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Nicaragua ( ) officially the Republic of Nicaragua ( , ), is a representative democratic republic. It is the largest country in Central America with an area of 130,373 km2. The country is bordered by Hondurasmarker to the north and Costa Ricamarker to the south. The Pacific Oceanmarker lies to the west of the country, the Caribbean Seamarker to the east. Falling within the tropics, Nicaragua sits between 11 degrees and 14 degrees north of the Equator, in the Northern Hemispheremarker. Nicaragua's abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems contribute to Mesoamerica's designation as a biodiversity hotspot. The capital city of Nicaragua is Managuamarker. Roughly one quarter of the nation's population lives in the Nicaraguan capital, making it the second largest city in Central America.

Etymology

The origin of the name "Nicaragua" is somewhat unclear; one theory is that it is a portmanteau coined by Spanish colonists based upon the name of local chief Nicarao at that time, and the Spanish language word for water "agua". Another theory is that it may have meant "surrounded by water" in an indigenous language. In both cases the name appears to reference either the country's two large freshwater lakes, Lake Nicaraguamarker (19th largest in the world) and Lake Managuamarker, or the fact that it is bounded on the east and the west coasts by oceans.

History

Pre-Columbian history

In Pre-Columbian times, in what is now known as Nicaragua, the Indigenous people were part of the Intermediate Area located between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultural regions and within the influence of the Isthmo-Colombian area. It was the point where the Mesoamerican and South American native cultures met. This is confirmed by the ancient footprints of Acahualinca, along with other archaeological evidence, mainly in the form of ceramics and statues made of volcanic stone like the ones found on the island of Zapateramarker and petroglyphs found on Ometepemarker island.

The Pipil migrated from Central Mexico after 500 CE.

At the end of the 15th century, western Nicaragua was inhabited by several indigenous peoples related by culture to the Mesoamerican civilisations and by language to the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area. They were primarily farmers who lived in towns, organized into small kingdoms. Meanwhile, the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by other peoples, mostly chibcha related groups, that had migrated from what is now Colombiamarker. They lived a less sedentary life based on hunting and gathering. The people of eastern Nicaragua appear to have traded with, and been influenced by, the native peoples of the Caribbeanmarker, as round thatched huts and canoes, both typical of the Caribbean, were common in eastern Nicaragua. In the west and highland areas, occupying the territory between Lake Nicaraguamarker and the Pacific Coast, the Niquirano were governed by chief Nicarao, or Nicaragua, a rich ruler who lived in Nicaraocali, now the city of Rivasmarker. The Chorotega lived in the central region of Nicaragua. These two groups had intimate contact with the Spanish conquerors, paving the way for the racial mix of native and European stock now known as mestizos. However, within three decades an estimated Indian population of one million plummeted, as approximately half of the indigenous people in western Nicaragua died from the rapid spread of new diseases brought by the Spaniards, something the indigenous people of the Caribbean coast managed to escape due to the remoteness of the area.

The Spanish Conquest

Colonial architecture of the city of Granada, Nicaragua
In 1502, Christopher Columbus was the first European known to have reached what is now Nicaragua as he sailed south along the Central America isthmus. On his fourth voyage Columbus sailed alongside and explored the Mosquito Coast on the east of Nicaragua. The first attempt to conquer what is now known as Nicaragua was by Gil González Dávila, whose Central American exploits began with his arrival in Panama in January 1520. González claimed to have converted some 30,000 indigenous peoples and discovered a possible transisthmian water link. After exploring and gathering gold in the fertile western valleys González was attacked by the indigenous people, some of whom were commanded by Nicarao and an estimated 3,000 led by chief Diriangén. González later returned to Panamamarker where governor Pedro Arias Dávila attempted to arrest him and confiscate his treasure, some 90,000 pesos of gold. This resulted in González fleeing to Santo Domingomarker.

It was not until 1524 that the first Spanish permanent settlements were founded. Conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba founded two of Nicaragua's principal towns in 1524: Granadamarker on Lake Nicaraguamarker was the first settlement and Leónmarker east of Lake Managuamarker came after. Córdoba soon found it necessary to prepare defenses for the cities and go on the offensive against incursions by the other conquistadores. Córdoba was later publicly beheaded following a power struggle with Pedrarias Dávila, his tomb and remains were discovered some 500 years later in the Ruins of León Viejomarker.

The inevitable clash between the Spanish forces did not impede their devastation of the indigenous population. The Indian civilization was destroyed. The series of battles came to be known as The War of the Captains. By 1529, the conquest of Nicaragua was complete. Several conquistadores came out winners, and some were executed or murdered. Pedrarias Dávila was a winner; although he had lost control of Panama, he had moved to Nicaragua and established his base in León. Through adroit diplomatic machinations, he became the first governor of the colony. The land was parceled out to the conquistadores. The area of most interest was the western portion. Many indigenous people were soon enslaved to develop and maintain "estates" there. Others were put to work in mines in northern Nicaragua, few were killed in warfare, and the great majority were sent as slaves to other New World Spanish colonies, for significant profit to the new landed aristocracy. Many of the indigenous people died as a result of disease and neglect by the Spaniards who controlled everything necessary for their subsistence.

Colonization to Independence

In 1536, the Viceroyalty of New Spain was established. By 1570, the southern part of New Spain was designated the Captaincy General of Guatemala. The area of Nicaragua was divided into administrative "parties" with Leónmarker as the capital. In 1610, the Momotombomarker volcano erupted, destroying the capital. It was rebuilt northwest of what is now known as the Ruins of Old León. Nicaragua became a part of the Mexican Empire and then gained its independence as a part of the United Provinces of Central America in 1821 and as an independent republic in its own right in 1838. The Mosquito Coast based on the Caribbeanmarker coast was claimed by the United Kingdommarker and its predecessors as a protectorate from 1655 to 1850; this was delegated to Hondurasmarker in 1859 and transferred to Nicaragua in 1860, though it remained autonomous until 1894. José Santos Zelaya, president of Nicaragua from 1893-1909, managed to negotiate for the annexation of this region to the rest of Nicaragua. In his honour the entire region was named Zelaya.

Founding members of the Deutsche Club in Nicaragua


Much of Nicaragua's independence was characterized by rivalry between the liberal elite of León and the conservative elite of Granada. The rivalry often degenerated into civil war, particularly during the 1840s and 1850s. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, a United States adventurer named William Walker (later executed in Honduras) set himself up as president of Nicaragua, after conducting a farcical election in 1856. Costa Rica, Honduras and other Central American countries united to drive him out of Nicaragua in 1857, after which a period of three decades of Conservative rule ensued.

In the 1800s Nicaragua experienced a wave of immigration, primarily from Europe. In particular, families from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium moved to Nicaragua to set up businesses with money they brought from Europe. They established many agricultural businesses such as coffee and sugar cane plantations, and also newspapers, hotels and banks.

Throughout the late nineteenth century the United Statesmarker (and several European powers) considered a scheme to build a canal across Nicaragua linking the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. A bill was put before the U.S. Congress in 1899 to build the canal, but it was not passed, and instead the construction of the Panama Canalmarker began.

United States Intervention (1909 - 1933)

In 1909, the United States provided political support to conservative-led forces rebelling against President Zelaya. U.S. motives included differences over the proposed Nicaragua Canal, Nicaragua's potential as a destabilizing influence in the region, and Zelaya's attempts to regulate foreign access to Nicaraguan natural resources. On November 18, 1909, U.S. warships were sent to the area after 500 revolutionaries (including two Americans) were executed by order of Zelaya. The U.S. justified the intervention by claiming to protect U.S. lives and property. Zelaya resigned later that year.

In August 1912 the President of Nicaragua, Adolfo Díaz, requested that the Secretary of War, General Luis Mena, resign for fear that he was leading an insurrection. Mena fled Managua with his brother, the Chief of Police of Managua, to start an insurrection. When the U.S. Legation asked President Díaz to ensure the safety of American citizens and property during the insurrection he replied that he could not and that... U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933, except for a nine month period beginning in 1925. From 1910 to 1926, the conservative party ruled Nicaragua. The Chamorro family, which had long dominated the party, effectively controlled the government during that period. In 1914, the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty was signed, giving the U.S. control over the proposed canal, as well as leases for potential canal defenses. Following the evacuation of U.S. marines, another violent conflict between liberals and conservatives took place in 1926, known as the Constitutionalist War, which resulted in a coalition government and the return of U.S. Marines.

From 1927 until 1933, Gen. Augusto César Sandino led a sustained guerrilla war first against the Conservative regime and subsequently against the U.S. Marines, who withdrew upon the establishment of a new Liberal government. Sandino was the only Nicaraguan general to refuse to sign the el tratado del Espino Negro agreement and then headed up to the northern mountains of Las Segovias, where he fought the U.S. Marines for over five years. The revolt finally forced the United States to compromise and leave the country. When the Americans left in 1933, they set up the Guardia Nacional (National Guard), a combined military and police force trained and equipped by the Americans and designed to be loyal to U.S. interests. Anastasio Somoza García, a close friend of the American government, was put in charge. He was one of the three rulers of the country, the others being Sandino and the President Juan Bautista Sacasa.

After the US Marines withdrew from Nicaragua in January 1933, Sandino and the newly elected Sacasa government reached an agreement by which he would cease his guerrilla activities in return for amnesty, a grant of land for an agricultural colony, and retention of an armed band of 100 men for a year. But a growing hostility between Sandino and Somoza led Somoza to order the assassination of Sandino. Fearing future armed opposition from Sandino, Somoza invited him to a meeting in Managua, where Sandino was assassinated on February 21 of 1934 by the National Guard. Hundreds of men, women, and children were executed later.

The Somoza Dynasty (1936 - 1979)

Nicaragua has experienced several military dictatorships, the longest one being the rule of the Somoza family for much of the 20th century. The Somoza family came to power as part of a US-engineered pact in 1927 that stipulated the formation of the Guardia Nacional, or the National Guard, to replace the U.S. marines that had long reigned in the country. Somoza slowly eliminated officers in the National Guard who might have stood in his way, and then deposed Sacasa and became president on January 1, 1937 in a rigged election. Somoza was 35 at the time.

Nicaragua declared war on Germany on May 7, 1918, during World War I. No troops were sent to the war but Somoza did seize the occasion to confiscate attractive properties held by German-Nicaraguans, the best-known of which was the Montelimar estate which today operates as a privately owned luxury resort and casino. In 1945 Nicaragua was the first country to ratify the UN Charter.

Throughout his years as dictator, "Tacho" Somoza 'ruled Nicaragua with a strong arm'. He had three main sources for his power: control of Nicaraguan economy, military support, and support from the U.S.

Street scene of Managua city centre prior to the 1972 earthquake


Somoza used the National Guard to force Sacasa to resign, and took control of the country in 1937, destroying any potential armed resistance. Not only did he have military control, but he controlled the National Liberal Party (LPN), which in turn controlled the legislature and judicial systems, giving him complete political power. Despite his complete control, on September 21, 1956, Somoza was shot by Rigoberto López Pérez, a 27-year-old liberal Nicaraguan poet. Somoza was attending a PLN party to celebrate his nomination for the Presidency. He died eight days later, unable to recover from his fatal wound. After his father's death, Luis Somoza Debayle, the eldest son of the late dictator, was appointed President by the congress and officially took charge of the country. He is remembered by some for being moderate, but was in power only for a few years and then died of a heart attack. Then came president René Schick Gutiérrez whom most Nicaraguans viewed "as nothing more than a puppet of the Somozas". Somoza's brother, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, a West Pointmarker graduate, succeeded his father in charge of the National Guard, controlled the country, and officially took the presidency after Schick.

Nicaragua experienced economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s largely as a result of industrialization, and became one of Central America's most developed nations despite its political instability. Due to its stable and high growth economy, foreign investments grew, primarily from U.S. companies such as Citigroup, Sears, Westinghouse and Coca Cola. However, the capital city of Managuamarker suffered a major earthquakemarker in 1972 which destroyed nearly 90% of the city creating major losses. It leveled a 600-square block area in the heart of Managua. Some Nicaraguan historians see the 1972 earthquake that devastated Managuamarker as the final 'nail in the coffin' for Somoza. Instead of helping to rebuild Managua, Somoza siphoned off relief money to help pay for National Guard luxury homes, while the homeless poor had to make do with hastily constructed wooden shacks. The mishandling of relief money also prompted Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente to personally fly to Managua on 31 December 1972, but he died enroute in an airplane accident. Even the economic elite were reluctant to support Somoza, as he had acquired monopolies in industries that were key to rebuilding the nation, and did not allow the businessmen to compete with the profits that would result. In 1973 (the year of reconstruction) many new buildings were built, but the level of corruption in the government prevented further growth. Strikes and demonstrations developed as citizens became increasingly angry and politically mobilized. The elite were angry that Somoza was asking them to pay new emergency taxes to further his own ends. As a result, more of the young elite joined the Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN). The ever increasing tensions and anti-government uprisings slowed growth in the last two years of the Somoza dynasty.

Nicaraguan Revolution

In 1961 Carlos Fonseca, turned back to the historical figure of Sandino, and along with 2 others founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The FSLN was a tiny party throughout most of the 1960s, but Somoza's utter hatred of it and his heavy-handed treatment of anyone he suspected to be a Sandinista sympathizer gave many ordinary Nicaraguans the idea that the Sandinistas were much stronger.

After the 1972 earthquake and Somoza's brazen corruption, mishandling of relief, and refusal to rebuild Managua, the ranks of the Sandinistas were flooded with young disaffected Nicaraguans who no longer had anything to lose. These economic problems propelled the Sandinistas in their struggle against Somoza by leading many middle- and upper-class Nicaraguans to see the Sandinistas as the only hope for removing the brutal Somoza regime. In December 1974, a group of FSLN held some Managuan partygoers hostage until the Somozan government met their demands for a large ransom and free transport to Cuba. Somoza granted this, then subsequently sent his National Guard out into the countryside to look for the so-called 'terrorists'. While searching, the National Guard pillaged villages and imprisoned, tortured, raped, and executed hundreds of villagers. This invariably led to the Roman Catholic Church withdrawing any and all support of the Somoza regime. On January 10, 1978, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, the editor of the national newspaper La Prensa and ardent opponent of Somoza, was assassinated. This is believed to have led to the extreme general disappointment with Somoza. The planners and perpetrators of the murder were at the highest echelons of the Somoza regime and included the dictator's son, “El Chiguin”, the President of Housing, Cornelio Hueck, the Attorney General, and Pedro Ramos, a close ex-patriot, Cubanmarker ally who commercialized blood plasma.

The Sandinistas, supported by some of the populace, elements of the Catholic Church, and regional and international governments such as President Jimmy Carter of the United States, took power in July 1979. A group of prominent citizens, known as Los Doce, denounced the Somoza regime and said that "there can be no dialogue with Somoza...because he is the principal obstacle to all rational understanding...through the long dark history of Somocismo, dialogues with the dictatorship have only served to strengthen it..." Somoza fled the country and eventually ended up in Paraguaymarker, where he was assassinated in September 1980, allegedly by members of the Argentinian Revolutionary Workers Party. To begin the task of establishing a new government, they created a Council (or ) of National Reconstruction, made up of five members– Sandinista militants Daniel Ortega and Moises Hassan, novelist Sergio Ramírez Mercado (a member of Los Doce "the Twelve"), businessman Alfonso Robelo Callejas, and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (the widow of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro). Sandinista supporters thus comprised three of the five members of the junta. The non-Sandinistas, Robelo and Chamorro later resigned because they had little actual power in the junta. Sandinista mass organizations were also powerful: including the Sandinista Workers' Federation ( ), the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Association of Nicaraguan Women ( ), and the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers ( ).

On the Atlantic Coast a small uprising also occurred in support of the Sandinistas. This event is often overlooked in histories about the Sandinista revolution. A group of Creoles led by a native of Bluefieldsmarker, Dexter Hooker (aka Commander Abel), raided a Somoza-owned business to gain access to food, guns and money before heading off to join Sandinista fighters who had liberated the city of El Ramamarker. The 'Black Sandinistas' returned to Bluefields on July 19, 1979 and took the city without a fight. However, the Black Sandinistas were challenged by a group of mestizo Sandinista fighters. The ensuing standoff between the two groups, with the Black Sandinistas occupying the National Guard barracks (the cuartel) and the mestizo group occupying the Town Hall (Palacio) gave the revolution on the Atlantic Coast a racial dimension which was absent from other parts of the country. The Black Sandinistas were assisted in their power struggle with the Palacio group by the arrival of the Simon Bolivar International Brigade from Costa Rica. One of the brigade's members, an Afro-Costa Rican called Marvin Wright (aka Kalalu) became known for the rousing speeches he would make, which included elements of Black Power ideology in his attempts to unite all the black militias that had formed in Bluefields. The introduction of a racial element into the revolution was not welcomed by the Sandinista National Directorate which expelled Kalalu and the rest of the brigade from Nicaragua and sent them to Panama.

Sandinistas and the Contras

Upon assuming office in 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan condemned the FSLN for joining with Cuba in supporting Marxist revolutionary movements in other Latin American countries such as El Salvadormarker. His administration authorized the CIA to have their paramilitary officers from their elite Special Activities Division begin financing, arming and training rebels, some of whom were the remnants of Somoza's National Guard, as anti-Sandinista guerrillas that were branded "counter-revolutionary" by leftists ( in Spanish). This was shortened to Contras, a label the anti-socialist forces chose to embrace. Eden Pastora and many of the indigenous guerrilla forces, who were not associated with the "Somozistas," also resisted the Sandinistas. The Contras operated out of camps in the neighboring countries of Hondurasmarker to the north and Costa Ricamarker to the south. As was typical in guerrilla warfare, they were engaged in a campaign of economic sabotage in an attempt to combat the Sandinista government and disrupted shipping by planting underwater mines in Nicaragua's Corintomarker harbour, an action condemned by the World Courtmarker as illegal. The U.S. also sought to place economic pressure on the Sandinistas, and the Reagan administration imposed a full trade embargo.

U.S. support for this Nicaraguan insurgency continued in spite of the fact that impartial observers from international groupings such as the European Economic Community, religious groups sent to monitor the election, and observers from democratic nations such as Canada and the Republic of Irelandmarker concluded that the Nicaraguan general elections of 1984 were completely free and fair. The Reagan administration disputed these results however, despite the fact that the government of the United States never had any observers in Nicaragua at the time. The elections were not also recognized as legitimate because the Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinator, considered the main opposition group, and the only group of democratic opposition in the country did not participate in the elections. The Nicaraguan Democratic Coordinator did not participate in the elections due to the government's lack of response to its document "A Step Toward Democracy, Free Elections" issued in 1982. The document was asking the government to re-establish all civil rights: freedom of speech, freedom of organization, release of all political prisoners, cease of hostilities against the opposition, lifting the censorship on the media and abolishing all the laws violating human rights.

After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the Contras in 1983, the Reagan administration continued to back the Contras by covertly selling arms to Iranmarker and channeling the proceeds to the Contras (the Iran–Contra affair). When this scheme was revealed, Reagan admitted that he knew about the Iranian "arms for hostages" dealings but professed ignorance about the proceeds funding the Contras; for this, National Security Council aide Lt. Col. Oliver North took much of the blame. Senator John Kerry's 1988 U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report on Contra-drug links concluded that "senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems." According to the National Security Archive, Oliver North had been in contact with Manuel Noriega, a Panamanianmarker general and the de facto military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989 when he was overthrown and captured by a U.S. invading force. He was taken to the United States, tried for drug trafficking, and imprisoned in 1992.

In August 1996, San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb published a series titled Dark Alliance, linking the origins of crack cocaine in California to the Contras. Freedom of Information Act inquiries by the National Security Archive and other investigators unearthed a number of documents showing that White House officials, including Oliver North, knew about and supported using money raised via drug trafficking to fund the Contras. Sen. John Kerry's report in 1988 led to the same conclusions; however, major media outlets, the Justice Department, and Reagan denied the allegations.

The International Court of Justice, in regard to the case of Nicaragua v. United States of America in 1984, found; "the United States of America was under an obligation to make reparation to the Republic of Nicaragua for all injury caused to Nicaragua by certain breaches of obligations under customary international law and treaty-law committed by the United States of America". But was rejected citing the 'Connally Amendment', which excludes from the International court of Justice's jurisdiction "disputes with regard to matters that are essentially within the jurisdiction of the United States of America, determined by the United States of America"

1990s and the Post-Sandinista Era

Multi-party democratic elections were held in 1990, which saw the defeat of the Sandinistas by a coalition of anti-Sandinista (from the left and right of the political spectrum) parties led by Violeta Chamorro, the widow of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro. The defeat shocked the Sandinistas as numerous pre-election polls had indicated a sure Sandinista victory and their pre-election rallies had attracted crowds of several hundred thousand people. The unexpected result was subject to a great deal of analysis and comment, and was attributed by commentators such as Noam Chomsky and Brian Willson to the U.S./Contra threats to continue the war if the Sandinistas retained power, the general war-weariness of the Nicaraguan population, and the abysmal Nicaraguan economic situation.


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

Exit polls of Nicaraguans reported Chamorro's victory over Ortega was achieved with 55%. Violeta Chamorro was the first woman to be popularly elected as President of an American nation and first woman president of Nicaragua and first female president in the Americas. Exit polling convinced Daniel Ortega that the election results were legitimate, and were instrumental in his decision to accept the vote of the people and step down rather than void the election. Nonetheless Ortega vowed that he would govern "desde abajo" (from below), in other words due to his widespread control of institutions and Sandinista individuals in all government agencies, he would still be able to maintain control and govern even without being president.

Chamorro received an economy entirely in ruins. The per capita income of Nicaragua had been reduced by over 80% during the 1980s, and a huge government debt which ascended to US$12 billion primarily due to financial and social costs of the Contra war with the Sandinista-led government. Much to the surprise of the U.S. and the contra forces, Chamorro did not dismantle the Sandinista Popular Army, though the name was changed to the Nicaraguan Army. Chamorro's main contribution to Nicaragua was the disarmament of groups in the northern and central areas of the country. This provided stability that the country had lacked for over ten years.

In subsequent elections in 1996 Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas of the FSLN were again defeated, this time by Arnoldo Alemán of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC).

In the 2001 elections the PLC again defeated the FSLN, with Enrique Bolaños winning the Presidency. However, President Bolaños subsequently brought forward allegations of money laundering, theft and corruption against former President Alemán. The ex-president was sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement, money laundering, and corruption. The Liberal members who were loyal to Alemán and also members of congress reacted angrily, and along with Sandinista parliament members stripped the presidential powers of President Bolaños and his ministers, calling for his resignation and threatening impeachment.



The Sandinistas alleged that their support for Bolaños was lost when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Bolaños to keep his distance from the FSLN. This "slow motion coup d'état" was averted partially due to pressure from the Central American presidents who would fail to recognize any movement that removed Bolaños; the U.S., the OAS, and the European Union also opposed the "slow motion coup d'état". The proposed constitutional changes that were going to be introduced in 2005 against the Bolaños administration were delayed until January 2007 after the entrance of the new government. Though one day before they were to be enforced, the National Assembly postponed their enforcement until January 2008.

Before the general elections on 5 November 2006, the National Assembly passed a bill further restricting abortion in Nicaragua 52-0 (9 abstaining, 29 absent). President Enrique Bolaños supported this measure, and signed the bill into law on 17 November 2006, as a result Nicaragua is one of three countries in the world where abortion is illegal with no exceptions, along with El Salvadormarker and Chilemarker.

Legislative and presidential elections took place on November 5, 2006. Daniel Ortega returned to the presidency with 37.99% of the vote. This percentage was enough to win the presidency outright, due to a change in electoral law which lowered the percentage requiring a runoff election from 45% to 35% (with a 5% margin of victory).

Politics

Politics of Nicaragua takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Nicaragua is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the National Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Currently, Nicaragua's major political parties have been discussing the possibility of going from a presidential system to a parliamentary system. This way, there would be a clear differentiation between the head of government (Prime Minister) and the head of state (President).

Departments and municipalities

Departments of Nicaragua
Nicaragua is a unitary republic. For administrative purposes it is divided into 15 departments (departamentos) and two self-governing regions (autonomous communities) based on the Spanish model. The departments are then subdivided into 153 municipios (municipalities). The two autonomous regions are 'Región Autónoma Atlántico Norte'and 'Región Autónoma Atlántico Sur', often referred to as RAAN and RAAS, respectively; until they were granted autonomy in 1985 they formed the single department of Zelaya.

  1. Boacomarker (Boacomarker)
  2. Carazomarker (Jinotepemarker)
  3. Chinandegamarker (Chinandegamarker)
  4. Chontalesmarker (Juigalpamarker)
  5. Estelímarker (Estelímarker)
  6. Granadamarker (Granadamarker)
  7. Jinotegamarker (Jinotegamarker)
  8. Leónmarker (Leónmarker)
  9. Madrizmarker (Somotomarker)
  1. Managuamarker (Managuamarker)
  2. Masaya (Masayamarker)
  3. Matagalpa (Matagalpamarker)
  4. Nueva Segoviamarker (Ocotalmarker)
  5. Rivasmarker (Rivasmarker)
  6. Río San Juanmarker (San Carlosmarker)
  7. RAAN (Bilwimarker)
  8. RAAS (Bluefieldsmarker)


Geography

Nicaragua occupies a landmass of 129,494 km², comparable to that of Greece or New York state . Nearly one fifth of the territory is designated as protected areas like national parks, nature reserves, and biological reserves. The country is bordered by Hondurasmarker to the north, the Caribbean Seamarker to the east, Costa Ricamarker to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Nicaragua has three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific Lowlands, the Amerrique Mountains (North-Central Highlands), and the Mosquito Coast (Atlantic Lowlands).

Pacific Lowlands



in the west of the country, these lowlands consist of a broad, hot, fertile plain. Punctuating this plain are several large volcanoes of the Cordillera Los Maribios mountain range, including Mombachomarker just outside Granada, and Momotombomarker near León. The lowland area runs from the Gulf of Fonseca to Nicaragua's Pacific border with Costa Rica south of Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaraguamarker is the largest freshwater lake in Central America (20th largest in the world), and is home to the world's only freshwater sharks (Nicaraguan shark). The Pacific lowlands region is the most populous, with over half of the nation's population. The capital city of Managuamarker is the most populous and it is the only city with over 1.5 million inhabitants.

The eruptions of western Nicaragua's volcanoes, many of which are still active, have devastated the land but also have enriched it with layers of fertile ash. The geologic activity that produces vulcanism also breeds powerful earthquakes. Tremors occur regularly throughout the Pacific zone, and earthquakes have nearly destroyed the capital city, Managua, more than once."Nicaragua." Encyclopedia Americana. 2009. Grolier Online. 20 Nov. 2009 /ea.grolier.com/article?id=0286870-00>.

Most of the Pacific zone is tierra caliente, the "hot land" of tropical Spanish America at elevations under 2,000 feet (600 meters). Temperatures remain virtually constant throughout the year, with highs ranging between 85° and 90° F (29°–32° C). After a dry season lasting from November to April, rains begin in May and continue to October, giving the Pacific Lowlands 40 to 60 inches (1,000–1,500 mm) of precipitation. Good soils and a favorable climate combine to make western Nicaragua the country's economic and demographic center. The southwestern shore of Lake Nicaragua lies within 15 miles (25 km) of the Pacific Ocean. Thus the lake and the San Juan River were often proposed in the 19th century as the longest part of a canal route across the Central American isthmus. Canal proposals were periodically revived in the 20th and 21st centuries."Nicaragua." Encyclopedia Americana. 2009. Grolier Online. 20 Nov. 2009 /ea.grolier.com/article?id=0286870-00>.

In addition to its beach and resort communities, the Pacific Lowlands is also the repository for much of Nicaragua's Spanish colonial heritage. Cities such as Leónmarker and Granadamarker abound in colonial architecture and artifacts; Granada, founded in 1524, is the oldest colonial city in the Americas.

North-Central Highlands

Central Highlands are a significantly less populated and economically developed area located in the north but narrow southeastward between Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean. Forming the country's tierra templada, or "temperate land," at elevations between 2,000 and 5,000 feet (600–1,500 meters), the highlands enjoy mild temperatures with daily highs of 75° to 80° F (24°–27° C). This region has a longer, wetter rainy season than the Pacific Lowlands, making erosion a problem on its steep slopes. Rugged terrain, poor soils, and low population density characterize the area as a whole, but the northwestern valleys are fertile and well settled."Nicaragua." Encyclopedia Americana. 2009. Grolier Online. 20 Nov. 2009 /ea.grolier.com/article?id=0286870-00>.

The area, however, is has a cooler climate than the Pacific Lowlands. About a quarter of the country's agriculture takes place in this region, with coffee grown on the higher slopes. Oaks, pines, moss, ferns and orchids are abundant in the cloud forests of the region.

Bird life in the forests of the central region includes Resplendent Quetzal, goldfinches, hummingbirds, jays and toucanets.


Atlantic lowlands

This large rainforest region is irrigated by several large rivers and very sparsely populated. The Rio Cocomarker is the largest river in Central America, it forms the border with Honduras. The Caribbean coastline is much more sinuous than its generally straight Pacific counterpart; lagoons and deltas make it very irregular.

Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve is located in the Atlantic lowlands, it protects 1.8 million acres (7,300 km²) of La Mosquitia forest - almost seven percent of the country's area - making it the largest rainforest north of the Amazon in Brazilmarker.

Nicaragua's tropical east coast is very different from the rest of the country. The climate is predominantly tropical, with high temperature and high humidity. Around the area's principal city of Bluefieldsmarker, English is widely spoken along with the official Spanish. The population more closely resembles that found in many typical Caribbean ports than the rest of Nicaragua.

A great variety of birds can be observed including eagles, turkeys, toucans, parakeets and macaws. Animal life in the area includes different species of monkeys, anteaters, white-tailed deer and tapirs.

Wildlife and Biodiversity

Rainforest in Nicaragua covers more than 20,000 km², particularly on the Atlantic lowlands. As well as the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve (in the north) there is the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve (in the south), which protects 2,500 km² of the Atlantic Rainforest.

These two areas are very rich in biodiversity. There are 5 species of felines, including jaguar and cougar; 3 species of primates, spider monkey, howler monkey and capuchin monkey; 1 species of tapir, called Danto by the Nicaraguans; 3 species of anteaters and many more.

Economy

Exports

Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country; agriculture constitutes 60% of its total exports which annually yield approximately US $300 million. In addition, Nicaragua's Flor de Caña rum is renowned as among the best in Latin America, and its tobacco and beef are also well regarded.Nicaragua's agrarian economy has historically been based on the export of cash crops such as bananas, coffee, sugar, beef and tobacco.Light industry (maquila), tourism, banking, mining, fisheries, and general commerce are expanding.Nicaragua also depends heavily on remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad, which totaled $655.5 million in 2006.

Nicaragua has always been a predominantly agricultural country. On the Pacific side, coffee and cotton are by far the most important commercial crops. In 1992, more land was devoted to coffee than to any other crop, and it is the nation's leading export in terms of value. Nearly two-thirds of the coffee crop comes from the northern part of the Central Highlands, in the area north and east of the town of Estelí.In the early 1980s, cotton became Nicaragua's second-largest export earner. Production is centered on large farms along the central Pacific coast. Unfortunately, the growth of the cotton industry has created serious problems. Soil erosion and pollution from the heavy use of pesticides have become serious concerns in the cotton district. Yields and exports have both been declining since 1985.

Plantation crops are significant in the Caribbean lowlands. After disease wiped out most of the region's banana plants in the years before 1945, attempts were made to diversify crops. Today most of Nicaragua's bananas are grown in the northwestern part of the country near the port of Corinto; sugarcane is also grown in the same district. Subsistence farms, where food is grown mainly for the consumption of the farm family instead of for sale, are found throughout Nicaragua. Favorite food crops grown on such farms include rice, beans, maize, citrus fruits, and cassava. Cassava, a root crop somewhat similar to the potato, is an important food in tropical regions. The plant's roots can be eaten boiled and sliced, or ground into flour. Cassava is also the main ingredient in tapioca pudding.

The Pacific lowlands and the middle and southern parts of the Central Highlands are the principal cattle-grazing areas. An especially large number of cattle are found to the east of Lake Nicaragua.

Beginning in the 1960s, shrimp became big business on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The main shrimping centers on the Pacific coast are Corinto and San Juan del Sur. Fishing boats on the Caribbean side bring shrimp as well as lobsters into processing plants at Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and Laguna de Perlas.

The lumber industry, concentrated mainly in the eastern third of the country, has been lethargic since 1980, with its activities limited by several problems. First, the best trees in the most accessible places have already been cut down. In addition, pure groves of trees are uncommon in tropical forests. Hundreds of species per acre are generally the rule, complicating the task of harvesting. Moreover, the most valuable dense hardwoods will not float. As a result, these trees must be trucked out of the forest rather than floated downriver to a sawmill. Finally, more and more restrictions are being placed on lumbering due to increased concerns about rain-forest destruction. But lumbering continues despite these obstacles; indeed, a single hardwood tree may be worth thousands of dollars.

Political turmoil has had a severe impact on the mining industry. Exports of gold are down, and little effort has been made to develop the large copper deposits of the northeast. Fighting during the revolution destroyed nearly one-third of Nicaragua's industry. As it rebuilds, the government is trying to change the industrial mix of the country and achieve decentralization. Before the revolution, more than 60 percent of the nation's industrial production, by value, was concentrated in Managua. The industrial-decentralization policy may help to slow the growth of the largest cities, while assisting in the redistribution of income to impoverished areas. Major industries include food processing, cement production, metal fabrication, and oil refining. The Centroamérica power plant on the Tuma River in the Central Highlands has been expanded, and other hydroelectric projects have been undertaken to help provide electricity to the nation's newer industries.

The economic core of Nicaragua is located in the Pacific zone, and the rail-and-highway network reflects that concentration of activity. The government-owned rail system—an inefficient money loser—is gradually being replaced by truck transport. Transportation throughout the rest of the nation is often inadequate. For example, one cannot travel all the way by highway from Managua to the Caribbean coast. The road ends at the town of Rama, and the rest of the trip must be completed by riverboat down the Río Escondido—a five-hour journey.

Corinto is the only modern deepwater port in Nicaragua. It handles both agricultural exports and general-cargo imports. Petroleum is unloaded at Puerto Sandino, from which it travels by pipeline to a refinery in Managua. Trade with other nations in Central America has increased in recent years. Nicaragua has long been considered as a possible site for a new sea-level canal that could supplement the Panama Canal.

Components of the economy

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2008 was estimated at $17.37 billion USD. The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 56.9%, followed by the industrial sector at 26.1% (2006 est.). Agriculture represents 17% of GDP, the highest percentage in Central America (2008 est.). Remittances account for over 15% of the Nicaraguan GDP. Close to one billion dollars are sent to the country by Nicaraguans living abroad. Nicaraguan labor force is estimated at 2.322 million of which 29% is occupied in agriculture, 19% in the industry sector and 52% in the service sector (est. 2008).

Agriculture

After 1950 the scope of capital-intensive modern agriculture increased greatly. This growth was concentrated in export crops, while crops destined for domestic use continued to be produced by traditional labor-intensive methods. The shift to industrialized agriculture also significantly reduced the proportion of the population directly dependent on agriculture.

Commercial agriculture thrives in the Pacific Lowlands, where cotton and sugarcane are the staple crops. Although coffee is grown in the Pacific zone at elevations over 1,000 feet (300 meters), the most important coffee zone is the northwestern part of the Central Highlands, from Matagalpamarker to Jinotegamarker. Cattle for the export of beef are raised in the southeastern part of the highlands. The overall expansion of export production by large landholders pushed the smallholders who produced the country's maize, beans, and other dietary staples onto marginal lands, with the result that food production could not keep up with population increase.

In the 1990s the government initiated efforts to diversify agriculture. Some of the new export-oriented crops were peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions.

Fishing and Forestry

Forestry and fishing are the bases of the eastern seaboard's commercial economy. In national terms, however, neither sector was important until the take-off of the fishing industry in the late 20th century. Mahogany was harvested commercially on the Atlantic coast beginning early in the 19th century. In the 20th century pine stands began to be exploited. In neither case, though, was the resource managed so as to ensure a sustained yield.

Nicaragua's fishing industry operates off both coasts and in freshwater Lake Nicaragua. The lake also has an aquaculture industry. The most valuable catches are shrimp and spiny lobster. The government expanded the size of the fishing fleet in the 1980s, which permitted a rapid expansion of shrimp and lobster exports in the 1990s. A turtle fishery thrived on the Caribbean coast before it collapsed from overexploitation.

Mining and the Production of Energy

Mining is not a major industry in Nicaragua, contributing less than 1% of gross domestic product (GDP). Still, gold and silver mines in the north-central and northeastern parts of the country are important elements of regional economies and constitute sources of revenue.

About half of Nicaragua's energy is produced by wood, the most common cooking and heating fuel in rural areas. Important domestic sources of electrical energy are hydropower and geothermal power, the latter from the volcano Momotombo, near Managua. But most commercial electricity is generated by imported petroleum.

Manufacturing

Although the manufacturing sector of the economy contributes somewhat more to GDP than agriculture, it employs far fewer people. It was traditionally concerned largely with the processing of agricultural products, and it supplied the domestic market with foods, beverages, edible oils, cigarettes, and textile goods. Also manufactured were light metal goods, construction materials, wood and paper products, and chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides.

The manufacturing sector was expanded beyond these areas in the 1990s with the introduction of maquila industries, in which imported parts are assembled for reexport. The principal products were garments, footwear, aluminum frames, and jewelry. Growth in the maquila sector slowed in the 2000s with rising competition from Asian markets, particularly Chinamarker.

Poverty

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas . According to the CIA Fact Book, inflation averaged 8.1% from 2000 through 2006. As of 2007, Nicaragua's inflation stands at 9.8%. The World Bank also indicates moderate economic growth at an average of 5% from 1995 through 2004. In 2005 the economy grew 4%, with overall GDP reaching $4.91 billion. In 2006, the economy expanded by 3.7% as GDP reached $5.3 billion. As of 2008, it stands at $6.5 billion.

According to the PNUD, 48% of the population in Nicaragua live below the poverty line, 79.9% of the population live with less than $2 per day, unemployment is 3.9%, and another 46.5% are underemployed (2008 est.). As in many other developing countries, a large segment of the economically poor in Nicaragua are women. In addition, a relatively high proportion of Nicaragua's homes have a woman as head of household: 39% of urban homes and 28% of rural homes. According to UN figures, 80% of the indigenous people (who make up 5% of the population) live on less than $1 per day. According to the FAO, 27% of all Nicaraguans are suffering from undernourishment; the highest percentage in Central America.

Infrastructure

During the war between the US-backed Contras and the elected government of the Sandinistas in the 1980s, much of the country's infrastructure was damaged or destroyed. Inflation averaged 30% throughout the 1980s. After the United States imposed a trade embargo in 1985, which lasted 5 years, Nicaragua's inflation rate rose dramatically. The 1985 annual rate of 220% tripled the following year and rose to more than 13,000% in 1988, the highest rate for any country in the Western Hemispheremarker in that year.

The country is still a recovering economy and it continues to implement further reforms to improve profits for foreign businesses, on which aid from the IMFmarker is conditional. In 2005 finance ministers of the leading eight industrialized nations (G8) agreed to forgive some of Nicaragua's foreign debt, as part of the HIPC program. According to the World Bank Nicaragua's GDP was around $4.9 billion US dollars. Recently, in March 2007, Poland and Nicaragua signed an agreement to write off 30.6 million dollars which was borrowed by the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s.Since the end of the war almost two decades ago, more than 350 state enterprises have been privatized.Inflation reduced from 33,500% in 1988 to 9.45% in 2006, and the foreign debt was cut in half.

According to the World Bank, Nicaragua ranked as the 62nd best economy for starting a business making it the second best in Central America, after Panamamarker. Nicaragua's economy is "62.7% free" with high levels of fiscal, government, labor, investment, financial, and trade freedom. It ranks as the 61st freest economy, and 14th (out of 29) in the Americas.

Currency

A 1000 Córdoba banknote, which was re-printed with a value of 200,000 Córdobas during the inflationary period of the late 1980s.



During the era of the Spanish colonial rule-and for more than 50 years afterwards-Nicaragua used Spanish coins that were struck for use in the "New World". The first unique coins for Nicaragua were issued in 1878 in the peso denomination. The cordoba became Nicaragua's currency in 1912 and was initially equal in value to the U.S. dollar. The Nicaraguan unit of currency is the Córdoba (NIO) and was named after Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, its national founder. The front of each of Nicaragua's circulating coins features the national coat of arms. The five volcanoes represent the five Central American countries at the time of Nicaragua's independence, while the rainbow at the top symbolizes peace and the cap in the center is a symbol of freedom. The design is contained within a triangle to indicate equality. The back of each coin features the denomination, with the inscription "En Dios Confiamos" (In God We Trust).

Tourism



Tourism in Nicaragua is currently the second largest industry in the nation, over the last 7 years tourism has grown about 70% nationwide with rates of 10%-16% annually. Nicaragua has seen positive growth in the tourism sector over the last decade and is expected to become the first largest industry in 2007. The increase and growth led to the income from tourism to rise more than 300% over a period of 10 years. The growth in tourism has also positively affected the agricultural, commercial, and finance industries, as well as the construction industry. Despite the positive growth throughout the last decade, Nicaragua remains the least visited nation in the region.

Every year about 60,000 U.S. citizens visit Nicaragua, primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. Some 5,300 people from the U.S. reside in the country now. The majority of tourists that visit Nicaragua are from the U.S., Central or South America, and Europe. According to the Ministry of Tourism of Nicaragua (INTUR), the colonial city of Granadamarker is the preferred spot for tourists. Also, the cities of Leónmarker, Masaya, Rivas and the likes of San Juan del Surmarker, San Juan River, Ometepemarker, Mombacho Volcano, the Corn Islandsmarker, and others are main tourist attractions. In addition, ecotourism and surfing attract many tourists to Nicaragua.

According to TV Noticias (news program) on Canal 2, a Nicaragua television station, the main attractions in Nicaragua for tourists are the beaches, scenic routes, the architecture of cities such as León and Granada and most recently ecotourism and agritourism, particularly in Northern Nicaragua.

Demographics

Population

Growth of the Nicaraguan population.
(1961-2003)
According to the CIA World Factbook, Nicaragua has a population of 5,570,129; comprising mainly 69% mestizo, 17% white, 9% black and 5% amerindian; this fluctuates with changes in migration patterns. The population is 54% urban.

The most populous city in Nicaragua is the capital, Managuamarker, with a population of 1.2 million (2005). As of 2005, over 4.4 million inhabitants live in the Pacific, Central and North regions, 2.7 in the Pacific region alone, while inhabitants in the Caribbean region reached an estimated 700,000.

There is a growing expatriate community the majority of whom move for business, investment or retirement from United States, Canada, Europe, Taiwanmarker, and other countries; the majority have settled in Managua, Granadamarker and San Juan del Surmarker.

Many Nicaraguans live abroad, particularly in Costa Rica and the United States.

Nicaragua has a population growth rate of 1.8% as of 2008. This is the result of one of the highest birth rates in the Western Hemispheremarker: 24.9X1,000 according to the United Nations for the period 2005-2010. The death rate is 4.1X1,000 during the same period according to the United Nations.

Ethnic groups

An Afro-Nicaraguan.
The majority of the Nicaraguan population, (86% or approximately 4.8 million people), is either Mestizo or White. 69% are Mestizos (mixed Amerindian and White) and 17% are White with the majority being of Spanish, German, Italian, English or French ancestry. Mestizos and Whites mainly reside in the western region of the country.

About 9% of Nicaragua's population is black, or Afro-Nicaragüense, and mainly reside on the country's sparsely populated Caribbean or Atlantic coast. The black population is mostly composed of black English-speaking Creoles who are the descendents of escaped or shipwrecked slaves; many carry the name of Scottish settlers who brought slaves with them, such as Campbell, Gordon, Downs and Hodgeson. Although many Creoles supported Somoza because of his close association with the US, they rallied to the Sandinista cause in July 1979 only to reject the revolution soon afterwards in response to a new phase of 'mestizoisation' and imposition of central rule from Managua. Nicaragua has the largest African diaspora population in Central America. There is also a smaller number of Garifuna, a people of mixed West African, Carib and Arawak descent. In the mid-1980s, the government divided the department of Zelaya - consisting of the eastern half of the country - into two autonomous regions and granted the black and indigenous people of this region limited self-rule within the Republic.

The remaining 5% of Nicaraguans are Amerindians, the unmixed descendants of the country's indigenous inhabitants. Nicaragua's pre-Columbian population consisted of many indigenous groups. In the western region the Nicarao people, after whom the country is named, were present along with other groups related by culture and language to the Mayans. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by indigenous peoples who were mostly chibcha related groups that had migrated from South America, primarily present day Colombiamarker and Venezuelamarker. These groups include the Miskitos, Ramas and Sumos. In the nineteenth century, there was a substantial indigenous minority, but this group was also largely assimilated culturally into the mestizo majority.

Immigration



In the 1800s Nicaragua experienced several waves of immigration, primarily from Europe. In particular, families from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium immigrated to Nicaragua, particularly the departments in the Central and Pacific region. As a result, the Northern cities of Estelímarker, Jinotegamarker and Matagalpamarker have significant communities of fourth generation Germans. They established many agricultural businesses such as coffee and sugar cane plantations, newspapers, hotels and banks.

Also present is a small Middle Eastern-Nicaraguan community of Syrians, Armenians, Palestinian Nicaraguans, Jewish Nicaraguans, and Lebanesemarker people in Nicaragua with a total population of about 30,000. There is also an East Asian community mostly consisting of Chinese, Taiwanesemarker, and Japanese. The Chinese Nicaraguan population is estimated at around 12,000. The Chinese arrived in the late 1800s but were unsubstantiated until the 1920s.

Relative to its overall population, Nicaragua has never experienced any large scale wave of immigrants. The total number of immigrants to Nicaragua, both originating from other Latin American countries and all other countries, never surpassed 1% of its total population prior to 1995. The 2005 census showed the foreign-born population at 1.2%, having risen a mere .06% in 10 years.

Diaspora

The Civil War forced many Nicaraguans to start lives outside of their country. Although many Nicaraguans returned after the end of the war, many people emigrated during the 1990s and the 2000s due the unemployment and the poverty. The majority of the Nicaraguan Diaspora is in Costa Ricamarker and the United Statesmarker, and today one in six Nicaraguans live in these two countries. It's difficult to estimate the number of Nicaraguans living abroad because many of them are living in host countries illegally. The table shows current statistics for certain countries:
Country Count
Costa Ricamarker 236,000-750,000
United Statesmarker 300,000
Mexicomarker 2,522
Hondurasmarker 23,000
El Salvadormarker 100,000
Nicaraguans living abroad At least 1,000,000


Culture



Nicaraguan culture has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by European culture but enriched with Amerindian sounds and flavors. Nicaraguan culture can further be defined in several distinct strands. The Pacific coast has strong folklore, music and religious traditions, deeply influenced by Europeansmarker. It was colonized by Spain and has a similar culture to other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. The Caribbean coast of the country, on the other hand, was once a British protectorate. English is still predominant in this region and spoken domestically along with Spanish and indigenous languages. Its culture is similar to that of Caribbeanmarker nations that were or are British possessions, such as Jamaicamarker, Belizemarker, The Cayman Islandsmarker, etc. The indigenous groups that were present in the Pacific coast have largely been assimilated into the mestizo culture, however, the indigenous people of the Caribbean coast have maintained a distinct identity.
An example of typical Nicaraguan handicrafts which are sold in markets all over the country
Nicaraguan music is a mixture of indigenous and European, especially Spanish, influences. Musical instruments include the marimba and others common across Central America. The marimba of Nicaragua is uniquely played by a sitting performer holding the instrument on his knees. He is usually accompanied by a bass fiddle, guitar and guitarrilla (a small guitar like a mandolin). This music is played at social functions as a sort of background music. The marimba is made with hardwood plates, placed over bamboo or metal tubes of varying lengths. It is played with two or four hammers. The Caribbeanmarker coast of Nicaragua is known for a lively, sensual form of dance music called Palo de Mayo which is very much alive all throughout the country. It is especially loud and celebrated during the Palo de Mayo festival in May The Garifuna community exists in Nicaragua and is known for its popular music called Punta.


Literature of Nicaragua can be traced to pre-Columbian times with the myths and oral literature that formed the cosmogonic view of the world that indigenous people had. Some of these stories are still known in Nicaragua. Like many Latin American countries, the Spanish conquerors have had the most effect on both the culture and the literature. Nicaraguan literature has historically been an important source of poetry in the Spanish-speaking world, with internationally renowned contributors such as Rubén Darío who is regarded as the most important literary figure in Nicaragua, referred to as the "Father of Modernism" for leading the modernismo literary movement at the end of the 19th century. Other literary figures include Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli, Claribel Alegría and José Coronel Urtecho, among others.

El Güegüense is a satirical drama and was the first literary work of post-Columbian Nicaragua. It is regarded as one of Latin America's most distinctive colonial-era expressions and as Nicaragua's signature folkloric masterpiece combining music, dance and theater. The theatrical play was written by an anonymous author in the 16th century, making it one of the oldest indigenous theatrical/dance works of the Western Hemispheremarker. The story was published in a book in 1942 after many centuries.

Language



Central American Spanish is spoken by about 90% of the country's population. In Nicaragua, the voseo form of Spanish is dominant in both speech and publications. Nicaragua is one out of two Central American nations that uses voseo spanish as its written and spoken form. The same Spanish form is also seen in Argentinamarker, Uruguaymarker, Hondurasmarker, and coastal Colombiamarker. The language and pronunciation varies depending on region. Some Nicaraguans pronounce the word vos with a strong s sound at the end. In the central part of the country, regions like Boacomarker prounce vos without the s sound at the end. The result is vo, similar to vouz in French and voi in Italian.

Nicaragua, unintentionally, has played a significant role in Central America by establishing the voseo dialect in the region. This is often seen as the result of the Nicaraguan Diaspora, in which roughly 1,000,000 Nicaraguans currently live abroad. The disapora itself was fueled by the civil war of the 1980s. As the first nation to formally adopt the voseo dialect, its influence has spread to other Central American countries as well as cities in the United Statesmarker. Cities such as Miamimarker, Los Angelesmarker and San Franciscomarker have been areas where Central American voseo has become an established dialect.

In the Caribbean coast, many Afro-Nicaraguans and creoles speak English and creole English as their first language , but as second language they speak a very fluent Spanish. The language in the North and South Atlantic Regions are influenced by Englishmarker, Dutchmarker, Portuguesemarker, Spaniardmarker and Frenchmarker roots. In addition, inhabitants of the Caribbean coast, many of the indigenous people speak their native languages, such as the Miskito, Sumo, Rama and Garifuna language. In addition, many ethnic groups in Nicaragua have maintained their ancestral languages, while also speaking Spanish or English; these include Chinese, Arabic, German, and Italian.

Spanish is taught as the principal language. English is taught to students during their high school years and tends to be the national second language. Other languages, particularly romance languages, can also be found sporadically.

Nicaragua was home to 3 extinct languages, one of which was never classified. Nicaraguan Sign Language is also of particular interest to linguists.

Religion



Religious Affiliation in Nicaragua
Religion Percentage
Roman Catholic 58.5%
Evangelical 21.6%
Moravian 1.6%
Jehovah's Witnesses 0.9%
None 15.7%
Other1 1.6%
1 Includes Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism among other religions.
Source: 2005 Nicaraguan Census


Nicaragua has no official religion. However, Catholic Bishops are expected to lend their authority to important state occasions, and their pronouncements on national issues are closely followed. They can also be called upon to mediate between contending parties at moments of political crisis.

The largest denomination, and traditionally the religion of the majority, is Roman Catholic. However, the numbers of practicing Roman Catholics have been declining, while members of evangelical Protestant groups and Mormons have been rapidly growing in numbers since the 1990s. There are also strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast.

Roman Catholicism came to Nicaragua in the sixteenth century with the Spanish conquest and remained, until 1939, the established faith. Protestantism and other Christian denominations came to Nicaragua during the nineteenth century, but only gained large followings in the Caribbean Coast during the twentieth century.

Popular religion revolves around the saints, who are perceived as intercessors (but not mediators) between human beings and God. Most localities, from the capital of Managuamarker to small rural communities, honor patron saints, selected from the Roman Catholic calendar, with annual fiestas. In many communities, a rich lore has grown up around the celebrations of patron saints, such as Managua's Saint Dominic (Santo Domingo), honored in August with two colorful, often riotous, day-long processions through the city. The high point of Nicaragua's religious calendar for the masses is neither Christmas nor Easter, but La Purísima, a week of festivities in early December dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, during which elaborate altars to the Virgin Mary are constructed in homes and workplaces.

Cuisine

The Cuisine of Nicaragua is a mixture of criollo food and dishes of pre-Columbian origin. The Spaniards found that the Creole people had incorporated local foods available in the area into their cuisine. Traditional cuisine changes from the Pacific to the Caribbean coast; while the Pacific coast's main staple revolves around local fruits and corn, the Caribbean coast cuisine makes use of seafood and the coconut.

As in many other Latin American countries, corn is a main staple. Corn is used in many of the widely consumed dishes, such as the nacatamal, and indio viejo. Corn is also an ingredient for drinks such as pinolillo and chicha as well as sweets and desserts. In addition to corn, rice and beans are eaten very often.

Gallo pinto, Nicaragua's national dish, is made with white rice and red beans that are cooked separately and then fried together. The dish has several variations including the addition of coconut oil and/or grated coconut on the Caribbeanmarker coast. Most Nicaraguans begin their day with Gallopinto.

Many of Nicaragua's dishes include indigenous fruits and vegetables such as jocote, mango, papaya, tamarindo, pipian, banana, avocado, yuca, and herbs such as cilantro, oregano and achiote.

Nicaraguans also eat guinea pigs and tapirs, iguanas and turtle eggs.

Sports



Baseball is the most popular sport played in Nicaragua. Although some professional Nicaraguan baseball teams have folded in the recent past, Nicaragua enjoys a strong tradition of American-style Baseball. Baseball was introduced to Nicaragua at different years during the 19th century. In the Caribbean coast locals from Bluefieldsmarker were taught how to play baseball in 1888 by Albert Addlesberg, a retailer from the United States. Baseball did not catch on in the Pacific coast until 1891 when a group of mostly students originating from universities of the United States formed "La Sociedad de Recreo" (Society of Recreation) where they played various sports, baseball being the most popular among them. There are five teams that compete amongst themselves: Indios del Boer (Managua), Chinandega, Tiburones (Sharks) of Granada, Leon and Masaya. Players from these teams comprise the National team when Nicaragua competes internationally. The country has had its share of MLB players (including current Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Vicente Padilla and Boston Red Sox pitcher Devern Hansack), but the most notable is Dennis Martínez, who was the first baseball player from Nicaragua to play in Major League Baseball. He became the first Latin-born pitcher to throw a perfect game, and the 13th in major league history, wen he played with the Montreal Expos against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in 1991.

Boxing is the second most popular sport in Nicaragua. The country has had world champions such as Alexis Argüello and Ricardo Mayorga among others. Recently, soccer has gained popularity, especially with the younger population. The Dennis Martínez National Stadiummarker has served as a venue for both baseball and soccer but the first ever national soccer stadium in Managuamarker is currently under construction.

Education



Nicaragua's first public primary school opened in 1837. By the late 1860s public grade schools existed in most of the larger cities. In 1877, Nicaraguan authorities accepted the principle that such schools should be nationally funded, and that attendance should be free and compulsory. In 1881 education was formally removed from religious control and turned over to government, but church-run schools continued to operate alongside the public system. Subsequently shortages of facilities and teachers, especially in rural areas, hampered educational development. The Sandinista government sharply increased spending on education and reduced illiteracy significantly, but shortages of facilities and personnel remained a problem. The Sandinistas also added a leftist ideological content to the curriculum, which was removed after 1990."Nicaragua." Encyclopedia Americana. 2009. Grolier Online. 16 Nov. 2009 /ea.grolier.com/article?id=0286870-00>.

Higher education dates from 1818 when the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) was founded in León. A major reform, begun in 1980, reorganized the country's postsecondary system into two universities: the UNAN, with campuses in León and Managua, and the Central American University in Managua. It also restructured the curriculum, giving more emphasis to science and technology, and less to law and commerce. Nicaragua also has several more specialized institutions, with a focus on education that will promote economic development."Nicaragua." Encyclopedia Americana. 2009. Grolier Online. 16 Nov. 2009 /ea.grolier.com/article?id=0286870-00>.

Education is paid via taxes for all Nicaraguans. Elementary education is free and compulsory, however, many children in rural areas are unable to attend due to lack of schools and other reasons. Communities located on the Caribbean coast have access to education in their native languages.

The majority of higher education institutions are located in Managuamarker, higher education has financial, organic and administrative autonomy, according to the law. Also, freedom of subjects is recognized. Nicaragua's higher education system consists of 48 universities, and 113 colleges and technical institutes in the areas of electronics, computer systems and sciences, agroforestry, construction and trade-related services. The educational system includes 1 U.S. accredited English-language university, 3 Bilingual university programs, 5 Bilingual secondary schools and dozens of English Language Institutes. In 2005, almost 400,000 (7%) of Nicaraguans held a university degree. 18% of Nicaragua's total budget is invested in primary, secondary and higher education. University level institutions account for 6% of 18%.

As of 1979, the educational system was one of the poorest in Latin America. Under the Somoza dictatorships, limited spending on education and generalized poverty, which forced many adolescents into the labor market, constricted educational opportunities for Nicaraguans. One of the first acts of the newly elected Sandinista government in 1980 was an extensive and successful literacy campaign, using secondary school students, university students and teachers as volunteer teachers: it reduced the overall illiteracy rate from 50.3% to 12.9% within only five months. This was one of a number of large scale programs which received international recognition for their gains in literacy, health care, education, childcare, unions, and land reform. In September 1980, UNESCOmarker awarded Nicaragua the “Nadezhda Krupskaya” award for the literacy campaign. This was followed by the literacy campaigns of 1982, 1986, 1987, 1995 and 2000, all of which were also awarded by UNESCO.

See also



References



Further reading

  • Asleson, Vern. (2004) Nicaragua: Those Passed By. Galde Press ISBN 1-931942-16-1


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