Nicaragua achieved full independence from Spain in 1838, it remains, however, amongst the poorest countries of the Western Hemisphere. Nicaragua's economic growth, which is reliant on agricultural exports, has been stymied by natural disasters, political instability, and endemic mismanagement. Between 1937 and 1979, the US-backed Somoza family dominated Nicaraguan politics. Following a revolution led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1979, which benefited from internal and regional support, ousted the Somoza dictatorship. In 1984, the Sandinistas won a decisive victory and mandate for governance in the Nicaraguan general elections.
Whilst the Sandinistas introduced much-needed domestic reforms, a US-backed rebel movement and trade sanctions continued to be a destabilising force. Under the Reagan administration, covert US support via arms deals for Nicaragua's Contra rebel group erupted in scandal with the Iran-Contra affair. Nicaragua's gradual economic growth in the 1990s suffered a severe setback when Hurrican Mitch devastated the country in 1998. Elections in 2006 and 2011 led to the return to power of Daniel Ortega, a left-wing Sandinista leader who was also president from 1985-90. He has maintained close relations with socialist leaders like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
Despite its political and economic travails, Nicaraguan literature has been a centre of creativity in the Spanish-speaking world. Renowned writers include Rubén Darío, dubbed the ‘Father of Modernism’ for leading theliterary modernism movement at the end of the 19th century. His seminal influence on Spanish-language poetry has been likened to that of Walt Whitman on English literature. Gioconda Belli is another popular Nicaraguan writer. She was, for many years, a political refugee due to her outspoken opposition to the Somoza dictatorship. Her best works are The Inhabited Woman and The Country Under My Skin.
Several notable Nicaraguan films focus attention on its tumultuous political history. The documentary Nicaragua, Patria libre o morir, follows the Sandinista guerrilla fight against Somoza. Similarly, Ken Loach's drama Carla’s Song narrates the story of a Nicaraguan woman who, after running away from her country, returns only to be caught up in the violence of a country torn apart by the US-sponsored insurgency against the Sandanista government.