Nicaragua is a country in Central America. It shares borders with Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. Like most Central American countries, Nicaragua has coastline along both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This beautiful country has a number of notable natural features which include the Cordillera Isabelia mountain range to the north, and the Lago de Nicaragua lake to the south. The majority of the population lives in city centers along the western half of the country. Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua, has a population of 819,000.
A Brief History of Nicaragua
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Unfortunately, much of the early history of Nicaragua was destroyed by later occupation. However, there is evidence of humans living in the region as far back as 8000 years ago. By 1500 BC, multiple rival tribes had settled and skirmished in the area. A treaty between the Nicarao and Chorotegan tribes is still celebrated today as the Toro Guaco.
These native peoples traded widely, and their resources, including bird feathers, religious artwork, and sharp obsidian tools have been discovered in far-off archaeological sites in the United States and Columbia.
By 800 AD, the Aztec religion came to dominate the area. This sparked a surge in indigenous religiously inspired artwork including statues, stone calendars, and petroglyphs.
In 1502, Christopher Columbus led a small fleet of Spanish galleons to Nicaragua’s shore. The Spanish returned in 1522. Led by military figures like Cordoba, they forcibly converted native tribes to Christianity, destroyed native language and culture, and brutally crushed any resistance. Spain and England divided the Nicaraguan territory and controlled it for centuries.
In 1891, Nicaragua won its independence from Spain. This launched an era of political instability as one corrupt government after another was overthrown by the very people they had oppressed. Then the next government would repeat the same history. Any elections that were held tended to be highly tampered with. The United States and the USSR both backed paramilitary groups in the region as part of the Cold War, and this added to the country’s instability.
The most explosive point in this leadership dispute occurred between the Sandanistas and the group that would become the Contras. It began in 1972, when an earthquake leveled vast sections of Managua’s center, killing over 6000. International support poured in, and the government in charge seized the money for themselves. The ensuing scandal triggered a civil war that killed thousands and decimated Nicaragua’s infrastructure.
In 1985, the United States, under President Reagan, implemented a full blockade that included food and medicine. More than 110,000 people died from both sides of the conflict.
The next year, the then-President of Coasta Rica, Oscar Arias, brokered a peace deal involving five Central American leaders. He also called for an end to US and Soviet interferences in the region. Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.
The peace plan succeeded. In the ensuing stability, press censorship was lifted and Nicaragua began the long process of rebuilding infrastructure, a process that continues to this day. The country elected the first female head of state in the Americas, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, in 1990.
Unfortunately Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998. This tropical storm devastated the region and killed 4,000, and the nation was forced to rebuild again. More recently, there have been numerous scandals associated with Presidential and local elections. New political parties have appeared and vie with the older, rebranded groups. Nicaragua’s political future is turbulent, but hopefully has left its violent past behind.
Population and People
Nicaragua is considered the 111th most populous country in the world, with an estimated population of just under 6 million (according to a July 2016 census). The primary ethnic groups are mestizo at 69%, white at 17%, and black at 9%. There is also a notable Amerindian and indigenous population composed of a number of tribes.
The official language of Nicaragua is Spanish but there are numerous Mestizo-speaking communities along the Caribbean coast. English is spoken intermittently, primarily along the eastern coast and in major tourist centers.
Religion in Nicaragua is diverse, with a small majority of 58.5% being Roman Catholic. The second most popular religion is Protestant, at 23.2%, and it’s estimated that nearly 16% of the population are non-practicing or non-religious.
Nicaragua has a young population, with nearly 90% of its citizens being under the age of 54. The average citizen’s age is 25.2 years. There are 100 females to every 100 males, and the birthrate from 2005 to 2010 was 2.7%.
Nearly 1 in 5 Nicaraguans live within the capital city of Managua. Most of the other major towns are along the western coastal area. The only major town on the eastern coast is the city of Bluefields, which has a population of just under 45,000. It is estimated that nearly 60% of the total population of Nicaragua live within urban areas.
Land and Environment
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. It has a land area of 130,370 sq kilometers. The country boasts 910 kilometers of coastline and shares 1,253 kilometers of border with Honduras and Costa Rica. The highest elevation in Nicaragua is Mount Mogoton (2,438 meters / 7,998 feet). The lowest elevation is sea-level.
The majority of Nicaragua has a tropical to semi-tropical climate. There are three distinct climate zones: the Pacific Lowlands, Caribbean Lowlands, and the Central Highlands. Both Lowlands have a warm and humid climate, with temperatures averaging between 68 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. The Pacific Lowlands averages 102cm of rain a year. The Caribbean Lowlands is effected by the easterly trade winds and has an extended rainy season. The average rainfall along the eastern coast and the mountains varies widely between 254 and 635cm annually.
Nicaragua has a number of active volcanoes. The most active of these is Cerro Negro which last erupted in 1999. Nicaragua is also in a very active earthquake zone and experiences hundreds of minor tremors every year. The most recent major earthquakes occurred off the coast: a 6.9 magnitude in 2003, and a 6.6 magnitude in 2005. In 1972, a major earthquake hit the capital of Managua and caused extensive damage.
Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere. It has a GDP of $16.1 billion (USD) and a 3.5% GDP growth rate. The per capita GDP was estimated to be around $2,800 in 2013. The unemployment rate is approximately 6% and nearly 3 million people are in the active labor force. Nicaragua has a high amount of foreign debt, estimated to be around $4.5 billion. Approximately 23% of the gross national income comes from foreign aid.
A significant portion of the economy in Nicaragua comes from agriculture. Nearly 43% of the total land area is used for farming or agricultural production. The three main exports are coffee, bananas, and sugar. Nicaragua also has a number of natural resources, including gold, silver, copper, and lead. Fishing and timber are minor industries.
According to 2011 estimates, nearly half of the labor force is involved in the services industry. Of the remainder, 31% work in agriculture and 18% in various other industries. Unlike many Central American nations, tourism does not make up a significant portion of the Nicaraguan economy. The country receives approximately half a million visitors annually, and these contribute $155 million to the economy. In comparison, neighboring Costa Rica receives more than 2 million tourists each year, increasing their revenue by $2.1 billion.
Nicaragua has a rich literary tradition. Indigenous legends and folktales survived centuries of Spanish imperialism by being passed down through oral traditions.
El Guegense, written by an unknown author in the 16th century, is a play that combines theater, music, and dance. It is recognized as one of the oldest indigenous works in the Western Hemisphere and is still being performed today.
Ruben Dario, a poet, helped create the Modernismo literary movement at the end of the 19th century. Other notable Nicaraguan authors include Carlos Martinas Rivas, Manolo Cuadra, and Claribel Alegria.
Music and Dance
Nicaraguan music reflects the culture’s blend of indigenous and Spanish influences. The music is created with instruments like the bass fiddle, guitar, guitarrilla, and marimba. Palo de Mayo and Punta music is popular, as well as broadly Latin sounds including Bachata, Salsa, and Merengue.
These musical styles have inspired the popularity of a variety of dances, ranging from tango to bachata to multiple styles of Salsa.
Nicaraguan food shows a strong emphasis on local ingredients. There are also different flavor profiles on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Popular foods include corn, tropical fruits such as bananas and mangos, and vegetables like the yuca. Along the eastern coast, dishes often include coconut and seafood.
Nicaraguans eat a variety of proteins including guinea pig and iguana meat, turtle eggs, and boa constrictor.
Gallo pinto, or rice and beans, is universally popular. Corn is also a major dietary staple used in many dishes, including mains to desserts. It is even incorporated into drinks like chicha.
A wide variety of radio and TV stations are available, and many cities also have Cable TV.
Print media is popular, but many news publications are very partisan. This is due to Nicaragua’s long history of press restrictions and heavily biased, propaganda-focused media.
American-style baseball is overwhelmingly popular, and has been since its introduction in the 19th century. Nicaragua has produced numerous baseball superstars including Dennis Martinez, who in 1991 became the first Latin-born pitcher to throw a perfect game.
Boxing is tremendously popular, with world champions including Roman Gonzalez and Ricardo Mayorga. Football is also beginning to gain cultural traction.