowners. Laws that allow for the confiscation of decapitalized land, says Malespín, are not even enforced.

Social programs

The MAP platform mentions but does not explain several social programs. It supports free health care and preventative medicine, and calls for the control of private medicine. It promotes a "general reform of the education system." It mentions housing programs but does not define those programs except to say that owner-constructed housing will be supported and that the MAP would ban evictions. The platform calls for respect of cultural traditions and state funding for cultural development.

Women, environment and the Atlantic Coast

The MAP platform calls for "the promulgation of an integral law of women's emancipation, with the goal of guaranteeing the practical development of equality between men and women." The MAP would create the conditions and mechanisms necessary for women's integral development and full participation in society, including promoting special projects for women such as training and childcare. The MAP supports legalizing abortion and abolishing all laws that still put women in a subordinate position with respect to men.

With respect to the Atlantic Coast, the MAP platform calls for a new autonomy law, but the only specific change it mentions is that all instead of only part of the profits from natural resource exploitation would be reinvested in the Atlantic Coast.


There is no mention of religion in the MAP platform.

The military

The MAP platform calls for the formation of decentralized popular militias as the basis for the defense of the country. Popular militias—or the armed masses—would be the democratic mass organizations responsible for defense not just from foreign but also from domestic enemies, says Malespín. The professional army would shrink to the smallest size possible, and military service would still be obligatory as needed for the defense of the revolution.

Human rights and amnesty

Though not addressed in its platform, the MAP opposes amnesty for counterrevolutionaries and National Guardsmen. It believes contras who have returned to Nicaragua under the amnesty should have been tried for their crimes. The MAP calls for "popular revolutionary vigilance" of those who have been released or have come back to Nicaragua.

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