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The Americas

Central American Colonial Settlements


Nicaragua (Spanish Empire)
AD 1524 - 1821

Pre-Columbian Nicaragua was home to a great number of tribal groups, apparently without any solid hierarchy. Little was done in the earliest days of colonisation to settle this region, while easier pickings lay to the north and south, so documented evidence of the natives of Nicaragua is scarce until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There were up to thirty tribes evident by then, although some of these may be duplicates.

From his base at the new colonial capital of Mexico City, the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado explored and conquered territory to the south between 1523-1527. Nicaragua was created a province in 1524, under the control of New Spain. As with all of the territory of the Spanish Colonies which was being gained in southern Central America, it was administered more locally within the captaincy general of Guatemala. This consisted of the provinces of Chiapas, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.


Once he is allowed to sail again after being stripped of the titles and privileges he had been granted for his explorations, Christopher Columbus, former first Spanish viceroy of the Indies at Hispaniola, skirts Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast but fails to find a passage which he can navigate.

Nicaragua's Pacific Coast
Whilst not initially possessing as great an area of Atlantic coastline as it does today, Nicaragua's Pacific coastline was and still is magnificent

1522 - 1524

The Spanish begin to colonise the region from New Spain, but only loosely and without any central controlling effort. Even missionary efforts generally fail. Much of the country is left to the natives. However, the administration does involve the creation of the province of Nicaragua in 1524.

This supersedes the settlement region of Castilla de Oro which had been officially incorporated in 1513 to control Spanish Colonial territory which now forms northern Columbia and western Venezuela.


With little or no Spanish control, the Mosquito Coast along the Atlantic makes a perfect haven for Dutch and English pirates who are searching for safe bases from which to launch attacks on gold-laden Spanish shipping.

1631 - 1641

The first sustained contact with the dominant tribe or tribes on the Mosquito Coast comes when the Providence Island Company from the British Colonies of North America make contact, establishing friendly relations with the Miskito king. The company founds bases in two cays and remains in place for a decade.


The kingdom of Mosquitia is officially recognised by England.


At the conclusion of the American Revolution, Britain is forced to withdraw from the Atlantic Coast, including that of Central America and Mosquitia.

1821 - 1823

New Spain achieves independence from Spain, bringing to an end three hundred years of governance of the Spanish Colonies. On 3 October 1821, the captaincy general of Guatemala (Chiapas, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) is annexed to the Mexican empire. However, just two years later the southern Central American states form their own Federal Republic of Central America.

Gabino Gainza
Former governor of Chile in 1814, Gabino Gainza became first president of the Central American Federal Republic

Modern Nicaragua
AD 1838 - Present Day
Incorporating Heads of State (1838-2022), Federation of Central America (1852), Greater Republic of Central America (1898), & United States of Central America (1898)

MapLocated in Central America, the modern republic of Nicaragua is the largest country in the region, covering an area of 130,370 square kilometres. It borders Honduras to the north, and Costa Rica to the south. The Mosquito Coast (Mosquitia) forms much of the country's Atlantic coastline, although this area is locked in a political battle to regain its independence following Nicaraguan conquest in 1894 (see the link, right, for a map of Central America in 1830).

Nicaragua's capital is the city of Managua which sits on the southern shore of the lake of the same name in western Nicaragua. The origin of the country's name is obscure, and only theories remain to explain it. The most prevalent of these states that it was the Nica tribe which gained supremacy over its fellows in the colonial Spanish administrative or political sphere, and it was this name which was used for the country itself.

The provinces which now form Nicaragua initially passed after independence from the Spanish empire and its former regional administrative centre in Guatemala to the 'Federal Republic of Central America'. When that began to disintegrate in 1838, the five provinces were given permission to become independent states in their own right on 31 May (although this was already happening anyway). Nicaragua declared its independence on 5 November 1838. Despite the failure of the federal republic, the new countries shared both a common history and the hope that reunion would eventually come, as evidenced by their many attempts over subsequent years.

Today Nicaragua still struggles to overcome its legacy of poverty, civil war, dictatorship, and natural calamities. Traditionally relying on its agricultural exports to sustain its economy, these benefited mainly a few elite families of Spanish descent, primarily the Somoza family, which ruled the country with US backing between 1937 and the Sandinista revolution in 1979. Even after that it has largely been run as a presidential representative 'democratic' republic or, more precisely, a family-run business. Long-running twenty-first century president, Daniel Ortega, was head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. His wife, Rosario Murillo, filled the roles of vice-president and 'communications chief'.

Central American beach

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), from Times Atlas of World History (Maplewood, 1979), from A Brief History of Central America, Hector Perez-Brignoli (Translator B Ricardo, A Sawrey, & Susanna Stettri de Sawrey, ‎ University of California Press, 1989), and from External Links: United Nations Population Division, and BBC Country Profiles, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Nicaragua (Rulers.org), and Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and Nicaragua (Zárate's Political Collections), and Nicaragua (Nations Online), and Nicaragua Sees Democracy Crisis (NPR), and New Low for Nicaragua (The Nation).)

1838 - 1839

José Núñez

First supreme director of Nicaragua (Nov-Apr).


Evaristo Rocha

Supreme director of Nicaragua (Apr-Jun).


Patricio Rivas

Supreme director of Nicaragua (Jun-Jul).


Joaquín del Cosío

Supreme director of Nicaragua (Jul-Oct).


Hilario Ulloa

Supreme director of Nicaragua (Oct-Nov).

1839 - 1840

Tomás Valladares

Supreme director of Nicaragua (Nov onwards).

1840 - 1841

Patricio Rivas

Acting supreme director of Nicaragua .

1841 - 1843

Pablo Buitrago

Supreme director of Nicaragua (to Apr).

1842 - 1844

The attempt by General Francisco Morazan to establish the 'Confederation of Central America' from Costa Rica leads to his death by execution in the same year - 1842 - but the confederation itself lingers on in name alone for two years.

General Francisco Morazan (Aquiles Bigot)
General Francisco Morazan's attempt to establish a unified Central American state ended in failure and his death, one of many such attempts at southern and central unity which have failed since independence from the Spanish


Juan de Dios Orozco

Acting supreme director of Nicaragua (Apr-May).

1843 - 1844

Manuel Pérez

Supreme director of Nicaragua (from May).

1844 - 1845

Emiliano Madriz

Acting supreme director of Nicaragua (to 24 Jan).

1844 - 1845

Emiliano Madriz is opposed during his term as acting director by Silvestre Selva between 1844 and 20 January 1845. Then Manuel Antonio Blas Sáenz takes over as rival director, between 20-24 January 1845. It is Blas who then succeeds Madriz as the official recognised director.


Manuel Antonio Blas Sáenz

Acting supreme director of Nicaragua (from 24 Jan).

1845 - 1847

José León Sandoval

Supreme director of Nicaragua (Apr-Mar).


Miguel Ramón Morales

Acting supreme director of Nicaragua (Mar-Apr).

1847 - 1849

José María Guerrero

Supreme director of Nicaragua (Apr-Jan).

1848 - 1850

The Miskito natives seize the colony of Greytown (now renamed as San Juan del Norte), with British support. The event is noticed by the USA, but a minor action of reprisal in 1854 achieves nothing. The 1850 Clayton-Bulwer Treaty ensures that neither power will fortify the coast or attempt to colonise it.

Mosquito Coast
A traditional view of the Mosquito Coast shows what could be a 'dream holiday' view of the Atlantic coast in this part of Central America, making it an ideal residence for the coastal natives groups who made this their home prior to the arrival of Europeans


Toribio Terán

Acting supreme director of Nicaragua (Jan-Mar).


Benito Rosales

Acting supreme director of Nicaragua (Mar-Apr).

1849 - 1851

Norberto Ramírez

Supreme director of Nicaragua (Apr-Apr).


Justo Abaúnza

Acting supreme director of Nicaragua (Apr-May).


Laureano Pineda

Supreme director of Nicaragua (May-4 Aug).

Justo Abaúnza

Supreme director of Nicaragua (4 Aug-11 Nov).


José Francisco del Montenegro begins a rebellion on 5 August 1851, claiming the title of acting director for himself. He is succeeded in his rebellion on 11 August by José de Jesús Alfaro, also claiming the title of director. On 2 November 1851, Laureano Pineda, a former director in the very same year, succeeds Alfaro in the rebellion. He finally ends the rebellion by succeeding Abaúnza in the official post, on 11 November 1851.

1851 - 1853

Laureano Pineda

Supreme director of Nicaragua (from 11 Nov).


A second attempt to recreate a federal republic is made with the 'Federation of Central America'. Involving El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, it is established in October, and lasts all of a month.

Coffee revolution
The coffee revolution was to an extent inspired by improved production methods by countries such as El Salvador, although supplies to Europe may have been occasionally interrupted by the frequent Central American revolutions

1853 - 1854

Fruto Chamorro

Supreme director of Nicaragua (to Apr). Conservative.


On 30 April 1854, the state of Nicaragua becomes the republic of Nicaragua, adopting a presidential form of government in which a prime minister will serve under the head of state. Director Chamorro becomes the country's first president.

1854 - 1855

Fruto Chamorro

First president Nicaragua (to 1 Mar). Conservative.

1854 - 1855

From 11 June 1854, Chamorro finds his presidency opposed by an attempt at resurrecting the 'State of Nicaragua'. Francisco Castellón is the director of this rebellion until September 1855 when Nazario Escoto succeeds him.


Ponciano Corral

President (de facto, 12-20 Mar).


José María Estrada

Acting president (Mar-20 Oct).

1855 - 1856

With civil war raging in Nicaragua, US soldier and adventurer, William Walker, takes advantage by landing with a mercenary force, intent on creating his own slave-owning state with backing by Nicaragua's Democrat Party. He recruits over a thousand Native North Americans or Europeans who will fight to conquer Nicaragua and the other four central American nations: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

On 1 September 1855, his forces win the First Battle of Rivas. On 13 October he captures the regional capital, Granada, and on 20 May 1856 he is recognised as the legitimate ruler of the country by the US president.

The First Battle of Rivas, on celluloid
The First Battle of Rivas as depicted in an unidentified celluliod re-enaction, with the real battle being a victory for the US adventurer, William Walker

1855 - 1856

Patricio Rivas

Provisional president (25 Oct-20 Jun). Overthrown.

1856 - 1857

William Walker

US adventurer and conqueror of Nicaragua. Defeated.

1856 - 1860

The USA is persuaded by Walker's enemies to withdraw recognition of his government. In April 1856, he is defeated by Costa Rican and mercenary forces in the Second Battle of Rivas. On 1 May 1857 he surrenders and is repatriated by the US Navy. Arriving in Honduras in 1860, he falls into the hands of the authorities who execute him by firing squad.


Patricio Rivas

President (provisional, May-Jun). Conservative.

1857 - 1867

Tomás Martínez

President (from Nov, following a period of junta control).

1859 - 1860

Britain is forced to withdraw from the Atlantic coast due to pressure from the USA. It delegates its Mosquito protectorate to Honduras in 1859.

The Miskito revolt against this decision in the following year, so suzerainty of the entire coast is passed to Nicaragua, with the Miskito confined to a limited 'Mosquito Reserve' and their kings now recognised only as chiefs, a dictate which has little effect as no outside power is able to exercise its authority along the coast. The British union flag is lowered on the coast for the last time.


Guatemala and El Salvador fight a war in which Honduras sides with El Salvador, while Costa Rica and Nicaragua side with Guatemala. El Salvador defeats Guatemala at Coatepeque. Guatemala agrees to a truce but the war resumes, so Guatemala is able to occupy the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.

Miskito natives
Part of a series of postcards from Nicaragua entitled 'Memories of Bluefields' which was issued around 1900-1910, this one records 'Miskito Indian girls at wooden mortar'

1867 - 1871

Fernando Guzmán

President, but opposed by Francisco Baca in 1869.

1871 - 1875

Vicente Quadra

President. Conservative.

1875 - 1879

Pedro Joaquín Chamorro

President. Conservative.

1879 - 1883

Joaquín Zavala

President. Conservative.

1883 - 1887

Adán Cárdenas

President. Conservative.

1887 - 1889

Evaristo Carazo

President (to 1 Aug).


Nicolás Osorno

Acting president (1-5 Aug).

1889 - 1891

Roberto Sacasa

Acting president (5 Aug-Jan).


Ignacio Chávez

Acting president (1 Jan-1 Mar).

1891 - 1893

Roberto Sacasa

President (Mar-Jun), and former acting president.


Between 30 April and 20 May 1893, Eduardo Montiel commands the army in opposition to President Sacasa. On 20 May, Montiel sets up a revolutionary government junta to complete his opposition, with it including Joaquín Zavala. It is another revolutionary, José Santos Zelaya, who seizes power on 13 July as head of the junta, and then on 31 July as the president of the government junta.

President José Santos Zelaya of Nicaragua
José Santos Zelaya seized power in Nicaragua on 13 July 1893, becoming president of the revolutionary governing junta on 31 July and remaining in power until 1909


Salvador Machado

Acting president (Jun-15 Jul).


Joaquín Zavala

Acting president (15-31 Jul).

1893 - 1909

José Santos Zelaya

Governing junta president (31 Jul-Sep), then president.

1894 - 1895

The Atlantic coast territory of the Mosquito Reserve is forcibly incorporated into Nicaragua by President José Santos Zelaya in 1894. While Robert Henry Clarence remains the accepted chief of the Miskito, the Nicaraguans attempt to remove even his title by appointing their own claimant.

They choose Andrew Hendy, their established puppet of 1888 who had already been forced to abdicate by his own people after about a year in office. Now, on 20 November 1894, he is formally re-installed in office at the government palace at Bluefields. Miskito rebellions against his presence in 1896 and 1899-1900 do nothing to change the situation.

In the same year, General Rafael Antonio Gutiérrez overthrows General Carlos Ezeta, dictator of El Salvador, in a coup on 9 June 1894. He is assisted by Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and fellow countryman and close friend General Tomás Regalado. The coup becomes known as the 'Revolution of the 44'. Rafael is a supporter of a Central American union, and he moves El Salvador towards such an achievement during 1895.

Miskito natives in 1894
These Misquito natives were photographed in 1894, when their territory was being forcibly incorporated into Nicaragua

1896 - 1898

The Pact of Amapala, signed on 20 June 1895, heralds a new attempt at creating a union between El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The build-up to the 'Greater Republic of Central America' takes two years. When its constitution comes into effect in 1898 it is rechristened the 'United States of Central America', but it doesn't survive a military coup in El Salvador in the same year.


The USA briefly intervenes into Nicaraguan politics with the use of its navy. Nicaragua is for a short time a United States protectorate, although the US is quick to withdraw when conditions are more satisfactory.

1909 - 1910

José Madrid

Acting president (Dec-20 Aug).


José Dolores Estrada

Acting president (20-27 Aug).


Luis Mena

Acting president (27-30 Aug).


Juan José Estrada

Provisional president (from 30 Aug).

1911 - 1917

Adolfo Díaz

President (acting until 1913, protectorate from 1912).


Following an insurrection in the country, the US asks the president to ensure that all its citizens are protected, something which he is unable to guarantee. As a result, US Marines occupy the country and remain there until 1933, apart from a nine month period in 1925. Nicaragua is officially a protectorate.

US Marines in Nicaragua
US Marines were sent to occupy Nicaragua in 1912 and remained until 1933, ostensibly to protect US citizens there during the country's period of instability

1917 - 1921

Emiliano Chamorro Vargas

President of the protectorate.


Rather late in the day, its May 1918 before Nicaragua declares for the allies in the First World War against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire. However the country takes no active part in the conflict.

1921 - 1923

Diego Manuel Chamorro Bolaños

President of the protectorate (until 12 Oct).

1921 - 1922

One more attempt is made at creating the 'Greater Republic of Central America' between El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. A provisional federal council is formed, made up of delegates from each state, but that is as far as the project goes.


Rosendo Chamorro

Acting president of the protectorate (12-27 Oct).

1923 - 1925

Bartolomé Martínez

Acting president of the protectorate (from 27 Oct).

1925 - 1926

Carlos José Solórzano

President of the republic (to Mar).


Emiliano Chamorro Vargas

Acting president of the protectorate (Mar-11 Nov).


Sebastián Uriza

Acting president of the protectorate (11-14 Nov).

1926 - 1929

Adolfo Díaz

President of the protectorate (from 14 Nov).

1927 - 1934

The government faces a sustained guerrilla war which is led by General Augusto Sandino. When the US Marines in the country become involved, they bear the brunt of the attacks. When a new, liberal government is installed in the country in 1933, the US finally withdraws its troops.

US Marines in Nicaragua
The occupation of Nicaragua between 1912-1933 by the USA was part of the Banana Wars, with the US sending military forces at various times to invade several Latin American states in the hope of stabilising them

1929 - 1933

José María Moncada Tapia

President of the protectorate. Liberal.

1933 - 1936

Juan Bautista Sacasa

President of the republic (to 9 Jun). Deposed.

1935 - 1937

The new head of the combined police and military force, Anastasio Somoza Garcia, has General Sandino assassinated in 1935, along with hundreds of men, women, and children, using the US-created National Guard for the purpose. In 1936 Somoza deposes the president and takes control in a fraudulent election.


Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa

Acting president (9 Jun only).

1936 - 1937

Carlos Alberto Brenes Jarquín

President (from 9 Jun).

1937 - 1947

Anastasio Somoza Garcia

Dictator. Liberal Nationalist. Returned in 1950.

1941 - 1945

Nicaragua joins the Second World War as an ally of the USA and Great Britain on 8 December 1941, against Japan, Germany, and Italy. At the war's end the country also joins the United Nations, on 24 October 1945.


Leonardo Argüello Baretto

President. Liberal Nationalist. Died in office.


Benjamín Lacayo Sacasa

President (26 May-Aug). Liberal Nationalist.

1947 - 1950

Victor Manuel Román y Reyes

President (Aug-6 May). Liberal Nationalist. Died in office.


Manuel Fernando Zurita

Acting president (6-7 May). Liberal Nationalist.

1950 - 1956

Anastasio Somoza García

President for the second time (from 7 May). Assassinated.


Somoza is assassinated by a liberal poet. His son is 'elected' as his replacement, but he dies relatively soon afterwards following a heart attack. His replacement is generally viewed as being a puppet, with Anastasio Somoza Debayle pulling the strings.

President Anastasio Somoza García of Nicaragua
Nicaragua's President Anastasio Somoza García was assassinated during his second term of office, a victim of the country's ongoing political instability which would only get worse during the twentieth century

1956 - 1963

Luis Somoza Debayle

Son and 'moderate' dictator. Died after a heart attack.

1963 - 1966

Rene Schick Gutierrez

Largely seen as a puppet of the Somoza dynasty. Died.


Orlando Montenegro Medrano

Acting president (3-4 Aug). Liberal Nationalist.

1966 - 1967

Lorenzo Guerrero Gutiérrez

President (from 4 Aug). Liberal Nationalist.

1967 - 1972

Anastasio Somoza Debayle

Brother of Luis Somoza. Forced to step down.

1972 - 1974

Somoza is forced to step down as president, although he remains head of the military. A national government junta which consists of four members now controls the country.

Good fortune comes Somoza's way in 1974, however, when a massive earthquake strikes the capital city and martial law is declared, putting Somoza back in charge of the country after the 1974 'elections'.

1974 - 1979

Anastasio Somoza Debayle

Second term. Liberal Nationalist. Deposed.

1979 - 1984

The USA withdraws its support for the Somoza family, and Anastasio Somoza Debayle is forced to flee the country. Denied admission into the USA, he ends up in Paraguay, where he is assassinated in 1980.

The Marxist-Leninist Sandinistas take control of Nicaragua in July, headed by its best-known member, Daniel Ortega. They form a multi-person ruling body which is known as the 'Council of National Reconstruction'. Various elements in the country begin a standoff which is made worse in 1981 when the US starts to support the 'Contras' in the form of anti-Sandinista and communist units.

Daniel Ortega
Daniel Ortega's Sandinistas began an ill-starred spell in control of Nicaragua in 1979 which came to an end in 1990 when they were defeated in relatively fair elections

The Contras operate as guerrillas, hiding in camps inside neighbouring Honduras and Costa Rica, until what is termed by some as free and fair elections in 1984 give the Sandinistas legitimate power.

1985 - 1990

Daniel Ortega Saavedra

President. FSLN.


With the country exhausted by years of war, the Sandinistas are defeated in multi-party elections. The fighting finally ends when the Contras sign a ceasefire with the new US-backed president, Violeta Chamorro, the first woman president in Nicaragua's history.

1990 - 1997

Violeta Barrios de Chamorro

First female president. National Opposition Union.

1997 - 2002

Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo

President. Constitutional Liberal.

2002 - 2007

Enrique Bolaños Geyer

President. Constitutional Liberal.


Daniel Ortega leads the Sandinistas back into power in elections, although he is much more moderate in his communist beliefs after so many years in opposition.

The revolutionary Sandinistas ruled Nicaragua between 1979-1990, but when they returned in 2007 as part of the political establishment, they pursued a policy of removing limits on their power and that of Daniel Ortega

2007 - On

Daniel Ortega Saavedra

President for the second time. FSLN.


On 19 April a group of Miskito elders declare the independence of their people from Nicaragua. Their territory is still isolated - a ninety minute flight from Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, or a twenty-hour road trip.

Now they announce they will not pay any heed to the government in Managua, and will not pay any taxes to it. Instead their loyalty is to the 'Community Nation of Moskitia'. A flag is unveiled and a national anthem composed, but international recognition is entirely lacking.


Repression against Ortega's political opponents increases. His government jails many potential rival candidates in the 2021 Nicaraguan general election, including Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, daughter of former president Violeta Chamorro. Ortega's government also imprisons other opponents such as former allies, Dora Maria Tellez and Hugo Torres Jiméne.

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