Land of Turtles, Birds, Coffee and Baseball

By Liz Goldner


Nicaragua, a democratic republic in Central America, made worldwide news in the 1986 in, “Nicaragua v. United States,” ruled on the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands.

Twenty years later, Gary Simpson, contacted the U.S. Embassy in Managua, Nicaragua, requesting collection of soil for his project, Common Ground 191. In June, 2007 Benjamin A. East. Cultural Affairs Officer of Nicaragua wrote to Simpson, “The soil was collected from the Isla de Ometepe, which is understood as the burial ground of Nicarao, the main Indigenous chieftain encountered in Nicaragua by the Spanish upon their arrival.” He added, “The Spanish word for Peace is Paz.”


In 1502 Christopher Columbus reached what is now Nicaragua as he sailed south along the Central America isthmus. On a subsequent voyage, he explored the Mosquito Coast on the east side of Nicaragua. In 1524, Conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba founded the first Spanish permanent settlements there, including Granada on Lake Nicaragua, León east of Lake Managua and Nueva Segovia in Nicaragua's north.

Nicaragua was settled as a colony of Spain within the kingdom of Guatemala in the 1520s and later became a part of the Mexican Empire. The country ultimately gained its independence as part of the United Provinces of Central America in 1821, and as an independent republic in its own right in 1838.

Nicaragua had been considered a very important colony by the Spaniards, as it had a natural route to transport goods from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

In the 1800s Nicaragua experienced a wave of immigration from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium, as families moved there to set up coffee and sugar cane plantations, as well as newspapers, hotels and banks.

Despite its political instability, Nicaragua experienced high economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s, becoming one of Central America's most developed nations. At that time, foreign investments grew, particularly from U.S. companies such as Citigroup, Sears, Westinghouse and Coca Cola.

In 1972, Managua suffered a major earthquake. This toppled most of the city center. In 1973, many new buildings were erected. But by then, the high level of corruption in the government and many anti-government uprisings prevented major growth.

Military Dictatorship

Nicaragua has experienced lengthy periods of military dictatorship, the longest one – for most of the 20th century – being the rule of the Somoza family.

In 1961, responding to the country’s political volatility, a student, Carlos Fonseca, founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which was a tiny party throughout most of the 1960. But the heavy-handed treatment toward that party by the Somoza family strengthened support toward the Sandinistas.

During that time, Somoza had been acquiring monopolies in several nation-building industries, while not allowing other members of the upper class to share the profits. This action further weakened the Somoza family, enabling the Sandinistas to gain more strength. Soon, middle and upper class Nicaraguans began to see the Sandinistas as the only hope for ridding the country of the Somoza regime.

The January 1978 assassination of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, a newspaper editor and ardent opponent of Somoza, further strengthened the Sandinistas ‘ cause. The planners of the murder had been at the highest echelons of the Somoza regime, including Somoza’s son, “El Chiguin”, his President of Housing, Cornelio Hueck, his Attorney General, and Pedro Ramos, a close Cuban ally who commercialized in illegal blood plasma.

The Sandinistas, supported by much of the populace, elements of the Catholic Church, and regional and international governments took power in July of 1979. Somoza left the country, ending up in Paraguay, where he was assassinated in September 1980, allegedly by members of the Argentinean Revolutionary Workers' Party.

Dissention and volatile politics continue to monopolize Nicaragua to the present day. Legislative and presidential elections took place on Nov. 5 2006. Daniel Ortega became President with 37.99% of the vote.

Many National Parks

Nicaragua is roughly the size of Greece. Close to 20% of the country is protected as national parks or biological reserves. The country is bordered by Costa Rica on the south and Honduras on the north, with the Caribbean Sea to the east. It has three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific Lowlands, the North-Central Mountains and the Atlantic Lowlands.

The country has a population of 5,570,129. Whites and Mestizos make up the majority (86%) of the population of Nicaragua with approx. 69% Mestizos and 17% Caucasian (mostly of Spaniard, German, Italian, or French ancestry), making it the country with the second largest white population in Central America.

Spanish is spoken by 90% of the country's population. A 1980 literacy campaign, reduced the illiteracy rate from 50 percent to 23 percent of the population. The Sandinistas launched this literacy program, while spearheading gains in health care, education, childcare, unions, and land reform.

Nicaragua's Spanish colonial heritage is evident in its beach and resort communities, the Pacific Lowlands and in cities as Granada and León. Granada, founded in 1524, is the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere.

The country has strong folklore, music and religious traditions that are deeply influenced by European culture, but enriched with Amerindian sounds and flavors. Nicaragua is an important source of poetry in the Hispanic world, with internationally renowned contributors; the best known is Rubén Darío.

Baseball is the number one sport in Nicaragua. There are currently five teams that compete amongst themselves: Indios del Boer (Managua), Chinandega, Tiburones (Sharks) of Granada, Leon and Masaya. Players from these teams comprise the National team when Nicaragua competes internationally. Dennis Martínez was the first baseball player from Nicaragua to play in Major League Baseball; he pitched the 13th perfect game in major league history.

Recently, Soccer has gained popularity, especially with the younger population. Boxing is also popular; the country has had several world champions, including Alexis Argüello and Ricardo Mayorga.

Turtles are common in Nicaragua. They collectively arrive at the same time every year on the same beach to lay their eggs. A variety of birds inhabit the country, including eagles, turkeys, toucans, parakeets and macaws. Animal life includes monkeys, ant-eaters, white-tailed deer and tapirs.

Coffee, one of Nicaragua’s most important exports, is sent worldwide throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and as far as Australia.






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