History and Colonial Granada

A very brief history of Nicaragua.

Historic statues


Jicaro had a very comfortable feeling, almost leading me to believe that “Hey, this is MY island” . Incredible!

Native flowers

Indigenous Culture

While the history of Nicaragua’s name is still unclear, some believe that is a combination of the word “Nicarao”, the name of the indigenous group which inhabited the shores of Lake Nicaragua before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and the Spanish word “Agua”, meaning water, due to the presence of the large Lake Cocibolca (or Lake Nicaragua) and Lake Managua (or Lake Xolotlán).

There were, and continue to be, a number of indigenous groups inhabiting the country of Nicaragua. The people of eastern Nicaragua appear to have traded with, and been influenced by, the native peoples of the Caribbean, as round thatched huts and canoes, both typical of the Caribbean, were common in eastern Nicaragua. At the end of the 15th century, western Nicaragua was inhabited by several indigenous groups who were primarily farmers living in small, organized villages. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by other peoples, mostly chibcha related groups, that had migrated from what is now known as Colombia. In the west and highland areas, the Niquirano were governed by chief Nicarao, or Nicaragua, a rich ruler who lived in Nicaraocali, now the city of Rivas. The Chorotega lived in the central region of Nicaragua.

Both the Niquirano and the Chortega had intimate contact with the Spanish conquerors, paving the way for the racial mix of native and European stock now known as mestizos. However, within three decades an estimated Indian population of one million plummeted, as approximately half of the indigenous people in western Nicaragua died from the rapid spread of new diseases brought by the Spaniards, something the indigenous people of the Caribbean coast managed to escape due to the remoteness of the area.

A Brief History of Nicaragua after Spanish Conquest

Colonization and Independence

 A group of Spaniards led by Gil González Dávila first landed in Nicaragua in 1522 by way of Costa Rica. The area was colonized by a number of conquistadors, including Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, Pedro de Alvarado and Cristóbal de Olid, who established permanent settlements which later came to be known as the cities of Granada and Leon.

In 1538, the Viceroyalty of New Spain was established, encompassing all of Mexico and Central America, except Panama. The area of Nicaragua was divided into administrative "parties", with the city of León designated as the country’s capitol. However, in 1610, when Momotombo volcano erupted and destroyed the city of Leon, the capitol was rebuilt northwest of its original site.

Nicaragua became part of the United Provinces of Central America in 1821 and gained independence as a nation in 1838. Much of Nicaragua's politics since independence has been characterized by the rivalry between the liberal elite of León and the conservative elite of Granada. The rivalry often degenerated into civil war, particularly during the 1840s and 1850s.

In the 1800s Nicaragua experienced a wave of immigration, primarily from Europe. In particular, families from Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Belgium moved to Nicaragua to set up businesses with money they brought from Europe. They established many agricultural businesses such as coffee and sugar cane plantations, and also newspapers, hotels and banks.

United States Intervention

United States Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933 due to political friction with the United States government. During this time (1910-1926), Nicaragua was ruled by the country’s conservative party. From 1927 until 1933, Gen. Augusto César Sandino led a sustained guerrilla war against the Conservative regime and subsequently against the U.S. Marines, who withdrew upon the establishment of a new Liberal government. When the Americans left in 1933, they set up the Guardia Nacional (National Guard), a combined military and police force trained and equipped by the Americans and designed to be loyal to U.S. interests. Anastasio Somoza García, a close friend of the American government, was put in charge.

The Somoza Dynasty (1936 - 1979)

Throughout his years as dictator, Somoza ruled Nicaragua with a strong arm. He had three main sources for his power: control of Nicaraguan economy, military support, and support from the U.S. Somoza used the National Guard to force President Juan Bautista Sacasa to resign, and took control of the country in 1937. Somoza also controlled the National Liberal Party (LPN), which in turn controlled the legislature and judicial systems, giving him complete political power. On September 21, 1956, Somoza was shot by Rigoberto López Pérez, a 27-year-old liberal Nicaraguan poet. Somoza was succeeded by his son Luis Somoza Debayle. Subsequent presidents included René Schick Gutiérrez and Somoza’s brother Anastasio Somoza Debayle. During the 1960’s and1970’s, however, Nicaragua experienced a tremendous amount of economic growth despite its political instability.

Nicaraguan Revolution

In 1961 a man named Carlos Fonseca and two other individuals founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Angered by Somoza’s refusal to rebuild the city of Managua after a devastating earthquake in 1972, as well as beliefs that the Somoza regime was corrupt and mishandling foreign aid, the Sandinista National Liberation Front attracted a number of disaffected Nicaraguan youth to join its forces. The group took power in July 1979, backed by the support of the general populace, elements of the Catholic Church, and regional and international governments such as President Jimmy Carter of the United States. Somoza fled the country and eventually ended up in Paraguay, where he was assassinated in September 1980.

The Rise of the Contras

When U.S. president Ronald Reagan took power in 1981, he condemned the Sandinista National Liberation Front for joining with Cuba in supporting Marxist revolutionary movements in other Latin American countries. His administration authorized the CIA to have their paramilitary officers begin financing, arming and training a group of rebels that came to be known as the Contras, many of whom were remnants of Somoza’s national guard. The Sandinistas engaged in a campaign of economic sabotage in an attempt to combat the Sandinista government and disrupted shipping by planting underwater mines in Nicaragua's Corinto harbour. The U.S. also sought to place economic pressure on the Sandinistas, and the Reagan administration imposed a full trade embargo. After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the Contras in 1983, the Reagan administration continued to back the Contras by covertly selling arms to Iran and channeling the proceeds to the Contras (later to be known as the Iran–Contra affair).

The Post Sandinista Era

The Sandinista government was defeated in 1990 by a coalition of anti-Sandinista parties led by Violeta Chamorro, the widow of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (a Nicaraguan journalist and publisher). Violeta Chamorro was the first woman to be popularly elected as President of an American nation, the first woman president of Nicaragua and first female president in the Americas. The unexpected result received a great deal of international attention and political analysis, and was mostly attributed to the U.S./Contra threats to continue war if the Sandinistas remained in power. During her time in office, however, Violeta Chamorro did not dismantle the Sandinista Popular Army. In 2006, Daniel Ortega of the Sandinista party was elected into presidency.