Nicaragua

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NICARAGUA

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
TOPOGRAPHY
CLIMATE
FLORA AND FAUNA
ENVIRONMENT
POPULATION
MIGRATION
ETHNIC GROUPS
LANGUAGES
RELIGIONS
TRANSPORTATION
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL PARTIES
LOCAL GOVERNMENT
JUDICIAL SYSTEM
ARMED FORCES
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
ECONOMY
INCOME
LABOR
AGRICULTURE
ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
FISHING
FORESTRY
MINING
ENERGY AND POWER
INDUSTRY
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
DOMESTIC TRADE
FOREIGN TRADE
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
BANKING AND SECURITIES
INSURANCE
PUBLIC FINANCE
TAXATION
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
FOREIGN INVESTMENT
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HEALTH
HOUSING
EDUCATION
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
MEDIA
ORGANIZATIONS
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
FAMOUS NICARAGUANS
DEPENDENCIES
BIBLIOGRAPHY

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.

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT

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.

TOPOGRAPHY

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.

CLIMATE

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.

FLORA AND FAUNA

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.

ENVIRONMENT

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.

POPULATION

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.

MIGRATION

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.

ETHNIC GROUPS

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.

LANGUAGES

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.

RELIGIONS

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.

TRANSPORTATION

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.

HISTORY

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.

GOVERNMENT

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.

POLITICAL PARTIES

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.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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.

JUDICIAL SYSTEM

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."

ARMED FORCES

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.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

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).

ECONOMY

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.

INCOME

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.

LABOR

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.

AGRICULTURE

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.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

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.

FISHING

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.

FORESTRY

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.

MINING

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.

ENERGY AND POWER

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.

INDUSTRY

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.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

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.

DOMESTIC TRADE

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.

FOREIGN TRADE

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.

BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

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.

BANKING AND SECURITIES

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.

INSURANCE

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.

PUBLIC FINANCE

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
   Defense
   Public order and safety
   Economic affairs
   Environmental protection
   Housing and community amenities
   Health
   Recreational, culture, and religion
   Education
   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.

TAXATION

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.

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

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.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT

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.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

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.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

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.

HEALTH

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.

HOUSING

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.

EDUCATION

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.

LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS

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.

MEDIA

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.

ORGANIZATIONS

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.

TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION

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.

FAMOUS NICARAGUANS

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.

DEPENDENCIES

Nicaragua has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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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NICARAGUA

Republic of Nicaragua

Major Cities:
Managua, León

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

EDITOR'S NOTE

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 http://travel.state.gov/ for the most recent information available on travel to this country.

INTRODUCTION

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.

MAJOR CITIES

Managua

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.

Food

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.

Clothing

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.

Education

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.

Sports

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.

Entertainment

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.

León

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.

OTHER CITIES

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.

COUNTRY PROFILE

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.

Population

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.

Transportation

Automobiles

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

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.

Regional

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.

Communications

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.

NOTES FOR TRAVELERS

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 at[email protected]; 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 http://www.fema.gov.

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; e-mail:[email protected]; web page http://usembassy.state.gov/managua

Pets

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.

LOCAL HOLIDAYS

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

*variable

RECOMMENDED READING

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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Nicaragua

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.

Censorship

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. laprensa.com.ni) has been in operation since October 30, 1997. El Nuevo Diario (www.elnuevodiario.com. 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.

Summary

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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World Press Freedom Review, 1998-2001.

Kristin McCleary

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Nicaragua

PROFILE
PEOPLE
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
ECONOMY
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-NICARAGUAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL

Compiled from the January 2008 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:

Republic of Nicaragua

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 129,494 sq. km. (59,998 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New York State.

Cities: Capital—Managua (pop. 1 million). Other major cities—Leon, Granada, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Chi-nandega, Masaya.

Terrain: Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes.

Climate: Tropical in lowlands; cooler in highlands.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Nicaraguan(s).

Population: (2005) 5.4 million.

Annual growth rate: (2005) 1.7%. Density—42 per sq. km.

Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) 69%, white 17%, black (Jamaican origin) 9%, indigenous 5%.

Religions: Predominantly Roman Catholic, with rapidly growing percentage of Evangelical Protestants.

Languages: Spanish (official), English and indigenous languages on Caribbean coast.

Education: Years compulsory—none enforced (28% of first graders eventually finish sixth grade). Literacy—67.5%.

Health: (2005) Life expectancy—70yrs. Infant mortality rate—35.50/1,000.

Work force: (2004 est.) 1.9 million.

Government

Type: Republic.

Independence: 1821.

Constitution: The 1987 Sandinistaera constitution was changed in 1995 to provide for a more even distribution of power among the four branches of government and again in 2000 to increase the Supreme Court and the Controller General's Office and to make changes to the electoral laws.

Government branches: Executive—president and vice president. Legislative—National Assembly (unicameral). Judicial—Supreme Court; subordinate appeals, district, and local courts; separate labor and administrative tribunals. Electoral—Supreme Electoral Council, responsible for organizing and holding elections.

Political subdivisions: 15 departments and two autonomous regions on the Atlantic coast; 145 municipalities.

Political parties: Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN); Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN); Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC); Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS).

Suffrage: Universal at 16.

Economy

GDP: (2006) $5.37 billion.

GDP real growth rate: (2006)3.7%.

Per capita GDP: (2006) $994.

Inflation rate: (2006) 9.45%.

Natural resources: arable land, fresh water, fisheries, gold, timber hydro and geothermal power potential.

Agriculture: (17% of GDP) Products—corn, coffee, sugar, meat, rice, beans, bananas, beef, dairy.

Industry: (24% of GDP) Types—processed food, beverages, textiles, petroleum, and metal products.

Services: (52% of GDP) Types—banking, wholesale and retail distribution, telecommunications, and energy.

Trade: (2005 est.) Normal exports—$857 million (f.o.b.) coffee, seafood, beef, sugar, industrial goods, gold, bananas. Free trade zone exports—$682 million, mostly textiles and apparel, automobile wiring harnesses. Markets—Central American Common Market (CACM) 35%, U.S. 33%, European Union 14%, Mexico 4%, Japan 1%. Imports—$2.865 billion (c.i.f.) petroleum, agricultural inputs and equipment, manufactured goods. Suppliers—CACM 21%, U.S. 18%, EU 8%, Mexico 8%, Venezuela 6%, China 5%.

PEOPLE

Most Nicaraguans are of both European and Indian ancestry, and the culture of the country reflects the Ibero-European and Indian heritage of its people. Only the Indians of the eastern half of the country remain ethnically distinct and retain tribal customs and languages. A large black minority, of Jamaican origin, is concentrated on the Caribbean coast. In the mid-1980s, the central government divided the eastern half of the country—the former department of Zelaya—into two autonomous regions and granted the people of the region limited self-rule.

Roman Catholicism is the major religion, but Evangelical Protestant groups have grown recently, and there are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans live in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands. The population is 58% urban.

HISTORY

Nicaragua takes its name from Nicarao, chief of the indigenous tribe that lived around present-day Lake Nicaragua during the late 1400s and early 1500s. In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua's principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and Leon east of Lake Managua. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821, briefly becoming a part of the Mexican Empire and then a member of a federation of independent Central American provinces. In 1838, Nicaragua became an independent republic.

Much of Nicaragua's politics since independence has been characterized by the rivalry between the Liberal elite of Leon and the Conservative elite of Granada, which often led to civil war. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, an American named William Walker and his “filibusters” seized the presidency in 1856. The Liberals and Conservatives united to drive him out of office in 1857. Three decades of Conservative rule followed. Taking advantage of divisions within the Conservative ranks, Jose Santos Zelaya led a Liberal revolt that brought him to power in 1893. Zelaya ended a longstanding dispute with Britain over the Atlantic Coast in 1894, and reincorporated that region into Nicaragua.

By 1909, differences had developed over a transisthmian canal and concessions to Americans in Nicaragua; there also was concern about what was perceived as Nicaragua's destabilizing influence in the region. In 1909 the United States provided political support to Conservative-led forces rebelling against President Zelaya and intervened militarily to protect American lives and property. With the exception of a 9-month period in 1925-26, the United States maintained troops in Nicaragua from 1912 until 1933. From 1927 until 1933, U.S. Marines stationed in Nicaragua engaged in a running battle with rebel forces led by renegade Liberal Gen. Augusto Sandino, who rejected a 1927 negotiated agreement brokered by the United States to end the latest round of fighting between Liberals and Conservatives.

After the departure of U.S. troops, National Guard Commander Anastasio Somoza Garcia outmaneuvered his political opponents—including Sandino, who was assassinated by National Guard officers—and took over the presidency in 1936. Somoza and two sons who succeeded him maintained close ties with the United States. The Somoza dynasty ended in 1979 with a massive uprising led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which had conducted a low scale guerrilla war against the Somoza regime since the early 1960s.

The FSLN established an authoritarian dictatorship soon after taking power. U.S.-Nicaraguan relations deteriorated rapidly as the regime nationalized many private industries, confiscated private property, supported Central American guerrilla movements, and maintained links to international terrorists. The United States suspended aid to Nicaragua in 1981. The Reagan administration provided assistance to the Nicaraguan resistance and in 1985 imposed an embargo on U.S.-Nicaraguan trade.

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. In these elections, which were proclaimed free and fair by international observers, Nicaraguan voters elected as their President the candidate of the National Opposition Union, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

During President Chamorro's nearly 7 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. Despite a number of irregularities—which were due largely to logistical difficulties and a baroquely complicated electoral law—the October 20, 1996 presidential, legislative, and mayoral elections were judged free and fair by international observers and by the groundbreaking national electoral observer group Etica y Transparencia (Ethics and Transparency). This time Nicaraguans elected former Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán, leader of the center-right Liberal Alliance. The first transfer of power in recent Nicaraguan history from one democratically elected president to another took place on January 10, 1997, when the Alemán government was inaugurated.

Presidential and legislative elections were held in November 2001. Enrique Bolaños of the Liberal Constitutional Party was elected to the Nicaraguan presidency on November 4, 2001, defeating FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega by 14 percentage points. The elections, characterized by international observers as free, fair and peaceful, reflected the maturing of Nicaragua's democratic institutions. During his campaign, President-elect Bolaños promised to reinvigorate the economy, create jobs,

fight corruption, and support the war against terrorism. Bolaños was inaugurated on January 10, 2002.

FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega won the presidential elections of November 5, 2006 with 38% of the vote, defeating a divided opposition. ALN candidate Eduardo Montealegre garnered 29%; Jose Rizo of the PLC received 26%; and MRS' Edmundo Jarquin polled fourth with 6%. Ortega was inaugurated on January 10, 2007.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy with executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral branches of government. In 1995, the executive and legislative branches negotiated a reform of the 1987 Sandinista constitution, which gave extensive new powers and independence to the legislature—the National Assembly— including permitting the Assembly to override a presidential veto with a simple majority vote and eliminating the president's ability to pocket-veto a bill. The president and the members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected to concurrent 5-year terms. The National Assembly consists of 92 total deputies (90 elected from party lists drawn at the departmental and national levels, plus the outgoing president and the candidate who finishes second in the presidential race).

The Supreme Court supervises the functioning of the still largely ineffective, often partisan, and overburdened judicial system. In 2000, as part of the PLC-FSLN pact, the number or Supreme Court justices was increased from 12 to 16. Supreme Court justices are elected to 5-year terms by the National Assembly. Led by a council of seven magistrates, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) is the co-equal branch of government responsible for organizing and conducting elections, plebiscites, and referendums. The magistrates and their alternates are elected to 5-year terms by the National Assembly. Constitutional changes in 2000 expanded the number of CSE magistrates from five to seven and gave the PLC and the FSLN a freer hand to name party activists to the Council, prompting allegations that both parties were politicizing electoral institutions and processes and excluding smaller political parties.

Freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by Nicaragua's constitution and vigorously exercised by its people. Diverse viewpoints are freely and openly discussed in the media and in academia. There is no state censorship in Nicaragua. 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. The government also permits domestic and international human rights monitors to operate freely in Nicaragua. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth, nationality, political belief, race, gender, language, religion, opinion, national origin, and economic or social condition. All public and private sector workers, except the military and the police, are entitled to form and join unions of their own choosing, and they exercise this right extensively. Nearly half of Nicaragua's work force, including agricultural workers, is unionized. Workers have the right to strike. Collective bargaining is becoming more common in the private sector.

Political Parties

Five parties participated in the 2006 national elections (FSLN, ALN, PLC, MRS, and AC). The election resulted in the following distribution of the 92 seats in the National Assembly (installed January 9, 2007) FSLN—38; PLC—25; ALN—24; MRS—5.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 2/1/2008

Pres.: Daniel ORTEGA Saavedra

Vice Pres.: Jaime MORALES Carazo

Min. of Agriculture & Forestry: Ariel BACARDO

Min. of Defense:

Min. of Education, Culture, & Sports: Miguel de CASTILLA Urbina

Min. of Environment & Natural Resources: Juana ARGENAL

Min. of Family: Glenda Auxiliadora RAMIREZ Noguera

Min. of Finance & Public Credit: Alberto Jose GUEVARA Obregon

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Samuel SANTOS Lopez

Min. of Govt.: Ana Isabel MORALES Mazon

Min. of Health: Guillermo GONZALEZ

Min. of Industry, Development, & Commerce: Orlando SOLORZANO Delgadillo

Min. of Labor: Jeannette CHAVEZ Gomez

Min. of Tourism:

Min. of Transportation & Infrastructure: Pablo MARTINEZ

Sec. of the Presidency Attorney Gen.: Hernan ESTRADA

Prosecutor Gen.:

Pres., Central Bank: Atenor ROSALES

Ambassador to the US: Arturo CRUZ Sequeira, Jr.

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Maria RUBIALES

Nicaragua maintains an embassy in the United States at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-939-6570).

ECONOMY

For the 16 years between Ortega administrations (1991-2006), three successive Liberal Party administrations focused on free market reform as the path to recovery from 12 years of economic free-fall under the Sandinista regime and civil war. During this 16-year period, characterized by steady GDP growth, the government made dramatic economic progress. It privatized more than 350 state enterprises, reduced inflation from 33,500% in 1988 to 9.45% in 2006, and cut the foreign debt by more than half. In 2006, the economy expanded by 3.7% as GDP reached $5.3 billion. Nonetheless, Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere. Unemployment is officially estimated at 5% of the economically active population; however, an estimated 60% of workers belong to the informal sector. Nicaragua suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits and a high internal debt-service burden. Foreign assistance totaled 26% of the budget in 2006. Nicaragua also depends heavily on remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad, which totaled $655.5 million in 2006.

Exports have been one of the key engines of economic growth. In 2006 exports topped $1 billion. Although traditional export products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continue to lead the list, shipments of non-traditional exports such as vegetables, tobacco products, gold, and free trade zone products (textiles and electrical harnesses) increased markedly in recent years.

The U.S. is Nicaragua's largest trading partner, accounting for one-fifth of Nicaragua's imports and almost two-thirds of its total exports. Nicaragua formally entered the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on April 1, 2006. Nicaraguan exports to the U.S. grew 17.4% during the agreement's first 12 months. Although volumes are still low, over the same period, Nicaragua exported 237 new products to the U.S. Imports increased almost 21%, centering around machinery, cereals, vehicles, fats and oils, and plastic products.

Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, but light industry (maquila), tourism, banking, mining, fisheries, and general commerce are expanding. Foreign capital inflows reached $282.3 million in 2006. Strong anti-capitalist rhetoric from President Ortega may discourage prospective investors and slow foreign direct investment. The lack of clarity on the Ortega government's economic policies has created particular uncertainty in the power, fuel, tourism, and real estate sectors.

Tourism is the nation's third-largest source of foreign exchange. More than 60,000 Americans visit Nicaragua yearly, primarily business people, tourists, and Nicaraguan-Americans visiting relatives. An estimated 7,000 U.S. citizens reside in the country. The U.S. Embassy's consular section provides a full range of consular services—from passport replacement and veteran's assistance to prison visitation and repatriation assistance.

Nicaragua faces a number of political and infrastructure challenges in achieving sustainable economic growth. Long-term success at attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depend on its ability to comply with a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, resolve the thousands of Sandinistaera property confiscation cases, promote a positive investment climate, and keep its economy open to foreign trade. Nicaragua achieved extensive debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative and successfully completed its first IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) in 2006. During the Bolaños administration (2001-2006), fiscal deficits were reduced through increased tax collection and limits placed on consolidated public sector expenditures; international reserves increased from U.S. $274 million in 2001 to U.S. $924 million in 2006.

While the Sandinista economic team has promised to continue stable macro-economic policies, President Ortega's public statements often challenge market economics. In July 2007 the government successfully negotiated a new IMF agreement which requires implementation of free-market policies and includes targets linked to energy, pensions, fiscal discipline, and spending on poverty. There are 121 companies operating in Nicaragua associated with a U.S. firm, either as subsidiaries, franchises, or exclusive distributors. The largest are in the energy, financial services, apparel, manufacturing, and fisheries sectors.

The U.S. Embassy's economic and commercial section advances American economic and business interests by briefing U.S. firms on opportunities and stumbling blocks to trade and investment in Nicaragua; encouraging key Nicaraguan decision-makers to work with American firms; helping to resolve problems that affect U.S. commercial interests; and working to change local economic and trade ground rules in order to afford U.S. firms a level playing field on which to compete. U.S. businesses may access key Embassy economic reports via the mission's Internet home page at http://managua.usembassy.gov/.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

The 1990 election victory of President Violeta Chamorro placed Nicaragua in the ranks of Latin American democracies. Nicaragua pursues an independent foreign policy. A participant of the Central American Security Commission (CASC), Nicaragua also has taken a leading role in pressing for regional demilitarization and peaceful settlement of disputes within states in the region. Nicaragua has submitted two territorial disputes—one with Honduras and the other with Colombia—to the International Court at The Hague for resolution. The dispute with Honduras was resolved by The Hague in October 2007, and current Presidents Ortega and Zelaya (Honduras) met on October 8, 2007 to recognize the finality of the decision.

On the San Juan River there have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a 3-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. After the two governments failed to reach an amicable solution, Costa Rica filed a case before the ICJ. While the case is currently pending, the two countries jointly fund community development projects in the border area. At the 1994 Summit of the Americas, Nicaragua joined six Central American neighbors in signing the Alliance for Sustainable Development, known as the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA, or CONCAUSA, to promote sustainable economic development in the region.

Nicaragua belongs to the United Nations and several specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization (WTO), UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), and UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). Nicaragua also is a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI).

U.S.-NICARAGUAN RELATIONS

U.S. policy aims to continue supporting the consolidation of the democratic process initiated in Nicaragua with the 1990 election of President Chamorro. The United States has promoted national reconciliation, encouraging Nicaraguans to resolve their problems through dialogue and compromise. It recognizes as legitimate all political forces that abide by the democratic process and eschew violence. U.S. assistance is focused on strengthening democratic institutions, stimulating sustainable economic growth, and supporting the health and basic education sectors. The resolution of U.S. citizen claims arising from Sandinistaera confiscations and expropriations still figures prominently in bilateral policy concerns. Section 527 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (1994) prohibits certain U.S. assistance and support for a government of a country that has confiscated U.S. citizen property, unless the government has taken certain remedial steps. In July 2007, the Secretary of State issued a 14th annual national interest waiver of the Section 527 prohibition because of Nicaragua's record in resolving U.S. citizen claims as well as its overall progress in implementing political and economic reforms.

Other key U.S. policy goals for Nicaragua are:

  • Improving respect for human rights and resolving outstanding high-profile human rights cases;
  • Developing a free market economy with respect for property and intellectual property rights;
  • Ensuring effective civilian control over defense and security policy;
  • Increasing the effectiveness of Nicaragua's efforts to combat transborder crimes, including narcotics trafficking, money laundering, illegal alien smuggling, international terrorist and criminal organizations, and trafficking in persons; and
  • Reforming the judicial system and implementing good governance.

Since 1990, the United States has provided over $1.2 billion in assistance to Nicaragua. About $260 million of that was for debt relief, and another $450 million was for balance-of-payments support. The U.S. also provided $93 million in 1999, 2000, and 2001 as part of its overall response to Hurricane Mitch. In response to Hurricane Felix, the United States provided over $400,000 in direct aid to Nicaragua to support recovery operations from the damage inflicted in September 2007. Aside from funding for Hurricanes Mitch and Felix, the levels of assistanc have fallen incrementally to reflect the improvements in Nicaragua. Assistance has been focused on promoting more citizen political participation, compromise, and government transparency; stimulating sustainable growth and income; and fostering better-educated and healthier families. The Millennium Challenge Corporation signed a 5-year, $175 million compact with the Republic of Nicaragua on July 14, 2005. The Millennium Challenge Compact will reduce poverty and spur economic growth by funding projects in the regions of Leon and Chinandega aimed at reducing transportation costs and improving access to markets for rural communities; increasing wages and profits from farming and related enterprises in the region; and increasing investment by strengthening property rights.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Last Updated: 2/19/2008

MANAGUA (E) Carretera Sur KM 5.5, APO/FPO APO AA 34021, 011-505-252-7100, Fax 001-505-252-7260, Workweek: 7:30AM-4:15 PM, Website: http://managua.usembassy.gov.

DCM OMS:Linda R. Ren
AMB OMS:Irene C. Willig
ECO:Joseph M. Ripley
FM:Fernando Ospina
MGT:Paula M. Bravo
AMB:Paul A. Trivelli
CG:Marc J. Meznar
DCM:Richard M. Sanders
PAO:Jerome J. Oetgen
GSO:Robert P. Kepner
RSO:Christopher R. Rooks
AFSA:Kristin M. Stewart
AGR:Katherine Nishiura (SanJose)
AID:Alexander Dickie
APHIS:Jack Amen
CLO:Hilda Esquivel
DAO:Daniel A. Alabre
DEA:Michael J. Sanders
EEO:Naomi C. Fellows
FAA:Ruben Quinones (Miami)
FMO:Deidra L. Reid
ICASS:Chair Alexander Dickie
IMO:Jaime Esquivel
IPO:Michael P. Touchstone
IRS:Frederick Dulas (MexicoCity)
ISO:Freddy Mendez
ISSO:Freddy Mendez
MLO:Ltc.Robert Gaddis
NAS:Byron Tsao
POL:Christopher T. Robinson
State ICASS: JJerome J. Oetgen

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade
Administration
Trade Information Center

14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

American Chamber of Commerce
in Nicaragua

Apartado Postal 202
Managua, Nicaragua
Tel: (5052) 67-30-99
Fax: (5052) 67-30-9

Caribbean/Latin American
Action

1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

September 20, 2007

Country Description: Nicaragua is a young democracy with a developing economy. On November 5, 2006, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega won the Presidential elections after sixteen years in the opposition. Many foreign governments and relief organizations provide economic assistance to Nicaragua and numerous individuals (official and non-official) from the United States and the rest of the developed world work on community-based projects throughout the country. Violent crime has not been a historical problem, but the strength of criminal enterprises appears to be growing.

The national language is Spanish, although many residents of the Caribbean coastal areas also speak English and indigenous languages. The climate is hot and humid, with the “summer” dry season running mid-November through mid-May and the “winter” rainy season running from mid-May through mid-November. Terrain ranges from the hilly and volcanic to coastal beaches and tropical jungles.

The promotion of tourism is a top government priority; however, Nicaragua lacks an extensive tourist infrastructure. Potential tourists may want to obtain information from INTUR, the governmental agency responsible for developing, regulating and promoting tourism in Nicaragua. INTUR's web site is http://www.intur.gob.ni/ and offers some information in English.

Entry Requirements: On January 8, 2007, the U.S. Government phased in new passport requirements for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere. All U.S. citizens traveling by air are expected to depart and enter the United States on a valid U.S. passport or other authorized document establishing identity and U.S. citizenship. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection web site at http://www.cbp.gov has more information on U.S. entry requirements.

A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua. Although there is a bilateral agreement that waives the six-month validity passport requirement, U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their passports are valid for the length of their projected stay in the country before traveling. U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased ($5.00) upon arrival. Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days. A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua. Pay attention to the authorized stay that will be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector. Visitors remaining more than the authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration. Failure to do so will prevent departure until a fine is paid. There is also a $32 departure tax, the payment of which may or may not be included in your ticket. If not, payment can be made at the counter.

In June 2006, Nicaragua entered a “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at Immigration checkpoints. U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals, who legally enter any of the four countries, may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries. Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days. Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the four country region beyond the period initially granted for their visit are required to request a one-time extension of stay from local Immigration authorities in the country where the traveler is physically present, or travel outside the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region. Foreigners “expelled” from any of the four countries are excluded from the entire “CA-4” region. In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to some travelers and has resulted in others being fined more than one hundred dollars or detained in custody for 72 hours or longer.

Visit the Embassy of Nicaragua web site at http://www.cancilleria.gob.ni/ for the most current visa information and locations for the Embassy and the several consulates in the United States.

Safety and Security: Police coverage is extremely sparse outside of major urban areas, particularly in Nicaragua. Atlantic coast autonomous regions. Sporadic incidents of highway banditry are reported in remote rural areas of north and northwest Nicaragua. If you do decide to travel to these areas, travel only on major highways during daylight hours. Political demonstrations and strikes occur sporadically, are usually limited to urban areas, and occasionally become violent. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences.

Nautical travelers should be aware that there are boundary disputes involving the governments of Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean coastal waters adjoining these countries. Passengers and crews of foreign fishing boats have been detained and/ or fined and vessels impounded. There also is a long-term boundary dispute with Colombia over San Andres Island and surrounding waters, as well as questions regarding boundary demarcation in the Gulf of Fonseca. Travelers should also be aware that narcotics traffickers often use the Caribbean and Pacific coastal waters.

U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua's Pacific coast have resulted in a number of incidents of drowning. Powerful waves have also resulted in broken bones, and injuries caused by sting rays are not uncommon in popular resort bathing areas. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available. U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua's Pacific waters should exercise appropriate caution.

Hiking in volcanic or other remote areas can be dangerous and travelers should take appropriate precautions. Hikers should have appropriate dress, footwear, and sufficient consumables for any trek undertaken. Individuals who travel to remote tourist or other areas for hiking activities are encouraged to hire a local guide familiar with the terrain and area. In particular, there have been instances of hikers perishing or losing their way on the volcanoes at Ometepe Island. While they may look like easy climbs, the terrain is treacherous and heavily overgrown.

Hundreds of passengers travel daily on domestic flights within Nicaragua without incident. However, these flights use small airstrips outside of Managua, with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security. Significant safety and security improvements have, however, been made at the Bluefields, Puerto Cabe-zas and Corn Island airports.

Although extensive demining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the war, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.

Crime: Violent crime in Managua and other cities is increasing, and street crimes are common. Pick pocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops and in open markets, particularly the large Mercado Oriental, and less frequently at the Huembes market. Gang activity is rising in Managua, though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries. Gang violence, including robbery, assault and stabbing, is most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, including the Ticabus area, but has occurred in the neighborhoods surrounding major hotels, bus terminals and open-air markets.

Recently, a U.S. citizen was assaulted and raped while on vacation in Little Corn Island. U.S. citizens have previously been the victims of sexual assault on this island and other beaches in the country. The Embassy recommends traveling in groups when in isolated areas. Single travelers should exercise special caution while traveling in the Corn Island and other remote areas of the country. Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields and the Corn Islands along the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast. Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements. The embassy has limited travel by its staff to most of the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS). Given the area's geographical isolation, the Embassy's ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens who choose to travel in the Caribbean costal area is constrained. Police presence on Little Corn Island is made up of volunteers with little to no formal training, and is minimal on Corn Island and other remote areas.

In the past year, the Embassy has noted a gradual increase in the use of armed violence against resident and visiting U.S. citizens. The Embassy recommends that travelers utilize hotels and guest houses which have strong security elements in place, including but not limited to rooms equipped with safes for securing valuables and travel documents and adequate access control precautions.

Visitors should avoid walking and instead use officially registered taxicabs. Radio-dispatched taxis are recommended and can be found at the International airport and at the larger hotels. Taxi drivers and passengers have been victims of robbery, assault, sexual assault, and even murder. Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is legible. Pick taxis carefully and note the driver's name and license number. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before you depart, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change. Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the coop-erativa (company) name and logo. Purse and jewelry snatching's sometimes occur at stoplights. While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked and valuables placed out of sight.

Do not resist a robbery attempt. Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted. Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightspots. Travel in groups of two or more persons whenever possible. Use the same common sense while traveling in Nicaragua that you would in any high-crime area of a major U.S. city. Do not wear excessive jewelry in downtown or rural areas. Do not carry large sums of money, ATM or credit cards you do not need, or other valuables.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care is very limited, particularly outside of Managua. Basic medical services are available in Managua and in many of the smaller towns and villages. However, treatment for many serious medical problems is either unavailable or available only in Managua. Emergency ambulance services, as well as certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments, are not available in Nicaragua. Physicians and hospital personnel frequently do not speak English, and medical reports are written in Spanish. Patients must have good understand and an ability to speak Spanish in order to navigate the local medical resources.

In an emergency, individuals are taken to the nearest hospital that will accept a patient. This is usually a public hospital unless the individual or someone acting on their behalf indicates that they can pay for a private hospital. Payment for medical services is typically done on a cash basis, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment. U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted in Nicaragua.

Dengue fever is endemic in Nicaragua. Currently, no vaccine or specific medication is available to prevent or treat Dengue fever. Malaria is endemic in the Atlantic coast region and anti-malarial medication should be taken before and after travel to this region. Travelers are advised to take a prophylactic regimen best suited to their health profile. No prophylaxis anti-malarial medication is required for Managua and the western, Pacific coast region. For both Dengue fever and malaria, the best prevention is the use of DEET insect repellant, as well as the wearing of protective clothing and bed-nets to prevent mosquito bites.

Tap water is not considered safe in Nicaragua. All persons should drink only bottled water.

Individuals traveling to Nicaragua should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. Vaccination against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid is strongly recommended. A yellow fever vaccination is not required to enter Nicaragua unless the traveler has recently visited a country where yellow fever is endemic. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Nicaragua. Many newer combination medications are not available in local pharmacies.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventio's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. It is extremely important that U.S. citizens purchase overseas medical evacuation insurance, as most American insurance carriers, especially HMOs, do not provide this type of coverage overseas.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nicaragua is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving is on the right side of the road in Nicaragua. Motorists driving to Nicaragua should use the principal highways and official border crossings at Guasaule, El Espino and Las Manos between Nicaragua and Honduras and Penas Blancas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in generally good condition, drivers should be aware that seasonal, torrential rains take a heavy toll on road beds. With few exceptions, secondary roads are in poor repair, potholed, poorly lit, frequently narrow, and lack shoulders. Road travel after dark is especially hazardous in all areas of the country. Motorists are encouraged to prepare accordingly and may want to carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency.

Some of the major highways and roads are undergoing major repair, repaving and upgrading. Be on the lookout for detours and slow traffic on these roads. In general, road signs are poor to non-existent. Bicycles, oxcarts, dogs, horses and vehicles without lights are at times encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua. Motorcycles, often carrying passengers, dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning. Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly and break down without warning. Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots. Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, but because the government lacks the resources, traffic rules are rarely enforced.

Due to the age and disrepair of many vehicles, many drivers will not signal their intentions using turn indicators. Rather, it is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn. If you do drive in Nicaragua, you need to exercise the utmost caution, drive defensively and make sure you have insurance.

Avoid taking public transportation buses, if possible. They are overcrowded, unsafe and often are used by pickpockets. Because of the conditions discussed above, traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death. This is most often true when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved. Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer. Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.

Nicaraguan law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that caused serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).

Visitors to Nicaragua might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies. In case of accident, only the driver will be taken into custody. The Embassy has received a number of complaints from U.S. citizens who have been stopped by transit police authorities demanding bribes in order to avoid paying fines. Motorists in rental cars and those whose cars have foreign license plates are more likely to be stopped by transit police.

Transit police have seized driver licenses and car registration documents from motorists who refuse to or are unable to pay. Subsequently, these drivers have reported difficulties in recovering the seized documents. U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their vehicles comply fully with Nicaraguan transit regulations, including being in possession of an emergency triangle and fire extinguisher, and that the vehicle is properly registered.

If transit police authorities demand an on-the-spot payment, drivers should ask for the officer's name and badge number, as well as a receipt, and inform the Embassy of when/ where the event took place. (Reports should be sent via email to [email protected]) Rental car agencies should also be advised if their vehicles have been deemed negligent in meeting Nicaraguan transit regulations.

Regulations governing transit are administered by the National Police. For specific information concerning Nicaraguan driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you may wish to refer to the National Police web site at http://www.policia.gob.ni. You may also contact the Embassy of Nicaragua or a Nicaraguan Consulate for further information. Visit the website of the country's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at www.mti.gob.ni.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Nicaragua's Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Nicaragua's air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov.

Purchasing Property: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks of purchasing real estate in Nicaragua and should exercise caution before committing to invest in property. The 1979-90 Sandinista government expropriated some 30,000 properties, many of which are still involved in disputes or claims. Land title remains unclear in many cases. Although the government has resolved several thousand claims by U.S. citizens for compensation or return of properties, there remain hundreds of unresolved claims registered with the Embassy. Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation and investigate their purchases thoroughly in order to reduce the possibility of property disputes.

The Judicial system offers little relief when the purchase of a property winds up in court. The Embassy is aware of numerous cases in which buyers purchase property supported by what appear to be legal titles only to see themselves subsequently embroiled in legal battles when the titles are contested by an affected or otherwise interested third party. Once a property dispute enters the judicial arena, the outcome may be subject to corruption, political pressure, and influence peddling. Many Coastal properties have been tied up in courts recently, leaving the ‘buyer’ unable to proceed with the intended development pending lengthy and uncertain litigation. In other cases squatters have simply invaded the land while the police or judicial authorities are unable (or unwilling) to remove the trespassers. Again, the Embassy advises that those interested in purchasing Nicaraguan property exercise extreme caution.

Currency and Credit Cards: U.S.dollars are widely accepted throughout the country, and major credit cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses in urban and tourist areas. Visitors who need to change dollars are encouraged to do this at their hotel since this is typically the safest place. ATM machines are available at banks in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas. However, individuals should exercise caution when using a teller machine since they are typically in or near uncontrolled areas and criminal elements can easily see you withdrawing cash. Traveler's checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities (“casas de cambio”). You will also find enterprising individuals—‘Cam-bistas’—waving wads of cash in the street. Changing money in this fashion can be dangerous and is not recommended.

The U.S. Embassy has noted an increase in credit card fraud. Although local police authorities have made several arrests in conjunction with credit card scam operations, the danger for abuse continues. Illegal use can include “skimming” or making a copy of the magnetic strip on the credit card or simply copying the number for later use. U.S. citizens who do continue to use credit cards in Nicaragua are advised to check statements frequently to monitor for abuse and/or to ask banks to email them when transactions exceed a certain number or size.

Disaster Preparedness: 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 http://www.fema.gov.

Customs Regulations: Before excavating archaeological materials, or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, all persons are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture. Nicaraguan law and a bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the U.S. and commercialization of said goods. Severe criminal penalties may apply. U.S. citizens planning to stay in Nicaragua for an extended period of time with the intention of bringing vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Nicaraguan customs officials prior to shipment.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.

Persons violating Nicaraguan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nicaragua are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. The judicial system is subject to corruption and political influence.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Registration and Embassy Locations: U.S. citizens living or traveling in Nicaragua are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Nicaragua. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located Kilometer 4 1/2 (4.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 266-6010 or 268-0123; after hours telephone (505) 266-6038; Consular Section fax (505) 266-9943; E-mail: consularmanagua @state.gov; online: http://managua.usembassy.gov.

International Adoption

November 2006

The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: Nicaraguan law does not allow for a Nicaraguan child to travel to the United States to be adopted. Therefore, prospective adoptive parents must obtain a full and final adoption under Nicaraguan law before the child can immigrate to the United States. The Nicaraguan Ministry of the Family will want to see that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) division of the Department of Homeland Security has approved prospective adoptive parents to adopt a child and will ask for the Notice of Approval (Form I-171H) issued by USCIS.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Authority: The government office responsible for adoptions in Nicaragua is Mi Familia (Ministry of Family). This office can be contacted at the following address:

De ENEL Central,
100 mts.
Al sur, Managua,
Phone: (505) 278-1837/ (505) 278-5637, extensions 220 or 233.

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Both single and married people may adopt. Officially, prospective adoptive parents must be between 25 and 40. However, the Ministry of Family has been flexible on the age requirement on a case-by-case basis.

Residency Requirements: According to Nicaraguan law, prospective adoptive parents must either be Nicaraguan citizens or have a permanent residence in Nicaragua and plan to remain in Nicaragua until the child reaches 21 years of age. In the cases of U.S. citizens with an approved I-600 or I-600A, however, this residency requirement is typically waived.

Time Frame: The Nicaraguan adoption process takes anywhere from six months to a year and in some cases longer.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Prospective adoptive parents must work directly with the Ministry of Family until the final stage of the adoption. Once the Ministry of Family authorizes the adoption, the prospective adoptive parents may hire a Nicaraguan attorney to complete the adoption procedures. This may be advisable due to the complexity of the Nicaraguan legal system. Lists of attorneys are available from the U.S. Embassy and can be accessed on line at: http://managua.usembassy.gov.

Adoption Fees: The Ministry of the Family does not charge fees for adoptions. Typical charges will be legal fees and fees for obtaining notarized legal documents. The legal fees generally range from $1,200 to $1,500.

Adoption Procedures: Prospective adoptive parents can expect a lengthy process to adopt a child in Nicaragua. The Ministry of Family will go through a number of steps to ensure that the child has been abandoned and that no biological family members are willing to take in the child. The Ministry of Family will verify that the prospective adoptive parent(s) has/have been approved by USCIS to adopt a child from abroad and that they have translated and notarized copies of the home study conducted in the United States. Once the adoptive parents have been approved by the Ministry of the Family they are placed on a waiting list until a child is identified. Even if the child has already been identified by the adoptive parents, the parents must still wait on the waiting list for further processing by the Ministry of the Family.

Once all the data is evaluated and necessary investigations performed, the case is presented to the Ministry of Family's adoption advisory council for a final decision on the adoption. Either the adoptive parents or the adoptive parents' lawyer should be present for these proceedings.

If the adoption is approved, the decision is then sent to a judge to formally order the decision. The judge has the authority to deny a case when there is a concern for the child's welfare. These are exceptionally rare cases, with only one case denied in the last ten years.

When the final adoption decree is issued by the Nicaraguan court, the parents are able to attain a birth certificate (at least two original copies is recommended) from the Central Registry of Managua for a cost of 100 Cordobas ($6). As soon as the birth certificate has been issued, a passport could be attained from Nicaraguan Immigration for 350 Cordobas ($20) with an expected eight day turn around. Expedited same day passports service is available for 300 extra Cordobas ($18). The parents will also need to attain a “legal authority” from Nicaraguan Immigration [cost of 350 Cordobas ($20)] in order leave the country with the child.

Required Documents: The following is a list of documents typically requested by the Ministry of Family when it is evaluating an adoptio request from a prospective adoptive parent. All documents should be translated into Spanish and then authenticated by the nearest Nicaraguan Consulate:

  • Original authenticated notice of approval (I-171H) issued by USCIS;
  • Home study (I-600A fulfills this requirement);
  • Psychological evaluation by a U.S.-based adoption agency;
  • Birth certificate of adoptive parent(s);
  • Marriage certificate of adoptive parents (if applicable);
  • Letter of employment for the adoptive parents;
  • Unites States police record (FBI fingerprints fulfill this requirement);
  • Medical examination for adoptive parents(s);
  • Two 2'' x 2'' color photographs of the parent(s) with a white background;
  • Letter from a U.S.-based adoption agency indicating that it will follow-up with the case in the United States once the adoption has been completed in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan Ministry of the Family requires a U.S. based adoption agency to conduct at least two family visits for the first year after the adoption that report on the welfare of the child. These reports need to be sent directly to the Ministry of the Family (Consejo de Adopcion).

Note: The above is not necessarily a complete list of everything that may be requested. The Ministry of Family will advise prospective adoptive parents if anything else will be required.

Embassy of Nicaragua
1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
Tel: (202) 939-6531/32
Consular Section: (202) 939-6541
Fax:(202) 939-6574
Hours of Operation: 9:00am—1:00pm, Monday through Frida

Nicaragua also has consulates in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco. For more specific contact information, please refer to the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry's web site at: www.cancilleria.gob.ni.

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adoptive parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy Managua
Km 4 1/2 Carretera Sur
P.O. Box #: 327
Phone: 011-(505)-268-0123, ext 4519/ 4767/4320
Fax: 011—(505)—266-9943

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Nicaragua may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Managua. General questions regarding intercountry adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

views updated

NICARAGUA

Compiled from the February 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Nicaragua


PROFILE

Geography

Area: 129,494 sq. km. (59,998 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New York State.

Cities: Capital—Managua (pop. 1 million). Other cities—Leon, Granada, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Chinandega, Masaya.

Terrain: Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes.

Climate: Tropical in lowlands; cooler in highlands.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Nicaraguan(s).

Population: (2004 est.) 5.36 million.

Annual growth rate: (est.) 1.97%. Density—33 per sq. km.

Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) 69%, white 17%, black (Jamaican origin) 9%, indigenous 5%.

Religions: Predominantly Roman Catholic, with rapidly growing percentage of Evangelical Protestants.

Languages: Spanish (official), English and indigenous languages on Caribbean coast.

Education: Years compulsory—none enforced (28% of first graders eventually finish sixth grade). Literacy—67.5%.

Health: Life expectancy—70 yrs. Infant mortality rate—30.15/1,000.

Work force: (1999) 1.7 million. Unemployed—22%; underemployed—36%.

Government

Type: Republic.

Independence: 1821.

Constitution: The 1987 Sandinistaera constitution was changed in 1995 to provide for a more even distribution of power among the four branches of government and again in 2000 to increase the Supreme Court and the Controller General's Office and to make changes to the electoral laws.

Branches: Executive—president and vice president. Legislative—National Assembly (unicameral). Judicial—Supreme Court; subordinate appeals, district, and local courts; separate labor and administrative tribunals. Electoral—Supreme Electoral Council, responsible for organizing and holding elections.

Administrative subdivisions: 15 departments and two autonomous regions on the Atlantic coast; 145 municipalities.

Political parties: Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC); Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Other political parties: Conservative Party (PC); National Resistance Party (PRN); Camino Cristiano; Alliance for the Republic (APRE). Regional parties in the Atlantic Coast include YATAMA (Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Asla Takanka) and PMUC (Partido Movimiento de Unidad Costeña).

Suffrage: Universal at 16.

Economy

GDP: (2003) PPP $11.4 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2003 est.) 1.4%.

Per capita GDP: (2003 est.) $2,200.

Inflation rate: (2003 est.) 5.3%.

Natural resources: Arable land, livestock, fisheries, gold, timber.

Agriculture: (31% of GDP) Products—corn, coffee, sugar, meat, rice, beans, bananas.

Industry: (23% of GDP) Types—processed food, beverages, textiles, petroleum, and metal products.

Services: (45% of GDP) Types—commerce, construction, government, banking, transportation, and energy.

Trade: (2001) Exports—$640 million (f.o.b.) coffee, seafood, beef, sugar, industrial goods, gold, bananas, sesame. Markets—U.S. 43%, European Union 33%, Central American Common Market (CACM) 17%, Mexico 2%. Imports—$1.7 billion (f.o.b.) petroleum, agricultural supplies, manufactured goods. Suppliers—U.S. 32%, CACM 21%, Venezuela 11%, European Union 9%.


PEOPLE

Most Nicaraguans are of both European and Indian ancestry, and the culture of the country reflects the Ibero-European and Indian heritage of its people. Only the Indians of the eastern half of the country remain ethnically distinct and retain tribal customs and languages. A large black minority, of Jamaican origin, is concentrated on the Caribbean coast. In the mid-1980s, the central government divided the eastern half of the country—the former department of Zelaya—into two autonomous regions and granted the people of the region limited self-rule.

The 1995 constitutional reform guaranteed the integrity of the regions' several unique cultures and gave the inhabitants a say in the use of the area's natural resources. Roman Catholicism is the major religion, but Evangelical Protestant groups have grown recently, and there are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans live in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands. The population is 54% urban.


HISTORY

Nicaragua takes its name from Nicarao, chief of the indigenous tribe that lived around present-day Lake Nicaragua during the late 1400s and early 1500s. In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua's principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and Leon east of Lake Managua. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821, briefly becoming a part of the Mexican Empire and then a member of a federation of independent Central American provinces. In 1838, Nicaragua became an independent republic.

Much of Nicaragua's politics since independence have been characterized by the rivalry between the Liberal elite of Leon and the Conservative elite of Granada, which often led to civil war. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, an American named William Walker and his "filibusters" seized the presidency in 1856. The Liberals and Conservatives united to drive him out of office in 1857. Three decades of Conservative rule followed. Taking advantage of divisions within the Conservative ranks, Jose Santos Zelaya led a Liberal revolt that brought him to power in 1893. Zelaya ended a longstanding dispute with Britain over the Atlantic Coast in 1894, and reincorporated that region into Nicaragua.

By 1909, differences had developed over an isthmian canal and concessions to Americans in Nicaragua; there also was concern about what was perceived as Nicaragua's destabilizing influence in the region. In 1909 the United States provided political support to Conservative-led forces rebelling against President Zelaya and intervened militarily to protect American lives and property. Zelaya resigned later that year. With the exception of a 9-month period in 1925-26, the United States maintained troops in Nicaragua from 1912 until 1933. From 1927 until 1933, U.S. Marines stationed in Nicaragua engaged in a running battle with rebel forces led by renegade Liberal Gen. Augusto Sandino, who rejected a 1927 negotiated agreement brokered by the United States to end the latest round of fighting between Liberals and Conservatives.

After the departure of U.S. troops, National Guard Cmdr. Anastasio Somoza Garcia outmaneuvered his political opponents—including Sand-ino, who was assassinated by National Guard officers—and took over the presidency in 1936. Somoza, and two sons who succeeded him, maintained close ties with the United States. The Somoza dynasty ended in 1979 with a massive uprising led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which had conducted a lowscale guerrilla war against the Somoza regime since the early 1960s. The FSLN established an authoritarian dictatorship soon after taking power. U.S.-Nicaraguan relations deteriorated rapidly as the regime nationalized many private industries, confiscated private property, supported Central American guerrilla movements, and maintained links to international terrorists. The United States suspended aid to Nicaragua in 1981. The Reagan administration provided assistance to the Nicaraguan resistance and in 1985 imposed an embargo on U.S.-Nicaraguan trade.

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. In these elections, which were proclaimed free and fair by international observers, Nicaraguan voters elected as their President the candidate of the National Opposition Union, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

During President Chamorro's nearly 7 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. In February 1995, Sandinista Popular Army Cmdr. Gen. Humberto Ortega was replaced in accordance with a new military code enacted in 1994 by Gen. Joaquin Cuadra, who espoused a policy of greater professionalism in the renamed Army of Nicaragua.

A new police organization law, passed by the National Assembly and signed into law in August 1996, further codified both civilian control of the police and the professionalization of that law enforcement agency. Despite a number of irregularities—which were due largely to logistical difficulties and a baroquely complicated electoral law—the October 20, 1996 presidential, legislative, and mayoral elections were judged free and fair by international observers and by the groundbreaking national electoral observer group Etica y Transparencia (Ethics and Transparency). This time

Nicaraguans elected former Managua Mayor Arnoldo Aleman, leader of the center-right Liberal Alliance. The first transfer of power in recent Nicaraguan history from one democratically elected president to another took place on January 10, 1997, when the Aleman government was inaugurated.

In November 2000, Nicaragua held municipal elections—the country's third free and fair election since 1990. President Aleman's Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) won a majority of the overall mayoral races, but the FSLN fared considerably better in larger urban areas, winning a significant number of departmental capitals, including Managua.

Presidential and legislative elections were held in November 2001. Enrique Bolaños of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party was elected to the Nicaraguan presidency on November 4, 2001, defeating FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega by 14 percentage points. The elections, characterized by international observers as free, fair and peaceful, reflected the maturing of Nicaragua's democratic institutions. During his campaign, President-elect Bolaños promised to reinvigorate the economy, create jobs, fight corruption, and support the war against terrorism. Bolaños was inaugurated on January 10, 2002.


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy with executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral branches of government. In 1995, the executive and legislative branches negotiated a reform of the 1987 Sandinista constitution, which gave impressive new powers and independence to the legislature—the National Assemblyincluding permitting the Assembly to override a presidential veto with a simple majority vote and eliminating the president's ability to pocket-veto a bill.

The president and the members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected to concurrent 5-year terms. The National Assembly consists of 90 deputies elected from party lists drawn at the department and national level, plus the 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 political parties and alliances won the remaining 15 seats. In the 2001 elections, the Liberal Party won 53 seats, the FSLN 38 seats, and the Conservative Party (PC) 1 seat.

The Supreme Court supervises the functioning of the still largely ineffective and overburdened judicial system. As part of the 1995 constitutional reforms, the independence of the Supreme Court was strengthened by increasing the number of magistrates from 9 to 12. In 2000, the number or Supreme Court justices was increased to 16. Supreme Court justices are elected to 5-year terms by the National Assembly. Led by a council of seven magistrates, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) is the co-equal branch of government responsible for organizing and conducting elections, plebiscites, and referendums. The magistrates and their alternates are elected to 5-year terms by the National Assembly. Constitutional changes in 2000 expanded the number of CSE magistrates from five to seven and gave the PLC and the FSLN a freer hand to name party activists to the Council, prompting allegations that both parties were politicizing electoral institutions and processes and excluding smaller political parties.

Freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by Nicaragua's constitution and vigorously exercised by its people. Diverse viewpoints are freely and openly discussed in the media and in academia. There is no state censorship in Nicaragua. 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. The government also permits domestic and international human rights monitors to operate freely in Nicaragua. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth, nationality, political belief, race, gender, language, religion, opinion, national origin, and economic or social condition. All public and private sector workers, except the military and the police, are entitled to form and join unions of their own choosing, and they exercise this right extensively. Nearly half of Nicaragua's work force, including agricultural workers, is unionized. Workers have the right to strike. Collective bargaining is becoming more common in the private sector.

Political Parties

Though 35 political parties participated in the 1996 elections, under new, more restrictive electoral laws passed in 2000, only three parties participated in the 2001 national elections—the PLC, the FSLN, and the PC. As a result of those elections, of the 92 seats in the National Assembly, 53 are held by the PLC, 38 by the FSLN, and 1 by the PC.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 1/28/05

President: Enrique BOLANOS
Vice President: Jose RIZO
Min. of Agriculture & Forestry: Jose Augusto "Tuto" NAVARRO
Min. of Defense: Jose Adan GUERRA
Min. of Education, Culture, & Sports: Miguel Angel GARCIA
Min. of Environment & Natural Resources: Arturo HARDING
Min. of Family: Carmen LARGAESPADA
Min. of Finance & Public Credit: Mario ARANA
Min. of Foreign Affairs: Norman CALDERA
Min. of Government: Julio VEGA , Dr.
Min. of Health: Jose Antonio ALVARADO
Min. of Industry, Development, & Trade Mario ARANA
Min. of Labor: Virgilio GURDIAN
Min. of Tourism: Lucia Salazar C. DE ROBELO
Min. of Transportation & Infrastructure: Pedro SOLORZANO
Sec. of the Presidency: Eduardo MONTEALEGRA
Attorney General: Victor Manuel TALAVERA
Prosecutor General: Julio CENTENO
Pres., Central Bank: Mario ALONSO
Ambassador to the US: Salvador STADTHAGEN
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Eduardo SEVILLA Somoza

Nicaragua maintains an embassy in the United States at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-387-4371).


ECONOMY

Nicaragua began free market reforms in 1991 after 12 years of economic free-fall under the Sandinista regime. Despite some setbacks, it has made dramatic progress: privatizing more than 350 state enterprises, reducing inflation from 13,500% to 5.3%, and cutting the foreign debt in half. The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew 2.5% in 2001, with overall GDP reaching $2.44 billion in 2001. In 2001, the global recession, combined with a series of bank failures, low coffee prices, and a drought, caused the economy to contract.

Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere. Unemployment is officially around 22%, and another 36% are underemployed. Nicaragua suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits and a high debt-service burden, leaving it highly dependent on foreign assistance—as much as 25% of GDP in 2001.

One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export. Exports were $640 million in 2001. Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continued to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, the fastest growth is now in nontraditional exports: maquila goods (apparel); gold; seafood; and new agricultural products such as peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions. Nicaragua also depends heavily on remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad.

Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, but construction, mining, fisheries, and general commerce also have been expanding during the last few years. Foreign private capital inflows topped $300 million in 1999 but, due to economic and political uncertainty, fell to less than $100 million in 2001.

Rapid expansion of the tourist industry has made it the nation's third-largest source of foreign exchange. Some 60,000 Americans visit Nicaragua yearly—primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. An estimated 5,300 U.S. citizens reside in the country. The U.S. Embassy's consular section provides a full range of consular services—from passport replacement and veteran's assistance to prison visitation and repatriation assistance.

Nicaragua faces a number of challenges in stimulating rapid economic growth. Long-term success at attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depend on its ability to comply with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, resolve the thousands of Sandinista-era property confiscation cases, and open its economy to foreign trade. This process was boosted in late 2000 when Nicaragua reached the decision point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative. However, HIPC benefits will be delayed because Nicaragua subsequently fell "off track" from its IMF program. The country also has been grappling with a string of bank failures that began in August 2000. Moreover, Nicaragua continues to lose international reserves due to its growing fiscal deficits.

The United States is the country's largest trading partner by far—the source in 2002 of roughly 25% of Nicaragua's imports and the destination in 2002 of about 60% of its exports. About 25 wholly or partly owned subsidiaries of U.S. companies operate in Nicaragua. The largest of those investments are in the energy, communications, manufacturing, fisheries, and shrimp farming sectors. Good opportunities exist for further investments in those same sectors, as well as in tourism, mining, franchising, and the distribution of imported consumer, manufacturing, and agricultural goods.

The U.S. Embassy's economic and commercial section advances American economic and business interests by briefing U.S. firms on opportunities and stumbling blocks to trade and investment in Nicaragua; encouraging key Nicaraguan decision makers to work with American firms; helping to resolve problems that affect U.S. commercial interests; and working to change local economic and trade ground rules in order to afford U.S. firms a level playing field on which to compete. U.S. businesses may access key Embassy economic reports via the mission's Internet home page at http://usembassy.state.gov/managua/www.hemba.html.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

The 1990 election victory of President Violeta Chamorro placed Nicaragua in the ranks of Latin American democracies. Nicaragua pursues an independent foreign policy. President Chamorro was instrumental in obtaining considerable international assistance for her government's efforts to improve living conditions for Nicaraguans—the country is one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Her administration also negotiated substantial reductions in the country's foreign debt burden. A participant of the Central American Security Commission (CASC), Nicaragua also has taken a leading role in pressing for regional demilitarization and peaceful settlement of disputes within states in the region. Nicaragua has submitted two territorial disputes—one with Honduras and the other with Colombia—to the International Court at The Hague for resolution.

On the San Juan River there have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a three-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. Meanwhile, the governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica have agreed to work toward an amicable solution and to jointly fund community development projects in the border area. At the 1994 Summit of the Americas, Nicaragua joined six Central American neighbors in signing the Alliance for Sustainable Development, known as the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA, or CONCAUSA, to promote sustainable economic development in the region.

Nicaragua belongs to the United Nations and several specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization (WTO), UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), and UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). Nicaragua also is a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI). In July 2004, Nicaragua's ambassador to the OAS assumed chairmanship of the Permanent Council (the Organization's second-highest decision-making body) for a 3-month period.


U.S.-NICARAGUAN RELATIONS

U.S. policy aims to continue supporting the consolidation of the democratic process initiated in Nicaragua with the 1990 election of President Chamorro. The United States has promoted national reconciliation, encouraging Nicaraguans to resolve their problems through dialogue and compromise. It recognizes as legitimate all political forces that abide by the democratic process and eschew violence. U.S. assistance is focused on strengthening democratic institutions, stimulating sustainable economic growth, and supporting the health and basic education sectors.

The resolution of U.S. citizen claims arising from Sandinista-era confiscations and expropriations still figures prominently in bilateral policy concerns. Section 527 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (1994) prohibits certain U.S. assistance and support for a government of a country that has confiscated U.S. citizen property, unless the government has taken certain remedial steps. In July 2004, the Secretary of State issued an 11th annual national interest waiver of the Section 527 prohibition because of Nicaragua's record in resolving U.S. citizen claims as well as its overall progress in implementing political and economic reforms.

Other key U.S. policy goals for Nicaragua are:

  • Improving respect for human rights and resolving outstanding high-profile human rights cases;
  • Developing a free market economy with respect for property and intellectual property rights;
  • Ensuring effective civilian control over defense and security policy;
  • Increasing the effectiveness of Nicaragua's efforts to combat transborder crimes, including narcotics trafficking, illegal alien smuggling, international terrorist and criminal organizations, and trafficking in persons; and
  • Reforming the judicial system and implementing good governance.

Since 1990, the United States has provided $1.2 billion in assistance to Nicaragua. About $260 million of that was for debt relief, and another $450 million was for balance-of-payments support. The U.S. also provided $93 million in 1999, 2000, and 2001 as part of its overall response to Hurricane Mitch. Aside from funding for Mitch reconstruction, the levels of assistance have fallen incrementally to reflect the improvements in Nicaragua. FY 2000 assistance was $25 million and FY 2001 amounted to about the same. This assistance was focused on promoting more citizen political participation, compromise, and government transparency; stimulating sustainable growth and income; and fostering better-educated and healthier families. In 2001, the United States provided a total of $6.2 million to the Supreme Electoral Council and to a wide range of nongovernmental organizations to ensure free, fair, and transparent elections.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

MANAGUA (E) Address: Carretera Sur KM 4.5; APO/FPO: APO AA 34021; Phone: 011-505-266-6010; Fax: 001-505-266-3865; Workweek: 7:30AM-4:15 PM; Website: webmanagua.managua.state.gov

AMB:Barbara C. Moore
AMB OMS:Patricia Brania
DCM:Peter M. Brennan
DCM OMS:Diana McGee
CG:Luis Espada-Platet
POL:Carlos Garcia
MGT:Paula M. Bravo
AFSA:Rafael Foley
AGR:Katherine Nishiura (San Jose)
AID:James Vermillion
APHIS:Steve Smith
CLO:Jan Von Schleh
DAO:Jorge Madera
DEA:Phillip Welcome
ECO:Janet R. Potash
EEO:Lillian Nigaglioni
FAA:Ruben Quinones (Miami)
FMO:W. Lee Thompson
GSO:Jill J. Thompson
IMO:Jose M. Ortiz
IPO:Greg Von Schleh
IRS:Frederick Dulas (Mexico City)
ISO:Warren C. Talley
ISSO:Greg Von Schleh
MLO:Hector Salinas
NAS:Eigil Hansen
PAO:Marcia Bosshardt
RSO:Michael Poehlitz
State ICASS:Marcia Bosshardt
Last Updated: 12/27/2004

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua
Apartado Postal 202
Managua, Nicaragua
Tel: (5052) 67-30-99
Fax: (5052) 67-30-98

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075


TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

October 14, 2004

Country Description: Nicaragua is a young democracy with a developing economy. The national language is Spanish, yet most residents of the Caribbean coastal areas speak English, as well. The climate is generally hot and humid with dry and rainy seasons. Terrain ranges from the hilly and volcanic to coastal beaches and tropical jungles. Many foreign governments and relief organizations provide economic assistance to Nicaragua and numerous individuals (official and non-official) from the U.S. and the rest of the developed world work on community-based projects both in Managua and in the rural areas. Violent crime has not been a historical problem, yet criminal enterprises appear to be growing in organization as economic development in Nicaragua moves forward. The judicial system is corrupt and politically influenced.

The promotion of tourism is a top government priority yet Nicaragua lacks an extensive tourist infrastructure. Potential tourists may want to obtain information from INTUR, the governmental agency responsible for developing, regulating and promoting tourism in Nicaragua. INTUR's web-site is http://www.intur.gob.ni and offers some information in English.

Entry/Exit Requirements: A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua. U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. Tourist card fees and airport departure taxes must be paid in U.S. dollars. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased ($5.00) upon arrival. Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days. Pay attention to the authorized stay that will be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector. Visitors remaining more than the authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration. Failure to do so prevents departure until a fine is paid.

A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua. The departure tax is currently $32. For further information regarding entry, departure, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Nicaragua at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington D.C. 20009; telephone (202) 939-6570 or (202) 939-6531; or a Nicaraguan consulate in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, or San Juan, Puerto Rico. A useful website for finding information on the Nicaraguan Embassy and Consulates is www.cancilleria.gob.ni.

Dual Nationality: The constitution of Nicaragua permits dual nationality. Dual citizens can enter and depart Nicaragua using either their U.S. or Nicaraguan passport. However, dual citizens entering on U.S. passports must obtain appropriate tourist/residence permits and any appropriate extensions. Parents should not rely on birth certificates for travel of their children; rather, they should obtain U.S. passports for infants and minors born in the U.S. prior to travel. Please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov/ for our Dual Nationality flyer.

Safety and Security: Police coverage is extremely sparse outside of major urban areas. Sporadic incidents of highway banditry are reported in remote rural areas of north and northwest Nicaragua. If you do decide to travel to these areas, travel only on major highways during daylight hours. Though less frequent than in past years, political demonstrations and strikes occur sporadically in urban areas. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences.

Nicaragua's Atlantic coast contains vast stretches of territory with little or no law enforcement outside the major towns. Nautical travelers should be aware that there are boundary disputes involving the governments of Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean coastal waters adjoining these countries. Passengers and crews of foreign fishing boats have been detained and/or fined and vessels impounded. There also is a long-term boundary dispute with Colombia over San Andres Island and surrounding waters. Travelers should also be aware that narcotics traffickers often use the Caribbean coastal waters.

On the San Juan River there have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a three-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. Meanwhile, the governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica have agreed to work towards an amicable solution and to jointly-fund community development projects in the border area.

U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua's Pacific coast have resulted in a number of drownings. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available in Nicaragua. U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua's Pacific waters should exercise appropriate caution.

Although hundreds of passengers travel daily on domestic flights within Nicaragua without incident, these flights use small, uncontrolled airstrips outside of Managua, with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security. Significant safety and security improvements have, however, been made at the Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas and Corn Island airports, all of which are located on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast.

Although extensive demining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the war, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet website at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found. Up to date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-317-472-2328. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: Violent crime in Managua and other cities is increasing, and street crimes are common. Pick pocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops and in open markets, particularly the large Mercado Oriental. Gang activity is rising in Managua, though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries. Gang violence, including robberies, assaults and stabbings, is most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, but has occurred in the neighborhoods surrounding major hotels and open-air markets.

Visitors may want to avoid walking and instead use officially registered taxicabs. You should avoid taking taxis after dark, if possible. Taxi drivers and passengers have been victims of robbery, assault, sexual assault, and even murder. Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is legible. Pick taxis carefully and note the driver's name and license number. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before you depart, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change. Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the cooperativa (company) name and logo. Radio-dispatched taxis are recommended and can be found at the International airport and at the larger hotels.

Purse and jewelry snatchings from motorists sometimes occur at stop-lights. While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked and valuables placed out of sight. All bus travel should be during the daylight hours and on first-class conveyances, not on economy buses.

Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields and the Corn Islands along the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast. Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements.

Visitors should not hike alone in backcountry areas, nor walk alone on beaches or trails. Volunteers and others who may come to work in rural areas on a temporary or long-term basis should also observe the aforementioned precautions.

There have been isolated incidents of sexual assaults in these areas. The best way to avoid becoming a victim is to utilize good personal security practices. Use the buddy system and make sure your fellow traveler(s) knows your whereabouts.

Do not resist a robbery attempt. Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted. Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from night-spots. Travel in groups of two or more persons whenever possible. Use the same common sense while traveling in Nicaragua that you would in any high-crime area of a major U.S. city. Do not wear excessive jewelry in downtown or rural areas. Do not carry large sums of money, ATM or credit cards you do not need, or other valuables.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities: Medical care is limited, particularly outside Managua. Basic medical services are available in Managua and in many of the smaller towns and villages. However, treatment for many serious medical problems is either unavailable or available only in Managua. Certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments are not available in Nicaragua.

In an emergency, individuals are taken to the nearest hospital that will accept a patient. This is usually a public hospital unless the individual or someone acting on their behalf indicates that they can pay for a private hospital. A list of medical resources can be found on the U.S.Embassy in Nicaragua's website at http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov/wwwhcon14.html.

Malaria is endemic, particularly in low-lying areas such as Managua and around the beaches. Dengue is also a problem. Tap water in Managua has been tested and found safe for drinking; however, you are urged to drink bottled water, especially when traveling outside of the capital. Payment for medical services is typically done on a cash basis although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment. U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted in Nicaragua.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost thousands of dollars. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

Other Health Information: Mosquito-borne illnesses are an ongoing problem in Nicaragua. All persons traveling in Nicaragua, even for a brief visit, are at risk of contracting malaria year-round if they travel out-side of Managua to low-lying areas. Take a prophylactic regimen best suited to your health profile. The country regularly suffers from outbreaks of dengue fever during the rainy season. Travelers should take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes to reduce the chance of contracting such illnesses.

Individuals traveling to Nicaragua should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. Vaccination against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B is strongly recommended. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Nicaragua.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: Driving at night on rural roads outside major cities is also discouraged. Driving is on the right side of the road in Nicaragua. However, U.S. citizens will encounter road conditions and driving practices significantly different from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nicaragua is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstances.

Safety of public transportation: poor
Urban road conditions/maintenance: fair
Rural road conditions/maintenance poor
Availability of roadside assistance: none

Motorists driving to Nicaragua should use the principal highways and official border crossings at Gua-sale, El Espino and Las Manos between Nicaragua and Honduras and Penas Blancas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in good shape, drivers should be aware that seasonal, torrential rains take a heavy toll on road conditions. Motorists are encouraged to prepare accordingly and may want to carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency.

Road travel after dark is especially hazardous in all areas of the country. With a few exceptions, Nicaraguan roads (not major highways) are in poor repair, potholed, poorly lit, frequently narrow, and lack shoulders. Many roads severely damaged as a result of Hurricane Mitch in October 1998 have not been repaired.

Some of the major highways and roads are undergoing major repair, repaving and upgrading. Be on the lookout for detours and slow traffic on these roads. In general, road signs are poor to non-existent. Bicycles, oxcarts, horses and vehicles without lights are at times encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua. Motorcycles, often carrying three or even four passengers, dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning. Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly and are prone to breaking down without warning. Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots. Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, but because the government lacks the resources, traffic rules are rarely enforced.

Due to the age and disrepair of many vehicles, many drivers will not signal their intentions using turn indicators. Rather, it is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn. If you do drive in Nicaragua, you need to exercise the utmost degree of caution, drive defensively and make sure you have insurance.

Avoid riding the many different shapes and sizes of buses stopping anywhere on the road to pick up passengers. They are overcrowded, unsafe and often are used by pick-pockets. Because of the conditions discussed above, traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death. This is most often true when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved. Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer. Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.

Nicaraguan law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that caused serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).

Visitors to Nicaragua might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies. In case of accident, only the driver will be taken into custody.

Regulations governing transit are administered by the National Police. For specific information concerning Nicaraguan drivers permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you may wish to refer to the National Police website at http://www.policia.gob.ni/. You may also contact the Embassy of Nicaragua or a Consulate for further information.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Nicaragua's civil aviation authority as Category 2—not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Nicaragua's carrier operations. Consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing. Air carriers under over-sight by Category 2 aviation authorities are subject to heightened FAA surveillance when flying to the United States and may not add additional flights, new service, or larger capacity aircraft. At this time, there are no Nicaragua-based airlines flying to the United States. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or view the FAA's International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) web page at http://www1.faa.gov/avr/iasa.

Customs Regulations: Nicaraguan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Nicaragua of items such as firearms, ammunition, antiquities, medications, etc. U.S. citizens should also be aware of laws prohibiting the exportation of certain animals, flora and fauna. U.S. citizens planning to stay in Nicaragua for an extended period of time with the intention of bringing vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Nicaraguan customs officials prior to shipment. Outside of Nicaragua, it is highly recommended you contact the Embassy of Nicaragua in Washington, D.C. or one of Nicaragua's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Before excavating archaeological materials, or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, all persons are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture. Nicaraguan law and a bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the U.S. and commercialization of said goods. Severe criminal penalties may apply.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. A current list of those countries with serious problems in this regard can be found at http://www.ustr.gov/Document_Library/Reports_Publications/2004/2004_Special_301/Section_Index.html. The U.S. Customs Service may impose corresponding import restrictions in accordance with the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. (Contact the Customs Service at 202 927-2336 or Internet http://exchanges.state.gov/education/cul-prop for further information).

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Nicaraguan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nicaragua are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Money and Currency: U.S. currency is widely accepted and major credit cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses in urban and tourist areas. Visitors who need to change dollars, are encouraged to do this at their hotel since this is typically the safest place. ATM machines are available at banks in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas. However, individuals should exercise caution when using a teller machine since they are typically in or near uncontrolled areas and criminal elements can easily see you withdrawing cash. Traveler's checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio"). You will also find enterprising individuals waving wads of cash in the street. Changing money in this fashion can be dangerous and is discouraged.

Special Circumstances: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks of purchasing real estate in Nicaragua and should exercise caution before committing to invest in property. The 1979-90 Sandinista government expropriated some 30,000 properties, and land title remains unclear in many cases. Although the government has resolved over 3,000 claims by U.S. citizens for compensation or return of properties, there remain almost 800 unresolved claims registered with the U.S. Embassy. In addition, the Nicaraguan judicial system is subject to corruption and political pressure. Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation and investigate their purchases thoroughly in order to reduce the possibility of property disputes.

Disaster Preparedness: 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 http://www.fema.gov.

Children's Issues: Current information on Nicaraguan adoption procedures and the immigrant visa application process is available from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy. Prospective adoptive parents are urged to check with the Consular Section to be sure that all required documentation has been approved by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security and their child's adoption is complete before traveling to Nicaragua to apply for their child's immigrant visa. Adoptive parents are also urged to carry with them complete adoption paperwork when traveling with their adopted child to, from, and within Nicaragua.

For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/family/index.html or telephone Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.

Nicaragua is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For more information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Department of State's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/family/index.html or telephone 1-888-407-4747.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living or traveling in Nicaragua are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Nicaragua. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at Kilometer 4 1/2 (4.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 266-6010 or 268-0123; after hours telephone (505) 266-6038; Consular Section fax (505) 266-9943; E-mail: [email protected] Web page: http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov.

International Adoption

January 2005

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this circular relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is provided for general information only. Questions involving interpretation of specific foreign laws should be addressed to foreign counsel.

General: Nicaraguan law allows only for the adoption of children by Nicaraguan citizens or permanent residents of Nicaragua. On rare occasions, this requirement has been waived when doing so was deemed to be in the child's best interest. Nicaragua generally prohibits persons who have been awarded guardianship only (vs. outright adoption) from removing the child from Nicaragua in order to emigrate. Prospective adoptive parents must have a permanent residence in Nicaragua and must plan to stay in the country until the child becomes an adult though these restrictions may be waived.

Availability of Children for Adoptions: Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to orphans:

FY-1996: IR-3 immigrant visas issued to Nicaraguan orphans adopted abroad – 14, IR-4 immigrant visas issued to Nicaraguan orphans adopted in the U.S. – 0
FY-1997: IR-3 Visas—16,
IR-4 Visas – 0
FY-1998: IR-3 Visas—16,
IR-4 Visas – 0
FY-1999: IR-3 Visas—17,
IR-4 Visas – 0
FY-2000: IR-3 Visas—9,
IR-4 Visas—0

Nicaraguan Adoption Authority: The government office responsible for adoptions in Nicaragua is the Ministry of Family is the government of Nicaragua institution responsible for adoptions.

Nicaraguan Adoption Procedures: The child must be either orphaned or abandoned in order to qualify for adoption. A child is considered an orphan if the parent(s) registered on the birth certificate is/are deceased. Parental abandonment must be an unconditional and irreversible break with the child. A child is not considered abandoned if the Ministry of Family is able to place the child in the custody of a relative. The adoption generally must take place in Nicaragua before the child leaves the country.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: The adoptive parents must work directly with the Ministry of Family until the final stage of the adoption. Once the Ministry of Family authorizes the adoption, the adopting parents may hire a lawyer to complete the adoption procedures. Lists of attorneys are available from the American Embassy or the Department of State, Office of American Citizens Services.

Doctors: The U.S. Embassy (Consu-late) maintains current lists of doctors and sources for medicines, should either you or your child experience health problems while in Nicaragua.

U.S. Immigration Requirements: A Nicaraguan child, even if adopted by an American citizen, must obtain an immigrant visa before he or she can enter the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family

Residence Requirements: According to Nicaraguan law, prospective adoptive parents must either be Nicaraguan citizens or have a permanent residence in Nicaragua and plan to remain in Nicaragua until the child reaches the age of majority. Certain requirements regarding residence and plans to remain in Nicaragua have been waived in a few cases.

Authentication of Documents: All foreign documents presented to the BCISSBI in support of an adoption must be authenticated, translated, and certified. This is a very complex and convoluted process involving five or six levels of notarization. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family

American Embassy Assistance: Upon arrival in Nicaragua to try to arrange an adoption, U.S. citizens should register at the American Embassy, Consular Section, and American Citizens Services. To avoid problems, it is always best for prospective adoptive parents to check with the consular section when they begin the process. The Embassy will be able to provide information about any local, safety security conditions and to provide other information about Nicaragua including lists of physicians, attorneys, interpreters and translators. The American Embassy is located at KM 4 1/2, Carretera Sur, Managua, Nicaragua. Tel: 2666-010, ext. 4779 or 4519.

Visa Questions: For questions about U.S. visa petition procedures, contact the nearest office of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security, located in the Federal Government section of your telephone book. General recorded information about visa procedures is also available from the Department of State's Visa Office at (202) 663-1225.

Nicaraguan Embassy and Consulates in U.S.: Embassy of Nicaragua; 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW; Washington, D.C. 20009; Tel; (202) 939-6570.

Nicaragua also has a consulate in New York.

Time Frame: The actual adoption process takes approximately six months.

Travel of the Child: The child may not travel until all adoption procedures are final.

U.S. Fees: The BCIS fee for an I-600 or I-600A petition is $525.00 If you have a valid I-600A and file an I-600 within 18 months of the approval of the I-600A, no fee will be charged for the I-600 provided you are only petitioning for one child or for siblings. If you are petitioning for more than one child and the children are not siblings, the I-600 fee will be charged.

U.S. Immigrant Visa Fee: The fee for the immigrant visa is $325.00 and may be paid in U.S. dollars. This $325.00 does not include medical examinations, cost of documents, the petition, etc. The American Embassy does not accept personal checks or credit cards.

Questions: Specific questions regarding adoption in Nicaragua may be addressed to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua. You may also contact the Office of Children's Issues, SA-29, 2201 C Street, NW, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20520-2818, Tel: 1-888-407-4747 with specific questions.

views updated

NICARAGUA

Compiled from the November 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Nicaragua


PROFILE

Geography

Area:

129,494 sq. km. (59,998 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New York State.

Cities:

Capital—Managua (pop. 1 million). Other cities—Leon, Granada, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Chinandega, Masaya.

Terrain:

Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes.

Climate:

Tropical in lowlands; cooler in highlands.

People

Nationality:

Noun and adjective—Nicaraguan(s).

Population (2005 est.):

5.48 million.

Annual growth rate (2005 est.):

1.75%. Density—42 per sq. km.

Ethnic groups:

Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) 69%, white 17%, black (Jamaican origin) 9%, indigenous 5%.

Religion:

Predominantly Roman Catholic, with rapidly growing percentage of Evangelical Protestants.

Language:

Spanish (official), English and indigenous languages on Caribbean coast.

Education:

Years compulsory—none enforced (28% of first graders eventually finish sixth grade). Literacy—67.5%.

Health (2005):

Life expectancy—70 yrs. Infant mortality rate—35.50/1,000.

Work force (2004 est.):

1.9 million. Unemployed—12%; underemployed—35%.

Government

Type:

Republic.

Independence:

1821.

Constitution:

The 1987 Sandinistaera constitution was changed in 1995 to provide for a more even distribution of power among the four branches of government and again in 2000 to increase the Supreme Court and the Controller General's Office and to make changes to the electoral laws.

Branches:

Executive—president and vice president. Legislative—National Assembly (unicameral). Judicial—Supreme Court; subordinate appeals, district, and local courts; separate labor and administrative tribunals. Electoral—Supreme Electoral Council, responsible for organizing and holding elections.

Administrative subdivisions:

15 departments and two autonomous regions on the Atlantic coast; 145 municipalities.

Major political parties:

Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC); Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Other political parties: Conservative Party (PC); National Resistance Party (PRN); Camino Cristiano; Alliance for the Republic (APRE). Regional parties in the Atlantic Coast include YATAMA (Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Asla Takanka) and PMUC (Partido Movimiento de Unidad Costeña).

Suffrage:

Universal at 16.

Economy

GDP (2004 est.):

PPP $12.3 billion

GDP real growth rate (2004 est.):

4%

Per capita GDP (2004 est.):

PPP $2,300

Inflation rate (2004 est.):

9.3%.

Natural resources:

Arable land, livestock, fisheries, gold, timber.

Agriculture (22% of GDP):

Products—corn, coffee, sugar, meat, rice, beans, bananas.

Industry (21% of GDP):

Types—processed food, beverages, textiles, petroleum, and metal products.

Services (58% of GDP):

Types—commerce, construction, government, banking, transportation, and energy.

Trade (2004 est.):

Exports—$755 million (f.o.b.): coffee, seafood, beef, sugar, industrial goods, gold, bananas, sesame. Markets—U.S. 35%, European Union 14%, Central American Common Market (CACM) 33%, Mexico 5%. Imports—$2.02 billion (f.o.b.): petroleum, agricultural supplies, manufactured goods. Suppliers—U.S. 22%, CACM 23%, Venezuela 14%, European Union 7%.


PEOPLE

Most Nicaraguans are of both European and Indian ancestry, and the culture of the country reflects the Ibero-European and Indian heritage of its people. Only the Indians of the eastern half of the country remain ethnically distinct and retain tribal customs and languages. A large black minority, of Jamaican origin, is concentrated on the Caribbean coast. In the mid-1980s, the central government divided the eastern half of the country—the former department of Zelaya—into two autonomous regions and granted the people of the region limited self-rule.

Roman Catholicism is the major religion, but Evangelical Protestant groups have grown recently, and there are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans live in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands. The population is 58% urban.


HISTORY

Nicaragua takes its name from Nicarao, chief of the indigenous tribe that lived around present-day Lake Nicaragua during the late 1400s and early 1500s. In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua's principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and Leon east of Lake Managua. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821, briefly becoming a part of the Mexican Empire and then a member of a federation of independent Central American provinces. In 1838, Nicaragua became an independent republic.

Much of Nicaragua's politics since independence has been characterized by the rivalry between the Liberal elite of Leon and the Conservative elite of Granada, which often led to civil war. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, an American named William Walker and his "filibusters" seized the presidency in 1856. The Liberals and Conservatives united to drive him out of office in 1857. Three decades of Conservative rule followed. Taking advantage of divisions within the Conservative ranks, Jose Santos Zelaya led a Liberal revolt that brought him to power in 1893. Zelaya ended a longstanding dispute with Britain over the Atlantic Coast in 1894, and reincorporated that region into Nicaragua.

By 1909, differences had developed over an isthmian canal and concessions to Americans in Nicaragua; there also was concern about what was perceived as Nicaragua's destabilizing influence in the region. In 1909 the United States provided political support to Conservativeled forces rebelling against President Zelaya and intervened militarily to protect American lives and property. With the exception of a 9-month period in 1925-26, the United States maintained troops in Nicaragua from 1912 until 1933. From 1927 until 1933, U.S. Marines stationed in Nicaragua engaged in a running battle with rebel forces led by renegade Liberal Gen. Augusto Sandino, who rejected a 1927 negotiated agreement brokered by the United States to end the latest round of fighting between Liberals and Conservatives.

After the departure of U.S. troops, National Guard Cmdr. Anastasio Somoza Garcia outmaneuvered his political opponents—including Sandino, who was assassinated by National Guard officers—and took over the presidency in 1936. Somoza and two sons who succeeded him, maintained close ties with the United States. The Somoza dynasty ended in 1979 with a massive uprising led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which had conducted a low scale guerrilla war against the Somoza regime since the early 1960s.

The FSLN established an authoritarian dictatorship soon after taking power. U.S.-Nicaraguan relations deteriorated rapidly as the regime nationalized many private industries, confiscated private property, supported Central American guerrilla movements, and maintained links to international terrorists. The United States suspended aid to Nicaragua in 1981. The Reagan administration provided assistance to the Nicaraguan resistance and in 1985 imposed an embargo on U.S.-Nicaraguan trade.

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. In these elections, which were proclaimed free and fair by international observers, Nicaraguan voters elected as their President the candidate of the National Opposition Union, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

During President Chamorro's nearly 7 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. Despite a number of irregularities—which were due largely to logistical difficulties and a baroquely complicated electoral law—the October 20, 1996 presidential, legislative, and mayoral elections were judged free and fair by international observers and by the groundbreaking national electoral observer group Etica y Transparencia (Ethics and Transparency). This time Nicaraguans elected former Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán, leader of the center-right Liberal Alliance. The first transfer of power in recent Nicaraguan history from one democratically elected president to another took place on January 10, 1997, when the Alemán government was inaugurated.

Presidential and legislative elections were held in November 2001. Enrique Bolaños of the Liberal Constitutional Party was elected to the Nicaraguan presidency on November 4, 2001, defeating FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega by 14 percentage points. The elections, characterized by international observers as free, fair and peaceful, reflected the maturing of Nicaragua's democratic institutions. During his campaign, President-elect Bolaños promised to reinvigorate the economy, create jobs, fight corruption, and support the war against terrorism. Bolaños was inaugurated on January 10, 2002.


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy with executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral branches of government. In 1995, the executive and legislative branches negotiated a reform of the 1987 Sandinista constitution, which gave impressive new powers and independence to the legislature—the National Assembly—including permitting the Assembly to override a presidential veto with a simple majority vote and eliminating the president's ability to pocket-veto a bill.

The president and the members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected to concurrent five-year terms. The National Assembly consists of 90 deputies elected from party lists drawn at the department and national level, plus the defeated presidential candidates who obtained a minimal quotient of votes.

The Supreme Court supervises the functioning of the still largely ineffective, often partisan, and overburdened judicial system. As part of the 1995 constitutional reforms, the independence of the Supreme Court was strengthened by increasing the number of magistrates from 9 to 12. In 2000, as part of the PLC-FSLN pact, the number or Supreme Court justices was increased to 16. Supreme Court justices are elected to five-year terms by the National Assembly. Led by a council of seven magistrates, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) is the co-equal branch of government responsible for organizing and conducting elections, plebiscites, and referendums. The magistrates and their alternates are elected to 5-year terms by the National Assembly. Constitutional changes in 2000 expanded the number of CSE magistrates from five to seven and gave the PLC and the FSLN a freer hand to name party activists to the Council, prompting allegations that both parties were politicizing electoral institutions and processes and excluding smaller political parties.

Freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by Nicaragua's constitution and vigorously exercised by its people. Diverse viewpoints are freely and openly discussed in the media and in academia. There is no state censorship in Nicaragua. 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. The government also permits domestic and international human rights monitors to operate freely in Nicaragua. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth, nationality, political belief, race, gender, language, religion, opinion, national origin, and economic or social condition.

All public and private sector workers, except the military and the police, are entitled to form and join unions of their own choosing, and they exercise this right extensively. Nearly half of Nicaragua's work force, including agricultural workers, is unionized. Workers have the right to strike. Collective bargaining is becoming more common in the private sector.

Political Parties

Though 35 political parties participated in the 1996 elections, under new, more restrictive electoral laws passed in 2000, only three parties participated in the 2001 national elections—the PLC, the FSLN, and the PC. As a result of those elections, of the 92 seats in the National Assembly, 44 are held by the PLC, 38 by the FSLN, seven by the Azul y Blanco and one by the Camino Cristiano.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 1/6/2006

President: Enrique BOLANOS
Vice President: Alfredo GOMEZ Urcuyo
Min. of Agriculture & Forestry: Jose Augusto "Tuto" NAVARRO
Min. of Defense: Avil RAMIREZ
Min. of Education, Culture, & Sports: Miguel Angel GARCIA
Min. of Environment & Natural Resources: Arturo HARDING
Min. of Family: Carmen LARGAESPADA
Min. of Finance & Public Credit: Mario ARANA
Min. of Foreign Affairs: Norman CALDERA
Min. of Government: Julio VEGA, Dr.
Min. of Health: Magarita GURDIAN
Min. of Industry, Development, & Commerce: Alejandro ARGUELLO
Min. of Labor: Virgilio GURDIAN
Min. of Tourism: Lucia Salazar C. DE ROBELO
Min. of Transportation & Infrastructure: Pedro SOLORZANO
Sec. of the Presidency: Leonardo SOMARRIBA
Attorney General: Victor Manuel TALAVERA
Prosecutor General: Julio CENTENO
Pres., Central Bank: Mario ALONSO
Ambassador to the US: Salvador STADTHAGEN
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Eduardo SEVILLA Somoza

Nicaragua maintains an embassy in the United States at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-387-4371).


ECONOMY

Nicaragua began free market reforms in 1991 after 12 years of economic free-fall under the Sandinista regime. Despite some setbacks, it has made dramatic progress: privatizing more than 350 state enterprises, reducing inflation from 13,500% to 5.3%, and cutting the foreign debt in half. The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew 2.5% in 2001, with overall GDP reaching $2.44 billion in 2001. In 2001, the global recession, combined

with a series of bank failures, low coffee prices, and a drought, caused the economy to contract.

Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere. Unemployment is officially around 12.2%, and another 35.4% are underemployed. Nicaragua suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits and a high debt-service burden; foreign assistance, including donations and debt relief, totals 42% of GDP in 2004.

One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export. Exports were $755 million in 2004. Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continued to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, the fastest growth is now in nontraditional exports: maquila goods (apparel); gold; seafood; and new agricultural products such as peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions. Nicaragua also depends heavily on remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad.

Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, but construction, mining, fisheries, and general commerce also have been expanding during the last few years. Foreign private capital inflows topped $300 million in 1999 but, due to economic and political uncertainty fell to less than $100 million in 2001. This trend has been reversed to a degree during the government of President Bolaños. Foreign direct investment reached 250 million in 2004.

Rapid expansion of the tourist industry has made it the nation's third-largest source of foreign exchange. Some 60,000 Americans visit Nicaragua yearly—primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. An estimated 5,300 U.S. citizens reside in the country. The U.S. Embassy's consular section provides a full range of consular services—from passport replacement and veteran's assistance to prison visitation and repatriation assistance.

Nicaragua faces a number of challenges in stimulating rapid economic growth. Long-term success at attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depend on its ability to comply with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, resolve the thousands of Sandinistaera property confiscation cases, and open its economy to foreign trade. This process was boosted in late 2000 when Nicaragua reached the decision point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative. However, HIPC benefits will be delayed because Nicaragua subsequently fell "off track" from its IMF program. The country also has been grappling with a string of bank failures that began in August 2000. The macroeconomic policies implemented by the Bolaños administration helped the economy grow by 5.1% in 2004. Fiscal deficits have been reduced through increased tax collection and consolidated public sector expenditures. International reserves have increased from US$274 million in 2001 to US$670 million in 2004. The IMF's Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) was suspended because a political stalemate between the executive and legislative branches prevented Nicaragua from meeting program preconditions.

The United States is the country's largest trading partner by far—the source in 2004 of roughly 25% of Nicaragua's imports and the destination in 2004 of about 35% of its exports. About 25 wholly or partly owned subsidiaries of U.S. companies operate in Nicaragua. The largest of those investments are in the energy, communications, manufacturing, fisheries, and shrimp farming sectors. Good opportunities exist for further investments in those same sectors, as well as in tourism, mining, franchising, and the distribution of imported consumer, manufacturing, and agricultural goods.

The U.S. Embassy's economic and commercial section advances American economic and business interests by briefing U.S. firms on opportunities and stumbling blocks to trade and investment in Nicaragua; encouraging key Nicaraguan decision-makers to work with American firms; helping to resolve problems that affect U.S. commercial interests; and working to change local economic and trade ground rules in order to afford U.S. firms a level playing field on which to compete. U.S. businesses may access key Embassy economic reports via the mission's Internet home page at http://usembassy.state.gov/managua/wwwhemba.html.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

The 1990 election victory of President Violeta Chamorro placed Nicaragua in the ranks of Latin American democracies. Nicaragua pursues an independent foreign policy. A participant of the Central American Security Commission (CASC), Nicaragua also has taken a leading role in pressing for regional demilitarization and peaceful settlement of disputes within states in the region. Nicaragua has submitted two territorial disputes—one with Honduras and the other with Colombia—to the International Court at The Hague for resolution.

On the San Juan River there have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a three-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. The governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica agreed to work toward an amicable solution and to jointly fund community development projects in the border area. At the 1994 Summit of the Americas, Nicaragua joined six Central American neighbors in signing the Alliance for Sustainable Development, known as the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA, or CONCAUSA, to promote sustainable economic development in the region.

Nicaragua belongs to the United Nations and several specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization (WTO), UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), and UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). Nicaragua also is a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI). In July 2004, Nicaragua's ambassador to the OAS assumed chairmanship of the Permanent Council (the Organization's second-highest decision-making body) for a 3-month period.


U.S.-NICARAGUAN RELATIONS

U.S. policy aims to continue supporting the consolidation of the democratic process initiated in Nicaragua with the 1990 election of President Chamorro. The United States has promoted national reconciliation, encouraging Nicaraguans to resolve their problems through dialogue and compromise. It recognizes as legitimate all political forces that abide by the democratic process and eschew violence. U.S. assistance is focused on strengthening democratic institutions, stimulating sustainable economic growth, and supporting the health and basic education sectors.

The resolution of U.S. citizen claims arising from Sandinistaera confiscations and expropriations still figures prominently in bilateral policy concerns. Section 527 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (1994) prohibits certain U.S. assistance and support for a government of a country that has confiscated U.S. citizen property, unless the government has taken certain remedial steps. In July 2005, the Secretary of State issued a 12th annual national interest waiver of the Section 527 prohibition because of Nicaragua's record in resolving U.S. citizen claims as well as its overall progress in implementing political and economic reforms.

Other key U.S. policy goals for Nicaragua are:

  • Improving respect for human rights and resolving outstanding high-profile human rights cases;
  • Developing a free market economy with respect for property and intellectual property rights;
  • Ensuring effective civilian control over defense and security policy;
  • Increasing the effectiveness of Nicaragua's efforts to combat transborder crimes, including narcotics trafficking, illegal alien smuggling, international terrorist and criminal organizations, and trafficking in persons; and
  • Reforming the judicial system and implementing good governance.

Since 1990, the United States has provided $1.2 billion in assistance to Nicaragua. About $260 million of that was for debt relief, and another $450 million was for balance-of-payments support. The U.S. also provided $93 million in 1999, 2000, and 2001 as part of its overall response to Hurricane Mitch. Aside from funding for Mitch reconstruction, the levels of assistance have fallen incrementally to reflect the improvements in Nicaragua. FY 2000 assistance was $25 million and FY 2001 amounted to about the same. This assistance was focused on promoting more citizen political participation, compromise, and government transparency; stimulating sustainable growth and income; and fostering better-educated and healthier families. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, signed a five-year, $175 million Compact with the Republic of Nicaragua on July 14, 2005. The Millennium Challenge Compact will reduce poverty and spur economic growth by funding projects in the regions of León and Chinandega aimed at reducing transportation costs and improving access to markets for rural communities; increasing wages and profits from farming and related enterprises in the region, and increasing investment by strengthening property rights.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

MANAGUA (E) Address: Carretera Sur KM 4.5; APO/FPO: APO AA 34021; Phone: 011-505-266-6010; Fax: 001-505-266-3865; Workweek: 7:30AM-4:15 PM; Website: webmanagua.managua.state.gov

AMB:Paul Trivelli
AMB OMS:Irene C. Willig
DCM:Peter M. Brennan
DCM OMS:Linda Ren
CG:Vacant
POL:Victoria Alvarado
MGT:Paula M. Bravo
AFSA:Jill J. Thompson
AGR:Katherine Nishiura (San Jose)
AID:Alexander Dickie
APHIS:Steve Smith
CLO:Kelley Crowder-Smith
DAO:Glenn R. Huber/TDY
DEA:Phillip Welcome
ECO:Janet R. Potash
EEO:Paula Wilson
FAA:Ruben Quinones (Miami)
FMO:W. Lee Thompson
GSO:Jill J. Thompson
ICASS Chair:Frederick Ostler
IMO:Jose M. Ortiz
IPO:Vacant
IRS:Frederick Dulas (Mexico City)
ISO:Tim J. Stultz
MLO:Robert Gaddis
NAS:Nicole A. Chulick
PAO:Marcia Bosshardt
RSO:Michael Poehlitz
State ICASS:Marcia Bosshardt
Last Updated: 1/9/2006

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua
Apartado Postal 202
Managua, Nicaragua
Tel: (5052) 67-30-99
Fax: (5052) 67-30-98

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075


TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

May 19, 2005

Country Description:

Nicaragua is a young democracy with a developing economy. The national language is Spanish, though many residents of the Caribbean coastal areas speak English and indigenous languages, as well. The climate is generally hot and humid with the "summer" dry season running mid November through mid May and the "winter" rainy season running from mid May through mid November. Terrain ranges from the hilly and volcanic to coastal beaches and tropical jungles. Many foreign governments and relief organizations provide economic assistance to Nicaragua and numerous individuals (official and non-official) from the U.S. and the rest of the developed world work on community-based projects both in Managua and in the rural areas. Violent crime has not been a historical problem, yet criminal enterprises appear to be growing in organization as economic development in Nicaragua moves forward. The judicial system is subject to corruption and political influence.

The promotion of tourism is a top government priority, however, Nicaragua lacks an extensive tourist infrastructure. Potential tourists may want to obtain information from INTUR, the governmental agency responsible for developing, regulating and promoting tourism in Nicaragua. INTUR's website is http://www.intur.gob.ni and offers some information in English.

Entry/Exit Requirements:

On December 31, 2005, the U.S. Government will begin to phase in new passport requirements for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere. By December 31, 2007, all U.S. citizens will be expected to depart and enter the United States on a valid passport or other authorized document establishing identity and U.S. citizenship. The Department of State strongly encourages travelers to obtain passports well in advance of any planned travel. Routine passport applications by mail take up to six weeks to be issued. For further information, go to the State Department's Consular
Website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.

A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua. U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased ($5.00) upon arrival. Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days.

A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua. Pay attention to the authorized stay that will be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector. Visitors remaining more than the authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration. Failure to do so prevents departure until a fine is paid. There is also a $32 departure tax, the payment of which may or may not be included in your ticket. If not, payment can be made at the counter.

Visit the Embassy of Nicaragua web site at www.cancilleria.gob.ni for the most current visa information and locations for the Embassy and the several consulates in the United States.

Dual Nationality:

The constitution of Nicaragua permits dual nationality. Dual citizens can enter and depart Nicaragua using either their U.S. or Nicaraguan passport. However, dual citizens entering on U.S. passports must obtain appropriate tourist/residence permits and any appropriate extensions. Parents should not rely on birth certificates for travel of their children; rather, they should obtain U.S. passports for infants and minors born in the U.S. prior to travel. Please also note that minors, who have Nicaraguan citizenship, regardless if they have an American passport, will be required to obtain an exit stamp from Nicaraguan Immigration before being allowed to depart.

Safety and Security:

Police coverage is extremely sparse outside of major urban areas. Sporadic incidents of highway banditry are reported in remote rural areas of north and northwest Nicaragua. If you do decide to travel to these areas, travel only on major highways during daylight hours. Political demonstrations and strikes occur sporadically, are usually limited to urban areas, and occasionally become violent. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences.

Nicaragua's Atlantic coast contains vast stretches of territory with little or no law enforcement outside the major towns. Nautical travelers should be aware that there are boundary disputes involving the governments of Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean coastal waters adjoining these countries. Passengers and crews of foreign fishing boats have been detained and/or fined and vessels impounded. There also is a long-term boundary dispute with Colombia over San Andres Island and surrounding waters. Travelers should also be aware that narcotics traffickers often use the Caribbean coastal waters.

On the San Juan River there have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a three-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. Meanwhile, the governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica have agreed to work towards an amicable solution and to jointly fund community development projects in the border area.

U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua's Pacific coast have resulted in a number of drownings. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available in Nicaragua. U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua's Pacific waters should exercise appropriate caution.

Hiking in volcanic or other remote areas can be dangerous and you should take appropriate precautions. Hikers should have appropriate dress, footwear, and sufficient consumables for any trek undertaken. Individuals who travel to remote tourist or other areas for hiking activities are encouraged to hire a local guide familiar with the terrain and area. In particular, there have been instances of hikers perishing or getting lost on the volcanoes at Ometepe Island. While they may look like easy climbs, the terrain is treacherous and heavily overgrown.

Although hundreds of passengers travel daily on domestic flights within Nicaragua without incident, these flights use small, uncontrolled airstrips outside of Managua, with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security. Significant safety and security improvements have, however, been made at the Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas and Corn Island airports, all of which are located on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast.

Although extensive demining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the war, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime:

Violent crime in Managua and other cities is increasing, and street crimes are common. Pick pocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops and in open markets, particularly the large Mercado Oriental. Gang activity is rising in Managua, though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries. Gang violence, including robberies, assaults and stabbings, is most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, but has occurred in the neighborhoods surrounding major hotels and open-air markets.

Visitors may want to avoid walking and instead use officially registered taxicabs. Radio-dispatched taxis are recommended and can be found at the International airport and at the larger hotels. Taxi drivers and passengers have been victims of robbery, assault, sexual assault, and even murder. Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is legible. Pick taxis carefully and note the driver's name and license number. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before you depart, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change. Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the cooperativa (company) name and logo. Purse and jewelry snatchings from motorists sometimes occur at stop-lights. While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked and valuables placed out of sight.

Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields and the Corn Islands along the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast. Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements.

Do not resist a robbery attempt. Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted. Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from night-spots. Travel in groups of two or more persons whenever possible. Use the same common sense while traveling in Nicaragua that you would in any high-crime area of a major U.S. city. Do not wear excessive jewelry in downtown or rural areas. Do not carry large sums of money, ATM or credit cards you do not need, or other valuables.

Airport:

It is preferable to make transportation arrangements prior to your arrival. If staying at a hotel with airport shuttle service, you are encouraged to use it. Travelers requiring a taxi are encouraged to use one of the registered airport taxis. While a bit more expensive (typically $15 to $25 to the greater Managua area), these taxis are considered safer. You can obtain the services of these airport taxis by looking for taxi facilitators outside the airport wearing red shirts with an 'aero-puerto cooperativa' emblem. These individuals also have badges issued by the airport authority (EAAI) and carry two-way radios. These taxis are parked within the airport parking lot and are summoned by the facilitators. People opting for the less expensive taxis waiting outside the airport have occasionally been robbed.

There have been a few nighttime reports of carjacking on the Tipitapa-Masaya highway after people have left the airport. The highway is a shortcut to Granada and points south, however it is poorly lit and relatively isolated. The safer route for traveling south is via Managua.

Passenger Buses and Terminals:

Should you be traveling by bus, it is recommended that bus travel should be during the daylight hours and on first-class conveyances, not on economy buses.

In Managua, the main terminals for the TICA Bus and Kings Quality are located near Calle 27 de Mayo. There are a number of budget hotels located near these bus stops publicized in various travel guides. Unfortunately this is also a high crime area, especially after dark. There are numerous reports of tourists being assaulted at knife point or gunpoint while walking back to the hotel after having gone out for the evening. Robberies have also occurred early in the morning when a traveler is catching an early bus during the predawn hours. Walking on the street at night is not recommended in Managua and, this area in particular, can be dangerous.

Beaches:

There have been some cases of robbery and assaults from people who have been on isolated beaches or on beach areas at night. There is little to no police presence at many beaches that are outside the central municipality.

Hiking and Backpacking:

Visitors should not hike alone in backcountry areas, nor walk alone on beaches or trails. Volunteers and others who may come to work in rural areas on a temporary or long-term basis should also observe the aforementioned precautions. There have been isolated incidents of sexual assaults in these areas. The best way to avoid becoming a victim is to utilize good personal security practices. Use the buddy system and make sure your fellow traveler(s) knows your whereabouts.

Information for Victims of Crime:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information:

Medical care is limited, particularly outside Managua. Basic medical services are available in Managua and in many of the smaller towns and villages. However, treatment for many serious medical problems is either unavailable or available only in Managua. Certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments are not available in Nicaragua.

In an emergency, individuals are taken to the nearest hospital that will accept a patient. This is usually a public hospital unless the individual or someone acting on their behalf indicates that they can pay for a private hospital. Payment for medical services is typically done on a cash basis, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment. U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted in Nicaragua.

Malaria is endemic, particularly in low-lying areas such as Managua and around the beaches. Dengue is also a problem. Tap water in Managua has been tested and found safe for drinking; however, you are urged to drink bottled water, especially when traveling outside of the capital. Mosquitoborne illnesses are an ongoing problem in Nicaragua. All persons traveling in Nicaragua, even for a brief visit, are at risk of contracting malaria year-round if they travel outside of Managua to low-lying areas. Take a prophylactic regimen best suited to your health profile. The country regularly suffers from outbreaks of dengue fever during the rainy season. Travelers should take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes to reduce the chance of contracting such illnesses.

Individuals traveling to Nicaragua should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. Vaccination against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B is strongly recommended. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Nicaragua.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

A list of medical resources can be found on the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua's website at http://nicaragua. usembassy.gov/wwwhcon14.html.

Medical Insurance:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nicaragua is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving at night on rural roads outside major cities is also discouraged. Driving is on the right side of the road in Nicaragua. However, U.S. citizens will encounter road conditions and driving practices significantly different from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nicaragua is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstances.

Motorists driving to Nicaragua should use the principal highways and official border crossings at Guasale, El Espino and Las Manos between Nicaragua and Honduras and Penas Blancas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in good shape, drivers should be aware that seasonal, torrential rains take a heavy toll on road conditions. Motorists are encouraged to prepare accordingly and may want to carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency.

Road travel after dark is especially hazardous in all areas of the country. With a few exceptions, Nicaraguan roads (not major highways) are in poor repair, potholed, poorly lit, frequently narrow, and lack shoulders. Many roads severely damaged as a result of Hurricane Mitch in October 1998 have not been repaired.

Some of the major highways and roads are undergoing major repair, repaving and upgrading. Be on the lookout for detours and slow traffic on these roads. In general, road signs are poor to non-existent. Bicycles, oxcarts, dogs, horses and vehicles without lights are at times encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua. Motorcycles, often carrying three or even four passengers, dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning. Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly and are prone to breaking down without warning. Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots. Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, but because the government lacks the resources, traffic rules are rarely enforced.

Due to the age and disrepair of many vehicles, many drivers will not signal their intentions using turn indicators. Rather, it is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn. If you do drive in Nicaragua, you need to exercise the utmost caution, drive defensively and make sure you have insurance.

Avoid taking public transportation buses, if possible. They are over-crowded, unsafe and often are used by pickpockets. Because of the conditions discussed above, traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death. This is most often true when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved. Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer. Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.

Nicaraguan law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that caused serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).

Visitors to Nicaragua might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies. In case of accident, only the driver will be taken into custody.

Regulations governing transit are administered by the National Police. For specific information concerning Nicaraguan drivers permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you may wish to refer to the National Police website at http://www.policia.gob.ni/. You may also contact the Embassy of Nicaragua or a Consulate for further information.

Aviation Safety Oversight:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Nicaragua's civil aviation authority as Category 2 - not in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards.

However, at this time, there are no Nicaragua-based airlines flying to the United States. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's internet web site at www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

Special Circumstances:

Purchasing Property: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks of purchasing real estate in Nicaragua and should exercise caution before committing to invest in property. The 1979-90 Sandinista government expropriated some 30,000 properties, many of which are still involved in disputes or claims. Land title remains unclear in many cases. Although the government has resolved several thousand claims by U.S. citizens for compensation or return of properties, there remain hundreds of unresolved claims registered with the U.S. Embassy. Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation and investigate their purchases thoroughly in order to reduce the possibility of property disputes.

The Judicial system offers little relief when the purchase of a property winds up in court. The Embassy is aware of numerous cases in which buyers purchase property supported by what appear to be legal titles only to see themselves subsequently embroiled in legal battles when the titles are contested by an affected or otherwise interested third party. Once a property dispute enters the judicial arena, the outcome may be subject to corruption, political pressure, and influence peddling. Many Coastal properties have been tied up in courts recently, leaving the 'buyer' unable to proceed with the intended development pending lengthy and uncertain litigation. In other cases squatters have simply invaded the land while the police or judicial authorities are unable (or unwilling) to remove the trespassers. Again, the Embassy advises that those interested in purchasing Nicaraguan property exercise extreme caution.

Money and Currency:

U.S. currency is widely accepted and major credit cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses in urban and tourist areas. Visitors, who need to change dollars, are encouraged to do this at their hotel since this is typically the safest place. ATM machines are available at banks in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas. However, individuals should exercise caution when using a teller machine since they are typically in or near uncontrolled areas and criminal elements can easily see you withdrawing cash. Traveler's checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio"). You will also find enterprising individuals - 'Cambistas' - waving wads of cash in the street. Changing money in this fashion can be dangerous and is discouraged.

Disaster Preparedness:

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 http://www.fema.gov.

Customs Regulations:

Before excavating archaeological materials, or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, all persons are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture. Nicaraguan law and a bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the U.S. and commercialization of said goods. Severe criminal penalties may apply.

U.S. citizens planning to stay in Nicaragua for an extended period of time with the intention of bringing vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Nicaraguan customs officials prior to shipment.

Criminal Penalties:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Nicaraguan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nicaragua are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues:

For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://www.travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location:

Americans living or traveling in Nicaragua are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Nicaragua. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at Kilometer 4 1/2 (4.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 266-6010 or 268-0123; after hours telephone (505) 266-6038; Consular Section fax (505) 266-9943; E-mail: [email protected] Web page: http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov.

International Adoption

July 2005

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer:

The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and our current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note:

Nicaraguan law does not allow for a Nicaraguan child to travel to the United States in order to be adopted. Therefore, adopting parents must go through the process to obtain a full and final adoption under Nicaraguan law before the child can immigrate to the United States. Also, the Ministry of the Family will want to see that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has approved you for adopting a child and will ask you for the Notice of Approval issued by USCIS. In order to obtain this approval, you will need to file form I-600A with USCIS to initiate the process. Later you will file the I-600 with the Consular Section when the adoption is final.

Patterns of Immigration of Adopted Orphans to the U.S.:

Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to orphans:

Fiscal Year: Number of Immigrant Visas Issued
FY 2004: 11
FY 2003: 11
FY 2002: 6
FY 2001: 12
FY 2000: 9

Adoption Authority in Nicaragua:

The government office responsible for adoptions in Nicaragua is the Ministry of Family. You may contact Mi Familia (Ministry of the Family) at the following address: De ENEL Central, 100 mts. Al sur, Managua, phone number (505) 278-1837/(505) 278-5637, extensions 220 or 233. Mi Familia is responsible for vetting and approving the adoption of Nicaraguan children.

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents:

The stated age requirements to adopt a child are individuals between the ages of 25-40. However, Mi Familia has been flexible on the age requirement on a case-by-case basis. An adopting parent can be married or single.

Residency Requirement:

According to Nicaraguan law, prospective adoptive parents must either be Nicaraguan citizens or have a permanent residence in Nicaragua and plan to remain in Nicaragua until the child reaches the age of majority. In the cases of U.S. citizens with an approved I-600 or I-600A, the residency requirement is typically waived.

Time Frame:

The actual adoption process can take anywhere from six months to a year and in some cases longer.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys:

The adoptive parents must work directly with the Ministry of Family until the final stage of the adoption. Once the Ministry of Family authorizes the adoption, the adopting parents may hire a lawyer to complete the adoption procedures. Because it can be difficult to navigate the Nicaraguan legal system, you may want to consider hiring an adoption attorney to assist you. Lists of attorneys are available from the American Embassy.

Adoption Fees in Nicaragua:

The Ministry of the Family does not charge fees for the adoption process. Typical charges will be legal fees and fees for obtaining notarized legal documents.

Adoption Procedures:

Parents can expect a lengthy process to adopt a child in Nicaragua. Once a parent has identified a child and the Ministry of the Family has been notified of the parent's intent to adopt the child, the Ministry of the Family will go through a number of steps to ensure that the child has been abandoned and no other family members are willing to take in the child. Mi Familia will verify that the adopting parent has been approved for adopting a child by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and requires translated and notarized copies of the home study conducted in the United States. Once all data has been evaluated and necessary investigations performed, the case will be presented to the Ministry of the Family's adoption advisory council for a final decision on the adoption. If the adoption is approved, the decision is then sent to a judge to formally order the decision.

Documents Required for Adoption in Nicaragua:

The following is a list of documents typically requested by Mi Familia when they are evaluating an adoption request from a prospective parent. All documents should be translated into Spanish and then authenticated by the nearest Nicaraguan Consulate:

  • Original authenticated notice of approval (I-171H) issued by USCIS;
  • Home study;
  • Psychological evaluation;
  • Birth certificate;
  • Marriage certificate, if applicable;
  • Letter of employment;
  • Police record;
  • Certified copy of child's birth certificate issued by the civil registrar indicating the name of both biological parents, if known;
  • If birth father, mother, or both are deceased, a certified copy of the death certificate issued by the civil registrar.

The above is not a complete list of everything that may be requested. The Ministry of the Family will advise you directly should anything else be required. Note that the Ministry of the Family does not charge fees for adoptions.

Authenticating U.S. Documents to be Used Abroad:

Nicaragua is not a party of the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalization of Foreign Public Documents, so the Legalization Convention "apostille" certificate should not be used for documents to be presented in Nicaragua. Instead, the "chain authentication method" will be used to authenticate documents for Nicaragua. Visit the State Department website at travel.state.gov for additional information about authentication procedures.

Nicaraguan Embassy and Consulates in the United States:

Embassy of Nicaragua
1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
Tel; (202) 939-65774/32

Consulates:

Los Angeles
3550 Wilshire Boulevard
Suite 200
Los Angeles, Ca 90010
Tel: (213) 252-1171/1174
Fax: (213) 252-1177
Hours of attention: 9:00am – 1:00pm
Monday through Friday

Miami
8532 S.W. 8 Street
Suite 270
Miami, Fl 33114
Tel: (305) 265-1415
Fax: (305) 265-1780
Hours of attention: 9:00am – 3:30pm
Monday through Friday

San Francisco
870 Market
Suite 1050
San Francisco, Ca 94102
Tel: (415) 765-6821/6823/6825
Fax: (415) 765-6826
Hours of attention: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Monday through Friday

New York
820 2nd Ave
8 th Floor, Suite 802
New York, NY 10017
Tel: (212) 986-6562
Fax: (212) 983-2646
Hours of attention: 8:00am – 1:00pm
Monday through Friday

Houston
8989 Westheimer Rd.
Suite 103
Houston, Tx 77063
Tel: (713) 789-2762/2781
Fax: (713) 789-3164
Hours of attention: 9:00am – 1:00pm
Monday through Friday

For more specific contact information, please refer to the Nicaraguan foreign ministry's website at: www.cancilleria.gob.ni.

U.S. Immigration Requirements:

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua:

U.S. Embassy Managua
Km 4 1/2 Carretera Sur
P.O. Box #: 327
Phone: 011-(505)-268-0123, ext 4519/4767/4320
Fax: 011 - (505) – 266-9943

Additional Information:

Specific questions about adoption in Nicaragua may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4 th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-404-4747.

views updated

Nicaragua

Compiled from the January 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Nicaragua

PROFILE

PEOPLE

HISTORY

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

ECONOMY

FOREIGN RELATIONS

U.S.-NICARAGUAN RELATIONS

TRAVEL

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 129,494 sq. km. (59,998 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New York State.

Cities: Capital—Managua (pop. 1 million). Other cities—Leon, Granada, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Chinandega, Masaya.

Terrain: Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes.

Climate: Tropical in lowlands; cooler in highlands.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Nicaraguan(s).

Population: (2005) 5.1 million.

Annual growth rate: (2005) 1.7%. Density—43 per sq. km.

Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) 69%, white 17%, black (Jamaican origin) 9%, indigenous 5%.

Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic, with rapidly growing percentage of Evangelical Protestants.

Languages: Spanish (official), English and indigenous languages on Caribbean coast.

Education: Years compulsory—none enforced (28% of first graders eventually finish sixth grade). Literacy-67.5%.

Health: (2005) Life expectancy—70 yrs. Infant mortality rate-35.50/1,000.

Work force: (2004 est.) 1.9 million. Unemployed—12%; underemployed—35%.

Government

Type: Republic.

Independence: 1821.

Constitution: The 1987 Sandinistaera constitution was changed in 1995 to provide for a more even distribution of power among the four branches of government and again in 2000 to increase the Supreme Court and the Controller General’s Office and to make changes to the electoral laws.

Government branches: Executive—president and vice president. Legislative—National Assembly (unicameral). Judicial—Supreme Court; subordinate appeals, district, and local courts; separate labor and administrative tribunals. Electoral—Supreme Electoral Council, responsible for organizing and holding elections.

Political subdivisions: 15 departments and two autonomous regions on the Atlantic coast; 145 municipalities.

Political parties: Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN); Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN); Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC); Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS); Alternative for Change (AC).

Suffrage: Universal at 16.

Economy

GDP: (2005 est.) $4.91 billion

GDP real growth rate: (2005 est.) 4.0%

Per capita GDP: (2005 est.) $850

Inflation rate: (2005 est.) 9.6%.

Natural resources: arable land, fresh water, fisheries, gold, timber hydro and geothermal power potential.

Agriculture: (17% of GDP) Products-corn, coffee, sugar, meat, rice, beans, bananas, beef, dairy.

Industry: (24% of GDP) Types-processed food, beverages, textiles, petroleum, and metal products.

Services: (52% of GDP) Types-banking, wholesale and retail distribution, telecommunications, and energy.

Trade: (2005 est.) Normal Exports-$857 million (f.o.b.) coffee, seafood, beef, sugar, industrial goods, gold, bananas. Free Trade Zone Exports-$682 million, mostly textiles and apparel, automobile wiring harnesses. Markets—Central American Common Market (CACM) 35%, U.S. 33%, European Union 14%, Mexico 4%, Japan 1%. Imports—$2.865 billion (c.i.f.) petroleum, agricultural inputs and equipment, manufactured goods. Suppliers-CACM 21%, U.S. 18%, EU 8%, Mexico 8%, Venezuela 6%, China 5%.

PEOPLE

Most Nicaraguans are of both European and Indian ancestry, and the culture of the country reflects the Ibero-European and Indian heritage of its people. Only the Indians of the eastern half of the country remain ethnically distinct and retain tribal customs and languages. A large black minority, of Jamaican origin, is concentrated on the Caribbean coast. In the mid-1980s, the central government divided the eastern half of the country—the former department of Zelaya—into two autonomous regions and granted the people of the region limited self-rule. Roman Catholicism is the major religion, but Evangelical Protestant groups have grown recently, and there are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans live in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands. The population is 58% urban.

HISTORY

Nicaragua takes its name from Nicarao, chief of the indigenous tribe that lived around present-day Lake Nicaragua during the late 1400s and early 1500s. In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua’s principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua, and Leon east of Lake Managua. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821, briefly becoming a part of the Mexican Empire and then a member of a federation of independent Central American provinces. In 1838, Nicaragua became an independent republic.

Much of Nicaragua’s politics since independence has been characterized by the rivalry between the Liberal elite of Leon and the Conservative elite of Granada, which often led to civil war. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, an American named William Walker and his “filibusters” seized the presidency in 1856. The Liberals and Conservatives united to drive him out of office in 1857. Three decades of Conservative rule followed. Taking advantage of divisions within the Conservative ranks, Jose Santos Zelaya led a Liberal revolt that brought him to power in 1893. Zelaya ended a longstanding dispute with Britain over the Atlantic Coast in 1894, and reincorporated that region into Nicaragua.

By 1909, differences had developed over a trans-isthmian canal and concessions to Americans in Nicaragua; there also was concern about what was perceived as Nicaragua’s destabilizing influence in the region. In 1909 the United States provided political support to Conservative-led forces rebelling against

President Zelaya and intervened militarily to protect American lives and property. With the exception of a 9-month period in 1925-26, the United States maintained troops in Nicaragua from 1912 until 1933. From 1927 until 1933, U.S. Marines stationed in Nicaragua engaged in a running battle with rebel forces led by renegade Liberal Gen. Augusto Sandino, who rejected a 1927 negotiated agreement brokered by the United States to end the latest round of fighting between Liberals and Conservatives.

After the departure of U.S. troops, National Guard Commander Anastasio Somoza Garcia outmaneuvered his political opponents—including Sandino, who was assassinated by National Guard officers—and took over the presidency in 1936. Somoza and two sons who succeeded him, maintained close ties with the United States. The Somoza dynasty ended in 1979 with a massive uprising led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which had conducted a low scale guerrilla war against the Somoza regime since the early 1960s.

The FSLN established an authoritarian dictatorship soon after taking power. U.S.-Nicaraguan relations deteriorated rapidly as the regime nationalized many private industries, confiscated private property, supported Central American guerrilla movements, and maintained links to international terrorists. The United States suspended aid to Nicaragua in 1981. The Reagan administration provided assistance to the Nicaraguan resistance and in 1985 imposed an embargo on U.S.-Nicaraguan trade.

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. In these elections, which were proclaimed free and fair by international observers, Nicaraguan voters elected as their President the candidate of the National Opposition Union, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

During President Chamorro’s nearly 7 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. Despite a number of irregularities—which were due largely to logistical difficulties and a baroquely complicated electoral law—the October 20, 1996 presidential, legislative, and mayoral elections were judged free and fair by international observers and by the groundbreaking national electoral observer group Etica y Transparencia (Ethics and Transparency). This time Nicaraguans elected former Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán, leader of the center-right Liberal Alliance. The first transfer of power in recent Nicaraguan history from one democratically elected president to another took place on January 10, 1997, when the Alemán government was inaugurated.

Presidential and legislative elections were held in November 2001. Enrique Bolaños of the Liberal Constitutional Party was elected to the Nicaraguan presidency on November 4, 2001, defeating FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega by 14 percentage points. The elections, characterized

by international observers as free, fair and peaceful, reflected the maturing of Nicaragua’s democratic institutions. During his campaign, President-elect Bolaños promised to reinvigorate the economy, create jobs, fight corruption, and support the war against terrorism.

Bolaños was inaugurated on January 10, 2002. FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega won the Presidential elections of November 5, 2006 with just under 38% of the vote, defeating ALN candidate Eduardo Montealegre, who garnered 29%. Ortega was inaugurated on January 10, 2007.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy with executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral branches of government. In 1995, the executive and legislative branches negotiated a reform of the 1987 Sandinista constitution, which gave extensive new powers and independence to the legislature—the National Assembly—including permitting the Assembly to override a presidential veto with a simple majority vote and eliminating the president’s ability to pocket-veto a bill. The president and the members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected to concurrent five-year terms. The National Assembly consists of 92 total deputies (90 elected from party lists drawn at the departmental and national levels, plus the outgoing president and the candidate who finishes second in the Presidential race).

The Supreme Court supervises the functioning of the still largely ineffective, often partisan, and overburdened judicial system. In 2000, as part of the PLC-FSLN pact, the number or Supreme Court justices was increased from 12 to 16. Supreme Court justices are elected to five-year terms by the National Assembly. Led by a council of seven magistrates, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) is the co-equal branch of government responsible for organizing and conducting elections, plebiscites, and referendums. The magistrates and their alternates are elected to 5-year terms by the National Assembly. Constitutional changes in 2000 expanded the number of CSE magistrates from five to seven and gave the PLC and the FSLN a freer hand to name party activists to the Council, prompting allegations that both parties were politicizing electoral institutions and processes and excluding smaller political parties.

Freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by Nicaragua’s constitution and vigorously exercised by its people. Diverse viewpoints are freely and openly discussed in the media and in academia. There is no state censorship in Nicaragua. 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. The government also permits domestic and international human rights monitors to operate freely in Nicaragua. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth, nationality, political belief, race, gender, language, religion, opinion, national origin, and economic or social condition. All public and private sector workers, except the military and the police, are entitled to form and join unions of their own choosing, and they exercise this right extensively. Nearly half of Nicaragua’s work force, including agricultural workers, is unionized. Workers have the right to strike. Collective bargaining is becoming more common in the private sector.

Political Parties

While three parties participated in the 2001 national elections (PLC, FSLN, and PC), five participated in the 2006 elections (FSLN, ALN, PLC, MRS, and AC). Of the 92 seats in the National Assembly (installed January 9, 2007), the FSLN holds 38 seats, the PLC 25, the ALN 24 and the MRS 5.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 1/16/2007

President: Daniel ORTEGA Saavedra

Vice Pres.: Jaime MORALES Carazo

Min. of Agriculture & Forestry: Ariel BACARDO

Min. of Defense:

Min. of Education, Culture, & Sports: Miguel de CASTILLA Urbina

Min. of Environment & Natural Resources: Amanda LORIO Arana

Min. of Family: Glenda Auxiliadora RAMIREZ Noguera

Min. of Finance & Public Credit: Alberto Jose GUEVARA Obregon

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Samuel SANTOS Lopez

Min. of Government: Ana Isabel MORALES Mazon

Min. of Health: Juana Maritza CUAN

Min. of Industry, Development, & Commerce: Horacio BRENES

Min. of Labor: Jeaneth CHAVEZ

Min. of Tourism:

Min. of Transportation & Infrastructure: Pablo MARTINEZ

Sec. of the Presidency:

Attorney General: Hernan ESTRADA

Prosecutor General:

Pres., Central Bank: Atenor ROSALES

Ambassador to the US:

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Eduardo SEVILLA Somoza

Nicaragua maintains an embassy in the United States at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-387-4371).

ECONOMY

Nicaragua began free market reforms in 1991 after 12 years of economic free-fall under the Sandinista regime. Despite some setbacks, it has made dramatic progress: privatizing more than 350 state enterprises, reducing inflation from 13,500% to 9.6%, and cutting the foreign debt in half. The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew 4% in 2005, with overall GDP reaching $4.91 billion in 2005. Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere. Unemployment is officially around 12.2%, and another 35.4% are underemployed. Nicaragua suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits and a high debt-service burden; foreign assistance, including donations and debt relief, totaled 42% of GDP in 2004.

One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export. Exports were $857 million in 2005. Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continued to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, the fastest growth is now in nontraditional exports: maquila goods (apparel); gold; seafood; and new agricultural products such as peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions. Nicaragua also depends heavily on remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad.

Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, but construction, mining, fisheries, and general commerce also have been expanding during the last few years. Foreign private capital inflows topped $300 million in 1999 but, due to economic and political uncertainty fell to less than $100 million in 2001. This trend has been reversed to a degree during the government of President Bolaños. Foreign direct investment reached 250 million in 2004.

Rapid expansion of the tourist industry has made it the nation’s third-largest source of foreign exchange. Some 60,000 Americans visit Nicaragua yearly—primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. An estimated 5,300 U.S. citizens reside in the country. The U.S. Embassy’s consular section provides a full range of consular services—from passport replacement and veteran’s assistance to prison visitation and repatriation assistance.

Nicaragua faces a number of challenges in stimulating rapid economic growth. Long-term success at attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depend on its ability to comply with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, resolve the thousands of Sandinista-era property confiscation cases, and open its economy to foreign trade. This process was boosted in late 2000 when Nicaragua reached the decision point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative. However, HIPC benefits will be delayed because Nicaragua subsequently fell “off track” from its IMF program. The country also has been grappling with a string of bank failures that began in August 2000. The macroeconomic policies implemented by the Bolaños administration helped the economy grow by 5.1% in 2004. Fiscal deficits have been reduced through increased tax collection and consolidated public sector expenditures.

International reserves have increased from US$274 million in 2001 to US$670 million in 2004. The IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) was suspended because a political stalemate between the executive and legislative branches prevented Nicaragua from meeting program preconditions.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) came into force between the United States and Nicaragua on April 1, 2006. The U.S. is the Nicaragua’s largest trading partner by far—the source in 2005 of roughly one fifth of Nicaragua’s imports and the destination about a third of its exports. About 25 wholly or partly owned subsidiaries of U.S. companies operate in Nicaragua. The largest of those investments are in the energy, communications, manufacturing, fisheries, and shrimp farming sectors. Good opportunities exist for further investments in those same sectors, as well as in tourism, mining, franchising, and the distribution of imported consumer, manufacturing, and agricultural goods.

The U.S. Embassy’s economic and commercial section advances American economic and business interests by briefing U.S. firms on opportunities and stumbling blocks to trade and investment in Nicaragua; encouraging key Nicaraguan decision-makers to work with American firms; helping to resolve problems that affect U.S. commercial interests; and working to change local economic and trade ground rules in order to afford U.S. firms a level playing field on which to compete. U.S. businesses may access key Embassy economic reports via the mission’s Internet home page at http://managua.usembassy.gov/.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

The 1990 election victory of President Violeta Chamorro placed Nicaragua in the ranks of Latin American democracies. Nicaragua pursues an independent foreign policy. A participant of the Central American Security Commission (CASC), Nicaragua also has taken a leading role in pressing for regional demilitarization and peaceful settlement of disputes within states in the region. Nicaragua has submitted two territorial disputes—one with Honduras and the other with Colombia—to the International Court at The Hague for resolution.

On the San Juan River there have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a three-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. After the two governments failed to reach an amicable solution, Costa Rica filed a case before the ICJ.

While the case is currently pending, the two countries jointly fund community development projects in the border area. At the 1994 Summit of the Americas, Nicaragua joined six Central American neighbors in signing the Alliance for Sustainable Development, known as the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA, or CONCAUSA, to promote sustainable economic development in the region.

Nicaragua belongs to the United Nations and several specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization (WTO), UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), and UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). Nicaragua also is a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI).

U.S.-NICARAGUAN RELATIONS

U.S. policy aims to continue supporting the consolidation of the democratic process initiated in Nicaragua with the 1990 election of President Chamorro. The United States has promoted national reconciliation, encouraging Nicaraguans to resolve their problems through dialogue and compromise. It recognizes as legitimate all political forces that abide by the democratic process and eschew violence. U.S. assistance is focused on strengthening democratic institutions, stimulating sustainable economic growth, and supporting the health and basic education sectors.

The resolution of U.S. citizen claims arising from Sandinista-era confiscations and expropriations still figures prominently in bilateral policy concerns. Section 527 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (1994) prohibits certain U.S. assistance and support for a government of a country that has confiscated U.S. citizen property, unless the government has taken certain remedial steps.

In July 2005, the Secretary of State issued a 12th annual national interest waiver of the Section 527 prohibition because of Nicaragua’s record in resolving U.S. citizen claims as well as its overall progress in implementing political and economic reforms.

Other key U.S. policy goals for Nicaragua are:

  • Improving respect for human rights and resolving outstanding high-profile human rights cases;
  • Developing a free market economy with respect for property and intellectual property rights;
  • Ensuring effective civilian control over defense and security policy;
  • Increasing the effectiveness of Nicaragua’s efforts to combat transborder crimes, including narcotics trafficking, money laundering, illegal alien smuggling, international terrorist and criminal organizations, and trafficking in persons; and
  • Reforming the judicial system and implementing good governance.

Since 1990, the United States has provided over $1.2 billion in assistance to Nicaragua. About $260 million of that was for debt relief, and another $450 million was for balance-of-payments support. The U.S. also provided $93 million in 1999, 2000, and 2001 as part of its overall response to Hurricane Mitch. Aside from funding for Mitch reconstruction, the levels of assistance have fallen incrementally to reflect the improvements in Nicaragua. Assistance has been focused on promoting more citizen political participation, compromise, and government transparency; stimulating sustainable growth and income; and fostering better-educated and healthier families. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, signed a five-year, $175 million Compact with the Republic of Nicaragua on July 14, 2005. The Millennium Challenge Compact will reduce poverty and spur economic growth by funding projects in the regions of León and Chinandega aimed at reducing transportation costs and improving access to markets for rural communities; increasing wages and profits from farming and related enterprises in the region, and increasing investment by strengthening property rights.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

MANAGUA (E) Address: Carretera Sur KM 4.5; APO/FPO: APO AA 34021; Phone: 011-505-266-6010; Fax: 001-505-266-3865; Workweek: 7:30AM–4:15 PM; Website: webmanagua.managua.state.gov.

AMB:Paul A. Trivelli
AMB OMS:Irene C. Willig
DCM:Peter M. Brennan
DCM OMS:Linda R. Ren
CG:Marc J. Meznar
POL:Victoria Alvarado
MGT:Paula M. Bravo
AFSA:Mary K. Gunn
AGR:Katherine Nishiura (San Jose)
AID:Alexander Dickie
APHIS:Vacant
CLO:Kelley Crowder-Smith
DAO:Vacant
DEA:Michael J. Sanders
ECO:Joseph M. Ripley
EEO:Naomi C. Fellows
FAA:Ruben Quinones (Miami)
FMO:Deidra L. Reid
GSO:Robert P. Kepner
ICASS Chair:Alexander Dickie
IMO:Jaime Esquivel
IPO:Michael P. Touchstone
IRS:Frederick Dulas (Mexico City)
ISO:Tim J. Stultz
MLO:Robert Gaddis
NAS:Nicole A. Chulick
PAO:Jerome J. Oetgen
RSO:Michael Poehlitz
State ICASS:Jerome J. Oetgen

Last Updated: 12/11/2006

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration Trade Information Center

14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua

Apartado Postal 202
Managua, Nicaragua
Tel: (5052) 67-30-99
Fax: (5052) 67-30-98

Caribbean/Latin American Action

1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet : January 10, 2007

Country Description: Nicaragua is a young democracy with a developing economy. The national language is Spanish, though many residents of the Caribbean coastal areas speak English and indigenous languages, as well. The climate is generally hot and humid with the “summer” dry season running mid November through mid May and the “winter” rainy season running from mid May through mid November. Terrain ranges from the hilly and volcanic to coastal beaches and tropical jungles. Many foreign governments and relief organizations provide economic assistance to Nicaragua and numerous individuals (official and non-official) from the U.S. and the rest of the developed world work on community-based projects both in Managua and in the rural areas. Violent crime has not been a historical problem, yet criminal enterprises appear to be growing in organization as economic development in Nicaragua moves forward. The judicial system is subject to corruption and political influence.

The promotion of tourism is a top government priority; however, Nicaragua lacks an extensive tourist infrastructure. Potential tourists may want to obtain information from INTUR, the governmental agency responsible for developing, regulating and promoting tourism in Nicaragua. INTUR’s website is http://www.intur.gob.ni/ and offers some information in English.

Entry/Exit Requirements: On January 8, 2007, the U.S. Government will begin to phase in new passport requirements for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere. By January 8, 2007, all U.S. citizens traveling by air will be expected to depart and enter the United States on a valid passport or other authorized document establishing identity and U.S. citizenship. The Department of State strongly encourages travelers to obtain passports well in advance of any planned travel. Routine passport applications by mail take up to six weeks to be issued.

A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua. U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased ($5.00) upon arrival. Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days.

A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua. Pay attention to the authorized stay that will be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector. Visitors remaining more than the authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration. Failure to do so will prevent departure until a fine is paid.

There is also a $32 departure tax, the payment of which may or may not be included in your ticket. If not, payment can be made at the counter.

In June 2006, Nicaragua entered a “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at Immigration checkpoints. U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals, who legally enter any of the four countries, may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries. Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days. Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the four country region beyond the period initially granted for their visit are required to request a one-time extension of stay from local Immigration authorities in the country where the traveler is physically present, or travel outside the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region. Foreigners “expelled” from any of the four countries are excluded from the entire “CA-4” region. In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to some travelers and has resulted in others being fined more than one hundred dollars or detained in custody for 72 hours or longer.

Visit the Embassy of Nicaragua web site at http://www.cancilleria.gob.ni/ for the most current visa information and locations for the Embassy and the several consulates in the United States.

Dual Nationality: The constitution of Nicaragua permits dual nationality. Dual citizens can enter and depart Nicaragua using either their U.S. or Nicaraguan passport. However, dual citizens entering on U.S. passports must obtain appropriate tourist/residence permits and any appropriate extensions. Parents should not rely on birth certificates for travel of their children; rather, they should obtain U.S. passports for infants and minors born in the U.S. prior to travel. Please also note that minors, who have Nicaraguan citizenship, regardless if they have an American passport, will be required to obtain an exit stamp from Nicaraguan Immigration before being allowed to depart.

Safety and Security: Police coverage is extremely sparse outside of major urban areas, particularly in Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast autonomous regions. Sporadic incidents of highway banditry are reported in remote rural areas of north and northwest Nicaragua. If you do decide to travel to these areas, travel only on major highways during daylight hours.

Political demonstrations and strikes occur sporadically, are usually limited to urban areas, and occasionally become violent. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences. Nautical travelers should be aware that there are boundary disputes involving the governments of Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean coastal waters adjoining these countries. Passengers and crews of foreign fishing boats have been detained and/or fined and vessels impounded. There also is a long-term boundary dispute with Colombia over San Andres Island and surrounding waters. Travelers should also be aware that narcotics traffickers often use the Caribbean coastal waters.

On the San Juan River there have been disagreements regarding navigational rights in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border area. Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed a three-year agreement in September of 2002 to defer presenting these issues before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for resolution. After the two governments failed to reach an amicable solution, Costa Rica filed a case before the ICJ. While the case is currently pending, the two countries jointly fund community development projects in the border area.

U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua’s Pacific coast have resulted in a number of incidents of drowning. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available in Nicaragua. U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua’s Pacific waters should exercise appropriate caution.

Hiking in volcanic or other remote areas can be dangerous and you should take appropriate precautions. Hikers should have appropriate dress, footwear, and sufficient consumables for any trek undertaken. Individuals who travel to remote tourist or other areas for hiking activities are encouraged to hire a local guide familiar with the terrain and area. In particular, there have been instances of hikers perishing or getting lost on the volcanoes at Ometepe Island. While they may look like easy climbs, the terrain is treacherous and heavily overgrown.

Although hundreds of passengers travel daily on domestic flights within Nicaragua without incident, these flights use small, uncontrolled airstrips outside of Managua, with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security. Significant safety and security improvements have, however, been made at the Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas and Corn Island airports, all of which are located on Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast.

Although extensive demining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the war, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: Violent crime in Managua and other cities is increasing, and street crimes are common. Pick pocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops and in open markets, particularly the large Mercado Oriental. Gang activity is rising in Managua, though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries. Gang violence, including robbery, assault and stabbing, is most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, but has occurred in the neighborhoods surrounding major hotels, bus terminals and open-air markets.

Visitors may want to avoid walking and instead use officially registered taxicabs. Radio-dispatched taxis are recommended and can be found at the International airport and at the larger hotels. Taxi drivers and passengers have been victims of robbery, assault, sexual assault, and even murder. Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is legible. Pick taxis carefully and note the driver’s name and license number. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before you depart, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change. Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the cooperativa (company) name and logo. Purse and jewelry snatchings from motorists sometimes occur at stop-lights. While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked and valuables placed out of sight.

Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields and the Corn Islands along the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast. Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements. The embassy has limited travel by its staff to most of the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS). Therefore, its ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens who choose to travel in the Caribbean costal area is constrained. Police presence on Little Corn Islands and other remote areas is minimal. There have been incidents of sexual assault against females. Single travelers should exercise special caution while traveling in the Corn Islands and other remote areas of the country. Do not resist a robbery attempt. Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted. Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightspots. Travel in groups of two or more persons whenever possible. Use the same common sense while traveling in Nicaragua that you would in any high-crime area of a major U.S. city. Do not wear excessive jewelry in downtown or rural areas. Do not carry large sums of money, ATM or credit cards you do not need, or other valuables.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care is limited, particularly outside Managua. Basic medical services are available in Managua and in many of the smaller towns and villages. However, treatment for many serious medical problems is either unavailable or available only in Managua. Certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments are not available in Nicaragua.

In an emergency, individuals are taken to the nearest hospital that will accept a patient. This is usually a public hospital unless the individual or someone acting on their behalf indicates that they can pay for a private hospital. Payment for medical services is typically done on a cash basis, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment. U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted in Nicaragua.

Malaria is endemic, particularly in low-lying areas such as Managua and around the beaches. Dengue is also a problem. Tap water in Managua has been tested and found safe for drinking; however, you are urged to drink bottled water, especially when traveling outside of the capital. Mosquito-borne illnesses are an ongoing problem in Nicaragua. All persons traveling in Nicaragua, even for a brief visit, are at risk of contracting malaria year-round if they travel outside of Managua to low-lying areas.

Take a prophylactic regimen best suited to your health profile. The country regularly suffers from outbreaks of dengue fever during the rainy season. Travelers should take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes to reduce the chance of contracting such illnesses.

Individuals traveling to Nicaragua should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. Vaccination against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B is strongly recommended. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Nicaragua.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nicaragua is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Driving at night on rural roads outside major cities is also discouraged. Driving is on the right side of the road in Nicaragua. Motorists driving to Nicaragua should use the principal highways and official border crossings at Guasale, El Espino and Las Manos between Nicaragua and Honduras and Penas Blancas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in good shape, drivers should be aware that seasonal, torrential rains take a heavy toll on road conditions. Motorists are encouraged to prepare accordingly and may want to carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency.

Road travel after dark is especially hazardous in all areas of the country. With a few exceptions, Nicaraguan roads (not major highways) are in poor repair, potholed, poorly lit, frequently narrow, and lack shoulders. Many roads severely damaged as a result of Hurricane Mitch in October 1998 have not been repaired.

Some of the major highways and roads are undergoing major repair, repaving and upgrading. Be on the lookout for detours and slow traffic on these roads. In general, road signs are poor to non-existent. Bicycles, oxcarts, dogs, horses and vehicles without lights are at times encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua. Motorcycles, often carrying three or even four passengers, dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning. Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly and are prone to breaking down without warning. Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots. Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, but because the government lacks the resources, traffic rules are rarely enforced.

Due to the age and disrepair of many vehicles, many drivers will not signal their intentions using turn indicators. Rather, it is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn. If you do drive in Nicaragua, you need to exercise the utmost caution, drive defensively and make sure you have insurance.

Avoid taking public transportation buses, if possible. They are overcrowded, unsafe and often are used by pickpockets. Because of the conditions discussed above, traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death. This is most often true when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved. Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer. Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.

Nicaraguan law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that caused serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).

Visitors to Nicaragua might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies. In case of accident, only the driver will be taken into custody.

Regulations governing transit are administered by the National Police. For specific information concerning Nicaraguan driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you may wish to refer to the National Police website at http://www.policia.gob.ni/. You may also contact the Embassy of Nicaragua or a Consulate for further information.

Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Nicaragua’s Civil Aviation Authority as Category 2—not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards for the oversight of Nicaragua’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet website at http://www.faa.gov.

Purchasing Property: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks of purchasing real estate in Nicaragua and should exercise caution before committing to invest in property. The 1979-90 Sandinista government expropriated some 30,000 properties, many of which are still involved in disputes or claims. Land title remains unclear in many cases. Although the government has resolved several thousand claims by U.S. citizens for compensation or return of properties, there remain hundreds of unresolved claims registered with the U.S. Embassy. Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation and investigate their purchases thoroughly in order to reduce the possibility of property disputes.

The Judicial system offers little relief when the purchase of a property winds up in court. The Embassy is aware of numerous cases in which buyers purchase property supported by what appear to be legal titles only to see themselves subsequently embroiled in legal battles when the titles are contested by an affected or otherwise interested third party. Once a property dispute enters the judicial arena, the outcome may be subject to corruption, political pressure, and influence peddling. Many Coastal properties have been tied up in courts recently, leaving the “buyer’ unable to proceed with the intended development pending lengthy and uncertain litigation. In other cases squatters have simply invaded the land while the police or judicial authorities are unable (or unwilling) to remove the trespassers. Again, the Embassy advises that those interested in purchasing Nicaraguan property exercise extreme caution.

Money and Currency: U.S. currency is widely accepted and major credit cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses in urban and tourist areas. Visitors who need to change dollars are encouraged to do this at their hotel since this is typically the safest place. ATM machines are available at banks in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas. However, individuals should exercise caution when using a teller machine since they are typically in or near uncontrolled areas and criminal elements can easily see you withdrawing cash. Traveler’s checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities (“casas de cambio”). You will also find enterprising individuals -’Cambistas’—waving wads of cash in the street. Changing money in this fashion can be dangerous and is discouraged.

Disaster Preparedness: 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 http://www.fema.gov/.

Customs Regulations: Before excavating archaeological materials, or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, all persons are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture. Nicaraguan law and a bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the U.S. and commercialization of said goods. Severe criminal penalties may apply.

U.S. citizens planning to stay in Nicaragua for an extended period of time with the intention of bringing vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Nicaraguan customs officials prior to shipment.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Nicaraguan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nicaragua are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children’s Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living or traveling in Nicaragua are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Nicaragua. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located Kilometer 4 1/2 (4.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 266-6010 or 268-0123; after hours telephone (505) 266-6038; Consular Section fax (505) 266-9943; E-mail: [email protected]

International Adoption : November 2006

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: Nicaraguan law does not allow for a Nicaraguan child to travel to the United States to be adopted. Therefore, prospective adoptive parents must obtain a full and final adoption under Nicaraguan law before the child can immigrate to the United States. The Nicaraguan Ministry of the Family will want to see that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) division of the Department of Homeland Security has approved prospective adoptive parents to adopt a child and will ask for the Notice of Approval (Form I-171H) issued by USCIS.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Authority: The government office responsible for adoptions in Nicaragua is Mi Familia (Ministry of Family). This office can be contacted at the following address:

De ENEL Central 100 mts.
Al sur, Managua
Phone: (505) 278-1837/(505) 278-5637, extensions 220 or 233.

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Both single and married people may adopt. Officially, prospective adoptive parents must be between 25 and 40. However, the Ministry of Family has been flexible on the age requirement on a case-by-case basis.

Residency Requirements: According to Nicaraguan law, prospective adoptive parents must either be Nicaraguan citizens or have a permanent residence in Nicaragua and plan to remain in Nicaragua until the child reaches 21 years of age. In the cases of U.S. citizens with an approved I-600 or I-600A, however, this residency requirement is typically waived.

Time Frame: The Nicaraguan adoption process takes anywhere from six months to a year and in some cases longer.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: Prospective adoptive parents must work directly with the Ministry of Family until the final stage of the adoption. Once the Ministry of Family authorizes the adoption, the prospective adoptive parents may hire a Nicaraguan attorney to complete the adoption procedures. This may be advisable due to the complexity of the Nicaraguan legal system. Lists of attorneys are available from the U.S. Embassy and can be accessed on line at: http://managua.usembassy.gov/wwwhcon13.html.

Adoption Fees: The Ministry of the Family does not charge fees for adoptions. Typical charges will be legal fees and fees for obtaining notarized legal documents. The legal fees generally range from $1,200 to $1,500.

Adoption Procedures: Prospective adoptive parents can expect a lengthy process to adopt a child in Nicaragua. The Ministry of Family will go through a number of steps to ensure that the child has been abandoned and that no biological family members are willing to take in the child. The Ministry of Family will verify that the prospective adoptive parent(s) has/have been approved by USCIS to adopt a child from abroad and that they have translated and notarized copies of the home study conducted in the United States. Once the adoptive parents have been approved by the Ministry of the Family they are placed on a waiting list until a child is identified. Even if the child has already been identified by the adoptive parents, the parents must still wait on the waiting list for further processing by the Ministry of the Family.

Once all the data is evaluated and necessary investigations performed, the case is presented to the Ministry of Family’s adoption advisory council for a final decision on the adoption. Either the adoptive parents or the adoptive parents’ lawyer should be present for these proceedings.

If the adoption is approved, the decision is then sent to a judge to formally order the decision. The judge has the authority to deny a case when there is a concern for the child’s welfare. These are exceptionally rare cases, with only one case denied in the last ten years.

When the final adoption decree is issued by the Nicaraguan court, the parents are able to attain a birth certificate (at least two original copies is recommended) from the Central Registry of Managua for a cost of 100 Cordobas ($6).

As soon as the birth certificate has been issued, a passport could be attained from Nicaraguan Immigration for 350 Cordobas ($20) with an expected eight day turn around. Expedited same day passports service is available for 300 extra Cordobas ($18). The parents will also need to attain a “legal authority” from Nicaraguan Immigration [cost of 350 Cordobas ($20)] in order leave the country with the child.

Documentary Requirements: The following is a list of documents typically requested by the Ministry of Family when it is evaluating an adoption request from a prospective adoptive parent. All documents should be translated into Spanish and then authenticated by the nearest Nicaraguan Consulate:

  • Original authenticated notice of approval (I-171H) issued by USCIS;
  • Home study (I-600A fulfills this requirement);
  • Psychological evaluation by a U.S.-based adoption agency;
  • Birth certificate of adoptive parent(s);
  • Marriage certificate of adoptive parents (if applicable);
  • Letter of employment for the adoptive parents;
  • Unites States police record (FBI fingerprints fulfill this requirement);
  • Medical examination for adoptive parents(s);
  • Two 2″ x 2″ color photographs of the parent(s) with a white background;
  • Letter from a U.S.-based adoption agency indicating that it will follow-up with the case in the United States once the adoption has been completed in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan Ministry of the Family requires a U.S. based adoption agency to conduct at least two family visits for the first year after the adoption that report on the welfare of the child. These reports need to be sent directly to the Ministry of the Family (Consejo de Adopción).

The above is not necessarily a complete list of everything that may be requested. The Ministry of Family will advise prospective adoptive parents if anything else will be required.

Embassy of Nicaragua:

1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
Tel; (202) 939-6531/32
Consular Section: (202) 939-6541,
Fax: (202) 939-6574
Hours of Operation: 9:00am—1:00pm, Monday through Friday

Nicaragua also has consulates in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco. For more specific contact information, please refer to the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry’s web site at: www.cancilleria.gob.ni.

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adoptive parents are strongly encouraged to consult USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy Managua:

Km 4 1/2 Carretera Sur
P.O. Box #: 327
Phone: 011-(505)-268-0123, ext 4519/4767/4320
Fax: 011—(505)—266-9943

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in Nicaragua may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Managua. General questions regarding intercountry adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

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Nicaragua

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.

Summary


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.

Bibliography


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

views updated

NICARAGUA

Compiled from the December 2003 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.




Official Name:
Republic of Nicaragua

PROFILE
PEOPLE
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
ECONOMY
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-NICARAGUAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL


PROFILE


Geography

Area: 130,688 sq. km. (50,446 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New York State.

Cities: Capital—Managua (pop. 1 million). Other cities—Leon, Granada, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Chinandega, Masaya.

Terrain: Extensive Atlantic coastal plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain interrupted by volcanoes.

Climate: Tropical in lowlands; cooler in highlands.


People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Nicaraguan(s).

Population: (2001 est.) 4.91 million.

Annual growth rate: (est.) 2.15%. Density—33 per sq. km.

Ethnic groups: Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) 69%, white 17%, black (Jamaican origin) 9%, indigenous 5%.

Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic, with rapidly growing percentage of Evangelical Protestants.

Languages: Spanish (official), English and indigenous languages on Caribbean coast.

Education: Years compulsory—none enforced (28% first graders eventually finish sixth grade). Literacy—75%.

Health: Life expectancy—62 yrs. Infant mortality rate—50/1,000.

Work force: (1999) 1.7 million. Unemployed—20%; under employed—36%.


Government

Type: Republic.

Independence: 1821.

Constitution: The 1987 Sandinistaera Constitution was changed in 1995 to provide for a more even distribution of power among the four branches of government and again in 2000 to increase the Supreme Court and the Controller General's Office and to make changes to the electoral laws.

Branches: Executive—president and vice president. Legislative—National Assembly (unicameral). Judicial—Supreme Court; subordinate appeals, district and local courts; separate labor and administrative tribunals. Electoral—Supreme Electoral Council, responsible for organizing and holding elections.

Administrative subdivisions: 15 departments and two autonomous regions on the Atlantic coast; 145 municipalities.

Major political parties: Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC); Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Other political parties; Conservative Party (PC); National Resistance Party (PRN); Camino Cristiano. Regional parties in the Atlantic Coast include YATAMA and PMUC.

Suffrage: Universal at 16.


Economy

GDP: (2001) $2.4 billion (PPP 12.3 billion).

Annual growth rate: (2001 est.) 2.5%.

Per capita GDP: (2001 est.) $470.

Inflation rate: (2001 est.) 8%.

Natural resources: Arable land, livestock, fisheries, gold, timber.

Agriculture: (31% of GDP) Products—corn, coffee, sugar, meat, rice, beans, bananas.

Industry: (23% of GDP) Types—processed food, beverages, textiles, petroleum, and metal products.

Services: (45% of GDP) Types—commerce, construction, government, banking, transportation, and energy.

Trade: (2001)Exports—$640 million (f.o.b.) coffee, seafood, beef, sugar, industrial goods, gold, bananas, sesame. Markets—U.S. 43%, European Union 33%, Central American Common Market (CACM) 17%, Mexico 2%. Imports—$1.7 billion (f.o.b. 2001) petroleum, agricultural supplies, manufactured goods. Suppliers —U.S. 32%, CACM 21%, Venezuela 11%, European Union 9%.


PEOPLE

Most Nicaraguans have both European and Indian ancestry, and the culture of the country reflects the Ibero-European and Indian heritage of its people. Only the Indians of the eastern half of the country remain ethnically distinct and retain tribal customs and languages. A large black minority, of Jamaican origin, is concentrated on the Caribbean coast. In the mid-1980s, the central government divided the eastern half of the country—the former department of Zelaya—into two autonomous regions and granted the people of the region limited self-rule.


The 1995 constitutional reform guaranteed the integrity of the regions' several unique cultures and gave the inhabitants a say in the use of the area's natural resources. Roman Catholicism is the major religion, but Evangelical Protestant groups have grown recently, and there are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans live in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands. The population is 54% urban.




HISTORY

Nicaragua takes its name from Nicarao, chief of the indigenous tribe then living around present-day Lake Nicaragua. In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua's two principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua and Leon east of Lake Managua. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821, briefly becoming a part of the Mexican Empire and then a member of a federation of independent Central American provinces. In 1838, Nicaragua became an independent republic.


Much of Nicaragua's politics since independence has been characterized by the rivalry between the Liberal elite of Leon and the Conservative elite of Granada, which often spilled into civil war. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, an American named William Walker and his "filibusters" seized the presidency in 1856. The Liberals and Conservatives united to drive him out of office in 1857, after which a period of three decades of Conservative rule ensued. Taking advantage of divisions within the Conservative ranks, Jose Santos Zelaya led a Liberal revolt that brought him to power in 1893. Zelaya ended the longstanding dispute with Britain over the Atlantic Coast in 1894, and reincorporated that region into Nicaragua. However, due to differences over an isthmian canal and concessions to Americans in Nicaragua as well as a concern for what was perceived as Nicaragua's destabilizing influence in the region, in 1909 the United States provided political support to Conservative-led forces rebelling against President Zelaya and intervened militarily to protect American lives and property. Zelaya resigned later that year. With the exception of a 9-month period in 1925-26, the United States maintained troops in Nicaragua from 1912 until 1933. From 1927 until 1933, U.S. Marines stationed in Nicaragua engaged in a running battle with rebel forces led by renegade Liberal Gen. Augusto Sandino, who rejected a 1927 negotiated agreement brokered by the United States to end the latest round of fighting between Liberals and Conservatives.

After the departure of U.S. troops, National Guard Cmdr. Anastasio Somoza Garcia out-maneuvered his political opponents, including Sandino who was assassinated by National Guard officers, and took over the presidency in 1936. Somoza, and two sons who succeeded him, maintained close ties with the United States. The Somoza dynasty ended in 1979 with a massive uprising led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which, since the early 1960s, had conducted a lowscale guerrilla war against the Somoza regime.


The FSLN established an authoritarian dictatorship soon after taking power. U.S.-Nicaraguan relations deteriorated rapidly as the regime nationalized many private industries, confiscated private property, supported Central American guerrilla movements, and maintained links to international terrorists. The United States suspended aid to Nicaragua in 1981. The Reagan administration provided assistance to the Nicaraguan Resistance and in 1985 imposed an embargo on U.S.-Nicaraguan trade.

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. In these elections, which were proclaimed free and fair by international observers, Nicaraguan voters elected as their president the candidate of the National Opposition Union, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.


During President Chamorro's nearly 7 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. In February 1995, Sandinista Popular Army Cmdr. Gen. Humberto Ortega was replaced, in accordance with a new military code enacted in 1994 by Gen. Joaquin Cuadra, who espoused a policy of greater professionalism in the renamed Army of Nicaragua. A new police organization law, passed by the National Assembly and signed into law in August 1996, further codified both civilian control of the police and the professionalization of that law enforcement agency. The October 20, 1996 presidential, legislative, and mayoral elections also were judged free and fair by international observers and by the groundbreaking national electoral observer group Eticay Transparencia (Ethics and Transparency) despite a number of irregularities, due largely to logistical difficulties and a baroquely complicated electoral law. This time Nicaraguans elected former-Managua Mayor Arnoldo Aleman, leader of the center-right Liberal Alliance. The first transfer of power in recent Nicaraguan


history from one democratically elected president to another took place on January 10, 1997, when the Aleman government was inaugurated.


In November 2000, Nicaragua held municipal elections—the country's third free and fair election since 1990. President Aleman's Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) won a majority of the overall mayoral races, but the FSLN fared considerably better in larger urban areas, winning a significant number of departmental capitals, including Managua. Presidential and legislative elections were held in November 2001.


Enrique Bolaños of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) was inaugurated on January 10, 2002. He was elected to the Nicaraguan presidency on November 4, 2001, defeating the FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega, by 14 percentage points. The elections, characterized by international observers as free, fair and peaceful, reflected the maturing of Nicaragua's democratic institutions. During his campaign President-elect Bolaños promised to reinvigorate the economy, create jobs, fight corruption, and support the war against terrorism.




GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

Nicaragua is a constitutional democracy with executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral branches of government. In 1995, the executive and legislative branches negotiated a reform of the 1987 Sandinista constitution which gave impressive new powers and independence to the legislature—the National Assembly—including permitting the Assembly to override a presidential veto with a simple majority vote and eliminating the president's ability to pocket veto a bill. Both the president and the members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected to concurrent 5-year terms. The National Assembly consists of 90 deputies elected from party lists drawn at the department and national level, plus the 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 political parties and alliances won the remaining 15 seats. In the 2001 elections, the Liberal Party won 53 seats, the FSLN 38 seats, and the Conservative Party 1 seat.


The Supreme Court supervises the functioning of the still largely ineffective and overburdened judicial system. As part of the 1995 constitutional reforms, the independence of the Supreme Court was strengthened by increasing the number of magistrates from 9 to 12. In 2000, the number or Supreme Court Justices was increased to 16. Supreme Court justices are elected to 7-year terms by the National Assembly. Led by a council of seven magistrates, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) is the co-equal branch of government responsible for organizing and conducting elections, plebiscites, and referendums. The magistrates and their alternates are elected to 5-year terms by the National Assembly. Constitutional changes in 2000 expanded the number of CSE magistrates from five to seven and gave the PLC and the FSLN a freer hand to name party activists to the Council, prompting allegations that both parties were politicizing electoral institutions and processes and excluding smaller political parties.


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. There is no state censorship in Nicaragua. 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. The government also permits domestic and international human rights monitors to operate freely in Nicaragua. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth, nationality, political belief, race, gender, language, religion, opinion, national origin, and economic or social condition. All public and private sector workers, except the military and the police, are entitled to form and join unions of their own choosing, and they exercise this right extensively. Nearly half of Nicaragua's work force, including agricultural workers, is unionized. Workers have the right to strike. Collective bargaining is becoming more common in the private sector.


Political Parties

Though 35 political parties participated in the 1996 elections, under new, more restrictive electoral laws passed in 2000, only three parties participated in the 2001 national elections—the PLC, the FSLN, and the PC. As a result of those elections, of the 92 seats in the National Assembly, 53 are held by the PLC, 38 by the FSLN, and 1 by the PC.


Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 1/8/04


President: Bolanos, Enrique

Vice President: Rizo, Jose

Min. of Agriculture & Forestry: Navarro, Jose Augusto "Tuto"

Min. of Defense: Guerra, Jose Adan

Min. of Education, Culture, & Sports: De Franco, Silvio, Dr.

Min. of Environment & Natural Resources: Harding, Arturo

Min. of Family: Largaespada, Carmen Min. of Finance & Public Credit: Montealegre, Eduardo

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Caldera, Norman

Min. of Government: Vega, Julio, Dr.

Min. of Health: Alvarado, Jose Antonio

Min. of Industry, Development, & Trade: Arana, Mario

Min. of Labor: Gurdian, Virgilio

Min. of Tourism: De Robelo, Lucia Salazar C.

Min. of Transportation & Infrastructure: Solorzano, Pedro

Attorney General: Talavera, Victor Manuel

Prosecutor General: Centeno, Julio

Pres., Central Bank: Alonso, Mario

Ambassador to the US: Stadthagen, Salvador

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Sevilla Somoza, Eduardo



Nicaragua maintains an embassy in the United States at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-387-4371).




ECONOMY

Nicaragua began free market reforms in 1991 after 12 years of economic free-fall under the Sandinista regime. Despite some setbacks, it has made dramatic progress: privatizing more than 350 state enterprises, reducing inflation from 13,500% to 8%, and cutting the foreign debt in half. The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew 2.5% in 2001, with overall GDP reaching 2.44 million in 2001. In 2001, the global recession, combined with a series of bank failures, low coffee prices, and a drought, caused the economy to retract.


Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere with a per capita GDP of less than $500—below where it stood before the Sandinista takeover in 1979. Unemployment is officially around 11%, and another 36% are underemployed. Nicaragua suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits and a high debt-service burden, leaving it highly dependent on foreign assistance—as much as 25% of GDP in 2001.


One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export. Exports were 640 million in 2001. Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continued to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, the fastest growth is now in nontraditional exports: maquila goods (apparel); gold; seafood; and new agricultural products such as peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions. Nicaragua also depends heavily on remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad.


Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, but construction, mining, fisheries, and general commerce also have been expanding during the last few years. Foreign private capital inflows topped $300 million in 1999 but, due to economic and political uncertainty, fell to less than $100 million in 2001.


Rapid expansion of the tourist industry has made it the nation's third-largest source of foreign exchange. Some 60,000 Americans visit Nicaragua yearly—primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. An estimated 5,300 U.S. citizens reside in the country. The U.S. embassy's consular section provides a full range of consular services—from passport replacement and veteran's assistance to prison visitation and repatriation assistance.


Nicaragua faces a number of challenges in stimulating rapid economic growth. Long-term success at attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depend on its ability to comply with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, resolve the thousands of Sandinista-era property confiscation cases, and open its economy to foreign trade. This process was boosted in late 2000 when Nicaragua reached the decision point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative. However, HIPC benefits will be delayed because Nicaragua subsequently fell "off track" from its IMF program. The country also has been grappling with a string of bank failures that began in August 2000. Moreover, Nicaragua continues to lose international reserves due to its growing fiscal deficits.


The United States is the country's largest trading partner by far—the source of 25% of Nicaragua's imports and the destination of about 60% of its exports. About 25 wholly or partly owned subsidiaries of U.S. companies operate in Nicaragua. The largest of those investments are in the energy, communications, manufacturing, fisheries, and shrimp farming sectors. Good opportunities exist for further investments in those same sectors, as well as in tourism, mining, franchising, and the distribution of imported consumer, manufacturing, and agricultural goods.

The U.S. embassy's Economic/Commercial Section advances American economic and business interests by briefing U.S. firms on opportunities and stumbling blocks to trade and investment in Nicaragua; encouraging key Nicaraguan decision makers to work with American firms; helping to resolve problems that affect U.S. commercial interests; and working to change local economic and trade ground rules in order to afford U.S. firms a level playing field on which to compete. U.S. businesses may access key embassy economic reports via the mission's Internet home page at.




FOREIGN RELATIONS

The 1990 election victory of President Violeta Chamorro placed Nicaragua in the ranks of Latin American democracies. Nicaragua pursues an independent foreign policy. President Chamorro was instrumental in obtaining considerable international assistance for her government's efforts to improve living conditions for Nicaraguans—the country is one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Her administration also negotiated substantial reductions in the country's foreign debt burden. A participant of the Central American Security Commission (CASC), Nicaragua also has taken a leading role in pressing for regional demilitarization and peaceful settlement of disputes within states in the region. Nicaragua has submitted two territorial disputes—one with Honduras and the other with Colombia—to the International Court at The Hague for resolution.

Nicaragua and Costa Rica also dispute jurisdiction over the Rio San Juan, which delimits the boundary between the two countries. At the 1994 Summit of the Americas, Nicaragua joined six Central American neighbors in signing the Alliance for Sustainable Development, known as the Conjunta Centroamerica-USA or CONCAUSA, to promote sustainable economic development in the region.


Nicaragua belongs to the United Nations and several specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization (WTO), UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Labor Organization (ILO), and the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). Nicaragua also is a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Central American Common Market (CACM), and the Central America Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI).




U.S.-NICARAGUAN RELATIONS

U.S. policy aims to continue supporting the consolidation of the democratic process initiated in Nicaragua with the 1990 election of President Chamorro. The United States has promoted national reconciliation, encouraging Nicaraguans to resolve their problems through dialogue and compromise. It recognizes as legitimate all political forces that abide by the democratic process and eschew violence. U.S. assistance is focused on strengthening democratic institutions, stimulating sustainable economic growth, and supporting the health and basic education sectors.


The resolution of U.S. citizen claims arising from Sandinista-era confiscations and expropriations still figure prominently in bilateral policy concerns. Section 527 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (1994) prohibits certain U.S. assistance and support for a government of a country that has confiscated U.S. citizen property, unless the government has taken certain remedial steps. In July 2001, the Secretary of State issued an eighth annual national interest waiver of the Section 527 prohibition because of Nicaragua's record in resolving U.S. citizen claims as well as its overall progress in implementing political and economic reforms.


Other key U.S. policy goals for Nicaragua are:


  • Improving respect for human rights and resolving outstanding high-profile human rights cases;
  • Developing a free market economy with respect for property and intellectual property rights;
  • Ensuring effective civilian control over defense and security policy;
  • Increasing the effectiveness of Nicaragua's efforts to combat transborder crimes, including narcotics trafficking, illegal alien smuggling, international terrorist and criminal organizations; and
  • Reforming the judicial system and implementing good governance.

Since 1990, the United States has provided $1.2 billion in assistance to Nicaragua. About $260 million of that was for debt relief, and another $450 million was for balance-of-payments support. The U.S. also provided $93 million in 1999, 2000, and 2001 as part of its overall response to Hurricane Mitch. Aside from funding for Mitch reconstruction, the levels of assistance have fallen incrementally to reflect the improvements in Nicaragua. FY 2000 assistance was $25 million and FY 2001 amounted to about the same. This assistance was focused on promoting more citizen political participation, compromise, and government transparency; stimulating sustainable growth and income; and fostering better-educated and healthier families. In 2001, the United States provided a total of $6.2 million to the Supreme Electoral Council and to a wide range of nongovernmental organizations to ensure free, fair, and transparent elections.


Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Managua (E), Km. 4 1/2 Carretera Sur. • APO AA 34021, Tel [505] 266-6010, 266-2298, 266-6013; AMB Fax 266-9074; ADM Fax 266-3865; GSO Fax 266-6046; CON Fax 266-9943, POL Fax 266-9942; DAO Fax 266-8022; ECO/COM Fax 266-9056; PD Fax 266-3861; AGR Fax 266-7006; APHIS Tel [505] 278-5967, Fax 278-5968; AID Tel [505] 267-0502, Fax 278-3828. Internet:www.usembassy.state.gov/managua. Intranet: webmanagua.managua.state.gov.

AMB: Barbara C. Moore
AMB OMS: Patricia A. Brania
DCM: Paul J. Saxton
POL: Carlos Garcia
ECO/COM: James L. Dudley
MGT: Trevor A. Snellgrove
CON: Luis Espada-Platet
RSO: James W. Schnaible
IMO: Robert O. Klinger
IPO: Greg Von Schleh
PAO: Jan Hartman
AID: James E. Vermillion
DAO: COL Michael B. Rhea
MIL: LTC Hector Salinas
PC: Susan Pezzullo
DEA: Phillip Welcome
AGR: Alan Hrapsky (res. San Jose)
FAA: Ruben Quinones (res. Miami)
APHIS: Steven Smith
IRS: Frederick Dulas (res. Mexico City)


Last Modified: Monday, December 15, 2003


Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE

American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua
Apartado Postal 202
Managua, Nicaragua
Tel: (5052) 67-30-99
Fax: (5052) 67-30-98


Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202-466-7464
Fax: 202-822-0075




TRAVEL


Consular Information Sheet
January 5, 2004


Country Description: Nicaragua is a young democracy with a developing economy. The national language is Spanish, yet most residents of the Caribbean coastal areas speak English, as well. The climate is generally hot and humid with dry and rainy seasons. Terrain ranges from the hilly and volcanic to coastal beaches and tropical jungles. Many foreign governments and relief organizations provide economic assistance to Nicaragua and numerous individuals (official and non-official) from the U.S. and the rest of the developed world work on community-based projects both in Managua and in the rural areas. Violent crime has not been a historical problem, yet criminal enterprises appear to be growing in organization as economic development in Nicaragua moves forward. The judicial system is corrupt and politically influenced.


The promotion of tourism is a top government priority yet Nicaragua lacks an extensive tourist infrastructure. Potential tourists may want to obtain information from INTUR, the governmental agency responsible for developing, regulating and promoting tourism in Nicaragua. INTUR's web-site is www.intur.gob.ni and offers some information in English.

Entry and Exit Requirements: A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua. U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay. Tourist card fees and airport departure taxes must be paid in U.S. dollars. A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased ($5.00) upon arrival. Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days. Pay attention to the authorized stay that will be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector. Visitors remaining more than the authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration. Failure to do so prevents departure until a fine is paid.


A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua. The departure tax is currently $32. For further information regarding entry, departure, and customs requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of Nicaragua at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington D.C. 20009; telephone (202) 939-6570 or (202) 939-6531; or a Nicaraguan consulate in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, or San Juan, Puerto Rico. A useful web-site for finding information on the Nicaraguan Embassy and Consulates is www.cancilleria.gob.ni.


Dual Nationality: The constitution of Nicaragua permits dual nationality. Dual citizens can enter and depart Nicaragua using either their U.S. or Nicaraguan passport. However, dual citizens entering on U.S. passports must obtain appropriate tourist/residence permits and any appropriate extensions. Parents should not rely on birth certificates for travel of their children; rather, they should obtain U.S. passports for infants and minors born in the U.S. prior to travel. Please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov/ for our Dual Nationality flyer.


Safety and Security: Police coverage is extremely sparse outside of major urban areas. Sporadic incidents of highway banditry are reported in remote rural areas of north and northwest Nicaragua. If you do decide to travel to these areas, travel only on major highways during daylight hours. Though less frequent than in past years, political demonstrations and strikes occur sporadically in urban areas. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences.

Nicaragua's Atlantic coast contains vast stretches of territory with little or no law enforcement outside the major towns. Nautical travelers should be aware that there are boundary disputes involving the governments of Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica in the Caribbean coastal waters adjoining these countries, the Gulf of Fonseca, and on the San Juan River along the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. Passengers and crews of foreign fishing boats have been detained and/or fined and vessels impounded. There also is a long-term boundary dispute with Colombia over San Andres Island and surrounding waters. Additionally, narcotics traffickers often use the Caribbean coastal waters.


U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua's Pacific coast have resulted in a number of drownings. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available in Nicaragua. U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua's Pacific waters are urged to exercise extreme caution.


Although hundreds of passengers travel daily on domestic flights within Nicaragua without incident, these flights use small, uncontrolled airstrips outside of Managua, with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security. Significant safety and security improvements have, however, been made at the Bluefields, Puerto Cabezas and Corn Island airports, all of which are located on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast.


Although extensive demining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the war, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.

Crime: Violent crime in Managua and other cities is increasing, and street crimes are common. Pickpocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops and in open markets, particularly the large Mercado Oriental. Gang activity is rising in Managua, though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries. Gang violence, including robberies, assaults and stabbings, is most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, but has occurred in the neighborhoods surrounding major hotels and open-air markets.


Visitors may want to avoid walking and instead use officially registered taxi cabs. You should avoid taking taxis after dark, if possible. Taxi drivers and passengers have been victims of robbery, assault, sexual assault, and even murder. Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is legible. Pick taxis carefully and note the driver's name and license number. Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before you depart, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change. Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the cooperativ a (company) name and logo. Radio-dispatched taxis are recommended and can be found at the International airport and at the larger hotels. Purse and jewelry snatchings from motorists sometimes occur at stoplights. While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked and valuables placed out of sight.


Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields and the Corn Islands along the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast. Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements.


Tourists, in particular, should not hike alone in back country areas, nor walk alone on beaches, historic ruins or trails. All bus travel should be during daylight hours and on first-class conveyances, not on economy buses.


Do not resist a robbery attempt. Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted. Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightspots. Travel in groups of two or more persons whenever possible. Use the same common sense while traveling in Nicaragua that you would in any high-crime area of a major U.S. city. Do not wear excessive jewelry in downtown or rural areas. Do not carry large sums of money, ATM or credit cards you do not need, or other valuables.


If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Anyone obtaining a new or replacement passport in Nicaragua must go to the main Immigration Office to obtain an entry stamp in their new passport; anyone failing to do so will not be permitted by Nicaraguan authorities to leave the country. Citizens applying for replacement passports at the U.S. Embassy will be asked to present proof of citizenship, an identity and to pay a fee. Photographic proof of identity is especially important for young children because of the high incidence of fraud involving passport applications for children. Passport replacement can be facilitated if the traveler has a photocopy of the passport's data page.

American citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. This publication and others, such as Tips for Travelers to Central and South America, are available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/.


Medical Facilities: Medical care is limited, particularly outside Managua. Basic medical services are available in Managua and in many of the smaller towns and villages. However, treatment for many serious medical problems is either unavailable or available only in Managua. Certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments are not available in Nicaragua.


Malaria is endemic, particularly in low-lying areas such as Managua and around the beaches. Dengue is also a problem. Tap water in Managua has been tested and found safe for drinking, however, you are urged to drink bottled water, especially when traveling outside of the capital. Paying for medical services is typically done on a cash basis although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment. U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted in Nicaragua.


Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost thousands of dollars. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas health care provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.


Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page.


Other Health Information: Mosquito-borne illnesses are an ongoing problem in Nicaragua. All persons traveling in Nicaragua, even for a brief visit, are at risk of contracting malaria year-round if they travel outside of Managua to low-lying areas. Take a prophylactic regimen best suited to your health profile. The country regularly suffers from outbreaks of dengue fever during the rainy season. Travelers should take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes to reduce the chance of contracting such illnesses.


Individuals traveling to Nicaragua should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date. Vaccination against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B is strongly recommended. Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Nicaragua. More information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.


Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: Driving at night on rural roads outside major cities is also discouraged. Driving is on the right side of the road in Nicaragua. However, the similarities end there. U.S. citizens will encounter road conditions and driving practices significantly different from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nicaragua is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstances.


Safety of public transportation: Poor
Urban road conditions/maintenance: fair
Rural road conditions/maintenance: Poor
Availability of roadside assistance: None

Motorists driving to Nicaragua should use the principal highways and official border crossings at Guasale, El Espino and Las Manos between Nicaragua and Honduras and Penas Blancas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in good shape, drivers should be aware that seasonal, torrential rains take a heavy toll on road conditions. Motorists are encouraged to prepare accordingly and may want to carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency.


Road travel after dark is especially hazardous in all areas of the country. With a few exceptions, Nicaraguan roads (not major highways) are in poor repair, potholed, poorly lit, frequently narrow, and lack shoulders. Many roads severely damaged as a result of Hurricane Mitch in October 1998 have not been repaired.


On the other hand, some of the major highways and roads are undergoing major repair, repaving and upgrading. Be on the lookout for detours and slow traffic on these roads. In general, road signs are poor to non-existent. Bicycles, oxcarts, horses and vehicles without lights are at times encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua. Motorcycles, often carrying three or even four passengers, dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning. Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly and are prone to breaking down without warning. Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots. Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, but because the government lacks the resources, traffic rules are rarely enforced.

Due to the age and disrepair of many vehicles, many drivers will not signal their intentions using turn indicators. Rather, it is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn. If you do drive in Nicaragua, you need to exercise the utmost degree of caution, drive defensively and make sure you have insurance.


Avoid riding the many different shapes and sizes of buses stopping anywhere on the road to pick up passengers. They are overcrowded, unsafe and often are used by pick-pockets. Because of the conditions discussed above, traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death. This is most often true when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved. Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer. Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.


Nicaraguan law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that caused serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault. The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).

Visitors to Nicaragua might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay. Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies. In case of accident, only the driver will be taken into custody.


Regulations governing transit are administered by the National Police. For specific information concerning Nicaraguan drivers permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you may wish to refer to the National Police website at http://www.policia.gob.ni/. You may also contact the Embassy of Nicaragua or a Consulate for further information.


Aviation Safety Oversight: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Nicaragua's civil aviation authority as Category 2 - not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Nicaragua's carrier operations. Consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing. Air carriers under oversight by Category 2 aviation authorities are subject to heightened FAA surveillance when flying to the United States and may not add additional flights, new service, or larger capacity aircraft. At this time, there are no Nicaragua-based airlines flying to the United States. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or view the FAA's International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) web page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.


The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, the DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the United States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

Customs Regulations: Nicaraguan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Nicaragua of items such as firearms, ammunition, antiquities, medications, etc. U.S. citizens should also be aware of laws prohibiting the exportation of certain animals, flora and fauna.


Before excavating archaeological materials, or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, all persons are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture. Nicaraguan law and a bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the U.S. and commercialization of said goods. Severe criminal penalties may apply.


U.S. citizens planning to stay in Nicaragua for an extended period of time with the intention of bringing vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Nicaraguan customs officials prior to shipment. Outside of Nicaragua, it is highly recommended you contact the Embassy of Nicaragua in Washington, D.C. or one of Nicaragua's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.


Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Nicaraguan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nicaragua are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Money And Currency: U.S. currency is widely accepted and major cred it cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores and other businesses in urban and tourist areas. Visitors who need to change dollars, are encouraged to do this at their hotel since this is typically the safest place. ATM machines are available at banks in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas. However, individuals should exercise caution when using a teller machine since they are typically in or near uncontrolled areas and criminal elements can easily see you withdrawing cash. Traveler's checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio"). You will also find enterprising individuals waving wads of cash in the street. Changing money in this fashion can be dangerous and is discouraged.


Special Circumstances: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks of purchasing real estate in Nicaragua and should exercise caution before committing to invest in property. The 1979-90 Sandinista government expropriated some 30,000 properties, and land title remains unclear in many cases. Although the government has resolved over 3,000 claims by U.S. citizens for compensation or return of properties, there remain almost 800 unresolved claims registered with the U.S. Embassy. In addition, the Nicaraguan judicial system is subject to corruption and political pressure. Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation and investigate their purchases thoroughly in order to reduce the possibility of property disputes.


Disaster Preparedness: 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 http://www.fema.gov.

Children's Issues: Current information on Nicaraguan adoption procedures and the immigrant visa application process is available from the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy. Prospective adoptive parents are urged to check with the Consular Section to be sure that all required documentation has been approved by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security and their child's adoption is complete before traveling to Nicaragua to apply for their child's immigrant visa. Adoptive parents are also urged to carry with them complete adoption paperwork when traveling with their adopted child to, from, and within Nicaragua.


Nicaragua is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For more information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to the Department of State's Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone 1-888-407-4747.


Registration/Embassy Location: 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 4 1/2
(4.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 266-6010 or 268-0123; after hours telephone (505) 266-6038; Consular Section fax (505) 266-9943; E-mail: [email protected] Web page: http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov.

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Nicaragua

Modern Nicaragua has struggled through natural disasters, dictatorship, civil war, revolutionary promise, and political corruption to establish itself as a constitutional democracy in Central America. Although in area (59,998 square miles), Nicaragua is the largest Central American state, its population (5.7 million in 2005) ranks among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Nicaragua is bordered on the north by Honduras, on the south by Costa Rica, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The country comprises three major geographic zones: the Pacific Slope, the Central Highlands, and the heavily forested Atlantic Coast. Lake Managua, the largest lake in Central America, and Lake Nicaragua are in the southwest. A string of approximately forty volcanoes runs along the Pacific Coast. Another notable feature of Nicaragua's geography is the break in this mountain chain that made Nicaragua one of the most probable sites for an interoceanic canal. Moreover, this geography has meant that unlike most of the major cities of Central America, which are in the highlands, Nicaragua's population centers—Granada, León, Masaya, and Managua—are all located near sea level. The distinctive physical and climatic characteristics of each region have resulted in varied economic and demographic patterns. Western Nicaragua is the demographic and economic heartland of the country. Managua (population 1 million) has served as the country's capital since 1852. The majority of Nicaragua's population is mixed European and Indian ancestry, and the resulting mestizo culture is centered in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands, where the climate is drier and more comfortable than in the tropical lowlands of the Caribbean watershed. The population of the Caribbean shore is predominantly African and West Indian, with significant enclaves of native Miskito, Sumu, and Rama Indians. In the mid-1980s the central government divided the eastern part of the country into two autonomous regions and gave the indigenous populations there limited self-rule.

Nicaragua is one of the least industrialized countries in Latin America, yet more than half of the population is urban-based. Although it is predominantly Roman Catholic, the country has a rapidly growing Evangelical Protestant population. Traditional agricultural exports including indigo, coffee, bananas, cotton, beef, and sugar have dominated economic development, though fishing, timber, and gold mining also have been somewhat important in its history. Most recently, there has been interest in the potential of hydro- and geothermal power and the growth of tourism.

INDEPENDENCE AND THE EARLY YEARS OF THE REPUBLIC

In the nineteenth century Nicaragua's political development followed the rise of León and Granada. By the close of the colonial period, León, the colonial capital, had become the focus of strong liberal sentiment and the site of the only university in Central America outside the capital city of Guatemala. Granada, in contrast, was the conservative bastion of the landed elite and the center of clerical privilege. In 1811 a creole-dominated junta in León led the first attempt at Nicaraguan independence following the French occupation of Spain in 1808. Royalist forces crushed this attempt. Division among the Creole elite again flared after a junta in Guatemala City declared Central America independent on September 15, 1821, in accordance with Agustín de Iturbide's Plan De Iguala. León favored joining Iturbide's Mexican Empire, whereas Granada favored a separate Central American nation. These diverging visions ushered in four decades of intense conflict between Conservative Granada and Liberal León, in which family feuds became an important component. Before any resolution was reached, however, Iturbide's empire collapsed, and in 1823 Nicaragua joined in the formation of the United Provinces of Central America. Torn by regional factionalism, this federation was doomed to disintegrate. On April 30, 1838, a Nicaraguan constituent assembly declared the state to be "independent and sovereign," and despite Nicaraguan Liberal attempts to resurrect the union in the 1840s, all attempts failed. Although the Conservative politician Fruto Chamorro proclaimed the Republic of Nicaragua on February 28, 1854, frequent civil wars left the country politically exhausted and economically devastated.

It was hoped that plans for an interoceanic canal would fuel Nicaraguan economic development, but the Anglo-American rivalry for control of such a route contributed to further disruption of the country. On the Caribbean coast, the British followed an aggressive policy begun by seventeenth-century buccaneers. A British protectorate over the Miskito Indians left an English-speaking legacy there that remains to this day. In 1816 the British formally founded the autonomous Kingdom of Mosquitia with the crowning of George Frederick II in Belize. They occupied San Juan del Norte from 1848 to 1850 and did not acknowledge Nicaraguan sovereignty over the region until 1860, when the Treaty of Managua ended the British protectorate. By 1894 the British had relinquished all claims to the coast, although they did not finally abandon the region until 1904.

Nicaragua
Population: 5,700,000 (2005 est.)
Area: 59, 998 sq mi
Official language(s): Spanish
Language(s): Spanish, Miskito, other; English and indigenous languages spoken on the Atlantic coast
National currency: gold cordoba (NIO)
Principal religions: Roman Catholic, 72.9%; Evangelical, 15.1%; Moravian, 1.5%; Episcopal, 0.1%; other, 1.9%; none, 8.5%
Ethnicity: mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European), 69%; European, 17%; African, 9%; Amerindian, 5%
Capital: Managua (pop. 1,098,000; 2005 est.)
Other urban centers: Granada, León, Chinandega, Esteli, Masaya, Matagalpa, Chichigalpa, Tipitapa, Juigalpa
Annual rainfall: The Mosquito Coast often receives 100-250 in; Managua, 45 in, while the Pacific coast averages over 40 in.
Principal geographic features: Bodies of water: Lake Nicaragua, Lake Managua, Coco (or Segovia) River, San Juan River
Mountains: Cordillera Isabelia, Cordillera Dariense, Cordillera Chontaleña, Serranías Huapí
Economy: GDP per capita: $3,100 (2006 est.)
Principal products and exports: Agriculture: coffee, bananas, sugarcane, cotton, rice, corn, tobacco, sesame, soy, beans; beef, veal, pork, poultry, dairy products; shrimp, lobsters
Industries: food processing, chemicals, machinery and metal products, textiles, clothing, petroleum refining and distribution, beverages, footwear, wood
Government: Constitutionally defined as a democracy. 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, with executive, legislative (National Assembly), judiciary, and electoral council (Consejo Supremo Electoral—CSE) branches. There are also two other levels of elected government—municipal councils (153 as of 2006) and the two autonomous Atlantic coast regional councils.
Armed forces: 14,000 active personnel in 2005.
Army: 12,000
Navy: 800
Air force: 1,200
Transportation: As of 2002, 11,639 mi of roads, of which 1,322 mi were paved, including the Inter-American Highway and the Pacific Highway. As of 2004, only 3.7 mi of narrow gauge railway in operation, mostly for carrying passengers from Chichigalpa to Ingenio San Antonio. 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.
Media: 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. There were two major daily newspapers in 2004 including, La Prensa, with a circulation of 37,000, and El Nuevo Diario, circulation 30,000. Press censorship ended with the departure of the Sandinista government.
Literacy and education: Total population: 67.5% (2003 est.)
Primary and secondary education is free and compulsory for 6 years between the ages of 6 and 12. There were a total of 14 universities in Nicaragua in 1998, including the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, the Central American University, affiliated with Georgetown University, and the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua.

The United States's interest in Nicaragua accelerated following its acquisition of the Pacific coast of North America. In 1850 Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877) established the profitable Accessory Transit Company that ferried California-bound gold prospectors across Nicaragua, while British, French, and U.S. interests competed for control of the canal route.

In response to the Conservatives' victory in 1854, Nicaraguan Liberal leaders invited North American filibusters to aid them in regaining control. In 1855 William Walker brought fifty-eight men from California into the country and quickly took over the leadership of the Liberal armed forces. Within a year he made himself president of Nicaragua, as thousands from the southern United States joined his army in hopes of Nicaraguan land grants and other concessions. A combined Central American army, led by Costa Rican president Juan Rafael Mora Porrás with heavy backing from Guatemala's José Rafael Carrera and the British, defeated Walker in 1857. Walker attempted to return in two subsequent invasions, but was repelled each time. He ultimately was captured by the British and executed by Honduran authorities in 1860.

With the Liberals discredited by their association with Walker, Nicaragua entered a period of relative political stability under Conservative Party rule, referred to as "Los Treinta Anos" (the Thirty Years, 1863–1893). Managua rose to increased political influence, decreasing the historical competition between León and Granada. Under a new constitution, Conservative Party presidents were elected every four years. Foreign investment supported the establishment of railroads and the development of coffee and banana plantations and the timber industry. Gold production increased, and concessions were made to foreign investors in return for infrastructure development. Throughout the period, coffee planters took land from Indians and mestizo peasants. In the 1881 War of the Comuneros, the government brutally crushed a rebellion resisting these land expropriations.

JOSÉ SANTOS ZELAYA, 1893–1909

In 1893 divisions among the Conservatives enabled the Liberal José Santos Zelaya to seize power and rule until 1909. Characterized as a tyrant and a xenophobic nationalist, Zelaya implemented reforms, persecuted political opposition, and alienated foreign interests. His reforms included a new constitution that separated church and state, established civil marriage and divorce, reformed the judiciary, and set up state-controlled education. His economic policies promoted export production, but he also put the country deeply in debt. Zelaya encountered growing opposition from both Conservatives and foreign economic interests that had prospered under the Conservatives' laissez-faire administration. His meddling in the politics of the other Central American states alarmed U.S. business interests, and his anti-U.S. sentiment and taxation of U.S. investors led to a cooling of relations. His challenge to the landed Nicaraguan elite decreased his support within the country. The execution of two U.S. "adventurers" who attempted to blow up two Nicaraguan ships ultimately resulted in a U.S.-backed Conservative revolt led by Juan Estrada. In 1909 Estrada captured Managua and ousted Zelaya.

INTEROCEANIC CANAL

A recurrent theme of nineteenth-century Nicaragua was the effort to establish an interoceanic canal via the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 had restrained the rivalry between British and U.S. interests, with both agreeing neither to acquire territory in Central America nor to block the other from building a canal, but the agreement also prevented Nicaragua from pursuing a national project for the development of the canal. After the U.S. Maritime Canal Company collapsed in the early 1890s, having failed to build a canal through Nicaragua, Zelaya began to court German and Japanese financial interests for the project. Such actions contributed further to the alienation of the United States. Ultimately, the United States began constructing a canal in Panama in 1904, but in 1913 the United States renewed its interest in the Nicaraguan site, perhaps merely to prevent construction of a rival canal. The resulting Bryan-Chamorro Treaty granted exclusive rights to the United States for canal construction and military privileges in the country. Nicaragua received $3 million to help pay its foreign debt. The treaty was abrogated in 1970. Most recently, former president Enrique Bolaños (b. 1928) presented a plan to build a new interoceanic canal, but with his 2006 loss in the presidential elections, the future of new canal plans for Nicaragua is unclear.

U.S. INTERVENTION

Following the ousting of Zelaya in 1909, the Conservatives found themselves with a very tenuous grip on political power. The Nicaraguan congress named a Liberal, José Madriz (1867–1911), as president, but the United States forced his resignation and imposed a quadrumvirate dominated by Conservatives. A Conservative-dominated congress elected General Estrada president in 1911, but he resigned in protest against excessive U.S. political involvement. Vice President Adolfo Día z took over and began to implement traditionally Conservative policies. When the Liberals under Benjamín Francisco Zeledón revolted and engulfed Nicaragua in a serious political and financial crisis, the Conservatives again turned to the United States. In 1912 U.S. Marines crushed Zeledón's rebellion, took over the operation of the railways, and garrisoned the main cities. The United States supervised the election of Díaz as president and signed the Knox-Castrillo Treaty of 1911, which required Nicaragua to surrender control over its customs collection and other important elements of its financial system to U.S. administrators. In return, the Nicaraguan government received $14 million in loans. The United States also gained the right to intervene on behalf of U.S. interests and to arbitrate any dispute in which Nicaragua became involved. Following patterns already established by the United States in Cuba, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua essentially became a U.S. protectorate, with concomitant control of the Nicaraguan economy by U.S. investors.

By 1914 coffee was Nicaragua's major export, and foreign investment in bananas and gold mining had grown. In 1916 General Emiliano Chamorro Vargas was elected president, and Conservative policies continued as foreign investment grew rapidly. By the 1920s the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company had surpassed United Fruit as the largest single private employer and source of foreign exchange in Nicaragua. Initially, Standard had focused on the timber industry, but once it had cleared the land it turned to and dominated banana production.

Despite Zeledón's death and a ban on Liberal Party electoral activity, the Liberals continued to oppose both the Conservative government and the U.S. presence in the country. A series of Conservative presidents ruled Nicaragua during the early 1920s with U.S. support. The U.S. Marines withdrew in 1925 as political stability seemed assured, but immediately new revolts erupted. Fear of leftist Mexican support for the Liberals influenced U.S. president Calvin Coolidge to send the Marines back in 1926 to protect American lives and business interests. General Chamorro ousted President Carlos Solórzano, but the Liberal vice president, Juan Bautista Sacasa, opposed Chamorro's takeover. The U.S. State Department negotiated a settlement that returned Adolfo Díaz to the presidency, but U.S. military presence increased as Liberal rebels continued fighting government troops. In 1927 the Tipitapa Agreement provided for U.S.-supervised elections in 1928, which were won by Liberal General José María Moncada. Moncada had opposed U.S. military intervention, and in 1931 a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops began. But the fact that Moncada had taken office during the U.S. occupation alienated many of his supporters, including Lieutenant Augusto César Sandino.

Sandino had fought under General Moncada against the Conservatives and the U.S. Marines. Moncada's collaboration with the Conservatives and U.S. officials and his ultimate election as president convinced Sandino that he had betrayed the Liberal cause and Nicaragua. Sandino withdrew into the hills around Matagalpa in northeastern Nicaragua and launched his nationalist guerrilla struggle against the Marines, which by 1930 included more than 5,000 rebels. Despite aerial bombing, the Marines could not defeat Sandino's peasant army. In the last U.S.-supervised election, in 1932, Sacasa came to the presidency, and in 1933 the Marines left.

U.S. military occupation left three legacies: U.S. economic domination; a guerrilla war; and the development of Nicaragua's National Guard. The United States established and trained the National Guard to assist the Marines in repressing the Sandino Revolt and to maintain order in the country after U.S. military withdrawal. By 1934 it was apparent that Anastasio Somoza García, commander of the National Guard since 1932, had eclipsed the state in terms of power and control. Increasingly, Somoza and Sacasa came into conflict over numerous issues, one of which was Sandino.

In 1934 Sacasa arranged a meeting with Sandino to negotiate a peace that would include the gradual disarming of Sandino's forces. After the meeting, members of the National Guard assassinated Sandino, ostensibly on Somoza's orders. Sandino became a folk hero and a martyr whose cause and symbol was resurrected in the 1960s.

THE SOMOZA DYNASTY

In 1936 Somoza forced Sacasa to resign and arranged for Carlos Brenes Jarquín (1884–1942) to be elected president. The new government implemented traditional Liberal policies, but ties with the United States were strengthened. Although the United States gained economic and financial concessions under Somoza's rule, it was primarily the Somoza family that monopolized the Nicaraguan economy, showing little interest in using their power to promote the general welfare of the population.

Anastasio Somoza García became president in January 1937 and began a regime in which the state, inextricably tied to him, became an increasingly repressive instrument used to prevent opposition participation and economic betterment for any Nicaraguan outside the Somoza circle. Somoza's Nationalist Liberal Party controlled Nicaraguan politics. In 1947 Leonardo Argüello won the presidency with Somoza's backing, but when he attempted to exert his independence, Argüello was ousted after only four weeks in office. His successor, Benjamín Lacayo Sacasa (1884–1959), suffered the same fate. Finally Somoza turned to a member of his own family, Victor M. Román y Reyes, to fill the office, and in 1950 Somoza himself returned to the presidency. The economy expanded, supported by the World War II cotton boom, but the country's stability was increasingly the result of political repression.

Somoza consolidated the state and its administrative, social, and judicial branches in his single person. Through the National Guard, he controlled the military, police, and judges; the awarding of business licenses; the arms, tobacco, prostitution, and liquor trades; the national health services; broadcasting; the collection of taxes; and the leading financial institutions.

Somoza's success continued as long as he maintained the support of the traditional pillars of Nicaraguan society: the ecclesiastical hierarchy; agricultural and commercial elites; the traditional party leadership; and the military. However, his candidacy for a fifth presidential term in 1956 came at a point when the political and economic environment was changing in Nicaragua. Previous support from the emerging middle class began to weaken as Somoza's vast commercial network became a major obstacle to its advancement. In addition, the repressive tactics of the Somoza state had negative repercussions among the general populace. Social discontent ultimately found its voice. On 21 September 21, 1956, a young poet, Rigoberto López Pérez (c. 1929–1956), assassinated Somoza in León. Under a state of siege, the National Assembly unanimously elected Somoza's eldest son, Colonel Luis Somoza Debayle, to complete his term, and a younger son, Anastasio "Tachito" Somoza Debayle took over the National Guard. A popular election confirmed Luis as president in 1957.

A political modernizer, Luis Somoza Debayle sought to remove his family from public office but not from influence. In 1959 he approved a law barring any individual from serving consecutive terms and from being succeeded by a blood relative. In 1963 a family associate, René Schick Gutiérrez of the Nationalist Liberal Party, won the presidential election. Schick died in office in August 1966, and his term was completed by Vice President Lorenzo Guerrero Gutiérrez (1900–1981), but the Somozas held the real power. Tachito consolidated control of theNational Guard and carried out a purge of military and civilian subversives. Opposition leaders were arrested, and despite a 1950 power-sharing arrangement between the Liberals and Conservatives that maintained a sham of democracy, the Chamorro family and its supporters found their influence in the political arena was dwindling despite their control of the leading daily newspaper, La Prensa.

The Somozas' economic interests continued to compete unfairly with other economically powerful sectors of Nicaraguan society. Capitalist investment in agriculture and industry and the worsening conditions of the majority of Nicaraguans presented a persistent contradiction that the Somoza-dominated state dealt with through increasing brutality and repression. As Gutiérrez neared the end of his term, Tachito Somoza announced his candidacy. Popular reaction was negative, and even his brother, Luis, urged him not to run. January 1967 saw mass demonstrations outside the presidential palace. The National Guard fired on the demonstrators, killing hundreds. Tachito became president of Nicaragua in February 1967, defeating, according to the official tally, the National Opposition Union coordinated by Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, editor of La Prensa. A heart attack killed Luis in April, removing the only restraining influence over Tachito.

THE RISE OF THE FSLN

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) began its opposition to the Somozas in 1961 when Carlos Fonseca Amador, Tomás Borge Martínez, and Silvio Mayorga, influenced by Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution, founded a small organization that would grow into a major guerrilla force. By 1963 the FSLN was active, but it suffered under the repressive rule of Luis Somoza. By the end of 1967 most of its leaders had been killed or imprisoned, but the remnants regrouped in the northern hills and by 1970 were again actively opposing the government. Initial support for the movement came from leftist students, but the guerrillas also drew on backing from peasants, for whom the image of Sandino was still a strong symbol. The FSLN also attracted the youth of the middle and upper-middle classes, and by 1978 it had about 3,000 members.

Other opposition to Somoza increased. In 1971 the Social Democrats and other leftist parties formed the National Civic Alliance, but the Congress, dissolving itself, transferred all executive and legislative power to the office of the president. U.S. ambassador Turner Shelton helped negotiate an agreement that a triumvirate of two Liberals (General Robert Martínez Lacayo and Alfonso López Cordero) and one Conservative (Fernando Agüero) would succeed Somoza as president in 1972. Somoza, however, remained supreme commander of the National Guard, and announced his intention to stand for reelection to the presidency in 1974.

Then, on December 23, 1972 a massive earthquake destroyed Managua. Between 12,000 and 20,000 died and 300,000 were left homeless. Somoza used the emergency to extend his political and economic power, naming himself the chairman of the National Emergency Committee. His blatant misuse of relief funds further alienated Nicaraguans. His wealth increased while the Nicaraguan population became one of the poorest in Central America. Unemployment reached 36 percent, illiteracy was 74 percent, and 60 percent of the population suffered from malnutrition. Because the Constitution banned active military officers from the presidency, Somoza resigned as directive head of the National Guard in 1973 but remained its administrative head. Amid widespread repression and the imprisonment of many opposition leaders, Somoza won the 1974 election, but the breakdown of the social and economic order and an increase in crime brought rising opposition from within the middle and upper classes.

On January 10, 1978, the vocal and popular Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, editor of La Prensa and founder of the opposition Democratic Liberation Union (UDEL), was assassinated. There followed three days of demonstrations, which the National Guard put down violently. UDEL demanded Somoza's resignation and supported a general strike. Somoza answered with a news blackout and press closures. The Catholic Church stepped up its opposition to Somoza as priests began preaching against the government from the pulpit. Student protests increased throughout the late 1970s, and clashes with the National Guard occurred. In July 1978 UDEL joined with Alfonso Callejo's Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDM) and Los Doce (Group of Twelve) to form the Broad Opposition Front (FAO) under the leadership of Rafael Cordova Rivas. Los Doce emerged in November 1977, when twelve prominent Nicaraguans declared in La Prensa that there could be no solution to the crisis without the full participation of the FSLN. The church, led by Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo, openly supported the FAO, which now demanded Somoza's resignation.

The FSLN, meanwhile, organized the United People's Movement (MPU), which incorporated trade unions, student groups, and progressive Christian activists into the revolutionary struggle. By December 1974 the FSLN had emerged as a major guerrilla force in Nicaragua. A daring raid on a Somoza associate's Christmas party in that year and the 1978 occupation of the National Palace under the leadership of Comandante Cero (Edén Pastora Gómez) brought the release of FSLN prisoners (including Daniel Ortega Saavedra), huge ransom payments, public broadcast of Sandinista objectives, and wage increases. Although Somoza retaliated with new rounds of repression, the FSLN's actions widely publicized its cause and enhanced its popularity, enabling the Sandinistas to become the largest and best-organized opposition group in the country.

By spring 1979 it was apparent that Somoza had lost control, but he was unwilling to admit defeat. His orders to bomb civilian areas left hundreds dead or homeless and merely strengthened his opponents' resolve. In May leading Somocistas fled Nicaragua, and the United States attempted unsuccessfully to impose a plan called by opponents "Somocismo sin Somoza." After terrible violence in which an estimated 50,000 Nicaraguans died, Somoza finally fled to the United States and then to Paraguay. On July 19, 1979, the FSLN took control of Nicaragua, ending the forty-six-year Somoza dynasty.

After the overthrow of Somoza, the FSLN set up a three-person junta that shared power with the Council of State, chosen in 1980 by the various interest sectors. The FSLN also dominated the legislature, although other political and economic groups were represented. Effective power was held, however, by the nine-person FSLN National Directorate. There was popular participation through organizations of workers, peasants, farm laborers, women, youth, professionals, and neighborhood Committees for the Defense of Sandinismo. Although Marxist influence was obvious and Nicaragua established close diplomatic and trade links with Cuba and the Soviet Union (USSR), the FSLN followed a nationalist party line, formally affiliating with the Socialist International in London rather than the Comintern in Moscow. But the subsequent U.S. embargo and efforts to overthrow the Sandinista government resulted in greater dependency on Cuba and the USSR.

The early years of FSLN rule were marked by successful literacy and primary health campaigns that established schools and clinics throughout the nation. An agrarian reform redistributed land, and other restructuring measures promoted a mixed capitalist-socialist economy. National elections in 1984 gave the FSLN an overwhelming victory. At the United States's urging, opposition parties boycotted the election, but international observers deemed the elections fair. Daniel Ortega was elected president of the republic with 68 percent of the votes cast.

THE CONTRA WAR

Relations with the United States deteriorated throughout the Sandinista decade. U.S. president Jimmy Carter provided some aid, but Ronald Reagan's hard-line anticommunism led him in to suspend assistance and to block International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank assistance in 1981. The Reagan administration depicted Nicaragua as a destabilizing influence in the region and linked the FSLN to the guerrilla movement in El Salvador. In December 1981 the White House secretly authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to spend $19.8 million to aid FSLN opponents and to create counterrevolutionary forces—the Contras. The Contras operated from camps in Honduras and Costa Rica. Their military operations seriously hampered the Sandinistas' ability to focus on the revolution's social and economic reforms. The CIA mined Nicaraguan harbors, and despite a May 1984 International Court of Justice ruling against the actions of the United States, it continued to support hostilities, even after the U.S. Congress, through the Boland amendments (1982–1984), had prohibited such support. In what became a major scandal for the Reagan administration, the United States began channeling funds received from illicit sale of arms to Iran to CIA-trained Contras. In May 1985 President Reagan inaugurated a total embargo on trade with Nicaragua that continued until March 1990.

The Sandinistas were receptive to international efforts to end the growing civil war, especially to the Mexican-sponsored Contadora Plan, but the United States resisted. Finally, in 1989 all sides agreed to a Central American peace plan proposed by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias Sánchez with strong support from the other Central American states. The Arias Plan brought an end to the Contra war with the promise of another free election in Nicaragua.

The last years of the FSLN's revolutionary period in power were marked by spiraling inflation and a weak economy, stemming from the financial and human costs of the Contra war, U.S. financial and trade embargoes, and government mismanagement. A rollback of many of the revolution's gains occurred as the FSLN leadership implemented an austerity program. By 1989 the currency had been devalued and prices had skyrocketed. Shortages and rationing were common. The FSLN was able to undermine support for the Contras through modifying land-reform policies, improving relations with Atlantic Coast indigenous groups, and implementing grassroots discussions of constitutional reform. The Contras suffered major military reverses as the Nicaraguan government led a sustained but costly offense, but the conflict demoralized the population. From 1983 to 1987, 40,000 lives were lost in the fighting. The damage caused by the Contra war by 1987 was estimated at between $1.5 and $4 billion. Sixty-two percent of government expenditures went to defense, which necessitated reductions in previous priority areas such as education and health care.

VIOLETA BARRIOS DE CHAMORRO AND THE UNO

As proposed by the Arias Peace Plan, Nicaragua prepared for elections in 1990, a time of extreme economic hardship. The GDP had fallen 11.7 percent from 1988 to 1990, and the country faced a $1.2 billion trade deficit. Per capita income plummeted and unemployment reached 35 percent, and the traditional support base of the FSLN was eroding as a result of the austerity measures imposed by the government to regain control over the economy. Despite pre-election polls favoring the Sandinistas, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the widow of the slain newspaper publisher Pedro Chamorro, won the national elections. She received the overt backing of the (George H. W.) Bush administration in Washington and was the candidate of the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), a coalition of fourteen political parties from the Left to far Right. On April 25, 1990, Chamorro took office and U.S. aid to Nicaragua was restored.

Despite winning 51 of 92 National Assembly seats, internal divisions within UNO prevented a unified mandate. The FSLN remained the most unified and popular single party (with 39 seats) and was in control of the army under the command of Humberto Ortega Saavedra. Chamorro's political approach was national reconciliation, but her first year in office was characterized by private-sector and public-employee strikes and challenges from both the Right and the Left. UNO's tenuous coalition splintered; the Contras refused to disarm; and the FSLN and labor unions continued to defend the gains of the revolution. In March 1991 the Chamorro government implemented a recommended IMF policy similar to the 1988 FSLN plan, but hoped some of the negative economic repercussions would be softened with substantial U.S. aid. But the United States was slow to respond to aid requests, claiming Chamorro was not taking adequate steps to suppress the FSLN or privatize the economy. In November 1991 there was a resurgence of violence when former Contras, dissatisfied with the terms of the peace accord and opposed to the ongoing presence of the FSLN in Chamorro's government, organized themselves as the "Re-Contras." Supporting Chamorro was the Committee on Nicaraguan Recuperation and Development (CORDENIC), founded by Foreign Minister Enrique Dreyfuss and Minister to the President Antonio Lacayo. This think tank of businessmen and intellectuals advocated a moderate political approach and prepared economic policies and programs aimed at rebuilding the country.

As for the FSLN, it was headed in the early 1990s by a triumvirate of Luis Carrión, Bayardo Arce Castaño, and Henry Ruíz. Humberto Ortega resigned from the Sandinista Directorate and San-dinista Assembly to remain as head of the Nicaraguan army. Although the 1990 election forced the FSLN to reexamine its organization and policies, it emerged from the electoral loss as the best-organized political party in Nicaragua and the key to ensuring political stability.

THE RISE OF NEOLIBERALISM AND THE RETURN OF THE LEFT

As the postrevolutionary era began, the greatest threat that President Chamorro and the process of democracy faced in Nicaragua was not from the Left but from the Right. In 1994 the "Group of Three" (Vice President Virgilio Godoy, Managua mayor Jose Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo, and legislative president Alfredo César) embarked upon an international campaign to oust Chamorro, and attempted to use illegal congressional sessions to undercut her position. Chamorro's government suffered from persistent trade and budget deficits, which were exacerbated by the impact of a 1992 earthquake. Nicaragua's political system stabilized in 1995 with the reform of the 1987 Sandinista constitution, resulting in new powers for the National Assembly, including a presidential veto override for the Assembly and a more even distribution of power among the four branches of government. In 1996 Arnoldo Alemán (b. 1946) was elected president as the leader of a conservative coalition called the Liberal Alliance. Alemán accelerated the neoliberal policies of the postrevo-lutionary era, focusing on privatization and free trade. But the impact of 1998's Hurricane Mitch, which killed thousands, left two million homeless, and caused $10 billion of damage, undercut the modest economic gains of the 1990s. By 2000 Nicaragua was identified as a "Heavily Indebted Poor Country" (HIPC) by the IMF and qualified for a debt-relief initiative. The opposition parties benefited, and in local elections the FSLN swept the Managua municipal elections. In the 2001 presidential elections Alemán was ousted by the Liberal Constitutional Party leader, Enrique Bolaños, who narrowly defeated the FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega Saavedra. Despite three consecutive presidential defeats since 1990 and the taint of corruption charges, the FSLN retained Ortega as party leader.

While Bolaños continued on the neoliberal economic path, the main focus of his administration was a vigorous anticorruption campaign. In 2002 former president Alemán was convicted of corruption and embezzlement and sentenced to twenty years imprisonment, which was later changed to house arrest. Nicaragua's dire economic situation was relieved somewhat in 2004 when the World Bank erased 80 percent of Nicaragua's debt and Russia wrote off its Sovietera debt. Negotiations with the United States and other regional powers resulted in the 2005 approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), but this was not enough to promote real economic recovery. Economic growth remained centered on agricultural export production, some increase in foreign investment, remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad, and an emerging tourism economy. None of this was able to offset increasing the popular discontent that boiled over in 2005, ignited by fuel-price and cost-of-living increases. Bolaños's government faced a political crisis over a plan initiated by Congress to decrease the power of the executive through a constitutional reform. A full-blown crisis was avoided when Congress agreed to back off on the reforms until after Bolaños left office in 2007.

The political fallout of Bolaños's anticorruption campaign and continuing economic crisis provided the backdrop for the November 2006 presidential elections. A center-Right vote split resulted in Daniel Ortega Saavedra's return to the presidency. Although the Marxism of his revolutionary years has been moderated, Ortega stated that he will challenge the "savage capitalism" of the previous administrations, and he has established relations with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Cuba's Fidel Castro. Nicaragua's recent election results seem to reflect a swing to the Left occurring throughout Latin America. Although constitutional democracy has been clearly established in Nicaragua, and the FSLN was able to recast itself as an effective political opposition party, it will be interesting to see if the FSLN can resurrect the pragmatic socialism of the past to effectively address the economic and social problems facing Nicaragua in the twenty-first century.

See alsoBarrios de Chamorro, Violeta; Bryan-Chamorro Treaty (1914); Central America; Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Chamorro Cardenal, Pedro Joaquín; Chamorro Vargas, Emiliano; Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850); Contras; Estrada, Juan José; Filibustering; Iturbide, Agustín de; Knox-Castrillo Treaty (1911); Managua; Miskitos; Moncada, José María; Mora Porrás, Juan Rafael; Nicaragua, Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN); Ortega Saavedra, Daniel; Ortega Saavedra, Humberto; Plan of Iguala; Prensa, La (de Nicaragua); Sandino, Augusto César; Solórzano, Carlos; Somoza Debayle, Luis; Somoza García, Anastasio; Tipitapa Agreements; United States-Latin American Relations; Walker, William; Zelaya, José Santos; Zeledón, Benjamín Francisco.

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                              Heather Thiessen-Reily