Sometimes called “the land of lakes and volcanoes,” Nicaragua is a beautiful country. It could also be one of the richest in Central America, but its recent history has been as violent as its earthquakes, and the economy has been thrown into chaos by past political events. The economy is mainly based on agriculture, with fishing along the coasts, but Nicaragua also has large deposits of minerals, including copper and gold, which are mined for export. The country has a young population, with more than half the people under the age of 15.
For over 40 years, the Somoza family ruled Nicaragua as a dictatorship. But in 1979, rebels took control and formed the leftwing Sandinista government. They provided better health care, and set up a program of taking land from the rich and giving it to peasants. However, they were opposed by the Contras, anti-Sandinista forces backed by the United States, and thousands lost their lives in fighting during the next decade. In 1990 the Sandinistas lost the elections, but have retained their popularity among the poor.
Extended families are common in Nicaragua. Parents and children often live with their grandparents under one roof. Until 1979, more than half the population could not read or write. Under the Sandinistas, a literacy campaign was set up, and newly trained teachers, many of them women, were sent into rural areas to teach reading and writing. Within just a few months, literacy levels rose to 87 percent. However, when the Sandinistas lost power, the campaign faded and reading levels dropped again.