On 25 April 1990, Violeta Chamorro was sworn in as President of Nicaragua. She was the first female President in the Americas to have come to power under a free election.
Chamorro led the country for seven years, overseeing the end of the civil war between the Sandinistas (Marxist revolutionary government forces) and the Contras (US-backed counter-revolutionary forces).
Her election platform had been to end the fighting, so her first action on the day she took power was to stop conscription into the the Nicaraguan army. She also ensured the Contras were disbanded, leaving no-one for the former Sandinistas to fight. Her government bought weapons from all sides and covered them in concrete in Plaza de la Paz (Peace Square).
Chamorro had been elected by the National Opposition Union to run against Sandinista dictator Daniel Ortega after Ortega had reluctantly agreed to hold an open and free Presidential election. Chamorro had once sat on Ortega’s junta but had resigned in 1980 after disagreeing with the junta’s increased involvement with the Soviet Union. She then spent a decade editing a daily paper, La Prensa, calling for free speech even as Ortega’s forces took control of other media.
She had inherited the paper from her husband, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, after his assassination. He had been a vocal critic of the Somoza family who had run Nicuragua as a dictatorship since 1939. His assassination was a flashpoint that led to the Sandinistas gaining power.
As President, Violeta Chamorro had the job of dismantling a state built on decades of dictatorships. Even she struggled with elements of the new constitution that reduced the power of the Presidency. Whilst Chamorro stopped the civil war, her wider policies were not feminist or liberal. Her government continued to criminalise both abortion in all circumstances and homosexuality.
We often want our historical women to be exemplars, to contain no flaws. Violete Chamorro is an example of how histories are often far more complex than that.