Nicaragua. According to countryaah, the major political issue during the year was President Daniel Ortega’s endeavor to change the Constitution so that it would allow an incumbent president to be re-elected an unlimited number of times. Ortega expressed his interest in such a change in March and first tried in vain to get a majority behind him in Congress for a constitutional change, but instead turned to the Supreme Court. In October, the court issued a statement in favor of Ortega. Of the seven members of the Constitutional Committee, four were appointed by the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) ruling party, and only the FSLN-appointed judges or their alternates were present at the meeting that resulted in the statement.
The measure, which 80 percent of Nicaraguans oppose according to an opinion poll, was directly illegal because the Constitution clearly states how the Constitution should be amended and cast another dark shadow over Nicaragua’s public institutions and cast doubt on their functioning. As early as February, for example, the electoral control authority came up with its report on municipal elections on November 9, 2008, which showed widespread electoral fraud. The elections were a great success for the FSLN and the weight of responsibility for the cheating fell on President Ortega.
Returning exile Nicaraguans contributed to the creation of an American middle class that enjoyed considerable privileges in the form of customs and duty-free importation of consumer goods from the United States. But after a brief optimism in the early 1990s, many chose to return to the United States. Little was invested in productive measures, and instead the new capital led to increased energy consumption and a growing consumption for a small minority of the population who could afford it. Poverty and crime increased. Illiteracy increased and the preventive health system collapsed. Extensive strikes and riots made their mark on Nicaragua in the first half of the 1990s.
The National Assembly was, for a long time, paralyzed by the fact that ever-changing alliances made it impossible for the government to influence too much of its policy. The UN Alliance disintegrated, and in 1994 the FSLN was also split into two factions. The self-government of the Caribbean lowland (Atlantic coast), which was established in 1990 with elections to autonomous assemblies, emerged as an advanced model for indigenous peoples’ right to self-government. Internal intrigue and domination of national parties, on the other hand, prevented a constructive outcome of the self-government efforts for a region that holds most of the country’s potential resources (forests, maritime resources and mines). New autonomous elections in 1994 did not strengthen the autonomy profile.
The 1996 presidential election was won by Managua’s former mayor, Arnoldo Alemán, as a candidate for an alliance of liberal parties, Alianza Liberal. The alliance got 42 of the seats in the National Assembly, FSLN again established itself as a powerful opposition party with 37 seats. Tropical Hurricane Mitch, which hit Central America in October / November 1998, caused enormous material damage. An estimated 3,000 people lost their lives in Nicaragua. The economy, which had gradually begun to stabilize, suffered a sharp setback after this disaster, especially the important agricultural sector was hit hard.
In late winter 1999, the tension between Nicaragua and Honduras increased after Honduras awarded Colombia the right to a sea area that Nicaragua also claimed. Troop reinforcements were sent to the border, and in February 2000 there was an exchange of gunfire between patrol boats from the two countries. But after meetings in Washington with mediation led by the Organization of American States, the OAS, an agreement to avoid armed conflict was signed.
The FSLN was named the winner in the local elections in 2000 – after joining forces with the Liberal government on legislative changes that led to smaller parties being deported in practice. This majority alliance between two traditional opponents of Nicaraguan politics was met with considerable skepticism internationally as well. The presidential election the following year brought a new victory to the Liberals; Vice President Enrique Bolaños then moved up after Arnoldo Alemán. However, the loser, former President Daniel Ortega, was re-elected leader of the Sandinist Party, despite three electoral defeats since 1990.
In 2003, Alemán was sentenced to 20 years in prison, in one of several corruption cases that had shaken political life for a long time. However, both he and Ortega, despite house arrest and electoral loss, were still considered to be pulling in important political threads.
An extensive grassroots rebellion and a new political crisis were triggered by the high international oil price in the spring of 2005. The Sandinists now became a bridgehead for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his push to build new alliances in Latin America, based on cheap oil supplies. In 2005, Nicaragua signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (Cafta), with the United States as its heaviest partner.