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Republic of Nicaragua
República de Nicaragua

CAPITAL: Managua

FLAG: The national flag consists of a white horizontal stripe between two stripes of cobalt blue, with the national coat of arms centered in the white band.

ANTHEM: Salve a ti, Nicaragua (Hail to You, Nicaragua).

MONETARY UNIT: The gold córdoba (c$) is a paper currency of 100 centavos. There are coins of 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos and 1 and 5 córdobas, and notes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, 500,000, 1,000,000, 5,000,000, and 10,000,000 córdobas. c$1 = us$0.59701 (or us$1 = c$1.675) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but some local units also are used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Liberation Day (Revolution of 1979), 19 July; Battle of San Jacinto, 14 September; Independence Day, 15 September; All Saints' Day, 1 November; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

TIME: 6 am = noon GMT.


Nicaragua, the largest of the Central American countries, has an area of 129,494 sq km (49,998 sq mi), which includes the area covered by the waters of Lake Nicaragua (about 8,000 sq km/3,089 sq mi) and Lake Managua (about 1,025 sq km/396 sq mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by Nicaragua is slightly smaller than the state of New York. The country has a length of 472 km (293 mi) ns and a width of 478 km (297 mi) we. Bounded on the n by Honduras, on the e by the Caribbean Sea, on the s by Costa Rica, and on the w by the Pacific Ocean, Nicaragua has a total boundary length of 2,141 km (1,330 mi), of which 910 km (565 mi) is coastline.

In 1980, Nicaragua unilaterally abrogated its 1928 treaty with Colombia, confirming that nation's sovereignty over the Caribbean archipelago of San Andrés and Providencia, about 190 km (120 mi) off the Nicaraguan coast. Nicaragua also disputes the Treaty of Quita Sueño, ratified by the US Senate in July 1981, according to which Colombia received the uninhabited islands of Quita Sueño Bank, Roncador Cay, and Serrana Bank.

Nicaragua's capital city, Managua, is located in the southwestern part of the country.


The Caribbean coast, known as the Mosquito (or Miskito) Coast or Mosquitia, consists of low, flat, wet, tropical forest, extending into pine savannas 80160 km (50100 mi) inland. The coastal lowland rises to a plateau covering about one-third of the total area. This plateau is broken by mountain ranges extending east-ward from the main cordillera to within 6480 km (4050 mi) of the Caribbean coast. The mountainous central area forms a triangular wedge pointed southeast, rising at its highest to some 2,000 m (6,600 ft).

The plains and lake region, in a long, narrow structural depression running northwest to southeast along the isthmus, contains a belt of volcanoes rising to 1,500 m (5,000 ft) and extending from the Gulf of Fonseca to Lake Nicaragua. In this region is located Lake Managua, at 41 m (136 ft) above sea level, which drains through the Tipitapa Channel into Lake Nicaragua, at 32 m (106 ft) above sea level, which, in turn, drains through the San Juan River eastward into the Caribbean. Lake Nicaragua is about 160 km (100 mi) long and 65 km (40 mi) wide at the widest point, while Lake Managua is 52 km (33 mi) long by 25 km (16 mi) wide.

The principal waterways are the Coco (or Segovia) River, navigable up to 240 km (150 mi) inland from the eastern Mosquito Coast, and the San Juan, navigable to within a few miles of the Caribbean, where a series of rapids halts transportation.

Nicaragua lies in an earthquake zone where hundreds of minor tremors, shocks, and earthquakes occur each year. More severe earthquakes have occurred periodically. Some of these are centered off the coast of Nicaragua, such as the 6.9 magnitude earth-quake on 9 October 2003 and the 6.6 magnitude quake of 2 July 2005.


Except in the central highlands, the climate is warm and humid. Average humidity in Managua in June, the most humid month, is 84%; in April, the driest month, 62%. The mean temperature, varying according to altitude, is between 20° and 30°c (68° and 86°f). In Managua, monthly average temperatures range from a minimum of 23°c (73°f) and a maximum of 30°c (86°f) in January to a minimum of 26°c (79°f) and a maximum of 31°c (88°f) in July. There are two seasons: a wet season, from May to December, and a dry season, from January through April. Rainfall, however, varies according to region, and the rainy season in the eastern area may extend 9 or even 12 months. Average annual rainfall along the Mosquito Coast reaches 254635 cm (100250 in) as a result of the easterly trade winds blowing in from the Caribbean; the highlands also have heavy rainfall. Managua receives 114 cm (45 in), while the Pacific coast averages over 102 cm (40 in) a year.


The central highlands region has extensive forests of oak and pine on the slopes, but lower valley elevations show damage from fire and agricultural activities. The largest pine savanna in the rainy tropics stands on the lowlands behind the Mosquito Coast. The wet and humid Caribbean coastal plain has an abundance of tropical forest, with wild rubber, cedar, ebony, mahogany, and rose-wood attracting some exploitation.

Wildlife includes the puma, deer, monkey, armadillo, alligator, parrot, macaw, peccary, and several species of snakes (some poisonous). Lake Nicaragua contains the only freshwater sharks in the world, owing to a prehistoric geological movement that separated the lake from the Pacific Ocean, gradually changing the ocean water into fresh water.

As of 2002, there were at least 200 species of mammals, 215 species of birds, and over 7,500 species of plants throughout the country.


Nicaragua's major environmental problems are soil erosion, caused in part by cultivation of annual crops on steep slopes, and depletion of upland pine forests for lumber, fuel, and human settlement. The nation lost an average of 3% of its forest and woodland each year between 1990 and 2000. One contributing factor is the use of wood for fuel. Excessive or ineffective use of pesticides to control malaria, along with widespread agricultural use, has resulted in some environmental contamination.

Industrial pollutants have contaminated the lakes and rivers. The nation has 190 cu km of renewable water resource, with 84% of annual withdrawals used for farming and 2% in industrial activity. As of 2002, 93% of Nicaragua's city dwellers and 65% of its rural population have access to improved water sources. Dumping of sewage and chemical wastes has made Lake Managua unsuitable for swimming, fishing, or drinking. Primary responsibility for resource conservation is vested in the Nicaraguan Institute of Natural Resources and Environment (Instituto Nicaragüense de Recursos Naturales y del AmbienteIRENA), established in October 1979.

In 2003, 17.8% of the total land area was protected, including eight Ramsar wetland sites. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 6 types of mammals, 8 species of birds, 8 types of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, 17 species of fish, 2 types of mollusks, and 39 species of plants. Threatened species in Nicaragua include the tundra peregrine falcon, four species of turtle (green sea, hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley), the spectacled caiman, and the American crocodile.


The population of Nicaragua in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 5,774,000, which placed it at number 105 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 42% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 100 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.7%, among the highest in the region. The projected population for the year 2025 was 8,318,000. The population density was 44 per sq km (115 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 59% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.91%. The capital city, Managua, had a population of 1,098,000 in that year. Other major cities and their estimated populations are Granada 450,439; León, 145,000; Chinandega, 133,700; Esteli, 119,000; Masaya, 118,000; Matagalpa, 109,100; Chichigalpa, 97,387; Tipitapa, 67,925; and Juigalpa, 54,700.


During the 1980s, Nicaragua hosted more than 10,000 refugees, mainly from El Salvador and Guatemala. Most have since repatriated. Those who chose to remain have been naturalized or granted permanent resident status.

After the Sandinista takeover in 1979, thousands of Nicaraguans left the country. It was estimated in 1987 that 24,000 had fled to Honduras, 16,000 to Costa Rica, and over 200,000 to the United States, chiefly to Florida. After the defeat of the Sandinistas in the 1990 elections, some 200,000 Nicaraguans returned from abroad. Under the CIREFCA plan, during the period 198994, 70,000 Nicaraguans repatriated. In 2002 worker remittances were 29% of GDP. Worker remittances in 2004 amounted to $810 million, or 10.8% of GDP. In 2005, the net migration rate was -1.19 migrants per 1,000 population. The government viewed the migration levels as satisfactory.


The Nicaraguan population is basically mestizo, a mixture of white and Amerindian. There are no census data on racial composition, but estimates place the mestizo component at 69% and the white population at 17%; blacks account for 9% and Amerindians for the remaining 5%.

Traditionally, the Atlantic littoral has been inhabited mainly by blacks from Jamaica, Belize, and various present and former British possessions in the Caribbean. The more densely populated Pacific coast highland has long been basically mestizo in composition. Most Amerindian groups in Nicaragua have been assimilated, but Miskito Amerindians, as well as Sumus, make their traditional homes on the Mosquito Coast and neighboring areas. The Garifuna and Rama are other indigenous groups with a somewhat significant number of people.


Spanish is the official language and is spoken by the overwhelming majority of the population. Some Nahuatl and other Amerindian words and phrases are in common use. English is often spoken as a second language at professional levels.


Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, claiming about 72.9% of the population. Approximately 15.1% of the populace are members of evangelical Protestant churches. Another 1.5% are members of the Moravian Church, and 0.1% belong to the Episcopal Church. An additional 1.9% claim membership in other churches or religious groups, which include Mormons, Amish, Mennonites, and Jehovah's Witnesses; 8.5% profess no religion or are atheistic. There are small communities of Jews, Muslims, Unification Church members, Baha'is, and members in the Church of Scientology. Amerindian tribal religionists and spiritists also practice, usually combining elements of Christianity and African religions.

Nicaragua does not have a state religion; however, the Roman Catholic Church seems to have significant political influence in the country. The political party Partidon Camino Cistiano (Christian Path Party) was formed by evangelicals. Churches register with the government for legal recognition in much the same process as other nongovernmental groups. Certain Catholic holidays are recognized as national holidays.


Main transportation arteries are concentrated in the more densely populated Pacific region. The national road network in 2002 totaled 18,712 km (11,639 mi), of which 2,126 km (1,322 mi) were paved. The Inter-American Highway from Honduras to Costa Rica was completed in 1972. The Pacific Highway begins in Granada and passes through Managua, León, and Chinandega to Corinto. In 2003 there were 64,650 passenger cars and 99,350 commercial vehicles registered.

Pacific Railways of Nicaragua, government-owned with a length of 373 km (231 mi), was shut down in 1993. As of 2004, there were only 6 km (3.7 mi) of narrow gauge railway in operation, mostly for carrying passengers from Chichigalpa to Ingenio San Antonio.

The Naviera Nicaragüense provides regular services to Central America, the United States, and Europe. As of 2005 Nicaragua had no merchant fleet. Corinto is Nicaragua's only natural harbor on the Pacific coast and the major port, handling about 60% of all waterborne trade. Other ports include Puerto Sandino and San Juan del Sur on the Pacific and Puerto Cabezas on the Atlantic coast. A deepwater port at El Bluff/Bluefields on the Atlantic allows ships from Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean to deliver goods to Nicaragua without passing through the Panama Canal. Inland waterways total 2,220 km (1,380 mi), including Lake Nicaragua, Lake Managua and the San Juan River.

Air transportation is important because of limited road and railway facilities. In 2004, there were an estimated 176 airports, only 11 of which had paved runways as of 2005. A state-owned airline, Aerolíneas de Nicaragua (AERONICA), provides services to El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico. The principal airport is Augusto Sandino, an international terminal at Las Mercedes, near Managua. In 2000 (the latest year for which data is available), 61,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights.


Nicaragua derives its name from that of the Amerindian chief Nicarao who once ruled the region. The first European contact came with Columbus in 1502. At that time the northern part of the country was inhabited by the Sumo Amerindians, the eastern region by the Miskitos, and the region around Lakes Nicaragua and Managua by agricultural tribes.

The first Spanish settlements in Nicaragua were founded by the conquistador Gil González de Ávila in 1522. The cities of Granada and León were founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba. During the next 300 yearsmost of the colonial periodNicaragua was ruled as part of the captaincy-general of Guatemala. The independence of the five provinces of Central America, including Nicaragua, was proclaimed on 15 September 1821. After a brief period under the Mexican empire of Augustín de Iturbide (182223), Nicaragua joined the United Provinces of Central America. Nicaragua declared its independence from the United Provinces on 30 April 1838, and a new constitution was adopted.

Nicaragua did not immediately consolidate as a nation. The Spanish had never entirely subdued Nicaragua, and the Mosquito Coast at the time of independence was an Amerindian and British enclave, especially around the Bluefields area. Britain occupied the Mosquito Coast during the 1820s and 1830s, and maintained a significant presence thereafter. Beyond that, Nicaragua was torn apart by a bitter struggle between liberals, based in León, and conservatives, based in Granada.

Yet another factor impeding Nicaragua's development was constant foreign intervention focusing on the trade route through the country. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt competed with the British for control of the transisthmian traffic, a rivalry settled by the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850. In 1853, liberals led by Máximo Jérez and Francisco Castellón revolted and invited the US military adventurer William Walker to help their rebellion. Walker invaded Nicaragua in 1855, capturing Granada and suppressing Jérez, and had himself elected president in 1856. He lasted only one year, and was captured and executed in Honduras in 1860. Conservatives seized control in 1863 and ruled until 1893.

The 30-year conservative reign brought increases in coffee and banana production. Liberals successfully revolted in 1893, making José Santos Zelaya dictator for 16 years. In this time, he incorporated most of the Mosquito territory into Nicaragua, developed railroads and lake transportation, enlarged the coffee plantations, and stirred up revolts among his Central American neighbors. In 1901, by the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, Great Britain gave the United States the undisputed right to build a Central American canal.

After Zelaya was deposed in a conservative revolt in 1909, US influence on Nicaragua grew steadily until 1933, often at the behest of Conservative requests for help.

The United States placed an American agent in the customhouse in 1911, and US banks extended considerable credit to the bankrupt treasury. US marines and warships arrived in 1912 to support President Adolfo Díaz. US forces remained active in Nicaraguan politics and administered the country directly or through handpicked rulers until August 1925. During this period, the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty of 1914 allowed the United States to build a canal across Nicaragua. After the marines withdrew, the liberals revolted against the US-backed conservative government of Diego Manuel Chamorro and established a government on the Mosquito Coast. The marines returned in 1926 to reimpose Díaz and supervised the electoral victor of the liberal José María Moncada, with whom the conservatives had made peace, in 1928. However, the guerrilla hero General Augusto César Sandino had begun organizing resistance to the marine occupation force in 1927, and fought the US troops to a standstill. With the inauguration of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt's "good neighbor" policy in 1933, the marines were pulled out for the last time. But the marines left a legacy, having built the Nicaraguan National Guard, headed by Anastasio ("Tacho") Somoza García.

In 1934, the liberal Juan B. Sacasa was elected to office. In the same year, however, officers of the National Guard shot Sandino, leaving them unchallenged in Nicaragua, and paving the way for Somoza's overthrow of Sacasa three years later. The Somoza family would rule Nicaragua directly or indirectly for the next 42 years. Somoza made constitutional changes as necessary to prolong his term until he retired in 1947. He returned in 1950, and was assassinated in 1956. Tacho's son, Luis Somoza Debayle, had been president of congress, and immediately became president under the constitution. The next year, he was elected by a rather suspicious 89% of the vote. Though a law was passed in 1962 that prohibited relatives within four generations from immediately succeeding Luis Somoza as president, his younger brother Anastasio Somoza Debayle would become president in 1967 (after the brief presidencies of René Schick Gutiérrez and Lorenzo Guerrero of the National Liberation Party). Though Anastasio's term in office was due to end in May 1972, he had worked out an agreement by March 1971 that allowed him to stand for reelection in 1974, ruling in the interim with a three-man coalition government. Anastasio and his triumvirate drew up a new constitution, signed by the triumvirate and the cabinet on 3 April 1971. Then, after declaring nine opposition parties illegal, Somoza easily won the September 1974 elections.

While Somoza consolidated his hold on Nicaragua, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación NacionalFSLN) began to agitate against his rule. At first the group was small and confined to the foothill and mountain regions of Nicaragua. But domestic opposition to Somoza mounted, driven by the family's monopolistic and corrupt economic practices. One powerful example of the corruption was the disappearance of half the US relief aid extended to Nicaragua after a devastating 1972 earthquake. Most of the rebuilding of Managua was done by Somoza-controlled firms on Somoza's land. Throughout the 1970s, Somoza's opposition grew and US support began to dissipate.

In December 1974, guerrillas kidnapped 13 prominent political personalities, including several members of the Somoza family. The group secured a ransom of us$1 million and the release of 14 political prisoners. Somoza responded by declaring a martial law and unleashed the National Guard. The Guard's repressive tactics created even more enemies of the Somoza regime. Repression continued throughout the 1970s, and climaxed in January 1978 with the assassination of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, editor and publisher of the opposition newspaper La Prensa. The assassins were never found, but most felt that Somoza and the National Guard were behind the killing of this moderate leader from a prominent family. By 1979, loss of support from the Catholic Church and the business community left Somoza without domestic allies. He had become isolated diplomatically, and after the administration of US president Jimmy Carter cut off military aid, his ability to remain in power further weakened. In May 1979, the Sandinistas launched a final offensive. By July, the FSLN overthrew Somoza, who fled the country and was assassinated on 17 September 1980 in Asunción, Paraguay. By this time, an estimated 30,00050,000 people had died during the fighting.

The Sandinistas engaged in an ambitious program to develop Nicaragua under semi-socialist lines, giving priority to healthcare, improved literacy rates, and land reform. To achieve these ends, they nationalized Somoza's land and commercial interests, initiated agrarian reform, and announced a series of literacy and public health campaigns. Politically, they professed democratic ideals, but delivered only sporadically. A Statute on Rights and Guarantees was adopted, but elections were postponed. As antigovernment activity increased in response to government control of production and distribution, the government became increasingly authoritarian, as reflected by the proclamation of a state of emergency from 198287, censorship (particularly felt by La Prensa), and the dissolution of the National Guard. In 1982, a number of former guard members and Somoza supporters ("Somocistas") joined into an anti-Sandinista, counter-revolutionary group of "contras." They were aided by the administration of US president Ronald Reagan, which had also cut off Nicaragua's aid in April 1981 and introduced a trade embargo in response to Nicaragua's support of leftist guerrillas in El Salvador. Though the Sandinistas made overtures to please the United States by pulling 2,200 advisors out of Cuba, the United States continued to support over 12,000 contras' operating out of Honduras and Costa Rica with aid channeled through the CIA and directed toward guerrilla-style offensives that disrupted Nicaragua's agriculture and oil supplies.

Daniel Ortega emerged as the leader of the Sandinistas in the 1984 presidential elections. However, in that election, the major opposition groups withdrew from the election, making it a rather hollow victory. Internationally, the Sandinistas made some gains. In 1986, the World Court ruled that the United States had violated international law by mining the harbors in Nicaragua. Though the United States refused to recognize the decision, the Congress proved more reluctant to fund the Nicaraguan resistance. In 1986, it was revealed that US government funds derived from covert arms sales to Iran had been secretly diverted to provide aid to the contras in violation of a US congressional ban on such aid.

On the domestic scene, the Sandinistas were less successful due to their failure to improve socioeconomic conditions; attempts to pin the economic woes on the civil war fell on deaf ears as the economic situation worsened. The inflation rate skyrocketed in 1988 and reserves dwindled. Price controls had led to serious shortages in basic foodstuffs. Lacking any capital for investment, the situation was becoming hopeless. Still, the Sandinistas continued to seek negotiated settlements for their internal strife. In 1986, they signed an accord with leaders of the Miskito Amerindians, granting autonomy to their region. In August 1987 Nicaragua signed the Arias peace plan for Central America. Nicaragua promised guarantees of democratic rights, and a reduction of hostilities with the contras, including a cease-fire, a reduction in the armed forces, repatriation or resettlement of refugees, and amnesty for the rebels. In exchange, the Nicaraguans were to receive guarantees of nonintervention by outside powers, and a further $9 million from the United States and aid from other countries, tied to the holding of free elections in 1990.

The 1990 elections had a surprise winnerVioleta Chamorro. Heading a 10-party alliance called the National Opposition Union (UNO), Chamorro received 54% of the vote to Daniel Ortega's 41%. UNO also took a majority in the National Assembly. Chamorro moved to liberalize the Nicaraguan economy, but found it sluggish. Austerity measures led to dislocations and political disquiet. The United States delivered miniscule amounts of economic aid, to the disappointment of hopeful Nicaraguans. Nevertheless, Chamorro's government succeeded in driving down hyperinflation that had reached 13,500% to an acceptable single-digit level and in obtaining relief of much of the country's $10 billion foreign debt. Stable economic growth of around 4% from 199496 was achieved.

Politically, Chamorro's situation was tenuous. With the Sandinistas still in control of the military, Chamorro had a difficult time achieving a reduction in force. Sandinista organizations and syndicates remained, often striking against the Chamorro government. Meanwhile, the resettlement and repatriation of the contras moved slowly. Some former contras took to the field again, resuming their previous attacks on civilian installations. Chamorro's own coalition, UNO, proved shaky, withdrawing support from her government in 1993 after she attempted to call for new elections. The beleaguered government persisted, but by 1994 the outlook for further progress in unifying the country and implementing democratic and free-market reforms was bleak.

The prospect of a peaceful political transition in the politically polarized country were considered so shaky that international observers were called in for the October 1996 elections, as they had been in 1990. Although the results were later contested due to allegations of corruption, and some irregularities found, the elections proceeded peacefully and without incident. With 80% of the electorate voting, Arnoldo Alemán, the conservative former mayor of Managua and leader of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), defeated Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, with each garnering, respectively, 51% and 38% of the vote. The Liberal Party took 41 of the 93 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, while the Sandinistas took 38; the remaining seats were won by leftist and conservative groups.

President Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo and Vice President Enrique Bolaños Geyer were inaugurated into office on 10 January 1997. Alemán, who had close ties to right-wing groups and American entrepreneurs, worked to instill economic reforms focused on economic growth in an effort to establish Nicaragua's market economy. Throughout Alemán's term, the GDP steadily increased. Despite the legacy of the civil war and years of financial mismanagement, growth continued until 1998, when it was dampened by Hurricane Mitch. The hurricane devastated Nicaragua and Honduras, leaving Nicaragua, already the poorest country in Central America, with $1 billion worth of damage. Worst hit was the agricultural sector, which the country depends on for the majority of its exports. By 1999, Alemán was forced to deal with a trade deficit approaching $900 million. However, despite the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch, Nicaragua's economy continued to grow slightly, possibly due in part to aid, debt relief, and free market reforms.

Alemán and Daniel Ortega (the Sandinista former president) were charged with involvement in scandals during Alemán's presidential term that made these surprising bedfellows come together in PLC-FSLN talks. In 1998, Daniel Ortega faced accusations from his stepdaughter of sexual abuse dating back to her childhood. Meanwhile, Alemán faced charges that the presidential plane he had been using was actually reported stolen in the United States and that it had been used throughout Central America and Colombia to carry cocaine. Both Ortega and Alemán denied all charges against them, but worked together to create a PLC-FSLN political pact that protected them from scrutiny. This limited the substantive democracy in Nicaragua. These scandals, as well as border disputes, growing poverty, and migration issues all continued to be challenges throughout the rest of Alemán's term.

Enrique Bolaños won the 2001 presidential elections with 56.3% of the vote. Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader, came second with 42.3%. Surprising supporters and observers, Bolaños quickly moved to support a judicial corruption investigation against Alemán and to break up the PLC-FSLN alliance. In August 2001, the Bolaños administration brought indictments against Alemán officials. Alemán was personally indicted in August 2002. In December 2002, Alemán was denied his parliamentary immunity, which then forced him to serve 20 years in prison when he was found guilty of corruption and money laundering in December 2003. Yet, from prison Alemán maintained control of the PLC, which kept Bolaños from making further political progress. In 2004, the FSLN and PLC renewed the political pact and worked to extend the powers of the legislature and limit those of the executive. In response to these threats to democracy, Bolaños threatened to declare a state of emergency in January 2005, promoting the UN's involvement via the National Dialogue forum, intended to avert a possible political crisis. In March 2005, the Central American Court of Justice (Corte Centroamericana de JusticiaCCJ), ruled the constitutional reforms being sought by the PLC-FSLN-dominated legislature violated the principle of separation of powers. However, the PLC-FSLN also captured Nicaragua's Supreme Court and could use it to refuse the CCJ's jurisdiction and proceed with the constitutional amendments, despite the ruling. As of June 2005, the Organization of American States was also failing in its effort to mediate negotiations between the political leaders.

During Bolaños's term, the economy expanded slowly, but the president sought to generate further growth by increasing the country's exports and liberating the national economy. Although the country possesses few comparative advantages for economic development, President Bolaños set the goal of incorporating his country into the world economy to reduce poverty and boost employment. As of 2006, experts were predicting that the ratification of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free-Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) would boost Nicaraguan exports and energize its economy.


Although constitutionally defined as a democracy, Nicaragua was ruled by the Somoza family from 193479; they did not hesitate to suppress political opponents with violence. The last of the constitutions promulgated during the Somoza period, effective 3 April 1974, provided for a bicameral congress, a president elected for a six-year term, and guaranteed political rights. After the FSLN took power as the Government of National Reconstruction in July 1979, this constitution was abrogated and congress dissolved. From July 1979 until November 1984, executive power was vested in a junta composed of five members (three members after April 1980).

The 1984 electoral reforms created an executive branch with a president elected for a six-year term by popular vote and assisted by a vice president and a cabinet. (The presidential term was shortened to five years in 1995.) Legislative power is vested in a 93-member unicameral National Constituent Assembly elected under a system of proportional representation for six-year terms. The electoral process in Nicaragua is said to be one of the most complicated in the Americas as it forces voters to select candidates for the office of president, National Assembly posts, and local municipalities from a vast number of political parties. Further, vote counting is still a tedious, manual process.

As of 2006 the Sandinista constitution of 1987 was in effect; it provides for a democratic system in which elections are held every six years and there is an executive, National Assembly (legislature), judiciary, and electoral council (Consejo Supremo ElectoralCSE). It also called for two new levels of elected governmentmunicipal councils (131 in 1987; 153 as of 2006), and the two autonomous Atlantic coast regional councils.


Nicaragua's traditional two parties were the National Liberal Party (Partido Liberal NacionalistaPLN) and the Nicaraguan Conservative Party (Partido Conservador NicaragüensePCN). The PLN favored separation of church and state, some social legislation, no foreign interference in the political process, and limited land reform. It was supported by government employees, the National Guard, and large segments of the middle and lower classes. The PCN desired government cooperation with the Catholic Church (but also advocated freedom of religion), less government interference in private business, and a regressive tax structure.

When the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which was founded in 1962, came to power in July 1979, all political parties except those favoring a return to Somoza rule were permitted. Since the Somozas had all been liberals, the PLN was specifically banned.

Under the Sandinistas, Nicaragua's governing political coalition, the Patriotic Front for the Revolution (Frente Patriótico para la RevoluciónFPR), formed in 1980, consisted of the FSLN, the Independent Liberal Party (Partido Liberal IndependientePLI), the Popular Social Christian Party (Partido Popular Social CristianoPPSC), and the Moscow-oriented Nicaraguan Socialist Party (Partido Socialista NicaragüensePSN). Opposition parties included the Conservative Democratic Party (Partido Conservador DemócraticaPCD), the Nicaraguan Social Christian Party (Partido Social Cristiano NicaragüensePSCN), and the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social DemócrataPSD).

The National Opposition Union (UNO), under which Violeta Chamorro was elected president in 1990, was a 10-party coalition that included both the Conservatives and the Liberals, as well as several parties formerly aligned with the Sandinistas, including the PLI and the PSD. The PLI was also the party of Vice President Virgilio Godoy. Others included the Christian Democratic Union (UDC), the National Democratic Movement (MDN), the National Action Party (PAN), and the Neo-Liberal Party (PALI). President Arnoldo Alemán's Liberal Alliance, a conservative group that supported the Somoza dictatorship, also supported the National Opposition Union (UNO) candidate and President Violeta Chamorro during her six-year reign. Alemán's support diminished when Chamorro failed to control the UNO coalition; Alemán thus switched to the Liberal Party to launch his presidential campaign in 1996. The disbanded UNO party forced Chamorro to link with the Sandinistas in congress to maintain control of her office; she thus maintained the Sandinista control over the Revolutionary Army. Alemán's main purpose as the National Liberal Party representative was to overturn Chamorro and try to reverse some of the economic policies of her regime.

By the mid-1990s, the UNO coalition had disbanded. Nicaragua had numerous parties ranging across the political spectrum, although the country was dominated by two principal opposed groupsthe Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), a right-wing successor to the traditional liberal party, and, on the left, the stillactive FSLN. In the October 1996 presidential election, Arnoldo Alemán, former mayor of Managua and leader of the PLC, was elected with 51% of the vote, supported by a coalition of parties and factions called the Liberal Alliance (AL). Daniel Ortega, the FSLN candidate, won 38% of the vote, with the rest going to candidates from smaller parties. In the legislative elections, 42 of the 93 seats in the National Assembly were won by the National Alliance, with the FSLN winning 36, and the remaining 15 going to candidates from nine other parties. These included the Christian Way (Camino Cristiano), the Conservative Party of Nicaragua (PCN), the center-right Nicaraguan Resistance Party (PRN), the center-left Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), and the center-right Independent Liberal party (PLI). Altogether, 24 political parties and popular organizations participated in the 1996 elections.

Alemán and Ortega collaborated in bringing about a PLC-FSLN political pact in 2000 that increased their political influence and reduced their vulnerability to investigation by putting the two major political parties in control of important institutions that combat corruption and could change the election rules to deter smaller parties from challenging PLC-FSLN dominance. Illustrative of this damper on democracy, only one other party was able to register to contest the elections in 2000 and 2001.

In the 2001 parliamentary elections, held concurrently with the presidential election, the PLC won 53.7% of the vote, clinching 47 seats in the 93-member Assembly. The Sandinistas gained 43 seats and the remaining seats went to the Conservative Party of Nicaragua. The 2001 elections witnessed the consolidation of Nicaragua as a two-party system, with an overwhelming majority of votes going to the rightwing PCN and the leftwing Sandinistas.

The Economist Intelligence Unit projected that the prevailing dynamic of party politics in 2006 improved Ortega's chances of winning the presidency. This was because his only opponent in FSLN, Herty Lewites, would likely be barred from running, and the right-wing vote would be split, allowing Ortega to garner enough to win in the election scheduled for November 2006.


In July 1982, the nation's departments were consolidated into six regions and three special zones, each to be administered by an official directly responsible to the central government. However, under the Chamorro government, Nicaragua returned to the old system, with fifteen departments and two autonomous regions along the Atlantic coast.

Local elections for mayoralties accompany national elections.


Constitutionally, Nicaragua's Supreme Court is an independent branch of the government. However, selection of its 16 members (who serve five-year terms) is proscribed by politics, in that selection is limited to a list submitted by the president and political parties to the National Assembly. The court appoints judges to the lower courts. The selection of magistrates (who decide the Supreme Court's president and vice-president) has been historically political, making de facto judicial independence from executive and legislative pressures unlikely.

The Supreme Court has administrative, criminal, civil, and constitutional matters divisions. The judicial system consists of both civilian and military courts. Military courts investigate, prosecute, and try crimes committed by or against the police or armed forces. Therefore, the military courts have jurisdiction over citizens involved in security-related offenses. In a controversial 1993 decision, a military court exercised jurisdiction to convict a former member of the EPS (Sandinista Popular Army).

In 2004, it was legislated that the judicial career system should be based on merit. This is partly in response to a public lack of confidence in the training or fairness of judges. In 2006 the Economist Intelligence Unit warned that "corruption and influence-peddling in the judicial branch puts foreign investors at a sharp disadvantage in any litigation or dispute, and legal security for business in general is among the lowest in Latin America."


In 2005 Nicaragua's armed forces numbered 14,000 active personnel. The Army had around 12,000 personnel equipped with over 127 main battle tanks, 10 light tanks, and 800 artillery pieces. The Navy had approximately 800 active peresonnel, operating 5 patrol/coastal vessels, and 2 mine warfare ships. The Air Force had 1,200 personnel, with 16 support helicopters but no combat aircraft. Nicaragua's defense budget in 2005 totaled $34.7 million.


Nicaragua is a charter member of the United Nations, having joined on 24 October 1945; it belongs the ECLAC and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, ICAO, ICFTU, the World Bank, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, ILO, and the WHO. Nicaragua is a member of G-77, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Latin American Economic System (LAES), OAS, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and the Río Group. It is one of five members of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) and the Central American Common Market (CACM). The country also participates in the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN). In 2004, Nicaragua, the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic signed the USCentral America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The agreement must be ratified by all participating countries before it enters into force.

Nicaragua is part of the Nonaligned Movement and a signatory of the 1947 Río Treaty, an inter-American security agreement. It is also a part of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In environmental cooperation, Nicaragua is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change and Desertification. The nation is also part of the Central American-US Joint Declaration (CONCAUSA).


Nicaragua has long had, in effect, two economies: an export segment, producing mainly cotton, meat, coffee, and sugar, and a subsistence segment, tying a majority of both urban and rural Nicaraguans to an impoverished existence. Nicaragua has been one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, partially due to enormous external debt, low per-capital income, massive unemployment, and one of the most unequal income distributions in the world. Some 50% of the population lived below the poverty line. The 10% of the population with the lowest income consumed 1.2% of GDP, whereas 10% of the population with the highest income consumed 45% of GDP. As of 2004, per capita GDP was $2,300.

Agriculture and forestry remain mainstays of the Nicaraguan economy, employing about 30.5% of the labor force, but the services sector is increasingly important, employing about 52.2% of the labor force. Industry employs 17.3% of the labor force. Agriculture, industry, and services comprise 20.7%, 24.7%, and 54.6% of the GDP.

During 196064, the GDP increased by an annual average of 8.1%, the highest rate in Latin America. Annual growth ranged from 46% during 196573, largely because of favorable world prices for Nicaraguan commodities. The 1972 earthquake that struck Managua caused material losses estimated at $845 million, but the agricultural sector was left largely unscathed.

The civil war of the late 1970s disrupted the economy. Infrastructure was destroyed in the war and a US blockade was put in place against Nicaragua, resulting in the near-collapse of the economy. In 1978, the GDP fell by 7.9%; and in 1979, the year of the Sandinista takeover, by 25%. Under the Sandanista regime 80% of the economy was nationalized. Massive public spending resulted in a GDP growth of 10.4% in 1980 and 7% in 1981. However, because of floods in May 1982, a weak international market for export crops, the virtual collapse of the CACM, direct and indirect economic pressure from the US government, and disruption by the contras, the economy suffered a GDP decline of 1.4% in 1982. Because of shortages, rationing of soap, flour, and cooking oil was introduced in 1982. In 1983, high world prices and a bumper harvest boosted GDP growth to 4.6%, but decline set in again from 1984 to 1986. Across this three year period, GDP declined 6.7%, and on a per capita basis, with population growth averaging 3.4% a year, the decline was 16.3%. The average annual inflation rate during 1980 to 1984 was about 35%, but in 1985 this inflation jumped to 219.5%. In 1986 the United States imposed a formal trade embargo on Nicaragua, and inflation (as measured by consumer prices) soared for the rest of the decade: 681.6% in 1986; 912% in 1987; 14,316% in 1988; 4,770% in 1989; and 12,338% in 2000.

In response to both domestic and international pressure, the Sandinista regime entered into negotiations with the Nicaraguan Resistance and agreed to nationwide elections in February 1990. The candidate of the National Opposition Union (UNO), Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, whose campaign received financial support from the United States, won the election. She took over a country with a controlled economy, uncontrolled inflation, and debt outstanding at 508% of GDP. During President Chamorro's nearly seven years in office, her government achieved major progress toward consolidating democratic institutions, advancing national reconciliation, stabilizing the economy, privatizing state-owned enterprises, and reducing human rights violations.

Nicaragua began free market reforms in 1991. Despite some setbacks, it made dramatic progress, privatizing 351 state enterprises, reducing inflation from 775% in 1990 to 12.4% in 1994 to 7.3% in 1997. Foreign debt had risen 638.4% as Nicaragua was given renewed access to IMF funding, but by 1997, this ratio had declined to 296.7% of GDP. The GDP continued to contract from 1991 to 1993, but 199497 GDP growth averaged 4.35%. As a result of the strong decline in foreign debt, the country's current account balance declined as a percentage of GDP from 60.0% in 1992 to 30.3% in 1997. In addition, the government's budget deficit in 1997 stood at 9.7% of GDP (before grants), down considerably from 20.3% in 1990. The election of Arnoldo Alemán in 1996 served to continue the social and economic reforms. (This trend was undermined somewhat when, in December 2002, Alemán was indicted for diverting $100 million of state funds for his own and others' personal enrichment during his term in office.)

Damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 reduced the GDP to 4% for that year, and shot inflation up to 18.5%, but an in-pouring of foreign assistance and activity on reconstruction projects pushed GDP growth to 7.4% in 1999 (the highest since 1982), while inflation fell to a new low of 7.2% by the end of the year. Growth continued in 2000, up 4.3% with inflation at 9%. However, in 2001, the global slowdown, and, in particular, a glut on the coffee market, drought, and lower demand in the United States for textiles and other manufactured goods from Nicaragua, reduced growth to 2%. Inflation was at 7.3% that year.

From 200105, the real GDP growth rate fluctuated from year to year, while the inflation rate dipped briefly in 2002 and continued steadily upward through 2005. In 2002, real GDP growth was 0.8% and inflation was 3.7%. The years 2003 and 2004 saw an increase in both GDP growth (2.3% and 5.1%, respectively) and inflation (5.3% and 8.5%, respectively). It was projected that GDP growth would fall to approximately 3.6% in 2005, and that inflation would continue to rise to approximately 10.1%. External debt was $4.573 billion, approximately one-third of the $12.34 billion of GDP for that year.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2005 Nicaragua's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $16.1 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $2,800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3.5%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 10.1%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 16.8% of GDP, industry 27.6%, and services 55.6%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $439 million or about $80 per capita and accounted for approximately 10.6% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $833 million or about $152 per capita and accounted for approximately 21.0% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reported that in 2003, household consumption in Nicaragua totaled $2.99 billion or about $546 per capita based on a GDP of $4.1 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption included expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated during 19902003, household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.7%. It was estimated that in 2001 about 50% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2005, Nicaragua's workforce was estimated at 2.17 million. As of 2003, the labor force was estimated to have been distributed as follows: services 52.2%; agriculture 30.5%; and industry 17.3%. As of 2005, unemployment was estimated at 6.4%, although 46.5% of the workforce is said to be underemployed.

Nicaragua became a member of the ILO in 1919, withdrew in 1938, and rejoined in 1957. The former labor code, effective January 1945, was patterned on Mexican labor legislation. In establishing and protecting the rights of workers, emphasis was placed on law rather than collective bargaining. A labor code, effective as of 1996, allows all public and private-sector employees to form and join unions and legally recognizes cooperatives, as well as the right to strike. However, administrative requirements make it difficult for a union to engage in a legal strike. As of 2001, approximately 15% of the labor force was organized.

Children may not work until the age of 14 but this regulation is not effectively enforced and many children work in agriculture and in cities as urban street-peddlers. The maximum legal workweek is 48 hours, with one day of rest per week. The minimum wage varies from sector to sector throughout the formal economy. In 2001, the monthly minimum wage was $47 in agriculture, $118 in construction, and $75 in manufacturing. This does not provide a family with a decent standard of living. The legal workweek is set at 48 hours with one day of rest. The labor code attempts to bring work conditions up to the international standard.


Nicaragua's economy is predominantly agricultural. Arable land amounted to 2,161,000 hectares (5,340,000 acres), or about 17.8% of the total land area. Some 61,000 hectares (150,700 acres) were under irrigation in 2003. The harvest season begins in November and lasts through January; during the rest of the year, most rural laborers are unemployed. Plantings begin in May immediately before the wet season.

The main agricultural exports are coffee, cotton, sugar, and bananas. Nontraditional exports are growing and include: honeydew melons, cantaloupe, sesame seed, onions, baby corn, asparagus, artichokes, and cut flowers. Sorghum, cacao, yucca, tobacco, plantains, and various other fruits and vegetables are produced on a smaller scale for the local markets. Bananas were once nearly totally decimated by Panama disease. By the late 1960s, however, production had begun a slow recovery, reaching 135,000 tons in 1992 (up from 29,000 tons in 1970). Banana production in 2004, however, was just 61,000 tons. Cottonseed production has expanded from virtually zero prior to 1950 to 105,700 tons in 1985, before returning to 1,860 tons by 2004. During the 1980s, coffee was severely threatened by contra activities; production of 71,000 tons in 2004 was an improvement over the 28,000 tons produced in 1990. In 2004, 4,090,000 tons of sugarcane were produced. Major food crops in that year were corn, 522,000 tons; rice, 242,000 tons; sorghum, 114,000 tons; and beans, 224,000 tons.

During the Somoza era, most of the titled land was held by large landowners (with farms of 140 hectares/346 acres or more), who owned some 60% of the land while representing only 5% of the farming population. About 36% of the farm population controlled individual holdings of less than 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres). The Sandinista government expropriated almost one million hectares (2.5 million acres) of land, of which over two-thirds became state farms and 280,000 hectares (692,000 acres) were turned into peasant cooperatives. Agriculture was severely disrupted in 197980 because of the revolution, but by 1981 it had recuperated. In May 1982, severe floods caused damages estimated at $180 million; the withdrawal of the Standard Fruit Co. in the following October caused losses of $400,000 per week in foreign exchange earnings. Bad weather continued to plague the sector through 1984. An estimated 450,000 hectares (1,111,500 acres) of land were redistributed in 1985. From 1983 to 1987, the contras sought to destabilize Nicaraguan agriculture by damaging agricultural machinery, destroying crop storage sheds, and intimidating farm workers. After eight years of steady decline, the agricultural sector grew by a modest 12% in 1992. During 19902000 agricultural output grew by a yearly average of 5.7%. During 200204, output was up another 6.5% from 19992001. In 2004, the agricultural trade surplus was $210.8 million.


Nicaragua, the second-largest cattle-raising country of Central America (after Honduras), had 3.5 million head of dairy and beef cattle in 2005. There were also 268,000 horses, 123,000 hogs, and 57,000 mules and donkeys. Total beef production in 2005 was 152,000 tons. Meat exports, perennially one of Nicaragua's most important trade commodities, were valued at $23 million in 1981 but fell to $7 million by 1987. By 2004, meat exports had recovered, to $111.2 million. The primary markets for Nicaraguan beef are the United States, El Salvador, and Puerto Rico. In 1990, Nicaragua access to the US beef products market was restored, and since then the livestock industry has been a profitable business and a key economic indicator for the country. Milk production in 2005 totaled 612,945 tons.


Commercial fishing in the lakes and rivers and along the seacoasts is limited. In 2003, the total catch amounted to 22,331 tons, over 97% of which came from marine waters. About 80% of the marine catch comes from the Atlantic coast. Shrimp and lobster catches in 2003 amounted to 10,753 and 3,922 tons, respectively. Exports of shrimp and lobster expanded after the 1960s and by 1980 had reached an export value of $25.9 million. In 2003, exports of fish products reached $67.6 million. Commercial fishing was trying to diversify its catch to include more red snapper, grouper, and flounder.

After the Sandinistas took over, the fishing industry was nationalized. The fishing port at San Juan del Sur was expanded in the early 1980s to service the tuna fleet. In late 1991, the government privatized the Atlantic seafood packaging plants, causing seafood production to rise.


About 38.6% of Nicaragua is forested. The country has four distinct forest zones: deciduous hardwood, mountain pine, lowland pine, and evergreen hardwood. Nicaragua's largest remaining timber resources, in the evergreen hardwood zone, are largely inaccessible. Nicaragua is the southernmost area of natural North American pine lands. The most well-known cloud forest in Nicaragua is Selva Negra (Black Forest), in the Matagalpa region. In 2004, roundwood production totaled 5,999,000 cu m (212 million cu ft), with 98% burned as fuel wood. Sawn wood production was about 45,000 cu m (1.6 million cu ft) that year.


Gold, a leading export commodity, underwent a resurgence in the 1990s. After a long period of low production, gold output almost tripled in the late 1990s, from 1,500 kg in 1996 to 4,450 in 1999. In 2003, output was 3,029 kg. Gold and silver mines were in León, Chontales, and Zelaya departments. Mineral production for 2003 included silver, 2,040 kg, down from 2,198 kg in 2002; marine salt, 31,320 metric tons, up from 29,710 metric tons in 2002; and crude gypsum and anhydrite, 30,642 metric tons, up from 28,153 metric tons in 2002. Bentonite, lime, limestone, sand and gravel, and crushed stone were also produced. Deposits of iron, copper, lead, antimony, and zinc have been uncovered.

In the mid-20th century, Nicaragua ranked roughly 15th in the world in gold production, and the development of gold mining was emphasized during the Sandinista era, when the entire mining industry was nationalized. Gold exports reached $39.9 million in 1980, fell to $15 million in 1982, and were suspended through 1985. The Corporación Nicaragüense de Minas (INMINE), a subsidiary of the government holding company, controlled most of the country's mineral exploration and production. In 2001, the congress passed a Mining Code despite opposition from small-scale miners and environmentalists, who argued the law would unduly benefit multinational companies and lead to environmental damage; Congress was investigating ways to protect the interests of small-scale miners, and the law made submission of environmental impact statements mandatory. In 1997, the ban on new concessions was lifted.


Although Nicaragua has no proven reserves of oil, natural gas, or coal, the country is one of only three nations in Central America (the others are Costa Rica and El Salvador) to operate an oil refinery.

Nicaragua imported all of the petroleum products it used in 2003. Imports that year averaged 27,950 barrels per day. In 2002, imports averaged 26,030 barrels per day, of which, an average of 16,560 barrels per day was crude oil. Demand for refined petroleum products averaged 25,770 barrels per day in 2003, up from 2002's average of 25,410 barrels per day. Nicaragua's refinery is the smallest of the three operated in Central America. Located in Managua, the facility has a capacity of 20,000 barrels per day. However, refined petroleum output in 2002 averaged only 17,010 barrels daily.

Nicaragua had no recorded imports or consumption of natural gas or coal in 2002.

The majority of the electric power generated in Nicaragua came from conventional thermal sources. Production of electricity in 2002 totaled 2.514 billion kWh, of which 78.2% came from fossil fuels, 11.9% from hydropower, and the rest from other renewable sources. Consumption of electricity in 2002 was 2.4p billion kWh. In 2002, Nicaragua had a total generating capacity of 0.641 million kW, of which approximately 16% was hydroelectric and 11.9% was geothermal.


Nicaraguan industry expanded during the 1970s but was severely disrupted by the civil war and nationalization in 1979. In 1980, the manufacturing sector began to recuperate, and modest growth continued through 1984. In 1985, however, net output again declined, by an estimated 5%. In the mid-1980s, there were still many state enterprises, some of them created by nationalization; in 1985, the government announced plans for a mixed economy. All state monopolies except for public utilities were eliminated; price controls were ended; and more than 300 state enterprises were privatized after 1990.

In 2000, the industrial sector contributed approximately 23% to the GDP and employed approximately 15% of the labor force. The industrial production growth rate in 2000 was 4.4%. In 2004, the industrial sector contributed 24.7% to the GDP and employed about 17.3% of the labor force. Among the most important industries are processed food, chemicals, metal products, textiles, clothing, petroleum refining and distribution, beverages, shoes, and wood. Nicaragua has one oil refinery, with a production capacity of 20,000 barrels per day. The services sector has become the major player in the country's economy since the reforms instituted by the Chamorro government. Services account for 52.2% of GDP and include commerce, financial services, transportation, energy and construction. The services and industrial sector share of GDP and the labor force has been growing as the shares in agriculture have decreased.

The construction sector rebounded after the destruction wrought by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, but slowed in 2000. The building of shopping centers and hotels, the industrial production of meat and poultry, and the development of transportation and communications were all growth sectors as of the early 2000s. Manufacturing in free trade zones rose 22.9% in 2000 to $250 million in 2005. Manufacturing overall accounted for around 20% of GDP.


Among Nicaragua's scientific learned societies and research institutes are the Geophysical Observatory, founded in 1980, the Nicaraguan

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 584.5 1,835.8 -1,251.3
United States 201.3 477.7 -276.4
El Salvador 104.2 83.6 20.6
Costa Rica 49.1 164.4 -115.3
Honduras 43.4 32.4 11.0
Mexico 27.9 154.4 -126.5
Guatemala 25.9 127.9 -102.0
Canada 21.3 12.6 8.7
United Kingdom 16.8 14.4 2.4
Spain 15.9 26.8 -10.9
Russia 14.5 14.4 0.1
() data not available or not significant.

Society of Psychiatry and Psychology, founded in 1962, and the National Center of Agricultural Information and Documentation, founded in 1984. Part of the Ministry of Agriculture, all three institutes are in Managua. Nicaragua has six universities and colleges offering degrees in agricultural studies and other scientific studies. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 33% of college and university enrollments. The National Museum of Nicaragua, founded in 1896 in Managua, has exhibits concerning archaeology, ceramics, zoology, botany, and geology.

As of 2002 total research and development (R&D) expenditures amounted to $6.011 million, or 0.05% of GDP. In that same year, there were 50 researchers and 39 technicians engaged in R&D per million people. High technology exports in 2002 totaled $6 million or 5% of the country's manufactured exports.


Managua is the principal trading and distribution center and all importers and exporters have offices there. Exporters, except those concerned with cotton, coffee or lumber, are usually importers also. Managua has a variety of retail establishments, including department stores and numerous general stores; many small shops are in private homes. Managua also has a central market to which merchants come daily with all types of produce and domestic and imported consumer goods. Retail sales are mainly for cash. Price controls apply to pharmaceuticals, sugar, domestically produced soft drinks, national cigarettes, and liquefied natural gas.

The usual business hours are from 8 am to noon and from 2:30 to 5:30 pm, Monday through Friday, with a half-day on Saturday. Banking hours are from 8:30 am to noon and from 2 to 4 pm on weekdays; from 8:30 to 11:30 am on Saturday.


Nicaragua's total trade volume grew considerably during the 1970s because of the country's membership in the CACM and because of worldwide inflation. Following the Sandinista revolution and the virtual collapse of the CACM because of political instability in the region, Nicaragua's imports and exports fell by more than half from 1976 to 1985.

By 1986, Latin America and EC member countries, particularly Germany, accounted for the bulk of Nicaragua's trade volume; the Communist bloc had filled the breach opened by the shutting down of US commerce. The Chamorro government changed Nicaragua's trading partners as it reduced trade barriers in 1991. The government issued export promotion incentives with special tax benefits for products sold outside Central America. The Communist bloc was discarded in favor of the United States and South American countries, but Germany remained an important partner. By the Law of Free Trade Zones, Nicaragua waived all duties for imports used in the free zones. The result was widespread availability of US goods in several newly established Managua supermarkets.

One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export. Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continue to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, the fastest growth was in nontraditional exports: maquila goods (apparel), bananas, gold, seafood, and agricultural products such as sesame, melons, and onions.

The most important commodity export from Nicaragua is coffee (28%), followed by shellfish (19%) and meat (9.4%). Other exports include sugar (5.8%), oil seeds (5.2%), and gold (3.6%).

Money spent on principal imports well outweighed money earned from exports in 2004. Nicaragua spent $733.8 million on consumer goods, $646.1 million on intermediate goods, $404.6 million on capital goods, and $425.9 million on oil and derivatives. This contrasts with exports: $126.8 million earned from coffee, $110.4 million from beef, $80.5 million from shrimp and lobster, and $36.8 million from sugar.

In 2004, Nicaragua's exports were absorbed by the United States (64.8%), El Salvador (7%), and Mexico (3.6%). In the same year, 22.6% of imports came from the United States, 8.5% from Costa Rica, 8.4% from Venezuela, 6.8% from Guatemala, 5.8% from Mexico, 4.9% from El Salvador, and 4.5% from South Korea. Exports totaled approximately $750 million and imports totaled approximately $2.02 billion, resulting in a substantial trade deficit of $1.27 billion.

Nicaragua has been reducing trade barriers and working towards integration with its Central American neighbors, the United States and the Dominican Republic in the Dominican Republic-Central American Free-Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The DR-CAFTA was expected to take effect in 2006, but ratification had not yet been accomplished by midyear. Nicaragua has a free trade agreement with Mexico and trade links with Taiwan.


An adverse balance of trade with Nicaragua's major trading partners is the major factor in its deficit. Incoming capital in the form of public and private loans, as well as foreign capital investment and tourism, traditionally offset amortization and interest payments abroad. (The tourist industry has grown substantially in recent

Current Account -779.5
   Balance on goods -972.1
     Imports -2,021.2
     Exports 1,049.1
   Balance on services -123.1
   Balance on income -203.2
   Current transfers 1,817.3
Capital Account 261.6
Financial Account -9.2
   Direct investment abroad
   Direct investment in Nicaragua 201.3
   Portfolio investment assets
   Portfolio investment liabilities
   Financial derivatives
   Other investment assets -16.0
   Other investment liabilities -194.5
Net Errors and Omissions 26.4
Reserves and Related Items 500.7
() data not available or not significant.

years and has become the third-largest source of foreign exchange.) The current account balance sustained a deficit averaging 30% of GDP throughout the 1990s.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2004 the purchasing power parity of Nicaragua's exports was $750 million while imports totaled $2.02 billion, resulting in a continued substantial trade deficit.


The banking system, nationalized in July 1979, is under the supervision of the comptroller general. The National Bank of Nicaragua, established in 1912, has been government-owned since 1940. In 1979, the bank was reorganized to become the National Development Bank. The Central Bank of Nicaragua (Banco Central de Nicaragua), established in 1961, is the bank of issue and also handles all foreign exchange transactions. As of 1979, deposits in foreign banks were prohibited, but in May 1985, the establishment of private exchange houses was permitted. In 1990, legislation was passed that allowed for the establishment of private banks. There are no state-owned commercial banks in Nicaragua.

By 2002, there were at least seven private banks operating, after several mergers in the first few years of the new millennium. Three banks closed in 2000, and another was absorbed into another bank the following year. Banco de la Producción (BANPRO) assumed the performing loans in INTERBANK's portfolio, while the Central Bank took over control of the nonperforming loans. Banco de Finanzas (BDF) assumed BANCAFE's good loans in a similar deal. Also, Primer Banco Inmobiliario (PRIBANCO) merged with BANPRO, and Banco Mercantil (BAMER) merged with Banco de Crédito Centroamericano (BANCENTRO). The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $338.7 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $2.1 billion.

A small stock market began operations in the late 1990s.


In 1979, the Nicaraguan Institute of Insurance and Reinsurance took over all domestic insurance companies. There were five domestic insurance companies operating in 2000, including the government-owned Iniser; Seguros America, Seguros Centroamericanos, Seguros Metropolitana, and Seguros Pacificano. All private insurance companies were majority owned by Nicaraguan banks.


Since the mid-1960s, government spending has consistently exceeded revenues. During the Sandinista regime, detailed public finance budgets were not a priority. The government budget deficit shrank from 18% of GDP in 1987 to 4% in 1998, while government revenues consistently reflected almost one-third of GDP. Nicaragua reached the decision point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative in late 2000.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Nicaragua's central government took in revenues of approximately $1.1 billion and had expenditures of $1.3 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$224 million. Public

Revenue and Grants 15,893 100.0%
   Tax revenue 9,422 59.3%
   Social contributions 2,468 15.5%
   Grants 3,002 18.9%
   Other revenue 1,001 6.3%
Expenditures 16,559 100.0%
   General public services
   Public order and safety
   Economic affairs
   Environmental protection
   Housing and community amenities
   Recreational, culture, and religion
   Social protection
() data not available or not significant.

debt in 2005 amounted to 100.3% of GDP. Total external debt was $4.054 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues in córdobas were c$15,893 million and expenditures were c$16,559 million. The value of revenues in US dollars was us$1,053 million, based on a principal exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = c$15.10 as reported by the IMF.


As of 2005, the standard corporate income tax rate was 30%. Capital gains are treated as ordinary income and are taxed at the corporate rate. Dividends are subject to a 10.5% withholding rate, but if distributed by an entity that has already paid income tax, the dividends are not considered taxable income. Interest and royalties are subject to withholding taxes of 22.5% and 21%, respectively. However, income received from motion pictures and radio and television shows are subject to a 9% withholding rate.

The individual income tax ranged from 1025%. The main indirect tax is Nicaragua's value-added tax (VAT), introduced in January 1975 with a standard rate of 6%. As of 2005, the standard rate had risen to 15%. Basic necessities were zero-rated such as water and power, as well as exports and some imports. Exempted from VAT were finance, petroleum products, publications and medicines. Other taxes included a luxury tax; a 1% municipal tax levied on sales; and a 1% real estate tax on 80% of assessed value.


In 1990, the government's liberalized import schedule allowed private sector imports for the first time in 11 years. Import licenses are only required for the import of sugar. Nicaragua follows the CACM common import tariff schedule with rates ranging from 515%. Duties are set on an ad valorem basis, and there are specific consumption (usually less than 15%) and sales taxes (15%). However, a small number of agricultural products are subject to higher rates, among them are chicken parts and rice. A VAT of 15% is placed upon most items based upon the item's CIF (cost, insurance and freight) value plus the duty. Agricultural raw materials are exempt. An industrial free zone operates at Las Mercedes near the Managua international airport.

Nicaragua has free trade agreements with Mexico and the Dominican Republic; and is a member of the Central American Common Market (CACM). The country is also a Caribbean Basin Initiative beneficiary.


Until the 1979 revolution, Nicaragua encouraged private investment. Virtually no restrictions were imposed on the remittance of profits or the repatriation of capital. The economic and political climate for foreign investors in the 1980s was bleak, despite the claim that the Sandinista government was prepared to offer more favorable investment terms (including 100% foreign ownership and repatriation of profits) than the Somoza government had provided. As of 1984, direct US investment in Nicaragua had stopped completely. However, in the 1990s Nicaragua began free market reforms, privatized over 350 state enterprises, decreased inflation from 13,500% to 5.3%, and cut foreign debt in half.

Under the New Foreign Investment Law, the government of Nicaragua has concentrated most of its efforts on the expansion and promotion of foreign and national investment. This law, among other things, guarantees the repatriation of invested capital and generated capital. Also, it allows for 100% foreign ownership in all areas. Foreign private capital inflows doubled from $97 million in 1996 to $184 million in 1998 and peaked at $300 million in 1999. For the period 19982000, Nicaragua's share of world FDI inflows was over three times its share of world GDP. In the global slowdown in 2001, FDI inflows to Nicaragua fell to $132 million in 2001, and then to an estimated $95 million in 2002. Most of the FDI during those years was invested in cellular communications, maquila operations, and tourist projects.

About 25 US companies, wholly or partly owned subsidiaries, do business in Nicaragua. The largest investments are in the energy, communications, manufacturing, fisheries, and shrimp farming sectors. In addition to those sectors, opportunities for further investment abound in tourism, construction, services, mining, and agriculture.

Foreign investment in commercial establishments in Nicaragua has been on the rise. Modern shopping malls have been built by investors from Taiwan and El Salvador, and supermarkets have been built by Costa Rican investors. US fast-food franchises have prospered and car sales from Asia have proliferated since 1999. However, formal commerce growth potential is limited by low income levels. Furthermore, property disputes, a corrupt judiciary, political unease, and a low-skilled workforce are all factors that serve to discourage further investment in Nicaragua.


The Somoza government's 197579 National Reconstruction and Development Plan had as its major objective the improvement in living conditions through increased employment, continuing reconstruction of Managua, reduction in the economy's dependence on the external sector, acceleration of regional development, and strengthening of the country's role in CACM. The plan was disrupted by the civil strife in the late 1970s.

After the 1979 revolution, the government nationalized banking, insurance, mining, fishing, forestry, and a number of industrial plans. Although the government officially favored a mixed economy, in practice the private sector took second place in a development strategy that focused on public investment and control.

In response to the macroeconomic problems that arose in 1992, a series of measures were adopted by the Chamorro administration aimed at consolidating the stabilization process, increasing the competitiveness of exports and establishing a base for the promotion of growth. However, long-term success at attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depends on its ability to comply with International Monetary Fund (IMF) programs, resolve the thousands of Sandinista-era property confiscation cases, and open its economy to foreign trade.

In 1999 the Alemán government was faced with poverty (over 70%), unemployment and underemployment (over 50%), one of the highest per capita debt ratios in the world ($6 billion), and one of the highest population growth rates of the hemisphere (2.8%). Alemán signed an IMF Structural Adjustment Program for Nicaragua that aimed at cutting the fiscal deficit, continuing liberalization, and maintaining monetary stability.

Nicaragua received at least $2.5 billion for reconstruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, debt deferral until 2001, and debt forgiveness through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. In December 2002, the IMF approved a three-year $129 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) Arrangement for Nicaragua. However, in 2003, the IMF threatened to sever financial assistance to the country in the midst of a budget dispute between President Enrique Bolaños and the National Assembly. Bolaños had submitted his 2003 budgetin accordance with IMF criteriato the National Assembly, which revised it, violating terms of the agreement with the IMF. The IMF also stipulated the government would have to sell off state-owned hydroelectric dams and the hydroelectric company, and 51% of the shares in the national telephone company, ENITEL. In 2002, the government began privatizing management of water systems. Despite the IMF threats to cut its aid to the country, Nicaragua still received $541.8 million in total foreign aid in 2003.

The Bolaños administration undertook macroeconomic policies that contributed to 5.1% growth in GDP in 2004. With increased tax collection and less public spending, fiscal deficits declined. Yet, unemployment and underemployment remain high at 12.2% and 35.4%, respectively. Foreign aid (donations and debt relief) comprised 42% of Nicaragua's GDP in 2004. In 2005, G-8 finance ministers agreed to forgive Nicaragua's foreign debt due to its HIPC classification. While debt relief under the HIPC program of the World Bank will continue, the debt relief by the G-8 countries was dependent upon Nicaragua's putting a PRGF (Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility) back in place. It was hoped that involvement in Dominican Republic-Central American Free-Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) would attract foreign, provide jobs, and spur steady economic development and growth.


A system of mandatory individual accounts replaced the social insurance system in 2004. All working persons are covered. These programs are financed by a 6% of payroll contribution from employers and a 4% of earnings contribution from employees. Retirement is set at age 60 for most workers. Employers cover the entire cost of work injury insurance. Medical care is provided to treat work injuries and occupational diseases. Family allowances vary depending on earnings and the age of the children.

There is no official discrimination against women and a number of women hold government positions. However, women continue to suffer de facto sex discrimination in many segments of society. They tend to hold traditionally low-paid jobs in the health, education, and textile sectors while occupying few management positions in the private sector. Sexual harassment in the workplace is prevalent despite laws designed to protect women. Domestic and sexual violence are common, and the perpetrators are seldom prosecuted. Dire economic circumstances force many children to work to contribute to household income. Many children work for low wages on banana or coffee plantations, while in urban areas, children often work as vendors in the streets.

Human rights abuses have been on the decline but there are continued reports of the mistreatment of detainees, although torture is punishable by law.


As of 2004, there were an estimated 164 physicians and 107 nurses per 100,000 people. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 12.5 % of GDP. Approximately 79% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 84% had adequate sanitation.

Slow progress in health care was made from the 1960s through the 1980s, as the crude death rate dropped from 19 per 1,000 people in 1960 to and estimated 4.8 in 2002. During 2005, the infant mortality rate was 29.11 per 1,000 live births and average life expectancy was 70.33 years. The maternal mortality rate was 150 per 100,000 live births. The fertility rate was 3.5 births per woman in 2000; 44% of married women (ages 15 to 49) used some form of contraception.

Malnutrition and anemia remain common, as do poliomyelitis, goiter, and intestinal parasitic infections (a leading cause of death). The prevalence of child malnutrition was 25% of children under five. The goiter rate was 4.3 per 100 school-age children. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were as follows: tuberculosis, 99%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 94%; polio, 99%; and measles, 94%.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.20 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 6,400 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. Common diseases reported in Nicaragua were malaria, cholera, and tuberculosis.


Both urban and rural dwellers suffer from a dire lack of adequate housing. As a result of the 1972 earthquake, approximately 53,000 residential units were destroyed or seriously damaged in the Managua area. The Sandinistas launched housing-construction and tree-planting programs, but were hampered by a shortage of hard currency to pay for the construction equipment required. Hurricane Mitch in 1998 also destroyed thousands of dwellings.

At the last census in 1995, there were only about 751,637 dwellings to serve over 4.3 million people. Most dwellings are detached houses. Many rural residents live in ranchos or cuartes (private units with some common facilities). Estimates in 2005 indicated that there was a housing deficit of over 500,000 dwellings and that about 3.75 million people were living in substandard housing.


Primary and secondary education is free and compulsory for 6 years between the ages of 6 and 12. Basic secondary education covers three years of study, after which students may continue in a two-year diversified secondary program or a three-year technical school program. The academic year runs from March to December.

In 2001, about 26% of children between the ages of three and six were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 85% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 39% of age-eligible students; 36% for boys and 42% for girls. It is estimated that about 74.6% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 35:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 34:1. In 2003, private schools accounted for about 15.5% of primary school enrollment and 29% of secondary enrollment.

The National Autonomous University of Nicaragua offers instruction in 10 faculties: medicine, law and social sciences, dentistry, chemistry, and humanities in León; and agriculture, education, economics, physical and mathematical sciences, and humanities in Managua. The Central American University, affiliated with Georgetown University, opened in Managua in 1961, and the privately controlled Polytechnic University of Nicaragua, also in Managua, attained university status in 1977. Some others include the Central American Institute for Business Management, affiliated with the Harvard Business School; the University of Mobile, affiliated with Mobile College, Alabama; Nicaraguan Catholic University; and the National Engineering University. There were a total of 14 universities in Nicaragua in 1998. In 2003, about 18% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 76.7%.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.1% of GDP, or 15% of total government expenditures.


The National Library in Managua is the largest library in the country, holding a collection of 120,000 volumes. The National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in León holds the largest university collection with 36,700 volumes. Nicaragua has about 13 branch public libraries holding a total of 187,000 volumes. The largest branch is in León, and holds 32,000 volumes. There is a Central American Institute in Managua with 39,000 volumes focusing on the social and economic conditions of the region.

The National Museum, founded in 1896 and featuring archaeology and history, is in Managua at the National Palace, which houses the National Library and the National Archives as well. There is an archeological museum in Granada and three provincial historical and archeological museums.


Postal, telegraph, and telephone facilities are government-owned. Since 1990, TELCOR, the national communications company, has invested over $100 million on upgrading its facilities. Telephone service is limited to the heavily populated west coast and, except for Managua (where there is an automatic dial system), is inadequate. In 2003, there were an estimated 37 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 85 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

In 2004, there were 210 chartered radio stations in the country, 52 AM stations and 158 FM. The Voice of Nicaragua is the primary government station. There were 10 television stations based in Managua and 63 cable television franchises. In 2003, there were an estimated 270 radios and 123 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 27.9 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 17 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 17 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

There were two major daily newspapers in 2004 including, La Prensa, with a circulation of 37,000, and El Nuevo Diario, circulation 30,000. La Prensa, a harsh critic of Somoza rule and of the Sandinista regime, was closed in 1986 but, in accordance with the Arias peace plan, was allowed to resume publication in 1987. Press censorship ended with the departure of the Sandinista government. Confidencial is a popular weekly.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the government is said to be supportive of these rights in practice. The privately owned print media and the broadcast media openly discuss diverse viewpoints without government interference.


Three cooperative organizations for cotton growers, shoemakers, and leather workers operate in the country. Of the four employers' associations, the most important was the Higher Council of Private Enterprise (Conejos Superior de la Empresa PrivadaCOSEP). The Nicaragua Chamber of Commerce is in Managua. The Augusto Cesar Sandino Foundation offers technical and methodological assistance to grassroots organizations for local development.

National youth organizations include the Union Nacional de Estudiantes de Nicaragua, Juventud Sandinista 19 de Julio, the Scout Association of Nicaragua, Girl Guides, and chapters of YMCA/YWCA. There are several sports associations active within the country. Fundacion Puntos de Encuentro is a national women's organization.

Volunteer service organizations, such as the Lions Clubs International, are also present. There are national chapters of the Red Cross, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, UNICEF, and Habitat for Humanity.


Although Nicaragua has beaches on two oceans, magnificent mountain and tropical scenery, and the two largest lakes in Central America, a decade of military conflict retarded the development of the tourist industry. The government, however, has made the development of its tourism industry a top priority. Foreign nationals must possess a passport valid for at least six months after entry. Tourist cards instead of visas are used for travelers from most countries. Baseball is the national sport. Basketball, cockfighting, bullfighting, golfing, and water sports are also popular.

In 2003, about 526,000 foreign visitors arrived in Nicaragua. Hotel rooms numbered 4,418 with 7,669 beds and an average stay of two nights. Tourism expenditure receipts totaled $155 million.

In 2002, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost for food, hotel, and other expenses in Managua at $176.


International literary fame came to Nicaragua with the publication of Azul, a collection of lyric poetry and short stories by Rubén Darío (Félix Rubén Garcia-Sarmiento, 18671916). Born in Metapa (renamed Ciudad Darío in his honor), Darío created a new literary style in Spanish, exemplified by "art for art's sake" and a revelry in the senses. Miguel Larreynaga (17711845) was an outstanding figure during the colonial period and later an ardent independence leader, teacher, jurist, and author. Santiago Arguëllo (18721940) was a noted poet and educator. Three modern poets are Fray Azarías Pallais (18851954), Alfonso Cortés (18931963), and Salomón de la Selva (18931959). Luis Abraham Delgadillo (18871961), a writer, educator, and musical conductor, was also Nicaragua's leading composer.

The Somoza family, which ruled Nicaragua 193479, included Anastasio Somoza García (18961956), president during 193747 and again during 195056; his oldest son, Luis Somoza Debayle (192267), president during 195663; and a younger son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle (192580), president during 196772 and again from 197479 revolution. The Sandinistas, who overthrew the Somoza dynasty, take their name from the nationalist Gen. Augusto César Sandino (18951934). José Daniel Ortega Saavedra (b.1945) emerged as the leading figure in the junta that governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.


Nicaragua has no territories or colonies.


Agriculture in Nicaragua: Promoting Competitiveness and Stimulating Broad-Based Growth. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2003.

Brentlinger, John. The Best of What We Are: Reflections on the Nicaraguan Revolution. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.

Calvert, Peter. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Latin America. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Cruz, Consuelo. Political Culture and Institutional Development in Costa Rica and Nicaragua: World-making in the Tropics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Gomez, Mayra. Human Rights in Cuba, El Salvador, and Nicaragua: A Sociological Perspective on Human Rights Abuse. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Health in the Americas, 2002 edition. Washington, D.C.: Pan American Health Organization, Pan American Sanitary Bureau, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, 2002.

Kagan, Robert. A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990. New York: Free Press, 1996.

Norsworthy, Kent. Nicaragua: A Country Guide. 2nd ed. Albuquerque, N.M.: Inter-Hemispheric Education Resource Center, 1990.

Paths to Central American Prehistory. Edited by Frederick W. Lange. Niwot, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 1996.

Pezzullo, Lawrence. At the Fall of Somoza. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993.

Solaun, Mauricio. U.S. Intervention and Regime Change in Nicaragua. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Vanden, Harry E. Democracy and Socialism in Sandinista Nicaragua. Boulder, Colo.: L. Rienner, 1993.

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Republic of Nicaragua

Major Cities:
Managua, León

Minor Cities:
Bluefields, Chinandega, Corinto, Diriamba, Estelí, Granada, Jinotega, Jinotepe, Masaya, Matagalpa


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 1999 for Nicaragua. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


NICARAGUA , which has suffered relentless exploitation by dictators and foreign interests since its discovery in 1502, emerged from a decade-long civil war in the early 1990s. In 1996 the nation achieved its first peaceful transition of power in 100 years. However, it must still overcome a turbulent history of political strife and natural disasters as it struggles to achieve and maintain political and economic stability.



The capital, Managua, with a rapidly growing population of about 1 million, is the largest city and the commercial and political center of Nicaragua. It is located on the southern shore of severely polluted Lake Managua in western Nicaragua at latitude 121, longitude 861, and 110 feet above sea level.

Earthquakes destroyed Managua twice, once in 1931 and again in 1972. The earthquake on December 23, 1972, reduced the city's downtown to rubble. Businesses and residents relocated to the outskirts of the city, and there has been no reconstruction in the once bustling center. Therefore, Managua has no real business or commercial district. Offices and shops are often housed in residences and scattered throughout the city. Hostilities in 1978 and 1979 caused additional destruction, especially in the industrial section, along the north highway to the airport.

Construction during the Sandinista regime came almost to a standstill except for the burgeoning shanty towns. As the rural poor have poured into the city looking for work, this substandard housing, with no sanitary facilities of any type, has literally sprouted in every neighborhood and has replaced earthquake ruins as the dominant scene in Managua.


Shopping for food in Nicaragua requires patience and flexibility; but, with perseverance, you can maintain a balanced, varied diet. A variety of goods is now readily available in local supermarkets.

Open markets, such as the Huembes Market off the Masaya Highway, offer the best selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Seasonal fruits and vegetables common to the tropics are usually good quality and cost less than in the U.S. Mangoes, bananas, papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple, nispero, citrus, and jocote are typical fruit selections, while vegetables are limited to potatoes, yucca, beets, lettuce, cabbage, onions, cilantro, garlic, parsley, tomatoes, celery, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, squash, broccoli, avocado, green beans, and occasionally asparagus, mushrooms, cauliflower, and eggplant. Imported apples, grapes, pears, and strawberries are sometimes available in supermarkets. Open markets also sell dried beans, rice, and some spices. You may also find staples such as flour, sugar, and oil as well as some packaged and canned goods, toiletries, and sundries. However, the commissary sells such items in better quality, if higher prices.

Good selections of meat and fish can be found at supermarkets, butcher shops, and delicatessens. Processed pork products such as luncheon meat, ham, and smoked chops are subject to questionable handling, and therefore, not recommended for purchase except at Delikatessen Bavaria. Local chickens are small and, currently, more expensive than those the commissary sells. Various distributors sell lobster, shrimp, and other seafood, frozen for export.

Shoppers in the open markets provide their own bags. Young boys will besiege you to guard your car or to help carry your groceries for a small tip.

Milk products are readily available. The commissary sells long-shelf-life whole milk; canned, condensed, and evaporated milk; and assorted cheeses, cream, cottage cheese, and sour cream. One reliable source for local cheese, the La Perfecta Company, produces about six varieties of fresh and aged cheeses, but not every type is available at one time. The factory, where the best selection can be found, is on the North Highway. The Eskimo Factory produces good-quality ice cream in several flavors.

There are bakeries where whole wheat bread, French bread, rolls, etc., can be found. An Italian-style pasta shop will prepare carry-out meals if you provide the casserole dish. Local beer and soft drinks are good and inexpensive if you buy refill bottles.

Generally, Nicaraguan production and handling methods fall short of U.S. sanitary standards; therefore, wash all raw vegetables and fruits properly. Washing in detergent, soaking in a bleach solution, and then rinsing thoroughly is recommended. However, this will not kill amebic dysentery spores or other types of contamination. The surest ways to avoid food contamination and food-borne illness are peel or cook fruits and vegetables, cook meat and seafood well, and avoid raw seafood.

Those with babies should bring in their hand luggage, or mail ahead, a large initial supply of formula (powdered keeps better in the heat) or baby food they may need. Baby food produced in Central America is not always up to U.S. standards.


Informal attire is acceptable on most occasions, including in the office. Open-collar dress shirts or locally made guayaberas and slacks are worn by men for both work and social events. Ties, suits, and sport jackets are occasionally worn. An event requiring a suit will usually indicate as much on the invitation. At the office, women wear short dresses, skirts, or slacks. Nylons are often seen but are a matter of choice. At dinners and receptions attended by Nicaraguans or the diplomatic community, women dress somewhat more formally than the men; however, at the same function you may see sequins and cotton dresses. Being improperly attired is almost impossible.

Warm-weather clothes are necessary, especially washable cottons. Avoid "dry clean only" apparel, because local dry cleaners are not always reliable. In addition, long sleeves are often useful at outdoor receptions during the first three months of the dry season, especially on the South Highway, which is cooler than the rest of the city. Lightweight sweaters and jackets are also useful for trips to cooler countries in the region. Local shoes, sandals, and cowboy boots are available. Some shoes are imported from the U.S. or Europe, but selection is limited, and prices are high.

Men: Men's clothing can be made at are reasonable cost. Tailors can copy styles, but quality material is scarce. If you are interested, bring all fabric and notions.

Women: Dressmakers are available at low prices, though they may not be reliable. Some can skillfully copy designs from fashion magazines or from an existing model. They rarely use patterns. You must furnish fabric and notions, which, if available here, are very expensive. Many Nicaraguans do beautiful hand or machine embroidery as well.

Children: Children's clothes can be made at a reasonable cost from bright cotton bought locally or in the U.S. A limited ready-made supply is available here, but quality is mixed.

Supplies and Services

Bring all contact lenses supplies from the U.S. Few medicines are available in Nicaragua.

Household items bought here can cost two or three times the U.S. price. La Galeria sells electric appliances, radios, cameras, TV's, video machines, perfumes, clothing, liquor, and toys-all at high prices.

Good-quality wicker and wooden porch furniture can be ordered to specification. Several well-known Nicaraguan artists' works may be purchased. Lovely machine embroidered linens are made in Masaya and Granada. Finely woven, decorative hammocks are a Nicaraguan trademark; and woodcrafters, basketweavers, and potters make gift items in various parts of the country. Although these items are not the bargain they once were, they are usually reasonably priced when compared to buying them in the U.S.

Managua has several good restaurants, including two pizza and two sandwich shops. Restaurant prices are high, especially, if you order imported liquor or wine.

A maid will do almost all laundry. Drycleaning establishments exist, but they get mixed reviews. Some have been known to lose or ruin clothing. Some people save dry cleaning for trips to Costa Rica or the U.S.-thus, the need for washable clothing. Garment bags are useful during the dry season, when dust permeates the air. Bring extra hangers. Plastic ones are best as metal ones may rust in the rainy season.

Managua has several beauty and barber shops. Some have relatively modern equipment, but few have sufficient supplies or trained personnel. Some people take advantage of trips outside Nicaragua to have their hair cut and styled, though this industry in Managua is improving.

Dealers in radio and electric appliances, including General Electric, Westinghouse, Philco, and Sony, provide repair service, but replacement parts are scarce. Parts catalogs, which usually come with appliances when purchased, are valuable for ordering parts from the U.S. Bring parts that you feel you may have to replace.

Simple picture framing is available at a reasonable cost. Some people take items to Costa Rica to be framed. At numerous hardware stores, stock is limited and prices for quality, imported goods are high.

Domestic Help

Domestic help is loosely defined as employees engaged in household, gardening, guard, and similar services. They may, or may not, live in. Live-in help is entitled to room, board, and three uniforms as well as salary. Live-out help receives only salary and, perhaps, uniforms. The first month of employment is a trial period for both employer and employee. Either party can then terminate employment for any reason without incurring additional legal obligations. A work contract with employees is not required, but recommended.

Domestics specialize in cooking ("cocinera"), caring for children ("china"), laundry ("lavandera"), gardening ("jardinero"), guards ("celador"), and cleaning ("limp-ieza"), etc. Most employees combine various specialties required by the family. Because of the high crime rate, all homes should have at least one employee, or family member, home at all times. Potential loss from break-ins outweighs the cost of a competent, honest employee.

After each six-month period, domestic employees get 15 days of paid vacation, but most employees prefer double pay (for the 15 days) in lieu of time off. In December, local law requires the payment of a Christmas bonus equal to a month's salary. Keep a written record, signed by the employee, of wage payments to prevent complications over the amount of Christmas bonus or severance payments due when employment is terminated. Additional provisions regulate days off, sick leave, severance pay, and other matters.

Religious Activities

Most Nicaraguans are Roman Catholic. Catholic Churches in Managua celebrate Masses on Saturdays, Sundays, and Holy Days at various hours from 5 am or 6 am through noon and in the evenings. Mass is celebrated in English at the Lincoln School every Sunday at 9:30 am.

Nondenominational English services are held on Sundays at 8 am at the Nicaragua Christian Academy. Baptist, Mormon, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other missionary congregations conduct services in Spanish at various times during the week. Managua has no synagogues.


For primary and secondary students, the American-Nicaraguan School (ANS), established in 1944, offers English instruction from the nursery and kindergarten levels through grade 12 by American, Nicaraguan, and some third-country national teachers. The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges. Graduates have successfully attended many U.S. colleges and universities. The school has about 1,250 students and 104 teachers. The school year for all students roughly follows the U.S. system: first semester, early August to mid-December; second semester, early January to early June.

Bus service is available for a monthly fee. Preschool students attend from 7:30 am to 11:30 am; all other students from 7:40 am to 2:10 pm. Uniforms, consisting of dark blue pants or skirts with white shirts or blouses, are required for all grades here, as they are for all schools in Managua. You may bring shirts or blouses and sew the school patch (available in the business office) on to them. Books are provided. The school offers a standard U.S. college preparatory course, a business course, and a "bachillerato" program in Spanish. One honors course is offered. Spanish-as-a-second language is required at all levels, beginning at grade 2. Advanced placement classes are also available to students, beginning in their sophomore year. These classes are first-year college courses that students can take for college credit. ANS has five science labs, a full computer laboratory, a 5,000-volume library, new gym, outdoor sports facilities, a covered outdoor stage, and counseling quarters. Afterschool sports, drama, and community service activities are offered.

The Nicaraguan Christian Academy (NCA), established in 1991, has grown rapidly. Its current enrollment is 106 with 13 teachers (ten Americans, two Nicaraguans, and one third-country national). NCA has a 40% native English-speaking student body. Its out of the city location, just off the South Highway, makes it all the more appealing to those who live on that side of town. What it lacks in facilities, it makes up for in personal attention in its small classes. Pre-kindergarten hours are 8:30 am to noon; kindergarten, 7:30 am to noon; and grades 1 to 12, 7:30 am to 2:15 pm. NCA's classes begin early September and continue until mid-June.

The Lincoln International School, a Catholic school established in 1991, is located across the highway from NCA and currently has 500 students taught by 40 teachers. The percentage of native-English speakers is unknown. Hours are 7:45 am to 3 pm, and classes start in mid August.

Notre Dame School, a Catholic school established in 1992, currently has 290 students enrolled (10% of whom are native English speakers) with 24 teachers. The hours are 7:45 am to 2:15 pin and the school year begins mid-August. It offers three diplomas: Nicaraguan, U.S., and International Baccalaureate. Although the last three newly established schools have limited facilities, they offer quality education.

Special Educational Opportunities

Nicaragua has numerous institutions of higher education including the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), the Jesuit-run Central American University (UCA), the Harvard-affiliated Central American Institute of Business Administration (INCAE), the University of Mobile, the American Autonomous University (UAM), the National Agrarian University (UNA), the Polytechnical University (UPOLI), the National Engineering University (UNI), and the Catholic University (UNICA). (See Arts, Science, and Education.)

Some private or small group classes are offered in tennis, swimming, dancing, art, music, and bridge. Instruction in Spanish and other foreign languages is available. Anyone with a skill to teach will find that the community is receptive to new activities. Very limited special educational opportunities are available.

Managua does not have adequate teaching facilities for children with physical or emotional handicaps or learning disabilities.


The Intercontinental Hotel, the Camino Real Hotel, the Casa de Espana, and the Casa Grande have swimming pools. "Cabana Club" memberships are available at the Intercontinental. Swimming can be enjoyed at various Pacific Ocean beaches, at Lake Xiloa, and Laguna de Apoyo. Montelimar, a private beach on the Pacific, has the only first-class overnight accommodations in Nicaragua outside Managua.

The Camino Real and Casa de Espana each have two night-lit tennis courts. Casa Grande has one court with night-lighting; the Ticomo Apartments has two day courts. For a minimum fee, Casa de Espana accepts temporary members and offers swimming, tennis, bar, and restaurant facilities.

A modern eight-lane bowling alley, with a sandwich shop, outdoor roller skating rink, and a video gameroom is located off the Masaya Highway.

Nicaragua has many areas for boating, but boats are expensive. For those with access, small-boat sailing is available and popular. Lake Managua, however, is not used for water sports because it is both shallow and contaminated. Rental boats are not generally available, except for fishing areas like San Juan del Sur, where rates are expensive and safe boating measures (such as providing life preservers) are not always practiced. Lake Nicaragua has tarpon, shark, and sawfish. (Lake Nicaragua is the only freshwater lake in the world where sharks have been found.) Guapote, a fish similar to bass, is found in many lakes and streams.

Baseball is the national sport; soccer is number two. Basketball is played in schools, colleges, and is sponsored commercially. Professional and amateur boxing is popular and a source of national pride.

Riding stables featuring Western-style riding lessons are available. Horses can be purchased, but few houses have sufficient grounds to stable a horse. Bring special riding equipment or clothing. Saddles are available locally.

Several regularly scheduled sports events take place at the Casa Grande, such as volleyball, basketball, softball, and exercise classes. Everyone is invited to join. Many people are involved in the local chapter of the Hash House Harriers, a running and walking club.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Nicaragua has panoramic natural beauty; and its mountains, volcanoes, and lakes offer many new experiences to visitors. Fine hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching, and boating are available, if you are the rugged outdoor type. However, few package trips exist. You have to make your own arrangements and provide all your own equipment. Hotels, lodges, sanitary facilities, and potable water are nonexistent; and a four-wheel-drive vehicle is essential. Managua has little tourist activity, but local travel agencies offer trips throughout Nicaragua. Cities outside the capital have retained their colonial flavor with low one-story houses, built around an inner patio, lining the sidewalks. The church always faces the main square park and together they usually form the geographic and social center of the town.

Located about an hour's drive from Managua, past the town of Masachapa, southwest of Managua, Montelimar, was once the private hideaway of the Somoza family. Converted to a tourist complex by the Sandinista government and now owned by a Spanish firm, it boasts the best accommodations outside of Managua. You can go for the day and take a picnic or eat at one of the restaurants. Comfortable rooms and cabins are available for overnight guests.

On the Pacific, Pochimil Beach is ½ miles from the town of Masachapa (37 miles southwest of Managua). It has a wide, gently sloping beach. The Nicaraguan Government opened a tourist center with picnic facilities at Pochomil in 1982. The beach is usually quiet on Saturdays and crowded on Sundays or during the Easter season. The undertow and cross currents can be hazardous.

Poneloya beach is 12 miles beyond Leon on a paved road. A hotel is available where you can change clothes and buy food and drinks; however, the accommodations do not appeal to most for an overnight stay. The undertow and cross currents are also hazardous.

San Juan del Sur, located about 95 miles southwest of Managua on the Pacific, can be reached via a poorly paved side road from the Pan-American Highway. It has excellent deep-sea fishing, and you can rent fishing boats by making arrangements in advance.

Lake Xiloa is a crater lake 10 miles from Managua offers swimming, boating, and water skiing. An extensive tourist complex has been built, and the spot is popular as a nearby recreation area. Snacks and drinks are available.

The semiactive Masaya Volcano is 13 miles from Managua on the Masaya Highway. The park has paved roads, observation areas, picnic locations, a museum with a restaurant, and excellent views of the smoking volcano with molten lava in the crater. On the Atlantic coast, the Caribbean seaport of Bluefields can be reached by Nica or Costena Airlines or by poor roads and boat. English is the predominant language in this deeply tropical region. Its West Indies atmosphere differentiates it from the rest of the country.

There are two Corn Islands, both typical tropical isles with waving palms and broad beaches. The larger one is about three miles long and located 40 miles off the coast of Bluefields. Overnight facilities can be obtained in private homes on the islands, but they are primitive. There are no hotels.

Travel to neighboring countries by car is possible, and many people take advantage of the opportunity to escape Managua's heat, shop, and become acquainted with other Central American cultures. San Jose, Costa Rica (about a 7-hour drive), at an altitude of over 3,000 feet, is a modern city with a cool climate. Tegucigalpa, Honduras (about a 5-hour drive), is also over 3,000 feet. The drive to San Salvador takes some 10 hours and to Guatemala City, almost 14 hours. Major roads within Nicaragua are generally in fair condition, depending on the season and money available to patch them; however, the Pan-American Highway is usually passable year round.

All Central American capitals, and Mexico City, can be reached quickly by air on the many regional and U.S. airlines that serve Managua. (See Transportation Regional.) For current information, contact the airlines. Approximate round-trip fares from Managua as of April 1997 were: San Jose, $196; Tegucigalpa, $200; Guatemala City, $350; San Salvador, $240; Mexico City, $490; Miami, $574; Houston $788.


Managua has limited entertainment. Most There is one modern movie theater with two screens. First-run movies arrive within a few months of their U.S. release date. The four cable companies receive 40-65 channels. Rates range from $20-$30 a month.

A few foreign cultural groups perform in Managua each year, usually in the Ruben Dario Theater, which is one of the finest in the region. Local folk-dance groups perform there as well. There are usually a couple of major popular music festivals, with artists from other Latin American countries. The Ministry of Culture sponsors some events in the Ruins of the Grand Hotel where a theater has been built.

There are local disco-type nightclubs, as well as clubs that feature Nicaraguan and Latin American musical groups. Some restaurants, including Los Ranchos and the Lobster's Inn, are available for large parties. The Intercontinental and Camino Real Hotels have party, banquet, and conference rooms. However, entertaining is usually done at home. Caterers are available, as well as small musical groups, although prices are high.

Social Activities

The American-Nicaraguan Society, open to all members of the U.S. community, sponsors several events during the year. There is also the relatively new Christian Ladies Tea Group, which meets monthly at the Casa Grande.

The International Women's Club consists of women who are native Nicaraguans, some who married Nicaraguans and settled here, those who came to Nicaragua with their husbands to live, and women living here for only a short time. Their meetings are conducted in English. The Nicaraguan English Speaking Theater (NEST) is composed of members from throughout the community and offers two productions a year which are highly attended.

Nicaraguans are usually open and hospitable. As the country has attained normalcy, so have relations between our two governments. Even though foreign investment is starting to return after having plummeted during the Sandinista years, there is still only a small foreign business community.

The Alliance Francaise offers language classes and a variety of entertainment, including movies, lectures, plays, and social dances year round.


Nicaragua's former capital, and second largest city, can be reached by paved highway, 42 miles from Managua, and has a population of 147,000. It is the seat of part of the University of Nicaragua (UNAN), and several of its faculties are located there. Leon's large 18th-century cathedral contains the tomb of Ruben Dario, Nicaragua's world-renowned poet.


BLUEFIELDS is located in southeast Nicaragua on Bluefields Bay, about 170 miles east of Managua. Situated at the mouth of the Escon-dido River, it is Nicaragua's chief port on the Caribbean Sea. From here, bananas, coconuts, shrimp, lobsters, and hardwoods are exported. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Bluefields was a meeting point for English and Dutch pirates. In 1678, it became the capital of the British protectorate over the Mosquito Coast. Today, Bluefields is the capital of Zelaya Department and has a population of about 25,000.

Situated in the Pacific coastlands about 70 miles northwest of Managua, CHINANDEGA is a thriving industrial city. It is the capital of Chinandega Department as well as a processing point for the hinter-land. Revolutionary battles took place here in 1927, and again in 1978-1979. Crops grown near the city include bananas, sugarcane, and cotton. Chinandega's industries produce furniture, perfume, and toilet water. Several sawmills, metalworks, and tanneries are located in Chinandega. Its 1995 population was about 67,800. A line of the Pacific Railway passes through Chinandega; the city is connected to Managua by highway.

CORINTO , located on the Pacific Ocean about 75 miles northwest of Managua, is Nicaragua's chief port. Sugar, hides, coffee, cotton, and wood are exported from here. With a population of approximately 20,000, Corinto is also a railroad terminus.

DIRIAMBA is a 26 miles southwest of Managua, on the Pan-American Highway, and lies in the heart of a coffee-growing region. Limestone quarries and saltworks are also located near the city. It is situated at an altitude of 2,000 feet and has a pleasant climate. Diriamba was heavily damaged during the 1978-79 civil war. Casares and La Boquita are two undeveloped black sand beaches on the Pacific out of Diriamba.

ESTELÍ is an agricultural hub on the Estelí River, 70 miles north of Managua. The downtown area was virtually ruined in the heavy fighting of the revolution in 1978-1979. The Spanish settled Estelínear prehistoric stone figures; today, it is a commercial center on the Pan-American Highway. Industries in Estelí include hat manufacturing, sawmilling, and tanning. Several crops are grown near the city, among them tobacco, cotton, fruit, vegetables, and sesame. The estimated population of this departmental capital is 30,600.

GRANADA , Nicaragua's oldest city, formerly the country's commercial center, was founded by Hernandez de Cordoba, Nicaragua's colonizer in 1523. Its population is about 75,000. The epitaphs on the marble tombs of Granada's cemetery provide a fascinating history of the city's turbulent past. The city is on the northwestern shore of the country's large freshwater Lake Nicaragua, 28 miles over paved highway from Managua. Here tourists are attracted to a group of beautiful lake islands, "Las Isletas." Ometepe and Zapatera, volcanic-formed islands in the lakes, are well-known sites for pre-Colombian artifacts.

JINOTEGA is a departmental capital in northern Nicaragua, 70 miles north-northwest of Managua. Coffee, tobacco, corn, beans, potatoes, wheat, and fruits are grown here. Several industries, including coffee processing, tanning, hat manufacturing, and flour milling are located in the city. A highway connects the city to Matagalpa. Jinotega's estimated population is 17,000.

JINOTEPE lies in the Diriamba Highlands, about 25 miles south of Managua. It is the capital of Carazo Department in addition to being an important commercial and manufacturing point. Quarries are located nearby and coffee, rice, sugarcane, and sesame are grown in surrounding farmland. The city's church contains a rare reliquary of precious gems. The area honors St. James the Great, its patron, with an annual festival. The city was heavily damaged during the 1978-79 civil war. An estimated 18,000 people live in Jinotepe, which is situated on the Pan-American Highway.

MASAYA , the "City of Flowers," 16 miles from Managua, has a population of 95,000. The town is well known to natives, and tourists as well, as Nicaragua's handicrafts center. Embroidered dresses and shirts, shoes, handbags, fiber floor-mats, hand fans, hammocks, black coral jewelry, wicker furniture, small gifts crafted of wood, and filigree-gold-and-silver work are available. One of the country's better-known restaurants, the Tip Top, which specializes in chicken dishes, is nearby.

MATAGALPA. This town is 81 miles north of Managua on a paved branch of the Pan American Highway and has a population of about 63,000. The city, at an altitude of 2,100 feet and consequently a cooler climate, is set in hilly country and surrounded by beautiful coffee plantations. The Selva Negra (Schwarzwald) Mountain Hotel has a restaurant. Near Matagalpa on the Dariense Cordillera.


Geography and Climate

The largest of the Central American Republics, Nicaragua borders Costa Rica to the south and Honduras to the north. It covers 57,143 square miles (about the size of Wisconsin) including the region's largest fresh water lakes-Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua which total 3,500 square miles. The country is divided into three geographic sections: the drier Pacific coastal plain to the west with its low mountain ranges near the sea; the wetter and cooler mountainous extension of the Central American Highlands which runs from northwest to southeast across the middle of the country; and the hot and humid flat Atlantic lowlands along the east coast.

Most of the population is located in western Nicaragua on the fertile lowland Pacific Plains which surround the lakes and extend north to the Gulf of Fonseca. This region is the political and commercial heart of the country. Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua dominate the map of this area, and a series of young volcanoes, many still active, dot the coastal plain paralleling the Central American Highlands. The tallest volcanoes reach 5,700 feet, and two are visible from Managua.

The mountain highland provinces of Matagalpa and Jinotega, northeast of the volcanoes and lakes, are more sparsely populated and Nicaragua's major coffee producing areas. The easternmost section of the highlands receives the warm, wet Caribbean winds and is mainly sparsely settled rain forest, with a few operating gold mines near the town of Bonanza.

Eastern Nicaragua, with one-third of the total national territory which is an area about the size of El Salvador, has about 10% of the population and is tropical rain forests and pine-flats. The region, largely ignored by the Spanish, was a British protectorate until 1860. Even today, many of the people along the Atlantic coast prefer to speak English.

Nicaragua's climate varies with altitude and season. The summer, or dry season, from mid-November to mid-May, is hot and dry, with cooler nights. Winter, better described as the rainy season, from mid-May to mid-November, is hot and humid, with short, heavy tropical showers that may occur daily, often accompanied by violent electrical storms. Streams flood in the rainy season and dry up the rest of the year. The average daily high temperature in Managua ranges from 79°F to 93°F. Nights are usually temperate. Temperatures in the mountains can dip as low as 61°F, while the east coast high may be a humid 84°F.

Nicaragua offers appealing landscapes from the primitive Caribbean island beauty of Corn Island, to the lovely lake views near the colonial city of Granada, to the stark beauty of the semiactive volcano located between Managua and Masaya. Volcanic Lakes Xiloa and Apoyo, near Managua, are excellent for swimming and day sailing, and provide relief from the heat. Pacific Ocean beaches are nearby, and the cooler rainforest mountains of Esteli and Matagalpa are just a few hours drive away. (Note: Accommodations outside Managua are limited. See Recreation and Social Life.)

Managua never fully recovered from the 1972 earthquake, in which the entire city center was destroyed, and suffered further neglect through the 1980s. Today, it remains mostly deserted, with visible earthquake ruins. Managua is now a widely scattered collection of neighborhoods that rim an empty hub, with no centrally located business or shopping district. However, the area near the recently inaugurated Cathedral appears to be becoming the city's new focal point.


In 1995, the Government of Nicaragua conducted a census of the country's population, but the final results of this census have not been published. In 1996, however, voter registration predictions, based on preliminary results of the 1995 census, were found to be underestimated across the board. Observers, therefore, suspect that the 1995 census was flawed, particularly in remote rural areas of north and central Nicaragua, where conditions make it extremely difficult to conduct an accurate census. The national estimate is 4.4 million, with almost 1 million in Managua alone.

Nicaragua's history of political centralism, and geographic and ethnic diversity, has led to the development of three distinct societies. In the western one-third, known as the Pacific and where the bulk of the population, wealth, and political power is concentrated, the people are Spanish-speaking, predominantly Catholic mestizos.

Despite its minute population, the east coast has more ethnic diversity-primarily Caribbean black and Miskito, Sumo, and Rama Indians. These groups differ culturally and linguistically from each other, and, from their Spanish-speaking countrymen in the west and center. The foreign influence in this region, primarily from England but also from the U.S., shares dominance with the Hispanic culture. Caribbean English and Spanish are spoken by many communities of the Caribbean coast, but in the indigenous communities Miskut, Rama, and Sumo predominate.

The central corridor of Nicaragua, where most fighting occurred in the 1980s, has registered tremendous growth, both in terms of population and economic activity, since 1990. This growth is due in part to Nicaraguans returning to their country since the end of the war in 1990. In this region, a largely mestizo, Spanish-speaking population is pushing into areas populated almost exclusively by the indigenous peoples who predominate in the east coast.

Public Institutions

The election held October 20, 1996, culminated Nicaragua's transition to demos racy that began with the 1990 election of President Violeta Chamorro. President Chamorro's tenure followed over 10 year; of Sandinista rule and armed conflict be tween the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS and the Nicaragua Resistance (RN). During President Chamorro's nearly sever years in office, the government achieved major progress toward consolidating democratic institutions, advancing national reconciliation, stabilizing the economy privatizing state-owned enterprises, and reducing human rights violations.

In all, Nicaragua's 35 political parties participated in the 1996 elections, independently or as part of one of five electoral coalitions. With nearly 52% of the vote the center-right Liberal Alliance, a coalition of five political parties and sectors of another two, won the presidency for it leader, Armoldo Aleman, a plurality in the national legislature, and a large majority of the mayoral races. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) ended in second place with 38%. Only two out of 14. 'mayors belong to third parties. The firs transfer of power in recent Nicaraguan his tory from one democratically elected president to another occurred January 10, 1997 with the Aleman administration'; inauguration.

Nicaragua is a constitutional demos racy with executive, legislative, judicial and electoral branches of government. It 1995, the executive and legislative branches negotiated a reform of the 198 Sandinista constitution, giving the National Assembly impressive new powers and in dependence, including over taxation (formerly, an exclusive executive branch power) and the power to elect Supreme Court judges and other important public officials.

Both the President and the Member; of the unicameral National Assembly (legislature) are elected to concurrent five-yea terms. The President is head of state, as well as the head of government.

The National Assembly consists of 90 deputies elected from party lists, draws at the department and national level, plus, those defeated presidential candidates who obtained a minimal quotient of votes. In the 1996 elections, the Liberal Alliance won a plurality of 42 seats, the FSLN won 36 seats, and nine other parties won the remaining 15 seats.

The Supreme Court supervises functioning of a still largely ineffective, and overburdened, judicial system. As part of 1995 constitutional reforms, the Supreme Court's independence was strengthened by increasing the number of magistrates from organizing and conducting elections, plebiscites, and referendums. Magistrates and their alternates are elected to five-year terms by the National Assembly.

Freedom of speech is a right, guaranteed by the Nicaraguan constitution, and vigorously exercised by its people. Diverse viewpoints are freely and openly discussed in the media and in academia. Nicaragua does not use state censorship. Other constitutional freedoms include peaceful assembly and association, freedom of religion, and freedom of movement within the country, as well as foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Domestic and international human rights monitors operate freely within the country.

Both the military and police are increasingly professional and apolitical. In February 1995, General Joaquin Cuadra replaced then-Sandinista army commander General Humberto Ortega, in accordance with a new military code, enacted in 1994. He has espoused greater professionalism in the renamed Army of Nicaragua.

President Aleman has established a civilian-led Ministry of Defense to ensure that civilians assume their appropriate role in setting national defense and security policies. A new police organization law, passed by the National Assembly and signed into law in August 1996, further codified civilian control and professionalizing of that law enforcement agency.

Arts, Science, and Education

The Sandinista regime encouraged the arts, and the current government continues to support them, within budget constraints. There are a National School of Dance, National School of Fine Arts, and a National Conservatory of Music, along with several private schools dedicated to the arts.

Although the works of Nicaraguan plastic artists and artisans are internationally known, the nation's true pride is its poets. Indeed, it has been said that every Nicaraguan is a poet. Ruben Dario, a late 19th-century Nicaraguan poet, is credited with introducing modernism to Spanish poetry. He is internationally known and highly honored in his native land. A museum dedicated to his memory is located in Leon, and the impressive National Theater is named after him.

The national university scene continues to develop, as private universities continue to grow and prosper alongside Nicaragua's traditional, state-funded universities.

The Central American University, UCA, has a law school, social sciences/humanities faculties, and the only journalism program in the country. The National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Leon (UNAN-Leon, enrollment: 7,000 students), was founded in 1812. This state-run university has the most prestigious law and medical schools in Nicaragua. The state-run National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua, UNAN Managua, was founded in 1941 as the Central University of Managua. It was officially part of UNAN-Leon until 1982. Its enrollment is 15,000 students and its degree programs include strong business and economics programs. It is the only university that trains the nation's primary and secondary schoolteachers, including teachers of English.

The Central American Business Administration Institute, INCAS (enrollment: 200 students), offers a solid, U.S.-style graduate business program. In 1996, the MBA program was reinstated after a 13-year absence. The Business School of Harvard University financially supports and exchanges faculty with INCAS.

The private Catholic University, UNICA (enrollment: 1,500 students), opened in 1993 on land donated by the Managua mayor's office. It is openly aligned with the Catholic Church and has right-of-center political interests, but it accepts students (with good grades) of all faiths and political leanings. It is now retrenching after an initial, ambitious growth spurt and has trimmed its course offerings and cut engineering as a major.

The American University, UAM (enrollment: 1,500 students), opened in 1993 in four small buildings, but has expanded dramatically since then. It runs one of only two international relations/diplomacy programs in Nicaragua, has a medical school, and recently established a dentistry program. UAM has recently been concentrating on its business course offerings and developing its computer science program. The University of Mobile Latin American campus (enrollment: 300 students), was founded in San Marcos in 1993. It is a private, U.S.-accredited, English-language branch of the Alabama university of the same name. This campus boasts the most modern facilities in Nicaragua. Each professor reportedly has a Ph.D. or Master's degree. It offers computer science, English literature, marine biology, biology, environmental technology, finance, accounting, business administration, economics, marketing, and tourism degrees. It owns and operates the University Hotel in Jinotepe as part of its hotel and restaurant management program.

The Polytechnical University, UPOLI (enrollment: 2,500 students), is a technical and scientific institution founded in 1967. It is administered by the Baptist Convention, with some government funding. The National Engineering University, UNI (enrollment: 8,000 students), was founded in 1982. Curriculums cover all engineering fields, except agriculture and forestry. UNI does a good job of selling services to the private sector and also receives assistance from European governments. The quality of instruction and equipment is fair but improving. Until SPRINT recently appeared on the scene, UNI served as Nicaragua's hub for Internet users.

The National Agrarian University, UNA (enrollment: 1,500 students), founded in 1990, was previously the Agricultural College of UNAN-Managua. UNA works closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The Centro Cultural Nicaraguense-Norteamericano (CCNN), a nonprofit binational center, offers English-and Spanish-language instruction, a 6,000-volume library of American books, and a wide assortment of U.S. periodicals.

Commerce and Industry

Nicaragua began to institute free market reforms in 1991 after 12 years of economic free fall under the Sandinista regime. Despite some setbacks, the country has made dramatic progress: privatizing almost 350 state enterprises, reducing inflation from 13,490% to 12%, and cutting the foreign debt by 50%. The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew a very strong 5.5% in 1996 (its best performance since 1977). As a result, total GDP reached $2.029 billion.

Despite this growing economy, Nicaragua remains the second poorest nation in the hemisphere with a per capita GDP of $476 (below where it stood before the Sandinista take-over in 1979). Unemployment, although falling, is 16%, and another 36% are underemployed. Nicaragua suffers from persistent trade deficits. That, along with a high-debt service burden and government fiscal deficit, leaves the nation highly dependent on foreign assistance (which equaled 22% of GDP in 1996).

One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export. Exports rose to $70 million in 1996, up 28% from 1995. Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continued to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, during 1996 the total value of nontraditional exports surpassed that of traditional goods for the first time. The fastest growing of these new products were "maquila" goods (apparel), bananas, gold, seafood, and new agricultural products such as sesame, melons, and onions. Rapid expansion of the tourist industry in 1996 made it the nation's third largest source of foreign exchange. The U.S. is the largest trading partner by far; the source of 26% of Nicaragua's imports, and the destination of 45% of its exports.

Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, but construction, mining, fisheries, and general commerce have also been expanding strongly during the last few years. The economy in 1996 saw increasing net inflows of foreign private capital, which totaled about $190 million. The private banking sector continued to expand and strengthen. Private banks, which did not exist six years ago, currently hold 70% of the nation's deposit base.

Nicaragua now appears poised for rapid economic growth. However, long-term success at attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depend on the Nicaraguan Government's ability to stay on track with an International Monetary Fund Program, resolve the thousands of Sandinista-era property confiscation cases, and continue to open its economy to foreign trade.



Because of unreliable public transportation, a car is essential in Managua. The most popular cars are small-sized, four-or six-cylinder, U.S., or Japanese models. Many people, especially those who like to explore off-the-beaten track, have found four-wheel-drive vehicles very useful on Nicaragua's poor road system. High ground clearance for speed bumps and potholes is also an asset, and the high cost of gasoline (some $2.50 a gallon) makes fuel economy a priority. Several Japanese and American (GM and Ford) distributorships have vehicles that sell above U.S. prices, but they do not meet U.S. specifications. Several car rental agencies, including Budget and Avis, have vehicles available at higher U.S. prices.

At Managua's several garages, repair quality varies. Labor is cheaper than in the U.S., but parts and tires cost much more than U.S. prices; and, most parts are not available locally at any price.

Cars shipped to the U.S. Despatch Agent in Miami are surface shipped to Puerto Cortes, Honduras, and transported overland to Managua. Send your car in good mechanical condition with good tires and under-coating. The tropical climate, humidity, rain, dust, and rough road conditions all contribute to heavy wear-and-tear on tires and vehicles. Don't bring a convertible-they offer less protection from the elements and are more susceptible to vandalism.

Unleaded gasoline, including super and diesel, is readily available, but expensive.

All vehicles must have local third party-liability insurance coverage (cost $107) before you receive license plates. Driving, especially at night, is often hazardous due to poor local driving habits, a lack of streetlights, and the rundown condition of vehicles and roads. In addition, pedestrians, vendors, beggars, and animals often wander in the driving lanes with no idea of the dangers they cause to themselves and to others.


Local transportation is crowded with unsafe conditions. Most taxis are mid 70s Japanese models or Soviet-made Ladas in poor condition. Cabdrivers can, and do, pick up additional passengers; therefore, routes are usually indirect. The local bus system connects all parts of the city for a low fare but buses are scarce, uncomfortable, overcrowded (as much as triple the capacity), and in need of repair. Numerous pickup trucks, "camionetas," carry passengers as well. At rush hour, the crowded camionetas resemble cattle trucks.

Drivers who frequently fail to observe traffic rules are at fault in a large percentage of the traffic accidents. The disorderly driving of buses and taxis aggravates the already difficult driving conditions.


Augusto Cesar Sandino Airport, 11 kilometers from Managua, handles international traffic, including jet service.

Managua is currently served by several airlines, including Continental, American, Nica, Aviateca, TACA, COPA, Iberia, and LACSA. American carriers offer daily direct flights to Miami and three times a week to Houston. The national airline, Nica, is the only major airline that provides both domestic and international service. Tickets for all airlines are purchased in U.S. currency, and credit cards are accepted.

Nicaragua has a primary highway system connecting principal cities by paved but poorly maintained roads. The highway network is mostly confined to the populous western part of the country. One paved road extends east to Rama, and an unpaved road goes to Puerto Cabezas; the latter is often impassable in the rainy season. The Pan American Highway (all paved but poorly maintained) is the country's major travel artery. It enters Nicaragua in the north at El Espino and exits in the south at Penas Blancas on the Costa Rican border.

Various privately owned bus companies have lines connecting Managua with all of western Nicaragua. Many are vans. Buses also run on a limited schedule to Costa Rica and Honduras.


Telephone and Telegraph

Local-and long-distance telephone service is available in Managua. International telephone and telegraph are handled by the Nicaraguan Telecommunications and Post Office Company (TELCOR). Direct dialing to the U.S. costs about $1.15 a minute. If you have AT&T, SPRINT, and MCI cards you can make direct calls. The number of telephone lines is severely limited, new phones are hard to obtain, malfunctions occur frequently, and repairs are slow. Local and in-country calls are often difficult to make; overseas calls are more easily made.

Radio and TV

Managua has 120 radio stations broadcasting on both AM and FM. With the return to democracy, censorship has been lifted, and news programs have proliferated. Other offerings are usually limited to music and some religious programming. For best FM reception, bring an external antenna (indoor or outdoor).

Shortwave radio reception is fairly good using built-in antennas. Broadcasts in English by VOA, BBC, and others are common and offer a variety of programs. To operate a ham radio, you must request and receive a license from the Radio Club of Nicaragua. If you are approved, TELCOR issues you permission to go on the air.

The eight TV stations currently on the air include privately run channel 2; Sandinista-affiliated Channel 4; private, conservative, channel 8; privately owned business-oriented channel 10 and channel 12, privately owned channel 19; channel 21, a religious broadcaster, and private music and youth-oriented channel 23. Almost all offer a mix of Latin soap operas, sports, and movies, some of which are dubbed, and some, subtitled. Several cable TV operators are active in the areas in and offer a full range of U.S. programming for about $20-$30 a month.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

Nicaragua's print media are no longer subject to censorship. Managua has four daily newspapers: La Prensa is an independent newspaper owned by former President Chamorro's family; Barricada, no longer the official organ of the FSLN, still favorably reports the Sandinista's programs and views; El Nuevo Diario, which has the largest circulation, is supportive of the Sandinistas but highly critical of the U.S.; La Tribuna, privately owned, conservative, and independent, began publishing in 1993.

Several weekly magazines are published; best known among them are: El Semanario-political news and commentary, generally pro-Sandinista and Confidencial-left-of-center news and commentary.

Several U.S. news and business magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and Fortune, as well as the Miami Herald and the New York Times are available, but slightly delayed, at local newsstands.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Local hospitals are far below U.S. standards; however, considerable improvements have been noted in the Baptist and military hospitals since 1990. Most medicines are available. X-ray, ultrasound, and endoscopy equipment is new. No elective surgery is done incountry. Some emergencies, however, can be, and have been, properly handled. Serious cases can be stabilized and evacuated either by Air Ambulance or commercial airline. Medical evacuations are authorized to Miami. Expectant mothers return to the U.S. for delivery. Many local laboratories are now equipped to perform almost all tests.

Community Health

Reports on local dental care are mixed. Some have had good experiences, but others have not. Some local dentists are well trained, but even those find it difficult to acquire high-quality equipment, which is expensive in a practice setting that will not financially support such purchases. In general, basic dental care (i.e., cleaning, polishing, and fillings) can be done locally. Have more complicated procedures, such as root canals, done elsewhere. Orthodontic care is available and at a lower cost than in the U.S.

Opticians and optometrists are available, and lens-grinding facilities exist and can be used if needed. Prices are higher than the level of quality warrants and, if you need glasses, bring them. Bring sunglasses also.

Public sanitation measures are rudimentary at best with resulting health and hygiene hazards. Garbage collection is erratic and collection areas are usually strewn with refuse, which is scattered by impoverished individuals "dumpster diving" in search of usable items and feral dogs and rodents foraging for something edible.

Shanty towns, without water or sewage systems, have sprung up in every neighborhood. These areas are a reservoir of contagious illnesses such as typhoid, cholera, infectious hepatitis, and mosquito-borne illnesses.

Despite local government efforts to maintain the water system, and even chlorinate the water supply, the water system is aging and has been a victim of earthquakes, illegal tapping into the water mains by shanty town residents that increases the risk of contamination, and frequent water shortages in the dry season that leave stagnant water in the system that appears at faucets when the flow is restored. For these reasons, regard suspiciously any water that has not been boiled, or otherwise treated. Carry bottled water when you travel outside Managua.

Mosquito-borne illnesses are endemic. Malaria, in the form of vivax malaria, is present in most parts of the country, and dengue-fever infection rates are the hemisphere's highest. Budget restrictions severely hinder mosquito spraying to limited times and areas, which is only minimally effective.

Most food sold in public markets is handled and stored in unsanitary conditions. Perishable items in these markets are not well refrigerated, and erratic power supplies make proper storage impossible even in those shops that have refrigeration.

Suitable facilities are not available for the handicapped.

Preventive Measures

Typhoid, polio, tetanus, and diphtheria vaccinations are recommended before leaving the U.S. Incidents of infectious hepatitis are increasing in Nicaragua, and Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccine are recommended as a preventive measure.

Intestinal diseases affect everyone at one time or another, but you can experience fewer episodes if you take suitable precautions with food, your personal hygiene, and your household help. Boil or filter drinking water and water for ice. Fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly, peeled, or soaked in chlorine (chlorox) or iodine solution. Cook meats and seafood well before eating. If intestinal diseases occur, you can find medications to deal with them at local pharmacies.

During the dry season, dust and wind make life uncomfortable for those who suffer from sinusitis, allergies, and other respiratory ailments. Asthmatics must also contend with mold that forms during the rainy season; however, using a room dehumidifier can help relieve the problem.

The most hazardous insects in Managua are houseflies, mosquitoes, spiders, and scorpions. Roaches, ants, and other common household insects can be controlled with aerosol bombs. Regular fumigation is necessary. Poisonous snakes are seen occasionally.

Malaria is a hazard. It is recommended that chloroquine, a malaria suppressant, is taken weekly. Several U.S. travelers have been affected by dengue fever which, at times, reaches epidemic proportions. Keeping bedroom windows screened, or closed with air-conditioning, cuts down on possibility of mosquito bites. Mosquito netting is a good idea, especially for small children, and you can purchase it locally.


Passage, Customs & Duties

A U.S. passport, valid for six months beyond the duration of the visit, is required to enter Nicaragua. Tourists must also have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. U.S. citizens do not require a visa, but a tourist card valid for 90 days must be purchased upon arrival. Tourist card fees and airport departure taxes must be paid in U.S. dollars. Visitors remaining more than 90 days must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan immigration. Failure to do so prevents departure until a fine is paid. For further information regarding entry, departure, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Nicaragua at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington D.C. 20009; telephone (202) 939-6570 or (202) 939-6531; e-mail; or a Nicaraguan consulate in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, or San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Although many restaurants and hotels now accept credit cards, especially in Managua, acceptance is not as widespread as in the U.S. Travelers checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio"). There are few automatic teller machines, particularly outside Managua. English is not widely spoken.

Nicaragua is prone to a wide variety of natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Nicaragua are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Managua and obtain updated information on travel and security in Nicaragua. The U.S. Embassy is located at Kilometer 4½ (4.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 266-6010 or 268-0123; after hours telephone (505) 266-6038; Consular Section fax (505)266-9943;; web page


Pets must have a certificate of rabies vaccine, health certificate, and certificate of origin (pet shop receipt, veterinarian's proof of origin, etc.) The health certificate must be certified by the Nicaraguan Embassy or Consulate before departing for Managua. Send the following information in advance of arrival: a) pet's species, b) breed, c) name, d) color, e) weight, f) sex, and g) height (in inches).

Firearms and Ammunition

Government of Nicaragua regulations require clear proof of ownership during customs inspection. A Government of Nicaragua firearms permit application must be filled out (with accompanying photos of the applicant).

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

All currency transactions are regulated by the Government of Nicaragua. The official unit of money is the cordoba, exchanged (September 1999) at a rate of 012.04 (cordobas) to US$1. Local currency can be obtained at licensed money exchangers (Casas de Cambio) or local banks. All other currency transactions are illegal and should be avoided. U.S. currency can be obtained and personal checks may be cashed at Bancentro.

Nicaragua is partially on the metric system; weight is normally measured in pounds rather than kilograms, but distance is measured in kilometers.

No limitation is placed on amount of dollars or traveler's checks you can bring into the country. Traveler's checks are accepted by local banks, but the rate is likely to be below that available at a Casa de Cambio.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar/Apr. Holy Thursday*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Holy Saturday*

Mar/Apr. Easter Sunday*

May 1 Labor Day

July 19 Anniversary of the Revolution

Sept. 14 Battle of San Jacinto

Sept. 15 Independence Day

Dec. 8 Immaculate Conception

Dec. 25 Christmas Day



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Most current literature on Nicaragua was written in 1980s. Many of these books are biased toward one side or the other of the civil war that ravaged Nicaragua during that decade. A few books of a general nature on Nicaragua and its people are listed here. Most information on Nicaragua is included in larger studies on Central America.

Federal Research Division Library of Congress. Nicaragua: A Country Study. (Area Handbook Series.) 1994.

Barrios de Chamorro, Violeta. Dreams of the Heart. (1996). The autobiography of President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

Christian, Shirley. Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family.

Cuadra, Pablo Antonio. El Nicaraguense.

Deidrich, Bernard. Somoza. Gallegois, Paco. Nicaragua Tierra de Maravillas.

Garner, J.D. Historia de Nicaragua.

Garvin, Glenn. Everybody Had His Own Gringo!

Harrison, Lawrence. Underdevelopment is a State of Mind. (Contains a section comparing Nicaragua and Costa Rica).

Herrera Zuniga, Rene. Nicaragua, El derrumbe Negociado, Los avatares dc un Cambio de Regimen. (1994).

Kaplan, Robert. A Twilight Struggle. A voluminous analysis of U.S. Policy on Nicaragua.

Kinzer, Stephen. Blood of Brothers.

Nunez, Orlando, ed. Nunez, Orlando et al. La Guerra y el Campesinado en Nicaragua. (A Sandinista analysis of the causes for the emergency of the Nicaraguan Resistance.)

Randall, Margaret. Sandnno' Daughters. Sandnno' Daughters Revisited: Feminism in Nicaragua. Las Relaciones internacionaels y la formacion del poderpolitico en Nicaragua. (1991).

Schwartz, Stephen. A Strange Silence: The Emergence of Democracy in Nicaragua. (1992)

Spalding, Rose J. Capitalists and Revolution in Nicaragua: Opposition and Accommodation 1979-1993.

Vilas, Carlos M. Between Earthquakes anc Volcanoes: Market, State, and the Revolutions in Central America.

Waiter, Knut. The Regime of Anastasio Somoza, 1936-1956.

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Nicaragua
Region (Map name): North & Central America
Population: 4,918,393
Language(s): Spanish (official)
Literacy rate: 65.7%
Area: 129,494 sq km
GDP: 2,396 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 3
Number of Television Sets: 320,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 65.1
Number of Cable Subscribers: 55,080
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 10.8
Number of Radio Stations: 96
Number of Radio Receivers: 1,240,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 252.1
Number of Individuals with Computers: 45,000
Computers per 1,000: 9.1
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 50,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 10.2

Background & General Characteristics

Since the 1970s, war, earthquakes, hurricanes, and famine have taken their toll on Nicaragua. Nicaragua managed to survive the 1980s when the Sandinista-Contra war polarized the country in a brutal civil war. Peace, however, has been less than kind since it came accompanied with natural disasters, like Hurricane Mitch in 1998 that killed over 2,000 people, made hundreds of thousands homeless, and left the country with billions in damage.

Bordered by Costa Rica and Honduras, Nicaragua has about 5 million people most of whom are mestizos (mixed European and indigenous heritage). One out of every five Nicaraguans lives in Managua, the capital city. The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua covers 130,688 square kilometers. The dominant language is Spanish (95 percent) with English Creole and Miskito spoken to some extent in the Caribbean region. Most people are Roman Catholic but evangelical Protestantism is making great headway in the region in general.

The country has 36 political parties but most forge alliances with like-minded groups in the political elections. The center-right Liberal Alliance has been in power since 1996. The adult illiteracy rate averages 34 percent; in Latin America as a whole, the average is approximately 13 percent. The nation's gross domestic product makes Nicaragua one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphereonly Haiti ranks lower in terms of per capita gross domestic product. The nation has also suffered from unemployment rates that have reached as high as 80 percent. As these statistics suggest, Nicaragua is a country of extremes with only a very small middle class wedged between the very wealthy and very poor. The United Nations Population Fund estimated that in 1998 about 70 percent of Nicaraguans were living on less than US $1 a day.

Despite the fact that the majority of the population cannot afford to buy a newspaper, the press plays a fundamental role in national affairs and in the formation and expression of elite as well as broader public opinion. Nicaraguan journalism has been intricately bound up with the nation's political and ideological struggles. Traditionally, politicians have owned the media and use it as an instrument to bestow favors upon their political allies or to attack adversaries. Despite the fact that the nation's civil war has ended and the country has embarked on the same neo-liberal political and economic programs of the majority of its Latin American neighbors, the press remains polarized between supporters and detractors of the parties who are in power.

In 1502, the first Europeans came to Nicaragua. In 1522, a Spanish exploratory mission reached the southern shores of Lago de Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua). A few years later the Spanish colonized the region and founded the cities of Granada and León. The two cities developed into two bitterly opposed political factions. The conservatives who supported the traditional landed classes and the Catholic Church were based in the rich colonial city of Granada while León became a center for the country's political elite, adherents to political and economic liberalism. Liberals supported the interests of merchants and smaller farmers and the opening up of trade.

Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821, along with the rest of Central America. It was part of Mexico for a brief time, then part of the Central American Federation, and finally achieved complete independence in 1838. The first printing press arrived in Granada a few years after independence in 1829, relatively late by Latin American standards. Not to be outdone by their antagonists, a press began operating in León in 1833. Soon after, the next three largest cities had type shops and presses. The first newspaper, Gaceta de Nicaragua, began in August 1830, the second, La Opinión Pública, in 1833. These first newspapers were of small size and few pages, and usually reprinted laws and governmental decrees. After 1840, the newspapers improved in quality and quantity, inserting essays, editorials and verse among the official decrees. At the same time, the elite began publishing broadsides to disseminate information, usually political in nature. Libraries were not common and printed material as well as education remained out of reach for all but the nation's elite.

After independence, Britain and the United States both became extremely interested in Nicaragua and the strategically important Río San Juan navigable passage from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean. In 1848, the British seized the port and renamed it Greytown. It became a major transit point for hordes of hopefuls looking for the quickest route to Californian gold.

In 1855, the liberals of León invited William Walker, a self-styled filibuster intent on taking over Latin American territory, to help seize power from the conservatives based in Granada. Walker and his band of mercenaries took Granada easily, and he proclaimed himself president. He was soon booted out of the country (one of his first acts was to institutionalize slavery) and eventually killed when he tried to come back.

Walker foreshadowed continual U.S. intervention in the nation. For example, the U.S. Marines were stationed there between 1912 and 1925, ostensibly to support democracy in the region, but more concerned with U.S. investments that would profit from political stability. In 1926, the contentious divisions between the nation's conservative and liberal factions were still aflame and the Marines intervened whenever things got too hot.

The turbulent 1920s resulted in the political arrival of two men who would leave their legacies on the nation: Augusto Sandino, a Liberal general, and Anastasio Somoza, head of the Nicaraguan National Guard that had been trained by the Marines. Somoza took power and gave the orders to assassinate his enemy, Sandino, on February 21, 1934. The socialist-leaning Sandinistas took their name from Somoza's martyred opponent.

Somoza was assassinated in 1956 but the dynasty continued with his sons who ruled Nicaragua until 1979. They amassed great wealth, including land holdings equal to the size of El Salvador. Many journalists were killed during this time. Somoza had his own newspaper, Novedades, and promoted media owned and controlled by family and friends. There were violent repercussions for any journalists who criticized the National Guard. Somoza's indefatigable opponent, La Prensa, was often censored and had to dispatch news critical of Somoza from the radio airwaves of Radio Sandino.

The beginning of the end for the dictatorship came when a 1972 earthquake devastated the capital city. The Somozas pocketed a good portion of the foreign aid that came in at this time, going so far as to sell for profit the donated blood that was supposed to be given to the quake victims. Clearly, the Somoza era was not a great time for freedom of the press. The number of daily newspapers declined from nine in 1950 to four in 1972. After the earthquake, only two newspapers continued to operate: La Prensa and Novedades.

The Somoza's iron-fist approach to rule inevitably led to the development of a strong opposition. The dynasty's most powerful media opponent was La Prensa, edited by Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal. Chamorro came from one of the most prominent families in the countrythe Chamorros were known for their intellectual and reformist streak. Many of the family members had worked as journalists and more than one have served as president at some time (Fruto Chamorro was Nicaragua's first president; three other Chamorros presided over the nation between 1875 and 1923). Needless to say, Pedro Chamorro's demise at the hands of Somoza's assassins in 1978 was not an event taken lightly. Rather, Chamorro's murder turned into the spark that ignited the powder keg of Nicaraguan politics. A bloody revolution followed, and a coalition of Somoza's opponents placed the Sandinistas in power in 1979.

The Sandinistas inherited a poverty-stricken country with high rates of homelessness and illiteracy and insufficient health care. The new government nationalized the lands of the Somozas and established farming cooperatives. They waged a massive education campaign that reduced illiteracy from 50 to 13 percent. They also built up a large state apparatus that closely controlled the media.

From the U.S. point of view, the Sandinista victory turned Nicaragua into a teetering domino poised to fall onto the rest of Central America. In this scenario, one communist nation would topple neighboring "democratic" regimes ultimately turning the "backyard" of the United States into one large swath of communism. Seeing red, so to speak, one of Ronald Reagan's first projects upon taking office in 1981 was to suspend aid to Nicaragua and then to allocate US $10 million for the organization of counter-revolutionary groups known as Contras. The Sandinistas responded by using much of the nation's resources to defend themselves against the US-funded insurgency. The Contras and Sandinistas engaged in a devastating civil war for many years, and over 50,000 lives were lost.

In 1984, elections were held in which Daniel Ortega, the leader of the Sandinistas, won 67 percent of the vote. The following year, the United States imposed a trade embargo that lasted five years and strangled Nicaragua's economy. Even though the U.S. Congress passed a number of bills that called for an end to the funding, U.S. support for the Contras continued secretly until the so-called Irangate scandal revealed that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had illegally sold weapons to Iran at inflated prices, and used the profits to fund the Contras.

In 1990, Nicaraguans went to the polls and, to the great surprise of many, elected Violeta Chamorro, leader of the opposition party, UNO, and widow of martyred editor Pedro Chamorro. She proclaimed an end to fighting and announced unconditional amnesty for political crimes. Sandinistas still had strong representation in the National Assembly and they continued to control the armed forces and labor unions. During her time in office, Violeta Chamorro worked toward consolidating democratic institutions, greatly reducing the size of the military, privatizing state-owned enterprises, and fortifying the freedom of the press.

Apologizing for Sandinista "excesses" and calling himself a centrist, Ortega ran for office in 1996. He was defeated by the ex-mayor of Managua, anticommunist Liberal Alliance candidate, Arnoldo Alemán who took office in 1997. Alemán's presidency was marked by a bitter relationship with the press. During his rule, journalists complained of constant violations, mistreatment, threats of imprisonment, and verbal repression. Alemán left office amidst charges of corruption in 2001. His vice-president, Enrique Bolaños, won the 2001 election, defeating his Sandinista opponent, the ubiquitous Ortega. Although they may not hold the presidency, the Sandinistas remain a powerful political party.

As the history of the nation suggests, the communications media play a fundamental role in national affairs. Journalists and journalism have been intricately tied to the nation's power brokers, who often owned the primary media instruments. Thus, media laws and the extent to which they are protected or enforced vary greatly from president to president. The country's dramatic political and economic shifts, from the dictatorship of the Somoza dynasty to the Marxist Sandinistas to the recent trend of neo-liberalism, have forced the media to rapidly change with the times as well.

Nicaragua currently has three daily newspapers, of which La Prensa is the oldest and most established. The paper was founded with a political pedigree beginning as an instrument of the Conservative Party to battle the Liberals headed by the Somozas. Pedro Chamorro, Sr., became editor of the paper in 1930 and bought it in 1932. Pedro Chamorro, Jr., became the editor in 1952 after his father's death. After the younger Chamorro was assassinated in 1978, the paper continued to be published with a large photo of him appearing on the cover, turning the martyred editor into a powerful symbol of the brutality of the Somoza regime. The National Guard burned down La Prensa 's offices in 1979 but succeeded only in shutting down the paper for a few months.

La Prensa is considered Nicaragua's leading newspaper. It has been a powerful political instrument that continued its opposition stance even during the Sandinista era. (It originally supported the Sandinistas but soon began opposing them.) Since 1998, the news staff has undertaken more investigative reporting and political cartoons take aim at the entire political spectrum.

When Chamorro's widow, Violeta Chamorro, became president, the paper had to create a new identity from its former role as constant opponent to the ruling party. Coverage during her presidency fluctuated a great deal; sometimes the paper was closely aligned with the government and at other times opposed it. In 1996, it began to be distributed in the morning, ending its run as an afternoon paper. It also revamped its look. Two years later, when the Liberal Alliance took power, the long-time editor, Pablo Antonio Cuadra Cardenal, resigned, and three other editors left to start the newspaper La Noticia, supporting Alemán. La Prensa, as a result, became more critical of the ruling Liberal government. In an attempt to break away from a political affiliation with the Chamorro family, this new La Prensa prohibited the employment of other members of that family.

La Prensa is a broadsheet and uses six columns on the front page. It has a series of weekly supplements including La Prensa Literaria, an eight-page tabloid-sized literary supplement. It has a daily features section and a weekly magazine that comprises several pages. It also has a children's supplement and a popular commentary section that features political cartoons and spoofs of politicians from the entire political spectrum. It averages 36 pages. La Prensa 's most popular topics are government actions, reports, speeches, decrees or rulings and coverage of municipal issues. It also emphasizes economic news.

La Noticia de Managua opened on May 3, 1999 backed by the three top editors were from La Prensa. The newspaper attempted to cover more positive news stories than the other primary dailies and also filled a gap as the only afternoon newspaper. La Noticia cost the same as the three other primary papers: La Tribuna, La Prensa, and El Nuevo Diario (3 córdobas ). It remains the country's only afternoon paper. La Noticia 's editors say that the paper is independent and not affiliated with a political party, citing the fact that it has seventy different investors in the enterprise. However, there has been evidence that the paper benefited from Alemán's presidency since it received a larger portion of governmental advertising than other the other dailies which had much larger circulation rates. La Noticia concentrates its coverage on Managua rather than the nation as a whole.

The Chamorro family was by no means monolithic in its political affiliation and their involvement in the press reflects a wide range of ideologies. Early on the family was torn about their support of the Sandinistas. Pedro and Violeta's four children reflect this. Their son, Pedro Joaquín, led La Prensa in opposition to the Sandinistas. Carlos Chamorro, on the other hand, took over the official Sandinista daily, Barricada. The daughters followed the ideological split of the sons with Cristiana working at La Prensa, whereas Claudia became the Sandinistas' ambassador to Costa Rica.

Pedro Chamorro's brother, Xavier Chamorro, started El Nuevo Diario at the outset of the Sandinista revolution in 1980. The newspaper attempted to counter the coverage of La Prensa, which Xavier felt was too critical of the Sandinistas. Most of the Sandinista-supporting staff of La Prensa moved to El Nuevo Diario at its inception.El Nuevo Diario remained a Sandinista newspaper although it did criticize the party at times. This newspaper has the highest circulation in the country. It specializes in big headlines, crime stories and government scandals. It has been quite independent from the current liberal government.

About 80 percent of its issues are sold on the streets. It has the largest circulation of all of the dailies and this helps the paper remain independent since it does not need to rely on advertising as much as the other papers. The newspaper has a stable staff employing many of the nation's top reporters and photographers. Overall, however, the paper has a reputation for being sensationalistic although it has undertaken a good deal of investigative reports exposing governmental corruption.

The paper eschews too much use of color in its publication saying that the cost would not be recouped in sales. It is a broadsheet and uses five column widths on the front page. Its headlines are about three times larger than La Prensa ; it also makes generous use of subheadings, giving it a busy look. In content, it covers the same type of stories covered by La Prensa but has less emphasis on economic matters. It relies more than the others on stories of crime, corruption, and scandal to sell papers. It averages 21 pages.

Due to the tight alignment between the press and politics, a change in political leadership can have devastating effects on newspapers. The following two publications, for example, were important publications but have recently closed. La Tribuna was started in 1993 by banker Haroldo Montealegre who ran for president in 1996. La Tribuna suffered from poor circulation and finally closed in 2000. Although the newspaper was independent it, not surprisingly, supported Montealegre's run for president. La Tribuna had a high rate of employment turnover, making the paper appear questionable to much of the public, who also noticed its shifting political alliance. It began as a black-and-white tabloid but then turned to a broadsheet style in February 1994. In 1997, the paper added new sections, including a culture magazine on Fridays, and stressed its political independence. It averaged 21 pages.

Barricada was started by the Sandinistas in 1979 shortly after the revolution. It was the official paper of the Sandinistas. The newspaper got an unintended helping hand from Somoza when his paper Novedades donated its office equipment and supplies to the Sandinista start-up. Barricada 's name referred to the barricades set up in many areas during the revolution to prevent the National Guard from entering. The newspaper was edited by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, son of Pedro and Violeta Chamorro. Barricada was primarily political and represented Sandinista ideas in its first years. However, in the 1990s, the paper became increasingly sensationalistic. In 1994 the Sandinista party replaced Carlos Chamorro with Tomás Borge, the former Nicaraguan Ministry of the Interior. At this point about 80 percent of the journalists left, further damaging the paper's credibility with the public.

An additional problem faced by Barricada was the fact that the ruling Liberal government pulled back state advertisements in an attempt to challenge the newspaper. This resulted in a 75 percent drop in advertising. Barrica da closed in January 1998. Two months later it reopened as the official Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) weekly newspaper. Dependent on local party members for its circulation, Barricada 's new incarnation proved brief: the paper closed down in July of 1998. While it existed, it averaged 17 pages in length and like the other papers in the nation was a broadsheet. Borge, the publisher, blamed the paper's woes largely on the administration of President Alemán, accusing him of instituting a governmental advertising embargo against the newspaper that had slowly strangled it. Alemán denied the charges saying that the paper was poorly managed.

The degree to which this small nation can sustain its three dailies is questionable. All newspapers suffer from low circulation. El Diario has the greatest circulation followed by La Prensa, La Tribuna (until it closed), and then La Noticia. Circulation numbers vary from one source to another, ranging from 50,000 to 135,000 papers sold daily. In 1996, UNESCO estimated the circulation of daily newspapers as 32 per 1,000 inhabitants, down from 50 in 1990.

Newspaper circulation has decreased for a few reasons. One, the economy is so bad that the majority cannot afford a paper. Two, peace sells fewer newspapers than wartimecirculation rates increase considerably during moments of crisis in Nicaragua. Newspapers, however, had substantial influence on other forms of media as radio and TV stations often took their lead stories from the headlines of the printed press.

Several other weekly newspapers and magazines exist. Bolsa de Noticias is published each weekday. It was founded in 1974. It has brief news items and covers business interests thoroughly. It costs about US $360 a year to subscribe. Confidencial is a weekly newsletter headed by Carlos Chamorro (former Barricada editor). It costs about US $150 a year to subscribe. The readers of these tend to be government officials, business owners, and journalists. Other weeklies include 7 Días and El Semanario.

Most print media is centered in Managua. In rural areas, radio is much more important, and the number of radio stations has greatly increased over the last decade or so.

Economic Framework

The prevailing economic ideology, dictated by the likes of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, involves widespread privatization and deregulation. This high-speed "structural adjustment" has reduced inflation, provided ready cash for the business elite and left much of the rest of the country unemployed or in a state of sticker shock. The good news is that throughout this period human rights have largely been respected and the country's battles are now confined to the political arena.

Nicaragua is the biggest country in Central America but its gross domestic products is less than one-ninth of that in neighboring Costa Rica. Lacking substantial mineral resources, the country has traditionally relied on agricultural exports to sustain its economy. The Sandinista-Contra war took a heavy toll on the nation's economy. By 1990, when the Sandinistas were defeated in elections held as part of a peace agreement, Nicaragua's per capita income had fallen by over 33 percent from its 1980 level, its infrastructure was in tatters and its modest tourism industry had all but collapsed. The advent of peace brought some economic growth, lower inflation and lower unemployment.

In terms of the media, there have been frequent charges that the government has tried to control the press by selectively doling out governmental advertisements. These charges were especially prolific during Alemán's administration. Many newspapers that published articles criticizing his government saw a drastic reduction in government advertising, whereas those favorable to his administration received the bulk of it.

Alemán's government was the country's largest advertiser. La Prensa denounced the government tax agency for placing 6.4 times more advertising with La Noticia than with La Prensa during a six-month period, even though La Prensa 's circulation was almost 10 times that of La Noticia. In 1998, two large governmental agencies did suspend their ads in La Prensa.

The government has also been charged with harassing papers by overzealous taxation. La Prensa decried government attempts to collect more than US $500,000 in tax penalties from the paper. The penalties resulted from a 1999 audit that was conducted shortly after La Prensa published a report on government corruption. Television channels 2 and 8 also complained that they were being fiscally punished by the Alemán government for their negative coverage of his administration.

Even Alemán's attempt to pass a minimum wage law for journalists was controversial. The new bill, passed in 2000, established a special schedule for journalists that is separate from the national minimum wage bill. It is feared that the enforcement of this law could reduce the news flow to the Nicaraguan people because many media organizations would have to reduce their coverage.

The recently elected president, Enrique Bolaños, a member of the same party as his predecessor, Alemán, announced that his policies on the media and placement of government advertising would be a departure from Alemán's. He promised to end the policies of awards and punishments used in placement of government advertising. Instead, government advertising would be placed according to readership surveys and circulation. Bolaños has also promised that the government-owned television and radio stations would be used for cultural purposes and not partisan political programs.

Although Bolaños has promised these reforms, as of 2002 it was still too early to see if effective action had been taken. There have already been signs of tension between Bolaños and the press. For example, radio commentator Emilio Núñez was dismissed from a program he ran on Radio Corporación by the stockholder and manger Fabio Gadea Mantilla after Núñez reported an alleged government plan to force the company's journalists into submission with an economic stranglehold. Bolaños said he had nothing to do with the case and that he would adhere to the Declaration of Chapultepec in placement of government advertising. Bolaños was referring a conference that took place in Mexico in 1994 also known as the "Hemisphere Conference on Free Speech," sponsored by the Inter-American Press Association. The declaration established 10 principles that should be in place for freedom of the press to exist. One of the principles states: "There must be a clear distinction between news and advertising." Bolaños had already signed the Declaration of Chapultepec when he was a presidential candidate.

Bolaños took advantage of Nicaraguan Journalists Day, March 1, to reiterate that government advertising would be distributed fairly. He also said that he had reviewed the former administration's advertising policies and noted that he found many irregularities, promising to publish the finalized results.

La Noticia has recently alleged that it is discriminated against in the placement of government advertising. The newspaper complained, for example, that on Journalists' Day of 2002, La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario received ads congratulating journalists that measured 90 column-inches each, whereas La Noticia received the same ad reduced to 30 column-inches. Surveys by the Nicaraguan Advertising Agency Organization, however, show that La Noticia 's circulation is less than 3 percent of that of the other publications. La Noticia complained that, in general, it receives just half a page of ads from the government whereas La Prensa receives two pageseach day and El Nuevo Diario receives one page. This, however, may be a case of sour grapes, since in 1999 when La Noticia had only 2 percent of the nation's total newspaper circulation, it received almost 25 percent of the government ads.

There is some skepticism that Bolaños will ultimately not be too far separated from Alemán's policies since they are from the same political party and Bolaños had served as Alemán's vice president since 1996. However, Bolaños has sought to distance himself from Alemán's stained reputation, promising to fight corruption and ensure freedom of the press. Indeed, Bolaños's treatment of Alemán's pet, La Noticia, suggests that he is forging his own path. Bolaños's press secretary disclosed that he was a stockholder in La Noticia and, as such, he believes thatLa Noticia should be closed because its circulation is low and it is not profitable. The newspaper and other media outlets that support the Liberal Alliance of Alemán reacted to his statements by accusing the Bolaños government of threatening press freedom.

Although Alemán is no longer president, he wields considerable power as head of the National Assembly. In March 2002, for example, he accused Octavio Sacasa, news director and general manger of Channel 2 television, of allegedly threatening him with death. Sacasa emphatically denied Alemán's charge and, in turn, accused the former president of trying to intimidate the media to prevent further reporting on corruption. As of mid-2002, this case was still pending.

The Bolaños administration has not turned away from investigating many charges about Alemán's alleged corruption. Currently, the government is investigating a fraudulent contract through which the state television channel, Channel 6, reportedly lost US $1.35 million. The scheme is said to have included 35 participants, including Alemán and the former Mexican Ambassador to Nicaragua. The case involves a contract for Mexico's TV Azteca to provide programming to Channel 6 through a newly formed Panamanian company, Servicios Internacionales Casco. The deal was allegedly used to import duty-free equipment into Nicaragua. There were charges that those involved tried to collect on a US $350,000 check that the government's Nicaraguan Tourism Institute had issued to Channel 6. A former Channel 6 director has also been implicated.

Press Laws

The Nicaraguan constitution provides that "Nicaraguans have the right freely to express their ideas in public or in private, individually or collectively, verbally, in writing or by any other means." However, there are a number of other laws and regulations that chip away at freedom of the press.

In 1995, the Constitution of 1987 was reformed and several new articles were added related to the press. For example, Article 68 declared that the media had a social role to fulfill and that its practitioners should have access to all of the nation's citizenry in order to fulfill their role. This article also exempts media companies from taxes on importing newsprint, machinery, equipment and spare parts intended for use by the print and broadcast media. The constitution also prohibits prior censorship. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, there have been some small steps both forward and backward in regard to press freedom and legislation. In May 2000, the National Assembly approved a version of the new criminal code that includes a guarantee for the right of information. However, the code also includes individual privacy protection, a provision that may hamper investigative reporting.

Journalists are also subject to lawsuits in regard to libel and slander. Many cases finding journalists guilty of slander, however, have been overturned including a 1997 case that found La Prensa president Jaime Chamor ro guilty of libeling La Tribuna editor Montealegre. A libel and defamation suit against Tomás Borge, editor of Barricada, was dismissed after he apologized in court and in print to a congressional candidate whom Barricada had said was a shareholder in the firm that prints election ballots.

In December 2000, Nicaragua passed an extremely controversial bill requiring the compulsory registration of journalists in the colegio (professional association) of journalists in Nicaragua. In 1985, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica ruled that laws requiring the mandatory licensing of journalists violate the American Convention on Human Rights. These colegio laws have often been controversial in Latin America. The United States and many Latin American news organizations view colegio laws as government attempts to control the press. The laws are regularly condemned during meetings of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the major media watchdog group in the Western Hemisphere.

The law requires all journalists to register as members of the institute and have a journalism diploma and proof of at least five years experience in the profession. The law was first passed on December 13, 2000, after which Alemán introduced amendments providing for jail terms of up to six months for anyone who worked as a journalist without registering with the colegio. The appeal of the constitutionality of this law, brought before the Supreme Court, has not yet been decided.

In December 2001, several liberal legislators proposed a Law of Restrictions on Pornographic Publications. Although a law against pornography would not violate press freedom, the proposed law would give governmental committees authority to restrict and punish publication of what it considers pornographic or violent. The law also authorizes the closing of a written publication's pornography sections if an offense recurs. As of mid-2002, the law was pending approval.

In terms of the broadcast media in 1996, a general law of telecommunications and postal services was passed requiring that information transmitted should not be contrary to the customs and moral values of the nation. It also established the conditions for the awarding of technical concessions and operating licenses. The majority of radio stations are operated on a small-scale by volunteers. These radio stations are not regulated.


During the late 1990s and early 2000s there were very few incidences of outright censorship in Nicaragua. The IAPA confirmed that freedom of the press had improved dramatically since the days of the Somoza dictatorship and the Sandinista government. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and a free press, and the government, in general, respects these rights in practice. The privately owned print media, the broadcast media, and academic circles freely and openly discussed diverse viewpoints in public discourse without government interference. This was not always the case. The Somozas regularly censored the opposition newspaper La Prensa. During the 1970s, as the press became increasingly critical, censorship was increasingly used to control it.

Likewise, the Sandinistas used censorship as a tool in an attempt to restrain an unfavorable press. The Sandinista party declared a state of emergency as a result of the Contra war, giving itself broad power to restrict press rights. It shut down La Prensa many times. The process of getting the newspaper's content reviewed on a daily basis grew increasingly lengthy (about 7 hours in the mid-1980s). This put the paper at a disadvantage for obvious reasons and also because it forced the paper to hit the stands hours after the Sandinista morning papers, Barricada and El Nuevo Diario.

On several occasions during the 1989-90 electoral campaign, international observer missions expressed their concerns that mud-slinging in the media on both sides threatened to undermine an otherwise orderly and clean election. There have been other intermittent charges of actual censorship cases. For example, former vice-president Sergio Ramirez Mercado sent a letter to President Violeta Chamorro declaring that he had been censored on the state-owned television channel. Ramirez insisted that Chamorro had banned the broadcast of his interview scheduled on the cultural program, "This is Nicaragua." The presidential media chief denied the charges.

In terms of broadcast media, there has not been any official state censorship practiced and journalists say that little self-censorship has occurred.

State-Press Relations

The relations between the state and the press fluctuate according to the political climate of the times. Despite charges against the Sandinistas for exercising acts of censorship in the news media, there is evidence that the Sandinistas also made attempts to transform the media institutions as a source of empowerment for the citizens. Such initiatives were based on a democratic model of media structure and access unique in Latin America. Its features included an attempt to balance the ownership of media outlets among public, private, and cooperative forms; to encourage political and ideological pluralism in media content; and to promote popular participation and horizontal communication through the mass media.

The underlying philosophy was that the media, instead of serving the narrow interests of a wealthy elite, should become the vehicles for expression of the opinions of the broad majority of society, and that notions of social responsibility should guide the media's activities as opposed to narrowly defined profit motives. For example, the Sandinistas banned the use of women's bodies to advertise products. However, many of their experiments in participatory and community radio, popular access to state-owned television, and the birth of dozens of new print publications were cut short by war-related restrictions and economic constraints.

Violeta Chamorro's presidency beginning in 1990 was accompanied by major shakeups in the ownership and content of many of the country's existing media outlets as well as the creation of dozens of new ones. La Prensa found itself confronted with a serious dilemma. For decades the paper's mystique had been built upon its image as the "bastion of opposition." In a political culture that thrived on criticism of those in power and opposition to anything associated with the government, the paper suddenly became the semi-official mouthpiece of the country's president. For the most part, the newspaper largely avoided excesses of "officialdom", which had been part of the problem with Barricada during the Sandinista's rule.

Perhaps the greatest changes under Chamorro's presidency had to do with the dramatic transformation of the advertising industry from one that had previously been state-controlled and anti-capitalistic to an unfettered media-based advertising model. Between 1990 and 1994 at least 21 new advertising agencies were launched where only one had existed before. The lack of a mass consumer base, however, meant that these advertisers had to accept the reality of selling to a tiny elite. Advertising expenditures as a result dropped greatly between 1992 and 1995.

The Nicaragua media encountered problems in 1994 because every news outlet was somehow linked or openly affiliated with a political party. In this year there were many incidents of physical abuse by police against reporters covering demonstrations or other public disturbances. For example, an internal conflict between radicals and reformers erupted at Barricada. Ortega, the head of the Sandinista party, fired 16 reporters and the editor-in-chief for their alleged support of the reformist politician. The infighting became a media war with Ortega's side in control of three radio stations and one television channel, and the reformists in control of two dailies and one weekly newspaper.

In 1999, two radio stations faced legal orders for the seizure and sale at auction of their equipment. According to a statement by the National Nicaraguan Journalists Union, the radio stations La Primerísima and YA were being threatened by groups linked to then-president Alemán in an attempt to silence any public criticism of the rise in corruption by high-level officials in his regime.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, there has been little attempt to restrain foreign journalists in Nicaragua. During the Sandinista-Contra war, Nicaragua was an extremely dangerous place for foreign journalists, although many arrived there as a result of the conflict. For example, in June 1979, ABC news correspondent Bill Stewart was killed when he stopped at a Managua roadblock. With the advent of peace, foreign journalists have not had problems covering the region, and have been welcomed there by a number of national media enterprises attempting to make the press more professional.

The passage of the colegio law requiring that all journalists be approved by the national licensing board threatens to change this situation. In general, however, Nicaraguan journalists have looked to foreign journalists as a model for the type of journalism they are striving to follow in their nation, although some are critical of this trend.

Historically, Nicaraguan newspapers have often received international funding. During the Sandinista-Contra war, the United States gave financial support to La Prensa. In the 1980s, Barricada received funding from East Germany, a Dutch foundation gave money to El Nuevo Diario, and a West German foundation gave money to La Prensa. In the 1990s, La Tribuna hired a Costa Rican research firm to assess the coverage most wanted by Nicaraguans. Journalist professors from the Florida International University also trained some of La Tribuna 's reporters, reflecting the fact that the paper's editor was based in Florida. La Prensa hired a U.S. consultant to help modernize the paper in 1998.

There is some fear that too many foreign consultants and journalists will take away the historical Nicaraguan approach to journalism, which is more intellectual and political and has a tendency to be more detailed in writing styles than, for example, the U.S. style of journalism. A number of foreign journalist organizations have organized conferences and classes in Nicaragua on investigative journalism and the freedom of the press.

News Agencies

Agencia Nicaragüense de Noticias is the primary news agency operating in Nicaragua. A recent survey showed that journalists get about 14 percent of their stories from wire services.

Broadcast Media

The 1990s were a boom period for radio. Between 1990 and 1994 the government's telecommunications frequency authority assigned over 100 frequencies. On these, 60 were on the FM band. Previously, there had been only four FM stations. As of mid-1995, a total of 114 radio stations were broadcasting in Nicaragua. Because station start-up and maintenance costs were minimal, a number of people including aspiring politicians were able to enter into radio broadcasting. Religious programming also expanded. By 1995, there were seven new religious stations in addition to the two that already existed. There is at least one radio station in each of Nicaragua's 17 departments. Growth centered, however, in Managua, where 46 of the 60 new FM stations and 23 of the 49 new AM stations were launched. In 1999, there were 285 radios for every one thousand inhabitants.

Generally speaking, the content of radio programming is much broader than television. FM programming includes a variety of music formats, news, and listener call-in shows, and AM programming often features a mixture of news with music and opinion, traditional newscasts, music, radio dramas, humor shows, sports and listener call-in shows. Independently produced radio news programs were a popular genre before 1979 although banned in the 1980s. As of the mid-1990s listeners could choose from over 80 such programs. In most cases, these were one-person freelance undertakings where journalists rented air space from the station.

Four of the most popular radio stations include the following:

  • Radio Nicaragua (formerly La Voz de Nicaragua) is the government's official station.
  • Radio Corporación has long been a stronghold of the far right. Its broadcasting center was bombed in 1992. It originally defined itself by opposing the Sandinistas. It has strong family links with president Alemán. Almost all of its journalists are employees of the government and depend on state advertising revenue.
  • Radio Católica belongs to the Catholic Church hierarchy. It is fairly conservative and has a large following among Nicaragua's devout Catholic majority.
  • Radio Ya was founded by some 80 percent of the staff from the Voz de Nicaragua when Violeta Chamorro came to power. The station is affiliated with the Sandinistas and is often critical of the ruling government. It is one of the most listened-to stations in the nation.

Despite its status as an instrument of the Sandinistas, Radio Ya allows space for a public forum with an open mike to the citizens. The station has a net of volunteers who are not journalists but regular "civilians," such as hospital orderlies, litigants in courtrooms, and vendors in the markets who report on events as they happen. At present the station is owned by a company named Atarrya, which stands for Association of the Workers of Radio Ya, with 49 percent belonging to stock-holding employees and 51 percent to the Sandinista leadership.

Radio Sandino was the Sandinista's clandestine radio station during the guerrilla war against Somoza, and it continues to be the official voice of the Sandinista Front. La Primerísima was the flagship station of the state-owned network of community stations during the 1980s. It pioneered a series of projects in popular and participatory radio. Radio Mujer went on the air in 1991, the first radio station designed specifically for women.

Because of the relatively low expense of radio in comparison to other forms of media in the nation, radio is the dominant way the poorer classes get their information. Radio has also served practical functions especially in times of disaster. When Hurricane Mitch struck, for example, Radio Ya helped individuals locate their family members via their daily broadcasts.

Television experienced the most profound changes and the most dynamic growth of all forms of media. The explosion in television was propelled by rapid growth in the number of over-the-air channels and in the arrival and rapid diffusion of cable. In 1990, there were only two broadcast television stations, Channels 2 and 6, run by the state monopoly network and no cable stations. By 1995, there were five VHF and two UHF stations. In 1999, there were 190 television sets for every one thousand inhabitants. In 1995, there were thirty small cable companies in the country. Cable is prohibitively expensive for the majority of Nicaraguans but affordable for a middle-class family. It was estimated that in 1999, only four percent of the population had cable.

Since 1990 television has also become an important forum for the debate of national issues and politics. There have been many new live broadcast magazine-format programs including Channel 8's "Porque Nicaragua Nos Importa" (Why Nicaragua Matters to Us), and "A Fondo" (In-Depth). Channel 2 has a popular 90-minute morning program, "Buenos Días" (Good Morning) and a weekly newsmagazine program, "Esta Semana con Carlos Fernando" (This Week with Carlos Fernando) hosted by the former director of Barricada.

Electronic News Media

Most of the main newspapers in Nicaragua have Internet sites. La Prensa 's Internet site (www. has been in operation since October 30, 1997. El Nuevo Diario ( ni) began on October 30, 1997. This site is designed to be simple so that it is less costly to maintain and easier to view on older computers. The site had 382,000 hits in 1999. La Prensa has the most popular Web site, registering 1.1 million hits in 1999. Both of the now defunct papers Barricada and La Tribuna also had Web sites. The number of people with computers in Nicaragua remains small, so newspapers were not afraid that Internet sites would adversely affect their circulation. However, access to the Internet is rapidly changing the ways that Nicaraguans can get access to information, and it has become an integral tool for journalists especially. There are many obstacles to its use, however, given the prohibitively high cost of computers for the average citizen. In 1999, it is estimated that there were 50,000 Internet users in Nicaragua.

Education & Training

The main university offering journalism training is Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in Managua, which offers a degree entitled Communication and Society that is especially prestigious. Other universities with journalism programs including the Universidad Iberoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología and the Universidad Autónoma de Nicaragua. In 1998, a new journalism program opened in Matagalpa at the Universidad de Nicaragua Norte. The Universidad Americana de Managua began developing a journalism program in the early 2000s. The UCA program is the largest and the most established, and graduates about 50 students every year. In the 1980s the program emphasized propagandistic journalism, stressing the role of the journalist as leader and organizer. This emphasis changed with the country's political leadership in the 1990s and there was an emphasis on more democratic and professional investigative reporting.

There are an increasing amount of regional scholarships and grants for both practicing journalists and journalism students. The Latin American Center for Journalism, for example, offers the Jorge Ramos scholarship established in 1999 to enable students to finish their last year in a journalism program. A total of 10 scholarships are offered per year, and a few Nicaraguan students have won one. In 1997, the Violeta B. Chamorro foundation was established in Managua to support the growth of democratic institutions in the nation. The foundation gets international financing, primarily from Sweden, for the journalism programs. In 1998, the foundation sponsored a series of workshops on journalistic ethics investigative journalism, focusing on uncovering governmental corruption. The foundation created a national award named after Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal (Violeta's martyred husband and former La Prensa editor) to promote a democratic and free press.

There are two journalists' associations: the Association of Nicaraguan Journalists (APN) and the National Union of Journalists (UPN). Both of these organizations present a number of talks focusing on all aspects of the profession. The UPN represents the prorevolutionary faction of journalists. The two groups are often at odds with one another. For example, the UPN supported the colegio law, which was strongly opposed by the APN.

Journalism in Nicaragua is more dangerous than in most countries given that political protests and demonstrations can and do turn violent. In 1999, for example, during a student protest and transportation strike in which one student was killed, a La Prensa vehicle was set on fire. In 1997, Barricada reported a story on journalists and the dangers they face and the article discussed the case of Pablo Emilio Barreto, one of their reporters, who lost his home and belongings when a group of armed men angry at his reporting sprayed gasoline on his house and fired upon it. In 1998, the editor and publisher of the newspaper Novedades declared that a journalist had her arm broken in an assault by a policeman reportedly acting on the orders of an advisor and supporter of the then-presidential candidate Alemán. The attack was seen as retaliation for criticism in Novedades of Alemán's candidacy. Journalists also have to contend with street crime (i.e., crime that is not politically or personally motivated).

One very significant problem facing journalists in Nicaragua is the low salaries they earn, which usually run between US $150 to $250 a month. Television journalists make about double that on average. The low salaries and high unemployment rates can make journalists susceptible to accepting outright bribes or more subtle forms of influence peddling. For example, journalists can make extra money by giving publicity to businesses or for interviewing certain people on the air for fiscal compensation.


The state of Nicaragua's press has fluctuated greatly from political system to political system and president to president during the twentieth century. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, despite an antagonistic relationship with former president Alemán, the press is becoming an increasingly active protagonist in the Nicaraguan transition to neo-liberalism. The process has been characterized above all by the drive for political independence among individual journalists and media enterprises, along with the increasing importance of the electronic media, especially television but increas ingly the Internet, as mediators of politics, culture, and ideology.

Historically, the press in Nicaragua developed as an instrument to support a specific political agenda. The press retains more than a few remnants of this polarization; however, since the 1990s, the spectrum of views aired in the media has been quite extensive. Nicaraguan newspaper journalism underwent vast changes in the 1990s following a U.S. model of objective and investigative journalism. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to the development of the press in Nicaragua concerns the economic situation of the nation. High illiteracy rates and low per capita income make it difficult for the common Nicaraguan to take advantage of newspapers. In addition, the history of close alliances between the media owners and politicians makes it difficult for a truly independent press to exist.

Nonetheless, independent media watchdogs have consistently given high reports to the acceleration of freedom of the press in the nation. In addition, international pressure has focused attention on corrupt administrations and presidential attempts to control the media's negative coverage of political (and, at times, criminal) activities. President Bolaños has declared that he will not only abide by but also fortify legislation supporting freedom of the press. Overall, the attempts to move from a partisan style of journalism to a more professional and ethical style have been successful, especially given the personally and politically charged history of media ownership in the county. The news media is also gaining more support from the public, ranking second only to the Catholic Church, in terms of its institutional credibility.

Significant Dates

  • 1990: Violeta Chamorro wins the presidency ending the Sandinista rule and the civil war, and maneuvers the country onto a path of neo-liberal economic policies; she stresses freedom of the press and undertakes a series of reforms to strengthen democratic institutions.
  • 1995: The Nicaraguan Constitution, promulgated under the Sandinista government, is revised strengthening press freedom.
  • 1997: Arnoldo Alemán ascends to the presidency. His relationship to the press is marked by controversy, and he attempts to reign in its freedom; he is accused of using the selective placement of governmental advertising to achieve these ends.
  • 1998: Hurricane Mitch devastates the country, killing over 2,000 people and causes billions of dollars worth of damage.
  • 1998: The Sandinista paper Barricada, one of the country's four dailies, announces that it is closing indefinitely because of a financial crisis; the paper blames its financial woes on President Alemán who allegedly withheld governmental advertising in an attempt to shut the paper down.
  • 2000: The National Assembly approves a controversial bill calling for the compulsory registration of journalists in the national journalists association; this colegio law violates the principles for freedom of the press outlined by the Chapultepec convention of 1994.
  • 2002: Enrique Bolaños, a Liberal Alliance candidate, assumes the presidency; despite the fact that he served as vice-president to Alemán who left office amidst a flurry of corruption charges, Bolaños promises to support freedom of the press and end the government's practice of controlling the media by choosing where to place governmental advertisements based on political preference.


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Kristin McCleary

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Republic of Nicaragua

República de Nicaragua



Nicaragua is the largest Central American country with borders on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The nation's borders are 1,231 kilometers (765 miles) long. To the north, the country has a border of 922 kilometers (573 miles) with Honduras. To the south, Nicaragua has a border of 309 kilometers (192 miles) with Costa Rica. Its combined coastline is 910 kilometers (565 miles) in length. Nicaragua's total area is 130,688 square kilometers (50,446 square miles). This includes 120,254 square kilometers (46,430 square miles) of land and 9,240 square kilometers (3,568 square miles) of water. The country is slightly larger than the state of New York. Nicaragua's capital is Managua, which is in the west-central region of the country. The population of Managua is approximately 1 million.


The population of Nicaragua is 4,812,569, according to a July 2000 estimate. This represents substantial growth over the 1990 population of 3,871,000. The current population growth rate is 2.2 percent. In 2000, there were 28.26 births per 1,000 people, and the nation's fertility rate was 3.27 children born per woman. The country's mortality rate was 4.9 deaths per 1,000 people. With a high birth rate and low mortality rate, Nicaragua's population is quickly growing. About 40 percent of the population is under the age of 15. The nation does have a high infant mortality rate of 34.79 deaths per 1,000 live births and it loses people to emigration (1.35 people per 1,000). Nonetheless, the population is expected to exceed 5 million by 2005. The life expectancy for males in Nicaragua is 66.81 years and 70.77 years for females.

The largest ethnic group in Nicaragua are the mestizos (mixed ethnic backgrounds, mainly Spanish and Native American). Mestizos make up 69 percent of the population, whites comprise 17 percent, blacks 9 percent, and Native Americans 5 percent. The population of the country is 54 percent urban, but the overall population density is low with 33 people per square kilometer.


Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. It has a low gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of US$460 per year, a very large external debt , and high inflation . In 1999, it was estimated that almost one-half of the country's population lived below the poverty line. Inflation, while still high at 12 percent, has decreased from 16 percent in 1998. In addition, the country has qualified for debt relief under a program known as Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), a program developed by the World Bank and supported by the world's most highly developed nations, including the United States and Japan.

To a large degree, the country's economy is still based on agriculture. Nicaragua's manufacturing base is small and the country is dependent on imports of foreign goods, especially consumer products. The fastest growing segment of Nicaraguan industry is clothing manufacturing. The service sector is also increasing in Nicaragua. Financial services, transport, telecommunications, and tourism are growing in size and as percentages of GDP. Tourism now ranks as the third largest source of foreign capital.

Nicaragua began a period of economic reform and restructuring in 1991, and this restructuring continues. From 1979 through 1991, Nicaragua was under the control of the Sandinistas, a Marxist -based political regime, and the nation underwent a significant period of economic decline.

The United States is Nicaragua's main trading partner. Since 1990 the United States has provided US$1 billion in aid and assistance to Nicaragua. In 1996, foreign aid accounted for 22 percent of GDP. In 1999, Nicaragua received pledges of US$1.4 billion in new aid.


The country is now a democratic republic. The nation's president is both the head of state and the leader of the government. The president is elected for a 5-year term and chooses the cabinet ministers. The legislature is a single-chamber body that has 93 members who are also elected for 5-year terms. The legislature is known as the National Assembly. The Supreme Court is composed of 16 magistrates who are elected to 7-year terms by the National Assembly.

Nicaragua has 35 registered political parties and factions, but the country is dominated by just 2: the Liberal Alliance, and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The Liberal Alliance is a coalition of 5 moderate to conservative parties that support economic reforms. The FSLN controlled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 under a dictatorial government.

Since 1990, the government has undertaken a variety of reforms to restructure the economy and liberalize the nation's political system. From 1995-96, there were broad reforms of the army and the national police force, including reductions in military spending. The country now spends about 1.2 percent of its GDP on defense (US$26 million in 1998). Programs have resulted in the privatization of 351 state-owned companies. Foreign investment in the country has increased dramatically to US$446 million in 2000.

Nicaragua's national debt is US$6.5 billion, making it one of the most highly-indebted nations in the world on a per capita basis. The country's debtors have pledged US$1.2 billion in debt relief under the HIPC and other aid programs. In 2000, government spending accounted for 33.7 percent of GDP. In 1998, the government's revenues were US$527 million while its expenditures were US$617 million. The main sources of government revenue are an income tax of 25 percent, a general sales tax of 15 percent, a luxury tax on certain products, corporate taxes, and tariffs on imported goods.


The country's infrastructure has improved since 1990, but it still needs considerable upgrades and improvements. Nicaragua has 16,382 kilometers (10,180 miles) of roadways, including 1,818 kilometers (1,130 miles) of paved roads. Only about one-third of all roads are considered to be in good condition, while the remaining two-thirds are only in marginal or poor condition. The country spends less on highway construction than any other Latin American country.

Nicaragua has no major rail lines. The country does have 2,220 kilometers (1,380 miles) of navigable waterways and there is considerable traffic on some of these routes. The government has entered into a US$1.5 billion agreement with a private consortium to allow the construction of a 377-kilometer (234-mile) railway system from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific region and the development of 2 ports. Air traffic has increased dramatically in Nicaragua. The nation has 182 airports, but only 11 have paved runways. Managua International Airport in the capital is the largest airfield.

The nation is dependent on energy imports, mainly oil. In 1998, total electric production in Nicaragua was 2.714 kWh. Fossil fuels provided 53.43 percent of energy use, while hydroelectric provided 35.34 percent. The country's telephone system is operated by the government-owned company ENITEL. Private companies have been granted licenses to provide cellular service. In 1998, there were 10,000 mobile phones in use. Telephone-density is currently only 3 phones per 100 people. Nicaragua now has 5 Internet service providers.


Nicaragua is undergoing a transition from an economy based on agriculture to one based on industry and services. In 1998, agriculture still accounted for 34 percent of GDP and 42 percent of employment. The industrial sector of the Nicaraguan economy is small compared with agricultural and services. In 1998, industry provided 22 percent of the country's GDP. It also provided 15 percent of employment. The service sector is the fastest growing segment of the Nicaraguan economy. In 1998, services were also the largest sector of the economy. As a group, they accounted for 44 percent of the country's GDP and 43 percent of the workforce.


Agriculture provides a significant level of GDP and employment and two-thirds of the nation's exports. In 1998, the total value of agricultural exports was US$357.2 million and imports totaled $246.9 million. Agricultural workers earn an average of US$119.23 per month and are the lowest paid workers of any economic sector.

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Nicaragua 30 285 190 40.2 4 N/A 7.8 2.21 20
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Mexico 97 325 261 15.7 35 3.0 47.0 23.02 1,822
Honduras 55 386 90 N/A 5 N/A 7.6 0.19 20
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies 273

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused extensive damage to the nation's agricultural sector, including the destruction of crops and farm facilities and equipment. Damages from the hurricane totaled US$6 million in equipment and infrastructure. In addition, Mitch destroyed 59,000 acres of pasture and crop land and caused the deaths of 81,000 head of cattle. Because of Mitch, agricultural production in Nicaragua declined by 3.3 percent in 1998.


Farms are divided between small, family-owned subsistence units that are usually less than 10 acres in size and large plantations that produce crops for export. In 1999, the nation produced 4.385 million metric tons of crops. The largest single crop was sugar cane with 3.749 million metric tons. Other significant crops were corn (302,000 metric tons), rice (136,850 metric tons) and bananas (68,830 metric tons). Although coffee production only amounted to 65,000 tons, it was one of the main cash export crops.


The major livestock products are beef and veal, chicken, lamb, and pork. In 1999, the nation had to import US$219,000 worth of cattle from the United States for breeding purposes to repopulate herds. In addition, the nation's largest slaughterhouse was forced to close in 1999 because of financial difficulties resulting from Mitch. As a result, beef production only grew by 0.7 percent in 1999.


The fisheries industry in Nicaragua includes oceanic catches from the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean, freshwater fish from the nation's numerous rivers and lakes, and farm-raised species. The most profitable catches are shrimp and lobster which are both ocean-caught and farm raised. In the Caribbean, snook accounts for half of all catches, while red snapper provides two-thirds of Pacific harvests. Grouper, catfish, croaker, shark, flounder, and tuna are also caught. Over 80 percent of the fish caught for export come from the Caribbean.


The nation has 65 different commercially valuable species of trees. Among the most valuable species are pine, rosewood, mahogany, and cedar. There is a history of abuse by timber companies. In 1998, over-cutting of forests led the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to declare a 5-year moratorium on harvesting cedar and mahogany.


Nicaragua currently has a lower level of industrialization than it did before the Sandinista regime took power in 1979. For instance, although Nicaragua was the world's fourteenth largest gold producer, gold now only accounts for 1 percent of GDP and the nation has fallen behind such small producers as Panama. Manufacturing, mining, and construction form the main core of Nicaraguan industry.


The manufacture of consumer goods , such as clothing, shoes, and processed foods, is the fastest growing component of this sector. Manufacturing is the main sector of industry and in 1998 provided 19 percent of GDP (while total industry provided 22 percent). In 1999, woven apparel exports increased by 17.4 percent and had a total value of US$219 million, while knit apparel was worth US$58 million. Workers in manufacturing earn an average of US$183.95 per month.


During the 1970s, mines produced over US$100 million a year for the nation. Current estimates are that Nicaragua has 3.8 million ounces of gold and 4.9 million ounces of silver available for exploitation. In 1994, production was at 1,241 kilograms, but by 1999, production had risen to over 1,800 kilograms. Silver production has remained constant throughout the 1990s at 2 metric tons per year. Miners are among the highest paid industrial workers in manufacturing, earning an average of US$229.43 per month.


Increased government spending on infrastructure, the growing economy, and the need for new commercial and residential buildings propelled the construction industry growth by 22 percent in 1999. The industry was worth $131.9 million that year. Construction workers earn an average of US$166 per month.


The service sector continues to grow in Nicaragua, but this component of the economy is constrained by a lack of educated and skilled workers. In addition, the continued existence of government monopolies in some fields also limits growth and has prevented foreign companies from entering the market. Workers in the service sector earn an average of US$133 per month, although the official minimum wage for the sector is US$47.95 per month.


Employees in the financial services sector are the most highly skilled and earn an average of US$300 per month. The country has 10 private banks and 2 state-owned banks. There are also 2 finance companies and a leasing firm. The nation's financial sector was valued at US$1.4 billion. There are 2 foreign-owned banks in Nicaragua: 1 Salvadoran (Banco Caley Dagnell) and 1 Guatemalan (Banco Sur). No major U.S. or European banks have established a presence in the country. The state-owned insurance company continues to dominate the market and has 75 percent of business. Because of the dominance of the state insurance company, no foreign firms have entered the market.


The telecommunications market in Nicaragua is expected to expand rapidly. For instance, the number of mobile phone customers has increased from less than 4,000 in 1996 to over 10,000. In 1995, Alfanumeric and Mobile Phone began offering pager service and currently there are 6 paging firms with 20,000 customers.


Fast-food franchises are expanding rapidly in Nicaragua. There are currently 25 different national and international franchisers operating in the country, including McDonald's, TGI Friday's, Subway, Domino's Pizza, and Pizza Hut. Between 1998 and 2001, there was US$21.6 million spent on new franchises, including the establishment of 65 new restaurants.


Tourism is Nicaragua's third largest source of foreign currency. In 1999, it provided revenues of US$105 million. In 2000, approximately 468,000 tourists visited the country, an increase of 15 percent over the previous year. The number-one source of foreign tourists for Nicaragua is Honduras, while the United States comes in at number-two. Because of the potential value of tourism, by 1998 the number of hotel rooms in the country had doubled. Tourists are drawn to the nation because of the low travel and lodging costs. The undeveloped nature of the country also means that many natural and wildlife areas remain undisturbed by human development.


Nicaragua is a member of the Central American Common Market and is negotiating an agreement with the free trade zone of the southern American nations (MERCOSUR). In 1997, Nicaragua signed a free trade agreement with Mexico. The nation also has bilateral trade agreements with the United States, Spain, Taiwan, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The nations that export the most products to Nicaragua are the United States with 35 percent of goods and services, Germany with 13 percent, El Salvador with 10 percent, Spain with 4 percent, Costa Rica with 4 percent, and France with 2 percent. Nicaragua's main import markets are the United States at 31 percent, Costa Rica at 11 percent, Guatemala at 8 percent, Venezuela at 6 percent, El Salvador at 5 percent, and Mexico at 4 percent.

A major component of the government's effort to promote foreign trade and attract new investment has been the establishment of free trade zones. Business in these zones has increased 30 percent as has employment since 1997. The 5 current zones have 19 international and 11 Nicaraguan companies in them and produce US$198 million in goods and services for export. These zones employ 28,183 people.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Nicaragua
Exports Imports
1975 .375 .517
1980 .451 .887
1985 .302 .964
1990 .331 .638
1995 .526 .962
1998 .573 1.492
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Nicaragua
gold cordobas (C$) per US$1
Nov 2000 12.96
2000 12.69
1999 11.81
1998 10.58
1997 9.45
1996 8.44
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].


Inflation has seriously eroded the value of the nation's money, the córdoba. In 1991, inflation reached 750 percent which made the currency relatively worthless since what had previously cost 1 córdoba cost 750 córdobas. Although inflation has been reduced to 12 percent, it is still high by international standards. For example, the rate of inflation in the United States in 2000 was 3.4 percent. In 1999, it took 12.29 córdobas to equal US$1. In 1995, the rate was 7.55 córdobas per US$1. Inflation has been the main reason for the decline in value of the córdoba.

The country's stock market, known as the Bolsa de Valores de Nicaragua, was established in 1993 and began operations in 1994. By 1997, the exchange was worth US$690 million. However, unlike in most countries where the stock market is dominated by private companies, in Nicaragua government-issued bonds accounted for 81 percent of trades while private-company securities only accounted for the remaining 19 percent of volume. The nation has 10 brokerage firms, all of which are associated with local banks.


Nicaragua is one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. Despite improvements in the nation's economy and the implementation of government programs, almost half of the population lives in poverty. These factors have only reduced poverty in the nation from 50 percent of the population to 48 percent (or about 2.3 million people) since 1995. The nation's official poverty line is US$350 in income per year. Of the nation's poor, 17 percent live in extreme poverty, earning less than US$185 per year.

The middle and upper classes of Nicaragua live lifestyles that are comparable to those in the United States. For instance, they own American and European-built cars, use mobile phones, and their homes have all of the amenities of the American middle-class, including

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Nicaragua 999 690 611 460 452
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Mexico 3,380 4,167 4,106 4,046 4,459
Honduras 614 733 681 682 722
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

electric appliances and conveniences. The wealthiest 10 percent of the population controls 39.8 percent of the nation's wealth (the poorest 10 percent only controls 1.6 percent of wealth).


In 1999, the nation's unemployment rate was 10.5 percent, the lowest level since the 1970s. With 1 out of 10 Nicaraguans unemployed, the competition for jobs is intense. Many Nicaraguans find themselves forced to take jobs for which they are overqualified. In 1999, the underemployment rate was 36 percent. The nation's constitution guarantees workers the right to organize and join unions. Overall union membership is declining because of the competition for jobs and the increasing number of foreign companies entering the country (many of these firms are resistant to unionization because of the increased labor costs).

Child labor is forbidden by law. The 1996 Labor Law raised the minimum age to employ children from 12 to 14 years old. Parental permission is required for anyone under the age of 16. However, estimates are that as many as 42 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 9 work. A 1999 government study found that 6,219 children in Managua work in occupations such as car washers, street vendors, and beggars.

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage
Share: Nicaragua
Lowest 10% 1.6
Lowest 20% 4.2
Second 20% 8.0
Third 20% 12.6
Fourth 20% 20.0
Highest 20% 55.2
Highest 10% 39.8
Survey year: 1993
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

The minimum wage varies from sector to sector. The monthly minimum wage for agriculture is set at US$36, fisheries at US$56, manufacturing at US$48, government at US$44, restaurants and hotels at US$72, construction at US$96, mining at US$68, and banking at US$80. Except for the construction, banking, hotel, and mining sectors, the minimum wage does not provide enough income for an average family to live. As a result, many workers supplement their wages in the informal economy .


20,000-10,000 B.C. Native Americans settle in the region.

1502. Columbus lands on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

1524. Hernandez de Cordoba establishes the first Spanish colonies in Nicaragua, including 2 of the present-day principal cities of Leon and Granada.

1740-86. The Mosquito Coast region becomes a British protectorate. The British continue to exert influence on the region well into the 20th century.

1821. Nicaragua becomes independent of Spain; first as part of the Mexican Empire and then as a member of the federation, the United Provinces of Central America.

1838. Nicaragua becomes an independent republic.

1848-60. The British control the port of San Juan del Norte.

1850s. Many Americans travel through Nicaragua on their way to the gold fields of California.

1855-57. American William Walker seizes the presidency, but is overthrown in 1857 by a coalition of 5 Central American nations.

1909. The United States provides support for a conservative revolt after American businesses and property are threatened in the Bluefields region.

1912-33. With the exception of a 9-month period from 1925-26, U.S. troops are stationed in Nicaragua.

1936. General Anastasio Somoza Garcia takes control of the government. This initiates 40 years of rule by the Somoza family.

1972. A massive earthquake devastates the nation, leaving 6,000 dead and over 300,000 homeless.

1979. Led by the Sandinistas, a popular uprising overthrows the Somoza dynasty.

1981. The United States suspends economic aid after the Sandinistas begin privatizing property and businesses.

1985. The United States imposes an economic embargo in Nicaragua because of its support for Marxist Central American revolutionary groups. The United States also begins support for anti-Sandinista rebels, known as Contras.

1990. Under international pressure, the Sandinistas agree to open elections in which the opposition candidate Violetta Chamorro is elected.

1994. The nation's stock market begins operations.

1996. Former Managua Mayor Arnoldo Aleman, leader of the moderate-conservative Liberal Alliance, defeats the Sandinista candidate to become president.

1998. Hurricane Mitch devastates the nation, causing 4,000 deaths and widespread economic disruption.

2000. Nicaragua qualifies for debt-relief under the HIPC program.


Nicaragua faces a host of problems as it continues to recover from the economic problems of the Sandinista period. Despite some debt relief and forgiveness through the HIPC and other aid programs, the nation continues to have one of the highest debt per capita ratios in the world. The nation's main opposition party, the Sandinistas, actively seeks to undermine economic reforms.

On the other hand, there are a variety of positive signs that the economy will continue to improve. Inflation and unemployment have decreased dramatically over the past decade. From 1998-2000, the economy added 250,000 new jobs. In addition, a number of foreign companies have begun to invest in Nicaragua, especially in the services sector. The government's aggressive development of free trade zones will also continue to attract more foreign companies. One of the most promising potential developments for the nation would be the construction of a railway linking the Caribbean and Pacific coasts and offering an alternative to the overburdened Panama Canal.


Nicaragua has no territories or colonies.


Babb, Florence E. After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

Close, David. Nicaragua: The Chamorro Years. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed April 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Nicaragua. <>. Accessed April 2001.

. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Nicaragua. <http://www/>. Accessed April 2001.

. "Nicaragua." 2000 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. <>. Accessed April 2001.

Tom Lansford




Gold córdoba (C$). One gold córdoba equals 100 centavos. Coins include denominations of 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos, and 1 and 5 córdobas. Notes include 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 500,000, 1,000,000, 5,000,000, and 10,000,000 córdobas.


Coffee, shrimp and lobster, cotton, tobacco, beef, sugar, bananas, gold.


Machinery and equipment, raw materials, petroleum products, consumer goods.


US$2.3 billion (purchasing power parity, 1998 est.).


Exports: US$573 million (f.o.b., 1998). Imports: US$1.5 billion (c.i.f., 1999).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Nicaragua
Region: North & Central America
Population: 4,812,569
Language(s): Spanish, English
Literacy Rate: 65.7%
Number of Primary Schools: 7,224
Compulsory Schooling: 6 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 3.9%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 279
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 783,002
  Secondary: 265,515
  Higher: 56,558
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 102%
  Secondary: 55%
  Higher: 12%
Teachers: Higher: 3,840
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 36:1
  Secondary: 39:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 103%
  Secondary: 60%
  Higher: 12%

History & Background

Spanning the breadth of Central America from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the Caribbean on the east, Nicaragua covers 129,494 square kilometers and was home to some 4.8 million people in 2000. Beginning with colonization by Spain in the 1520s, the history of Nicaragua parallels that of many of its neighbors with privilege, including educational access, which was reserved for the Spanish and those who affected Spanish ways. Although independence was gained in 1821, a highly hierarchical social structure remained in effect for the next 150 years. Education during those years followed an elitist Spanish model and was reserved for a very narrow segment of the population.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Title 7 of the 1987 constitution not only details the relative powers of government regarding education, but makes many statements regarding educational philosophy. Administratively the constitution establishes educational oversight and funding as the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports (MECD). The MECD falls within the executive segment of the government but operates under the laws created by the legislative Asamblea Nacional. One of the standing commissions within the assembly with particular responsibility for educational matters is the nine-member Commission on Education, Means of Social Communication, Culture, and Sports.

Educational SystemOverview

With a birthrate of 2.2 percent and 40 percent of the population below the age of 15, Nicaragua views education as a critical force to determine the future stability and prosperity of the nation. Nicaraguan education during the years since 1950 has been shaped by the same two major events that shaped the nation politically: the beginning and the end of the Sandinista government's tenure. Under the Somoza government, education levels, especially in the rural portion of the country were very low, with estimates of illiteracy ranging from 75 to 90 percent in the outlying areas and nearing 50 percent nationwide. In the years prior to the 1979 Sandinista emergence, Nicaraguan education functioned as two separate systems, the primary and secondary systems administered by the Ministry of Education and the higher education system, which consisted of the nation's two independent universities: National Autonomous University and the Central American University. In 1980, the Sandinistas integrated the autonomous higher education institutions into a single, centrally administered education system based in Managua. While some might criticize the Sandinistas for their political use of the education system, their emphasis on educational opportunity and literacy did bring about a renaissance in Nicaraguan schools.

In the first five years of their rule, enrollment in the nation's schools doubled from 500,000 to one million, despite the threats of violence from the contras. In 1982, UNESCO recognized the Sandinista Literacy Crusade for dropping illiteracy from 53 percent to 12 percent. After their electoral defeat in 1990, but before relinquishing power to the United National Opposition (UNO), the Sandinistas split the education system into four parts, a move criticized as being politically rather than educationally motivated. These parts are the Ministry of Education, with responsibility for preprimary through secondary-level schools; the National Technological Institute, which provides vocational training; the Institute of Culture, which administers the museums and other cultural institutions; and the higher education institutions.

Post-Sandinista education has continued to build upon the successes of the previous regime. While maintaining and expanding the Sandinista emphases on universal educational opportunity and literacy, the UNO government has reinstituted one aspect of education that lay largely dormant through the 1980s: religion. Humberto Belli, a former education minister, described his educational approach as "a Christian policy, dialectical in life, so the student can develop his critical consciousness." Predictably, this and related changes have drawn criticism from various quarters, but in a nation that is 90 percent Catholic, religion would prove hard to separate permanently from education.

"Access to education is free and equal for all Nicaraguans," reads the nation's constitution. Despite progress since 1980, this promise remains far from being met. Education is legally compulsory only through the primary grades, although even there the level of participation is rather low. In 1999, the nation's schools expected to enroll a total of 1,366,357 students but exceeded that number by nearly one percent for a total enrollment of 1,377,697. These students included 160,398 in preschool programs, 816,701 in primary schools, 304,169 in secondary schools, 5,250 in teacher training programs, 88,117 in adult education, and 3,065 in special education programs. Matriculation rates in preprimary through secondary schools have risen in recent years, but they still fall well below standards for universal coverage. In 1999, 26 percent of eligible preschool students were enrolled. Of eligible primary students, 75 percent were enrolled, with 32.6 percent of eligible secondary students in school. Mostly as a result of the relatively high enrollment rates in primary schools and as the aftermath of the Literacy Crusade, literacy stands at 65.7 percent for all citizens over the age of 15.

Enrollment by gender in all levels of education through secondary is fairly equal. The numbers at the preschool level are virtually identical. In the primary schools, the student population is approximately 50.6 percent male, while in the secondary schools 46.7 percent of students are male. This slight disparity helps to explain the higher level of literacy among women (66.6 percent) than among men (64.6 percent). Enrollment levels in both the adult education and literacy programs are virtually 50 percent for each gender. The academic year, as in much of Latin America, runs from March to December. Instruction is performed exclusively in Spanish. Given the very small number of citizens who speak primarily a Native American language, monolingual instruction remains a non-controversial issue.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Primary education as both the foundational level of studies and the level with the highest proportion of eligible students enrolled has traditionally been the most important focus of the Ministry of Education's work. The first six years of compulsory education are handled by the nation's primary schools, which serve students ranging in age from 6 to 12 years. At the completion of this course of study, students are awarded a Diploma de Educacion Primaria (Diploma of Primary Education). Of the 160,000 students in the primary schools in 1999, some 87.01 percent completed the year's studies, a rate that rose slowly but consistently over the decade of the 1990s. The objectives stated by the Ministry of Education for the primary curriculum are to develop fundamental skills in the areas of mathematics, reading, writing, science, and Christian moral values. Successful students are to be able to function in these skills at a level that will allow them to move into one of the courses of study available in the secondary schools.

Secondary Education

Secondary education lasts for five years, divided into three years of ciclo básico (basic cycle), with students typically aged 12 to 15 years, and two years of ciclo diversificado (diversified cycle) for students aged 15 to 17 years. Upon the completion of the liberal arts-oriented course of study in the diversified track, the student is recognized with the Bachillerato in Arts or Science, which is one of the prerequisites for access to higher education. The other option in the second portion of secondary education is a three-year course of study in one of the technical secondary schools. These students, aged 15 to 18, are awarded the title of Técnico medio after completion of their coursework. The stated objective of the secondary education system is to prepare students for successful entry into university study, although many students opt to enter the labor pool immediately upon completion. For those unable to attend traditional day schools, the MECD provides both evening and Saturday classes in various venues around the country.

Given the emphasis placed on primary education, the nation's secondary system has not developed to a comparable degree. A secondary school reform program, beginning in 1999 and funded by theInter-American Development Bank, sought to address perceived weaknesses in this system, specifically targeting the goals of quality and equity. This program was aimed at four areas of emphasis: changes to the education structure and curriculum within the secondary schools, increased and varies uses of educational technology, development of a pilot preschool education program to be administered within the secondary schools, and an incentive program aimed at encouraging the demand for and supply of educational services.

CurriculumExaminations, Diplomas: The secondary curriculum in place during the 1990s was a traditional one including study of mathematics, language arts, science, and religion. This curriculum is actually little changed from that used during the Sandinista regime, although overt political indoctrination has been removed from the schools. Beginning in 1999, the Ministry began a review of the existing secondary curriculum aimed at a complete revision. This revision will be effected with the assistance of people at all levels of the education system as well as non-education government representatives and representatives from private industry. The research guiding this revision includes the assessment of current and projected future needs regarding secondary enrollment and infrastructure, the social demands affecting the education system, a critique of existing administrative practices within the MECD, and inquiry into improved articulation between the various levels of education and between the education system and the workforce. At the completion of this research, the MECD proposes to review the current curriculum in light of the findings from the research and then to create a revised curriculum. Despite the pronouncements on the need for reform, it is not clear how committed the government is to significantly restructuring the nation's secondary schools.

Grading is performed on a 0 to 100 percent scale with 60 percent as the cutoff for passing. Although all instruction in government-funded schools is carried out in Spanish, four English-speaking schools operate in Managua: the American-Nicaraguan School, which is widely considered to provide the best education in English; the Lincoln Academy; the Notre Dame School; and the Nicaraguan Christian Academy. French, German, and other national schools also operate in the country, although their instruction is in Spanish.

Higher Education

A total of 14 higher education institutions serve Nicaragua. The most popular course of study at these schools are international relations, business, and medicine. The Consejo Nacional de Universidades, a body with representatives from all member institutions provides oversight and governance to all higher education facilities, while the Asociación Nicaraguense de Instituciones de Educación Superior coordinates higher education services and planning in both the areas of academics and administration. This latter organization also helps to facilitate communication and academic freedom between and within member institutions.

University study typically follows the following sequence. The first level of study culminates in the awarding of the Licenciatura, normally attained after four or five years of study, depending on the subject, and indicating a basic professional qualification. The shortest course of study is a two-year program in accounting and the longest is the six-year sequence for medicine, although the degree granted in that field is Doctor. The second stage of studies in the university leads to the Maestría (Masters) degree. This degree follows a two-year course of study and the presentation and defense of a thesis. Grading typically is done on a scale of 0 to 100 percent with 70 percent as the lowest passing grade. Instruction in all of these institutions is carried out in Spanish with the exception of the English-based University of Mobile, Latin American Campus.

Public & Private Institutions: Nicaragua's higher education is provided by four categories of institutions. The most prominent among these is the Universidad Pública (Public University) including the Universidad Americana. The Universidad Católica de Nicaragua (UNICA) and Universidad Centroamericana, a Jesuit university founded in 1960, represents the second category, the Universidad Privada (Private University). The remaining categories are the Centro Técnico Superior (Higher Technical Center) and the Centro de Investigación y de Capacitación (Research Center).

Admission to university-level studies requires the student to have earned the Bachillerato credential from their secondary school. In addition, students are required to sit for the Prueba de Ingreso (entrance exam). Non-Nicaraguan students should hold an equivalent secondary credential as well as be proficient in Spanish. The government provides for the autonomy of the universities and other higher education facilities. The management of the universities is constitutionally delegated not only to the administration of the institution, but to the "professors, students, and workers," although their relative participation in management is not defined by law. Many students pay nothing for their education with all expenses covered through government aid. The maximum fee at the public institutions is 150 cordoba (US$40) per semester while the average at the private universities is about US$1,000 per year.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Responsibility for education nationwide falls to the Ministerio de Educación pública, Cultura y Deporte, MECD (Ministry of Public Education, Culture and Sport). The MECD, aside from administering the nation's schools and providing a standardized curriculum, directly trains principals and oversees the training of teachers in member institutions. In a movement away from the highly centralized systems before 1990, the MECD in 1993 introduced a reform that granted managerial and budgetary independence to local school-based councils, analogous to local U.S. school boards. The results of this move were mixed.

Those schools located in wealthier areas with a cohesive sense of identity and greater community resources fared very well under the system, while less cohesive, less resourced schools in poorer areas did not find the change productive. By 1999, research suggested that the school autonomy project had not really effected as significant a change as the government had suggested. Instead, many schools that had not opted for the autonomy agreement were actually able to make more of their own decisions then those who had signed the autonomy agreement. This initiative has also been received differently by professionals, with principals typically enjoying the freedom the system offers and teachers feeling threatened under these guidelines.

In 1999, the MECD began a major reform initiative aimed primarily at improving the quality of secondary schools but touching on many areas of institutional practice. As a part of this reform, the ministry aims to overhaul its information system and its communications with the schools. University oversight is provided by the Consejo Nacional de Universidades (National Council of Universities) and the Asociación Nicaraguense de Instituciones de Educación Superior (Association of Institutions of Higher Education).

Funding for education has risen significantly over the 1980s and 1990s with more increases promised for the future. In the face of a significant budget deficit$162 million of a $551 million budget in 1996double-digit inflation, and unemployment of 16 percent, this continued expenditure has taken a great deal of political will.

Nonformal Education

Vocational and technical education beyond that offered in the technical secondary schools is provided by Centros técnicos superiors, which fall under the jurisdiction of the higher education system. Studies in these facilities last for two or three years, leading to the degree of Técnico superior. Those holding this certification are admitted into university-level studies in related fields of study. Like the Centros técnicos, the nation's Polytechnical University, and the Institutos Politécnicos and Técnologicos offer two-and three-year courses of study leading to the granting of technical professional qualifications.

Teaching Profession

The nation's primary and preprimary teachers are trained in teacher-training programs administered by the secondary education division of the Ministry of Education in the nation's many pedagogical institutes. The best of these programs, and the strongest secondary school among all categories, is widely recognized as the Managua-based Escuela Pedagogico La Salle. The complete five-year course of study at La Salle and the other institutes is initiated after the completion of primary education and consists of a three-year program of general education followed by a two-year program of specialization. Upon completion of this program, students are awarded the Diploma de Maestro de Educación Primaria (diploma of mastery of primary education). Secondary schools receive their training in a four-year program of study at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAM). Completion of this program is recognized by the conferring of the Título de Profesor de Educación Media along with the Licenciatura degree. Admission to the secondary training program requires the completion of the secondary-level Bachillerato or the earning of the primary education certification.

The nation's 28,000 teachers are not highly paid but, compared with their Central American peers, fare well. In 1995 union officials complained of average teachers earning only 275 cordobas (US$55) a month and noted that a family of seven is estimated to spend 200 cordobas on basic needs each month, leaving a teacher attempting to support a large family with limited disposable income. By 1999, this average salary had risen to 425 cordobas per month, compared with a salary of 400 for Salvadoran teachers and 358 for those in Panama. The post-Sandinista years have been considerably less friendly to organized labor than had the previous period. The teachers are represented by a union, ANDEN, which has sought not only an increase in wages, but job security for its members by creating a system of tenure in the schools. Although stating their dedication to preserving and expanding the gains made in education through the 1980s, ANDEN's activities and demands have largely focused on salary and working condition issues, rather than those of educational philosophy and curriculum.


If Nicaragua's educational system was evaluated on the basis of its primary schools, the nation would earn medium to high marks. Unfortunately, educational performance, participation, and effectiveness drop off considerably as grade levels increase. Even by the fifth and sixth grades, despite high levels of participation, academic performance has dropped considerably. Secondary schools serve such a limited portion of the population that the question of their performance is somewhat moot. Given the weakness of the secondary schools, the numbers and quality of students in higher education are probably better than might be expected.

Given the low enrollment levels for students in secondary education and beyond, Nicaragua's greatest need is to extend universal education to a much wider portion of its population if its citizens are to compete with those in the more developed nations in Latin America. Specifically, secondary education needs to be made more accessible to those living in rural areas. Along the lines of accessibility, evening and Saturday secondary education classes, while widely available, suffer significantly in quality. Another significant improvement needed is improved primary teacher training, raising the level of this instruction above that of secondary education. Ultimately, the most important challenge facing Nicaragua in coming years is economic. With a crushing debt and other economic hardships, the incentive to slash education budgets will rise in the future. The nation's success in obtaining debt relief or otherwise dealing with its looming economic crisis will to a large degree dictate the possible future course of education.


Arellano, Jorge Eduardo. Brevísima historia de la educa ción en Nicaragua: de la colonia a los años '70 del siglo XX. Managua: Instituto Nicaragüense de Cultura Hispánica, 1997.

Arnove, Robert F. Education as Contested Terrain: Nicaragua. Boulder: Westview Press, 1994.

Arríen, Juan Bautista. La educación en Nicaragua entre siglos, dudas y esperanzas Managua, Nicaragua: Universidad Centroamericana: Programa de Promoción de la Reforma Educativa en América Latina, 1998.

Behrman, Jere R., and Barbara L. Wolfe. "Investments in schooling in two generations in pre-revolutionary Nicaragua; the roles of family background and school supply." The Journal of Development Economics, October 1987.

King, Elizabeth M., Berk Ozler, and Laura B. Rawlings. "Nicaragua's School Autonomy Reform: Fact or Fiction." Working Paper Series on Impact Evaluation of Education Reforms Paper No. 19. Development Research Group, The World Bank, September 1999.

Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deportes. Estadísticas de la educación en Nicaragua, 1989-1996, Dirección de Estadísticas Educativas: UNICEF. Nicaragua, 1999.

Mark Browning

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Official name: Republic of Nicaragua

Area: 129,494 square kilometers (49,998 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mogotón Peak (2,438 meters/7,999 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Western

Time zone: 6 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 472 kilometers (293 miles) from north to south; 478 kilometers (297 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: 1,231 kilometers (765 miles) total boundary length; Costa Rica 309 kilometers (192 miles); Honduras 922 kilometers (573 miles)

Coastline: 910 kilometers (565 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles)


Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. It is located north of Costa Rica and south of Honduras, between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. With a total area of about 129,494 square kilometers (49,998 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of New York. Nicaragua is administratively divided into fifteen departments and two autonomous regions.


Nicaragua has no outside territories or dependencies.


In Nicaragua, temperature is affected more by elevation than by season. On the flat lands (in the east and west), daytime temperatures average 29°C (85°F) and night temperatures drop below 21°C (70°F). In the central highlands temperatures are lower, about 21°C (70°F) in the daytime and about 15°C (60°F) at night. In the very high mountains, temperatures can approach freezing after dark.

The rainy season (winter, or invierno ) is from May through November and the dry season (summer, or verano ) is from June through October. The Mosquito Coast gets the greatest amount of yearly rainfall, from 230 to 508 centimeters (90 to 200 inches). Less rain, about 76 to 229 centimeters (30 to 90 inches) per year, falls on the Central Highlands; precipitation here occurs over a longer period of the year. On the Pacific Coast, annual rainfall ranges from 102 to 152 centimeters (40 to 60 inches).

Periodically, hurricanes have caused severe damage on Nicaragua. The most devastating storms in recent years were Hurricane Mitch (October 1998) and Hurricane Joan (November 1988).


The country is shaped like an equilateral triangle with its southwest/northeast side along the Honduran border, the north/south side along the Caribbean, and the southeast/northwest side along the Costa Rican border and Pacific Ocean.

The land naturally divides into three topographic zones: the Pacific Lowlands, the Central Highlands, and the Atlantic Lowlands. The Pacific Lowlands is a band about 75 kilometers (47 miles) wide along the Pacific Ocean between Honduras and Costa Rica. The plain is punctuated by clusters of volcanoes, immediately to the east of which is a long, narrow depression passing along the isthmus from the Gulf of Fonseca in the north to the San Juan River at the bottom of the country. This depression is sometimes called the Nicaraguan Depression. To the northeast are the Central Highlands; this region has the highest mountains and the coolest temperatures. The sparsely populated Atlantic Lowlands comprise more than half the area of Nicaragua. These lowlands and the Mosquito Coast are the traditional home of the Miskito peoples (after whom the coastal region was named). Tropical rainforest and savannahs dominate this region, crossed by scores of rivers flowing to the Caribbean.

Nicaragua is situated on the Caribbean Tectonic Plate, but just off the country's Pacific coast is the Cocos Tectonic Plate. Frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions result from action of the Caribbean and Cocos plates. Nicaragua has hundreds of minor earthquakes and shocks each year and occasionally experiences a serious quake. In 1931 and again in 1972, earthquakes virtually destroyed the capital city of Managua. As of early 2003, central Managua had yet to be rebuilt.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Nicaragua has coasts on the Pacific Ocean and on the Caribbean Sea (an extension of the Atlantic Ocean). There are coral reef systems off the eastern coast, including the largest hard-carbonate bank in the Caribbean; however, most of the reefs are not situated near the mainland due to sediment runoff from the many rivers. Closer to the shore, reef systems form four groups of islands: the Moskitos Cays, Man-of-War (Guerrero) Cays, Pearl Cays, and the Corn Islands. The last three of these island groups are inhabited.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The relatively remote and sparsely populated Atlantic Lowlands and Mosquito Coast are periodically interrupted by lagoons and estu-aries where major rivers end. From north to south, the largest are Bismuna, Páhara, Karatá, Wounta, and Pearl Lagoons. The Bluefield Bay lies at an inlet just north of Point Mono, while the Point Gorda Bay lies in the curved inlet to the south of Point Mono. There are no significant lagoons along the Pacific Ocean side; the Gulf of Fonseca, however, is located at the northernmost point where the coast turns inland at Point Cosigüina.

Islands and Archipelagos

Scores of large islands dot the huge Lake Nicaragua. Two volcanoes, one at each end, formed the dumbbell-shaped Ometepe Island. Its total area is 276 square kilometers (106 square miles), including the Isthmus of Istián that connects the two sections of the island. At the south end of Lake Nicaragua are thirty-six small islands collectively named the Solentiname Archipelago. Some of the larger islands in this group are Venada, San Fernando, Mancarroncito, and Mancarrón.

Besides islands in the freshwater lakes, there also are a few islands off the Caribbean shore, but none exist on the Pacific side. The two Corn Islands are 70 kilometers (43 miles) off the southern coast; they are just 8 kilometers (5 miles) apart. Great Corn Island is about 8 square kilometers (3 square miles) in area; Little Corn Island is about half that size.

The Moskitos Cays is an offshore island group with associated coral reefs situated 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the north shore. The area is home to several endangered species including the Hawksbill turtle, Caribbean manatee, Tucuxi freshwater dolphin, and caiman crocodile.

The two other coralline island groups, the Pearl Cays and the Man-of-War Cays, also sit not far from the mainland. They are sparsely populated with fishing villages.

Coastal Features

The most hospitable, populated coast is the Pacific Ocean side. This coastline is relatively straight with few inlets or peninsulas. Cape Gracias a Dios marks the northern end of the Atlantic coastline; near the south, Point Mono juts out into the sea.


Lake Nicaragua (Lago de Nicaragua) is the largest freshwater lake in Central and South America; in fact, it is one of the most spectacular bodies of water in all of the Americas. It fills the southern portion of the Nicaragua Depression, which runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean. The lake is 160 kilometers (99 miles) long, 65 kilometers (40 miles) at its widest point, and 32 meters (105 feet) above sea level. It is relatively shallow, however, with an average depth of 20 meters (66 feet), and a maximum depth of 60 meters (197 feet). With a total surface area of 8,000 square kilometers (3,089 square miles), the lake is sprinkled with many islands, including the large Ometepe Island.

Lake Managua connects to Lake Nicaragua by the Tipitapa River. The lake is 52 kilometers (32 miles) long and up to 25 kilometers (16 miles) wide, covering an area of 1,025 square kilometers (396 square miles). It is only 30 meters (98 feet) at its deepest point, however. On the lake's southwest side, the Chiltepe peninsula holds two small crater lakes: Xiloá and Apoyeque.


Nicaragua has nearly one hundred principal rivers, most of which drain the Central Highlands through the Atlantic Lowlands and empty along the Mosquito Coast. The majority of them are relatively short rivers with a few longer ones, such as Río Grande de Matagalpa. A few rivers feed the Managua and Nicaragua Lakes. Coco River, Nicaragua's longest river, flows 680 kilometers (423 miles) from the northwest highlands to the Caribbean Sea, forming Nicaragua's border with Honduras.

The river that carries the largest volume of water is the San Juan River, which is only 180 kilometers (110 miles) long. It flows from the southeast corner of Lake Nicaragua east to the Caribbean Sea. This deep, navigable river forms the boundary between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

With many rivers, Nicaragua also has many wetlands. Besides the entire Caribbean coast, which is mostly swampy and marshy land, there are three other areas of particular note. Deltas del Estero Real (816 square kilometers/ 315 square miles) in the Gulf of Fonseca is a natural reserve that is part of the large mangrove systems of the gulf, shared with El Salvador and Honduras. Humedales de San Miguelito is situated near the point at which the San Juan exits Lake Nicaragua. It is home to a diverse species of birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals. Finally, Tisma Lagoon is a small area of lake, marsh, and river ecosystems on the northwest shores of Lake Nicaragua.


There are no desert regions in Nicaragua.


Nicaragua has numerous rainforests, some of which are protected as reserves. Ecologically, two exceptional reserves are Reserva Natural Miraflor and Reserva Biológic Indo-Maiz. Miraflor (206 square kilometers/80 square miles) is remarkably pristine and has tropical savannah at lower altitude, pine forest higher up, and cloud forest at its highest elevations. Miraflor also contains a tiny lake at an altitude of 1,380 meters (4,528 feet), as well as a 60-meter (196-feet) waterfall.


Tourists frequent the fumaroles (steam vents), hot springs, and boiling mudpots of the Swarms of San Jacinto (Hervideros de San Jacinto), southeast of Telica. Scientists are studying the geothermal activity causing these phenomena to see whether it could provide a possible source of energy for the region.

Biológic Indo-Maiz covers 3,626 square kilometers (1,400 square miles). In only a few square kilometers within the preserve, a habitat exists for a greater number of species of birds, trees, and insects than are found on the entire continent of Europe. Indo-Maiz protects the largest contiguous extent of primary rainforest in Central America, a 7,300-square-kilometer (2,820-square-mile) area that is called the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve.


Nicaragua has three inland mountain ranges and a chain of volcanoes. Cordillera Isabella runs southwest to northeast, toward the Honduran border. Cordillera Dariense runs nearly west to east, defining the southern edge of the triangular Central Highlands. The rugged mountain terrain in between is composed of ridges from 900 to 1,800 meters (1,968 to 5,905 feet) high. River valleys drain mostly to the Caribbean. Cordillera Los Maribios is the chain of volcanoes, which originates in the northwest. Three smaller mountain ranges cut across the Atlantic Lowlands in the southeast. From north to south, they are the Huapí Mountains, the Amerrique Mountains, and the Yolaina Mountains. The highest peak in Nicaragua, Mogotón Peak, sits on the Honduran border, about 161 kilometers (100 miles) inland from the Pacific Ocean. The peak rises to a height of 2,438 meters (7,999 feet).

A chain of seventeen volcanoes runs along the Pacific Coast. Six of them have erupted in the last hundred years. The most significant active volcanoes in this chain are Concepción, San Cristóbal, Telica, and Masaya. Concepción Volcano, Nicaragua's second-highest volcano is situated on the north end of Ometepe Island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. This symmetrical volcano erupted frequently during the twentieth century; in December 2000, it spewed ash over the countryside.

A complex of five volcanoes northwest of Managua is named for its oldest volcano, San Cristóbal (El Viejo), which also is the highest peak of the Maribios Range. Casita, immediately east of San Cristóbal, was the site of a catastrophic landslide in 1998.

Telica, located northwest of the city of León, has erupted frequently since the 1800s. Telica's steep cone is topped by a double crater which is 700 meters (2,300 feet) wide.

Masaya, near Managua, is one of only four volcanoes on earth with a constant pool of lava that neither increases nor recedes. It is the primary tourist attraction within one of Nicaragua's oldest national parks.


Nicaragua has more than ninety principal rivers running through canyons of various depths. In comparison to mountain ranges in North and South America, and even compared to adjacent Honduras, Nicaragua's highest mountains are modest, so few of its canyons are notably deep.

There are no major caves in Nicaragua.


There are no significant plateau regions in Nicaragua.


Several areas in Nicaragua rely on river dams as a source of hydroelectric power. Two of the largest dams are the Mancotal and El Salto Dams. Though both of these structures were damaged during 1998's Hurricane Mitch, reconstruction has taken place with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).


Central America contains the seven nations of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. The land area containing these states is often called the Central American Isthmus. An isthmus is a narrow section of land connecting two larger land masses; in this case, the isthmus joins North America (at Mexico) to South America (at Colombia).



Glassman, Paul. Nicaragua Guide: Spectacular and Unspoiled. Champlain, NY: Travel Line, 1996.

Griffiths, John. Nicaragua. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.

Haverstock, Nathan A. Nicaragua in Pictures. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1993.

Kott, Jennifer. Nicaragua. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.

Web Sites

Nicaragua Network Environmental Committee. (accessed April 17, 2003).

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Nicaragua (nĬkärä´gwä), officially Republic of Nicaragua, republic (2005 est. pop. 5,465,000), 49,579 sq mi (128,410 sq km), Central America. Nicaragua is bordered on the north and northwest by Honduras, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, on the south by Costa Rica, and on the southwest by the Pacific Ocean. The capital and largest city is Managua.

Land and People

There are four main geographic areas. The northwestern highlands have peaks as high as 8,000 ft (2,440 m). On the Caribbean is the torrid Mosquito Coast, with the historic port of Bluefields. This region is home to the Miskito people, who were given limited autonomy by the government in 1987. A lowland belt running northwest to southeast contains lakes Managua and Nicaragua. The fourth region is a narrow volcanic belt squeezed between the lakes and the Pacific; in this region the productive wealth and the population (largely of Spanish and indigenous descent) are concentrated. Corinto, on the Pacific, is the chief port. Spanish is the official language; indigenous languages and English are also spoken. The population is mainly Roman Catholic, but there are also Evangelical and other Christian groups.


Agriculture has always been important, but services now employ a larger percentage of the workforce and represent a much greater percentage of the gross domestic product. The chief commercial crops are coffee, bananas, cotton, sugarcane, and rice. Industries include food processing and the manufacture of chemicals, machinery and metal products, textiles, clothing, and footwear. There is also petroleum refining. Coffee, beef, seafood, tobacco, sugar, gold, and peanuts are the largest exports. Consumer goods, machinery and equipment, raw materials, and petroleum products are imported. The United States, El Salvador, and Costa Rica are the largest trading partners.


Nicaragua is governed under the constitution of 1987 as amended. Executive power is held by the president, who is both head of state and head of government. The president is popularly elected for five years. Members of the unicameral 92-seat National Assembly are also elected for five years. The country is divided administratively into 15 departments and two autonomous regions.


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. Constitutional changes enacted in Jan., 2014, eliminated term limits for the president and potentially increased the influence of the military and police in the government by allowing their members to serve in posts previously restricted to civilians. A proposed route for a transismthian canal in Nicaragua, to be built by a Chinese consortium, was announced in 2014.


See W. Kamman, A Search for Stability: United States Diplomacy Nicaragua, 1925–1933 (1968); R. de Nogales y Méndez, The Looting of Nicaragua (1928, repr. 1970); D. I. Folkman, The Nicaragua Route (1972); J. D. Rudolph, ed., Nicaragua: A Country Study (1982); D. Gilbert, Sandinistas: The Party and the Revolution (1988); T. W. Walker, Nicaragua, the Land of Sandino (1991); L. Dematteis, ed., Nicaragua, a Decade of Revolution (1991); R. Kagan, A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990 (1996).

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Country statistics


130,000sq km (50,193sq mi) 5,341,883

capital (population):

Managua (1,106,600)


Multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Mestizo 77%, White 10%, Black 9%, Native American 4%


Spanish (official)


Roman Catholic 91%


Córdoba oro (gold Córdoba) = 100 centavos

Republic in Central America. The Republic of Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. The Central Highlands rise in the nw Cordillera Isabella to more than 2400m (8000ft) and are the source for many of the rivers that drain the e plain. The Caribbean coast forms part of the Mosquito Coast. Lakes Managua and Nicaragua lie on the edge of a narrow volcanic region, which contains Nicaragua's major urban areas, including the capital, Managua, and the second-largest city, León. This region is highly unstable, with many active volcanoes, and is prone to earthquakes.

Climate and Vegetation

Nicaragua has a tropical climate, with a rainy season from June to October. The Central Highlands are cooler, and the wettest part is the Mosquito Coast, with c.4200mm (165in) of rain. Rainforests cover large areas in the e, with trees such as cedar, mahogany and walnut. Tropical savanna is common in the drier w.

History and Politics

Christopher Columbus reached Nicaragua in 1502, and claimed the land for Spain. Spanish colonization claimed the lives of c.100,000 Native Americans. By 1518 Nicaragua became part of the Spanish Captaincy-General of Guatemala. In the 17th century, Britain secured control of the Caribbean coast.

In 1821, Nicaragua gained independence, later forming part of the Central American Federation (1825–38). In the mid-19th century, civil war and US and British interference ravaged Nicaragua. The USA sought the construction of a trans-isthmian canal through Nicaragua. In 1855, William Walker invaded and briefly established himself as president. José Santos Zemalya's dictatorship (1893–1909) gained control of Mosquito Coast and formed close links with the British. Following his downfall, civil war raged once more. In 1912, US marines landed to protect the pro-US regime, and in 1916 the USA gained exclusive rights to the canal. Opposition to US occupation resulted in guerrilla war, led by Augusto César Sandino. In 1933, the US marines withdrew but set up a National Guard to help defeat the rebels.

In 1934 Anastasio Somoza, director of the National Guard, assassinated Sandino. Somoza became president in 1937. His dictatorial regime led to political isolation. Somoza was succeeded by his sons Luis (1956) and Anastasio (1967). Anastasio's diversion of international relief aid following the devastating 1972 Managua earthquake cemented opposition.

In 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) overthrew the Somoza regime. The Sandinista government, led by Daniel Ortega, instigated wide-ranging socialist reforms. The USA, concerned about the Sandinista's ties with communist regimes, sought to destabilize the government by supporting the Contra rebels. A ten-year civil war devastated the economy and led to political dissatisfaction.

In 1990 elections, the National Opposition Union coalition, led by Violeta Chamorro, defeated the Sandinistas. Chamorro's coalition partners and the Sandinista-controlled trade unions blocked many of her reforms. In 1996 elections, Liberal leader Arnoldo Aleman defeated Chamorro. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch killed c.4000 people and caused extensive damage. Enrique Bolanos became president at elections in 2001. In 2003, former president Arnoldo Aleman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for corruption.


Nicaragua faces problems in rebuilding its economy and introducing free-market reforms (GDP per capita, 2000 US$2700). Agriculture is the main activity, employing c.50% of the workforce and accounting for 70% of exports. Major cash crops include coffee, cotton, sugar and bananas. Rice is the main food crop. It has some copper, gold, and silver, but mining is underdeveloped. Most manufacturing is based in and around Managua.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Nicas; formally known as the Republic of Nicaragua.


Identification. Officially identified as the Republic of Nicaragua, the origin of the country's name is attributed to more than one source. According to one story, it was Nicarao, an indigenous chief at the time of the Spanish invasion, for whom the Spaniards named their conquest. Nicarao is a Nahuatl name, Nahuatl being the language of the Aztecs. A related story traces the origin back further, saying that chief Nicarao took his name from his own people, who derived the name based on the geographic location of their land. Nicaragua may be a combination of nic-atl-nahuac meaning "next to the water" in the Arawak language.

Regardless of the origins of the country's name, the people's pride rings out in the national anthem which begins "Hail to thee, Nicaragua," in acknowledgment of the country's independence from its centuries of colonizers.

Location and Geography. As the largest country in Central America with an area of 51,000 square miles (129,494 square kilometers), Nicaragua is about the size of New York State. The country is bounded by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, with Honduras bordering it at the north and Costa Rica at the south. Nicaragua has three major geographic regions: the Pacific lowlands in the west, the Caribbean lowlands in the east, and the central highlands located between these two. Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua are the country's largest lakes.

The climate varies more from elevation than from the seasons. Rainfall fluctuates greatly in Nicaragua and is seasonal; the rainy period runs from May through October. The Caribbean lowlands are the wettest section of Central America, receiving between 98 and 256 inches (250 and 650 centimeters) of rain annually. The east receives heavy annual rainfall and can even see serious flooding during the rainy season, while the west is drier year-round.

Demography. The Nicaraguan government has not conducted a national census since 1971, although since then it has collected demographic data through periodic sample surveys of the population. In 1990, an estimated 3.87 million people lived in Nicaragua. The population in 1993 was estimated at 4.08 million. Population growth rates have soared, and the median age is only about fifteen since so many adults were lost in the revolution and then in the hurricane of 1998. The population density in 1990 was 83 persons per square mile (32 per square kilometer), making it the lowest in Central America aside from Belize. The population is 55 percent urban, with most people concentrated in the Pacific lowlands because of the fertile land there. The Caribbean lowlands are more sparsely settled.

Linguistic Affiliation. When the Spaniards landed in western Nicaragua in the early 1500s, they encountered three main tribes each led by a chieftain, each with its own culture and language. Spanish is now the official language of Nicaragua and is spoken by more than 70 percent of the population. Most Spanish speakers live in the Pacific lowlands and central highlands. Grammar and usage follow Central American forms, which has some distinct differences from formal Spanish. The British presence in Nicaragua introduced many English words to the Spanish speakers, particularly in western Nicaragua. Likewise, American slang from the periods in which U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua has made its way into the vernacular of Spanish speakers.

The Creoles, the black people of the Caribbean region, are the descendants of colonial-era slaves, Jamaican merchants, and West Indian laborers. The Creoles are English-speaking, although many speak Spanish as a second language. Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean lowlands, the Miskito, Rama, and Sumu, preserve their own tribal languages. However, the English-speaking Miskito have resisted being absorbed into the Spanish culture. They refer to Spanish-speaking Nicaraguans as "los Espanoles" or "the Spanish," clearly differentiating themselves from their western compatriots. The Creoles share this resentment of the western Hispanic culture. Black Carib, also known as Garifuna language, is an amalgam of an Arawak language, African vocabulary, and some English additions.

Symbolism. Volcanoes dominate the landscape of Nicaragua, as well as the art and consciousness of Nicaraguans. A volcano is featured in the country's coat of arms that is centered on its flag. From most places in Nicaragua, you can look up and see one, two, or three volcano cones. The most notable formation is the twenty-five major volcanoes in a line that runs parallel to the Pacific coastline in western Nicaragua.

One particular volcano captures the attention of Nicaraguans and dominates the Managua skyline. Momotombo, which means "ruling above the waters" stands at 4,100 feet (1,230 meters). Momotombo is an active volcano that smokes continuously. In fact, the gases have been harnessed by a geothermal power station erected on the side of the volcano; the station generates one-fifth of Nicaragua's electricity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. From 1823 until independence, Nicaragua had been included in Provincias Unidas del Centro de America, a federation of Central American provinces annexed to Mexico. Nicaragua formally declared independence on 30 April 1838.

In the 1850s, the nation's independence became vulnerable as a result of the gold rush in California. Thousands of hopeful prospectors from the United States made their way to California through Nicaragua; this route was quicker and safer than crossing the continental United States. At this time, Nicaragua became the subject of a rivalry between the United States and Britain. Both foreign powers wanted to control an interoceanic transit route, be it by land or via a new Caribbean to Pacific canal.

By 1852, the Accessory Transit Company of American tycoon Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt was providing transportation for 20,000 United States citizens per month via Nicaragua. Soon after, he supported the expedition of William Walker who wanted to take over Nicaragua as a slave state annexed to the United States. William Walker was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and gained a reputation as a buccaneer and United States adventurer. In 1855 he entered Nicaragua with a small band of mercenaries armed with a new type of quick-action rifle. There, with the help of his Liberal allies, Walker was able to surprise and capture the conservative capitol of Granada and establish a coalition government. In June 1856, a new regime was formed and Walker was elected president. On 22 September, he suspended the Nicaraguan laws against slavery in order to gain support from the southern states in America and declared English to be the country's official language. His government was formally recognized by the United States that year. Then, in a reversal of alliance, Cornelius Vanderbilt backed a coalition of Central American states who fought against Walker. In 1857, Walker returned to Tennessee briefly and then sailed to Nicaragua again with more followers. There he was taken prisoner by the British and turned over to Honduran authorities, who tried and executed him on 12 September 1860.

Managua replaced the city of Leon as the capital in 1858, in an attempt to neutralize the vicious rivalry between Leon and Granada. Leon had served as the capital from its founding in 1610, but the capital was moved to Managua because it was halfway between the fervently liberal intellectual city of Leon and the ardently conservative city of Granada. Managua remains the capital city to this day.

In 1936 Anastasio Somoza, the head of the National Guard, staged a coup to bring down President Sacasa. Five months later, he became president of Nicaragua. He started a dictatorship, with the support of the United States, that lasted until his assassination in 1956. He was succeeded by his two sons Luis and Anastasio. The Somoza dictatorship ended in 1979 when the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) successfully waged a campaign against the National Guard, which was loyal to the Somoza family, and wrested control from the Somoza family. Because the Somoza family was plagued by corruption, many of their colleagues and beneficiaries, fearing prosecution for their actions, fled the country. The United States, concerned about the collectivization efforts of the Sandinistas and their acceptance of aid from Cuba and the Soviet Union, began to covertly arm the Contra opposition.

The Contra war of 1990 left Nicaragua highly divided. In the ensuing election, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was elected president of Nicaragua that year. She had become a prominent leader after the 1978 assassination of her husband, Pedro Chamorro, a respected publisher and editor of the daily newspaper La Prensa who consistently investigated the corruption of the Somoza family. Violeta Chamorro founded her administration on the principle of national reconciliation. She is credited with leading the country through the transition from war to peace, stabilizing the economy, and initiating a market economy.

In 1997, Arnoldo Aleman Lacayo became the president of the Republic, running under the Liberal Alliance party.

National Identity. Like other Latin Americans, Nicaraguans place a great importance on family and the protection of personal dignidad, or dignity. This extends outward to a collective feeling of national pride among the Nicaraguan people. This nationalism is represented by heroes and martyrs in the history and folkloreespecially the leader fighting against colonial influences.

Ethnic Relations. Three Indian cultures lived in pre-Columbian Nicaragua, each living in a distinct region and speaking an indigenous tongue. According to the Constitution of 1987 of the Republic of Nicaragua, all of the indigenous Atlantic coast communities enjoy the right to preserve and develop their cultural identity within the nation. This speaks directly to the Miskito, the largest minority group, who have long enjoyed a greater autonomy than any of the other indigenous tribes. This law also applies to the Sumus living along the Caribbean just north of Bluefields, a port town founded by Dutch traders.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Some of the most beautiful buildings in the major cities of Managua and Leon are the existing examples of colonial architecture, in particular the Roman Catholic cathedrals. Buildings illustrative of colonial architecture can be found in Managua, in the Palacio de los Heroes de la Revolucion (previously called the Palacio Nacional ) and the old Cathedral; the Cathedral is currently in ruins. In Leon, the former capital of Nicaragua, the architecture is also colonial, with a traditional charm due to its narrow streets, red tiled roofs, and stout buildings.

A lack of city planning is apparent in the current development of Managua. Its business district was leveled in a 1972 earthquake, and much of the later development took place outside the city's center. This has resulted in the tremendous growth of suburbs, spreading out from the city without a long-term plan.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Nicaragua has a local cuisine that shares some flavors and ingredients with Mexican food, while it also bears a resemblance to the cuisines of Honduras and Guatemala. Corn and beans are staples of the diet, and garlic and onions season most dishes. Like other Central Americans, Nicaraguans consume corn tortillas with most meals. Nicaragua's version of the tortilla is large, thin and made of white corn. It is used as an edible utensil to wrap meat and beans. Beans are consumed daily as a necessary source of protein in a country where most people cannot afford to eat meat regularly. Nicaraguans are partial to a small red bean generally eaten refried in a dish called gallo pinto, or "spotted rooster." This is primarily a breakfast dish.

Nicaraguans also enjoy tamales, but their versioncalled nacatamal has some unique characteristics. The entire meal of corn, rice, tomatoes, chili, potatoes, cassava root, and often a piece of meat, is wrapped in a leaf deriving from a banana-like plant.

The yucca root is a vegetable eaten for its vitamins; it is aptly named vigoron in Spanish, for its high percentage of nutrients. The yucca root is often served with pork rind and greens and sold at roadside stands. In addition, fruits such as mangos and plantains are popular in Nicaragua.

The favorite nonalcoholic drink is coffee. Nicaraguans drink coffee with hot milk at breakfast and black with sugar the rest of the day. Pinol, the national drink, is also nonalcoholic and is made from corn flour with water. Tiste, similar to pinol, is a beverage made from ground tortillas and cacao which can be served cool or at room temperature. Also popular is chichi, wine of the Indians, made from fermented corn. Beer is consumed as a typical light alcoholic beverage, while rum is the hard liquor of choice.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. At celebratory meals, Nicaraguans eat steak, either grilled steak called bistec a la parrilla, or grilled sirloin known as lomo.

Basic Economy. Nicaragua's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 1992 was $1.6 billion (U.S.). The Chamorro administration agreed to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank standards aimed at weaning the country off its dependency on foreign aid. One main aim of this plan was to halt the rampant inflation of the Nicaraguan currency, the cordoba. The plan was designed to stabilize the local currency, encourage foreign investment, and increase exports.

The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew 4.5 percent in 1996 (its best performance since before the Sandinista regime). As a result, GDP reached $1.969 billion. However, in the aftermath of political unrest as well as El Niño (1997) and Hurricane Mitch (1998), the GDP in Nicaragua has plunged. Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere with a per capita GDP of $438, which is lower than where it stood before the Sandinista conquest in 1979. Its economy suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits. Until agricultural efforts improve, the economy will continue to suffer and Nicaragua will remain dependent on foreign assistance (22 percent of GDP in 1996).

Land Tenure and Property. Much of the country's productive land was under the control of the Somoza family until 1979, when the Sandinistas redistributed land and organized farmers into cooperatives. However, the Sandinistas did not invest in improving farm equipment so harvests declined, leading many farmers to flock to urban centers in search of work. In 1981, the administration passed the Agrarian Reform Law, which defined the process of nationalization and stated what could be done with expropriated land. This law guaranteed property rights to those who continued to farm their land, but land that was underdeveloped or abandoned was subject to expropriation. Land ownership became an issue again in the 1990s as the Chamorro government redistributed the land, breaking up the state farms.

Commercial Activities. About 10 percent of Nicaragua's land is cultivated. The most fertile land is in the Pacific coast region, where volcanic ash has fertilized the soil. Coffee is grown in the Central Highlands and cotton is raised in the Pacific region. In addition, the country cultivates maize, sorghum, dry beans, soya beans and tobacco commercially. Rice is the country's most important food crop, while coffee, cotton, bananas, and beef are the country's principal exports.

Major Industries. There has been little urban industry in Nicaragua since the Sandinista revolution. In 1978, the industrial sector shrank due to political and economic problems. In the early 1980s, food processing plants, sugar mills, and vegetable oil refineries were operating at only 50 percent capacity. Prior to that, the country's industry was comprised of food processing plants and the manufacture of animal byproducts such as candles, soap, and leather.

The Miskito people generally eat the meat of the green turtle as a staple protein in their diet. But in the first half of the twentieth century, foreign demand for turtle meat increased and the Miskito discovered that they could earn more by selling the meat. Two foreign processing companies established operations in Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas in 1969. The industrialization and export of turtle meat quickly depleted the turtle population. Motivated by conservation of the turtle, in 1977 the Nicaraguan government suspended the operations of these companies.

Trade. Today Nicaragua's economy is based on agricultural efforts, since the nation has very fertile land and a low density of population on that land. Export crops such as coffee, cotton, bananas, and sugar rose steadily from 1950 to 1975. In 1992, the country's largest coffee crop was exported. The Nicaraguans also raise livestock for local consumption as well as trade. The Spanish brought the first cattle in the sixteenth century, and Nicaragua has been successfully raising and exporting beef since about 1950. In fact, forty-nine thousand tons of beef are produced each year.

Division of Labor. Traditional Hispanic divisions of labor are the standard in Nicaragua. Men work in the fields or factories, while women carry out the domestic chores. Children in rural communities help out with the farming, often missing school during harvest seasons. Most workers of the urban lower class are self-employed and unsalaried workers in small business ventures. Workers in this informal sector include tinsmiths, seamstresses, bakers, carpenters, and peddlers. In a family where the male works in this sector, the wife may take in laundry or sell food in the street to supplement the family income.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Nicaragua has always been a society of classes in indigenous cultures, the priests and nobles ruled over the laborers and slaves. This is what the Spanish found when they arrived, and their domination didn't do much to affect this class system. For generations, there was no notion of social or economic mobility for Nicaraguans. Agricultural laborers were descendants of laborers, and expected their children to follow in this path. With few other options available, most did.

Only with the 1979 revolution of the Sandinistas was there a widespread attempt to level the playing field and eliminate the class system. The Sandinistas deliberately took power and expropriated wealth from the rich and spread it evenly among the poor. The Sandinistas also began a national literacy campaign: they recruited young people from the upper classes to teach literacy skills to families in rural areas.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Land is the traditional basis of wealth and status in Nicaragua. Traditionally, landowners have prospered with the export of coffee, cotton, beef, and sugar, and land was concentrated in the hands of a few. Less than one-fifth of the population could be described as middle class or higher. Most Nicaraguans who have work still toil as migrants, following crops and working only during the harvest period. When the Sandinistas gained power, they seized the property of the Somoza family and instituted the Agrarian Reform Law, transferring land to peasant families and squatters on lands.

The telephone is another potent symbol of economic and social stratification, as evidenced by the number of telephones in the country and who has them. In 1993 there were approximately 60,000 telephones, only 1.5 per 100 inhabitants.

Political Life

Government. Modeled on the democratic system of the United States, the Nicaraguan government is divided into three branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The executive branch is made up of a president, vice president, and an appointed cabinet. The legislative branch, with a 92-member National Assembly, enacts the country's laws. As in the United States, the judicial branch is comprised of a supreme court and lower, local courts.

Leadership and Political Officials. Established by the Law on Municipalities in 1988 by the Sandinista National Assembly, the first municipal governments were selected in 1990. An effort was made to decentralize the political power which had been so abused in Nicaragua for decades. Under this system, citizens vote directly for council members in Nicaragua's nine regions; the number of members depends on the size of the city. The constitution details the responsibilities and powers of these municipal governments; they are primarily responsible for control of urban development, sanitation, environmental protection, construction and maintenance of roads, parks, and bridges, and the creation of museums and libraries.

Social Problems and Control. Poverty is the most pressing social problem in Nicaragua, and has been for decades. In 1994 the United Nations identified poverty and unemployment as the two reasons why Nicaraguans do not believe in the salve of democracy. The report asserted that 75 percent of Nicaraguan families live in poverty, and that unemployment hovered at 60 percent. Because of the uneven distribution of wealth, as well as the economic and political upheavals of recent decades, the poor have even suffered during periods of economic growth. In the 1970s, 30 percent of personal income flowed to the richest 5 percent of households. During the agricultural export growth in the Pacific lowlands and central highlands, many peasants were pushed off their land and ended up as low-wage migrant laborers.

The drug problem in Nicaragua was considered quite modest as of 1993, despite the country's position along a drug transit route from South American to the United States.

Military Activity. Nicaragua has a land force, a navy, and an air force. During the Sandinista regime, military service was mandatory but conscription was ended when Violeta Chamorro became president. As the country stabilized, the armed forces were downsized. The police organization, together with the Customs Organization, is considered to be exceedingly corrupt. Favors can easily be bought for the cost of a bribe.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The bulk of social welfare programs coincided with the 1979 Sandinista triumph. Declaring 1980 the year of literacy, the Sandinista government successfully launched a volunteer literacy campaign, focused on the countryside, to teach anyone over ten years old to read. At that time, this meant about 800,000 people. Young people of the more privileged class volunteered with parental permission to spend several months living and working with peasants, teaching entire families to read. The youth also taught political literacy based on Paulo Freire's concept of consciousness-raising.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Organizations

Nicaragua has long been dependent on foreign aid. Principle donors have been the United States, the USSR, and Canada, all of whom have been concerned about stabilizing Nicaragua because of its geopolitical positioning. From 1990 to 1998, the United States invested $983 million in economic assistance. In the 1960s, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded local programs aimed at improving regional infrastructure, particularly improving highway routes that would assist industrial development by improving interregional trade routes.

After the 1972 earthquake, foreign aid poured in to Nicaragua. The corrupt Somoza regime, however, managed to extort a significant amount of that aid for themselves, rather than using it to rebuild the country.

USAID now has three program areas operating in Nicaragua: strengthening democracy, creating jobs for sustainable growth, and promoting primary education and nutrition classes for healthy families. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch brought additional foreign aid dollars to Nicaragua to help deal with the damage from the worst national disaster in two centuries in the region. The destruction of Hurricane Mitch, combined with the devastating drought of El Niño in 1997 and 1998, resulted in a dreadful economic setback for the country.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. The roles of most men and women in Nicaragua are shaped by traditional Hispanic values. Women are most respected in the role of mother, but more women have been entering the workforce since the 1980s. Men are typically not involved in childrearing.

Relative Status of Women and Men. The status of men and women has changed since the revolution of the 1980s. As the revolution sought to liberate poor Nicaraguans, it also managed to liberate women from their subordinate role in the Hispanic culture. Women established neighborhood committees to organize urban resistance. Women gained the respect of male soldiers when they fought, and died, alongside them. Estimates are that women comprised about 25 percent of the Sandinista Front of the National Liberation Army.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. The minority of couples who are not Roman Catholic, outside of the upper and middle classes, formalize their marriages through ceremonies officiated by another church or the state. Many common-law unions exist, but Roman Catholics abide by the church's emphasis on marriage. Because of poverty and a shortage of affordable housing, newly married couples may live with one set of parents.

Domestic Unit. Like many Hispanic cultures, family relationships are highly valued and include relatives beyond the nuclear family unit. The word compadrazago, which literally means copaternity, indicates the bond among children, parents, grandparents, and godparents. With a high fertility rate, households are largegenerally comprised of six to eight personsand include grandparents and aunts and uncles. In rural areas, large families are regarded as a blessing: parents have help with chores and farm work. In urban settings, large families with extended kin allow for creative ways in which to house entire families, despite the space constraints of city living.

Inheritance. Land is the lifeblood of Nicaraguan farmers. It is a source of pride and dignity for a farmer to own the land he cultivates. And land can be a means of escaping the poverty that plagues so many Nicaraguans. Inheritance of land in Nicaragua has been complicated by the fact that most of the land was in the hands of a few privileged families. The peasant families who farmed this land had no claims to land ownership. This changed with the Sandinista government as it awarded and distributed land to rural families. Now, however, relatives and allies of the Somoza regime who emigrated in 1980 want to reclaim the thousands of acres they owned. Disputes over resettlements remain a controversial national issue, one that is being watched by the international community.

Kin Groups. Loyalty to kin is strong and extended families often reside together, sharing the childrearing duties as well as any resources of the household. The notion of kin may be extended to those not related by blood or marriage with the tradition of naming godparents.


Infant Care. Infants are raised principally by the mother with the help of extended kin. In agrarian communities, families tend to be large since more children increase the number of workers, thus raising the family's farming productivity. Infant mortality is high in Nicaragua. This figure was reduced in 1980 from 121 to 59 deaths per thousand, due to the Sandinista governments' increase in health clinics. Even the reduced infant mortality rate, though, is high when compared to that of neighboring countries.

Child Rearing and Education. Nicaragua's education system is underfunded and inadequate; access to education improved in the 1980s with the introduction of free education, but a large majority of the population had not completed primary schooling in 1993. Literacy was estimated at about 50 percent at the end of the Somoza regime, while a literacy campaign in the 1980s reportedly raised the literacy rate to about 77 percent. In 1981, approximately 1,500 Cuban teachers were teaching in Nicaragua, and 1,300 Nicaraguan students were attending schools in Cuba.

Schooling is now free and compulsory for children from ages seven to twelve, but only 70 percent of primary age students actually attend classes. By law all schooling is in Spanish, even in the West where Spanish is not spoken in the home.

Higher Education. The intellectual and cultural city of Leon gave birth to the country's first university. The National University of Nicaragua has approximately 7,000 students at campuses in Leon and Managua. The Central American University, located in Managua, is a Roman Catholic institution. The private Jesuit Universidad Centroamericana is also located in Managua. Two separate independent institutions, Universidades Nacionales Autonomas de Nicaragua, also operate as an alternative to the leading universities.


Nicaraguans share a sense of respect and personal distance, which is apparent in language exchanges. Nicaraguans rarely use the familiar tu form of address, even though most other Latin Americans use this casual exchange. However, the Nicaraguans routinely address one another using the informal and nonstandard pronoun vos.


Religious Beliefs. Officially, Nicaragua is a secular state. Roman Catholicism arrived in Nicaragua with the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century and remained the established faith until 1939. Most Nicaraguans are Roman Catholic, but many blacks along the coast, belong to Protestant denominations.

Practicing Roman Catholics, those who attend mass and receive the sacrament, tend to be women and members of the upper and middle classes residing in urban centers. With a paucity of priests to reach more potential members, the Roman Catholic Church is relatively inactive in rural communities.

Popular religion revolves around the saints, and prayers directed to them usually make requests for the saint's intervention in an illness or particular problem.

Along the coast, blacks largely belong to the Pentecostal and evangelical churches which have been growing in the 1990s. The largest of the Protestant congregations are the Moravian Church and Baptist Convention of Nicaragua. Virtually all Miskito and many Creoles and Sumn are Moravians. Other denominations in the west include churches established by missionaries from the United States, such as the Assemblies of God, the Episcopal Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Seventh Day Adventists.

Religious Practitioners. Roman Catholic priests lead mass and deliver the sacrament. In the mid-1980s there was only one priest for every 7,000 Roman Catholic Nicaraguans, approximately; this is a lower rate than in any of the other Latin American countries. The Roman Catholic bishops have sometimes offered tacit approval of the political leader, while at other times they allied themselves with the opposition. While started by foreign missionaries, most Protestant congregations are now lead by local Nicaraguan ministers who operate autonomously while maintaining a connection to their sister churches in the United States.

Rituals and Holy Places. As a predominantly devout Catholic country, Christian religious holidays are honored. Nicaraguans celebrate Holy Wednesday in March, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Maundy Thursday marks the transition through death and into life as experienced on Good Friday and Easter. In December, Catholics honor the Immaculate Conception and Christmas. Holy Saint's days are celebrated regularly. Each city in Nicaragua has its own patron saint and some saints may be shared between towns. The people give gifts to these saints in exchange for blessings such as healing, a good crop, or a husband. Even more important than the miracles that the Nicaraguans request of the saints are the annual celebrations, known as fiestas, which are held for each saint. These fiestas are times of great joy and everyone in the city joins in the celebration. Fiestas may begin with a parade in which the statue of the saint is carried into the city, followed by a daylong party of eating, drinking, and dancing.

Death and the Afterlife. Traditionally, the spouse of the deceased prepares the body for burial. The body is laid out in the home for viewing, and anyone from the village can enter to view the body. Roman Catholics believe in the concept of heaven, and understand death as the passage to eternal life.

Medicine and Health Care

During the 1980s, health care improved as the Sandinista regime built public clinics in both urban and rural areas. Nevertheless, the people of Nicaragua continue to suffer from malaria, poor diet, and unhealthy sanitary conditions caused by inadequate water and sewage systems. In the early 1990s the life expectancy of a Nicaraguan was 62 years, among the lowest in Central America. Enteritis and other diarrheal diseases were among the leading causes of death. Pneumonia, tetanus, and measles accounted for more than 10 percent of all deaths. A high incidence of infectious diseases remains, with malaria and tuberculosis being particularly endemic.

The Somoza regime tried to curb population growth by making contraceptives available through public health clinics. It is estimated that only about 5 percent of women of childbearing age use birth control devices.

Secular Celebrations

Nicaraguans celebrate New Year's Day on 1 January, Liberation Day on 18 July, and Independence Day on 15 September. The day before Independence Day, on 14 September, Nicaraguans commemorate the 1856 Battle of San Jacinto, in which Nicaraguans defeated William Walker and his Northern American mercenaries. Santo Domingo, the patron saint of Managua, is celebrated in a festival held from 1 to 10 August. This festival combines church ceremonies with horse racing, bullfights, cockfights, and a spirited carnival.

The Arts and Humanities

Since the early 1980s, the Ministry of Culture has worked to preserve folk art and train a new generation of artisans so that traditional crafts would not be lost.

Literature. Until the 1980s when the Sandinistas launched their literacy campaign, half of the Nicaraguan population was functionally illiterate. While few Nicaraguan writers have received international recognition, poet Ruben Dario is the noted exception. Dario is the pseudonym of Felix Ruben Garcia Sarmiento whose modernist poetry began a new movement in Nicaraguan literature. A nineteenth century poet, Dario lived from 1867 to 1916 and produced "Azul, " or "Blue." Dario lived as an exile outside of his homeland, but visited Leon for long periods and served as a diplomat representing Nicaragua. Dario's birthplace has been renamed in his honor and is preserved as a national shrine. Another author, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, published a volume of short stories and two novels before his assassination in 1978.

Graphic Arts. The Nicaraguan tradition of producing utilitarian and decorative ceramics and earthenware continues. Locally crafted earthenware still employs the shapes and motifs found in pre-Columbian pieces. Other local crafts include silverwork, woodcarving, embroidery, and sculpting. Gold filigree is practiced on the Atlantic coast.

Performance Arts. Folkloric dance is one of Nicaragua's enduring pre-Colonial art forms. Traditional dances are performed at festivals and fiestas, and children study this aspect of their heritage in after-school programs. Similar to folk dances in Mexico and Guatemala, Nicaraguan dance tradition features the palo volador, or flying pole, in which a performer is strapped to a rope wound around a pole and then unwinds, swinging farther into the air accompanied by the pounding rhythm of percussion instruments. The marimba, a kind of xylophone, is also part of Nicaragua's rich musical tradition. The city of Masaga is the primary performing arts center in the country.

Dances such as Las Inditas, Los Diabilitos, and Las Negras all involve masked characters. Another traditional dance theme is the re-enactment of the Spanish Conquest, parodying the conquerors by depicting them in pink masks with grotesque facial features. The farcical dance portrays the Spaniards and their conquest as clumsy, but inevitably triumphant.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Nicaragua has several functioning research institutes despite the country's unrest. The Observatorio Geofisico, founded in 1980 in Managua, concentrates on the study of geophysics, geology, seismology, and volcanology. The National University of Agriculture in Managua was founded in 1929. About two thousand students attend the university and study agronomy, animal sciences, and natural resource management. The faculty employs a dean for each of these areas of study as well as for distance education, and the facilities include a botanical garden that is maintained by students and used for agricultural research. The Polytechnical University of Nicaragua, also in Managua, is a technical school that was founded in 1968 by the Nicaraguan Baptist Convention. This university offers vocational degrees in engineering, nursing, banking and finance, architecture, and industrial arts.


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S. B. Downey

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The people of Nicaragua are called Nicaraguans. The population is estimated to be about 70 percent mestizo (mixture of white and Amerindian or native), 14 percent white, and 13 percent black. Amerindians (native people), including the Sumu and Miskito, account for the remaining 4 percent.

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