Useful Notes: Nicaragua

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. It’s sometimes called “the land of lakes and volcanoes”, which should tell you enough about its geography. It’s a Spanish-speaking country, but it still keeps a notorious indigenous culture and is ethnically mixed.

The country is more infamous for being one of the prime examples of American intervention on neighboring soil. Besides the interest on a inter-oceanic waterway canal, later aborted (see below), the U.S. invaded and controlled the country during most of the 20th century, putting meat puppets loyal to the United States as presidents. The most famous of these would be the Somoza dynasty, composed by Anastasio Somoza García and his sons, Luis Somoza Debayle and Anastasio Somoza Debayle, which combined would stay 43 years in power, but their influence went beyond that, because when none of them were the Presidents of Nicaragua, it was one of their lackeys.

Though the country was developing during the Somozas’ regime, their dictatorial ways, along with the lack of help of the government for an earthquake that hit the capital hasted the downfall of the government to communist guerrillas known as Sandinistas, named after Augusto Sandino, a resistance leader against the first American intervention. The Sandinistas established control and imposed Marxist land reforms. This didn’t suit former elements of Somoza's National Guard and other anti-Sandinista groups, who formed a coalition of counter-revolutionary militias called the Contras (shorthand for contrarrevolucionarios). Money and weapons from the Soviet Union and the United States flowed into the country, and in the ensuing proxy war, Nicaragua turned from being one of the fastest developing countries in Central America to be one of the slowest. Things quickly devolved into a Grey and Gray Morality, or even a Black And Black Morality, as the issue of war crimes and human rights abuses carried out by the opposing sides or rogue elements thereof was heavily politicized by the international community.

Though hesitant, the Sandinistas promised that national elections would come, and after some waffling, they delivered in 1984. They won, but that wasn't surprising as several opposition groups boycotted the elections due to the 'state of emergency' stipulations. International observers declared the elections fair, but Ronald Reagan disagreed and kept sending the Contras money despite a Congressional ban and an International Court of Justice ruling, leading to the infamous Iran-Contra affair. When the time came for the 1990 elections, the war-weary civilians decided to collectively vote the Sandinistas out of office just to placate the United States. They elected Violeta Chamorro, the first female president democratically elected in the Americas, though her government was still staffed by Sandinista bureaucrats, hampering her ability to govern effectively.

After sixteen years of economic turmoil and political scandal, the Sandinistas were elected again despite strong US criticism (including an attempt to link them to Middle Eastern terrorism), though most of the party's Marxist flavor had been steamed out in favor of social democracy with a hint of conservative Christian morality. The current President is Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader and former President of the 1980s. Well, at least he was elected democratically... just like Hugo Chávez. In fact, Chávez and Ortega are BFFs, along with another 'democratically elected' anti-US crusader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Make of that what you will.

We Want Our Canal Back!:

Once upon a time, the idea of connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was in the mind of a lot of people (the other alternatives were through the bottom of South America; not only it was a longer trip, but also the strong winds complicated the navigation). When the United States decided to build a canal through the isthmus, initially the option was doing it through Nicaragua (using the Lake Nicaragua as a stopover), but alas, a civil war and the presence of filibustering in the area dissuaded them. Later, they decided to use the French option through Panama, abandoning the plans on Nicaragua, and the rest is history.

Nowadays, the option of building a canal is being reconsidered; not only it would boost their economy, but there’s also the bottleneck that forms in the Panama Canal. After all, the ships that use it today are way more than the ones that used to.

All Kinds Of Languages, Including One Fabricated Out Of Thin Air:

As it was mentioned, the country is Spanish-speaking. Curiously, it also has a considerable English-speaking community, due to the British claimed the Mosquito Coast (east) from the Spanish colony as a protectorate during almost 200 years (it was given back to the now-independent republic in 1860, but it had an autonomous government until 1894). The Spanish spoken uses the voseo variety (the same one as Argentina).

Besides Spanish, a lot of indigenous languages are spoken, including Miskito, Sumo, Rama and Garifuna. There were also some extinct languages that didn’t seem to be part of any particular branch of the language tree (or at least they weren’t classified).

But perhaps the most interesting language is the Nicaraguan Sign Language. Because of a lack of deaf people in Nicaragua, there wasn’t an established sign language for them to learn and neither an external sign language to borrow. But during the 70s and 80s, the deaf community arose and the kids, finding themselves without a language to “speak” between themselves, decided just to create it themselves, from the ground. Thus, it provides the linguists a unique opportunity to watch the creation of a new language, with verbal agreement and all that stuff, all this created by kids.

Fiction involving Nicaragua:

  • Alsino and the Condor - by Chilean director Miguel Littin.
  • Ballad of the Little Soldier (originally Ballade vom kleinen Soldate in German) - Werner Herzog film about Child Soldiers in the Miskito's "army", once ally of the Sandinistas, later enemy of them.
  • Under Fire - Gene Hackman as a reporter covering the fall of Somoza's regime.
  • Walker - Anachronism Stew about William Walker, one of those Southerns that, during the years of the Confederation, tried to expand the slaving territory to the countries below (he actually came to be President of Nicaragua for a short while, go figure).
  • Sandinista! by The Clash was inspired by the 1979 takeover by the leftwing Sandinista rebels of the rightwing dictatorship of the Somozas.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker - involves Sandinista rebels in Costa Rica as well as having a crucial battle set in Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan flag
The flag and coat-of-arms evokes that of the Federal Republic of Central America, symbolizing its past aspirations to reform the union after it broke apart in 1841. The coat-of-arms consists of the triangle of equality; within it are five mountains between two seas, representing the nations of the former union — Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica — situated between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans; above the mountains is the Phyrgian cap, symbolizing freedom, and arching above the scenery is the rainbow of peace. The only differentiation is that the arms' surrounding words show Nicaragua's full name in Spanish.