President: Daniel Ortega (2007)
Land area: 46,430 sq mi (120,254 sq km); total area: 49,998 sq mi (129,494 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 5,848,641 (growth rate: 1.02%); birth rate: 18.41/1000; infant mortality rate: 20.36/1000; life expectancy: 72.72
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Managua, 970,000
Monetary unit: Gold cordoba
Largest but most sparsely populated of the Central American nations, Nicaragua borders Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. It is slightly larger than New York State. Nicaragua is mountainous in the west, with fertile valleys. Two big lakes, Nicaragua and Managua, are connected by the Tipitapa River. The Pacific coast is volcanic and very fertile. The swampy Caribbean coast is aptly called the “Mosquito Coast.”
Nicaragua, which derives its name from the chief of the area's leading Indian tribe at the time of the Spanish Conquest, was first settled by the Spanish in 1522. The country won independence in 1838. For the next century, Nicaragua's politics were dominated by the competition for power between the Liberals, who were centered in the city of León, and the Conservatives, centered in Granada.
To back up its support of the new Conservative government in 1909, the U.S. sent a small detachment of marines to Nicaragua from 1912 to 1925. The Bryan-Chamorro Treaty of 1916 (terminated in 1970) gave the U.S. an option on a canal route through Nicaragua and naval bases. U.S. Marines were sent again to quell disorder after the 1924 elections. A guerrilla leader, Gen. César Augusto Sandino, fought the U.S. troops from 1927 until their withdrawal in 1933.