By Louise Richards
(Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group-UK)
[This article was originally published by NSCAG on January 20, 2021. https://www.nscag.org/news/article/329/nicaragua-update]
2021 is a crucial year for Nicaragua, with national elections due in November.
There are strong indications that President Daniel Ortega and the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) might again be re-elected with a substantial share of the vote. But what does the US have in store for Nicaragua? Will they try once again to sabotage the elections and subvert the will of the Nicaraguan people? And can Nicaragua once again resist and defend its sovereignty and its right to self-determination against US and other foreign interference?
US Double Standards
On 7 January, responding to the attacks on the US Capitol the previous day, President-elect Joe Biden said that these were ‘An unprecedented assault on our democracy, an assault literally on the citadel of liberty, in the United States
Capitol itself. An assault on the rule of law. An assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: ratifying the will of the people and choosing the leadership of their government.’
At the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that ‘violence, putting at risk the safety of others…. is intolerable both at home and abroad. Let us swiftly bring justice to the criminals who engaged in this rioting’.
Yet in an incredible, but typical, display of double standards, the US continues to show itself unwilling to respect the will of the Nicaraguan people and allow them to choose their own political authorities. Whilst Biden was happy to refer to the mobs who attacked the Capitol as ‘domestic terrorists’, the US administration gave its full backing to those who carried out similar actions and engaged in extreme violence in Nicaragua during the failed attempted coup in 2018, referring to them as ‘peaceful protesters’.
US aggression continues
In the case of Nicaragua, illegal coercive measures (aka sanctions) are part of the destabilisation project that began with the attempted coup. They show the will of the United States to subvert the country’s political and institutional order, and they feed the rhetoric of the political opposition that calls for such measures constantly. The project is to create a climate of adversity including violence, political chaos and economic boycotts as the menu for the latest season of subversion. The objective? To sabotage holding the elections mandated by the constitution for November 2021.
Donald Trump’s administration kept up a steady stream of sanctions announcements since the November election that handed Joe Biden a win. In December 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted officials including the vice president of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court, Marvin Aguilar, ‘in an effort to target those continuing to assist the Ortega government’s efforts to undermine democracy’. In October, Dr Paul Oquist, President Ortega’s close adviser and spokesman on climate change, had been sanctioned.
This drive of sanctions against Nicaragua dates back to December 2018 when Trump signed into law the “Nica Act” (Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act), over two years after the draft legislation was first approved by the US House of Representatives in September 2016. The NICA Act was an attempt to use economic pressure to destabilise the country’s government and economy. Its main thrust was to try to cut Nicaragua off from loans and financial or technical assistance from the multilateral-lending institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Central America Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI).
Trump also announced (November 2020) an extension for a further year of an executive order with respect to Nicaragua, stating that the country posed ‘an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States’. This technically means the US may have to take (military or other) action against such threat.
A US State Department Paper Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua (RAIN) was leaked last year detailing how the U.S. plans to involve itself in this year’s Nicaraguan elections. It spelled out how USAID was going to use the opposition, the gangs, and other measures to create an unproductive year for the Nicaraguan administration. The paper lays out how, if President Daniel Ortega does win again, there are plans to overthrow him and his administration through mob violence assisted by US-financed ‘NGOs’ and any other means possible.
With recent polls indicating majority popular support for Daniel Ortega and the FSLN and minimal support for a fragmented and divided opposition, Mike Pompeo met with the Nicaraguan opposition in Costa Rica several times to get them to unite behind one candidate, to put aside their divisions and to focus on the upcoming November elections. And the multi-million-dollar financial support for opposition groups continues.
In the face of continued US aggression, the Nicaraguan government has asserted its determination not to be a US client state in the region, but to be its own sovereign nation and not dance to the tune of the US. This is a reality which the US refuses to accept.
Will things change under Joe Biden?
Whilst the tone, style and substance of Joe Biden may differ markedly from his predecessor, it is unlikely that US policy towards Nicaragua is going to change any time soon. In terms of domestic policy, there are certainly likely to be positive changes related to climate change, labour relations and health, etc. However, following the failed coup in 2018, Biden lined up solidly behind Nicaragua’s right-wing opposition, calling on the international community to take action against President Ortega and falsely laying the blame for the violence at Ortega’s door. He stated at the time that there must be, on the part of the international community, ‘a constant and growing pressure from different fronts to try to change that situation and carry out free elections.’
Vice-President elect Kamala Harris also referred to Ortega as a ‘dictator’ at a September Florida campaign event and in September 2020, referring to Trump’s threatened deportation of asylum seekers, Biden tweeted that ‘Nicaraguan asylum seekers fleeing oppression deserve to have their cases heard. Instead, they’re being deported back into the tyrannical grip of Daniel Ortega without a chance to pursue their claims.’
It is also worth noting that the NICA Act and subsequent sanctions against Nicaragua have been unanimously supported to date by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Nicaragua’s 2021 elections
A wide–ranging poll carried out by independent polling firm M & R Consultores in December 2020 indicates that the FSLN maintains a big advantage over a fragmented and divided opposition that lacks support and credible leadership. Results from the survey, which looked at voting intentions in the run up to Nicaragua’s elections in November this year, indicated 53.2% support for the FSLN and 8.9% for the opposition
There are many reasons why the FSLN has a good chance to win in November.
Elections in 2006 saw the FSLN under President Ortega return to power after 16 years of neo-liberal government and, with his return, the beginning of a radical transformation in Nicaraguan society. The privatisation of health and education were immediately reversed, and the Government began to implement social and economic policies which focussed on human development and which were designed to benefit the most impoverished and vulnerable in society. Fifty-eight percent of the 2021 budget has been allocated for social spending, and health, education, housing and equality are regarded as human rights.
Nicaraguan government achievements since 2007
- Free and accessible education – not only providing tuition for all but also books and supplies, housing, food and toiletries for university students too poor to provide their own and free school meals for some 1.2 million children (Nicaragua’s population is 6.5 million). More than 7,700 schools have been built or rebuilt and equipped since 2007.
- Free health care. Health spending increased by 31.8% from 2006 to 2020. The government has built 18 state of the art hospitals since 2007 and seven more are under construction. Dozens of health clinics have also been built and the number of trained doctors and nurses and technicians has increased from 22,083 to 36,649. The government has established new testing facilities and equipment, more dialysis stations and machines, cancer treatment centres, and have decreased by 68% maternal and 61% infant mortality by establishing maternity wait homes (casas maternas) where pregnant rural women can come for care and be closer to hospitals. Cancer treatment, kidney transplants and dialysis are all free. New chemical labs have been established for making medicines in Nicaragua instead of importing all medications and the government has also established a lab for making vaccines and has a robust vaccination programme that is free. The Nicaraguan model of health care is based around the community with an emphasis on prevention and there is a regular programme of community health fairs and mobile clinics which bring health care directly to all neighbourhoods.
- From 2021 to 2023 over 31,000 affordable homes will be built.
- A social safety net is in place for vulnerable families providing them with food packages and other essentials.
- Low-cost loans are given mainly to women to help them to build small businesses.
- In 2020, financing was provided for 50,000 small household farms, providing jobs and food sovereignty and enabling products to be sold, thereby providing families with an income (Nicaragua is now 90% self-sufficient in food)
- Expanded electricity access, now reaching 98.5% of the nation (almost 100% will be reached by 2025) up from 54% during the neo-liberal years – and leading in the fight against climate change with over 80% renewable (as opposed to less than 25% in 2006)
- 5th place in the World Economic Forum Gender Equality Index, the highest ranking non-Nordic country
- Illiteracy (which was 36% in 2006) virtually eliminated
- Potable water in 95% of homes (up from 65% in 2006)
- The best roads in the region (600% more roads paved since 2007) and the creation or improvement of parks, all of which have free internet access
- The reestablishment of women’s police stations specifically devoted to ending violence against women
- The safest country in Central America
- An increase in GDP of 35% over 11 years
In 2020, Nicaragua not only faced the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the effects of two category 4 hurricanes that hit Nicaragua in just two weeks in November. Measures taken by the government kept the coronavirus death rate one of the lowest in the world while the government responded quickly and efficiently to the hurricanes, bringing immediate assistance and relief to those affected.
A return to neo-liberalism?
In 1990, many Nicaraguans were effectively coerced by the US into reluctantly accepting that the Contra war and US embargo would continue if they voted for the FSLN to remain in power. In fact, the US administration declared that it would only send aid to Nicaragua if the US-backed UNO coalition were elected. At the same time, some neighbourhoods reported threats of murder if they voted for the FSLN in the elections. The consequence was that the UNO coalition under Violeta Chamorro won the election with 55% of the vote, with 41% for Daniel Ortega and the FSLN. What followed were 16 years of neoliberal government which brought Nicaragua to its knees.
Successive right-wing governments privatised health, education, electricity and telecommunications. Public spending in all spheres was reduced to a minimum. The public services were decimated and two thirds of public sector workers lost their jobs. The results were that in 2007, the FSLN inherited a country with the highest poverty and extreme poverty rates in the region, with illiteracy and social inequality and with little access to culture or sports. The country was effectively paralysed, with energy blackouts lasting more than 12 hours daily and the worst roads in the region. Parents were forced to choose between sending their kids to school and putting food on the table.
If the US gets its way, the dangers for Nicaragua are clear if one looks at the situation in Honduras. In 2009, a US-backed military coup ousted Honduras’ democratically elected left-wing President Manuel Zelaya and installed a right-wing regime. Violence in the country soared and by 2012 Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world. President Juan Orlando Hernández, a staunch right winger and US ally, has imposed neoliberal economic policies and brutal austerity measures that have significantly boosted poverty and caused inequality to skyrocket. Honduras has become one of the poorest countries in all of Latin America, if not the poorest with 67 percent of the population below the poverty line. Studies show as many as 50 percent of Hondurans are unemployed and a staggering 77 percent of Honduran children live in households that are in poverty; one in five children suffer from chronic malnutrition; and only 58 percent attend school. And poverty is only getting worse. With the military increasingly involved in internal security, and power consolidated under Hernández, the killing of activists has skyrocketed. In 2016, Berta Cáceres, a world-renowned environmental activist and one of the most vocal members of the anti-coup resistance movement, was assassinated. Officers from U.S.-trained Honduran military units have been implicated in her murder.
In Nicaragua, the US-backed opposition has never stooped to involve the poor in their decisions, but instead has run to the U.S. State Department and Congress to ask for their interference and to advocate for sanctions against their own country so as to accomplish their only objective: to seize power. Their intention and that of the US is to create a situation of chaos and dislocation such that it brings about a violent ‘regime change.’ If they and the US succeed in their ambitions, Nicaraguans will almost certainly see a return to the dark days of neo-liberalism and the country is likely to turn into another Honduras, subject to US diktat.
2021 should be a year of recovery for Nicaragua. The economy has been the least damaged in Central America by the pandemic, but to recover from the effects of the pandemic and two hurricanes, not to mention the 2018 attempted coup will require tremendous effort and continuing international support, especially if the Biden administration were to continue with sanctions and regime-change efforts.
Progressive forces around the world must redouble their solidarity efforts to ensure that Nicaragua survives and is allowed, without external interference, to preserve its sovereignty and its right to determine its own future so as to deepen and consolidate its progressive social agenda.
Sources and further reading:
By Nan McCurdy
2021 Investment Strategy Announced
Iván Acosta, head of the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, announced that a strategy has been established to help the population affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota which includes building 23,500 houses. Acosta also recalled the tragedy of 2018 in Nicaragua, the failed coup attempt and its negative impact on the economy, explaining that the pandemic of hatred caused more economic damage than Covid-19. “It made us lose US$29 billion, twice the current GDP. This means, that in 2021 we should have a GDP close to US$20 billion, and we are at US$12.5 billion. That is the result of the worst tragedy that this country has had in any era,” he stressed. He said that 57% of the 2021 budget is for social investment, which reaches the people through education and health. Some US$720 million will be mobilized for the economic structure, for macroeconomic stability, and for reaching 99.9% electricity coverage. Resources for small and medium-sized producers will increase, which will help generate more wealth and well-being for the population. (Radio La Primerisima, 26 January, 2021)
Millions for Water and Sewage Projects
The Nicaraguan water company Enacal plans to spend US$124 million for drinking water and sewage projects in 2021. (Radio La Primerisima, 21 January 2021)
Nicaragua Only Country in Region to Increase Exports
On Jan. 22, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), presented a report on regional foreign trade in 2020. The region had its worst performance since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis due to the economic crisis generated by the pandemic and restrictions imposed by governments. Nicaragua was the only country that did not shut down and thus increased its exports by 8%. (Informe Pastran, 22 January 2021)
UNESCO Recommends Geosites for Tourists
The regional representative from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Esther Kuisch Laroche, visited the Rio Coco Geopark in Madriz and described it as a source of pride for the region. The diplomat toured geological sites, highlighting the involvement of communities in their integral development. “It is a great landmark and I think there is much to do for tourists, so it would be important to promote it more.” One of the geosites developed with UNESCO funds is the Somoto Canyon. (Informe Pastran, 22 January 2021)
World Bank Loan for Hurricane Response
The World Bank approved an US$80 million credit to support Nicaragua’s emergency response and recovery needs following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Efforts in the autonomous regions of the Caribbean coast that were impacted by the two hurricanes will be prioritized. “The hurricanes affected some of the most vulnerable communities,” said Kinnon Scott, World Bank Representative for Nicaragua. “We will work closely with Nicaragua to help these communities recover,” The US$80 million credit will be financed by the International Development Agency (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, and will be implemented in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Project Services. (Informe Pastran, 25 January 2021)
New Technological Institute in Leon
The National Technological Institute (INATEC) inaugurated the “Juan de Dios Muñoz” Technical Center in León on Jan. 20. The US$6.2 million facility includes 29 classrooms, computer labs, a library, and an auditorium. Funding for the center that will benefit 4,000 students, came from the General Budget. (Nicaragua News, 22 Jan. 2021)
Advances in Housing, Roads and Water
Through the Bismarck Martinez housing program, 25,897 lots have been turned over to their new owners since 2019. “In January we have delivered 200 lots and 75 houses; in Condega, 120 lots, in Ticuantepe seven lots and in Bluefields constructed four new homes for families,” said Ivan Lacayo, Director of the Institute of Municipal Development (INIFOM). “To date, 37,429 kilometers of rural road improvements have been made and already in January 140 kilometers of roads have been improved,” commented Lacayo. This week five drinking water systems will be inaugurated in Telica, Waslala, Puerto Cabezas, Mozonte and Nagarote. (Radio La Primerisima, 26 January 2021)
447,000 Property Titles since 2007
Attorney General Wendy Morales announced that in the last 14 years 447,000 property titles have been issued as part of a state policy of property management and social justice. “This has been to strengthen the legal security of all Nicaraguans,” she said. (Informe Pastran, 26 January 2021)
Teacher Training for 2021
The Education Ministry (MINED) announced the start of virtual teacher training on psychosocial care for students, implementation of health measures for the prevention of Covid-19 in schools, as well as evaluation of the 2021 study plan for the school year beginning February 1st. Head of Teacher Training Alina Jirón explained that “over the next two weeks, 60,000 teachers of early, primary, secondary, and special education, along with multi-grade and distance secondary education in rural areas will be trained to guarantee a comprehensive and quality educational system.” (Nicaragua News, 25 January, 2021)
Health Sector Support from UN Population Fund
In support of the Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Clinic of the Bertha Calderón Women’s Hospital in Managua, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) delivered to the Ministry of Health eight anatomical models, 838,750 surgical masks and 59,040 disposable gowns on Jan. 24. The UNFPA Representative, Elena Zúñiga, stated that “the donation of medical supplies is part of the support for priority actions of the Government in the healthcare sector.” (Nicaragua News, 25 Jan. 2021)
Central Bank Releases Debt Statistics
For November 2020, Central Bank statistics show that the balance of public external debt as of November 30, 2020 was US$6.62 billion, US$341.1 million greater than December 2019 ($6.28 billion), partly due to loan disbursements of US$473 million, mainly from multilateral institutions (US$436.3 million), and repayments of US$196.2 million. Of the total balance of public external debt, 71.3% is with multilateral creditors (US$4.7 billion), 27.9% with bilateral creditors (US$1.8 billion) and 0.8% with private creditors (US$51.3 million). Public external debt service in November was US$24.3 million, US$10.2 million was interest and the rest was principal payment. (Informe Pastran, 26 January 2021)
Nicaraguans Reject US Sanctions
According to the latest survey released Jan. 19 by the firm M & R Consultores, 72.7% of Nicaraguans consider the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union against various countries as illegal, “Eighty-eight percent consider that these sanctions affect the entire population and 78% consider that these sanctions harm democracy,” said Raúl Obregón, director of the polling firm. The survey, titled “Nicaraguans and their perspectives about the international environment,” points out that 82.1% of Nicaraguans consider that powerful countries should comply with the rulings of the World Court at The Hague and, based on this, 61.2% consider that the United States does not respect international law. “We are in 2020, we have just completed eight years since The Hague ruled in favor of Nicaragua on the issue of territorial limitation in the Nicaraguan Caribbean waters and Colombia refuses to comply with that ruling,” he said, adding, “68.7% say that we live in an aggressive world where everything is solved by force and aggression.” The survey states that 66.1% consider the US to be a serious threat to peace, democracy and well-being in Latin America and the Caribbean. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards and the study indicates that 69.8% of those surveyed consider that this conquest was harmful due to the atrocities and plundering. “The interference of foreign countries in Nicaragua’s internal affairs is rejected by 61.1% of Nicaraguans,” said Obregón. (Radio La Primerisima, 26 January 2021)
The Economist: Economy Could Grow 3.5% in 2021
The British magazine The Economist, in an analysis of regional GDP growth projections for 2021, asserts that with the new loans obtained in 2020 and its plans for greater public investment and reactivation, Nicaragua’s economy could grow by up to 3.5% this year and maintain sustained growth in the following years, that is, the economy would no longer decline. (Informe Pastran, 26 January 2021)
Weekly Covid-19 Information
The Health Ministry reported that in the week of January 19 to 25, there were 41 new reported cases of Covid 19, 41 people recuperated and there was one death. Since March 18, 2020, there have been 4,992 reported cases of Covid, 4,774 people recuperated and there were 169 deaths. (Radio La Primerisima, 26 January 2021)