Nicaragua officially the Republic of Nicaragua (Spanish: República de Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordering Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. The country's physical geography divides it into three major zones: Pacific lowlands; wet, cooler central highlands; and the Caribbean lowlands. On the Pacific side of the country are the two largest fresh water lakes in Central America — Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. Surrounding these lakes and extending to their northwest along the rift valley of the Gulf of Fonseca are fertile lowland plains, with soil highly enriched by ash from nearby volcanoes of the central highlands. Nicaragua's abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems contribute to Mesoamerica's designation as a biodiversity hotspot.
The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century. Nicaragua achieved its independence from Spain in 1821. Since its independence, Nicaragua has undergone periods of political unrest, dictatorship, and fiscal crisis—the most notable causes that led to the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Nicaragua is a representative democratic republic, and has experienced economic growth and political stability in recent years. Since 2007, Daniel Ortega has been the President.
The population of Nicaragua, approximately 6 million, is multiethnic. Its capital, Managua, is the third-largest city in Central America. Segments of the population include indigenous native tribes from the Mosquito Coast, Europeans, Africans, Asians, and people of Middle Eastern origin. The main language is Spanish, although native tribes on the eastern coast speak their native languages, such as Miskito, Sumo, and Rama, as well as English Creole. The mixture of cultural traditions has generated substantial diversity in art and literature, particularly the latter given the various literary contributions of Nicaraguan poets and writers, including Rubén Darío and Ernesto Cardenal. The biological diversity, warm tropical climate, and active volcanoes make Nicaragua an increasingly popular tourist destination.
The name "Nicaragua" was coined by Spanish colonists based on the name Nicarao, chief of the most populous indigenous tribe, and agua, the Spanish word for water.
In pre-Columbian times, in what is now known as Nicaragua, the indigenous people were part of the Intermediate Area, between the Mesoamericanand Andean cultural regions, and within the influence of the Isthmo-Colombian area. The Pipil migrated to Nicaragua from central Mexico after 500 BC.
At the end of the 15th century, western Nicaragua was inhabited by several indigenous peoples related by culture to the Mesoamerican civilizations of the Aztec and Maya, and by language to the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area. Meanwhile, the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by other peoples, mostly Chibcha language groups. They had coalesced in Central America and migrated also to present-day northern Colombia and nearby areas. They lived a life based primarily on hunting and gathering.
In 1502, Christopher Columbus was the first European known to have reached what is now Nicaragua as he sailed southeast toward the Isthmus of Panama. On his fourth voyage, Columbus explored the Misquito Coast on the Atlantic side of Nicaragua. The first attempt to conquer what is now known as Nicaragua was by Gil González Dávila, who arrived in Panama in January 1520. 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 the chief Diriangén.
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: Granada on Lake Nicaragua was the first settlement, followed by León at a location west of Lake Managua. Córdoba soon built defenses for the cities and attacked against incursions by the other conquistadors. Córdoba was later publicly beheaded following a power struggle with Pedro Arias Dávila. His tomb and remains were discovered during 2000 in the ruins of León Viejo.
The clashes among Spanish forces did not impede their destruction of the indigenous people and their culture. The series of battles came to be known as The War of the Captains. Pedro Arias Dávila was a winner—although he had lost control of Panama, he moved to Nicaragua and successfully established his base in León. Through droit diplomatic machinations, he became the first governor of the colony.
Without women in their parties, the Spanish conquerors took Niquirano and Chorotega wives and partners, beginning the multi-ethnic mix of native and European stock now known as mestizo, which constitutes the great majority of population in western Nicaragua. Many indigenous people died as a result of new infectious diseases, compounded by neglect by the Spaniards, who controlled their subsistence.
In 1610, the Momotombo volcano erupted, destroying the capital. It was rebuilt northwest of what is now known as the Ruins of Old León. During the American Revolutionary War, Central America was subject to conflict between Britain and Spain. Horatio Nelson led expeditions against San Fernando de Omoa in 1779 and the San Juan in 1780, which had temporary success before being abandoned due to disease.
The Captaincy General of Guatemala was dissolved in September 1821 with the Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire, and Nicaragua became part of the First Mexican Empire. After the monarchy of the First Mexican Empire was overthrown in 1823, Nicaragua joined the newly formed United Provinces of Central America, which was later renamed as the Federal Republic of Central America. Nicaragua finally became an independent republic in 1838.
Rivalry between the liberal elite of León and the conservative elite of Granada characterized the early years of independence and often degenerated into civil war, particularly during the 1840s and 1850s. Invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, a United States adventurer and filibuster named William Walker 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 Walker out of Nicaragua in 1857, after which a period of three decades of Conservative rule ensued.
Great Britain, which had claimed the Mosquito Coast as a protectorate since 1655, delegated the area to Honduras in 1859 before transferring it to Nicaragua in 1860. The Mosquito Coast remained an autonomous area until 1894. José Santos Zelaya, president of Nicaragua from 1893 to 1909, negotiated the annexation of the Mosquito Coast to the rest of Nicaragua. In his honor, the region was named Zelaya Department.
Throughout the late 19th century, the United States (and several European powers) considered a scheme to build a canal across Nicaragua, linking the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.
United States intervention (1909–33)
In 1909, the United States provided political support to conservative-led forces rebelling against President Zelaya. On November 18, 1909, U.S. warships were sent to the area.
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 asked the United States to intervene in the conflict
U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933 except for a nine-month period beginning in 1925. 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, which resulted in 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 he fought for over five years. ]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.
After the U.S. 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 soldiers of the National Guard. Hundreds of men, women, and children from Sandino's agricultural colony were executed later.
The Somoza dynasty (1927–1979)
Nicaragua has experienced several military dictatorships, the longest being the hereditary dictatorship of the Somoza family, who ruled for 43 years during 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 US 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.
Nicaragua declared war on Germany on December 8, 1941, during World War II. No soldiers were sent to the war, but Somoza did seize the occasion to confiscate properties held by German-Nicaraguans. In 1945 Nicaragua was among the first countries to ratify the United Nations Charter.
On September 21, 1956, Somoza was shot by Rigoberto López Pérez, a 27-year-old liberal Nicaraguan poet. 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”.
The Somoza family was among a few families or groups of influential firms which reaped most of the benefits of the country's growth from the 1950s to the 1970s. When Anastasio Somoza Debayle was deposed by the Sandinistas in 1979, the family's worth was estimated to be between US$ 500 million and US$ 1.5 billion. The 1972 earthquake destroyed nearly 90% of Managua, creating major losses. Instead of helping to rebuild Managua, Somoza siphoned off relief money.
In 1961, Carlos Fonseca turned back to the historical figure of Sandino, and along with two others (one of which was believed to be Casimiro Sotelo who was later assassinated) founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). After the 1972 earthquake and Somoza's apparent corruption, the ranks of the Sandinistas were flooded with young disaffected Nicaraguans who no longer had anything to lose.
In December 1974, a group of FSLN, in an attempt to kidnap U.S. Ambassador Tuner Shelton, held some Managuan partygoers hostage (after killing the host, former Agriculture Minister Jose Maria Castillo), 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 perpetrators of the kidnapping, described by opponents of the kidnapping as 'terrorists'.
On January 10, 1978, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, the editor of the national newspaper La Prensa and ardent opponent of Somoza, was assassinated. It is alleged that the planners and perpetrators of the murder were at the highest echelons of the Somoza regime.
The Sandinistas took power in July 1979. The Carter administration decided to work with the new government, while attaching a provision for aid forfeiture if it was found to be assisting insurgencies in neighboring countries. Somoza fled the country and eventually ended up in Paraguay, where he was assassinated in September 1980, allegedly by members of the Argentinian Revolutionary Workers Party.
In response to the coming to power of the Sandinistas, various rebel groups collectively known as the Contras were formed to oppose the new government. The Reagan administration authorized the CIA to help the Contra rebels with funding, armaments and training. The Contras operated out of camps in the neighboring countries of Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. They engaged in a systematic campaign of terror amongst the rural Nicaraguan population in order to disrupt the social reform projects of the Sandinistas. Several Historians have criticized the contra campaign and the Reagan Administration's support for it, citing the brutality and numerous human rights violations of the contras. The contras also carried out a campaign of economic sabotage and disrupted shipping by planting underwater mines in Nicaragua's Port of Corinto, an action condemned by the International Court of Justice as illegal. In addition, the Contras carried out The US also sought to place economic pressure on the Sandinistas, and the Reagan administration imposed a full trade embargo.
The Sandinistas won the Nicaraguan general elections of 1984, which were judged to have been free and fair. The Reagan administration criticized the elections as a "sham" based on the charge that Arturo Cruz, the candidate nominated by the Coordinadora Democrática Nicaragüense, comprising three rightwing political parties, did not participate in the elections.
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 Iran and channeling the proceeds to the Contras (the Iran–Contra affair).
The International Court of Justice, in regard to the case of Nicaragua v. United States 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". The United States did not comply with the judgement.
1990s and the post-Sandinista era
In the Nicaraguan general election, 1990, a coalition of anti-Sandinista parties (from the left and right of the political spectrum) led by Violeta Chamorro, the widow of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, defeated the Sandinistas. The defeat shocked the Sandinistas, who had expected to win. Commentators such as Noam Chomsky and Brian Willson attributed the outcome 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.
Exit polls of Nicaraguans reported Chamorro's victory over Ortega was achieved with a 55% majority. Violeta Chamorro was the first female President of Nicaragua. Ortega vowed that he would govern desde abajo (from below). Chamorro came to office with an economy in ruins, primarily because of the financial and social costs of the Contra war with the Sandinista-led government. In the next election, the Nicaraguan general election, 1996, Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas of the FSLN were defeated again, 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. The Washington Post explained the victory with the following: the U.S.-supported candidate "focused much of his campaign on reminding people of the economic and military difficulties of the Ortega era.". The ex-president was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement, money laundering, and corruption. Liberal members loyal to Alemán and Sandinista parliament members, stripped the presidential powers of President Bolaños and his ministers, calling for his resignation and threatening impeachment. The Sandinistas said they no longer supported Bolaños after the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Bolaños to keep his distance from the FSLN.
Before the general elections on 5 November 2006, the National Assembly passed a bill further restricting abortion in Nicaragua.
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, because of a change in electoral law which lowered the percentage requiring a runoff election from 45% to 35% (with a 5% margin of victory). Nicaragua's 2011 general election resulted in re-election of Daniel Ortega.
Geography and climate
Nicaragua occupies a landmass of 130,967 km2 (50,567 sq mi), comparable to that of Greece or the state of Alabama. It lies between latitudes 10° and 15°N, and longitudes 79° and 88°W.
Nearly one fifth of the territory is designated as protected areas like national parks, nature reserves, and biological reserves. The country is bordered by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Geophysically, Nicaragua is surrounded by the Caribbean Plate, an oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Cocos Plate. Since Central America is a major subduction zone, Nicaragua hosts most of the Central American Volcanic Arc.
Nicaragua has three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific lowlands, fertile valleys which the Spanish colonists settled, the Amerrisque Mountains (North-central highlands), and the Mosquito Coast (Atlantic lowlands). The low plains of the Atlantic Coast are 60 mi (97 km) wide in areas. They have long been exploited for their natural resources.
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 Mombacho just outside Granada, and Momotombo near León. The lowland area runs from the Gulf of Fonseca to Nicaragua's Pacific border with Costa Rica south of Lake Nicaragua. Lake Nicaragua is the largest freshwater lake in Central America (20th largest in the world), and is home to some of the world's rare freshwater sharks (Nicaraguan shark). The Pacific lowlands region is the most populous, with over half of the nation's population. The capital city of Managua is the most populous and is the only city with over 1.5 million inhabitants.
The eruptions of western Nicaragua's 40 volcanoes, many of which are still active, have sometimes devastated settlements but also have enriched the land 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.
Most of the Pacific zone is tierra caliente, the "hot land" of tropical Spanish America at elevations under 2,000 feet (610 m). Temperatures remain virtually constant throughout the year, with highs ranging between 85 and 90 °F (29.4 and 32.2 °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 (1,016 to 1,524 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 (24 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.
The central highlands are a significantly less populated and economically developed area in the north, between Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean. Forming the country's tierra templada, or "temperate land", at elevations between 2,000 and 5,000 feet (610 and 1,524 m), the highlands enjoy mild temperatures with daily highs of
75 to 80 °F (23.9 to 26.7 °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.
The area 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, fernsand orchids are abundant in the cloud forests of the region.
This large rainforest region is irrigated by several large rivers and is sparsely populated. The area has 57% of the territory of the nation and most of its mineral resources. It has been heavily exploited, but much natural diversity remains. The Rio Coco 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 in the Atlantic lowlands, part of which is located in the municipality of Siuna; it protects 1,800,000 acres (728,434 ha) of La Mosquitia forest – almost 7% of the country's area – making it the largest rainforest north of the Amazon in Brazil.
Siuna, Rosita, and Bonanza, known as the "Mining Triangle" are located in the RAAN, in the Caribbean lowlands. Bonanza still contains an active gold mine owned by HEMCO. Siuna and Rosita do not have active mines but panning for gold is still very common in the region.
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 Bluefields, English is widely spoken along with the official Spanish.
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.
The armed forces of Nicaragua consists of various military contingencies. Nicaragua has an Army, Navy and Air Force. There are roughly 14,000 active duty personnel, which is much less compared to the numbers seen during the Nicaraguan Revolution. Although the army has had a rough military history, a portion of its forces, which were known as the National Guard became integrated with what is now the National Police of Nicaragua. In essence, the police became a gendarmerie. The National Police of Nicaragua are rarely, if ever, labeled as a gendarmerie. The other elements and manpower that were not devoted to the National Police were sent over to cultivate the new Army of Nicaragua.
The age to serve in the armed forces is 17 and conscription is not imminent. As of 2006, the military budget was roughly 0.7% of Nicaragua's expenditures.
Nicaragua is among the poorest countries in the Americas.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, 48% of the population in Nicaragua live below the poverty line, 79.9% of the population live with less than $2 per day.
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 Panama. 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 (of 29) in the Americas.
Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country; agriculture constitutes 60% of its total exports which annually yield approximately US $2.0 billion. 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. 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. 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. Cassava, a root crop somewhat similar to the potato, is an important food in tropical regions. Cassava is also the main ingredient in tapioca pudding.
Fishing boats on the Caribbean side bring shrimp as well as lobsters into processing plants at Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and Laguna de Perlas. A turtle fishery thrived on the Caribbean coast before it collapsed from overexploitation.
Mining is not a major industry in Nicaragua. Restrictions are being placed on lumbering due to increased environmental concerns about destruction of the rain forests. But lumbering continues despite these obstacles; indeed, a single hardwood tree may be worth thousands of dollars.
Transportation throughout 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.Travelers have to transfer and make the rest of the trip by riverboat down the Río Escondido. 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.
Nicaragua's minimum wage is among the lowest in the Americas and in the World. Remittances are equivalent to roughly 15% of the country's Gross Domestic Product. Growth in the maquila sector slowed in the first decade of the 21st century with rising competition from Asian markets, particularly China. Land is the traditional basis of wealth in Nicaragua, with great fortunes coming from the export of staples such as coffee, cotton, beef, and sugar. Almost all of the upper class and nearly a quarter of the middle class are substantial landowners.
Rural workers are dependent on agricultural wage labor, especially in coffee and cotton. Only a small fraction hold permanent jobs. Most are migrants who follow crops during the harvest period and find other work they can during the off-season. The "lower" peasants are typically smallholders without sufficient land to sustain a family; they also join the harvest labor force. The "upper" peasants have enough resources to be economically independent. They produce enough surplus beyond their personal needs, allowing them to participate in the national and world markets.
The urban lower class is characterized by the informal sector of the economy. The informal sector consists of small-scale enterprises that utilize traditional technologies and operate outside the legal regime of labor protections and taxation. Workers in the informal sector are self-employed, unsalaried family workers or employees of small-enterprises, and they are generally poor.
Nicaragua's informal sector workers include tinsmiths, mattress makers, seamstresses, bakers, shoemakers, and carpenters; people who take in laundry and ironing or prepare food for sale in the streets; and thousands of peddlers, owners of small businesses (often operating out of their own homes), and market stall operators. Some work alone, but others labor in the small talleres (workshops/factories) that are responsible for a large share of the country's industrial production.
Nicaragua is currently a member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, which is also known as ALBA. ALBA has proposed creating a new currency, the Sucre for use among its members. Other nations that will follow a similar pattern include: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba and others.
By 2006, tourism in Nicaragua had become the second largest industry in the nation, over the last years tourism has grown about 70% nationwide with rates of 10%–16% annually. Nicaragua had seen positive growth in the tourism sector over the last decade, and it became the 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.
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 who visit Nicaragua are from the U.S., Central or South America, and Europe.
According to the CIA World Factbook, population of 5,891,199; comprising mainly 69% mestizo, 17% white, 5% Amerindian, 9.0% black and other races and this fluctuates with changes in migration patterns. The population is 84% urban. The life expectancy was 71.90 years in 2011, a figure roughly equivalent to that of Vietnam and Palau. The infant mortality rate stood at 25.5. Nicaragua appears ranked 91st in the international mortality rate.
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 Hemisphere: 24.9 per 1,000 according to the United Nations for the period 2005–2010. The death rate is 4.1 per 1,000 during the same period according to the United Nations.
Nicaraguan Spanish has many indigenous influences and several distinguishing characteristics. For example, some Nicaraguans have a tendency to replace the "s" sound with an "h"" sound when speaking. Although Spanish is spoken throughout the country, the country has great variety: vocabulary, accents and colloquial language can vary between towns and departments.
In the Caribbean coast, many Afro-Nicaraguans and creoles speak English and creole English as their first language, but as a second language, they speak a fluent Spanish. The language in the North and South Atlantic Regions are influenced by English, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and French roots. In addition, many of the indigenous people speak their native languages, such as the Miskito, Sumo, Rama and Garifuna language.
Religion is a significant part of the culture of Nicaragua and is referred to in the constitution. Religious freedom, which has been guaranteed since 1939, and religious tolerance are promoted by both the Nicaraguan government and the constitution. Nicaragua has no official religion.
The largest denomination, and traditionally the religion of the majority, is Roman Catholic. 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 16th century with the Spanish conquest and remained, until 1939, the established faith. Protestantism and other Christian denominations came to Nicaragua during the 19th century, but only gained large followings in the Caribbean Coast during the 20th century.
The majority of the Nicaraguan population are Mestizos (mixed Amerindian and European), roughly 69%. 17% of European origin, the majority of Spanish, German, Italian, English or French ancestry.
About 9% of Nicaragua's population are black, and mainly reside on the country's 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.
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 Colombia and Venezuela. These groups include the Miskitos, Ramas and Sumos. In the 19th century, there was a substantial indigenous minority, but this group was also largely assimilated culturally into the mestizo majority.
Relative to its overall population, Nicaragua has never experienced any large-scale immigrant waves. In the 19th century, Nicaragua experienced modest waves of immigration from Europe. In particular, families from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium immigrated to Nicaragua, particularly the departments in the Central and Pacific region.
Also present is a small Middle Eastern-Nicaraguan community of Syrians, Armenians, Palestinian Nicaraguans, Jewish Nicaraguans, and Lebanese people in Nicaragua with a total population of about 30,000. There is also an East Asian community mostly consisting of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese. The Chinese Nicaraguan population is estimated at around 12,000. The Chinese arrived in the late 19th century but were unsubstantiated until the 1920s.
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 Europeans. It was colonized by Spain and has a similar culture to other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. The indigenous groups that historically inhabited the Pacific coast have largely been assimilated into the mestizo culture.
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 Caribbean nations that were or are British possessions, such as Jamaica, Belize, the Cayman Islands, etc. Unlike on the west coast, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean coast have maintained distinct identities, and some still speak their native languages as first languages.
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 amandolin). 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 Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is known for a lively, sensual form of dance music called Palo de Mayo which is popular throughout the country. It is especially loud and celebrated during the Palo de Mayo festival in May. The Garifuna community (Afro-Indian) is known for its popular music called Punta.
Nicaragua enjoys a variety of international influence in the music arena. Bachata, Merengue, Salsa and Cumbia have gained prominence in cultural centers such as Managua, Leon and Granada. Cumbia dancing has grown popular with the introduction of Nicaraguan artists, including Gustavo Leyton, on Ometepe Island and in Managua. Salsa dancing has become extremely popular in Managua's nightclubs. With various influences, the form of salsa dancing varies in Nicaragua. New York style and Cuban Salsa (Salsa Casino) elements have gained popularity across the country.
Bachata dancing has also gained popularity in Nicaragua. Combinations of styles from the Dominican Republic and the United States can be found throughout the country. The nature of the dance in Nicaragua varies depending on the region. Rural areas tend to have a stronger focus on movement of the hips and turns. Urbanized cities, on the other hand, focus primarily on more sophisticated footwork in addition to movement and turns.
The literature of Nicaragua can be traced to pre-Columbian times; the myths and oral literature formed the cosmogonic view of the world of the indigenous people. 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. He is called the "Father of Modernism" for leading the modernismo literary movement at the end of the 19th century. Other literary figures include Carlos Martinez Rivas, Pablo Antonio Cuadra,Alberto Cuadra Mejia, Manolo Cuadra, Pablo Alberto Cuadra Arguello, Orlando Cuadra Downing, Alfredo Alegría Rosales, Sergio Ramirez Mercado, Ernesto Cardenal, Gioconda Belli, Claribel Alegría and José Coronel Urtecho, among others.
The satirical drama El Güegüense, written in Nahuatl and Spanish, 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, a work of resistance to Spanish colonialism that combined 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 Hemisphere. In 2005 it was recognized by UNESCO as "a patrimony of humanity”. After centuries of popular performance, the play was first published in a book in 1942.
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 together and then fried. The dish has several variations including the addition of coconut milk and/or grated coconut on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans begin their day with Gallopinto. Gallopinto is most usually served with carne asada, a salad, fried cheese, platains or maduros.
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 have been known to eat guinea pigs, tapirs, iguanas, turtle eggs, armadillos and boas but efforts are currently underway to curb this tendency.
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 Bluefields 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.
Boxing is the second most popular sport in Nicaragua. Recently, football has gained popularity.
Education is paid via taxes for all Nicaraguans. As of 1979, the educational system was one of the poorest in Latin America. 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,UNESCO 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.
The majority of higher education institutions are in Managua, 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. In 2005, almost 400,000 (7%) of Nicaraguans held a university degree. Nicaragua also has several more specialized institutions, with a focus on education that will promote economic development.
In June 2011, the United Nations Population Fund released a report on The State of the World's Midwifery. It contained new data on the midwifery workforce and policies relating to newborn and maternal mortality for 58 countries. The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for Nicaragua is 100. This is compared with 102.6 in 2008 and 100.8 in 1990. The under 5 mortality rate, per 1,000 births is 27 and the neonatal mortality as a percentage of under 5's mortality is 46. The aim of this report is to highlight ways in which the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved, particularly Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality and Goal 5 – improve maternal death. In Nicaragua the number of midwives per 1,000 live births is 7 and the lifetime risk of death for pregnant women is 1 in 300.
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