/ nɪkərɑːɡwə /
Country in Central America, between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, bounded N by Honduras and S by Costa Rica.
The constitution dates from 1987. The 92-member National Constituent Assembly is elected by universal suffrage through a system of proportional representation for a six-year term, and a president, similarly elected, serves a non-renewable five-year term, with the assistance of a vice president and an appointed cabinet.
For early history, see Native American. The first European to reach Nicaragua was Gil Gonzalez de Avila 1522, who brought it under Spanish rule. It remained Spanish until 1821 and was then briefly united with Mexico. Nicaragua achieved full independence 1838.
After two decades of turmoil and invasions from other Central American states, Nicaragua experienced 30 years of relative tranquillity 1863–93 under Conservative rule. This long period of peace led to increasing foreign investment, especially in coffee plantations and railroad construction. The Liberal dictator Santos Zelaya, in power 1803–1909, promoted state education, the separation of church and state, and civil marriage and divorce. He also led the movement for a brief union 1896–98 with El Salvador and Honduras.
US military presence
In 1912, at the Nicaraguan government's request, the US established military bases in the country. Their presence was opposed by a guerrilla group led by Augusto César Sandino. The US withdrew its forces 1933, but not before it had set up and trained a national guard, commanded by a trusted nominee, General Anastasio Somoza. Sandino was assassinated 1934, but some of his followers continued their guerrilla activity.
The Somoza family began a near-dictatorial rule that was to last for over 40 years. During this time they amassed a huge personal fortune. General Anastasio Somoza was elected president 1936 and stayed in office until his assassination 1956, when he was succeeded by his son Luis. The left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), named for the former guerrilla leader, was formed 1962 with the object of overthrowing the Somozas by revolution. Luis Somoza was followed by his brother Anastasio, who headed an even more notorious regime. In 1979, after considerable violence and loss of life, Somoza was ousted; see Nicaraguan Revolution.
The FSLN established a provisional junta of national reconstruction led by Daniel Ortega Saavedra, published a guarantee of civil rights, and appointed a council of state, prior to an elected national assembly and a new constitution; assembly elections held 1984 endorsed the FSLN.
relations with US
Nicaragua’s relations with the US deteriorated rapidly with the election of President Reagan. He froze the package of economic assistance arranged by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, alleging that the Sandinista government was supporting attempts to overthrow the administration in El Salvador. In March 1982 the Nicaraguan government declared a state of emergency in the wake of attacks on bridges and petroleum installations. The Reagan administration embarked on a policy of destabilizing Nicaragua’s government and economy by actively supporting the counterrevolutionary forces (the Contras)—known to have executed prisoners, killed civilians, and engaged in forced conscription—and by covert Central Intelligence Agency operations, including the mining of Nicaraguan harbors 1984. In Feb 1985 Reagan denounced Ortega’s regime, saying that his objective was to “remove it in the sense of its present structure”. The World Court ruled 1986 that the US was in breach of international law and ordered it to pay $17 billion in
reparations. In June 1986 the US Congress approved $100 million in overt military aid to the Contras; total US aid to the Contras was $300 million. In 1988 a hurricane left 18,000 homeless.
Sandinista government defeated
Political parties were ostensibly legalized under the terms of a regional peace plan signed by the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua 1987, but peace talks with the Contra rebels had several false starts. In March 1989, 1,900 members of the former National Guard of Anastasia Somoza were released. Elections held Feb 1990 were won by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro of the US-backed National Opposition Union (UNO). The Bush administration spent $9 million on her election campaign. The US lifted its economic embargo in March. By the end of June 1990 the Contra rebel army had been disbanded and the government had committed itself to reducing armed forces by 50%. In July violent riots occurred as people protested about land rights, inflation, and unemployment.
US pressure maintained
Chamorro's state visit to the US in April 1991 was the first by a Nicaraguan president for over 50 years. In exchange for Nicaragua dropping its claim to the damages of $17 billion awarded it by the World Court against the US, President Bush pledged economic support for Nicaragua, whose total international debt was almost $10 billion. The cost to Nicaragua of the US economic and Contra warfare was estimated at $15 billion, with 30,000 people killed. US aid was suspended June 1992 because of concern about the extent of Sandinista's influence in Chamorro's government. In an effort to end the suspension, Chamorro dismissed 12 high-level police officers linked with Sandinista. An earthquake Sept 1992 claimed 116 victims, with more than 150 people declared missing and over 16,000 made homeless.
In 1993 a state of emergency was declared in N Nicaragua after renewed skirmishes between Contra and Sandinista rebel groups.
A peace accord was finally reached with the Contra rebels early 1994. Constitutional reforms, approved Nov 1994, reduced the presidential term, ruled out reelection, and barred relatives of serving presidents from standing for the presidency.
A republic in Central America.
Lake, Lake in Nicaragua, the largest in Central America; area 8,250 sq km/3,185 sq mi.