Latinamerica Collection
History of Nicaragua

Pre-Columbian Period

Two Pre-Columbian groups existed in Nicaragua before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. According to recent linguistics research, these groups are believed to have been in modern day Nicaragua centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. These same studies have provided clues that the Nicaraguan tribes originally migrated north from what is now Colombia. Upon the arrival of the Spanish in the area during the early 1500s, there were said to have been three prominent tribes each occupying different parts of the region. The type of rule during that time was a form of monarchy with each tribe having its own chief. These tribes mostly ate beans, corn, avocados, and chili peppers as well as various fruits. They had weapons such as wooden arrows, lances, and swords


Colonial Period
Shortly after the arrival of the Spanish in 1508 and the eventual expedition that begin in 1522, European diseases began to rip through the native populations. Those that were not killed were generally taken as slaves. However, the natives living in regions that were not directly inhabited by the Europeans survived these hardships.


The first Nicaraguan settlement was established in 1524 under Hernández de Córdoba who later went on to found the cities of Leon and Granada until he was sentenced to death for so-called mismanagement. The Spanish crown showed very little interest in Nicaragua during this time as they were so financially successful with the expeditions in Mexico and Peru. Around 1530, many settlers left for South America to conquer the wealthy Incan nations. Also, many of the native tribes were exported as slaves to South America and forced to work in Peruvian mines.


Because of this outflow of people, many of the original colonial settlements in Nicaragua simply disappeared leaving only the main cities of Granada and Leon. However, with each passing year Nicaragua's population finally increased and the region became part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala.


However, with the seventeenth century came various trade restrictions by the Spanish crown as well as many foreign attacks by English, Dutch, and French pirates that had devastating effects on the region's economy. Numerous earthquakes in the region during the mid 1600s also had a drastic effect on the economy. Instead of fixing these problems, Spain did nothing to help its citizens in Nicaragua.


After some time, Spanish policy changed due the replacement of the royal family in power. This led to two separate factions that eventually became stronger and more violent. During the next century, the French Revolution took its toll on Spain's control over its colonies. The crown began focusing its resources on the wealthier territories further neglecting colonies like Nicaragua. The first move for Nicaraguan independence occurred when the Captaincy General of Guatemala declared itself independent in 1821. However, Nicaragua was still part of the Mexican Empire until various Central American provinces declared their independence and formed yet a new governing body in 1823. Nicaragua was then part of the United Provinces of Central America until the previous years' civil war was too strong to maintain a single centralized government. In 1838 Nicaragua as well as the other countries of the United Provinces of Central America became independent.


Nicaraguan Independence
The mid 1800s were characterized by conservative rule, and the two factions were still very much against each other. Three decades later, at the end of the century, a liberal revolt led to the placement of a liberal president. In 1909, the United States provided political influence in favor of the conservative faction and brought in the military which remained in the country until 1933.


Shortly after, the conservative forces took out the leading liberal figure and placed their own president in power, who retained close ties with the United States. After two generations of rule by the same family, a liberal group conducted a massive uprising that ended conservative rule in 1979. The United States government quickly halted aid to the country but continued to support the conservative movement against the newly established radical dictatorship.


In 1990, after a great deal of international and domestic pressure, free elections were held and led to the placement of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro who immediately began making positive changes and continued to do so for her 7 year term. In 1996, free elections took place again, leading to the first transfer of power from one democratic president to another in 1997. Since then, Nicaragua has continued to experience free elections, and various important changes are taking place that has led to gradual national growth.