Nicaragua´s Inspiring Social and Economic Advances
By Coleen R. Littlejohn
(Coleen is an International development economist who has lived most of her professional life in Nicaragua since early 1980, working for different local and international NGOs as well as the World Bank in Nicaragua, Liberia and Ghana. She has also worked in Colombia and Chile.)
Even as a young girl, I knew I wanted to work in socio-economic development, though I wasn´t really sure where or with whom. I received a master’s degree at a prestigious university in the US since I figured I would need that to help open doors for getting a job. I thought about the Peace Corps, but they were looking for beekeepers in those days. Years later I thought about going back to get a Ph.D. but my favorite professor from grad school told me it would be a waste of time. And he was right, because living and working in Nicaragua for most of the last 41 years in different types of organizations has been the most incredible learning experience of my life.
Nicaragua has been creating, especially over the last 15 years, a model of equitable, green, pro poor economic and social development, and I have been a witness to this. It is a model that should be studied and shared throughout the world. The seeds of this model were planted in the first couple of years after the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in July 1979 when there was relative peace and so much energy to start creating a new Nicaragua, especially in health, education and in the redistribution of assets.
There was the first national literacy campaign, a massive land reform, building of clinics and schools, promoting rural and urban cooperatives- and lots of other efforts. But the honeymoon did not last very long—US aggression intensified, to the point of exhaustion and then in 1990, 16 years and three presidents ago, most of the achievements were lost.
That changed with the elections of 2007, when 46% of Nicaraguans were still living below the poverty line. President Daniel Ortega finally had the chance of at least 6 years of peace to fulfill his dream of building a new Nicaragua, where the primary objective was wealth creation and poverty reduction through broadly shared economic growth. Key principles during those years and up to the present, included a commitment to sound macroeconomic and fiscal policy, as well as a healthy investment climate with private sector-led growth as a means to create national wealth and achieve poverty reduction and the reactivation of rural production, small and medium enterprises and targeted social programs – goals strongly aligned with the Millennium Goals for 2015.
I remember a meeting at a university in Managua when private sector and the government began to discuss a strategy to cooperate, a strategy which included labor unions in joint negotiations. I remember the government saying to the more endowed private sector that the state would not be giving them financing, they had their own sources, but that the government would work to create an effective business environment, with investments in energy, water, roads, etc. These were the times of 12 hour power cuts daily.
These strategies worked. Between 2007 and 2017, Nicaragua achieved incredible results in the reduction in poverty and extreme poverty, in economic growth, delivery of basic services in health, education, energy, water and sanitation, women and children´s rights, communication, foreign and local investment, land reform, agricultural development, and many other things. A new Nicaragua was emerging—especially after 2010 and when the country started to experience real socio-economic development.
The following examples speak for themselves:
Poverty was reduced from 48.3% to 24.9% and extreme poverty from 17.5% to 6.9%.
The country´s average growth rate between 2010 and 2017 was a booming 5.1%, one of the best in Latin America.
There were massive investments in basic infrastructure—you cannot reduce poverty without the basics. Today, Nicaragua is connected physically by the best highways in Central America, and in the top five in Latin America, according to the World Economic Forum. High speed internet also connects and unites the whole country.
Ninety-eight percent of the population now has electricity compared to 54% in 2006. At least 85% is generated from renewable sources, up from 26% in 2006.
In 2006, 65% of the population had access to potable water but that rose to 91.8% in 2018 and the projection for 2023 is 95%.
Significant resources were appropriated for the economic, social, technical and physical integration of the Caribbean Coast. Those investments greatly facilitated the emergency response of this past hurricane season. Getting emergency supplies in 8 hours or less by road before and after the hurricanes struck, instead of 3-4 days or longer, makes a big difference.
Sixty-six percent of the national budget goes for health and education, not military spending. This has meant that the community-based preventative health system, a heritage from the late 70s and the 80s has been incredibly strengthened. From 2007 to 2020, eight new hospitals were constructed, eight more are now under construction, and there are 6,045 doctors in the country now compared to 2,715 in 2006.
Affordable housing has also been a major priority in the last several years and has being strengthened now with a US$214 million loan approved for the construction of 23,500 houses all over the country. And that is only one of the housing projects being implemented at present.
Since 2007, the government of Nicaragua has also made significant investments in grass roots agricultural production and urban microcredit programs prioritizing women. With respect to food security, Nicaragua produces at least 90% of the food consumed in the country.
Nicaragua became a major world tourist attraction. In 2007, 749,000 tourists arrived in the country; by 2017 that number had risen to 1.78 million. Tourism has started to increase again, despite the US raising travel warnings to the maximum level four for US citizens. The excuse is the pandemic, although other Central American countries are at three or below despite higher levels of cases and deaths. Nicaragua was recently awarded the Safe Travels Seal of Approval from the World Travel and Tourism Council in relation to Covid 19 Biosafety Protocols for tourists.
Private investments continue, though perhaps not at the rate of a few years ago due to the current world health crisis. Last year, however, a major investment in building a natural gas plant on the site of one of the most important ports on the Pacific was announced and it will be functioning before the end of this year. This will lower the use of imported petroleum considerably and serve as a back up to the renewable grid fed by wind, sun, biomass and hydro.
So what are some of the factors that have led to these achievements in Nicaragua socio-economic development process?
Careful development planning and evaluation have been key. The government began to create a national development plan about a year after assuming power in 2007. Those plans have been evaluated and updated every five years. The latest for 2021 to 2026 was recently announced and will soon be presented.
In addition, the President has consistently appointed very competent and highly experienced government officials in top ministry posts. Nicaragua´s ministries in all sectors have been very respected by their counterparts in the multilateral development agencies, including the IMF. This has led to productive negotiations and discussions with the Ministry of Finance, but it is always clear who makes the decisions – the government. I will never forget the parting words of an IMF representative who was finalizing his mission in Nicaragua. He said something to the effect that he had learned that macro-economic stability management was not a thing of a right or left government, but of a responsible government, doing the best for its people.
Poverty reduction has also been promoted by direct support for low-income sectors including subsidies for public transportation for all and energy subsides under a certain usage, benefiting 80% of the population. Special half pensions are available for those senior citizens who were not able to pay into the social security system for the required 750 weeks required for a full pension at the retirement age of 60.
Transparency in the use of both national and international funds has also been a major factor. Multilateral agencies, such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the IMF and the Central American Economic Integration Bank have all affirmed at one time or another that their portfolios in Nicaragua have been very well and transparently managed.
I would now like to talk about what are the major threats to the continued economic development of Nicaragua, and to most other countries, around the world. The first is natural disasters, including pandemics.
After the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in October 1988, the Aleman government received huge flows of emergency aid, but economic growth dropped to less than one percent the following year. Even worse, very little preparation was put in place to mitigate the damage of Hurricane Mitch at the time—to the extent that President Aleman ignored the appeals of the mayor of a small town near Leon to evacuate her people and no help came. Several thousand people died.
Contrast that to the recent response of President Ortega´s government to last year’s two Category 5 hurricanes, ETA and IOTA, the most devastating to hit the country in 40 years. The difference was that the very efficient and tested national system of disaster prevention and mitigation, coordinated by a government agency called SINAPRED, was activated a week before the first hurricane hit. One hundred thousand emergency volunteers were mobilized, 160,000 people evacuated, 1195 shelters and 2,300 safe houses identified before the hurricanes hit and supplies of food, mattresses, medicine, water, etc. were sent days earlier. No deaths were attributed to ETA but 16 died in IOTA, all related to people who refused to leave their homes or went back against advice.
On November 24th, the Minister of Finance estimated that the economic damage from the two hurricanes was over US$742 million dollars, equivalent to 6.2 % of Nicaragua´s GDP. Two days later, Nicaragua received a check for $30.6 million dollars thanks to the planning competence of the government. Anticipating a worse than normal hurricane season, Nicaragua increased its tropical cyclone insurance coverage from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility and, as a result, the country received the much needed payout under the excess rainfall and tropical cyclone policies.
With respect to COVID-19, Nicaragua’s strategic response to the pandemic, using its own resources in the initial stages, has resulted in the lowest number of infections and deaths and the highest recovery rate in the region (and in the world) while keeping all of its borders open under rigorous safety protocols. Nicaragua´s response to the COVID-19 pandemic merits international recognition.
But probably the major factor of Nicaragua´s economic successes during the last 14 years has been that it has been a country at peace, internally and with its neighbors, and no one, except for the US, considers Nicaragua a serious threat to their national security.
Internally, the country has ensured high levels of citizen security for her 6.5 million people though the development of community policing. Nicaragua has the lowest homicide rate in Central America and efforts to neutralize organized crime, gangs, and drug cartels have been very successful
Internationally, Nicaragua is one of the few countries in the world that has regularly used the international justice system, mostly in border disputes with neighbors such as Honduras, Costa Rica, and Colombia. In all of those cases, Nicaragua accepted and implemented the judgement of the international court, unlike the United States, 36 years ago when Nicaragua sought justice because of US financing of the contra and direct US attacks on the port of Corinto. Nicaragua won the case but is still waiting to receive a US$17 billion indemnization from the US.
Years later, the most dangerous threat to continued growth and prosperity for Nicaragua was the violence of the attempted coup in the spring of 2018 which caused more economic damage than the emergencies which followed the pandemic and hurricanes. By end 2018, economic growth dropped to -4%, and at the end of 2019 it was still at a negative rate of 3.9 %. Towards the end of 2019 however, there were signs that things were starting to improve, but then came COVID-19 and the hurricanes. GDP growth was again negative for 2020, -2.3 %. Three years of negative growth.
But that is predicted to change this year. Exports and family remittances are rising, multilateral aid from several sources has been renewed and despite the effects of the pandemic and the hurricanes, there is a good possibility, according to the President of the Central Bank, that growth this year will be between 2.5 and 3.5%.
Like Nicaragua, the whole world urgently needs peace, security, stability and a new economic order which gives priority to life, health, and the fight against poverty. If the so called “developed” nations really want to learn about development, they should come to Nicaragua to see the lessons learned instead of using their so-called development assistance to finance “regime change.” Instead of strengthening illegal sanctions on the country and its leaders, they should be asking advice and learning from the experience of a country, whose people are NOT participating in the lengthy marches to the US via Mexico to escape the corruption, violence and abject poverty of those countries in the so-called northern triangle, which has been receiving substantial “development assistance” from the United States and others, with little results.
By Nan McCurdy
June Electricity Generation Nearly 80% Renewable
The National Center for Electricity Distribution reported that 79.42% of the energy generated during the first two weeks of June 2021 came from renewable sources: 18.49% wind; 17.69% biomass; 14.32% geothermal; 11.41% hydroelectric; 0.49% solar and 17.03% regional renewable energy imports. (Nicaragua News, 23 July 2021)
More investment in Water and Sewage Systems
The Nicaragua Water and Sewage Company and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) signed a contract for US$20.1 million on June 24, to improve and expand the sewage and water treatment system in León municipality benefiting 260,000 inhabitants. The project is expected to be completed over an 18-month period. (Nicaragua News, 25 June 2021)
60,000 Teachers Receive a Bonus
In Honor of Nicaraguan Teacher’s Day, the government will give a special bonus to some 60,000 teachers. See photos here: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/mined-entregara-bono-especial-a-mas-de-60-mil-maestros/
(Radio La Primerisima, 28 June 2021)
New Hemodialysis Unit to Benefit 1,100 Patients
The Nicaragua Ministry of Health inaugurated a new hemodialysis unit at the Carlos Roberto Huembes Hospital in Managua that will benefit 1,100 chronic kidney disease patients monthly. The US$457,796-dollar unit was financed by the General Budget of the Republic and is part of the Family and Community Health Model being implemented throughout the country. (Nicaragua News, 25 June 2021)
35th Anniversary of World Court Decision in Favor of Nicaragua
Vice President Rosario Murillo recalled the 35th anniversary of the ruling in favor of Nicaragua by the International Court of Justice at The Hague on June 27, 1986. In that decision, the United States was found guilty of a war of aggression against Nicaragua. “Thirty-five years ago and today David defeats Goliath … with the strength of peace and good…This was a milestone for international law: Nicaragua won against the United States and the Court condemned the US for financing paramilitary activities and arming the Contra and mining our ports and destroying our economy and all the tens of thousands of deaths. Throughout history, the United States has always sown destruction because of greed, avarice and the desire to subjugate,” she said. Out of 16 judges who issued the ruling, 15 voted in favor of Nicaragua.
Vice President Murillo also recalled that the ICJ ruled that the United States must compensate Nicaragua for damages and those damages were estimated at US$17 billion. “[This was] compensation that the sellouts [the government of Violeta de Chamorro], forgave; the debt the imperialist government of the United States [has with us today]. They have never felt the pain of the Nicaraguan people.” She said that the United States tried to impose traitors again on Nicaragua with terror [referring to the 2018 coup attempt]. “That is a crime of hate and a crime against humanity committed by the same traitors of yesterday and today. But here we work for harmony, with the strength of our undefeated spirit, advancing on paths of peace…” (Informe Pastran, 28 June 2021)
Municipal Electoral Councils Chosen
The 54 members of the Municipal Electoral Councils (CEM) of the nine municipalities of the Department of Managua were sworn in on June 25 by the president of the Departmental Electoral Council (CED), Daysi Torres. Five women and four men were appointed as presidents of the CEMs, and of the 27 positions to be held, 14 are women and 13 are men. The Municipal Electoral Councils are composed of a president, a first member and a second member; and the Departmental Electoral Councils (CED) are in charge of selecting them. The same day 48 members of the Municipal Electoral Councils of Bocana de Paiwas, Corn Island, Desembocadura del Río Grande, La Cruz de Río Grande, El Tortuguero, Laguna de Perlas, Kukra Hill and Bluefields, were sworn in in Bluefields. The new officials around the country will now have the mission of organizing, directing and evaluating the entire electoral process in the departments. See photos: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/juramentan-a-consejos-electorales-de-managua/ (Radio La Primerisima, 25 June 2021)
Election Report from the President of the SEC, Brenda Rocha
The President of the Supreme Electoral Council, Brenda Rocha, reported on June 28 that on July 24 and 25 there will be a massive verification of the population where voters will be able to check the voting center that corresponds to them. The only thing they have to do on those days is to go to the nearest voting center and make sure they are on the list. In the case of change of address, the citizen only has to go to the nearest office of the place where they live, present their ID card, give the address of their new address and there they will be assigned a voting center very close to the place where they live, she said. 95% of the electorate is already registered.
Rocha said that “the opening for the inscription by the parties and alliances… of candidates for president, deputies of the National Assembly… and the Central American Parliament (Parlacen) is July 28. That is when the CSE begins reviewing whether or not candidates fulfill the requirements according to the law.”
Rocha added that a total of 918 people, 459 women and 459 men, were sworn in as members of Municipal Electoral Councils. The party that got first and second place in the 2016 elections, the FSLN and the PLC, were named as presidents and first members. 306 second members were appointed from the other political parties and party alliances. These positions were distributed as follows: Camino Cristiano, 61 members; ALN, 51 members; APRE, 61 members; PLI, 61 members; Alianza Ciudadanos por la Libertad, 63 members; and the regional party YATAMA, which participates in the regional elections of the Northern Caribbean, with 8 members. (Radio La Primerisima, 28 June 2021)
Nicaraguans Approve of President Daniel Ortega’s Administration
Sixty-nine percent of Nicaraguans approve the administration of the President Daniel Ortega, according to the most recent survey conducted by the polling firm M&R Consultores. The polling firm highlighted that 165 days before the general elections, 58.3% of those surveyed stated that their predisposition is to vote for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Likewise, 60.9% of those interviewed said that Nicaragua would be better off with a Sandinista government. Another result of the survey is that 73.0% of those interviewed said that the government’s management generates hope for them. Also, 75.9% of Nicaraguans consulted said that the situation in Nicaragua has progressed in relation to 14 years ago. The opinion poll affirms that 88.2% of the population considers their vote as very important; while 70.9% said they will probably vote in November. See photos here: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/nicaraguenses-ratifican-respaldo-a-gestion-del-presidente-daniel-ortega/ (Radio La Primerisima, 26 June 2021)
Carazo Honors Police Woman Killed During Attempted Coup
Sandinistas of the Department of Carazo, together with relatives, paid tribute to Zaira Julissa López, born on May 4, 1980, in Jinotepe who was the mother of three children, seven, 13 and 18 years old. She joined the police ranks on December 1, 2009, and served as a platoon leader in the Women’s Department of the Special Brigade of the DOEP. Lopez was killed by criminals stationed at the roadblocks in Nagarote on June 26, 2018. See Photos Here: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/generales/rinden-a-homenaje-a-oficial-de-policia-asesinada-por-tranqueros-en-2018/ (Radio La Primerisima, 25 June 2021)
Pedro Chamorro Barrios Arrested for Alleged Violation of Law 1055
On June 25, 2021, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios was arrested and is being investigated for allegedly carrying out acts that violate law 1055 such as requesting foreign aggression, organizing with financing from foreign powers to execute acts of terrorism and destabilization and others. He will be Held for 90 days during the Investigation. (Radio La Primerisima, 25 June 2021)
Weekly Covid Report, week of June 22 to 28
The Health Ministry reported 202 new registered cases of Covid-19, 167 people recuperated and 1 death last week. Since March 2021 there have been 6,604 registered cases, 6,155 people recuperated and 191 deaths. (Radio La Primerisima, 29 June 2021)
Summary of Sputnik Interview with Foreign Minister Denis Moncada
Moncada denounces the United States for coordinating a plan, as they did in the 80’s, to prevent Sandinismo from staying in power.
Nicaragua is a free, sovereign, and independent State. Its electoral process is being carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of Nicaragua, the electoral law and the mandates and provisions of the Supreme Electoral Council.
An electoral calendar has been agreed upon with the legally recognized political parties and in this electoral calendar it is established that from the end of July to the middle of August the electoral candidates will be registered. According to electoral law there are no candidates or pre-candidates until the legally recognized parties announce them beginning at the end of July.
These persons [who say they have presidential aspirations] are being investigated because of strong indications they have committed crimes of money laundering, crimes linked precisely to attempts against the Nicaraguan society, against the rights of the Nicaraguan people and another series of acts that undermine the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of our country. These people also incite foreign interference in internal affairs and have even gone so far as to call for military interventions and organize themselves with financing from foreign powers to destabilize the country and continue with their attempted coup d’état. That is the situation.
If you come to Nicaragua and you interview the authorities that coordinate and by mandate of the Constitution organize, direct and follow up the electoral process, which is the Electoral Council, then you will see that there is a legal and juridical institutional design with the participation of 17 political parties. And who is going to participate? The candidates chosen by each party or political alliance. When are we going to know who the real candidates are? Between July 28 and August 18, which is the time agreed by the political parties and the Electoral Council to register candidates.
We are carrying out the processes that Nicaraguan institutionality mandates, what the Constitution and the laws mandate.
The US Secretary of State himself, Antony Blinken, said a few days ago that all the unilateral [coercive] measures they are taking against Nicaragua, which they call sanctions—and which incidentally are in violation of International Law and the United Nations Charter and the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States—were going to be taken in coordination with Canada, the European Union and other countries and human rights organizations.
We are witnessing the synchronization and coordination of U.S. imperialism in tune with its allies, which are their subject countries, together with international organizations concerned with human rights, in order to politicize, unfortunately, the issue of human rights. Thus we see that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is always distorting information, without objectivity, and although we constantly send her reports, she ignores our information, and shares only what the United States says, which, in order to accuse Nicaragua, uses lies and falsehoods.
Our representative in the OAS has been insistent for several years telling them: Gentlemen and women of the OAS, do not violate your own charter which says that you do not have the right to intervene in the internal affairs of other States. We have also told you that Nicaragua has not asked the OAS for help or support or interference in the internal affairs of our country, much less in internal politics such as the electoral process, which is an exclusive activity of the Nicaraguan people, of the political parties that participate and are legally constituted.
The OAS is the instrument created many decades ago by the United States to make its Monroe Doctrine policy a reality, that is, America for the Yankees. It is a strategy of domination by the U.S. elites to control, dominate and take over the natural and energy resources of Latin America and the Caribbean. That is the objective, and to obstruct the good relations projected by countries like Russia or China, which are relations of cooperation and solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean.
Now, why doesn’t the OAS apply the same to Colombia [where the people are rebelling against their government]? Precisely because Colombia is the main ally of the United States in Latin America, because Colombia has seven U.S. military bases in its territory along the border with Venezuela … and because Colombia is part of NATO. All this makes Colombia a subordinate country, and therefore, the OAS, which is the instrument of the United States to dominate Latin America and the Caribbean, does not deal with the issues of Colombia or Chile. We as a State, as a Government, do not interfere in the internal affairs of countries because we precisely say: we respect the internal affairs of all countries, but we demand reciprocity. Do not interfere against Nicaragua in the OAS or in other international or human rights organizations.
Let us remember that after the triumph of the revolution in 1979, in the 1980s, the United States organized the Contra against the government. They organized it, they prepared it, they supported it logistically, they financed it and we had a decade of US intervention and aggression. They also developed a psychological campaign in addition to the destruction they created in all our infrastructure, in our ports, in the electric lines, in the population. U.S. interference caused us approximately 50,000 deaths, and at the end of the 80’s, in the 90’s, when we went to elections, they carried out another tremendous campaign to influence the psychology and the will of the voters, the Nicaraguan population. Ah, but they talk about free, honest, transparent elections.
Now, with all the sanctions measures they are applying, moving all their tentacles in all spheres, they are already saying that there are no conditions for free and transparent elections. They are designing their strategy and using all kinds of measures to prevent the Sandinista National Liberation Front from having the success that is already visualized: over 65% of the vote in favor of the economic and social policies that the Government has developed for the benefit of the Nicaraguan population.
What the gringos really want, with their allies, is to paralyze, stop, obstruct and prevent the triumph of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in next November’s elections. That is the objective and that is why we are seeing all their tentacles moving. In addition, they are insisting on the presence of international observation in our elections. Let us not lose sight of the fact that in Bolivia the OAS was capable of carrying out its first electoral coup d’état, and they used that as a laboratory and want to apply it in Nicaragua. We, obviously, have to be very careful and prevent them from getting away with destabilizing our country, manufacturing a coup d’état and producing for us, as in April 2018, tremendous crimes against our population, destruction of infrastructure and enormous damage to the economy.
There is a geopolitical and historical interest of the United States—let’s remember that Nicaragua is located in the center of the American continent. In addition, we have coasts on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; we have rivers and we have lakes. All this would facilitate the construction of an interoceanic canal for international trade. This is independent of the existence of the Panama Canal. The Nicaraguan canal is a viable project. There is a geostrategic interest. The United States invaded Nicaragua, occupied it militarily [from 1912 to 1926], held elections here with the Electoral Council made up of its Marines, incredible things, shot a president in the previous century, declared slavery, set fire to Granada. Then, the geostrategic interest of the United States, expressed in an agreement between the gringos and Nicaragua, was that the right to build the canal be ceded to them for 100 years. They wanted either to build the canal or to prevent other countries from building this inter-oceanic communication route.
The other element has to do with Latin America and the Caribbean and the control they [the US] think they are predestined to have with their Monroe policy. So, Nicaragua resists this interfering attitude of the United States; we reject it; we denounce it; we condemn it and we are very clear in saying that Nicaragua is a free, independent and sovereign country. We want to have relations with all countries, and we do, but on a plane of respect, of sovereign equality of States and of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations.
Relations with ALBA are excellent. On June 24, the nineteenth summit of Alba-TCP heads of state and government was held in Caracas. There was a political declaration that ratified the unconditional support of the Sandinista government, President Daniel Ortega, and the people of Nicaragua in their decision to continue defending sovereignty, peace and the remarkable social, economic, security and national unity progress achieved during these years. We also have excellent relations with Russia. We are very grateful for Russia’s support with the Sputnik V vaccines. In short, we have very good relations and communications. Interview in Spanish: https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:117667-entrevista-del-canciller-de-nicaragua-a-sputnik (19 Digital, 26 June 2021)