Brief overview of the country of Nicaragua, its economy, government, population, and culture.
Nicaragua is a Central American country, bordered on the north by Honduras and the south by Costa Rica. On the east, their border is the Caribbean Sea and on the west, the Pacific Ocean. The nickname of the country is “La Tierra de Lagos y Volcanes” or, in English, The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.
There are three diverse land types in Nicaragua – The Pacific lowlands, The Caribbean lowlands, and the northern highlands. The Pacific lowlands area has an excellent climate with average temperatures between 85 and 90. The capital city, Managua, and other large cities are located in this region. One-third of the nation’s population lives in the Pacific lowlands. The rainy season in this area lasts from May to October and brings 40 to 60 inches of rain. Sitting atop a major tectonic plate, this area of the country is very susceptible to earthquakes.
The northern highlands are where most of the volcanoes are located and the terrain is very rugged. The rainy season lasts longer in this area. Temperatures average between 75 and 80. Coffee is grown in this region.
The Caribbean lowlands are completely different from the rest of the country. The area is a large tropical rainforest, the largest north of the Amazon. The area has 57% of the territory of the nation and most of Nicaragua’s mineral resources. More English is spoken than in other areas of the country. There are many beautiful beaches in this area of Nicaragua, making it a desirable tourist destination.
The biological diversity, warm tropical climate, and active volcanoes also serve to make Nicaragua an increasingly popular tourist destination. http://www.toursnicaragua.com/country_info.html
As of 2010 Census – there are 6 million people in Nicaragua. The majority of population is mestizo (European and Amerindian ascendancy). There is also a white minority population, primarily European and North Americans.
The predominant religion of Nicaragua is Roman Catholic, comprising 58.5% of the population. Evangelical Protestant is the second largest religious group, comprising 21.6% of the population. Other groups include: Moravian and Evangelical Protestants comprising 1.6% of the population. Jehovah’s Witnesses make up .9%; 1.6% are a mixture of Buddhist, Islamic, Judaism, and others. 15.7% of the population follows no religion.
As for the government of Nicaragua, the country was governed for many years by a military dictatorship under the Somoza family, which came to power in 1927. After the Somozas, persons loyal to the Somoza family continued to control the government until the early 70’s.
In 1972, 90% of the capital city of Managua was destroyed by an earthquake. As rebuilding efforts went forward, it was discovered that the Somoza government had stolen most of the relief funds. As a result, many disenchanted young people became involved with the Sandanista Liberation Front, which ultimately, overthrew the Somoza government in 1979. The Sandanistas became more Marxist as the years progressed but in 1990, they were defeated in a democratic election. Violetta Chamorro, of the Constitutional Liberal Party, was elected President, much to the amazement of the Sandanistas. Recent elections have returned the Sandanistas to leadership of the country and currently, Daniel Ortega, of the Sandanista Liberation Front, is the President of Nicaragua.
Prior to the 1970’s, Nicaragua was among the wealthiest countries in the Americas. It is now one of the poorest Latin American countries. Their status was affected not only by the turmoil of government but also from a severe earthquake in 1972 which destroyed 90% of the capital city of Managua. The country also suffered the effects of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. There was so much damage from these natural disasters that recovery has been very, very slow.
Textiles and apparel account for 60% of Nicaragua’s exports. Coffee and bananas are also among their largest export items. Major industries include food processing, cement production, metal fabrication, shrimping, fishing, and oil refining. Light industry, tourism, banking, mining, fisheries, and general commerce are currently expanding.
A major source of income in Nicaragua is provided by Nicaraguans living outside the country. It is estimated that in 2006 approximately $655,500,000 was sent to Nicaragua by persons living outside Nicaragua.
Economically, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas. According to the United Nations Development Program (PNUD) (from 2008), 48% of the population in Nicaragua live below the poverty line and 80% live with less than $2 per day. Unemployment is 3.9%, and another 46.5% are underemployed (2008 est.).
Elementary education is free and compulsory but it is not completely funded by the government. Parents must pay fees for desks, books, utilities, and cleaning supplies. The parents also provide the janitorial services for the schools.
The educational fees become prohibitive for parents with several children. If a family has 4 children, the fees can equal half of the family’s annual income. Many parents send their children to school when they are small but then stop once the child reaches an age where they can work to help support the family. In some instances, the children attend school in shifts each day so that they can be available to work.
Although elementary education is compulsory, in many rural areas there are no schools or teachers. Among the country’s adults, the average schooling is 4.6 years. Primary education in Nicaragua consists of 6 years and secondary schools offer 5 years. Secondary schooling is typically available only in Managua and Granada, the two largest cities. Very few families can afford to send their children to Managua or Granada for advanced schooling. Most families need the children to work and help support the family. Since funding is so minimal for the schools, there are no sports, music, science, and technology activities for the students and very little in the way of textbooks and other supplies.
Higher education is separate from the government. 7% of the Nicaraguan population holds a university degree.
The Nicaraguan people are very family-oriented and enjoy getting together for food, music, games, and fun when their work allows. Many musical groups are formed using marimba, a guitarilla (resembling a ukulele and guitar. The Nicaraguan marimba is unique and quite creatively designed. They have fashioned a circular bar that attaches to the sides of the marimba. By sitting on this bar, the player is able to balance the marimba on his lap while playing. When not being played, the circular bar makes an easy way to carry the marimba from place to place.
Nicaragua's best known culinary dish is Gallo Pinto, made with rice, beans, and spices. The recipe is printed below.
Gallo Pinto (Red Beans in Nicaragua; Black Beans in Costa Rica)
1 cup cooked white rice
1 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup broth from black beans (red beans for Nicaragua)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 chopped red pepper
2 spoonfuls Olive oil
2 Teaspoons Sesame oil
3 Tablespoons Salsa lizano (spicy vegetable sauce) (in Nicaragua; they use coconut milk)
Salt & fresh black pepper to taste
Heat olive and sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add spices (onion, sweet pepper, garlic) and sauté for about 5 minutes, until brown.
Add the beans broth and rice and simmer until the broth is gone.
Finally, add cilantro, salsa lizano, salt and pepper to taste.
Accompany the Gallo Pinto with eggs, cheese, or green salad
Serves: 4 - 6