|8526 - Country profile: Nicaragua||28/10/2005 - 22:10:56|
Lacking substantial mineral resources, Nicaragua has traditionally relied on agricultural exports to sustain its economy. But these benefited mainly a few elite families of Spanish descent, primarily the Somoza family, which ruled the country with US backing between 1937 and the Sandinista revolution in 1979.
The Sandinistas began redistributing property and made huge progress in the spheres of health and education. They won a decisive victory in 1984 elections, but their leftist orientation also attracted US hostility and drove them to turn to the USSR and Cuba.
This set the scene for a US-sponsored counter-revolution, which saw Washington arm and finance thousands of rebels, or Contras, in order to carry out attacks on Nicaragua from bases in Honduras. The US also imposed trade sanctions and mined Nicaraguan harbours.
By 1990, when the Sandinistas were defeated in elections held as part of a peace agreement, Nicaragua's per capita income had fallen by 33.5% from its 1980 level, its infrastructure was in tatters and its modest tourism industry had all but collapsed.
The advent of peace brought some economic growth, lower inflation and lower unemployment. But this was more than counter-balanced by the devastations of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed thousands, rendered 20% of the population homeless and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.
President: Enrique Bolaños
Enrique Bolaños, from the Liberal Constitutionalist Party, came to power in November 2001 and sought to distance himself from the stained reputation of his predecessor and Liberal leader, Arnoldo Aleman.
His government brought charges against Mr Aleman, who was convicted of fraud and money-laundering. But the move has cost Mr Bolaños the support of his party's Aleman loyalists, leaving him politically isolated.
Moreover, an unlikely alliance - between the Aleman camp and the leftist Sandinistas - dominates Congress.
The president and his opponents have been locked in a power struggle, with the latter seeking to investigate him and several of his ministers over alleged campaign funding irregularities.
The president enjoys the backing of the US, which strongly favoured him over his election rival, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, the former guerrilla commander who fought a bitter military campaign against US-backed Contra rebels in the 1980s.
A senior US diplomat warned the president's opponents in 2005 against staging a "creeping coup".
Mr Bolaños, a businessman, was stripped of property and twice imprisoned under the Ortega government.
For most Nicaraguans radio and TV are the main sources of news. More than 100 radio stations are on the air, many of them in the capital, and several TV networks operate. Cable TV is also available in most towns and cities.
Nicaragua's print media are varied and partisan, representing pro- and anti-government positions.
Original Location: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/country_profiles/1225218.stm
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