In principle, primary and secondary schools have been free since the Sandinist revolution in 1979, but since the 1990s the number of private schools has increased and the resources of public schools have been reduced. The education system has undergone major changes in parallel with the changing ideological attitude of the political authorities.
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According to UNESCO calculations in 2001, illiteracy among the adult population was approx. 23%. More recent statistics suggest that illiteracy among children has increased in the 2000s.
The 6-year primary school (primaria) is compulsory and starts when the children are 6 years old. The secondary school (secundaria) is 5 or 6 years old. In 2001, 82% of primary school children began; however, the dropout rate is relatively large in the poor part of the population. 37% continued in high school. The Sandinist government from 2006 also emphasizes preschool/kindergarten (preescolar) as part of the education system.
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Higher education takes place at Escuela Normal, which includes, among other things, teacher education, at various private institutions, and at universities. The country has four public and four private universities. The most important are the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) in Managua – created in 1812 – and in León – created in 1680; moreover, a branch of the Jesuit Universidad Centroamericana (UCN). None of Nicaragua’s universities today (2009) have doctoral studies, and research is very limited. Many Nicaraguan professionals are educated in the United States, Europe, and other Central American countries.
Throughout 2005 the tension between Nicaragua and Costa Rica increased due to the disagreement that arose in 1998 about the border crossing in Rio San Juan. A 19th century treaty gave Costa Rica the right to commercially navigate the river, but according to. Managua did not allow the Treaty presence of armed Costa Rican police.
Like the rest of Central America, Nicaragua was hit by Hurricane Stan in October 2005, but although the damage was not as great as in Guatemala and El Salvador, it cost 11 Nicaraguan lives and substantial material damage.
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In November 2006, Daniel Ortega won the presidential election over his civilian counterpart with 38% of the vote. During the election campaign, the United States had interfered and launched a scare campaign against Ortega and the Sandinists, which the United States waged war on in the 1980’s. To secure the victory, Ortega had entered into agreements with old enemies from the Contra. Ortega’s victory was a manifestation of popular dissatisfaction with 15 years of civil rule characterized by widespread corruption and power arrogance. Ortega, when he joined in January 2007, declared open struggle against hunger, poverty and corruption. He further stated that he wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with the United States. Cuba’s President Fidel Castro did not attend the inauguration due to illness, but Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez did.
As one of its first official acts, Ortega embarked on Nicaragua’s inclusion in the Latin American ALBA collaboration. The country was admitted as early as February 2007.
To avoid the open split in the relationship between the FSLN and the church that characterized Nicaragua in the 1980’s, the FSLN allied itself with the deeply conservative Catholic church. The consequence was that while the front in the 80’s advocated the right to abortion, it is now opposed and even the limited right when the pregnancy was at risk to the mother’s life has since been removed by the FSLN and the Catholic Church.
Following Colombia’s military attack on Equador in March 2008, Nicaragua severed diplomatic relations with the rogue state. However, relations were resumed a few months later during the Rio Group summit in Santo Domingo. However, diplomatic relations continue to be strained, and Colombia’s president protested sharply against Nicaragua when Ortega in May condoned the guerrilla movement FARC when its historic leader, Tiro Fijo, died. Ortega expressed his solidarity with the FARC and characterized Tiro Fijo as a great advocate of social justice in Colombia.
The EU and the US, too, have cooled their relations with Nicaragua after the FSLN election victory in 2007. The EU has ceased its assistance, and so has Denmark – for political reasons. Nicaragua has compensated for the cooler relationship with the EU and the US by strengthening its ties with the rest of Latin America, Russia and Iran. In September 2008, Nicaragua recognized the two Georgian breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. During NATO’s war on Libya in the first half of 2011, Nicaragua was one of the few countries to stand on Libya’s side.
While the economy declined in 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis, it grew again 4.5% in 2010. Primarily as a result of increased exports and increased tourism revenue. The country continues to work on establishing a channel from the Pacific to the Caribbean that can compete with the Panama Canal. Such a channel will be a real boost to the country’s economy.