U.S. Relations With Nicaragua

Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Fact Sheet
January 22, 2019


U.S.-Nicaragua Relations

The U.S. government works to advance U.S. interests in Nicaragua by helping the country increase its prosperity, security, and democratic governance. Since Nicaragua’s independence, the country has experienced frequent periods of armed conflict, rebellion, and dictatorships, which have interrupted diplomatic relations with the United States a number of times.

Consecutive, deeply flawed electoral processes have concentrated power in the hands of only two individuals: President Ortega and his wife, Vice President Murillo. Political consolidation permeates all branches of the government, eliminating checks and balances. The president has a super-majority of the National Assembly, which enables him to change any law, including the constitution, at will. He has total control over the Supreme Court, and he frequently uses judicial rulings to provide an artificial cloak of legality to fraudulent, self-serving decisions. He also has total control over the Supreme Electoral Council, which enables him to rig election results in favor of himself and candidates of his choosing. Using these powers, the president continues to eliminate all space for civil society and the traditional media to report accurately or editorialize objectively, leaving social media as the only avenue for public debate. The Ortega/Murillo regime is responsible for significant human rights violations and abuses, including limits on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the closing of civil society space, unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, political persecutions, and widespread corruption.

In April 2018, the people of Nicaragua peacefully took to the streets to protest lack of democracy and rule of law. President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, responded with violent and brutal repression that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded. Their campaign to exile, jail, or kill anyone considered to be in opposition has led to a significant flow of Nicaraguans fleeing the country. The Ortega/Murillo regime uses well-organized disinformation campaigns to blame the unrest on “terrorists, murderers, or coup-mongers” while government-controlled uniformed police and heavily armed parapolice forces actually commit the violence.

The United States had responded forcefully to the Ortega/Murillo regime’s assault on democratic actors. It has redirected foreign assistance away from the regime to civil-society groups to ensure the appropriate use of U.S. funds. In addition, the U.S. Department of Treasury has sanctioned six Nicaraguans for corruption and gross violations of human rights, including the Vice President, the former President of the Supreme Electoral Council, the Director of the Nicaraguan National Police, a National Security Advisor to the President, the Political Secretary for the municipality of Managua, and the Treasurer of the Sandinista Party.

The United States continues to call on the Nicaraguan government to protect universal human rights and has repeatedly expressed its intention to continue to support civil society and promote human rights in Nicaragua. Along with other allies, the United States continues to advocate for free, fair, and transparent elections in the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and with regional and global partners.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have documented significant human rights violations since the outbreak of unrest in April 2018. Due to the gross violations of human rights and the lack of democracy and rule of law, the Government of Nicaragua and the United States have minimal cooperation in law enforcement efforts, counternarcotics programs, countering migrant flows, and on other matters in our mutual national interests. Prior to the political crisis that erupted in April 2018, significant numbers of private U.S. citizens, including retirees, missionaries, and business people resided in Nicaragua, and there were approximately 441,000 tourist visits to Nicaragua by U.S. citizens in 2017. Because of the ongoing crisis, foreign tourism has decreased substantially and many private U.S. citizens have left the country. The United States maintains a level three travel advisory for Nicaragua.

U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America

The U.S. Strategy for Central America (Strategy) guides U.S. diplomatic efforts and foreign assistance in the region. The Strategy is a bipartisan, multi-year U.S. government plan covering all seven Central American countries (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama). The Strategy aims to secure U.S. borders and protect American citizens by addressing the security, governance, and economic drivers of illegal immigration and transnational crime, while increasing opportunities for U.S. and other businesses. The Strategy focuses on three overarching lines of action: 1) promoting prosperity, 2) enhancing security, and 3) improving governance.

U.S. Assistance to Nicaragua

The United States is the only major international donor that does not provide assistance directly to the Nicaraguan government and U.S. assistance in 2017 was under five percent of the total foreign aid received in the country. U.S. assistance to Nicaragua promotes strengthening of democratic governance, citizen security, and economic prosperity. In 2017, U.S. government programs advanced broad-based economic stability and growth through market-led food security and productivity, supported the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises, including those owned by vulnerable populations, promoted greater use of the trade advantages provided by the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), and encouraged socially and environmentally responsible sustainable growth.

U.S. assistance also aimed to increase citizens’ ability to engage in democratic governance through trainings for emerging democratic leaders, strengthening civil society engagement, supporting an independent media, and improving local governance. In under-governed areas of the Caribbean coastal region where drug trafficking and related criminal activity is rising, programs focused on education and life-skills development that support citizen security. By improving reading performance, enhancing work force and life-skills, and increasing community engagement to create positive and safe environments for at-risk children and youth, U.S. assistance aims to deter involvement in illicit activities and increase opportunities for Nicaraguans by working directly with civil society, local communities, and the private sector.

Bilateral Economic Relations

President Ortega’s brutal repression has led to a major economic recession, significantly affecting long-term growth prospects for Nicaragua. The country remains the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, despite averaging over four percent GDP growth annually since 1995, and the April 2018 unrest has caused the economy to decline by between 2 and 4 percent. The United States has been the number-one economic partner for Nicaragua, buying 51 percent of Nicaraguan exports, supplying 32 percent of its imports, providing 20 percent of investment, sending 54 percent of its remittances, and being the origin of 19 percent of its tourists, according to 2017 figures. Nicaragua’s economic strengths include its relatively low labor costs, young labor force, and significant tax-incentives for investors. Its weaknesses include increasing reputational risks for companies doing business in the country, high security costs, growing government antagonism towards the private sector, weak governmental institutions, deficiencies in the rule of law, and extensive executive control.

Nicaragua's Membership in International Organizations

Nicaragua and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, Organization of American States, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, International Criminal Police Organization, International Labour Organization and World Trade Organization.

Bilateral Representation

Principal U.S. embassy officials are listed in the Department's Key Officers List.

Nicaragua maintains an embassy in the United States at 1627 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-939-6570).

More information about Nicaragua is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

Department of State Nicaragua Page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook Nicaragua Page
U.S. Embassy
USAID Nicaragua Page
History of U.S. Relations With Nicaragua
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Investment Climate Statements
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Countries Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Export.gov International Offices Page
Millennium Challenge Corporation: Nicaragua
Library of Congress Country Studies
Travel Information