NicaNotes: Nicaragua and Central American migration

By Stephen Sefton

The current migration crisis of people from Central America traveling across Mexico to reach the United States has received widespread international coverage. Some reports and articles rightly point to the origins of the crisis in destructive US foreign policy intervention over many decades in Central America. But even many of those articles fail to make clear the difference between the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and their fellow SICA (Central American Integration System) neighbors. Most observers agree that insecurity, high crime rates, poverty and unemployment are what mainly drive significant migration to the US from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, but writers seldom look at why is there not similar mass migration from the other main Central American countries, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.

In Panama’s case, until the COVID-19 outbreak the country enjoyed the highest rates of growth in Central America, largely thanks to the decade long engineering program to widen the Panama Canal which ended in 2016. It remains to be seen how Panama’s population of over four million will cope with the economic effects of the measures against COVID-19 and also how the country’s economic development will adapt following the end of that huge engineering project. Panama is very much a special case in Central America because its economy is dominated by the canal and by its role as a financial center and tax haven.

Costa Rica has so far benefited from its legacy of many decades of relative general prosperity. But that prosperity is at risk now, following a period of corruption-ridden neoliberal governments under Oscar Arias, his protégé Laura Chinchilla and the continuation of their misguided policies by the ineffectual presidents who succeeded them. Over a decade of neoliberal economic policies and poor results of increased collaboration with the phony US “war on drugs” have led to widespread disaffection among people on low incomes and the country’s middle class. Now, the country has to address the effects of economic contraction resulting from the global slowdown prior to 2020, compounded by the economic effects of restrictive measures implemented to address COVID-19. The country also faces increased encroachment by regional organized crime, especially narcotics.

M&R poll from Oct. 20, 2020, showing percentage of Nicaraguans disposed to emigrate

As for Nicaragua, a recent opinion poll indicated that the number of Nicaraguans disposed to emigrate has fallen by half since 2004/2005. Despite false claims in early 2020 by the UN High Commission for Refugees of a massive refugee crisis following the failed coup attempt of 2018, migration from Nicaragua has been generally stable since the mid-1990s. In terms of unemployment as a driver of migration, for decades hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans have lived legally in Costa Rica providing reliable, well regarded labor for Costa Rica’s construction and agriculture industries and also supplying domestic service for Costa Rica’s middle and upper classes.

What really explains the absence of any significant number of Nicaraguans among the tens of thousands of Central Americans seeking entry at the southern US border every month are the results of Nicaragua’s National Human Development Plan, especially since 2010. Nicaragua’s successful revolutionary social and economic policies and infrastructure investment have ensured high levels of productive economic activity, and have effectively neutralized organized crime and promoted high levels of citizen security for its population of around 6.5 million. The main components of the updated National Human Development Plan make this clear.

By 2026 Nicaragua’s free public health care system will have 104 hospitals, up from 77 now, this combined with its participatory preventive community health care model made it possible to maintain economic activity while successfully containing COVID-19 all through 2020 and to date. Similar infrastructure investment is scheduled in free public primary, secondary and higher education and in vocational training, including innovative rural outreach programs up to university level, with free school meals and scholastic supplies for primary school children.

Nicaragua is the world leader in women’s political representation and among the first five countries in the WEF’s Global Gender Gap index.  Its community oriented policing prioritizes protecting youth at risk and women, in the context of a coordinated national policy to contain and dismantle organized crime, especially trafficking of people and drugs networks. Nicaragua has the lowest homicide and automobile theft rates in the region. Its population takes part enthusiastically in quarterly national civil defense exercises so as to continually maintain and develop the country’s already highly efficient civil defense risk management and disaster mitigation structures.

Since 2007, Nicaragua has dramatically democratized its economy via grass roots agricultural production and urban microcredit programs prioritizing women. The government prioritizes small and medium-sized businesses especially via strategies to increase agricultural and agro-industrial productivity and promote more intense technological development via the use of information and communications technology, in particular in rural areas. Municipal authorities actively work to promote grass roots economic initiatives. And the government has also prioritized the economic and technological integration of the Caribbean Coast. Nicaragua led the region in increased exports in 2020 and projects overall GDP growth of 3.5% for 2021, with an expected return by 2026 to the 5% growth it achieved prior to the 2018 coup attempt.

The government maintains subsidized water and electricity for vulnerable social sectors and people on low incomes. Nicaragua ranks third in all of Latin American in drinking water quality, energy and transportation according to the Inter-American Development Bank. It also subsidizes public transport in Managua as well as inter-city bus services and also water transportation on the Caribbean Coast. By 2023, 95% of the population will have access to piped drinking water. By the end of this year 99% of the country will have electricity, which by 2023 will be 90% generated from renewables.

Nicaragua has the best highways in Central America and the 5th best in Latin America. Major investment is happening in the country’s maritime ports and airports, in sports and recreational facilities and in affordable housing. The authorities will continue extending free, secure property titles beyond the over 430,000 title deeds issued thus far.

While the results of Nicaragua’s development planning are there for all to see, it is far from clear whether the US$30 billion Comprehensive Investment and Infrastructure Plan, promoted by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador, to address the causes of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle will be as successful in terms of integral social and economic development, security, equality and sustainability. Certainly, the Biden administrations’ heavily conditioned US$4bn plan is bound to fail. Among other fundamental weaknesses, its ill-conceived strategy will, according to Biden spokesperson Roberta Jacobson, seek to prioritize NGOs with no regional integration into central government planning.

In any case, neither the Biden plan nor even the plan promoted by the UN and Mexico are likely to have any significant impact on the causes of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle to the US because they are too little, too late to address those countries’ deep-seated social trauma, entrenched economic inequality and accelerating climate change. Similarly, US policy blocks the Northern Triangle countries from radically changing their options for social and economic development by negotiating strategic investment from China. China has major port and free trade zone interests in Panama, El Salvador and Costa Rica and remains interested in the proposed interoceanic canal in Nicaragua. So while Nicaragua’s example shows a clear way for its neighbours to address successfully the root causes of distress-driven migration, the dead hand of US intervention chokes off all practical, realistic, successful options for a better life for the impoverished majorities of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

 

Briefs

By Nan McCurdy

Nicaragua Safest Country in Central America
On May 7 the Honduran newspaper “El Heraldo” published a study entitled “2020 Homicide Rate in Central America in the Context of COVID-19,” prepared by the National Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras. The study noted that Nicaragua continues to be the safest country in Central America with a homicide rate of 3.5 per 100,000 inhabitants; followed by Costa Rica 11.2; Guatemala 15.7; El Salvador 19.7; Belize 24.3 and Honduras 38.5. (Nicaragua News, 10 May 2021)

Safe Conditions for Tourism
Nicaragua is the only nation in the American continent with safe sanitary conditions to visit, according to a study conducted by the Spanish travel agency Plantys. Worldwide, Nicaragua is in ninth place, according to the study. The “10 safest countries to travel in the world”, is the title of a study prepared by the biomedical engineer Manuel Aguilar with information from Oxford University and the World Health Organization. The study is based on four basic axes to determine how viable it is to travel somewhere in times of pandemic. For example, the number of people vaccinated is taken into account. Every seven days, the study’s authors count the number of new confirmed cases in order to calculate the probability of contracting coronavirus while on vacation in a given place. Another variant of this study is the population density – if a locality has few inhabitants, the number of infections is considerably reduced. The study only took into account those places with no more than 640 inhabitants per square kilometer. The last point considered was the annual report of the Basic Capacity Index of the International Health Regulations prepared by the WHO. This document was key to knowing the public health situation of the country, to knowing how the health emergency has been handled and if it has established protocols in case of a new wave of contagions, among other data.

The sum of the four variants: vaccination, confirmed cases of coronavirus, population density and the evaluation made by the International Health Regulations, gives an approximation of how safe it is to travel to specific places in the world. The novelty of this study published by Planyts (a travel agency based in Spain and registered with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism) is that it shows a global picture of the transition of the pandemic and how some places can gradually open their doors to tourism. The study data will be updated on Mondays and new information will be available every 15 days. (Radio La Primerisima, 6 May 2021)

Woman to Head Supreme Electoral Council
With a historic representation of the multi-ethnic Caribbean Coast and 60% of women, the ten new magistrates (including three alternates) of the Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) were sworn in May 6. Four of the ten magistrates are from the Caribbean Coast and one magistrate (Maura Alvarez) is part of the Indigenous community of Subtiava, Leon. Six Magistrates are Sandinista, one has become a Sandinista sympathizer in recent years (Amador), one was proposed by the Conservative Party (Knight), one by the Liberal Party (Blandon) and the other by PLI-ALN (Alvarez). The ten are highly educated as lawyers, or with masters, double masters, doctorates and amazing life experiences.

Brenda Rocha, from Bonanza, North Caribbean Autonomous Region, lost an arm in a Contra attack in 1982 when she was 15. She was part of the militia defending an electricity tower and was the only survivor of the attack. She is a lawyer. Alma Nubia Baltodano lost both arms to a contact bomb in the insurrection in 1979. She is a lawyer and has specialized in supporting people with disabilities. Even after losing her arms, she went on the literacy campaign, picked coffee, and was in the militia. Lumberto Campbell (current vice-president of the electoral body, from Bluefields and Afro-Caribbean, was in the insurrection and has been a leader in different areas. Maira Salinas was part of the previous CSE, also highly educated.  Cairo Amador was part of the Commission of Truth, Justice and Peace after the attempted coup of 2018. Devoney McDavis is part of the Miskito Indigenous group, from Waspán, most recently was President of the North Caribbean Regional Council. She is a specialist in defense of Indigenous people. Leonzo Knight is from the Indigenous group Ulwa, speaks six languages, educator and author, and was proposed by a Conservative Deputy. The three alternate magistrates are Adriana Molina, a lawyer from Jinotega, whose father was part of the political prisoners freed by the FSLN action of 1974. Maura Lisset Álvarez was proposed by PLI-ALN Deputies and Alberto Blandón was proposed by PLC Deputies.

On May 6, the ten magistrates elected Brenda Rocha as president and Cairo Amador, vice president. The head of the FSLN in the National Assembly, Edwin Castro said on May 6 that the election of the CSE magistrates strengthens gender equity in public office and democracy in Nicaragua. There were 44 proposals for magistrates by Assembly Deputies. “These 44 met the conditions that the law and the Constitution require to be candidates for magistrate. They were voted on one by one. If a candidate obtained 56 votes or more, he or she would be elected,” Castro stated. “For the first time the Supreme Electoral Council has gender equity.” he pointed out. “There are 6 women, 4 of them proprietary and 2 within the substitutes,” added Deputy Jenny Martinez. (Radio La Primerisima, 6 May 2021, Sin Fronteras, 5 May 2021)

Electoral Calendar Presented
The Nicaragua Supreme Electoral Council presented the electoral calendar and formal call for general elections to be held November 7, 2021. The resolution published in the official newspaper “La Gaceta” states that “the participating political organizations are exhorted to duly comply with the Political Constitution, Electoral Law, and the Foreign Agents Law, as well as show respect for ethical standards, resolutions, agreements and regulations. Likewise, political organizations are urged to present 50% women and 50% men in their proposals for electoral officers and candidates, guaranteeing equity.” (Nicaragua News, 7 May 2021)

FSLN Registers Its Electoral Alliance
The Sandinista Front Party was the first political party to register its electoral alliance with the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) on May 10. The FSLN’s legal representative, Deputy Edwin Castro, accompanied by Liberal Deputy Wilfredo Navarro, registered the Alliance. The Alliance, entitled “United Nicaragua Triumphs,” includes the FSLN, the Nicaraguan Resistance Party, the Independent Constitutionalist Liberal Movement (party of Wilfredo Navarro), Christian Way, Christian Unity, Christian Alternative, among others, as well as regional Caribbean parties. (Informe Pastran, 10 May 2021)

200,000 to Be Vaccinated against Influenza
The Ministry of Health announced that medical brigades and the 19 Local Comprehensive Healthcare Systems (SILAIS) will be carrying out a National Influenza Vaccination Campaign from May 10 to 20, 2021. The Director of MINSA’s Expanded Immunization Program, Jazmina Umaña, stated that “during the vaccination campaign 200,000 doses of the influenza vaccine will be administered to persons 50 years and older, as well as people with chronic diseases; pregnant women; healthcare personnel and those who were not vaccinated during the first vaccination campaign carried out in January this year.” (Nicaragua News, 10 May 2021)

Exports Grow
The Nicaragua Export Processing Center (CETREX) reported on May 10 that exports totaled US$1.2 billion during the first quarter of this year, representing 11.2% increase over the same period in 2020. The Nicaraguan products with highest demand on the international market were gold US$275 million; coffee US$216 million; beef US$194 million; and sugar US$89 million. (Nicaragua News, 11 May 2021)

Government Supports Small Farmers
Vice President Rosario Murillo, reported that 174,000 Production Packages will be given to an equal number of families for the first planting. Forty-three thousand have already been delivered by the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) to strengthen productivity throughout the country. Packages will also be delivered for the development of beekeeping. Production Packages will be delivered in the departments of Chinandega, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Estelí, Nueva Segovia, Madriz, Río San Juan, Central Zelaya, Rivas, Granada, Carazo, Masaya, Costa Caribe Sur and Costa Caribe Norte. See Photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/entregaran-174-mil-bonos-tecnologicos-para-cosecha-de-primera/ (Radio La Primerisima, 6 May 2021)

Growth in Cocoa Production Helps Small Producers
The national cocoa production in the 2020/2021 cycle was 165,517 quintals (hundred weights), showing growth of 2.2% over the previous cycle, and 67% higher than in 2014. For the 2021/2022 cycle, 6.8% growth is expected. The Sandinista Government develops programs that provide technical support, technological packages, infrastructure, and crop management for 13,000 cocoa producers, of which 93% are small farmers. Cocoa and by-product exports grew 22% in value in 2020, compared to 2019, generating US$10 million more, and in the last ten years the value has grown 244.8%. Cocoa plantations are located mainly in the Northern Caribbean Coast, Matagalpa and Jinotega. (Radio La Primerisima, 10 May 2021)

Remittances Increase
The Central Bank reported that remittances received in the first quarter of 2021 totaled US$500 million, which represents 17.9% growth with respect to the same period of 2020 (US$424.5 million). Remittances from the US totaled US$306.5 million (61.3% of the total), which represented an increase of 28.9% with respect to the same period of 2020 (US$237.7 million). Remittances from Spain were US$77.2 million (15.4% of the total), registering a year-on-year growth of 33.8%. Remittances from Costa Rica were US$66.8 million (13.3% of the total), which reflected a year-on-year decrease of 10.7%. Remittances from these countries represented 90.0 percent of total remittances received. (Radio La Primerisima, 6 May 2021)

Solar Energy in Rio San Juan
The National Electricity Transmission Company (ENATREL) inaugurated a 124-solar panel system in the Santa Isabel de Pajarito community, in El Castillo municipality of Río San Juan Department, benefiting 646 inhabitants. The US$305,779 investment was provided by the General Budget, with support from the Export and Import Bank of South Korea (Korea EximBank) and is part of the Supply and Installation of Solar Panels in Rural Areas Project of the National Program for Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy (PNESER), that the Government is implementing in the 153 municipalities of the country. (Nicaragua News, 11 May 2021)

Covid Report Week of May 4 to 10, 2021
The Health Ministry reported on May 11 that there were 74 new cases of Covid-19 registered from May 4 to 10, 67 people recovered and there was one death. Since March 2020 there have been 5,649 registered cases, 5,368 people have recovered and 184 people have died. (Radio La Primerisima, 11 May 2021)