La Prensa was founded by Pedro Belli, Gavry Rivas and Enrique Belli on March 2, 1926. In 1930, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Zelaya became editor in chief, and in 1932 he bought the paper with intentions of promoting the principles of the Conservative Party as well as publicising historical studies of Nicaragua. In 1931 the office building that housed La Prensa was destroyed, for the first time out of many, in an earthquake that hit Managua. La Prensa suffered its first censorship in 1934 under the orders of Juan Bautista Sacasa for being overly critical of the government. This began a long history of censorship under many different governments including the Somoza's and especially the Sandinistas who came into power in 1979. 1936 began another series of censorships by Anastasio Somoza Garcia, who came into power through a coup d'état. Threats against La Prensa for their anti-Somocista stance became customary. However, it was not until 1945, under the guise of national security, that La Prensa was ordered completely shut down for an indefinite amount of time.
In 1952, after the death of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, his eldest son, became the new editor of La Prensa, and is credited with the improvement of La Prensa's fortunes. Chamorro Cardenal also increased the anti-Somoza rhetoric of his editorials, placing La Prensa under graver threat by the Somoza Regime. Somoza subsequently increased his pressure on the editors of La Prensa. On May 22nd, 1953, one of Somoza's cronys, General Andrès Murillo, sent Somocista mobs to assault La Prensa's new building in Managua. Pedro was arrested, sent to military court, imprisoned and allegedly tortured for several months before his release. In 1956, Luis Somoza Debayle succeeded his father, Anastasio Somoza Garcia after his assassination, and ascended to power in Nicaragua. Like his father, Debayle had little tolerance for the heavy criticism against his regime deriving from La Prensa, who continuously argued for responsible government, participator democracy, and liberal economic policies. That year, La Prensa was once again occupied by Somoza's forces, Pedro was charged with aiding the conspirators who killed Debayle's father. He was subsequently jailed and forced to publish condolences to the former Somoza. La Prensa was hence forth subjected to prolonged censorship by the regime.
In 1956, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal went to Havana, Cuba, to meet with the new revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, in order to bargain a deal for arms and munitions. After prolonged negotiations, disagreements between the two figures assured that no deal was created. However, by May of that year, Pedro had gathered enough capital and weapons to land 120 men, including himself, in the provinces of Boaco and Chontales, in an attempt to overthrow Luis Somoza Debayle. The invasion failed, Pedro was capture and sentenced to several years in prison.
In 1963, La Prensa was praised for launching a literacy campaign. A concept that would one day be adopted by the Marxist-Leninist FSLN. With modest tools La Prensa caused a nation wide sensation by publishing over 100,000 primers that were the backbone of the National Literacy Campaign. They circulated maps of Nicaragua to millions who had never had the opportunity the study one in school. The program was distributed by UNESCO to local "teachers". Notably, future Sandinistas such as Ernesto Cardenal, Sergio Ramirez, Gioconda Belli Murillo, and Carlos Mejía Godoy all contributed to the campaign. However, that year Somoza ordered the dissolution of the Patriotic Literacy Campaign's National Committee.
December 23, 1972 saw the destruction of La Prensa due to a massive earthquake that leveled most of Managua. La Prensa was then after rebuilt on the "North Highway" and reopened on March of 1973.
The next years would see an increase of pressure by the people of Nicaragua against Somoza. La Prensa continued to be a voice of opposition even as several radio talk shows and media outlets were being shut down by the government. In August of 1978, La Prensa even loaned 50,000 to a Sandinista operation, which was never repaid.
Tragically, on January 10th, 1978, Pedro was blocked by a green Toyota on his way to work in the morning. He was shot by several rounds from a shot gun, he died in an ambulence on the way to a nearby hospotal. To this day the culprits remain unknown. Some suspect Somoza's National Guard was responsible, while others blame the Sandinistas for his assassination. Chamorro became a martyr, and his death helped ignite widespread opposition to the Somoza government. Many of the middle and upper classes supported the Sandinista insurgency after his murder. His assassination sparked off the beginning of the final mass insurrection against Somoza.
As Somoza made his exit from Nicaragua, he ordered a final destruction of La Prensa by his Guardsmen, who used karosene to light La Prensa ablaze. La Prensa was rebuilt within months.
After the fall of the government, Chamorro's widow, Violeta served on the five member Junta of National Reconstruction. However, Chamorro and the middle-class supporters of the revolution had a different vision for the country than the Sandinistas. When it became apparent that these differences could not be resolved, Violeta Chamorro resigned from the junta in 1980 and began to oppose the Sandinistas.
Soon after the passing of new laws, freedom of the press once again became answerable to many political criteria. On July 22, 1979 the Law of National Emergency would allow all media in Nicaragua to be placed under government control. On September 10th, 1980, decrees 511 and 512 established prior censorship for matters of national security.
In this period the US also started its campaign against the Sandinista government with support to the Contras. In this struggle under the Sandinistas, La Prensa was also often accused of being puppets of the CIA They were accused of being Contra sympathizers and thus, "venda-patrias" or traitors to the motherland. The paper admitted to receiving funds from the National Endowment for Democracy, a bipartisan, Congressionally financed agency created to take over financing of groups that in the past might have received covert aid from the C.I.A. However, it said that this funding was publicly declared and legal.
On March 15th, 1982, the government declared a State of Emergency which closed down all independent broadcasted new programs. Sandinista censorship began clamping down on political dissent and criticism. That same year La Prensa was occupied three times by Sandinista forces, and were constantly surrounded by Sandinista mobs. Under the FSLN this pattern of hostility continued throughout the years of Sandinista rule.
La Prensa's strident criticism of Sandinista policies, particularly its socialist economic policies, and its attacks on FSLN leader Daniel Ortega led the Sandinistas to adopt various restrictions on press freedom. La Prensa editors were harassed by state security, and the paper was sometimes censored or closed, although have a significantly higher circulation, than Sandinista "Barricade" (70 thousand copies against 45 in 1986). The restrictions were lifted in a deal between Ortega and his opponents in the run-up to the 1990 election.
La Prensa generally supports free market, neo-liberal economics and is largely pro-US. It is generally conservative on social issues, and identifies closely with the Catholic church (its cancellation of a weekly column written by Church theologians sparked a minor controversy). However, the paper has attacked ex-President and PLC Leader Arnoldo Alemán for corruption, opposed the political agreement between Alemán and Daniel Ortega, and challenged the perceived weak government of conservative President Enrique Bolaños. It has also challenged the outspoken comments of the current U.S. ambassador Paul Trivelli regarding Nicaraguan affairs.