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Last Updated: 1/18/08
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Nicaragua Country Profile


General Information

  • Capital - Managua (1)
  • Area - 129,494 sq. km. Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, approximately the size of New York or the nation of Greece. (1)
  • Climate - tropical in lowlands, temperate in highlands. Average temperature, 20°C-44°C. (1)
  • Population - 5.4 million (July 2004 est.) (1)
    • Growth rate - 2.8% (2)
    • Approximately 40.2% of the population lives in rural areas. (3)
    • Ethnic groups - mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 69%, white 17%, black 9%, Amerindian 5% (1)
  • Major languages - Spanish, English and indigenous languages also spoken in some areas. (1)
  • Major religions - Roman Catholicism, Protestantism (1)
  • Monetary unit - US$1 dollar = US$16.146 Gold Cordobas (4)
  • President - Enrique Bolanos Geyer (PLC party, in power since 1/02) (1)
  • Type of governmental system - Republic with a unicameral National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional), and a Supreme Court (Corte Suprema). (1)
  • Multiparty system - influential parties include the Liberal Alliance [ruling alliance including Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), New Liberal Party (PALI), Independent Liberal Party for National Unity (PLIUN), and Central American Unionist Party (PUCA)], the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and the Conservative Party of Nicaragua (PCN). (1)
  • Next presidential election - November 2006


Socioeconomic Issues & Trends

Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, and one of the poorest in the world. Distribution of income is highly unequal, one of the worst in the globe. Nicaragua continues to struggle with its foreign debt, and will continue to be dependent on international aid and debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. (1)

  • Life expectancy - 67.9 (Males), 72.4 (Females) (2)
  • Infant mortality rate - 32 per 1000 live births (2002) (5)
  • Adult illiteracy rate - 23.3% (2002) (5)
  • Poverty
    • Approximately 47.9% of Nicaraguan families live below the national poverty line. (5)
    • 79.9% of Nicaraguans live under US$2 a day. (5)
    • Economic inequality GINI index - 55.1 (0 represents perfect equality, 100 perfect inequality) (5)
    • Rate of unemployment - 22% plus considerable underemployment (2003 est.) (1)
  • Economic Indicators
    • GNI - US$4.0 billion (2003) (6)
    • GNI per capita - US$730 (2003) (6)
    • Total external debt - US$6.829 billion (2003) (6)


Human Rights Data & Issues

  • Freedom House rating
    • Nicaragua was given the rating of 3 (Partly Free) in both the political rights and the civil liberties categories (1 representing the most free and 7 the least free). It is also important to note that Freedom House evaluated Nicaragua to have a downward trend in terms of its freedom ratings, due to widespread corruption and a lack of basic legal protection outside of the major urban areas. (7)
  • Corruption
    • Transparency International ranked Nicaragua 2.7 on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (highly clean). (8)
    • An indication of Nicaragua's corruption problems is a scandal involving former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman, who was sentenced in December 2003 to 20 years in prison for corruption. Aleman was found guilty on charges including money-laundering, fraud, embezzlement and electoral crimes. (14)
  • Access to & freedom of information
    • According to Reporters without Borders, Nicaragua ranks 52 out of 167 countries in terms of press freedom (1 being the most free). (9)
    • In a recent report by Freedom House, Nicaragua received a rating of 40 (Partly Free Press). Furthermore, according to Freedom House:
      • "While citizens have the right to "accurate" information, the government has the right to deem what is accurate....[for example] the new government did shut down an opposition radio station that featured a program by the former president making attacks on the new administration." (10)


Environmental Issues & Trends

Even though Nicaragua is the largest Central American country, the level of biodiversity in the country is relatively low as compared to the other countries in the region. That said, Nicaragua boasts 750 bird species, 200 mammal species, 220 reptile and amphibian species, 50 freshwater fish species, and 9,000 vascular plants. Nicaragua's main environmental problems are deforestation, environmental degradation and pollution caused by agricultural production, soil erosion, water pollution, over-fishing, and poor land management. (11) (3) (15)

  • Natural Resources - agricultural products (including bananas, coffee, cotton, maize, rice, sugar), cattle, minerals (gold, silver, copper, tungsten, lead, zinc), timber, fish. (17), (18)
  • Total Forest Area - 3.278 million hectares (2000) (12)
  • Deforestation rate - 26% (1990-2000) (12)
  • Protected Areas - There are 73 protected areas in Nicaragua, which include 1 biological reserve, 3 national parks, 3 forest reserves, 3 wildlife refuges, and 2 biosphere reserves, covering approximately 17% of the country (21,000 sq. km). (11), (16)
  • Conventions/agreements -Party to Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), Kyoto Protocol, Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), Ramsar Convention, World Heritage Convention (13)

Related Links:

Related Democracy and Human Rights Reports:


1 US Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook: Nicaragua. 2004. http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/nu.html

2 World Health Organization Statistical Information System. Core Health Indicators: Nicaragua. http://www3.who.int/whosis/country/indicators.cfm?country=nic

3 INTERAIS. Directorio de Estudios Ambientales en América Central. CAITE and UICN. Turrialba, Costa Rica. 1997.

4 Universal Currency Converter http://www.xe.com/ucc/convert.cgi

5 The United Nations. Human Development Indicators 2003: Nicaragua. 2003. http://hdr.undp.org/statistics/data/cty/cty_f_NIC.html

6 The World Bank Group. Nicaragua at a Glance. September 15, 2004. http://www.worldbank.org/cgi-bin/sendoff.cgi?page=%2Fdata%2Fcountrydata%2Faag%2Fnic_aag.pdf

7 Freedom House Inc. Freedom in the World 2004: Country and Related Territory Reports, Nicaragua. 2004. http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/freeworld/2004/countryratings/nicaragua.htm

8 Transparency International. Corruption Perceptions Index 2004: Table 1. 2004. http://www.transparency.org/cpi/2004/cpi2004.en.html#cpi2004

9 Reporters without Borders. Third Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Americas Index. October 26, 2004. http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/Am_index_Eng_2004.pdf

10 Karin Deutsch Karlekar, ed. Freedom of the Press 2003: A Global Survey of Media Independence. Freedom House, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2003. http://www.freedomhouse.org/pfs2003/pfs2003.pdf

11 Javier Beltrán and Jochen Esser. Manejo de Áreas Protegidas: Análisis de la contribución del sector no gubernamental a la conservación in situ de la biodiversidad en Costa Rica, Honduras y Nicaragua, América Central. Deutche Cesellschaft für & World Conservation Monitoring Centre: Eschborn, 1999.

12 Earth Trends. Forests, Grasslands, and Drylands: Nicaragua. Earth Trends Country Profiles. 2003. http://www.earthtrends.wri.org/pdf_library/country_profiles/For_cou_558.pdf

13 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. State of the Worlds Forests: 2003, Annex 2, Data Tables. 2003. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/005/y7581e/y7581e11.pdf

14 BBC News. Nicaragua's Former Feader Jailed. December 8, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3299289.stm

15 ECOT-PAF. Republica de Nicaragua Plan De Accion Ambiental. Managua, Nicaragua. 1993.

16 United Nations Environment Network. Nicaragua Environmental Profile. United Nations Environment Programme, 2004. http://www.unep.net/profile/index.cfm

17 Atlapedia Online. Countries A-Z: Nicaragua. http://www.atlapedia.com/online/countries/elsalvad.htm

18 H. Jeffrey Leonard. Recursos Naturales y Desarrollo Economico en America Central: Un Perfil Ambiental Regional. International Institute for Environment and Development. San José, Costa Rica. 1986.

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