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Nicaragua

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Country Statistics

  • Total Population: 5,666,301 (2011)
  • Life Expectancy: 72 years(2011)
  • Per capita income (ppp): $2,900 US (2010)
  • Ethnicities
    -Mestizo 69%; Caucasian 17%; black (Jamaican origin) 9%; Amerindian 5%
  • Major exports: coffee, seafood, beef, sugar, industrial goods, gold, bananas
  • Monetary unit: 1 USD ~ 19 cordobas

Background

Conamur kidNicaragua, though Costa Rica’s neighbor, shows a dramatically different picture. It is the second poorest country in the Americas (after Haiti). Like so many developing countries, the income distribution in Nicaragua is extremely unbalanced: 45% of all wealth is owned by 10% of the population. Meanwhile, millions live in poverty with neither potable water nor electricity supplied to their homes.

After half a dozen U.S. invasions and a decade long military occupation (1912-1933) Nicaraguans, under the leadership of General Augusto Cesar Sandino, forced U.S. troops out of the country. But with the help of U.S. finances, Anastasio Somoza soon took charge of the country in 1936. The forty years of the Somoza "dynasty" were filled with brutal state oppression and rampant corruption.  Violent opposition and a massive uprising driven by the FSLN (Sandanista National Liberation Front) led to a Civil War and eventually the overthrow of Somoza.

For the first time in its history, Nicaragua seemed to be headed towards in a direction that would better and more fairly benefit the wider population.  However, given the global political climate -- the '70s being the climax of the Cold War -- the sharply leftist mission of the FSLN did not sit well with the U.S.  Fearful of what would become of these Latin American "commies," the Reagan administration organized the infamous Contra war, launching an economic embargo and other offensive initiatives. Despite the International Court of Justice's condemnation of the American treatment of Nicaragua, the U.S. refused to pay the ordered reparations and has yet to pay to this day.

In addition to political woes, the geographical location of Nicaragua exposes it environmental disasters. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and drought have historically plagued Nicaragua. Most recently in 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated the country, leaving 10,000 deaths in its wake. As Nicaraguans struggle to rebuild their country, the neo-liberal leadership of recent administration have only resulted in increasing levels of social and environmental vulnerability.

Fair Trade coffee exports offer a promising alternative for the country.  As Kenneth Davids of the Coffee Review explains: “Nicaragua is simultaneously a rising star of Central American coffee and a poster child for what's gone wrong with coffee…” While Nicaragua earned the attention of aid agencies and “coffee idealists” due to its political history, it has also been slow to enter into the world of specialty coffee. The Nicaragua Specialty Coffee Association is attempting to change that, hosting Cup of Excellence competitions, improving quality, service and image in Nicaragua’s public outreach efforts. Nicaragua is now a serious player in both the Specialty and Fair Trade coffee markets.

Resources:

CIA World Factbook

UNICEF

Coffee Review Article (2004)

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