Ending the armed conflict in Nicaragua


A series of peace agreements mediated by regional governments and the deployment of the United Nations Observer Group in Central America helped to end the armed conflict in Nicaragua in 1990.

In 1978, a coalition of revolutionary groups known as the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, FSLN) launched an insurgency against the US-backed military dictatorship that was governing Nicaragua. Initial efforts to negotiate a compromise by the Organisation of American States failed, and by June 1979 most of the country was under FSLN control. The former president fled to Honduras, while much of his defeated military formed the Counterrevolution (Contrarrevolución, Contra) movement with support from the Government of the USA. By 1981, the Contras were receiving arms directly from the US and the following year, they launched an insurgency against the FSLN administration. With extensive US support for the Contras and the Government of Cuba assisting the FSLN, Nicaragua became a battleground for foreign powers.1

The first efforts to find a solution to the armed conflicts plaguing Central America during the 1980s were led by the Government of Costa Rica, which proposed a plan to bring peace to the region in 1986. After the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua approved the plan in a series of agreements signed in Esquipulas in 1986-1987, the President of Costa Rica received the Nobel Peace Prize.2 The agreements created a framework for stabilising the region but offered little in the way of direct solutions to the conflict in Nicaragua. Some progress was made towards peace in January 1988 when the FSLN administration came to terms with a relatively small indigenous armed group.3 The real breakthrough, however, came a month later when growing international condemnation, the Iran-Contra scandal, and a 1986 International Court of Justice judgement against the USA regarding its involvement in the conflict forced the American government to cut its support for the Contras. The following month, the FSLN administration and the Contras agreed a ceasefire.4 At a summit in February 1989, the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica approved a joint declaration in which the FSLN would introduce reforms and schedule early elections, while Contra forces would be disarmed.5 An additional demobilisation agreement was signed in August 1989, mandating the United Nations Observer Group in Central America (Observadores de Naciones Unidas en Centroamérica, ONUCA) to verify and assist with its implementation.6 ONUCA finished disarming the Contras in June 1990, marking the end of the peace process.7 These agreements served to end the armed conflict in Nicaragua.

1 UCDP. Government of Nicaragua – Contras. (UCDP, 2020) Available at: https://ucdp.uu.se/statebased/742 (Accessed 14/12/2020)

2 Esquipulas Declaration (Esquipulas I), 1986. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/centralamerica-esquipulasI86 (Accessed 14/12/2020); Procedure for the Establishment of a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America (Esquipulas II), 1987. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/centralamerica-esquipulasII87 (Accessed 14/12/2020)

3 Basic Preliminary Accord between Government of Nicaragua and YATAMA, 1988. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/nicaragua-preliminaryaccordyatama88 (Accessed 14/12/2020); Agreement on the Functions of the Conciliation Commission between the Government of Nicaragua and YATAMA, 1988. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/nicaragua-conciliationcommission88 (Accessed 14/12/2020)

4 John M. Goshko. “U.S. War by Proxy at an End.” The Washington Post. (1990) Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1990/02/27/us-war-by-proxy-at-an-end/770483d0-c355-4288-8819-9b0dcc928aee/ (Accessed 14/12/2020)

5 Joint Declaration of the Central American Presidents (Costa del Sol Declaration), 1989. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/centralamerica-costadelsoldeclaration89 (Accessed 14/12/2020)

6 Joint Plan for the Voluntary Demobilisation, Repatriation or Relocation of the Members of the Nicaraguan Resistance and their Families, as well as Assistance in the Demobilisation of all those involved in Armed Actions in the Countries of the Region, 1989. Available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/centralamerica-jointplandemobilisation89 (Accessed 14/12/2020)

7 UN Peacekeeping. United Nations Observer Group in Central America: ONUCA. Available at: https://peacekeeping.un.org/sites/default/files/past/onuca.htm (Accessed: 13/10/2020); Orlando J. Fernandez. “Nicaragua – the Role of the United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA) in the Central American Peace Process.” Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, Vol. 12, No. 2. (2004)

Start Year


End Year




UN Regional Group

Latin America and the Caribbean

Type of Conflict

Vertical (state-based) intrastate conflict with foreign involvement

Type of Initiative

Mediation of a peace agreement, Peacekeeping mission

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua and the UN




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