Managua • Leon • Masaya • Tipitapa • Chinandega • Matagalpa • Esteli • Granada • Ciudad Sandino • Juigalpa • El Viejo • Nueva Guinea • Jinotega • Bluefields • Diriamba • Ocotal • Puerto Cabezas • Chichigalpa • Rivas • San Rafael del Sur • Jinotepe • Boaco • Nagarote • Jalapa • La Paz Centro • San Marcos • Masatepe • Nandaime • Rama • Somoto • Corinto • Rio Blanco • Camoapa • El Crucero • Siuna • Somotillo • Santo Tomas • Quilali • San Carlos • Ciudad Dario • Ticuantepe • El Sauce • Condega • Acoyapa • Matiguas • Diriomo • Telica • San Lorenzo • Corn Island • Bocana de Paiwas • Villa Sandino • San Juan del Sur • Niquinohomo • Larreynaga • Puerto Morazan • San Jorge • Nindiri • Dolores • Wiwili • La Concepcion • Nandasmo • Laguna de Perlas • Waslala • Posoltega • Waspam • Bonanza • El Realejo • Santo Domingo • Santa Teresa • San Rafael del Norte • Belen • El Ayote • Potosi • Carlos Fonseca Amador • Tisma •
|THE NICARAGUA COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Monaco within the continent of North America
Map of Nicaragua
Flag Description of Nicaragua:The flag of Nicaragua was officially adopted on September 4, 1908. The blue and white are the original colors used by the United Provinces of Central America. The Nicaragua coat of arm is centered on the white panel. The five volcanoes within represent the five original states of Central America.
Official name República de Nicaragua (Republic of Nicaragua)
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative house (National Assembly )
Head of state and government President: Daniel Ortega
Official language Spanish
Official religion none
Monetary unit córdoba (C$)
Population (2013 est.) 6,042,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 50,337
Total area (sq km) 130,373
- Urban: (2011) 57.5%
- Rural: (2011) 42.5%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 70.1 years
- Female: (2012) 74.4 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2005) 78.1%
- Female: (2005) 77.9%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 1,780
1Includes the runner-up in the presidential election and the immediate past president or vice president.
Background of Nicaragua
Nicaragua, country of Central America. It is the largest of the Central American republics. Nicaragua can be characterized by its agricultural economy, its history of autocratic government, and its imbalance of regional development—almost all settlement and economic activity are concentrated in the western half of the country. The country’s name is derived from Nicarao, chief of the indigenous tribe that lived around present-day Lake Nicaragua during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Nicaragua has a unique history in that it was the only country in Latin America to be colonized by both the Spanish and the British. Nicaragua’s population is made up mostly of mestizos (people of mixed European and Indian ancestry). The national capital is Managua, which also is the country’s largest city and home to about one-fifth of the population.
The family of Anastasio Somoza García dominated Nicaragua from 1936 to 1979, when it was toppled by an insurrection led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional; FSLN). The land, economic, and educational reforms initiated by the socialist-oriented Sandinista regime were negated when it became embroiled in guerrilla warfare with a U.S.-backed insurgency beginning in the early 1980s. The Sandinista-dominated government was finally defeated by the U.S.-funded National Opposition Union, a coalition of parties, in the 1990 presidential elections. The election results, which were deemed free and fair by the international community, signaled an end to the armed conflict in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas returned to power after winning a national election in 2006 but promised to uphold many of the economic reforms of their predecessors.
Present-day Nicaragua is still recovering from its legacy of dictatorship and civil war. There are ongoing disputes over land ownership, and Nicaragua continues to be dependent on foreign aid, mainly from the United States. Moreover, the country’s infrastructure was severely damaged in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch, which killed more than 1,800 Nicaraguans and destroyed several villages. On the other hand, the country has been home to many prominent artists, writers, and intellectuals, and it began to attract a significant income from tourism in the early 21st century.
Geography of Nicaragua
Nicaragua is bounded by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
The western half of Nicaragua is made up generally of valleys separated by low but rugged mountains and many volcanoes. This intricately dissected region includes the Cordillera Entre Ríos, on the Honduras border; the Cordilleras Isabelia and Dariense, in the north-central area; and the Huapí, Amerrique, and Yolaina mountains, in the southeast. The mountains are highest in the north, and Mogotón Peak (6,900 feet [2,103 metres]), in the Cordillera Entre Ríos, is the highest point in the country.
To the west and south of the central mountain core is a string of 40 volcanoes—some of which are active—that stretches northwest-southeast along the Pacific coast. These volcanoes are surrounded by low plains extending from the Gulf of Fonseca in the north to the Bay of Salinas in the south and are separated from the mountains by the great basin that contains Lakes Nicaragua, Managua, and Masaya. They are divided into two groups: the Cordillera de los Marrabios in the north and the Pueblos Mesas in the south. The highest volcanoes include San Cristóbal (5,840 feet [1,780 metres]), Concepción (5,282 feet [1,610 metres]), and Momotombo (4,199 feet [1,280 metres]).
The eastern half of Nicaragua has low, level plains. Among the widest Caribbean lowlands in Central America, these plains average 60 miles (100 km) in width. The coastline is broken by river mouths and deltas and large coastal lagoons as well as by the coral reefs, islands, cays, and banks that dot Nicaragua’s continental shelf—the widest in Central America.
The central mountains form the country’s main watershed. The rivers that flow to the west empty into the Pacific Ocean or Lakes Managua and Nicaragua. They are short and carry a small volume of water; the most important are the Negro and Estero Real rivers, which empty into the Gulf of Fonseca, and the Tamarindo River, which flows into the Pacific.
The eastern rivers are of greater length. The 485-mile- (780-km-) long Coco River flows for 295 miles (475 km) along the Nicaragua-Honduras border and empties into the Caribbean on the extreme northern coast. The Río Grande de Matagalpa flows for 267 miles (430 km) from the Cordillera Dariense eastward across the lowlands to empty into the Caribbean north of Pearl Lagoon on the central coast. In the extreme south the San Juan River flows for 124 miles (200 km) from Lake Nicaragua into the Caribbean in the northern corner of Costa Rica. Other rivers of the Caribbean watershed include the 158-mile- (254-km-) long Prinzapolka River, the 55-mile- (89-km-) long Escondido River, the 60-mile- (97-km-) long Indio River, and the 37-mile- (60-km-) long Maíz River.
The west is a region of lakes. Lake Nicaragua, with an area of 3,149 square miles (8,157 square km), is the largest lake in Central America. The lake is bisected by a chain of volcanos which has led to the formation of numerous islands, the largest of which is Ometepe Island. Located in the southern isthmus, the lake and its distributary, the San Juan River, have long been discussed as a possible canal route between the Caribbean and the Pacific.
There are six freshwater lakes near the city of Managua. They include Lake Managua, which covers an area of 400 square miles (1,035 square km), Lake Asososca, which acts as the city’s reservoir of drinking water, and Lake Jiloá, which is slightly alkaline and is a favourite bathing resort. Lake Masaya is prized for its swimming and fishing facilities; the sulfurous waters of Lake Nejapa have medicinal properties ascribed to them; and Lake Tiscapa is located in the capital city.
Other lakes in the Pacific watershed include Lake Apoyo, near Lake Masaya; Lake Apoyeque, picturesquely located between two peaks on Chiltepe Point, which juts into Lake Managua; and the artificial Lake Apanás on the Tuma River, which generates much of the electricity consumed in the Pacific zone.
Soils on the Caribbean coast are varied and include fertile alluvial types along waterways and relatively infertile types in the pine-savanna and rainforest regions. On the Pacific coast the soil is volcanic, and about four-fifths of its area is fertile.
The climate is slightly cooler and much wetter in the east than in the west. The Pacific side is characterized by a rainy season from May to November and a dry season from December to April. The annual average temperature there is in the low 80s °F (about 27 °C), and annual precipitation averages 75 inches (1,905 mm). On the Caribbean side of the country, the rainy season lasts for about nine months of the year, and a dry season extends from March through May. The annual average temperature is about the same as on the Pacific side, but annual precipitation averages almost 150 inches (3,810 mm). In the northern mountains temperatures are cooler and average about 64 °F (18 °C). Prevailing winds are from the northeast and are cool on the high plateau and warm and humid in the lowlands.
Plant and animal life Although Nicaragua’s forests suffer from poorly regulated commercial exploitation and the increasing human footprint of the country’s burgeoning population, they are still the largest in Central America. Covering more than one-third of the country, they vary considerably in terms of elevation and rainfall. Nicaragua’s forests contain valuable cedar, mahogany, and pine timber as well as quebracho (axbreaker), guaiacum (a type of ironwood), guapinol (which yields resin), and medlar (which produces a crab-apple-like fruit).
Although rapidly being depleted, Nicaragua’s fauna includes mammals such as pumas, jaguars, ocelots, margays, various monkeys, deer, and peccaries; birds range from eagles to egrets to macaws to pelicans; reptiles include crocodiles, snakes, turtles, and lizards; and a variety of toads, frogs, fishes, mollusks, and insects are also found. Fauna, like the flora, varies considerably from one ecosystem to another.
Demography of Nicaragua
- Ethnic groups
The majority of Nicaraguans (between three-fifths and seven-tenths of the total population) are mestizos—persons of mixed European and Indian ancestry. Whites of European descent constitute less than one-fifth of the total population, while people of African descent, Indians, and other groups each constitute less than one-tenth of the total population.
The Indian groups are split into two regions: the west coast has a small number of Monimbó and Subtiava groups, as well as the Matagalpa (whose language is extinct), who live in the west-central city of the same name, while the Miskito, Sumo, and Rama reside on the east coast. Also living in the eastern region are the Garifuna (formerly called Black Caribs), who are descendants of the Carib people and Africans exiled from British colonies in the eastern Caribbean (Lesser Antilles) in the 18th century, and Creoles, English-speaking blacks mainly from Jamaica. Spanish-speaking mestizos constitute the largest single group on the east coast, however.
The vast majority of Nicaraguans speak Spanish. It is the sole official language in all but the east coast regions where, under the 1987 constitution and the Atlantic Coast Autonomy Law enacted the same year, Miskito, Sumo, Rama, and Creole English have equal status with Spanish. On the west coast, Indian languages have disappeared, even though their influence remains in place-names and many nouns in Nicaraguan Spanish.
There is no official religion in Nicaragua, but about three-fifths of Nicaraguans adhere to Roman Catholicism. Since the 1980s Evangelical Protestantism has grown considerably, particularly among the poor, and it is the religion of about one-fifth of the population. There are small Moravian and Anglican communities on the Caribbean coast. A very small Jewish community exists in larger cities.
- Settlement patterns
The western volcanic mountains and surrounding lowlands and lakes contain the majority of the country’s population, most of its cities, and the bulk of its industry. The valleys of the western central mountains contain a substantial population. In the second half of the 20th century, many former inhabitants of the western region migrated to the large but sparsely populated eastern region to farm, raise cattle, or exploit timber resources. The area remains an agricultural centre, though some light industry has emerged.
Slightly more than half of Nicaragua’s population is urban. By far the largest city is Managua, on the southeastern shore of Lake Managua. Other important urban centres include León, Granada, Masaya, and Chinandega, all in the west. Matalgalpa, Estelí, Juigalpa, and Jinotega are among the largest cities of the central mountains. Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas (Bilwi) are the largest towns on the Caribbean coast.
- Demographic trends
Despite the loss of nearly 30,000 people who were killed in the country’s civil war, and the hundreds of thousands who took refuge abroad, Nicaragua’s population increased from 2.5 million to nearly 4 million during Sandinista rule (1979–90). Declining infant mortality and a wartime “baby boom” are possible explanations. The war also spurred internal migration and a rapid expansion of cities. These factors, along with high fertility rates, have left the country with a young population. At the beginning of the 21st century, nearly two-fifths of the population was under age 15. Moreover, a restrictive abortion policy adopted in the mid-2000s, which outlawed the procedure even in cases of rape or a life-threatening pregnancy, was expected to further increase the population.
Economy of Nicaragua
Nicaragua is one of Latin America’s poorest countries and suffers from high unemployment rates and a large external debt. Remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad and foreign assistance are the country’s main sources of foreign income, though income from tourism has increased since the 1990s. The majority of Nicaraguans live in poverty.
During the 1980s the cost inflicted by the revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship and by the defense against counterrevolution worsened the country’s plight. The Sandinista policy of developing a mixed economy (about 60 percent private and 40 percent public) resulted in growth from 1980 through 1983; however, public spending on many state enterprises combined with continued price controls and subsidies led to economic problems. A trade embargo declared on Nicaragua by the United States in 1985, along with economic mismanagement by the Sandinista government, brought about economic decline, service shortages, war-driven inflation, and a growing foreign debt that lasted throughout the decade. In the late 1980s the Sandinistas implemented an austerity program featuring some privatization and sharp reductions in public employment.
The post-Sandinista government sought to remove most state control of the economy and accentuated austerity policies introduced by the Sandinistas. Privatization was accelerated, and government spending aimed at the country’s poor majority was curtailed. By the end of the century, with renewed U.S. assistance and aid from international lending agencies, inflation had been brought under control and minor growth was being achieved. However, the government’s implementation of austerity and structural-adjustment programs reduced or eliminated most government welfare and led to further impoverishment of the country’s poorest citizens.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing engage as much as one-third of the labour force and produce about one-fifth of the total national income. The valleys of the western central mountains yield about one-fourth of the national agricultural production. Major crops for domestic consumption include corn (maize), beans, rice, sorghum, plantains, and cassava (manioc). Various fruits and vegetables also are produced for local consumption.
Cattle are significant as a source of hides, meat, and dairy products in the west and of meat in the east. The cattle industry grew rapidly after World War II until the late 1970s, when internal conflicts and government policy prompted many ranchers to reduce their herds or move them to neighbouring countries. Other livestock include goats, hogs, horses, and sheep.
Much of Nicaragua’s forests have been cleared for ranching and farming, and income from the sale of timber has helped repay outstanding international loans. Since 2000 reforestation programs have attempted to replace the forest cover that had been exploited through illegal logging operations.
Shrimping is the most important marine activity. Almost all of the shrimp, caught in both the Pacific and the Caribbean, are exported; lobsters also are exported in moderate quantities. Nicaragua’s fish resources, however, are relatively unexploited because of lack of investment, and marine fishing remains largely a subsistence activity.
- Resources and power
Nicaragua is rich in natural resources, most of which have not been exploited on a large scale because of lack of financing. Mineral resources include known deposits of gold, silver, zinc, copper, iron ore, lead, and gypsum. Of these minerals, only gold has been mined intensively. Nicaragua has traditionally used petroleum sources (mostly imported) for its energy production needs. Since 2000 the government has passed various energy laws requiring the participation of the private sector in the generation and distribution of electricity and promoting the development of hydroelectric and geothermal plants, which together accounted for about one-fifth of energy generation in the early 21st century. In fact, because of its many volcanoes, Nicaragua has the largest geothermal potential in Central America. In addition, some of the country’s largest sugar mills have contracts with the government to supply bioelectricity year-round using bagasse during sugarcane season and fuelwood derived from eucalyptus during the off-season. Eucalyptus plantations have been established for this purpose.
Nicaragua’s manufacturing sector is in an incipient stage of development and is based on the production of consumer products, many of which require the importation of raw materials. Beginning in the late 20th century, the government actively supported the diversification of production and the use of domestic raw materials by establishing maquiladoras (manufacturing plants that import and assemble duty-free components for export) in free-trade zones and by adopting free-trade agreements. Manufactures include refined petroleum, matches, footwear, soap and vegetable oils, cement, alcoholic beverages, and textiles.
The Central Bank of Nicaragua, established in 1961, has the sole right of issue of the national currency, the córdoba. The financial system had been dominated by the government-owned Finance Corporation of Nicaragua, an amalgamation of the country’s banks established in 1980, but by the early 21st century, several private banks and microfinance institutions had been established.
Traditionally dependent on U.S. markets and products, Nicaragua began trading with a wider group of countries—including Cuba and those of eastern Europe—during the Sandinista period. At no point, however, did commerce with those countries predominate. Indeed, when Nicaragua’s major trading partner, the United States, declared an embargo on trade with Nicaragua in 1985, several Western countries sharply increased their imports from Nicaragua. From the 1970s through the mid-1990s, the value of Nicaragua’s imports (most notably petroleum, nonferrous minerals, and industrial products) greatly exceeded that of its exports. After 1990 trade with the United States was resumed. At the beginning of the 21st century, Nicaragua’s main export products were coffee, beef, sugar, and seafood. About one-third of Nicaraguan exports went to the United States, with smaller proportions going to El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Imports included nondurable consumer goods, mineral fuels, capital goods for industry, and transport equipment. In 2006 Nicaragua formally entered into the Central America–Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) with the United States.
Nicaragua’s service sector has grown considerably since the 1990s and employs about one-half of the active labour force. Tourism has become one of the country’s leading industries. Tourists are drawn to the country’s Atlantic and Pacific beaches, as well as to its volcanoes, lakes, and cultural life. Especially of note are the hundreds of islands in Lake Nicaragua; the largest and most visited is Ometepe, which was formed by two volcanoes. The second largest island, Zapatera, has many archaeological sites and petroglyphs from pre-Columbian cultures. León, one of Nicaragua’s oldest cities, retains its colonial architecture, and nearby León Viejo, one of the oldest Spanish colonial settlements in the Americas, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.
- Labour and taxation
There are various active labour unions in Nicaragua, which have been generally divided under Sandinista and anti-Sandinista umbrella groups. The Nicaraguan Workers’ Central is an independent labour union.
Most Nicaraguan women work in the informal sector, which includes domestic labour and subsistence farming. Women are the most affected by and least protected from poverty. Many of them are the sole breadwinners for their families and cannot provide adequate food or meet other fundamental material needs. Indeed, at the beginning of the 21st century, the gap between Nicaragua’s national minimum wage and the cost of living increased, making life more difficult for families from lower-income communities. Government income is largely generated through both corporate and individual income taxes, a value-added tax (VAT), and a capital gains tax.
- Transportation and telecommunications
Most of the country’s transportation system is confined to the western zone. There is a network of highways, parts of which are impassable during the rainy season. The system includes the 255-mile (410-km) Nicaraguan section of the Inter-American Highway, which runs through the west from Honduras to Costa Rica. An important road runs from the Inter-American Highway, 24 miles (39 km) from Managua eastward to Port Esperanza at Rama. Another road connects Managua with Puerto Cabezas on the Caribbean. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch destroyed large portions of the country’s roads in the Pacific coastal area. While many roads have been rebuilt through international support, subsequent hurricanes have delayed complete reconstruction.
There are several hundred miles of railways. The main line runs from Granada northwest to Corinto, on the Pacific Ocean. A branch line leads north from León to the coffee area of Carazo.
The chief ocean port of Corinto, which handles most foreign trade, and Puerto Sandino and San Juan del Sur serve the Pacific coastal area. The Caribbean ports include Puerto Cabezas and Bluefields, the latter connected to the river landing of Port Esperanza by regular small craft service. The short rivers in the west are navigable for small craft. In the east the Coco River is navigable in its lower course for medium-sized vessels.
The main international airport, 7 miles (11 km) from Managua, has service to North America and Latin America. Another large commercial airport is at Puerto Cabezas. Other airports have scheduled domestic flights. International air service is offered by TACA airlines and several U.S. and other foreign airlines.
Nicaragua’s telecommunications sector is fully privatized. The number of Internet users in the country is lower than that of most other countries in Central America.
Government and Society of Nicaragua
From 1838, when Nicaragua seceded from the United Provinces of Central America, to 1979, when the long dictatorial reign of the Somoza family came to an end, Nicaragua had nine constitutions. The Somoza regime was deposed in 1979 by a junta, led by the Sandinistas, which abrogated the old constitution and suspended the presidency, Congress, and the courts. An elected president and unicameral National Assembly replaced the junta and its appointed council in 1985, and a new constitution (the country’s 10th since 1838) was promulgated in 1987, with reforms in 1995, 2000, and 2005. The president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term; in 2009 the Nicaraguan Supreme Court lifted a constitutional ban on consecutive reelection, allowing the incumbent president to serve an additional term in office. Assembly terms are five years and run concurrently with the presidential term. Power is divided among four governmental branches: executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral. The last mentioned is the Supreme Electoral Council, which is responsible for organizing and holding elections.
Nicaragua is divided into regiones (regions), which are subdivided into departamentos (departments). Within the departments are municipios (municipalities) of varying sizes. Citizens of the municipalities directly elect a municipal council, which has basic governing authority and also elects the mayor. The municipal councils are responsible for urban development; land use; sanitation; construction and maintenance of roads, parks, and other public spaces; and cultural institutions within their own municipality. There are two autonomous indigenous regions on the Caribbean coast—the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, whose respective capitals are Puerto Cabezas (Bilwi) and Bluefields.
Nicaragua’s judicial system includes civilian and military courts. The Supreme Court is the country’s highest court. Its justices, who are elected to seven-year terms by the National Assembly, are responsible for nominating judges to the lower courts. Nicaragua’s judicial system has received international assistance through judicial reform projects, but it continues to be plagued by inconsistent decisions, trial delays, and politicization.
Nicaraguans aged 16 and older have universal suffrage. Nicaraguan politics was historically dominated by a liberal and a conservative party. Leading political parties include the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Constitucionalista; PLC), the Conservative Party of Nicaragua (Partido Conservador de Nicaragua; PCN), and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional; FSLN). The FSLN was established in the early 1960s as a guerrilla group dedicated to the overthrow of the Somoza family. They governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and again starting in 2006 when Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega won in the general elections of that year. Presidential candidates must receive at least 40 percent of the vote or have 35 percent of the vote and be at least 5 percentage points ahead of the closet contender to avoid a run-off election. Members of the National Assembly are elected for five-year terms by a proportional representation system and can be reelected. Two seats in the Assembly are reserved, however—one for the immediate past president and one for the runner-up in the immediate preceding presidential election.
Nicaragua has a volunteer army, navy, and air force, in which Nicaraguans can enlist as early as age 17. Nicaragua’s army historically has been tied to political parties. During Sandinista rule the National Guard, linked to the Somoza family, was replaced with the Sandinista People’s Army, which had led the revolution. In 1995 an amendment to the constitution helped stabilize and democratize the army, which was renamed the Army of Nicaragua.
Health and welfare
After decades of neglect by the Somozas, social programs for the poor became a central concern of the Sandinistas. Health measures were taken that significantly reduced infant mortality and increased life expectancies. Welfare and social security programs were expanded. However, these programs suffered in the late 1980s from the impact of war and a collapsing economy. After 1990 they continued to decline as the conservative government implemented public-sector cutbacks. With international aid, Nicaragua experienced improvements in health care access, and child mortality rates declined in the early 21st century.
One of the first acts by the Sandinistas following the revolution of 1979 was to declare a “year of literacy,” whereby the government sent out cadres of former guerrilla fighters to teach reading to the largely illiterate rural populace. This literacy crusade reduced adult illiteracy from more than 50 percent to less than 15 percent. Standard education at all levels was also greatly expanded. At the start of the 21st century, about four-fifths of the population was literate, one-fifth of Nicaraguans had no formal schooling, and only a small percentage of the population had a university degree. Nicaragua’s oldest universities are the National Autonomous University (1812) and the Central American University (1961). Several other universities were founded in the 1980s and ’90s.
Culture Life of Nicaragua
The country has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by European culture but enriched with Amerindian sounds and flavors. Nicaragua has historically been an important source of poetry in the Hispanic world, with internationally renowned contributors, the best known being Rubén Darío. Also included in this group are Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli, Jose Coronel Urtecho and Pablo Antonio Cuadra.
Nicaraguan culture can further be defined in several distinct strands. The west of the country was colonized by Spain and its people are predominantly Mestizo or European in composition. Spanish is invariably their first language.
The eastern half of the country, on the other hand, was once a British protectorate. English and indigenous languages predominate in this region and are spoken domestically along with Spanish. Its culture is similar to that of Caribbean nations that were or are British colonies, such as Jamaica, Belize and the Cayman Islands. Recent immigration by mestizos has largely influenced younger generations and an increasing number of people are either bilingual at home or speak Spanish only. There is a relatively large population of people of mixed African descent, as well as a smaller Garifuna population. Due to the African influence, in the Caribbean Coast, there is a different kind of music. It is the popular dance music called Palo de Mayo, or Maypole, which is celebrated during the Maypole Festival, during the month of May. The music is sensual with intense rhythms. The celebration is derived from the British Maypole for May Day celebration, as adapted and transformed by the Afro-Nicaraguans on the Caribbean Coast.
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 Miskito, Sumo, and Rama peoples still use their original languages, and also usually speak English and/or Spanish. The Garifuna people speak their own Garifuna language in addition to English and/or Spanish.
Spanish is spoken by 90 percent of the country's population. In Nicaragua the Voseo form is common, just as in other countries in Central and South America like Honduras, Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador. Spanish has many different dialects spoken throughout Latin America, Central American Spanish is the dialect spoken in Nicaragua. The black population of the east coast region have English as their first language. Several indigenous peoples of the east still use their original language, the main languages being Miskito language, Sumo language, and Rama language. Also, due to the arrival of the Chinese in the nineteenth century, there are an estimated seven thousand people who speak Chinese. Nicaraguan Sign Language is of particular interest to linguists.
Nicaragua is nominally Roman Catholic, but practicing Roman Catholics are no longer the majority and are declining while evangelical Protestant groups including Mormons are growing rapidly. There are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast.
The 2005 census shows religious affiliation as follows: Roman Catholic 58.5 percent (most non-practicing), Evangelical 21.6 percent, Moravian 1.6 percent, Jehovah's Witnesses 0.9 percent, none 15.7 percent, and other 1.6 percent (which includes Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism among others).
The Cuisine of Nicaragua is as diverse as its inhabitants. It is a mixture of criollo style food and pre-Columbian dishes. When the Spaniards first arrived in Nicaragua they found that the Creole people had incorporated foods available in the area into their cuisine. Despite the blending and incorporation of pre-Colombian and Spanish influenced cuisine, traditional cuisine changes from the Pacific to the Caribbean coast. While the Pacific coast's main staple revolves around local fruits and corn, the Caribbean coast's cuisine makes use of seafood and the coconut.
Gallopinto is Nicaragua's national dish, it consists of red beans and rice. The dish has several variations including the addition of coconut oil and/or grated coconut which is primarily prepared on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.
As in many other Latin American countries, corn is a main staple. Corn (maiz) is used in many of the widely consumed dishes, such as the nacatamal, and indio viejo. Corn is not only used in food, it is also an ingredient for drinks such as pinolillo and chicha as well as in sweets and deserts. Nicaraguans do not limit their cuisine to corn; locally grown vegetables and fruits have been in use since before the arrival of the Spaniards. Many of Nicaragua's dishes include fruits such as mango, papaya, tamarind, jocote, pipian, banana, avocado, yucca, and herbs such as culantro, oregano and achiote. 
Rapid expansion of the tourist industry has made it the nation's second largest industry. Every year about 60,000 Americans visit Nicaragua, primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. In the last 12 years prior to 2007, tourism had grown 394 percent. The country is mostly famous for its landscapes, flora and fauna, culture, beaches and of course, its lakes and volcanoes.
According to the Ministry of Tourism of Nicaragua (INTUR), the colonial city of Granada, Nicaragua is the preferred spot for tourists. Also, the cities of León, Masaya, Rivas and the likes of San Juan del Sur, San Juan River, Ometepe, Mombacho Volcano, the Corn Islands, and others are main tourist attractions. In addition, ecotourism and surfing attract many tourists to Nicaragua.
EducationEducation is free for all Nicaraguans and mandatory as well for elementary–age children. However, attendance is not strictly enforced and many children in rural areas are unable to attend due to lack of transportation or the need to assist in the financial support of their families.
Communities located on the Atlantic Coast have access to education in their native languages. The majority of higher education institutions are located in Managua. Higher education has financial, organic and administrative autonomy, according to the law. Also, freedom to select subjects of study is recognized.
When the Sandinistas came to power in 1979, they inherited an educational system that was one of the poorest in Latin America. Under the Somozas, limited spending on education and generalized poverty, which forced many adolescents into the labor market, constricted educational opportunities for Nicaraguans. In the late 1970s, only 65 percent of primary school-age children were enrolled in school, and of those who entered first grade only 22 percent completed the full six years of the primary school curriculum. Most rural schools offered only one or two years of schooling, and three-quarters of the rural population was illiterate. Few students enrolled in secondary school, in part because most secondary institutions were private and too expensive for the average family. At the college level, enrollment jumped from 11,142 students in 1978 to 38,570 in 1985. The Sandinistas also reshaped the system of higher education: reordering curricular priorities, closing down redundant institutions and programs and establishing new ones, and increasing lower-class access to higher education. Influenced by Cuban models, the new curricula were oriented toward development needs. The fields of study of agriculture, medicine, education, and technology grew at the expense of law, the humanities, and the social sciences.
A 1980 literacy campaign, using secondary school students as "volunteer teachers," reduced the illiteracy rate from 50 to 23 percent of the total population. The key large scale programs of the government included a massive National Literacy Crusade held March through August of 1980 and social programs which received international recognition for their gains in literacy.
Baseball is the number one played sport in Nicaragua. Although some of the professional Nicaraguan baseball teams have disappeared over the past few years, Nicaragua enjoys a strong tradition of American-style baseball. There are currently five teams that compete amongst themselves: Indios del Boer (Managua), Chinandega, Tiburones (Sharks) of Granada, Leon and Masaya. Players from these teams comprise the National team when Nicaragua is competing internationally. The country has had its share of MLB players but the most notable is Dennis Martínez, who was the first baseball player from Nicaragua to play in Major League Baseball, who also pitched the 13th perfect game in major league history.
Soccer has gained in popularity, especially among the younger population. The Dennis Martínez National Stadium has served as a venue for both baseball and soccer but the first ever national stadium in Managua is under construction. Also popular among Nicaraguans is boxing; the country has had world champions such as Alexis Argüello and Ricardo Mayorga.
History of Nicaragua
Early History through U.S. Occupation
The country probably takes its name from Nicarao, the leader of an indigenous community inhabiting the shores of Lake Nicaragua that was defeated in 1522 by the Spanish under Gil González de Ávila. Under Spanish rule Nicaragua was part of the captaincy general of Guatemala. After declaring independence from Spain (1821), Nicaragua was briefly part of the Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide and then (1825–38) a member of the Central American Federation. Nicaraguan politics were wracked by conflict between Liberals and Conservatives, centered respectively in León and Granada; Managua was founded as the capital in 1855 as a compromise. British influence had been established along the east coast in the 17th cent., and in 1848 the British seizure of San Juan del Norte opened a period of conflict over control of the Mosquito Coast.
The United States was interested in a transisthmian canal (see Nicaragua Canal), and its interest was heightened by the discovery of gold in California. In 1851, Cornelius Vanderbilt opened a transisthmian route through Nicaragua for the gold seekers. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) settled some of the issues between Great Britain and the United States concerning the proposed canal, but Nicaragua remained in a state of disorder that culminated in the temporary triumph (1855–57) of the filibuster William Walker.
After Walker's defeat there was a long period of quiet under Conservative control until the Liberal leader, José Santos Zelaya, became president in 1894. He instituted a vigorous dictatorship, extended Nicaraguan authority over the Mosquito Coast, promoted economic development, and interfered in the affairs of neighboring countries. His financial dealings with Britain aroused the apprehension of the United States and helped bring about his downfall (1909).
In 1912, U.S. marines were landed to support the provisional president, Adolfo Díaz, in a civil war. The Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, giving the United States exclusive rights for a Nicaraguan canal and other privileges, was ratified in 1916. (It was terminated in 1970.) The Liberals opposed the U.S. intervention, and there was guerrilla warfare against the U.S.-supported regime for years. American occupation ended in 1925 but resumed the next year, when Emiliano Chamorro attempted to seize power. Augusto César Sandino was a leader of the anti-occupation forces. The U.S. diplomat Henry L. Stimson succeeded in getting most factions to agree (1927) to binding elections, although Sandino continued to fight.
The Somozas, Sandinistas, Contras, and Chamorro The U.S. marines were withdrawn in 1933. Three years later Anastasio Somoza emerged as the strong man in Nicaragua. He officially became president in 1937 and ruled for 20 years. In the 1947 elections a new president was chosen, but he was ousted by Somoza after less than a month in office. Nicaragua virtually became Somoza's private estate; the regime aroused much criticism among liberal groups in Latin America. Under Somoza relations with other Central American republics were poor. Somoza was assassinated in 1956, and his son Luis Somoza Debayle became president. Another son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, headed the armed forces. The Somoza family engineered the election of René Schick Gutiérrez as president in 1963. After his death in 1966, Lorenzo Guerrero, the vice president, succeeded. Anastasio Somoza Debayle was elected president in 1967.
Although Somoza resigned from office in May, 1972, handing power to the governing council, he retained effective control of the country as head of the armed forces and leader of the NLP. After the earthquake (Dec., 1972) that devastated Managua, he became director of the emergency relief operations and diverted international aid to himself and his associates, an abuse that solidified opposition to the Somoza regime.
Somoza returned to the presidency in 1974 as objections to his regime increased. The opposition was grouped under two large factions, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the Democratic Liberation Union (UDEL). Violent clashes between the Somoza government and the opposition mounted throughout the 1970s until in 1979 the FSLN and UDEL toppled the Somoza government. The more radical, left-wing FSLN (or Sandinistas) took control of the government, instituting widespread social, political, and economic changes. Many economic institutions and resources were nationalized, land was redistributed, and social services such as health care and education were improved.
In 1981 the United States, politically unsupportive of the Sandinista government and suspicious of its relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba, cut off economic aid and began supporting counterrevolutionary military forces, or contras. After the U.S. Congress acted to cut off aid to the contras, it was continued covertly (see Iran-contra affair). In 1984 the United States illegally mined Nicaragua's principal export harbors, and in 1985 it instituted a trade embargo. In 1984, under pressure, the regime held elections, in which the junta leader, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, was chosen president. The Sandinista government was popular especially with the peasants and the urban poor. Although it received substantial Soviet aid, it was increasingly unable to maintain the economy, and it curtailed civil liberties to silence dissent.
In the Feb., 1990, elections, held under a Central American peace initiative, the FSLN was defeated by an opposition coalition, and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, a political moderate, became president. The United States subsequently lifted its trade embargo, and the contras ceased fighting. Chamorro sought, with mixed success, to revive the economy and generate a conciliatory political environment; tense relations between the Sandinistas and their opponents at times threatened to undermine her government.
Ortega ran for president again in 1996, but was defeated by José Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo, leader of the Liberal Alliance, a conservative coalition. The country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in Nov., 1998, which killed 4,000 people, including over 1,500 buried in a mudslide when the Casita volcano collapsed; much of the country's agricultural land and infrastructure were destroyed. The Liberal party retained the presidency in the 2001 elections as Enrique Bolaños Geyer defeated Daniel Ortega.
Bolaños launched an anticorruption campaign that led (2003) to the conviction of his predecessor for embezzlement and other crimes. The move against Alemán, who was jailed but later released to detention at his farm, led to a power struggle in 2004 between Liberal party members in the national assembly, who formed an alliance with the Sandinistas, and President Bolaños. Legislators attempted to pass constitutional amendments curtailing the president's powers and attempted to force him from office. An accord ending the dispute was negotiated in Jan., 2005, but legislators subsequently passed the amendments, which the administration has ignored despite rulings from the supreme court (largely appointed by the Sandinistas). The power struggle effectively paralyzed the government.
In July, 2005, the president's opponents initiated impeachment proceedings, but in October Bolaños and Ortega reached an agreement that would delay the constitutional changes until 2007, after Bolaños had left office, and the legislature subsequently approved the move. In the Nov., 2006, presidential election, Ortega was elected president; the campaign was a three-way race in which the center-right vote was split between two candidates. In Mar., 2007, in a move that was seen by many observers as part of a deal between Ortega and former president Alemán, Alemán's house arrest was essentially ended.
In May, 2008, a number of opposition parties were stripped of their legal standing, including the Sandinista Renovation Movement and the Conservative party. The move was regarded by many as an attempt by the Sandinistas (FSLN) and Liberals to limit voters alternatives in the November local elections. The elections were largely won by the FSLN but criticized internationally for the absence of international observers and disputed by the Liberals; they were also marred by pre- and post-voting violence in which Sandinista partisans played the dominant role. The supreme court overturned former President Alemán's conviction for money laundering in Jan., 2009, as part of an apparent pact between the Liberals and Sandinistas that also led to the election of a Sandinista as National Assembly president.
After Ortega failed to win passage of a constitutional amendment that would permit him to run for reelection, a supreme court panel composed entirely of Sandinista judges ruled (Oct., 2009) that the constitutional bans on a president serving consecutive terms and more than two terms were unenforceable. The National Assembly later opposed (December) the decision, calling on the electoral commission to determine the matter, and leading to contention over the appointment of new commission members and subsequently new supreme court members, with Ortega attempting to extend the expired terms of sitting members by decree. The constitutional crisis continued into 2010, and in Aug., 2010, Ortega supporters on the supreme court moved to replace boycotting opposition-aligned justices with Sandinista lawyers. In Jan., 2010, an appeals court reopened several corruption cases again Alemán, who had indicated that he planned to run for president in 2011.
Tensions flared with Costa Rica in late 2010 over a disputed island at the San Juan River's mouth when Nicaraguan troops were sent there; Nicaragua did not remove its forces after the Organization of American States called for both sides to withdraw and negotiate. Costa Rica brought the issue before the International Court of Justice; a 2011 interim ruling called on both sides to avoid the disputed area. Ortega was reelected in Nov., 2011, by a landslide that also led to a Sandinista majority in the National Assembly. Aspects of the election, including the lack of independence on the part of the electoral council, were criticized by some international observers. In Nov., 2012, the FSLN again dominated the local elections, leading to protests and violent clashes in some areas.
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