NicaNotes: Tortilla con Sal Interviews Dr. Paul Oquist

On June 29, Tortilla con Sal interviewed Dr. Paul Oquist, Minister-Private Secretary for National Policies of the Presidency of Nicaragua, about his new book Equilibra, which focuses on the various dangers threatening life on Earth. NicaNotes highly recommends that you read the entire interview which was posted on July 10th at http://www.tortillaconsal.com/tortilla/node/9684. We have abstracted here the section where Dr. Oquist focusses on US sanctions and on Nicaragua. 

We also suggest that you download the new book on Nicaragua (if you haven’t already) The Revolution Will NOT Be Stopped.

Dr. Oquist and the interviewer have begun to talk about US sanctions:

Dr. Oquist: There has to be a counterweight to the United States. That’s one of the things that happened with the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the United States was left without a counterweight. That’s why they could invade Iraq in a war of aggression on false pretenses because there was no counterweight in the world at that point in time that could stop them. And the world has paid a huge price for that.

They also do other things like the unilateral, coercive, illegal measures against countries, against organizations, against individuals, which are completely illegal. But there’s not the counterweight in the world to stop them right now. The United States, Great Britain, Canada, the European Union and, most recently, Switzerland for some reason, have joined in to that imperial exercise of thinking that they are morally superior to the rest of the world.

And therefore they self-appoint themselves as police, prosecutor and judge of the rest of the world in terms of human rights and in terms of corruption when it’s blatantly political and in some cases blatantly commercial, what they are doing. And they get away with it because the United States has the dictatorship of the world banking system called SWIFT and the bankers of the world and many business people are most fearful of being excluded from that, because the economic consequences of being excluded from that are enormous.

And it’s incredible how the Europeans meekly follow the US on this with regard to countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua when they themselves are being subject to these sanctions [in the case of] the European firms that trade with Iran. The Europeans want to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive and have their firms trade [with Iran, but] the US places sanctions, so they’ve invented a system to go around the US sanctions.

The US wants to sell its gas to northern Europe, to Germany and other northern European countries. So the US opposes the Nord Stream gas pipeline from the Russia Federation to Germany. It says, “Oh, this will make Germany dependent on Russian gas”. Or they say, as Trump says, “We’re paying for their defense and they buy their gas from Russia; that’s not the way things should be done”. So he wants to decide German energy policy for them. What he wants is for LPG tankers to leave Louisiana full of gas for northern Europe. So, there’s the threat of sanctions against the companies that work on the Nord Stream pipeline.

Europe is schizophrenic on this but they show how dependent they are on the United States even psychologically by following the US example in these coercive illegal sanctions that also affect them negatively. In fact, I mis-spoke, they’re really not sanctions. They’re illegal measures. The only thing that should be called sanctions are those approved by the UN Security Council which are the only ones that are legal.

These other measures have no basis in international law or any basis in any law whatsoever. Because the whole idea that countries can have transnational application of their law, like the United States claims is completely illegal also. Extraterritoriality does not exist in international law. And yet it’s doubly bad in terms of the United States, because it claims extraterritoriality for its law but doesn’t accept international law in the United States. So there’s that duality as well.

TcS: So now Nicaragua and Venezuela and Cuba are subject to these illegal coercive measures, do you think that means that Nicaragua is, as it were, punching above its weight in the world; after all, why should it be the object of these measures? Do you think that Nicaragua being able to work with Russia or China or the non-aligned movement, or regionally with SICA, the Association of Caribbean States and ALBA, do you think that Nicaragua’s role in these international cooperation instances will enable it to play a positive role, perhaps the same kind of inspirational role that it had for many people around the world in the 1980s?

Dr. Oquist: I think that Nicaragua plays an inspirational role for the rest of the world right now if you look at Nicaragua’s special role punching above its weight in terms of all the climate change negotiations and all the things that Nicaragua has done with regard to Climate Change. Look at Nicaragua’s role in reducing poverty and inequality within Nicaragua with re-distributive policies like universal free health and education in the second poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Any Nicaraguan can go to a public hospital and get attention. Any Nicaraguan can go to a public hospital and have an operation, have serious diagnostics undertaken by state of the art equipment and there’s no bill. And the United States hasn’t been able to put a system together on which there’s consensus with regard to having a public health system in the United States. Nicaragua’s light years ahead of the United States. It’s not presumptuous at all to say that the United States could learn a lot from Nicaragua in terms of the family, community health care system with the free universal health system existing alongside a private health care system for those who prefer that, but a truly public system.

Nicaragua has capitalized poor people with programs like Zero Hunger and Zero Usury in a highly effective manner which has taken a lot of people out of poverty. And via schemes that are much better than those proposed by the international organizations which are trying to sell Nicaragua these measures, these conditional grants, to give a conditional grant to a family, to give them money so that their child would go to school or go to the health center to have a checkup. Nicaragua doesn’t do that. Nicaragua didn’t accept that. Nicaraguan parents send their kids to school because that’s what you should do. Nicaraguan parents have a consciousness of taking their kids to the health center to get vaccinated without anyone paying them to do it.

What happens in Nicaragua is that a poor rural family receives a pregnant cow, a pregnant sow, chickens that don’t need to be pregnant because they take care of it themselves. The program also has seed, fertilizer, corral materials and so you turn the woman in the household into a second producer in the family. And you improve nutrition through the animal protein that the family all of a sudden has. The family income improves because they take their surplus to market and sell it.

In the urban area, you have Zero Usury which is the credit scheme, the micro-credit scheme like those in Bangladesh and the rest of the world that everyone knows. But this one is different and it’s called Zero Usury. Micro-credit organizations in the world and some in Nicaragua, too, charge 30% or 40% a year for their loans. This is the problem that the model has everywhere. They had that problem in Bangladesh and in India of a too high interest rate. In Nicaragua, it’s 5% per annum. So it’s not the micro-credit NGO organization that’s gaining the accumulation of capital. It’s the small merchant, the small artisan. Some of them are on their fourth or fifth loans as they’re capitalizing themselves. So these are policies of redistribution in terms of universal free health and education among other programs. It’s capitalizing the poor through Usura Cero and Hambre Cero and improving roads, highways, electricity, water, and sanitation that improve the quality of life of the poor also.

TcS: Do you think it’s fair to say Dr. Oquist, that Nicaragua, apart from being a model in its health programs and, to some extent too in its education programs in my opinion, and more especially with regard to climate change in the way it’s changing its energy matrix, but also in its food self-sufficiency, its food sovereignty. Do you think it’s true to say that all these things make Nicaragua a very special country and for that reason for example it is treated with respect by much larger countries like the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China?

Dr. Oquist: This is what explains Nicaragua’s COVID-19 policy as well. Forty percent of the population lives and works in the countryside, 40%. These people cannot be confined. They have lots of things to do every day with the cows, with the chickens, with the fields, especially in April and May which is the planting season. And so it would be ridiculous to have a confinement of these people. They have to get out and earn their subsistence. They are in a subsistence or semi-subsistence economy.

Then, we have the urban informal sector, which is the majority of the workers, the informal sector and if they don’t earn their livelihood every day, they don’t eat; their family doesn’t eat. That is where the poor people are, in the countryside and in the informal sector. So this policy has been protecting the interests of the poor people. The same with the schools in the public system remaining open. In the private schools the kids can have internet classes, because these are middle class families with computers. The kids have tablets. They have 4G cell phones.

The poor urban people and the poor rural people, their kids would be left out if you tried to tell them that they were going to have internet education. So once again the policy has been to defend the poor, while promoting strict social distancing, while promoting masks, ever more so as you hear through the media and through the recommendations to everyone to take care of themselves.

 

Briefs

By Nan McCurdy

World Bank Places Nicaragua with Highest Transparency in Public Debt
The World Bank developed a heat map showing public debt data dissemination practices in countries receiving assistance from the International Development Association (IDA) of the Bank, where Nicaragua is doing quite well. “We analyzed hundreds of public websites of national authorities to assess country performance along with key indicators such as accessibility, coverage, frequency of debt statistics and the availability of a debt strategy and an annual debt plan. The heat map is updated twice a year, with the aim of promoting countries’ efforts to improve their dissemination strategies,” the World Bank reports on its website.

According to the World Bank, Nicaragua is one of the countries that has complete data on the website of the competent authorities. Information on loans contracted with the World Bank and the execution of financial resources is complete on the websites of the Nicaraguan government, the World Bank points out. The World Bank stresses that Nicaragua has a complete debt management strategy, which translates into greater transparency. In the evaluation Nicaragua stands out in Latin America with the highest transparency of public debt. [Meanwhile, the Nica Act, passed by the US Congress in December of 2018, mandates that the US director at the Bank oppose all loans to Nicaragua from the World Bank agencies, the IMF, and the Inter-American Development Bank.] Radio La Primerisima, 29 July 2020

Nicaragua: Lowest Fiscal Deficit in the Region
Last Friday, the Central American Fiscal Studies Institute published a report on Projection of “Fiscal Deficit Levels in the Central American Region at the End of 2020”. The report indicates that Nicaragua will be the country with the lowest fiscal deficit in Central America this year, with a projected 0.8% deficit of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) followed by Guatemala (5.8%), Panama (6.2%), Honduras (6.4%), Costa Rica (8.3 %) and El Salvador (11.9%). Nicaragua News, 26 July 2020

Nicaragua: Most Growth in Exports in Central America
The Central America Economic Integration Secretariat (SIECA) reported that during May 2020, Nicaragua exports grew by 22.2% compared to the same period in 2019, registering the highest growth rate in the region. Reports from the Nicaragua Export Processing Center (CETREX) states that between January and June 2020, Nicaragua has managed to diversify markets and increase exports to its traditional markets, generating US$1,580,168,126 in sales. Nicaragua News, 24 July 2020

More than US$800 Million Investment in Ports
The Sandinista government is currently investing more than US$827 million in the construction and modernization of Nicaragua’s ports. The deep-water port project in Bluefields, South Caribbean, will have an investment of US$590 million and is currently finalizing the feasibility study. The greatest benefit of this mega project is that it will receive the 40% of the cargo that now lands at Costa Rican Ports. In San Juan del Sur, a cruise terminal important for tourism, will be built with South Korean investors and government money. In the port of Corinto, US$24 million is being invested in infrastructure 13 kilometers from the port that will create many jobs. In San Jorge, US$5 million was invested in the port; in San Juan del Sur US$4.9 million, at the Salvador Allende Port on Lake Managua around US$33.4 million. Radio La Primerisima, 28 July 2019

100 Nicaraguans Return from Panama
“The Ministry of Government of the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity, through the General Directorate of Migration and Foreigners, reports that July 25, 2020, at 6:46 p.m., at the Peñas Blancas border post, 100 Nicaraguans (60 men, 40 women) arrived from Panama,” The Health Ministry carried out a rigorous review to rule out symptoms related to Covid-19 and ordered a 14-day quarantine at their homes. Radio La Primerisima, 26 July 2020

New Cases of Covid-19 are Down
The Health Ministry report on the week of July 22 to 28 showed 188 new cases of Covid-19, and 8 deaths. To date there have been 3,080 cases reported through the health system and 116 deaths since March 18. At least 2,731 people have recuperated. Juventud Presidente, 28 July 2020

Fifteen Thousand Children in Child Development Centers
The Ministry of the Family (MIFAM) continues to serve more than 15,000 children throughout the country. Teachers and parents were trained in prevention of Covid-19, as well as the implementation of permanent sanitation of the centers and the delivery of hygiene kits. Radio La Primerisima, 28 July 2019

Andalusia Provides Support for Covid-19
The General Secretariat of the Central America integration System (SICA) and the Andalusian Council in Spain signed a “Collaboration Protocol for the Joint Fight Against the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The protocol includes transfer of copyrights and usage of the ventilator model designed in Andalusia for coordinated production in SICA member countries. Likewise, the Andalusian Council announced it is donating 130 ventilators to be distributed equally among Central American countries. Nicaragua Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, in his capacity as SICA Pro-Tempore President of the Council of Foreign Ministers, stated that “the signing of the protocol and the donation made by the Andalusian Council are a great contribution to the ongoing fight against the Covid-19.” Nicaragua News, 22 July 2019

Army Attends Thousands in 7 Hospitals and 76 Health Posts
The Military Medical Corps has attended 168,296 people in the Alejandro Davila Bolaños Hospital and in outpatient areas since January 31, 2020, the date the World Health Organization declared a world health alert for Covid-19. The Army formulated a contingency plan in critical areas, has a specialized monitoring and response center, and specific information system. Once the pandemic was declared and the procedure for the attention of suspicious cases of Covid-19 was established, six military field hospitals with a capacity of 200 beds each were deployed. The Army has 76 medical posts throughout the country. The hospitals were provided with medical supplies, with intensive care units, and emergency rooms with the capacity to provide 1,040 consultations.  The program of home delivery of medicines to pensioners has been implemented, covering a total of 5,000 beneficiaries. Radiolaprimerisima, 24 July 2019