A Short History of Nicaragua

Settled as a colony of Spain in the 1520s, Nicaragua gained its independence in 1821 and became an independent republic in 1838.

Over the last 75 years, however, the people of Nicaragua have been plagued with oppression, revolution, civil war, economic devastation and natural disasters.

In 1937 General Somoza, head of the National Guard, became president by holding fraudulent elections. Somoza ruled Nicaragua as a dictator for the next 20 years, amassing wealth and lands. Although General Somoza was assassinated in 1956, the Somoza dynasty continued through the succession of his sons until 1979.

Widespread opposition to the regime had been present for a long time but it was the devastating earthquake of 1972, and more specifically the way that international aid poured into the pockets of the Somozas while thousands of people suffered and died, that caused opposition to spread among all classes of Nicaraguans.

One group formed to counter the regime was the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de LiberaceĆ³n Nacional), better known as the Sandinistas. The revolt spread and former moderates joined with the Sandinistas to overthrow the Somoza regime. The Sandinistas marched victoriously into Managua on 19 July 1979. They inherited a poverty-stricken country with high rates of homelessness, illiteracy and insufficient health care.

Prior to 1979, about 4% of the landowners controlled about 52% of the arable land. The Sandinistas quickly set to work on the equalization of wealth by targeting lands for expropriation.

The Contras were a counter-revolutionary group made up of rightists left over from the Somoza regime. With the discrete help of the US, this counter-revolutionary group, began a guerilla war on the Sandinistas. Through the highly controversial Iran-Contra Affair, the US provided the Contras with financial aid stemming from profits from an illegal arms trade with Iran. The result was a long and bitter civil war that lasted 10 years.

In 1990, Daniel Ortega, then president of Nicaragua, decided to hold free elections within Nicaragua; the civil war was over at last.

Since the 1990s, the country has slowly been working towards rebuilding its economy, but was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and more recently by Herricane Felix in 2007.

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