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Nicaragua - Introduction

Nicaragua is one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest countries, with an economy based largely on agricultural production and exports. Nicaragua's growing population and rapid urbanization in recent years have had a detrimental effect on the environment. Inadequate management of resources and insufficient investment in water and sanitation infrastructure have led to water shortages and deterioration of water quality, primarily due to untreated municipal and industrial waste discharges.

The recent history of Nicaragua may be traced in the life of its some-time president, Daniel Oretega. Long ruled by the kleptocratic Somoza family, by the 1970s Nicaragua faced a guerilla insurgency. Daniel Ortega was one of the insurgency's leaders, and the guerillas gained strength as part of the Soviet's post-Vietnam imperial over-stretch. After four decades of mismanagment, the last Somoza fled the country in 1979, and Ortega assumed the leadership of the new regime. As Gorbachev pulled back from imperial adventures around the globe, Ortega's fortunes faded, and in 1990 he was replaced by a popularly elected government. Unaccustomed to democratic rule, the Nicaragua sputtered along, as Russia gained renewed imperial ambitions under Vladimir Putin. Ortega was elected to the Presidency in 2006, and with Russian help set about restoring a one-party dictatorship.

Nicaragua is the poorest country in the Americas with the exception of Haiti. Social and economic dislocation resulting from civil war, political instability, frequent natural disasters and mistaken macroeconomic policies are among the key causes of poverty. Nicaragua made significant advances in the social sectors during the post-revolutionary period of the 1980s including a very successful literacy campaign, provision of free health and education services, and expanded employment opportunities in the public sector. Government spending on the war and social reforms was high, leading to sustained hyperinflation and accumulation of an extremely high external debt burden. Economic growth dropped drastically, and Nicaragua became dependent on external aid to maintain basic services. Structural adjustment programmes introduced in the 1990s improved macroeconomic indicators but caused great hardship for the poor and further reduced their living standards as basic social services and public sector employment were cut.

Lack of economic and social opportunities together with fragmentation of society and collapse of the post-revolutionary social structures of the 1980s has led to reduced expectations and growing despondency among young people. Drug abuse, gang warfare and domestic violence are common problems for adolescents. By 2015, political, economic, and social demonstrations occurred frequently. A large number of demonstrations involved opposition to the proposed building of an interoceanic canal and demands for transparent elections. The motives for other demonstrations included workers/veterans rights, availability of public utilities, traffic and transportation concerns, and other national issues.

Most demonstrations begin peacefully, but the presence of counter-demonstrators or police can lead to an escalation in tension and violence. Typically, protests in Managua take place at major intersections or rotundas. Outside of the capital, they often take place in the form of road/highway blockages. Protests have included the use of gunfire, tear gas, fireworks, rock throwing, tire/vehicle burning, and road blocks. Police have often been slow to respond and reluctant to interfere in violent confrontations between rival political factions, and have been accused of facilitating attacks by ruling party thugs against protestors. Additionally, increased politically-motivated violence is being reported in the Northern Departments of the country, and crime rates in the Mining Triangle and the Caribbean Coast remain significantly higher than in other parts of the country.

The homicide rate in the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region was 33 people per 100,000 inhabitants. Other areas with homicide rates significantly above the national average were the "Mining Triangle," which is comprised of the three Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region municipalities of Siuna, Rosita and, Bonanza (18 people per 100,000 inhabitants); Jinotega (14 people per 100,000 inhabitants); the Northern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (13 people per 100,000 inhabitants); and Zelaya Central (12 people per 100,000 inhabitants).

Public transportation often lacks proper safety equipment (lights, seatbelts, seats, handholds). Bus accidents on roadways often result in injuries and deaths. U.S. citizens should avoid buses, as criminals will often steal backpacks, purses, and other personal items from overhead and below seat storage. Only use licensed taxis endorsed or recommended by airport authorities, major hotels, restaurants, or other trusted sources. Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red stripe across the top and bottom of the license plate and that the number is legible.

Road conditions vary, and the risk of traffic accidents is enhanced by frequent road hazards, pedestrians, and other drivers. Driving is on the right side. Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in good condition, drivers should be aware that torrential seasonal rains take a heavy toll on all roads. Roads commonly have potholes, have unpainted speed bumps, are poorly illuminated, narrow, without shoulders, and often missing manhole covers. Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, and traffic rules are inconsistently enforced. Be on the lookout for detours and slow traffic. In general, road signs are poor or non-existent. Drivers will frequently encounter vehicles without lights, animals, bicycles, and pedestrians, all of which are difficult to see at night, even on main thoroughfares in Managua.

Motorcycles dart in/out of traffic with little/no warning, taxis stop in the middle of the road to negotiate with potential passengers, and buses often travel in the oncoming lane to avoid traffic jams. Sidewalks are not common, so drivers must be aware that pedestrians often walk on main roads, including on busy thoroughfares, and often do not look both ways before crossing the street. Pedestrian bridges, when present, are often not used. Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly, and break down without warning. Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots, and vehicles stop without warning and pass in "no passing" zones. Road travel after dark and in dark areas is especially hazardous.

During the rainy season, dirt roads in the Caribbean coast can be treacherous, so ferries are the foremost mode of transportation. Emergency services are very difficult to access. Strong currents along the Pacific coast have resulted in a number of drownings. Powerful waves have also caused broken bones, and sting ray injuries are not uncommon. Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available. Nicaragua has many active and potentially active volcanoes. Many are situated near Managua and other popular tourist destinations. In 2015, the Telica, Momotombo, and Masaya volcanos were the most active. Other potential environmental threats include flooding, fires, and hurricanes.





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