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Country in Central America, between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, bounded north by Honduras and south by Costa Rica.

The constitution dates from 1987. The 92-member National Constituent Assembly is elected by universal suffrage through a system of proportional representation for a six-year term, and a president, similarly elected, serves a non-renewable five-year term, with the assistance of a vice-president and an appointed cabinet.

For early history, see American Indian. The first European to reach Nicaragua was Gil Gonzalez de Avila in 1522, who brought it under Spanish rule. It remained Spanish until 1821 and was then briefly united with Mexico. Nicaragua achieved full independence in 1838.

Foreign investment
After two decades of turmoil and invasions from other Central American states, Nicaragua experienced 30 years of relative tranquillity 186393 under Conservative rule. This long period of peace led to increasing foreign investment, especially in coffee plantations and railway construction. The Liberal dictator Santos Zelaya, in power 18931909, promoted state education, the separation of church and state, and civil marriage and divorce. He also led the movement for a brief union 189698 with El Salvador and Honduras.

US military presence
In 1912, at the Nicaraguan government's request, the USA established military bases in the country. Their presence was opposed by a guerrilla group led by Augusto Csar Sandino. The USA withdrew its forces in 1933, but not before it had set up and trained a national guard, commanded by a trusted nominee, Gen Anastasio Somoza. Sandino was assassinated in 1934, but some of his followers continued their guerrilla activity.

Somoza rule
The Somoza family began a near-dictatorial rule that was to last for over 40 years. During this time they amassed a huge personal fortune. Gen Anastasio Somoza was elected president in 1936 and stayed in office until his assassination in 1956, when he was succeeded by his son Luis. The left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), named after the former guerrilla leader, was formed in 1962 with the object of overthrowing the Somozas by revolution. Luis Somoza was followed by his brother Anastasio, who headed an even more notorious regime. In 1979, after considerable violence and loss of life, Somoza was ousted see Nicaraguan Revolution.

Sandinista reconstruction
The FSLN established a provisional junta of national reconstruction led by Daniel Ortega Saavedra, published a guarantee of civil rights, and appointed a council of state, prior to an elected national assembly and a new constitution assembly elections held in 1984 endorsed the FSLN.

Relations with USA
Nicaragua's relations with the USA deteriorated rapidly with the election of President Reagan. He froze the package of economic assistance arranged by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, alleging that the Sandinista government was supporting attempts to overthrow the administration in El Salvador. In March 1982 the Nicaraguan government declared a state of emergency in the wake of attacks on bridges and petroleum installations. The Reagan administration embarked on a policy of destabilizing Nicaragua's government and economy by actively supporting the counter-revolutionary forces (the Contras) known to have executed prisoners, killed civilians, and engaged in forced conscription and by covert Central Intelligence Agency operations, including the mining of Nicaraguan harbours in 1984. In February 1985 Reagan denounced Ortega's regime, saying that his objective was to remove it in the sense of its present structure. The World Court ruled in 1986 that the USA was in breach of international law and ordered it to pay 17 billion in reparations. In June 1986 the US Congress approved 100 million in overt military aid to the Contras total US aid to the Contras was 300 million. In 1988 a hurricane left 18,000 homeless.

Sandinista government defeated
Political parties were ostensibly legalized under the terms of a regional peace plan signed by the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua in 1987, but the fighting continued. President Ortega entered into talks with the rebels in January 1988 and the US Congress rejected a request for additional military aid for the Contras. In October 1988 President Reagan announced that he would no longer seek military aid for the Contras. In February 1989 the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras agreed to disarm the Contras, and in March 1989 1,900 members of the former National Guard of Anastasia Somoza were released. Elections held in February 1990 were won by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro of the US-backed National Opposition Union (UNO). The Bush administration spent 9 million on her election campaign. The USA lifted its economic embargo in March. By the end of June 1990 the Contra rebel army had been disbanded and the government had committed itself to reducing armed forces by 50. In July violent riots occurred as people protested about land rights, inflation, and unemployment.

US pressure maintained
Chamorro's state visit to the USA in April 1991 was the first by a Nicaraguan president for over 50 years. In exchange for Nicaragua dropping its claim to the damages of 17 billion awarded it by the World Court against the USA, President Bush pledged economic support for Nicaragua, whose total international debt was almost 10 billion. The cost to Nicaragua of the US economic and Contra warfare was estimated at 15 billion, with 30,000 people killed. US aid was suspended in June 1992 because of concern about the extent of Sandinista's influence in Chamorro's government. In an effort to end the suspension, Chamorro dismissed 12 high-level police officers linked with Sandinista. An earthquake in September 1992 claimed 116 victims, with more than 150 people declared missing and over 16,000 made homeless.

In 1993 a state of emergency was declared in northern Nicaragua after renewed skirmishes between Contra and Sandinista rebel groups.

A peace accord was finally reached with the remaining Contra rebels, known as Recontras, early in 1994. Constitutional reforms, approved in November 1994, reduced the presidential term, ruled out re-election, and barred relatives of serving presidents from standing for the presidency.

In the October 1996 presidential elections Ortega was defeated, and the right-wing candidate Arnoldo Aleman Lacayo became president in 1997.

In May 1998 and again in January 2001, Ortega was re-elected the Sandanista leader.

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