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Nicaragua (nĭkäräˈgwä), officially Republic of Nicaragua, republic (2015 est. pop. 6,082,000), 49,579 sq mi (128,410 sq km), Central America. Nicaragua is bordered on the north and northwest by Honduras, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, on the south by Costa Rica, and on the southwest by the Pacific Ocean. The capital and largest city is Managua.

Land and People

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


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


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


Early History through U.S. Occupation

The country probably takes its name from Nicarao, the leader of an indigenous community inhabiting the shores of Lake Nicaragua that was defeated in 1522 by the Spanish under Gil González de Ávila. Under Spanish rule Nicaragua was part of the captaincy general of Guatemala. After declaring independence from Spain (1821), Nicaragua was briefly part of the Mexican Empire of Agustín de Iturbide and then (1825–38) a member of the Central American Federation. Nicaraguan politics were wracked by conflict between Liberals and Conservatives, centered respectively in León and Granada; Managua was founded as the capital in 1855 as a compromise. British influence had been established along the east coast in the 17th cent., and in 1848 the British seizure of San Juan del Norte opened a period of conflict over control of the Mosquito Coast.

The United States was interested in a transisthmian canal (see Nicaragua Canal), and its interest was heightened by the discovery of gold in California. In 1851, Cornelius Vanderbilt opened a transisthmian route through Nicaragua for the gold seekers. The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850) settled some of the issues between Great Britain and the United States concerning the proposed canal, but Nicaragua remained in a state of disorder that culminated in the temporary triumph (1855–57) of the filibuster William Walker.

After Walker's defeat there was a long period of quiet under Conservative control until the Liberal leader, José Santos Zelaya, became president in 1894. He instituted a vigorous dictatorship, extended Nicaraguan authority over the Mosquito Coast, promoted economic development, and interfered in the affairs of neighboring countries. His financial dealings with Britain aroused the apprehension of the United States and helped bring about his downfall (1909).

In 1912, U.S. marines were landed to support the provisional president, Adolfo Díaz, in a civil war. The Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, giving the United States exclusive rights for a Nicaraguan canal and other privileges, was ratified in 1916. (It was terminated in 1970.) The Liberals opposed the U.S. intervention, and there was guerrilla warfare against the U.S.-supported regime for years. American occupation ended in 1925 but resumed the next year, when Emiliano Chamorro attempted to seize power. Augusto César Sandino was a leader of the anti-occupation forces. The U.S. diplomat Henry L. Stimson succeeded in getting most factions to agree (1927) to binding elections, although Sandino continued to fight.

The Somozas, Sandinistas, Contras, and Chamorro

The U.S. marines were withdrawn in 1933. Three years later Anastasio Somoza emerged as the strong man in Nicaragua. He officially became president in 1937 and ruled for 20 years. In the 1947 elections a new president was chosen, but he was ousted by Somoza after less than a month in office. Nicaragua virtually became Somoza's private estate; the regime aroused much criticism among liberal groups in Latin America. Under Somoza relations with other Central American republics were poor. Somoza was assassinated in 1956, and his son Luis Somoza Debayle became president. Another son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, headed the armed forces. The Somoza family engineered the election of René Schick Gutiérrez as president in 1963. After his death in 1966, Lorenzo Guerrero, the vice president, succeeded. Anastasio Somoza Debayle was elected president in 1967.

Although Somoza resigned from office in May, 1972, handing power to the governing council, he retained effective control of the country as head of the armed forces and leader of the NLP. After the earthquake (Dec., 1972) that devastated Managua, he became director of the emergency relief operations and diverted international aid to himself and his associates, an abuse that solidified opposition to the Somoza regime.

Somoza returned to the presidency in 1974 as objections to his regime increased. The opposition was grouped under two large factions, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the Democratic Liberation Union (UDEL). Violent clashes between the Somoza government and the opposition mounted throughout the 1970s until in 1979 the FSLN and UDEL toppled the Somoza government. The more radical, left-wing FSLN (or Sandinistas) took control of the government, instituting widespread social, political, and economic changes. Many economic institutions and resources were nationalized, land was redistributed, and social services such as health care and education were improved.

In 1981 the United States, politically unsupportive of the Sandinista government and suspicious of its relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba, cut off economic aid and began supporting counterrevolutionary military forces, or contras. After the U.S. Congress acted to cut off aid to the contras, it was continued covertly (see Iran-contra affair). In 1984 the United States illegally mined Nicaragua's principal export harbors, and in 1985 it instituted a trade embargo. In 1984, under pressure, the regime held elections, in which the junta leader, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, was chosen president. The Sandinista government was popular especially with the peasants and the urban poor. Although it received substantial Soviet aid, it was increasingly unable to maintain the economy, and it curtailed civil liberties to silence dissent.

In the Feb., 1990, elections, held under a Central American peace initiative, the FSLN was defeated by an opposition coalition, and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, a political moderate, became president. The United States subsequently lifted its trade embargo, and the contras ceased fighting. Chamorro sought, with mixed success, to revive the economy and generate a conciliatory political environment; tense relations between the Sandinistas and their opponents at times threatened to undermine her government.

Ortega ran for president again in 1996, but was defeated by José Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo, leader of the Liberal Alliance, a conservative coalition. The country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in Nov., 1998, which killed 4,000 people, including over 1,500 buried in a mudslide when the Casita volcano collapsed; much of the country's agricultural land and infrastructure were destroyed. The Liberal party retained the presidency in the 2001 elections as Enrique Bolaños Geyer defeated Daniel Ortega.

Bolaños launched an anticorruption campaign that led (2003) to the conviction of his predecessor for embezzlement and other crimes. The move against Alemán, who was jailed but later released to detention at his farm, led to a power struggle in 2004 between Liberal party members in the national assembly, who formed an alliance with the Sandinistas, and President Bolaños. Legislators attempted to pass constitutional amendments curtailing the president's powers and attempted to force him from office. An accord ending the dispute was negotiated in Jan., 2005, but legislators subsequently passed the amendments, which the administration has ignored despite rulings from the supreme court (largely appointed by the Sandinistas). The power struggle effectively paralyzed the government.

In July, 2005, the president's opponents initiated impeachment proceedings, but in October Bolaños and Ortega reached an agreement that would delay the constitutional changes until 2007, after Bolaños had left office, and the legislature subsequently approved the move. In the Nov., 2006, presidential election, Ortega was elected president; the campaign was a three-way race in which the center-right vote was split between two candidates. In Mar., 2007, in a move that was seen by many observers as part of a deal between Ortega and former president Alemán, Alemán's house arrest was essentially ended.

In May, 2008, a number of opposition parties were stripped of their legal standing, including the Sandinista Renovation Movement and the Conservative party. The move was regarded by many as an attempt by the Sandinistas (FSLN) and Liberals to limit voters alternatives in the November local elections. The elections were largely won by the FSLN but criticized internationally for the absence of international observers and disputed by the Liberals; they were also marred by pre- and post-voting violence in which Sandinista partisans played the dominant role. The supreme court overturned former President Alemán's conviction for money laundering in Jan., 2009, as part of an apparent pact between the Liberals and Sandinistas that also led to the election of a Sandinista as National Assembly president.

After Ortega failed to win passage of a constitutional amendment that would permit him to run for reelection, a supreme court panel composed entirely of Sandinista judges ruled (Oct., 2009) that the constitutional bans on a president serving consecutive terms and more than two terms were unenforceable. The National Assembly later opposed (December) the decision, calling on the electoral commission to determine the matter, and leading to contention over the appointment of new commission members and subsequently new supreme court members, with Ortega attempting to extend the expired terms of sitting members by decree. The constitutional crisis continued into 2010, and in Aug., 2010, Ortega supporters on the supreme court moved to replace boycotting opposition-aligned justices with Sandinista lawyers. In Jan., 2010, an appeals court reopened several corruption cases again Alemán, who had indicated that he planned to run for president in 2011.

Tensions flared with Costa Rica in late 2010 over a disputed island at the San Juan River's mouth when Nicaraguan troops were sent there; Nicaragua did not remove its forces after the Organization of American States called for both sides to withdraw and negotiate. Costa Rica brought the issue before the International Court of Justice. A 2011 interim ruling called on both sides to avoid the disputed area, and in 2015 the court ruled that Costa Rica's sovereignty had been violated. A further ruling in 2018 assigned the disputed island to Costa Rica, awarded it damages, and defined the sea borders between the two nations in the Caribbean and Pacific.

Ortega was reelected in Nov., 2011, by a landslide that also led to a Sandinista majority in the National Assembly. Aspects of the election, including the lack of independence on the part of the electoral council, were criticized by some international observers. In Nov., 2012, the FSLN again dominated the local elections, leading to protests and violent clashes in some areas.

Constitutional changes enacted in Jan., 2014, eliminated term limits for the president and potentially increased the influence of the military and police in the government by allowing their members to serve in posts previously restricted to civilians. A proposed route for a transismthian canal in Nicaragua, to be built by a Chinese consortium, was announced in 2014. In July, 2016, the government used the courts to gut the main opposition party, replacing its leader and then dismissing its legislators who refused to recognized the court-imposed leader. Ortega and the Sandinistas subsequently handily won the November presidential and National Assembly elections; Ortega's running mate was his wife, Rosario Murillo.

In Apr., 2018, protests against benefits cuts and tax hikes quickly turned into broader antigovernment protests after demonstrators were killed, and they continued into subsequent months. Attempts by the Roman Catholic church to mediate proved unsuccessful, and security forces and progovernment groups ultimately crushed the protestors in increasingly violent clashes. At the end of 2018 the government also banned organizations and media outlets that had opposed Ortega. Demonstrations continued on a smaller scale, and in Mar., 2019, the government agreed to release political prisoners and permit demonstrations, but a subsequent amnesty law (June) was criticized for making it impossible to hold government forces to account for human-rights violations. The political unrest hurt the economy significantly in 2018–19.

In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ortega government was notable for the degree to which it minimized the disease and restricted information about cases and deaths. It also passed legislation that increased its powers to undermine the opposition and control information on the Internet, and a law enacted late in the year would allow Ortega to ban his opponents from running in elections if he declare them traitors for a variety of reasons, including attempting a coup, something his government has long accused his opponents of. In November, two strong hurricanes slammed into the country's northeast, causing significant destruction. In November 2021, Ortega was reelected president to a fourth term, after suppressing all opposition and denying access to the polls by outside observers.


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

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Republic of Nicaragua (República de Nicaragua), a state in Central America, bounded on the northeast by Honduras, on the south by Costa Rica, on the southwest by the Pacific Ocean, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea, where Nicaragua owns several small islands. It has an area of 130,000 sq km (according to the UN Demographic Yearbook, 1971). Population, 1.99 million (1972). The capital is Managua. Nicaragua is divided into 16 administrative departments and one territory.

Constitution and government. Nicaragua is a republic. The present constitution was adopted on Mar. 14, 1974. The head of state and government is the president, popularly elected for a six-year term. Legislative power is vested in a parliament, called the National Congress, composed of two houses, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Deputies are popularly elected for a six-year term. Former presidents automatically become senators for life, and presidential candidates who have received the second largest number of votes become senators for one term. The right to vote has been granted to all citizens who have reached 21 years of age, to persons over 18 years of age who can read and write or who are married, and to persons 18 years of age who have completed a secondary school. Voting in elections is mandatory.

The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court, the court of highest instance in civil and criminal cases. The members of the Supreme Court—five magistrates and two alternates—are elected by Congress for six-year terms. There are also five courts of appeal, district courts of original jurisdiction, and more than 150 local courts.

Natural features. The eastern part of the country is occupied by an alluvial lowland, up to 130 km wide, known as the Mosquito Coast. The Caribbean coastline is straight, with many lagoons. The northern and central parts of the country are a highland region rising to 2,438 m in the Cordillera Isabella and deeply dissected by the Coco, Grande, and Escondido rivers. West and south of the highlands is a tectonic depression with several volcanoes, including the active volcanoes Cosigüina (846 m), El Viejo (1,780 m), Momotombo (1,258 m), and Ometepe (1,556 m). The depression is occupied by Lakes Managua and Nicaragua, linked with the Caribbean Sea by the San Juan River and forming an almost unbroken waterway from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. The Pacific coast, also flat, is an abrasion plain. Natural resources include deposits of gold, silver, and copper. The depression is a seismic region; the most recent catastrophic earthquake occurred in December 1972).

The region northeast of the depression has a wet tropical trade-wind climate, with monthly temperatures averaging between 25° and 28°C and an annual precipitation ranging from 2,000–4,000 to 6,500 mm. The windward slopes are covered with evergreen forests containing valuable tropical timber; oak and pine forests are found at higher elevations. The leeward southwest has a subequatorial seasonally humid climate, with the annual precipitation ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 mm, and supports semideciduous forests and shrubs. Forests cover more than 50 percent of the country’s territory. The fauna belongs to the Neotropical zoogeographic region and includes New World monkeys, tapirs, peccaries, and anteaters. Rodents, bats, birds, and reptiles are numerous.


Population. Nicaraguans constitute about 85 percent of the population. A separate group consists of Negroes from the West Indies, samboes (persons of mixed Indian and Negro ancestry), and mulattoes; they account for about 9 percent of the population and most of them live along the Caribbean coast. Indian tribes, living for the most part in the forest zones, constitute 4–5 percent of the population. Spanish is the official language. The majority of the people are Roman Catholics, and the rest are Protestants. The official calendar is the Gregorian.

Between 1963 and 1971 the population grew at an average annual rate of 2.8 percent. In 1971 the gainfully employed population totaled 504,200 persons, of whom 46.4 percent were engaged in agriculture, 0.6 percent in mining, 12 percent in manufacturing, and 9.6 percent in commerce. About 30 percent of the gainfully employed do not have permanent jobs. About 80 percent of the population lives in western Nicaragua, chiefly in the western and southern lowland and along the Pacific coast.

Urban dwellers accounted for 48 percent of the population in 1971. The principal cities are Managua, with 398,500 inhabitants in 1971, León, Matagalpa, and Granada.

Historical survey. In ancient times Nicaragua was inhabited by Indian tribes belonging to the Chibcha language family. They were displaced by Aztec and Toltec tribes who migrated here from Mexico between the sixth and tenth centuries. The country was named after Nicarao, the chief of one of these tribes. The Indians were nomads engaged in hunting, fishing, and gathering. Farming and handicrafts were well developed among the Indians of the Choluteca tribe, who also knew how to smelt gold.

The first Spaniards arrived in Nicaragua in 1502. They began their conquest of the country in 1522, founding the cities of Granada and León in 1524. Nicaragua became a Spanish colony with León as its administrative center, and in 1570 it was incorporated into the captaincy general of Guatemala. The native population was enslaved and largely exterminated. Large Indian settlements survived only along the Caribbean coast, which was named Mosquito Coast after the tribe inhabiting the region. The Spanish conquistadores and their descendants, the Creoles, seized much of the land. Large feudal estates were established by Spanish landholders and Creoles in the 16th century, and the encomienda system, peonage, and other forms of feudal exploitation were introduced. Coffee, cacao, corn, bananas, and other crops were cultivated, and Negro slaves were imported from Africa to work on the plantations. Agriculture became the mainstay of the economy.

By the early 19th century a diverse economy had developed in Nicaragua, and capitalist elements began to emerge within the feudal system: the commercial nature of the latifundia and their orientation toward the foreign market required the use of some hired labor. The period also saw the rise of political parties—the Liberal Party, representing the interests of the nascent bourgeoisie, and the Conservative Party, backed by the feudal aristocracy. A power struggle broke out between the two parties.

During the War of Independence of the Spanish-American Colonies (1810–26), the captaincy general of Guatemala proclaimed its independence on Sept. 15, 1821. In January 1822 Nicaragua joined the Mexican Empire proclaimed by General A. Iturbide, and from 1823 to 1838 it belonged to the federation known as the United Provinces of Central America. The period of the federation was marked by continuous warfare between the Conservatives and the Liberals. After the federation disintegrated, Nicaragua became an independent republic in April 1838. By that time Great Britain and the USA were rivals for influence in Nicaragua, each proposing to build an interoceanic canal across the country. In 1841, Great Britain established a protectorate over Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, and in 1849 it seized an island in the Gulf of Fonseca. To counter British influence, the USA negotiated the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, under which the USA and Great Britain were to have equal influence in Central America. American capital began to pour into the country, and the best land planted to bananas, coffee, and other crops came under the control of American companies.

In 1855 a detachment of Americans under W. Walker invaded Nicaragua. With the support of the American government, he proclaimed himself president of Nicaragua in 1856. The American adventurer tried to annex Central America to the USA and turn it into a slaveholding bastion for American planters. However, the combined armies of Guatemala, El Salvador, and the Honduras drove Walker out of Nicaragua, and he was later captured and shot in Honduras. General T. Martinez, who had distinguished himself in the campaign against Walker, was president of Nicaragua from 1857 to 1867. Martinez ended the rivalry between the cities of León and Granada by making Managua the capital in 1858. From 1867 to 1893 the Conservatives held power, representing the interests of the large landholders and the bourgeois elements that were closely associated with American capital.

Taking advantage of a split in the Conservative Party, the leader of the Liberals, J. S. Zelaya, came to power in 1893. Zelaya promulgated such reforms as the separation of church and state and the introduction of universal suffrage and promoted railroad construction. Aimed at satisfying the interests of the national bourgeoisie, his policies angered the USA. Relations with the USA quickly deteriorated after Zelaya, in an attempt to limit the influx of US capital, entered into negotiations with Great Britain and Japan to build a canal across Nicaragua. The USA sent armed forces to Nicaragua and organized an antigovernment conspiracy in 1909, forcing Zelaya to flee the country. A junta of the pro-American generals J. Estrada, and E. Chamorro, and A. Diaz, an employee of an American mining company, was formed in 1910. That year Estrada became president, but in 1911 he was replaced by Diaz, who was supported by American troops. In 1912 the USA occupied the country on the pretext of protecting American citizens. Nicaragua virtually became a colony of the monopolistic United Fruit Company and other American companies. The Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, signed in Washington in 1914, gave the USA the right to build an interoceanic canal across Nicaragua. Chamorro, who became president in 1917, concluded several new agreements that made Nicaragua still more dependent on the USA.

C. Solórzano, who represented a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives, was elected president in January 1925, and US troops were withdrawn from Nicaragua. But in October of that year Chamorro seized power through a coup d’etat, and all important posts were filled by members of his family. In 1926 the USA again sent troops to Nicaragua, and with their help Diaz returned to power. The national liberation movement gained momentum, stimulated by the victory of the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia. The first Communist groups were organized, and a Marxist party, the Labor Party, was founded in 1925. In late 1926 a small detachment under A. C. Sandino began fighting the American interventionists and their henchmen. The first major clash with government troops occurred in November. Sandino’s detachment grew into a rebel army, which in July 1927 fought a joint force of American marines and local gendarmes. The rebels called for the withdrawal of American troops and restoration of the country’s sovereignty. Citizens of almost all the Latin American countries fought on the rebel side. The successful guerrilla war and the international campaign in support of the national liberation movement compelled the USA to withdraw its troops in January 1933, and in February 1933 a “peace treaty” was signed between the Nicaraguan government and Sandino. But in February 1934, Sandino was treacherously killed on the order of the National Guard commander, General A. Somoza, who soon became president of Nicaragua.

A dictatorship of the Somoza family was established. The USA acquired further privileges to exploit Nicaragua’s raw materials and the right to build a military base at Corinto. In December 1941, Nicaragua declared war on the fascist bloc—Japan, Germany, and Italy. During World War II there was a general democratic upsurge: the Workers’ Confederation, uniting several trade unions, was formed, and the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (NSP), a Communist party, was founded. In December 1944, Nicaragua established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. But soon after the war the Nicaraguan ruling circles, supported by the US government, instituted brutal repressions against the people. The NSP was outlawed in December 1945, and since that time it has functioned illegally. Nicaraguan troops assisted the suppression of democratic forces in Costa Rica in 1948, and in 1954 Somoza concluded a military pact with the USA and helped organize the counterrevolutionary coup d’etat in Guatemala. By the mid-1950’s the Somoza family owned the bulk of the country’s wealth. Nicaragua became a base of operations for US imperialism in Central America. Despite repression, the Nicaraguan people continued to struggle against the dictatorship. Somoza was assassinated in September 1956, but his son L. Somoza Debayle became dictator.

The victory of the anti-imperialist revolution in Cuba in January 1959 inspired the Nicaraguan people to intensify their strugle against the Somoza dictatorship. A general strike occurred in Managua in 1959, and an armed uprising broke out in the city in 1960. In the years that followed the political situation became so explosive that L. Somoza, obliged to make a concession to the democratic forces, permitted trade union activity. In 1963, R. Schick Gutiérrez, who had been A. Somoza’s personal secretary, became the nominal head of state. The influx of American capital into Nicaragua continued under programs of the Alliance for Progress. In 1967 the dictator’s younger son, A. Somoza Debayle, was elected president with the support of the USA, and Nicaragua’s dependence on US monopolies increased still further. The political situation deteriorated, and numerous strikes and demonstrations occurred. To retain control over the country after the expiration of the presidential term in May 1972, the National Liberation Party concluded a political agreement with the Traditional Conservative Party under which presidential elections were postponed from 1972 to 1974. In May 1972, A. Somoza, in order to qualify for reelection to the presidency in 1974, transferred presidential powers to a three-man junta, while retaining the post of commander in chief of the National Guard. The Nicaraguan Socialist Party and other progressive organizations redoubled their efforts to create a broad democratic antidictatorial front. After the earthquake in Managua in December 1972, the National Emergency Committee was established to deal with the crisis. A. Somoza was appointed head of the committee, and he assumed full civil and military powers. In the elections of September 1974, held in an atmosphere of repression and terror, A. Somoza was reelected president.


Political parties, trade unions, and other public organizations. The National Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Nacionalista), founded in the first half of the 19th century as the Liberal Party, is an extreme reactionary party backed by the large landowners and the pro-American big bourgeoisie. The Traditional Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Tradicionalista), also founded in the first half of the 19th century as the Conservative Party, represents the interests of the clerical and landowning oligarchy and the pro-American financial, commercial, and rural bourgeoisie. The Independent Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Independiente), a liberal bourgeois party founded in 1941, reflects mainly the interests of the national bourgeoisie and opposes A. Somoza’s dictatorship and US domination. The Social Christian Party (Partido Social Cristiano), founded in 1957, is a bourgeois-landlord Catholic party. The Nicaraguan Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Nicaragüenese), a Communist party founded in 1937, has been illegal since December 1945. The Sandino National Liberation Front, founded in 1961, opposes the Somoza dictatorship and the rule of US monopolies.

The General Confederation of Labor, an independent organization founded in 1953, includes most Nicaraguan trade unions and is a member of the World Federation of Trade Unions. Another organization called the General Confederation of Labor was founded in 1949. It is controlled by the government and belongs to the Inter-American Regional Labor Organization (ORIT). The Autonomous Trade Union Movement of Nicaragua, founded in 1965, is an association of Christian trade unions. The National Confederation of Peasants and Agricultural Workers, founded in 1967, is a progressive association of rural working people.


Economic geography. Nicaragua is an agricultural country. Farming, hunting, and fishing accounted for 28.4 percent of the gross national product in 1971, mining for 1.0 percent, manufacturing for 17.2 percent, and commerce and services for 21 percent. The dominant position in the economy is held by foreign capitalists, primarily US monopolies, which account for two-thirds of all direct foreign capital investments in the Nicaraguan economy. Nicaraguan capitalists, such as the Somoza family, maintain close ties with foreign capital. The family owns most of the country’s coffee plantations and cement plants and controls the airlines and maritime fleet. The per capita gross national product was $436 in 1971.

AGRICULTURE. Crop cultivation is the chief branch of agriculture. Much of the land is owned by large landowners and foreign companies. Small peasant farms up to 7 hectares (ha) account for 51 percent of all farms but only about 3 percent of the total agricultural land, and estates of more than 140 ha each account for 5 percent of the farms and about 60 percent of the agricultural land. The US United Fruit Company owns large tracts of land and controls the cultivation of fruit for export. Much land is not used at all, and slash-and-burn agriculture has survived in places.

The country has 1.8 million ha of agricultural land, of which 40 percent is occupied by plowland, 9 percent by perennial plantings, and 51 percent by meadows and pastures. The chief export crops are cotton (sown area, 120,000 ha; yield, 105,000 tons of cotton fiber in 1972) and coffee (35,000 tons), raised on large capitalist farms along the Pacific coast. Other commercial crops are sesame, cocoa, bananas, tobacco, and sugarcane. Crops cultivated for domestic consumption include corn (258,000 ha, 236,000 tons in 1972), beans, and rice, grown mainly in the lowlands. Livestock is raised in pastures, chiefly in the highlands. The most numerous domestic animals are cattle (2.67 million head in 1972) and pigs (645,000). Other important products are valuable wood (mahogany and rosewood), Peruvian balsam, and ipecacuanha roots. The fish catch was 9,400 tons in 1971, and shrimp and lobster are also caught.

INDUSTRY. Nicaragua’s industry is poorly developed. Gold, silver, and copper are mined on a small scale. The installed capacity of power plants was 170 megawatts in 1970, of which about one-third was produced by hydroelectric power plants; the electric power output was 615 million kW-hr. The food industry accounts for about 50 percent of the value of Nicaragua’s manufacturing output. There are small textile, footwear, chemical, metalworking, cement, and paper enterprises. Most enterprises process imported raw materials and semifinished products and are located along the Pacific coast. The largest enterprises are an oil refinery near Managua with an annual capacity of 0.7 million tons, a metalworking plant in Tipitapa, a meat-packing plant in Managua, textile factories in León and Managua, and a woodworking factory on the Tipitapa River.

TRANSPORTATION. Of the country’s 13,100 km of roads, 1,300 km were paved in 1972. In 1972 there were 55,000 automobiles, including 33,000 passenger cars. The railroad network totaled 403 km in 1973. There is an international airport at Las Mercedes, near Managua, and the principal ocean ports are Corinto, Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and San Juan del Sur.

FOREIGN TRADE. In 1971 cotton accounted for 22.2 percent of the value of exports; coffee for 15.7 percent; meat and meat products for 15.4 percent; sugar for 6.2 percent; and shrimp, fruit, sesame, cottonseed, and gold for the remainder. The chief imports are industrial equipment and machinery, petroleum and petroleum products, and foodstuffs. Nicaragua’s principal trading partners are the USA (33.3 percent of exports and 33.1 percent of imports), Japan (17.5 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively), the Federal Republic of Germany (7.7 percent and 7.2 percent), and other Central American countries (25.9 percent and 27.9 percent). On Dec. 31, 1971, the foreign debt amounted to $225 million. The monetary unit is the córdoba; 7.026 córdobas equaled US $1 in February 1974.


Armed forces. The armed forces, called the National Guard, numbered about 6,500 men in 1972 and consisted of ground troops (more than 5,000 men), an air force, and a navy. The president is the commander in chief. The armed forces are supervised by the minister of defense, the chief of staff of the ground troops, and the commander of the air force. The army is recruited through voluntary enlistment. Officers are trained primarily in the USA and Brazil, and all armaments are produced in the USA.

Medicine and public health. According to data compiled by the World Health Organization in 1972, the birth rate was 46 per 1,000 inhabitants in 1968, and the mortality rate, 16.5 per 1,000. The infant mortality rate was 45.3 per 1,000 live births in 1969. The average life expectancy is 52.5 years. Natural conditions, as well as poor sanitation and hygiene, account for the predominance of infectious and parasitic diseases. Malaria is endemic throughout the country; tuberculosis, tetanus, typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever, venereal disease, and children’s infections are common; and cases of leprosy have been recorded. Poliomyelitis is an endemic disease that breaks out at intervals of one or two years. The most common noninfectious diseases are heart disease, pneumonia, endemic goiter (in central Nicaragua), and hemoglobin and enzymatic disorders (on the Mosquito Coast). Malnutrition is a serious problem.

State hospitals and clinics provide medical care for the poorer inhabitants, and medical institutions within the social security system are available to some industrial and office workers and employees of the airlines and the state-owned merchant marine. Many of the country’s doctors are in private practice. In 1969 there were 52 hospitals with 4,400 beds (2.3 beds per 1,000 inhabitants), including 22 state hospitals with 3,500 beds, 11 hospitals with 705 beds maintained by charitable organizations, and 19 private hospitals with 136 beds. In 1971 there were 1,100 doctors, or one per 1,900 inhabitants; 290 dentists; and about 2,500 intermediate medical personnel. Doctors are trained at the medical faculty of the National University at León. Public health expenditures amounted to 4 percent of the state budget in 1971.


Education and cultural affairs. In 1971, 42.4 percent of the population was illiterate despite laws providing for the compulsory and free education of children between seven and 13 years of age. There are four types of primary school: two-year schools, four-year lower schools, six-year upper schools, and, in rural areas, one-room schools offering two years of instruction. Secondary education is divided into two cycles of three years followed by two or three years of instruction. Most secondary schools are private.

In the 1971–72 school year 310,000 students were enrolled in primary schools and 55,000 in secondary schools. Vocational schools, offering from two to five years of instruction, are open to graduates of six-year primary schools. In 1969–70, vocational schools had an enrollment of 4,200 students. Teacher training is given at three-year normal schools, admitting those who have completed the first cycle of the secondary school; 3,300 students were enrolled in teacher-training programs in 1969–70.

Nicaragua has two institutions of higher learning. The National University of Nicaragua in León, founded in 1812, has faculties of engineering, education, medicine, economics, chemistry, and physics and mathematics. The Nicaraguan Division of the Central American University, a private Catholic institution founded in Managua in 1961, has engineering, law, art, and other faculties. The two universities had an enrollment of 9,300 in 1971–72.

The largest library is the National Archive in Managua, founded in 1882, with 40,400 volumes. Other cultural institutions are the National Museum in Managua and the Tenderi Museum in Masaya.


Press, radio, and television. There were eight daily newspapers with a combined circulation of 90,000 in 1973. The largest newspapers in Managua are the government’s La Gaceta (founded in 1912), Novedades (founded in 1937, circulation more than 20,000), the organ of the National Liberal Party, and the independent La Prensa (founded in 1926, circulation more than 40,000). The newspapers El Centroamericano and El Universal are published in León. Radio and television broadcasting is controlled by a government agency in Managua. There are more than 70 radio stations, of which the largest are the government-owned Radio Difusora Naccional, the private Radio Mundial, and Radio Managua, which belongs to the Somoza family. The Nicaraguan television system, founded in 1956, has four stations, two of which are owned by the government.

Literature. The Spanish-language literature of the Nicaraguan people originated during the War of Independence of the Spanish-American Colonies (1810–26). F. Quinones Sunzin, who fought in the war, published a collection of songs and satires entitled Verse in 1826. His poems show the influence of romanticism, which dominated Nicaraguan literature until the early 20th century. The leading romantic writers were A. Aragón (1835-?), L. A. Villa (died 1906), and Carmen Díaz. Costumbrista, a prose style that developed in the late 19th century, is represented by the novels of G. Guzmán and the sketches of J. D. Gámez and A. Fletes Bolanos.

The great poet Rubén Darío (1867–1916) was the founder of modernism in Latin American poetry. His poetry collections Azul (1888) and Songs of Life and Hope (1905) reflect his search for original art forms, his anti-imperialist sentiments, and his mastery of the techniques of Western European symbolism. The followers of Rubén Darío in Nicaragua, notably J. R. Avilés (1886—?) and J. R. Guerra, were primarily attracted to the decadent motifs in Dario’s poetry. Decadent tendencies also appeared in the prose works of E. Belli and S. Calderón Ramírez (1868–1940). Santiago Argüello (1872–1940) wrote civic and anti-imperialist poems. A number of poets who did not adhere to the Darío school wrote poetry in the style of late romanticism. These included Solón Argüello (1880–1920), J. A. Salgado (1884–1908), J. T. Olivares (1880–1942), and S. Sacasa (1881–1937). The protest of the popular masses against the imperialist policy of the USA was reflected in the novels Blood in the Tropics (1930) and The Strangling (1933) by H. Robleto (born 1892) and the poetry collection The Unknown Soldier (1922) by S. de la Selva (1893–1959).

After the establishment of the dictatorship of the Somoza family in the 1930’s, many writers, including the poets R. López Pérez, E. Castro, and A. Cortes, were imprisoned, and others, such as S. de la Selva and A. Pallais (1886–1954), were exiled. The progressive writers G. Aleman Bolanos (born 1895), P. A. Cuadra (born 1912), J. Pasos, and J. Coronel Urtecho (born 1906) have continued the struggle for democratic freedom. Among vigorous opponents of imperialism are the poets E. Cardenal (born 1925), the author of the verse collections The Dubious Strait (1966) and In Honor of the American Indians (1969), and E. Mejia Sanchez (born 1923) and C. Martinez Rivas, whose works are published secretly and anonymously.


Architecture and art. The ancient Indian cultures centered on Lakes Nicaragua and Managua were influenced by the civilizations of Mexico, Colombia, and Panama. Archaeologists have found petroglyphs, round stone pillars with figures carved in relief, statues and figurines with expressive, sometimes individualized, faces, figured and polychrome ceramic vases, and small statues of people, birds, and animals.

The cities that were built in the colonial period have a rectangular network of narrow streets and squares with gardens and parks. Their low one-story houses have thick walls, an inner courtyard, and, at one corner, the entrance and a small wooden column. The churches from the 17th through 19th centuries have a compact rectangular layout and low thick towers, with ornamentation in the style of the baroque (cathedral in León, 1747–1825) or classicism (facade of the church of San Francisco in Granada, 1862). The best examples of 20th-century architecture, both neoclassical and modern, are found in Managua (principal architect, P. Dambah), which was heavily damaged in the 1972 earthquake. Wooden houses, huts, and barracks predominate in other cities, in villages, and in the suburbs of the capital.

Outstanding artists of the 20th century include the “color painter” A. Alonso Rochi, the wood carver G. Amador Lira, the primitive painter A. Guillen, and the wood engraver S. Barahona, who have depicted various aspects of the life of the common people. Folk art is represented by wood carving, pottery-making, and embroidery.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Republic of Nicaragua

Capital city: Managua

Internet country code: .ni

Flag description: Three equal horizontal bands of blue (top), white, and blue with the national coat of arms cen­tered in the white band; the coat of arms features a trian­gle encircled by the words Republica de Nicaragua on the top and America Central on the bottom; similar to the flag of El Salvador, which features a round emblem centered in the white band; also similar to the flag of Honduras, which has five blue stars arranged in an X pattern cen­tered in the white band

Geographical description: Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Costa Rica and Honduras

Total area: 59,998 sq. mi. (129,494 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical in lowlands, cooler in highlands

Nationality: noun: Nicaraguan(s); adjective: Nicaraguan

Population: 5,675,356 (July 2007 CIA est.)

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

Languages spoken: Spanish (official) 97.5%, Miskito 1.7%, other 0.8% (English and indigenous languages on Atlantic coast)

Religions: Roman Catholic 72.9%, Evangelical 15.1%, Moravian 1.5%, Episcopal 0.1%, other 1.9%, none 8.5%

Legal Holidays:

Battle of San JacintoSep 14
Christmas DayDec 25
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
Holy ThursdayApr 21, 2011; Apr 5, 2012; Mar 28, 2013; Apr 17, 2014; Apr 2, 2015; Mar 24, 2016; Apr 13, 2017; Mar 29, 2018; Apr 18, 2019; Apr 9, 2020; Apr 1, 2021; Apr 14, 2022; Apr 6, 2023
Immaculate Conception DayDec 8
Independence DaySep 15
Labor DayMay 1
New Year's DayJan 1
Sandinista Revolution DayJul 19
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


1. a republic in Central America, on the Caribbean and the Pacific: colonized by the Spanish from the 1520s; gained independence in 1821 and was annexed by Mexico, becoming a republic in 1838. Official language: Spanish. Religion: Roman Catholic majority. Currency: c?rdoba. Capital: Managua. Pop.: 5 596 000 (2004 est.). Area: 131 812 sq. km (50 893 sq. miles)
2. Lake. a lake in SW Nicaragua, separated from the Pacific by an isthmus 19 km (12 miles) wide: the largest lake in Central America. Area: 8264 sq. km (3191 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005