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Nicaragua » History

History of Nicaragua



Nicaragua’s fascinating history dates back to the first unknown inhabitants who left behind their footprints on volcanic mud near Lake Managua in 4000 B.C. Archaeological studies suggest that these ancient people were most likely nomadic groups moving north to south and vice versa. Due to the intensive volcanic activity taking place at that time, ash material helped preserve these human footprints which were discovered by the American Earl Flint in 1874. The Chorotegas and Nahuas-Nicaraguas were the two most significant indigenous groups that extensively inhabited a great part of the Nicaraguan territory by the time of the Spanish arrival in 1524. These important tribes came from Mexico and also spread in the region of Central America sharing traditions and customs with other Meso-American groups.

Conquest and Independence

The Atlantic Coast was navigated by Christopher Columbus in 1502, but it was not until 1523 that the Spanish Gil Gonzalez de Avila made the first attempt to conquer Nicaragua. The big task to subjugate native Nicaraguans fell in the hands of Captain Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba who founded the cities of Granada and León in 1524. During colonial times, Granada was the most important city in Nicaragua, and Spanish families began a prosperous trade with other settlements in Central America and Spain. Nicaragua was besieged continuously by English, French and Dutch pirates who ransacked mainly the cities of Granada and León for their wealth. After almost three hundred years of Spanish ruling, Nicaragua and Central America became independent from Spain in 1821.

William Walker, President of Nicaragua

After this significant event two political factions with opposite ideas were formed, the “Conservadores” from Granada and the “Liberales” from León. Major disagreements between the two cities on political and economic aspects resulted in a civil war in Nicaragua. In 1854, Granada was attacked by the Liberal forces of León who laid siege to the city for eight months. As a result there was a lot of destruction but Granada was not taken over. In 1855, the American filibuster William Walker took Granada under the order of the “Liberales” and eventually became the President of Nicaragua. He re-established slavery and made English the official language of the country. He betrayed the Liberal forces of León and decided to conduct his own government. His hunger for power led him into the attempt to conquer the rest of Central America but fortunately unity among these nations stopped his immeasurable ambitions. As revenge Mr. Walker ordered to set Granada on fire, provoking the most destructive episode in the history of this city. In a second effort to take over Central America, Walker was captured in Honduras and killed in 1860.

Peace and Tranquility

After forty years of political instability and constant fights, both León and Granada signed a peace agreement. Nicaragua enjoyed “tranquility” for a duration of thirty years (1860-1890). This era in the history of the country was called “the 30 years of the Conservative government”. In 1893 Jose Santos Zelaya, a liberal leader, reached power through a revolution and remained in power until 1909. Zelaya’s nationalization reforms and reluctance to let the Americans build an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua got him into trouble. José Santos Zelaya resigned from power and a coalition was formed to lead the country for the next coming years under the supervision of US Marines. Between 1927 and 1933 the liberal Augusto Cesar Sandino led guerrilla warfare against the US Marines and the Nicaraguan National Guard. In 1933, Sandino negotiated peace with the Nicaraguan government and the US Marines agreed to leave the country.

The Somoza Era

By 1934 the Nicaraguan National Guard was being directed by Anastasio Somoza Garcia who ordered to capture and kill Sandino. Somoza Garcia reached power through a coup in 1936 and initiated a family dictatorship for 43 years. Journalist and poet Rigoberto Lopez Perez shot Somoza Garcia while he was closing presidential campaign for reelection at the house of the workers in León in 1956. Somoza Garcia died six days later in Panama. Luis Somoza Debayle, one of Somoza’s sons, was chosen by the National Congress to take his father’s position in 1968. Anastasio Somoza Debayle remained in office until 1979 when he was overthrown by the Sandinistas. Even though the Somoza family was accused of being dictators, economic reports from that time show that Nicaragua was economically stable and had one of the fastest growing economies of Central America.

The Sandinistas National Liberation Front (FSLN) was initially formed by university students in 1963 and conducted different attacks on Somoza’s regime to weaken his power. In 1972, a catastrophic earthquake destroyed Managua leaving 10,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. Somoza took the millions of dollars in foreign relief funds to make himself even richer. In 1978 the murder of journalist Pedro Joaquin Chamorro triggered the anger of the Nicaraguan people who blamed Somoza. In July 17th, 1979, Somoza Debayle and his family abandoned the country and Mr. Francisco Maliaños was appointed president of Nicaragua remaining in the presidential seat for only 48 hours.

Sandintista Rule

From 1979 to 1984 a Junta was organized to reconstruct and lead the country. The Sandinistas made some important social changes. The “Literacy Campaign” was one of the most acknowledged projects that they carried out. Thousands of volunteers reduced illiteracy dramatically from 59% to 12.9% in 1980. The former Somoza’s National Guard re-gathered in Honduras and Costa Rica to form what they called “The Contras”, a military group which fought the Sandinista army for 10 years. By 1988 peace dialogues started between Contras and Sandinistas and free elections were conducted in 1990. A coalition led by Mrs. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was chosen to rule the country for 6 years.

Reconstructing the Economy

During this time important economic reforms were achieved and Nicaragua opened its border for the international market. In 1996 Arnoldo Alemán, Managua’s former mayor, was elected president of Nicaragua and served for the country for a term of five years. In 1998 during his presidency hurricane Mitch swept away most of the Pacific basin of Nicaragua destroying bridges, roads, schools, power lines, homes and killing around 3.000 people. In 2002, during democratic elections, Nicaragua elected Mr. Enrique Bolaños Geyer who continued with the process of strengthening government institutions and encouraging foreign investment. While he was in office tourism showed a steady growth and an important free trade agreement was signed among Central America, the United States and Dominican Republic, which was named DR-Cafta. This important commercial treaty has helped the small economy of Nicaragua to export more quantity and quality products with these signing trading nations.

Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista candidate for the 2006 presidential election, was voted democratically and chosen by the Nicaraguan people for a term of five years. Daniel Ortega was re-elected in the 2011 elections.

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