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.


Colonized by Spain in 1524, Nicaragua achieved independence as an independent state 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, 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.

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 governement 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, covertly funded anti-Communist rebel forces called Contras despite a 1982 Congressional amendment prohibiting aid.

Multi-party elections were held in 1990, and the country has retained a fairly stable democracy since then.

The 1990 Elections and America's Involvement

The victory of the UNO coalition over the Sandinistas in the 1990 election came as a surprise as numerous pre-election polls had indicated a sure Sandinista victory and the Sandinistas had absolute control over the Nicaraguan government and frequently utilized government resources -- including the treasury -- to support their campaign efforts.

It was perhaps this that led to distaste in leftist circles with the way the 1990 elections were brought about. Some dissidents, such as Noam Chomsky, believe that the elections were won by the centre right coalition simply because of US threats to continue the war if the sandinistas retained power, combined with the general war weariness of the Nicaraguan population c- Especially since CIA Director William J. Casey's order to attack "soft (civilian) targets," another factor was the massive covert funding from the CIA towards largely pro-US groups that promised to return Nicaragua to the "Central American mode" - La Prensa can be given as a prime example of a US "client institution" within Nicaragua. Chomsky describes his views below:

"Suppose that some power of unimaginable strength were to threaten to reduce the United States to the level of Ethiopia unless we voted for its candidates, demonstrating that the threat was real. Suppose that we refused, and the threat was then carried out, the country brought to its knees, the economy wrecked and millions killed. Suppose, finally, that the threat were repeated, loud and clear, at the time of the next scheduled elections. Under such conditions, only the most extreme hypocrite would speak of a free election. Furthermore, it is likely that close to 100% of the population would succumb. Apart from the last sentence, I have just described U.S.-Nicaraguan relations for the last decade."

Others, such as S. Brian Wilson, have also documented the extent of US funding to anti-Sandinista groups. He writes in his essay, "How the US purchased the 1990 Nicaraguan Elections," that:

"The U.S., through the CIA and NED, orchestrated a process to consolidate a number of Nicaragua's opposition parties into a so-called unified effort, the United Nicaragua Opposition (UNO). In attempting to tabulate the total amount of money provided by the U.S. government between 1984-1990 to the "opposition" parties of Nicaragua, one must add up the known covert aid with the identifiable overt funds provided to both the CIA and the NED. If the truth were known, the total might approach $50,000,000. Fifty million dollars in Nicaragua, a country of 3.5 million people as of the mid to late 1980s, is equivalent to $3,550,000,000 in the United States, a country in 1990 of nearly 250 million inhabitants. Over 3.5 billion dollars! During the 1988 U.S. presidential elections, Bush and Dukakis received $46.1 million each in federal campaign financing. When adding up all the campaign costs for the presidential race, 435 races for the House of Representatives, and for the 34 Senate campaigns, it is believed to be well under $500 million. The U.S. is pouring the equivalent of 7 times this amount into tiny Nicaragua. In effect, the U.S. is spending nearly $14 for every Nicaraguan citizen, and $28 for each registered voter. This is an incredible amount. If the total costs of all campaigns during the 1988 U.S. presidential year amounted to $500 million, that would equal $2 for every U.S. resident, or about $2.80 for each eligible voter."

Of course, disagreement has come from numerous commentators, including political writer P. J. O'Rourke in "Return of the Death of Communism" who, in pondering the forecast victory of the Sandinistas, lamented 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. campiagn aid from getting to UNO while Daniel [Ortega] spent three millions donated by overseas pinks and millions and millions more from the Nicaraguan treasury . . ." The Sandinistas were also implicated in an incident on December 10, 1989 at Masatepe when Sandinista supporters set upon a Chomorro rally with machetes. However, Sandinista supporters have responded to these claims by claiming that violence on both sides was very common during election years.


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.


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.


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, Leon 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 Caribbean coastline is much more sinuous than its generally straight Pacific counterpart: lagoons and deltas make it very irregular.


Nicaragua's economy has historically been based on the export of cash crops such as bananas, coffee and tobacco. It boasts the best rum in Central America and is 3rd in beef quality behind Argentina and Brazil. 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.


About 69 percent of Nicaraguans are Mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian). 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 IslandThe 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 has many similarities to Galician, and also 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.


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

  1. Communications in Nicaragua
  2. Foreign relations of Nicaragua
  3. Military of Nicaragua
  4. Nicaraguan Cuisine
  5. Nicaraguan Diaspora
  6. Transportation in Nicaragua

Famous Nicaraguans

  1. Arlen Siu
  2. Bianca Jagger
  3. Blanca Castellon
  4. Daniel Ortega Saavedra
  5. Daisy Zamora
  6. Ernesto Cardenal
  7. General Anastasio Somoza
  8. Gioconda Belli
  9. Herty Lewites
  10. Erick Blandon
  11. Marifely Arguello
  12. Michael Cordua
  13. Michele Najlis
  14. Miguel Obando y Bravo
  15. Ruben Dario