Nicaragua country profile
- 1 April 2016
- From the section Latin America & Caribbean
Nicaragua is striving to overcome the after-effects of dictatorship, civil war and natural calamities, which have left it one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
It is now also struggling with the conflict associated with being on the drug trafficking route to the United States.
Nicaragua has traditionally relied on agricultural exports to sustain its economy but the country's meagre national wealth benefited mainly a few elite families of Spanish descent, in particular the Somoza family in the mid-20th century. This dynasty ruled the country with US backing between 1937 and the Sandinista revolution in 1979.
The Sandinistas began redistributing property and made huge progress in the spheres of health and education, but the US launched a sustained campaign of embargoes and armed subversion.
It is now hoping to launch one of the world's most ambitious infrastructure schemes - a canal project to rival the Panama Canal.
Republic of Nicaragua
Population 5.9 million
Area 120,254 sq km (46,430 sq miles)
Major languages Spanish, English, indigenous languages
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy 71 years (men), 77 years (women)
Currency gold cordoba
President: Daniel Ortega
Left-wing Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega made his political comeback in the November 2006 elections, having led Nicaragua through revolution and a civil war before being voted out in 1990.
Mr Ortega was re-elected to another five-year term with a landslide victory in 2011, winning 63% of the vote. Independent election observers, as well as opposition figures and US diplomats, voiced concern about the fairness of the poll.
His first period in office, in 1985-90, was marked by a programme of wealth distribution and a pro-Cuban orientation in foreign policy, which triggered a crippling trade embargo from the US which also funded counterrevolutionary rebels, or Contras.
By the time he came to stand for re-election in 2006, Mr Ortega had toned down his former Marxist rhetoric in an effort to calm fears in a Nicaragua that, although seeing steady market-based economic growth, was still plagued by poverty and corruption.
For most Nicaraguans radio and TV are the main sources of news. There are more than 100 radio stations, many of them in the capital, and several TV networks. Cable TV is available in most urban areas.
Some key dates in Nicaragua's history:
1838 - Nicaragua becomes fully independent. Country spends most of the 19th century in violent power struggles between Liberal and Conservative factions.
1860 - British cede control over the country's Caribbean coast to Nicaragua.
1909 - US supports a coup by Nicaragua's conservative forces, beginning a long period of US interventions and occupations in Nicaragua.
1927 - National hero Cesar Augusto Sandino begins a rebellion against the US occupiers and their Nicaraguan allies.
1934 - Sandino forces the US marines to withdraw. Sandino is assassinated. Anastasio Somoza Garcia, at the head of the National Guard, installs the Somoza family dynasty. Somoza and his sons Luis and Anastasio Jr rule Nicaragua until 1979.
1978 - Assassination of opposition leader Pedro Joaquin Chamorro triggers general strike and unites moderates and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in efforts to oust Somoza.
1979 - Sandanista military offensive ends with the ouster of Somoza. National reconstruction government is formed under Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. Left-wing stance of Sandinista leaders results in formation of anti-Sandinista rebels, the Contras.
1984 - Daniel Ortega is elected president. The US government led by President Ronald Reagan backs the Contras with arms and money, escalating the armed conflict.
Inflation reaches 33,000% in 1988 and GDP plunges 13.6%. Central American presidents step in and broker a peace settlement. The US disarms the Contras in return for guarantees of a fair election.
1990 - Violeta Barrios de Chamorro leads an anti-Sandinista coalition to defeats Daniel Ortega and is elected president. She installs a national reconciliation government, the war ends and the economy gradually starts to recover.
2006 - Ex-president Daniel Ortega is returned to power in elections.