[This interview transcript was published on the web page of Estudio TN8. The original Spanish can be read here: https://www.tn8.tv/nacionales/nicaragua-destaca-en-america-latina-con-menor-indice-de-pobreza/]
On today’s broadcast of Estudio TN8, we talk about how Nicaragua stands out in Latin America in terms of its poverty reduction with economist Frank Matus and sociologist and political analyst Freddy Franco.
Frank Matus: Within Latin America, Nicaragua is among the countries that has best managed to reduce its poverty rate. In 2007, Nicaragua’s poverty rate was at 48.3%. After the transition to a Sandinista government, this percentage has been steadily reduced and currently is at 24.9%.
Estudio TN8: How was this possible?
Freddy Franco: I think the key was the arrival of the FSLN government, which proposed a national strategy to fight against poverty and for human development and to overcome the whole neo-liberal model which had left us a country practically in bankruptcy. Since 2007, the country has been moving forward because there is a national development strategy that includes economic development with social rights, and economic growth with equitable distribution of wealth. This means that a series of rights that were violated during the neo-liberal period have been restored: free health care, free education, access to housing. More than 125,000 families, for example, have had their housing problems solved during these last ten years. More than half a million property titles have been given out.
The government has sought mechanisms to finance micro, small, and medium-scale producers in the countryside and the city, as well as to empower women. It has created a whole strategy of economic development with social growth as well. So, that is what explains, I think, why we are placed [where we are]. Before, it was said that Nicaragua was the second poorest country in Latin America.
There are countries like Guatemala with 59% living in poverty, Argentina with 42%, and Costa Rica with 30% while we are at 24.9%. That means that Nicaragua, of those 15 countries which are located in this range of poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean, Nicaragua is the second to last least poor country.
There are different ways to measure poverty. One of them is by income as a country divided by the number of inhabitants. Then you say this is the per capita income. But we are beyond per capita income. There are a series of social rights and social programs which impact the material and spiritual well-being of Nicaraguan families. Income to workers is improved; social security grows twice as much; there are a series of subsidies for energy, water, transportation, and other things.
Frank Matus: The turning point in the fight against poverty in Nicaragua was when the FSLN took over the government in 2007. The key element is the political element. The fight against poverty has an important component which is political will; without political will, there is no fight against poverty. For the previous governments, the reason why they reduced poverty at lower rates or did not reduce it at all was because it was not their objective; it was not the priority of their policies. This is also reflected in other countries of Latin America, where the oligarchy governs and for them poverty is acceptable.
In their discourse, everyone is against poverty, but the agenda of the oligarchy benefits from poverty. The FSLN has a different character, a revolutionary character; it has a social character and that is why it makes poverty reduction a priority for the policy agenda.
Compañera Rosario Murillo said year before last that “Poverty is the enemy to defeat,” and based on that a whole regulatory superstructure has been created, starting with the National Plan for the fight against poverty and for human development 2022-2026. From this a series of strategies, programs and projects that have to do with the fight against poverty are derived. The common denominator of all actions is the fight against poverty.
Freddy Franco: In Nicaragua and in Latin America over the last 35 years the neo-liberal model was put in place, a privatizing model, a model that affected social rights. National economies were damaged by transnationalization [the selling of state property at fire-sale prices to foreign corporations] and by the elimination of mechanisms for the distribution of wealth.
You see countries like Argentina and Mexico, which have a very high poverty rate but an important issue that is not often raised in Latin America is whether people have access to welfare in terms of social policies, in terms of culture and education, social programs, and real economic opportunities. Nicaragua has been building a path of wealth distribution with a national strategy which establishes strategic goals every five years which means that Nicaragua is no longer the second poorest country in Latin America.
Another important element, besides social policies, is the government’s concern in investing in productive infrastructure such as bridges. Nicaragua has development strategies and economic opportunities for the population, for the micro, small, and medium scale producers in the countryside and the cities.
There are three aspects to highlight on the World Bank graph. First, I want to clarify that the World Bank, ECLAC [UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean] and others use data from INDE [Nicaraguan Development Institute]. That is, just as the results of the fight against poverty are ours, so are the data. We collect it through the poverty survey, the survey of living standards, the poverty map, and others.
There are different ways of measuring poverty. There is the baseline, which is the methodology incorporated in the chart. What it explains is how people are classified between poor and non-poor based on whether people have an income that allows them to satisfy a set of needs of consumption; that is to say, whether they can purchase sufficient goods to have a decent life.
We must understand that poverty is a broad-spectrum phenomenon. Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon with historical causes. So, the approach to poverty must be comprehensive, because we can have someone who has a high income but lives in a neighborhood where there is no drinking water or sanitation, where there are no street lights or public safety, where there are no paved streets.
With the current economic recovery process, we have macro-economic stability and that allows us to have the resources to support the fight against poverty. Nicaragua has many achievements in relation to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. I believe that Nicaragua has advanced a lot in a series of challenges that humanity is facing with its reduction in poverty, access to drinking water, education, and health care. We have an economic growth projection which is double the projected growth rate for Latin America as a whole.
There is an effort by the country to subsidize fuel and cooking gas and other things. This has an impact on the economy and benefits the family. The family is not spending that money. If you were, you would be able to buy less with your income. Inflation would skyrocket. We are working to control inflation which is a risk in all countries. Nicaragua has subsidy policies that protect the population and an economic strategy that is bringing back the economy.
In terms of the pandemic, Nicaragua recovered quickly while the rest of the world is still struggling with its effects. There is a whole series of factors in the world economy that raises the costs of transportation and goods. Although it impacts us, we have mechanisms to control it [such as covering the recent increases in the prices of petroleum products since March 2022].
By Nan McCurdy
Growth in Exports
The Inter-American Development Bank published the 2023 edition of its estimates on trends in trade for Latin America and the Caribbean which reports that in 2022 Nicaragua exports grew by 14.6%. The report noted that, “After an average increase of 29.5% in exports in 2021, Nicaragua exports closed out 2022 with an average growth of 14.6% mainly due to the greater flow of textile products and premium coffee.” It also noted that “although exports from Latin America and the Caribbean entered a deceleration phase in 2022, an increase in prices was observed, mainly benefitting economies of the region like Nicaragua that are net exporters of basic goods.” And, on Jan. 10, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) published its report titled “2022 International Trade Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean: The challenge of boosting manufacturing exports” which states that Nicaragua exports totaled US$7.106 billion between January and November 2022, a growth of 27.4%. “This growth in exports is mainly due to improvements in quality and productivity of manufacturing products, growth in trade integration in Central America and improved performance in the Free Trade Agreement between Central America, the Dominican Republic and the United States (DR -CAFTA).” (Nicaragua News, 11 and 17 Jan. 2023)
Poll Finds High Approval of Government
On January 10, M&R Consultores polling firm released its public opinion survey corresponding to the fourth quarter of 2022. The survey found that 76.9% of Nicaraguans approve of the work of the government headed by President Daniel Ortega; 74.4% believe the government is leading the country in the right direction; 80.8% state that the government works for the benefit of the entire population; 71.2% believe the national economy will be stronger in 2023 and 75.6% said the country has progressed over the last ten years. (Nicaragua News, 11 Jan. 2023)
Road Expansion Shortens Travel Time to Southern Border
On Jan. 19 the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will inaugurate a new 18-kilometer-long section of the road that goes from Masaya to Catarina. This four-lane highway benefits 235,324 inhabitants of Masaya, Catarina, Diriá, Diriomo, Nandaime and Granada reducing travel times, solving road congestion problems, facilitating the expansion of businesses and promoting efficient production, agribusiness, the handicraft trade and tourism. See photos: HERE (Radio La Primerisima, 16 Jan. 2023)
Public Defenders and Offices Increased Coverage in 2022
In 2022 the Public Defender’s Office assisted 356 child and adolescent victims of sexual crimes. The specialized public defenders also provided assistance to women survivors of violence against women. These services are part of the Specialized Attention Service for Children and Adolescent Victims of Sex Crimes, which the institution began to provide last year. “There are two modalities, we support women and also give reinforced accompaniment to minors who are victims of sex crimes. This has taken a lot of work: The Supreme Court approved several protocols, one for specialized attention to children and adolescents, another for specialized training of judges and magistrates on how to deal with these cases and still another protocol involving the Institute of Legal Medicine,” Clarisa Ibarra, director of the Ombudsman’s Office, explained to La Primerísima. There are 18 specialized delegations nationwide where citizens will find public defenders committed and trained to give this type of attention. “We also have this in Puerto Cabezas, Siuna, and Waspán and the Supreme Court approved a psychologist and a forensic expert in each town who speak the language of the Miskito ethnic group,” she said. The Ombudsman’s Office also distributed more than US$7 million in collected child support payments benefiting more than 10,000 children. The institution also facilitated around one million dollars in payments of various kinds from employers to workers, serving 220 people, 69% of them men and 39% women. In 2023, the Public Defender’s Office marks 24 years providing free legal services to low-income and vulnerable people. The institution has expanded its coverage, currently providing services in 147 of the 153 existing municipalities. In 2022, the number of public defenders grew from 430 to 474 which allows for a more efficient defense of people’s rights. (Radio La Primerisima, 16 Jan. 2023)
System Against Money-Laundering Strengthened
General Director of the Financial Analysis Unit Denis Membreño announced on Jan. 17, while addressing the National Assembly, that at the end of 2022 Nicaragua was removed from the risk list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the European Union’s blacklist, due to the excellent results of Nicaragua’s National Anti-Money Laundering System. Nicaragua has a consistent and strengthened system against the crime of money laundering and organized crime. Membreño explained that the exit from the lists facilitates access to financial resources on concessional terms and is a victory for the Nicaraguan people, its economy and financial security, in addition to increasing competitiveness at multilateral and rating agencies. “Nicaragua overcame the status of Jurisdiction with Strategic Deficiency and is recognized for its commitment and effort to strengthen its national anti-money laundering system, placing it as a cooperating country that knows and applies the international standards governing the matter,” he said. According to the report, the supervision of regulated entities increased 34% with respect to 2021 and financial intelligence work increased by 116% in the number of suspicious transaction reports. Membreño highlighted that for 2023, the Financial Analysis Unit will continue to further consolidate the National Anti-Money Laundering System. (Radio La Primerisima, 17 Jan. 2023)
Vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus to Be Available
The Ministry of Health will vaccinate girls aged 10 to 12 against the Human Papilloma Virus to prevent cervical cancer, said Deputy Andrés Zamora, member of the Health Commission of the National Assembly. Dr. Zamora highlighted the coverage in vaccines that in 2023 will add up to 18 types. “As every year, we are going to carry out a massive vaccination days between April and May; we are going to vaccinate nearly 100% of the population against Covid-19 and we are going to introduce a new vaccine against the human papilloma virus for girls between 10 and 12 years of age, which would mean 18 vaccines at national level that are applied free of charge to the entire population,” said Zamora. This year, MINSA will update the local and hospital health emergency plans to face emergencies, disasters, outbreaks and epidemics at a national level. Zamora also emphasized that a thousand weekly health fairs will be held during the year, accompanied by 67 mobile clinics; this year 12 new units will be added. (Radio La Primerisima, 12 Jan. 2023)
Growth in Dairy Exports in 2022
Oscar López, a member of the executive board of the Nicaragua Dairy Sector Chamber (CANISLAC), reported that 67 million kilos of dairy products were exported in 2022, generating US$200 million in sales, an increase of 5% over 2021. The main markets for Nicaragua dairy products last year were El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States. (Nicaragua News, 12 Jan. 2023)
Only Biogas Electricity Generating Plant in Central America
Representatives of the Nicaragua Water and Sewage Company and the National Electricity Transmission Company evaluated progress on the construction of a biogas electricity generating plant located at Lake Xolotlán Wastewater Treatment Plant in Managua which will contribute one MW of electricity to the national electricity grid when it begins operation. The project financed by the general budget with support from the German Development Bank (KFW) is 75% complete and will be operational in July. [Note: a megawatt of capacity will produce electricity that equates to about the same amount of electricity consumed by 400 to 900 homes in a year.] (Nicaragua News, 16 Jan. 2023)
Expansion of Water System in San Juan del Sur
The Nicaragua Water and Sewage Company inaugurated a project to expand the potable water system in San Juan del Sur, Rivas Department, benefiting 23,800 inhabitants. The US$3.1 million-dollar project was financed by the general budget with support from the Interamerican Development Bank. (Nicaragua News, 17 Jan. 2023)
Healthy Schools Plan 2023
The Ministry of Education has announced that a Healthy Schools Plan to protect the health of students and teachers will be implemented in all schools through health care campaigns, educational talks, health promotion and disease prevention activities, with the members of the educational community.
In the year 2023 the following activities will be developed:
Attention in Healthy Schools
- We will measure visual acuity in primary schools to identify children and adolescents with vision problems in a timely manner and provide glasses to those who require them.
- We will carry out oral health campaigns for the prevention and treatment of dental cavities.
- We will apply fluoride to the teeth of children in elementary schools.
- We will give talks and practical demonstrations of tooth brushing.
- We will carry out toothpaste campaigns at least once a year, for those who require it.
- We will organize blood pressure campaigns in all the schools of the country, to detect children and young people with high blood pressure.
- We will develop a program to detect hearing and speech problems in schools.
- From February to April, we will carry out the nutritional census in all primary schools to identify nutritional problems and guarantee their follow-up.
- We will administer, in April, vitamin A and worm parasite medicine to all children and adolescents, in all primary and secondary schools.
- We will carry out campaigns to detect and eliminate head lice in children in primary schools.Prevention and Immunization in Healthy Schools
- We will vaccinate against COVID-19 in the schools
- We will promote the National Vaccination Campaign in primary and secondary schools to complete the immunization schedules, which we will carry out in April.
- We will vaccinate girls from 10 to 12 years old against the human papilloma virus during the second semester.
- We will measure the concentration of residual chlorine in the water for human consumption in the schools and we will provide chlorine to apply to drinking water.
- We will apply larvicides every four weeks in all schools in the containers where water is stored to prevent the growth of mosquitoes [not drinking water].
- We will fumigate for mosquito control, before the beginning of the school year and before the return of the semester vacation period.
- We will develop two rat extermination campaigns during the year to prevent leptospirosis.
- We will train students and teachers of primary and secondary schools about the Family and Community Health Model and its approach to health promotion and disease prevention.
- We will teach school teachers and students topics like hand washing, garbage management, safe water, personal hygiene and food hygiene.
- We will train teachers and parents in all schools in the country to identify early warning signs of addictions in children and adolescents.
- We will conduct talks with teachers and parents about the importance of good communication with youth to promote values and build trust within the family to address early problems of harassment, abuse, violence and others.
- We will give talks on sexual and reproductive health with high school students.
- We will give talks to parents, teachers and students about the importance of proper nutrition, physical activity and healthy behaviors to live free of addictions (alcohol, tobacco and drugs).
- We will conduct, in secondary schools, sessions for self-care of mental health, self-esteem and good treatment, with relaxation therapies, meditation and other alternative medicine therapies. (Canal4.com.ni, 17 Jan. 2023)