The Sandinistas, a revolutionary left wing movement, had come to power in Nicaragua in 1979 following a popular uprising that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. The Sandinistas implemented a number of progressive policies and the US, which saw their socialist agenda as a threat to its interests, promoted the Contras, a rebel group fighting against the Sandinistas, with military and financial aid. The Contra war, which gained momentum by 1983, lasted until 1990 and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 30,000 people.
Children play in the ruins of Managua’s Cathedral de Santiago, damaged in the 1972 earthquake that destroyed much of the city centre.
Flags in the main square outside the Cathedral, in preparation for the second anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship .
Young women in Sandinista army, part of the crowds on 17th July 81, celebrate the second anniversary.
Crowds waving FSLN flags. After the carnage of El Salvador, Nicaragua felt very different. There was a sense of optimism in the air.
Miners taking part in the Second Anniversary parade. The Sandinistas had introduced land reform, literacy programs, and made efforts to reduce poverty.
Large paintings of national heroes Augusto Sandino on the left and Carlos Fonseca, on the Palacio National.
Post-natal clinic, San Judas, Managua, May 1981. The Sandinistas expanded access to medical care, with rural health clinics in underserved areas of the country, making a significant impact on child mortality.
A brigadista, one of several thousands of secondary school volunteers mobilised to teach literacy skills in their own communities and across the country.
In Boaco to the north, an adult learner at the blackboard during literacy campaign class taught by a high school student.
This village shop, also in Boaco, doubled as a classroom. The campaign was claimed to have reduced illiteracy in Nicaragua from around 50% to just 13% within a year and was one of the Sandinista’s most successful initiatives.
Geothermal power - Steam issues from bore-holes at the foot of the Momotombo volcano. The project aimed to provide 25% of Managua's electricity and has produced 30 MW since the mid 1980s.
Panning for gold in the tailings of a gold mine in Siuna. Before the war the mines had provided local employment, but under US sanctions the mines were virtually silent.
A war veteran having his wheel chair fixed. The prosthetics workshop in Managua had a long waiting list.
A telephone exchange in Rama, using a stencil of Susan Meiselas’ photograph on the baracades. It reads, "All the people to the Militias". May 1982
A mother sees off her daughter, about to join brigades picking coffee in conflict areas near Esteli, November 1983. By now US sanctions and attacks by the US-backed Contras from bases in Honduras were having an impact.
Student from Managua who has joined the coffee brigades to help bring in the harvest, an important cash crop.
Coffee, a big national export, could no longer be sold in America, and other markets, particularly in Europe had to be found. Volunteers from Europe and America came to help pick the coffee harvest, as here in Jinotega.
Sandinista Police in Managua under a poster which says ‘We are fighting to win. They shall not pass’. By now people were being displaced and killed in Esteli and Jinotega in attacks by US-backed Contra rebels, December 1983.
Many US citizens opposed Regan’s policy on Nicaragua. American ‘Witnesses for Peace’, stand in a corn field in Jalapa near the Honduran border. They said if the US invaded they would stand in the way.
A Sandinista border patrol stops where the bodies of Contras killed in a recent battle have been burned.
Couples dance in the street in Managua on New Year's Eve, 1983. With Contra attacks along the Honduran border now a regular event, people feared the possibility of a full scale US invasion.
Nicaragua in 1986. The atmosphere of threat from the Contras had grown, as had their activities, Waslala, July 1986.
There were also natural disasters. Here people rebuild their homes on Corn Island off the Atlantic coast after a hurricane.
Women who had lost husbands and sons in conflicts against Somoza and the Contras in a night vigil through the streets of Esteli, on the 7th anniversary of Somoza’s overthrow.
Violetta Chamoro on the campaign trail in Nicaragua in 1990. She has been part of the Sandinista’s first administration but became disillusioned. She stood for UNO, an alliance of 14 parties. Backed by the US, who said sanctions would end if she won the elections, she won the popular vote, putting the Sandinistas out of power. The US disbanded the Contras, ending the war.