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Nicaragua is a republic in Central America. It is the largest Central American nation but the least densely populated. It is bordered on the north by Honduras and on south by Costa Rica. Its western coastline is on the Pacific Ocean, while the east side of the country is on the Caribbean Sea. The country's name is a combination of Nicarao, the most populous indigenous tribe when the Spanish arrived, and the Spanish word Agua, meaning water, after the two large lakes in the west of the country, Lago Managua and Lago Nicaragua.

República de Nicaragua
(In Detail) (In Detail)
National motto: Pro Mundi Beneficio
(Latin: For the World's benefit)
Official language Spanish (official) (English and indigenous languages on Caribbean coast)
Capital Managua
Mayor of the Capital Ing. Dionisio Marenco
President Enrique Bolaños
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 115th
129,494 km²
 - Total
 - Density
Ranked 131st
 - Declared
- Recognized
From Spain
September 15, 1821
July 25, 1850
Currency Córdoba
Time zone UTC -5
National anthem Salve a ti
Internet TLD .ni
Calling Code 505



Main article: History of Nicaragua

Colonized by Spain in 1524, Nicaragua achieved independence in 1821 and joined the United Provinces of Central America. It separated from the federation in 1838, becoming a completely sovereign republic in 1854.

The nation's early history was marked by the desire of U.S. commercial interests to make use of Nicaraguan territory. When gold was discovered in California, Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company undertook a steamship and carriage business to link Greytown (present-day San Juan del Norte), at the mouth of the San Juan River (linking the Lago Nicaragua with the Gulf of Mexico), to the Pacific. Nicaragua's strategic position has ever since been of interest to the United States.

Sandinista revolution

Nicaragua has seen U.S. military interventions and lengthy periods of military dictatorship, the most infamous being the rule of the Somoza family (supported by successive U.S. governments) for much of the early 20th century. In 1979 the Somoza family was deposed, and a multi-factional coalition took control of the government. Conflicts within the coalition eventually resulted in power being consolidated by Daniel Ortega, who was elected President in 1984 elections marred by opposition refusal to participate and complaints of government restrictions, but claimed to be as free and fair by Western NGOs allowed into the country by the Sandinistas. Ortega and the FSLN leadership implemented a series of ambitious socialist reforms to the country, but the new president's rule was undermined by increasing civil war in which the United States, under President Ronald Reagan, openly funded anti-Communist rebel forces called Contras despite a 1982 Congressional amendment prohibiting aid.

The 1990 elections and U.S. involvement

Multi-party elections held in 1990 saw the defeat of the Sandinistas by a coalition of right-wing parties led by Violeta Chamorro. The defeat shocked the Sandinistas as numerous pre-election polls had indicated a sure Sandinista victory and their pre-election rallies had attracted crowds of several hundred thousand people.

The unexpected result was subject to a great deal of analysis and comment, and was attributed by commentators such as Noam Chomsky and S. Brian Wilson to the Contra threats to continue the war if the Sandinistas retained power, the general war-weariness of the Nicaraguan population, and extensive U.S. funding of the opposition.

On the other hand, P. J. O'Rourke wrote in "Return of the Death of Communism" about "the unfair advantages of using state resources for party ends, about how Sandinista control of the transit system prevented UNO supporters from attending rallies, how Sandinista domination of the army forced soldiers to vote for Ortega and how Sandinista bureaucracy kept $3.3 million of U.S. campaign aid from getting to UNO while Daniel [Ortega] spent millions donated by overseas people and millions and millions more from the Nicaraguan treasury . . ."


Main article: Politics of Nicaragua

Nicaragua is a constitutional republic with an elected president holding executive power. The unicameral legislative body is the National Assembly, which has 93 members elected for 5-year terms. The President, and the runner-up are both members of the National Assembly, as well, and the government operates according to pseudo-parliamentary rules.


Main article: Departments of Nicaragua

For administrative purposes, Nicaragua is divided into 15 departments and two autonomous regions. The departments are Boaco, Carazo, Chinandega, Chontales, Estelí, Granada, Jinotega, León, Madriz, Managua, Masaya, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, Rivas, Río San Juan. The two autonomous regions are Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte and Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur, often referred to as RAAN and RAAS respectively. Until they were granted autonomy in 1985 they formed the single department of Zelaya.


Map of Nicaragua showing department boundaries
Map of Nicaragua showing department boundaries

Main article: Geography of Nicaragua

Nicaragua has three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific Lowlands, the North-Central Mountains and the Mosquito Coast. The Pacific Lowlands are in the west of the country, and consist of a broad, hot, fertile plain which supports most of Nicaragua's population. The capital, Managua, and the two main provincial cities, León and Granada all lie in this region. Punctuating this plain are several large volcanoes, many of which are active. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are common in this part of the country: much of central Managua was destroyed by an earthquake on December 23, 1972.

The North-Central mountains is an upland region away from the Pacific coast, with a cooler climate than the Pacific Lowlands. About a quarter of the country's agriculture takes place in this region, with coffee grown on the higher slopes.

The Mosquito Coast is a large rainforest region, with several large rivers running through it. It has a hot and humid climate, and is very sparsely populated. The Río Negro borders the country with Honduras. The Caribbean coastline is much more sinuous than its generally straight Pacific counterpart: lagoons and deltas make it very irregular.

See also:


Main article: Economy of Nicaragua

Volcán Momotombo, a symbol of Nicaragua
Volcán Momotombo, a symbol of Nicaragua

Nicaragua's economy has historically been based on the export of cash crops such as bananas, coffee and tobacco. It is said that they produce the best rum in Central America and have the third ranking in beef quality behind Argentina and Brazil. However, this data is very subjective, given the salubrity and quality problems in production. During the Contra War, much of the country's infrastructure was damaged or destroyed, and an economic blockade by the U.S. combined with the economic stagnation of the aligned Soviet bloc led to the virtual collapse of the economy. Inflation ran for a time at several thousand per cent. Since the end of the war, many state-owned industries have been privatized. Inflation has been brought to manageable levels, and the economy has grown quite rapidly in recent years. The country is still the second-poorest in the Americas, however, and is struggling to implement further reforms, on which aid from the International Monetary Fund is conditional.

As in so many poor countries at world-wide level, most of the poor people in Nicaragua are women. In addition, a relatively high percentage of the Nicaraguan homes have a woman as head of household: 39% of urban homes and 28% of the rural ones. (From The Role of Woman in the Economy - used by permission of the site author.)

In 2005, finance ministers of the leading eight industrialized nations (G-8) agreed to forgive Nicaragua's foreign debt, as it is one of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries.


Main article: Demographics of Nicaragua

About 69 percent of Nicaraguans are Mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian to varying degrees). People of unmixed European descent consitute about 17 percent of the population, and are the largest minority. They are mostly of Spanish descent, but the 19th century saw several small waves of immigration from other European-Mediterranean countries. In particular the northern cities of Esteli and Matagalpa have significant 4th generation German communities. Most of the Mestizo and European population live in the western regions of the country and especially in the cities of Managua, Leon and Granada.

About 9 percent of Nicaragua's population is black or afronicaragüense, with the black population concentrated on the country's eastern coast. The black population is mostly of West Indian (Antillean) origin, the descendents of indentured labourers brought mostly from Jamaica and Haiti when the region was a British protectorate. Nicaragua has the second largest black population in Central America after Panama. There is also a smaller number of Garifuna, a people of mixed Carib, Angolan, Congolese and Arawak descent.

Nicaraguan children on a ferry to Ometepe Island
Nicaraguan children on a ferry to Ometepe Island

The remaining 5 percent is comprised of the unmixed descendants of the country's indigenous inhabitants. Nicaragua's pre-Colombian population consisted of the Nahuatl-speaking Nicarao people of the west after whom the country is named, and six other ethnic groups including the Miskitos, Ramas and Sumos along the Caribbean coast. While very few pure-blooded Nicarao people still exist, the Caribbean peoples have remained distinct. In the mid-1980s, the government divided the department of Zelaya - consisting of the eastern half of the country - into two autonomous regions and thus granted the African and indigenous people of this region limited self-rule within the Republic.

There is also a small Middle Eastern-nicaraguan community of Syrian, Armenian, Palestinian and Lebanese people in Nicaragua with a total population of about 30,000, and an East Asian community of Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese people of almost 8,000. These minorities speak Spanish and maintain their ancestral languages as well.

Spanish is spoken by about 90% of Nicaraguans; the Nicaraguan dialect apparently has many similarities to Galician, and they (nicaraguans) think it has similarities to Argentinian Spanish which uses "vos" instead of "tu", along with the "vos" conjugation. The black population of the east coast region has English as its first language. Several indigenous peoples of the east still use their original languages.

Roman Catholicism is the major religion, but evangelical Protestant groups have grown recently, and there are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast.

Ninety per cent of Nicaraguans live in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands. The population is 54% urban.

An estimated 2 million Nicaraguans live outside of Nicaragua, popular destinations are Costa Rica, the United States, Mexico, Germany, and Spain.


Main article: Culture of Nicaragua

Nicaraguan culture has several distinct strands. The west of the country was colonized by Spain and has a similar culture to other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. The people of western Nicaragua are mostly Mestizos and Europeans; Spanish is invariably their first language.

The eastern half of the country, on the other hand, was once a British protectorate. English is still the first language of most people in this region, and its culture is more similar to Caribbean nations. There is a large population of people of African descent, as well as a smaller Garifuna population.

Of the cultures that were present before European colonization, the Nahuatl-speaking peoples who populated the west of the country have essentially been assimilated into the latino culture. In the east, however, several indigenous groups have maintained a distinct identity. The Sumos and Ramas people still use their original languages.

Miscellaneous topics

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Further reading

  • After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua Florence E. Babb
  • Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua Stephen Kinzer
  • The Civil War in Nicaragua: Inside the Sandinistas Roger Miranda and William Ratliff
  • Contradiction and Conflict : The Popular Church in Nicaragua Debra Sabia
  • The Contras, 1980-1989 : A Special Kind of Politics R. Pardo-Maurer
  • The Country Under My Skin : A Memoir of Love and War Gioconda Belli
  • Dark Alliance : The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion Gary Webb
  • The Death of Ben Linder: The Story of a North American in Sandinista Nicaragua Joan Kruckewitt
  • To Die in This Way: Nicaraguan Indians and the Myth of the Mestizaje 1880-1965 Jeffrey L. Gould
  • The Jaguar Smile : A Nicaraguan Journey Salman Rushdie
  • Life Is Hard: Machismo, Danger, and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua Roger N. Lancaster
  • Life Stories of the Nicaraguan Revolution Denis Lynn Daly Heyck
  • Manufacturing Consent: The Poltical Economy of the Mass Media Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
  • Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs: Gender Identity Politics in Nicaragua 1979 - 1999 Lorraine Bayard de Volo
  • My Car in Managua Forrest D. Colburn and Roger Sanchez Flores
  • Nicaragua Thomas Walker
  • Nicaragua Betrayed Anastasio Somoza and Jack Cox
  • Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family Shirley Christian
  • The Patient Impatience: From Boyhood to Guerilla : A Personal Narrative of Nicaragua's Struggle for Liberation Tomas Borge
  • The Real Contra War: Highlander Peasant Resistance in Nicaragua Timothy C. Brown
  • Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution Matilde Zimmermann
  • Sandinista Communism and Rural Nicaragua Janusz Bugajski
  • Sandinistas: The Party And The Revolution Dennis Gilbert
  • Sandinistas Speak Tomas Borge
  • The Sandino Affair Neill MacAulay
  • Sandino's Daughters: Testimonies of Nicaraguan Women in Struggle Margaret Randall and Lynda Yanz
  • Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990 Robert Kagan
  • The War in Nicaragua William Walker
  • Washington, Somoza and the Sandinistas : Stage and Regime in US Policy toward Nicaragua 1969-1981 Morris H. Morley
  • Washington's War on Nicaragua Holly Sklar
  • With the Old Corps in Nicaragua George B. Clark

External links

Countries in Central America
Belize | Costa Rica | El Salvador | Guatemala | Honduras | Nicaragua | Panama
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