THROUGHOUT ITS HISTORY, Nicaragua has suffered from political instability, civil war, poverty, foreign intervention, and natural disasters. Governments since colonial times have been unable to bring stability and sustainable economic growth. Personal and foreign special interests have generally prevailed over the national interests, and foreign intervention in Nicaraguan political and economic affairs, especially by the United States, has resulted in various forms of populist and nationalist reactions. The legacy of the past can be seen today in the attitudes toward foreign influence. Although the upper and middle classes tend to emulate North American life-styles and be supportive of United States policies, the Nicaraguan poor are highly suspicious of the culture and political intentions of the United States.
Since precolonial times, Nicaragua's fertile Pacific coast has attracted settlers, thus concentrating most of the population in the western part of the country. The Caribbean coast, because of its proximity to the West Indies, historically has been the site of foreign intervention and non-Hispanic immigration from black and indigenous groups from the Caribbean and from British settlers and pirates. The resulting diverse ethnic groups that today inhabit the Caribbean coast have for centuries resisted Hispanic Nicaraguan governments and demanded political autonomy.
During most of the twentieth century, Nicaragua has suffered under dictatorial regimes. From the mid-1930s until 1979, the Somoza family controlled the government, the military, and an ever expanding sector of the Nicaraguan economy. On July 19, 1979, Somoza rule came to an end after the triumph of an insurrection movement led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional--FSLN). However, the predominance of the FSLN led to the development of a different kind of authoritarian regime that lasted for more than a decade.
During the 1980s, Nicaragua was the center of Cold War confrontation in the Western Hemisphere, with the former Soviet Union and Cuba providing assistance to the Sandinista government, and the United States supporting anti-government forces. A regional peace initiative brought an end to civil war in the late 1980s. The Sandinistas lost in the 1990 elections, and a new government headed by President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro was installed in April 1990.
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