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Barrios de Chamorro, Violeta (1929–)

Barrios de Chamorro, Violeta (1929–)

Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (b. 18 October 1929), president of Nicaragua (1990–). Elected president as the representative of the fourteen-party National Opposition Union (Unión Nacional Opositora—UNO) coalition, Barrios de Chamorro seemed an unlikely candidate. She was born in the southern Nicaraguan province of Rivas to wealthy, landowning parents and attended Catholic schools. In 1950 she married Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, a leader of the middle-class opposition to the dictatorship of the Somoza family. Nonetheless, her political participation during the decades of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was confined to that of supportive wife and mother.

In January 1978 Chamorro Cardenal was assassinated, probably by a member of the Somoza family. The assassination set off a wave of strikes and mass insurrection that helped carry the Sandinista Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de la Liberación Nacional—FSLN) into power. Doña Violeta, as she is called, was named a member of the five-person ruling junta. She resigned from that body less than a year later.

For the remainder of the 1980s, her political participation was confined to criticizing the FSLN and supporting the Contra war from her position as owner of the daily newspaper La Prensa, which she inherited from her late husband. Other members of her family took more prominent roles in politics.

Barrios de Chamorro reentered formal politics when she ran for president in 1990. Running on the promises to end the Contra war and repair the economy, she portrayed herself as the traditional mother who would reconcile the Nicaraguan family just as she had reconciled her own politically torn family. She won the election with 55 percent of the vote.

Since Barrios de Chamorro's election, the civil war has ended, for the most part. Massive devaluations and cuts in real wages (now among the lowest in the hemisphere) have eliminated hyperinflation. Her relative independence from the United States, whose support was essential in putting her into power, came as something of a surprise to both her supporters and detractors. Her administration often chose to govern in coalition with moderates in the FSLN rather than with the far-right members of the UNO. This choice hastened the disintegration of the inherently unstable fourteen-party UNO coalition. While many within Nicaragua critiqued her neoliberal economic reforms, these changes did help stabilize the economy and promote economic growth, even though poverty remains a considerable problem. In 2006 Barrios de Chamorro's old opponent and the leader of the Sandinistas, Daniel Ortega, won the presidency. While the United States felt that a leftist government would harm democratic institutions, Barrios de Chamorro, who did not support Ortega, stated that democracy would survive his presidency.

See alsoChamorro Cardenal, Pedro Joaquín; Nicaragua; Nicaragua, Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN); Ortega Saavedra, Daniel.


Salman Rushdie, "Doña Violeta's Version," in The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987), pp. 145-153.

Denis Lynn Daly Heyck, "Violeta Chamorro," in Life Stories of the Nicaraguan Revolution (1990), pp. 37-52.

Karen Kampwirth, "The Mother of the Nicaraguans: Doña Violeta and the UNO's Gender Agenda" in Latin American Perspectives (1995).

Additional Bibliography

Lacayo Oyanguren, Antonio. La difícil transición nicaragüense en el gobierno con Doña Violeta. Nicaragua: Colección Cultural de Centro América, 2005.

                                       Karen Kampwirth

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