During the post-conflict elections of Nicaragua 1990, Dr. Jennifer McCoy served as an election observer with President Carter's delegation.
Before to the 1990 elections, Nicaragua had rarely seen peaceful political transitions or free and fair elections. 10 years prior, the Sandinista Front overthrew Nicaraguan President Somoza and began to arm the guerilla fighters of El Salvador, prompting the United States government to covertly support the counter-revolutionary group of Nicaragua, known as the Contras. After almost a decade of violence and upheaval, five presidents of Central America met in 1987 to discuss a peace plan for the region. The Esquipulas Accord was intended to promote democratization and national reconciliation in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. In accordance with this accord, and in the interest of demobilizing the violent Contras, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega committed to the organization of free elections in February 1990.
President Ortega also agreed to invite international observers for the elections. US President Jimmy Carter had, as a member of the Council of Freely-Elected Heads of Government, had led a delegation to observe elections in Panama the year prior. After hearing of President Carter’s activities in Panama, President Ortega invited him to form a delegation to observe Nicaragua’s election process. President Carter accepted the invitation—which promised his group unrestricted access to the entire electoral process—and assembled an international and bipartisan delegation of 34 members. Dr. Jennifer McCoy served as one of these members under President Carter’s invitation. Dr. McCoy recalls several challenges faced by the delegation, stating:
“One major challenge that the delegation had to address when we arrived in Nicaragua was the public perception of the Nicaraguan EMB as being partisan and dominated by the FSLN, despite having an independent leader and several opposition members. We had to focus on raising confidence in this EMB and trust in the electoral process; our delegation asked people to focus more on the behavior of the EMB than its composition when coming to conclusions about bipartisanship.”
Hear Jennifer talk more about her experience as an observer from the Carter Center in the audio below.