More information about Nicaragua is available on the Nicaragua page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.
The U.S. government works to advance U.S. interests in Nicaragua by helping improve the country’s prosperity, security, and democratic governance. Since Nicaragua’s independence, the country has experienced frequent periods of armed conflict, rebellion, and dictatorship, which have adversely impacted diplomatic relations with the United States.
Nicaragua’s current leaders have systematically undermined Nicaragua’s democratic structures—including the separation of powers, electoral system, and respect for human rights—resulting in the concentration of power in the hands of two individuals: President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. Ortega and Murillo have worked for years to extend their personal control over all branches of the government, effectively eliminating checks and balances. Electoral manipulation has also given the president a super-majority in the National Assembly, which enables him to change any law, including the constitution, at will. His total control over the Supreme Court allows him to dictate judicial rulings to provide an artificial cloak of legality to self-serving decisions. His dominance over the Supreme Electoral Council enables him to manipulate the electoral landscape. Using these powers, the president continues to eliminate space for political opposition, civil society, and independent media.
The government and ruling Sandinista party have created a highly effective police state that monitors the activities of Nicaraguans, leaving citizens fearful of participating in protests or demonstrations, or speaking out on social media. The Ortega-Murillo government is responsible for enabling widespread corruption and significant human rights abuses, including undue limits on freedom of expression –
including for members of the press, the closing of civil society space, unlawful killings, and arrests of individuals for exercising their human rights. In the run-up to the 2021 presidential elections, Ortega and Murillo have unjustly imprisoned over 30 members of the opposition, civil society, media, and private sector and, through a sustained campaign of repression and intimidation, have eliminated any possibility of a free and fair election in fall 2021.
In April 2018, the people of Nicaragua peacefully took to the streets to protest the lack of democracy and rule of law. President Ortega and Vice President Murillo responded with a violent crackdown that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded. Their campaign to exile, jail, abuse, or kill anyone considered to be in opposition has led to a significant flow of Nicaraguans fleeing the country. More than 100,000 Nicaraguans have fled to neighboring Costa Rica. The 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 commit widespread violence against the population.
The United States has responded forcefully to these abuses by offering strong support for the Nicaraguan people’s efforts to exercise their human rights and accomplish a return to democratic norms. It has redirected foreign assistance to civil society groups to ensure the appropriate use of U.S. funds. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned 31 Nicaraguan individuals and 8 entities including the Vice President, the first couple’s children, close advisors to the President, and leaders in the Nicaraguan National Police, the National Assembly, the judiciary, and the ruling Sandinista party. The Department of State has taken actions to impose visa restrictions. The United States has taken action to implement visa restrictions for more than 150 individuals who have enabled the regime in its assault on democracy, including National Assembly members, judges, prosecutors, election officials, officers of political parties, and some of their family members. The United States has called on the Nicaraguan government to restore respect for human rights. Alongside partners and international organizations, including the Organization of American States and the United Nations, the United States has denounced violations of Nicaragua’s international obligations and called on the regime to change course.
The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have documented
significant human rights violations since the outbreak of unrest in April 2018. More recently, the IACHR and OHCHR have expressed concern over what they characterize as a wave of human rights abuses and arbitrary imprisonment in the leadup to the November 2021 elections. The IACHR has called for the immediate release of opposition actors arrested in 2021.
Because of the abuses of human rights and the lack of democracy and rule of law, the Government of Nicaragua and the United States maintain only limited cooperation on law enforcement , counternarcotics, countering migrant flows, and other matters of mutual national interest. Prior to the April 2018 political crisis, significant numbers of private U.S. citizens, including retirees, missionaries, and businesspeople resided in Nicaragua, and there were approximately 441,000 tourist visits to Nicaragua by U.S. citizens in 2017. Because of the ongoing crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign tourism has decreased substantially, and many private U.S. citizens have left the country. The Nicaraguan Government’s poor and non-transparent management of the pandemic has significantly worsened the impact of COVID-19 in the country.
U.S. Assistance to Nicaragua
The United States, along with likeminded partners, halted aid to the Nicaraguan Government due to human rights abuses committed by the Ortega regime in 2018. In addition, consistent with the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018, the United States uses its voice, vote, and influence at international financial institutions (e.g., International Finance Corporation and Inter-American Development Bank) to oppose any loan or financial or technical assistance to the Government of Nicaragua for projects in Nicaragua with the exception of funding to address basic human needs or to promote democracy.
At the same time, the U.S. Government continues to support civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and independent media in their advocacy for democratic principles and processes in Nicaragua. U.S. Government-supported initiatives for young Nicaraguans focus on creating positive and safe environments for at-risk youth through programs that promote work and life skills and increase positive community engagement.
To address the humanitarian needs of vulnerable Nicaraguans in the wake of two devastating hurricanes and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in fiscal year 2020 and
fiscal year 2021, USAID provided more than $18.3 million in humanitarian assistance and COVID supplemental assistance. Through international and local organizations, U.S. assistance provided support to implement water, sanitation, and community hygiene projects; supply food and disinfection kits to vulnerable populations; and carry out programs to protect women and children and help them cope with the impact of back-to-back hurricanes.
The United States is also a large contributor to the COVAX-mechanism, which has committed to providing COVID-19 vaccines to 20 percent of the population. The United States is committed to addressing the COVID-19 crisis globally and addressing the urgent humanitarian crisis in Nicaragua.
Bilateral Economic Relations
President Ortega’s brutal repression in 2018 set off three years of economic contraction, regressing GDP per capita to 2014 levels. The economic recession has significantly affected the country’s long-term growth prospects. Nicaragua remains the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States and Nicaragua are parties to the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which aims to facilitate trade and investment and enhance regional integration by eliminating tariffs, opening markets, reducing barriers to services, and promoting transparency. CAFTA-DR contains a chapter on investment with commitments similar to those found in investment treaties the United States typically negotiates on a bilateral basis. The United States remains Nicaragua’s top economic partner, buying 49 percent of Nicaraguan exports, supplying 22 percent of its imports, and sending 60 percent of its remittances. Total (two-way) goods trade between the two countries was $4.9 billion in 2020. The United States was also the origin of 18 percent of its tourists, according to 2020 figures. Nicaragua’s economic strengths include low labor costs, a young labor force, and tax incentives for investors. Nicaragua’s weaknesses include authoritarian governance, reputational risks for companies doing business in the country, high security costs, government antagonism towards the private sector, weak governmental institutions, and major deficiencies in the rule of law.
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.
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: