A turbulent history

Get to know Nicaragua’s past

A turbulent history

Bordering Honduras and El Salvador to the north and Costa Rica to the south, and flanked by the Caribbean and Pacific oceans, Nicaragua is known for its beautiful landscape. In fact, in 2015, the Boston Globe considered it their third-top country to visit in the world.


Nicaragua’s name derives from Nicarao, the chief of the leading Nahuatl-speaking Indian tribe at the time of the Spanish conquest, and ‘agua’, the Spanish for ‘water’, homage to the large lakes ‘Cocibolca’ and ‘Managua’. First settled by the Spanish in 1522, Nicaragua gained independence in 1838, with a political battle between Liberals and Conservatives dominating the following century.

80 years of unrest

From 1912, Nicaragua was under US occupation for just over two decades, during which time a conservative government dominated the political scene. A Guerrilla war led by an army commander was waged to force out the American occupation, succeeding in 1934.

The country was soon plunged into a 43 year dictatorship, which was finally put to an end during the civil war of 1978, giving way to the decade-long Contra War in which tens of thousands of Nicaraguans were killed.

Peace in Central America

In 1987, in the hopes of putting an end to the civil wars tearing apart Central America, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias asked five Central American presidents to sign a peace plan, calling for an end to all international military aid. By 1993, Central America was at peace for the first time in decades.

More recently, Nicaragua received enormous support from the international community in 2004, with the IMF and World Bank forgiving $4.5 billion of Nicaragua’s debt. In addition, a free trade agreement with the U.S. went into effect in 2006.

In addition, despite fraud allegations surrounding the 2008 elections, Daniel Ortega remains the president of Nicaragua, having been in power since 1979.

Struggles and threats

The majority of the population in Nicaragua (especially the poorest) rely heavily on agriculture.

Today, poverty remains a major problem in Nicaragua, with 29.6% (2014) of the population living below poverty line. Falling education levels and drug war violence are also major issues in the country.

Natural disasters are another ever present threat to Nicaragua, as earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and flooding are common. In fact, in 1998 one of the most devastating natural disasters, Hurricane Mitch, displaced over 2 million people, killed over 3,000 and caused $1 billion in damage. What's more, there are 19 active volcanoes ready to erupt at any second.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: