sq. km. (50,446 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New York State.
Capital--Managua (pop. 1 million). Other cities--Leon, Granada, Jinotega,
Matagalpa, Chinandega, Masaya.
Terrain: Extensive Atlantic coastal
plains rising to central interior mountains; narrow Pacific coastal plain
interrupted by volcanoes.
Climate: Tropical in lowlands, cooler in
Noun and adjective--Nicaraguan(s).
Population: 4.48 million.
growth rate (1995): 2.9. Density: 33 per sq. km.
Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) 69%, white 17%, black (Jamaican
origin) 9%, indigenous 5%.
Religion: Roman Catholic 85%.
Spanish (official), English and indigenous languages on Caribbean coast.
Education: Years compulsory--none enforced (28% 1st graders eventually
finish 6th grade). Literacy--75%.
Health: Life expectancy--62 yrs.
Infant mortality rate--50/1,000.
Work force (1996): 1.7 million.
Constitution: The 1995
reforms to the 1987 Sandinista-era Constitution provide for a more even
distribution of power among the four branches of government.
Executive--president and vice president. Legislative--National Assembly
(unicameral). Judicial--Supreme Court; subordinate appeals, district and local
courts; separate labor and administrative tribunals. Electoral--Supreme
Electoral Council, responsible for organizing and holding elections.
Administrative subdivisions: 15 departments and two autonomous regions
on the Atlantic coast; 145 municipalities.
Major political parties:
Liberal Alliance (AL), Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
Suffrage: Universal at 16.
Annual growth rate (1997): 5.0%.
Per capita GDP:
Inflation rate: 12%.
Natural resources: Arable
land, livestock, fisheries, gold, timber.
Agriculture (35% of GDP):
Products--corn, coffee, sugar, meat, rice, beans, bananas.
Industry (20% of
GDP): Types--processed food, beverages, textiles, petroleum, and metal
Services (45% of GDP): Types--commerce, construction, government,
banking, transportation, and energy.
Trade (1996): Exports--$671 million
(FOB): coffee, seafood, beef, sugar, industrial goods, gold, bananas, sesame.
Markets--U.S. 43%, European Union 33%, Central American Common Market (CACM)
17%, Mexico 2%. Imports--$1,024 million (FOB): petroleum, agricultural
supplies, manufactured goods. Suppliers--U.S. 32%, CACM 21%, Venezuela 11%,
European Union 9%.
Exchange rate (1997): Nicaraguan cordobas
PEOPLE AND HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS
Most Nicaraguans have both
European and Indian ancestry, and the culture of the country reflects the
Ibero-European and Indian heritage of its people. Only the Indians of the
eastern half of the country remain ethnically distinct and retain tribal
customs and languages. A large black minority (of Jamaican origin) is
concentrated on the Caribbean coast. In the mid-1980s, the central government
divided the eastern half of the country--the former department of Zelaya--into
two autonomous regions and granted the people of the region limited self-rule.
The 1995 constitutional reform guaranteed the integrity of the regions' several
unique cultures, and gave the inhabitants a say in the use of the area's
natural resources. Roman Catholicism is the major religion, but Evangelical
Protestant groups have grown recently, and there are strong Anglican and
Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicaraguans live in the
Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands. The population is 54%
takes its name from Nicarao, chief of the indigenous tribe then living around
present-day Lake Nicaragua. In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba founded the first
Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua's two
principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua and Leon east of Lake Managua.
Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821, briefly becoming a part of
the Mexican Empire and then a member of a federation of independent Central
American provinces. In 1838, Nicaragua became an independent republic.
Nicaragua's politics since independence has been characterized by the rivalry
between the Liberal elite of Leon and the Conservative elite of Granada, which
often spilled into civil war. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join
their struggle against the Conservatives, an American named William Walker and
his "filibusters" seized the presidency in 1856. The Liberals and Conservatives
united to drive him out of office in 1857, after which a period of three
decades of Conservative rule ensued.
advantage of divisions within the Conservative ranks, Jose Santos Zelaya led a
Liberal revolt that brought him to power in 1893. Zelaya ended the
long-standing dispute with Britain over the Atlantic Coast in 1894, and
reincorporated that region into Nicaragua. However, due to differences over an
isthmian canal and concessions to Americans in Nicaragua as well as a concern
for what was perceived as Nicaragua's destabilizing influence in the region, in
1909 the United States provided political support to Conservative-led forces
rebelling against President Zelaya and intervened militarily to protect
American lives and property. Zelaya resigned later that year. With the
exception of a nine-month period in 1925-26, the United States maintained
troops in Nicaragua from 1912 until 1933. From 1927-1933, U.S. marines
stationed in Nicaragua engaged in a running battle with rebel forces led by
renegade Liberal general Augusto Sandino, who rejected a 1927 negotiated
agreement brokered by the United States to end the latest round of fighting
between Liberals and Conservatives.
departure of U.S. troops, National Guard Commander Anastasio Somoza Garcia
outmaneuvered his political opponents, including Sandino, who was assassinated
by National Guard officers, and took over the presidency in 1936. Somoza, and
two sons who succeeded him, maintained close ties with the U.S. The Somoza
dynasty ended in 1979 with a massive uprising led by the Sandinista National
Liberation Front (FSLN), which since the early 1960s had conducted a low-scale
guerrilla war against the Somoza regime.
established an authoritarian dictatorship soon after taking power.
U.S.-Nicaraguan relations deteriorated rapidly as the regime nationalized many
private industries, confiscated private property, supported Central American
guerrilla movements, and maintained links to international terrorists. The
United States suspended aid to Nicaragua in 1981. The Reagan Administration
provided assistance to the Nicaraguan Resistance and in 1985 imposed an embargo
on U.S.-Nicaraguan trade.
In response to
both domestic and international pressure, the Sandinista regime entered into
negotiations with the Nicaraguan Resistance and agreed to nationwide elections
in February 1990. In these elections, which were proclaimed free and fair by
international observers, Nicaraguan voters elected as their president the
candidate of the National Opposition Union, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.
President Chamorro's nearly seven years in office, her government achieved
major progress toward consolidating democratic institutions, advancing national
reconciliation, stabilizing the economy, privatizing state-owned enterprises,
and reducing human rights violations. In February 1995, Sandinista Popular Army
Commander General Humberto Ortega was replaced, in accordance with a new
Military Code enacted in 1994, by General Joaquin Cuadra, who has espoused a
policy of greater professionalism in the renamed Army of Nicaragua. A new
police organization law, passed by the National Assembly and signed into law in
August 1996, further codified both civilian control of the police and the
professionalization of that law enforcement agency.
20, 1996 presidential, legislative, and mayoral elections were also judged free
and fair by international observers and by the ground-breaking national
electoral observer group "Etica y Transparencia" (Ethics and Transparency)
despite a number of irregularities, due largely to logistical difficulties and
a baroquely complicated electoral law. This time Nicaraguans elected
former-Managua Mayor Arnoldo Aleman, leader of the center-right Liberal
Alliance. More than 76% of Nicaragua's 2.4 million eligible voters participated
in the elections. The first transfer of power in recent Nicaraguan history from
one democratically elected president to another took place on January 10, 1997,
when the Aleman government was inaugurated.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL
Nicaragua is a constitutional
democracy with executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral branches of
government. In 1995, the executive and legislative branches negotiated a reform
of the 1987 Sandinista constitution which gave impressive new powers and
independence to the legislature--the National Assembly--including permitting
the Assembly to override a presidential veto with a simple majority vote and
eliminating the president's ability to pocket veto a bill. Both the president
and the members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected to concurrent
five-year terms. The National Assembly consists of 90 deputies elected from
party lists drawn at the department and national level, plus the defeated
presidential candidates who obtained a minimal quotient of votes. In the 1996
elections, the Liberal Alliance won a plurality of 42 seats, the FSLN won 36
seats, and nine other political parties and alliances won the remaining 15
Court supervises the functioning of the still largely ineffective and
overburdened judicial system. As part of the 1995 constitutional reforms, the
independence of the Supreme Court was strengthened by increasing the number of
magistrates from 9 to 12. Supreme Court justices are elected to seven-year
terms by the National Assembly.
Led by a
council of five magistrates, the Supreme Electoral Council is the co-equal
branch of government responsible for organizing and conducting elections,
plebiscites and referendums. The magistrates and their alternates are elected
to five-year terms by the National Assembly.
speech is a right guaranteed by the Nicaraguan constitution and vigorously
exercised by its people. Diverse viewpoints are freely and openly discussed in
the media and in academia. There is no state censorship in Nicaragua.
constitutional freedoms include peaceful assembly and association, freedom of
religion, and freedom of movement within the country, as well as foreign
travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government also permits domestic and
international human rights monitors to operate freely in Nicaragua. The
constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth, nationality, political
belief, race, gender, language, religion, opinion, national origin, economic
condition, or social condition. All public and private sector workers, except
the military and the police, are entitled to form and join unions of their own
choosing, and they exercise this right extensively. Nearly half of Nicaragua's
work force, including agricultural workers, is unionized. Workers have the
right to strike. Collective bargaining is becoming more common in the private
Nicaragua's 35 political parties participated in the 1996 elections,
independently or as part of one of five electoral coalitions. With nearly 52%
of the vote, the Liberal Alliance, a coalition of five political parties and
sectors of another two, won the presidency, a plurality in the national
legislature and a large majority of the mayoral races. The FSLN ended in second
place with 38%.
parties fared poorly. A new political party, the Nicaraguan Christian Path,
ended a distant third with 4% of the vote and four seats in the 93-member
National Assembly. The traditional alternative to the Liberals, the National
Conservative Party, ended in fourth place with slightly over 2% of the vote and
three seats in the National Assembly. The remaining 24 parties and alliances
together obtained less than 5% of the vote. Seven of these smaller parties
control eight seats in the National Assembly. Only two of 145 mayors belong to
Nicaraguan law, those political parties that did not win at least one seat in
the National Legislature automatically lose their legal status and must repay
government campaign financing. There are 19 parties represented in the National
Assembly independently or as part of an alliance.
Vice President--Enrique Bolanos
Affairs Minister--Emilio Alvarez Montalvan
Finance Minister--Esteban Duque
Economy Minister--Noel Sacasa
Central Bank Minister--Noel
Government Minister--Jose Antonio Alvarado
Minister--Mario De Franco
Defense Minister--Jaime Cuadra
and Transportation Minister--Edgard Quintana
Education Minister--Humberto Belli
Labor Minister--Wilfredo Navarro
Ambassador to the United
Ambassador to the United Nations--Enrique
Ambassador to the Organization of American States--Felipe Rodriguez
maintains an embassy in the United States at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-387-4371).
Nicaragua began free market
reforms in 1991 after 12 years of economic free-fall under the Sandinista
regime. Despite some setbacks, it has made dramatic progress: privatizing 351
state enterprises, reducing inflation from 13,500% to 12%, and cutting the
foreign debt in half. The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew a strong
4.5% in 1996 (its best performance since 1977). As a result, GDP reached $1.969
growing economy, Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere
with a per capita GDP of $438 (below where it stood before the Sandinista
take-over in 1979). Unemployment, while falling, is 16% and another 36% are
underemployed. Nicaragua suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits and
a high debt service burden, leaving it highly dependent on foreign assistance
(22% of GDP in 1996).
One of the key
engines of economic growth has been production for export. Exports rose to $671
million in 1996, up 27% from 1995. Although traditional products such as
coffee, meat, and sugar continued to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports,
during 1996 the fastest growth came in non-traditional exports: maquila goods
(apparel), bananas, gold, seafood, and new agricultural products such as
sesame, melons, and onions.
primarily an agricultural country, but construction, mining, fisheries, and
general commerce have also been expanding strongly during the last few years.
Foreign private capital inflows saw a net increase in 1996, totaling an
estimated $215 million. The private banking sector continues to expand and now
holds 70% of the nation's deposit base.
expansion of the tourist industry has made it the nation's third-largest source
of foreign exchange. Some 51,000 Americans visited Nicaragua in 1996 (primarily
business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives). An estimated 5,300
U.S. citizens reside in the country. The U.S. Embassy's consular section
provides a full range of consular services, from passport replacement and
veteran's assistance to prison visitation and repatriation assistance.
appears poised for rapid economic growth. However, long-term success at
attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depend on its
ability to comply with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, resolve
the thousands of Sandinista-era property confiscation cases, and open its
economy to foreign trade.
The U.S. is
the country's largest trading partner by far--the source of 32% of Nicaragua's
imports and the destination of 42% of its exports. About 25 wholly or partly
owned subsidiaries of U.S. companies operate in Nicaragua. The largest of those
investments are in the energy, communications, manufacturing, fisheries, and
shrimp farming sectors. Good opportunities exist for further investments in
those same sectors, as well as in tourism, mining, franchising, and the
distribution of imported consumer, manufacturing, and agricultural goods.
embassy's Economic/Commercial Section advances American economic and business
interests by: briefing U.S. firms on opportunities and stumbling blocks to
trade and investment in Nicaragua; encouraging key Nicaraguan decision makers
to work with American firms; helping to resolve problems that affect U.S.
commercial interests; and working to change local economic and trade ground
rules in order to afford U.S. firms a level playing field on which to compete.
The Economic/Commercial Section counseled 112 U.S. and 148 Nicaraguan firms in
1996 on trade and investment opportunities. U.S. businesses may access key
Embassy economic reports via the Mission's Internet home page at
The 1990 election victory of
President Violeta Chamorro placed Nicaragua in the ranks of Latin American
democracies. Nicaragua pursues an independent foreign policy. President
Chamorro was instrumental in obtaining considerable international assistance
for her government's efforts to improve living conditions for Nicaraguans (the
country is the second-poorest in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti). Her
administration also negotiated substantial reductions in the country's foreign
debt burden. A participant of the Central American Security Commission (CASC),
Nicaragua also has taken a leading role in pressing for regional
demilitarization and peaceful settlement of disputes within states in the
administration has expressed a commitment to follow the major tenets of its
predecessor's foreign policy, to promote Central American political and
economic integration, and to resolve outstanding boundary disputes peacefully.
At the 1994 Summit of the Americas, Nicaragua joined six Central American
neighbors in signing the Alliance for Sustainable Development, known as the
Conjunta Centroamerica-USA or CONCAUSA, to promote sustainable economic
development in the region.
In Costa Rica
in May 1997, President Aleman met with President Clinton, his Central American
counterparts, and the president of the Dominican Republic to celebrate the
remarkable democratic transformation in the region and reaffirm support for
strengthening democracy, good governance and promoting prosperity through
economic integration, free trade, and investment. The leaders also expressed
their commitment to the continued development of just and equitable societies
and responsible environmental policies as an integral element of sustainable
belongs to the UN and several specialized and related agencies, including the
World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization
(WTO), UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World
Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),
International Labor Organization (ILO), and the UN Human Rights Commission
(UNHRC). Nicaragua is also a member of the Organization of American States
(OAS), the Non-aligned Movement (NAM), International Atomic Energy Commission
(IAEA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Central American Common
Market (CACM), and the Central America Bank for Economic Integration
U.S. policy is to support the
consolidation of the democratic process initiated in Nicaragua with the 1990
election of President Chamorro. The U.S. has promoted national reconciliation,
encouraging Nicaraguans to resolve their problems through dialogue and
compromise. It recognizes as legitimate all political forces that abide by the
democratic process and eschew violence. U.S. assistance is focused on
strengthening democratic institutions, stimulating sustainable economic growth,
and supporting the health and basic education sectors.
of U.S. citizen claims arising from Sandinista-era confiscations and
expropriations still figure prominently in our bilateral policy concerns.
Section 527 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (1994) prohibits certain
U.S. assistance and support for a government of a country that has confiscated
U.S. citizen property, unless the government has taken certain remedial steps.
In July 1997, the Secretary of State issued a fourth annual national interest
waiver of the Section 527 prohibition because of Nicaragua's record in
resolving U.S. citizen claims as well as its overall progress in implementing
political and economic reforms.
Other key U.S.
policy goals for Nicaragua are:
respect for human rights, and resolving outstanding high-profile human rights
of a free market economy with respect for property and intellectual property
effective civilian control over defense and security policy;
effectiveness of Nicaragua's efforts to combat narcotics trafficking, illegal
alien smuggling, international terrorist and criminal organizations; and
the judicial system.
the U.S. has provided $1.2 billion in assistance to Nicaragua. Approximately
$260 million of that was for debt relief and another $450 million was for
balance-of-payments support. The levels of assistance have fallen incrementally
to reflect the improvements in Nicaragua, and FY 1997 assistance is estimated
at approximately $25 million. This assistance is focused on promoting more
citizen political participation, compromise, and government transparency;
stimulating sustainable growth and income; and fostering better educated,
healthier, and smaller families.
Deputy Chief of Mission--Frederick Becker
Economic/Commercial Counselor--Sandra Dembski
Public Affairs Counselor--Elizabeth Whitaker
Attache--Col. Richard Driver
Consul General--Robert Blohm
Peace Corps Director--Howard Lyon
Embassy in Nicaragua is located at Kilometer 4.5, Carretera Sur, Managua (tel.
country code 505, phone 266-6010). Letters mailed in the U.S. should be
addressed to American Embassy Managua, APO AA 34021. Internet:
This information is courtesy of the
U.S. Department of State,