Violeta Chamorro: The First Female President of a Central American Country
Although there have been 11 female presidents in Latin America, Violeta Chamorro was the first one to be democratically elected.
Born on October 18, 1929, Violeta Barrios Torres—better known as Violeta Chamorro—is a Nicaraguan politician who served as president of the country from 1990 to 1997.
Latin American politics were especially difficult in the late 20th century. Despite the challenging times, women began to open the way for female representation in governments, including Violeta Chamorro.
This article tries to answer the most common questions about this female president:
- Is Violeta Chamorro alive?
- If so, how old is she now?
- What’s Violeta Chamorro doing?
- What’s her story?
Let’s learn about Violet Chamorro and her accomplishments. Read on to find out why she’s an important figure in Central and Latin American politics.
Violeta Chamorro comes from a wealthy Nicaraguan family with a cattle and landholding background. She had a robust education in Nicaragua and finished it abroad in an American boarding school to perfect her English.
She went back to Nicaragua before graduating because of her father’s death. In 1949, when she was 20 years old, Violeta met Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, a young journalist and publisher. They married in 1950 and had five children together.
It was no secret that Pedro opposed the government under Somoza. Once he took control of the newspaper La Prensa (the press), the paper became a voice of opposition. This led Pedro to jail several times, to exile in 1957, and imprisonment in 1959.
Violeta Chamorro spent the next two decades between her husband and their children. When Pedro needed to flee, she went with him and left the kids with their family. If he was imprisoned, she would stay with the kids and visit him in prison.
On January 10, 1978, Violeta’s husband was assassinated by Somoza sympathizers. He became a symbol of the Sandinista Revolution, a movement to remove the Somoza dictatorship from power.
After her husband’s death, Violeta Chamorro took control of La Prensa, and became part of the Sandinista Revolution movement that overthrew the government in July 1979.
But her time with the Sandinista Revolution was short-lived due to several decisions she disagreed with, such as media censorship and the implementation of Cuban Marxism.
After leaving the group in 1980, she returned to her role as La Prensa editor and took advantage of her position to advocate for free speech and oppose the Sandinista government.
After seven years of constant opposition, 14 political parties began to work together and create the Union Nacional Opositora (UNO – National Opposition Union) political party, which would compete against the Sandinistas in the next election.
The conglomerate agreed to select a consensus candidate. After five rounds of voting, they elected Violeta Chamorro as the UNO candidate.
As a candidate, she made two key promises: to end the civil war and abolish mandatory military service.
UNO relied heavily on her simplicity, faith, common sense, and public image as “queen mother” and “wife of a martyr.” Still, her opponents didn’t have much faith in Chamorro. They claimed that she didn’t understand the struggle of the poor or the reality of the country because of her wealthy upbringing and education.
Nonetheless, it was her provincial roots and humility that impressed those who voted for her.
On February 25, 1990, Violeta Chamorro won the Nicaraguan Election by 54.7%, defeating Daniel Ortega and becoming the first elected woman president in the Americas.
Accomplishments as President
dictatorship, 10 years of civil war, and five years of economic sanctions by the United States, Chamorro had a huge job in front of her.
Her most enduring legacy is the peace reform signed during her tenure.
Abolition of the Military and Achievement of Peace
The same day she took office, Chamorro abolished the military conscription. In a few weeks, she cut the army’s size by half, ended the national draft, and demobilized the military, including the disbanding of the Contras—an opposition movement against the Sandinistas, backed by the United States. This left the Sandinistas with no one to fight with.
Violeta Chamorro bought all the weapons from both sides and covered them in concrete at the Plaza de la Paz (Peace Square), as a way to symbolize “never again.”
After a dictatorship and 10 years of a civil war, the economic stability of Nicaragua was in shambles. That’s why, one of the priorities of Violeta Chamorro’s government was to achieve economic stability.
Chamorro negotiated a large aid package with the United States, in exchange for changing certain economic measures her government was pushing and assuring economic benefits to the United States.
Although these measures caused economic and social decline in Nicaragua, they were the first steps toward more stable economic growth.
Accomplishments After Her Presidency
Violeta Chamorro was able to direct Nicaragua to the right path to democracy and civility after more than 50 years of political and social instability. She was a great mediator, and her abilities to get compromise help her make decisions that benefited the country.
Chamorro left the Presidency on January 11, 1997. Later that year, she published her memoir Sueños del corazón (Dreams of the Heart). That same year she established a foundation that works in defense of social development, democratic values, education for change, and excellence in national journalism.
The Violeta Chamorro Foundation aims to represent all social sectors of Nicaragua and to preserve the democratic culture through education and freedom of speech.
Violeta Chamorro has been out of the public eye for several years, thanks to her advanced age, but she is still part of important political organizations like the Carter Center’s Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas Program and the Inter-American Dialogue.
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Learn Spanish and Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
Violeta Chamorro is an important historical figure in Latin America. While not everyone agreed with her government and policies, she made history.
If you intend to visit Nicaragua or Latin America, learning Spanish is a great way to show respect for the culture of these countries and break the language barrier to make your visit more organic and fluid.
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