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Nicaragua is the largest Central American country by area, bordering Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. After a long period of turmoil in the late twentieth century, the country now operates as a relatively stable democracy with the president as both chief of government and head of government - though accusations of fraud and vote rigging persist. Major human rights issues, including a blanket ban on abortion and the failure to provide appropriate sex education, make Nicaragua the country with the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the region.
Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America in terms of territory, shares a border with Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south; the Pacific Ocean lies to its west and the Caribbean to the east. Because of its location on a major faultline, Nicaragua is prone to regular earthquakes and volcanoes; the country's capital, Managua, was all but destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, and then again in 1972. Hurricanes have also figured prominently in the country's recent history.
Population and language
The country's population of 5,822,300 is made up of a patchwork of indigenous groups including mestizos, creoles, misquitos, sumos, garifunos and ramas. The official language is Spanish, but a host of indigenous languages are also spoken and English remains the predominant language in the city of Bluefields, which was once used as a meeting place by English and Dutch buccaneers in the 16th and 17th centuries and was part of the British protectorate of the Mosquito Coast until the 19th century.
Nicaragua is a representative democracy with former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega at its helm.
The North and South Atlantic regions are autonmous; their autonomous rule is defined by The Statute of Autonomy of the Regions of the Atlantic Coast, (Estatuto de la Autonomía de las Regiones de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua), which recognises the specific history and culture of the peoples of the Atlantic region.
Before the Sandinista revolution in 1979, Nicaragua was ruled by the Somoza family as an heriditary dictatorship under which few families controlled the majority of the country's wealth.
The Sandinistas, whose name comes from Augusto Cesar Sandino, who worked to improve the conditions of rural labourers in the 1920s and 30s and end the US occupation of the country, undertook widespread reforms, centred around wealth redistribution. However, their leftist policies led to hostility from the US which funnelled funds and arms through to the Honduras-based rebels or 'Contras' through the CIA.
In 1990, the Sandinistas were defeated by a coalition of anti-Sandinista parties which brought to power Nicaragua's first female President, Violeta Chamarro, who was also the first woman in the Americas to be elected to this position.
Daniel Ortega made a comeback in the 2006 presidential elections. However, municipal elections conducted in November 2008 were dogged by allegations of electoral fraud and in 2009 the country's Supreme Court lifted a ban prohibiting a President from serving two consecutive five year terms.
Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in the Americas after Haiti. Years of civil war and several destructive hurricanes left the economy in tatters. Under Somoza, the agricultural exports which were the mainstay of the economy benefited a few families in the ruling elite. Under the Sandinistas, Nicaragua's economy was largely nationalised. Free market reforms got under way in 1991.
Since then, inflation has declined substantially. However, the economy contracted in 2009 by 1.5 per cent as a result of the international financial crisis, particularly the US recession, which led to less foreign direct investment and demand for exports, as well as fewer remittances and a slump in the coffee market. To some extent this has been compensated for by greater demand for exports from, and stronger cooperation with, Venezuela.
The economy is based primarily on agriculture and forestry. Main exports include bananas, coffee, sugar, tobacco, beef, peanuts, textiles, manufactured goods. Tourism is also a rapidly growing sector.
Nicaragua is part of the the Dominican Republic - Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).
Media and civil society
Civil society organisations in Nicaragua are highly visible. However, organisations have typically emerged in the context of political movements and therefore reflect political divisions. Media organisations also echo political polarities: Reporters without Borders reports tensions between the presidency and privately owned press.
Nicaragua has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean and a quarter of babies are born to girls between 15 and 19 years old. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed deep concern about the lack of education about and services for adolescents' sexual and reproductive health, as well as the blanket ban on abortion, which particularly endangers the lives of teenage girls who are more likely to develop complications during pregnancy.
- The Economist, “How to steal an election”,13 November 2008
- Encyclopedia of the Nations
- Reporters Without Borders Nicaragua Page
- Center for Reproductive Rights UN to Nicaragua: Youth Have the Right to Contraception and Safe Abortion
- CEPAL: Estudio económico de América Latina y el Caribe 2009-2010
- The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
- Center for Reproductive Rights, UN to Nicaragua: Youth Have the Right to Contraception and Safe Abortion
- BBC: Nicaragua Country Profile
- Reporters Without Borders Nicaragua Page
- Asociación Iberoamericana de Cámaras de Comercio
- Nations Encyclopedia: Nicaragua country page
- The Economist, “How to steal an election”, (13 November 2008)
- UN Committee on the Rights of the Child,Concluding Observations to Nicaragua, October 2010
- Total population: 5,954,900 (UNDP, 2012)
- Population under 18: 2,390,000 (UNICEF, 2011)
- Number of internet users: 783,800 (13.7% of the population) (Internet World Stats, 2012)
- Human Development Index ranking: 129 (UNDP, 2012)
- Happy Planet Index ranking: 8 (Happy Planet Countries: Nicaragua, 2012)