The Pacific coast of
Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th
century. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country
became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean
Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded
control of the region in subsequent decades. Violent opposition to
governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes by 1978
and resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought the Marxist
Sandinista guerrillas to power in 1979. Nicaraguan aid to leftist
rebels in El Salvador caused the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra
guerrillas through much of the 1980s. Free elections in 1990, 1996, and
2001, saw the Sandinistas defeated, but voting in 2006 announced the
return of former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega Saavedra.
Nicaragua's infrastructure and economy - hard hit by the earlier civil
war and by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 - are slowly being rebuilt. Spanish
is the official language, Miskito is also spoken.