NicaNotes: Tourism in Nicaragua: Breaking with the Defunct Idea of Development

By Daniel McCurdy

[A longer version of this article was included in the book “The Revolution Won’t Be Stopped: Nicaragua Advances Despite US Unconventional Warfare” published by the AfGJ. Go to p. 123.]

One of the particularities of tourism in Nicaragua is its democratization. Since the Sandinista government won elections in 2006 and came to power in 2007, the promotion and expansion of the tourism sector is increasingly important for Nicaraguans, contributing significantly to a rise in incomes for many lower-income families.[i] Contrary to the focus on tourism (or even ‘ecotourism) for export in many countries, the Nicaraguan government’s tourism policies incentivize Nicaraguan working-class family tourism. This has been the result not only of tourism promotion outside of the country, but primarily a consequence of the Nicaraguan government’s social, economic and legal policies directed towards re-embedding the economy in the biosphere and in Nicaraguans.

As Anasha Campbell, Nicaragua’s Tourism Minister points out, “in Nicaragua, tourism is based on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Eighty percent of the tourism industry is based on SMEs and the democratization of government investments means that benefits go directly to the Nicaraguan people. They do not go to big capital, which mostly exports the benefits of this sector.” While multinational corporations and big business do exist in Nicaragua, they do not dominate the economy. The fact that SMEs are at the heart of the tourism economy means that “the Nicaraguan people and Nicaraguan families are the ones who offer their services and products in the tourism industry.” [ii]

Most goods and services related to tourism, like many other income-generating and life-sustaining activities in Nicaragua, come from what Nicaraguan sociologist Orlando Nuñez Soto calls “the popular economy” (or “the people’s economy”). This “economic subject” is formally “composed of the family, community, cooperative and associative sector and is organized into the Council for Social Economy (CES), where low-income farmers, peasants, fishermen, artisans and merchants are grouped together.” The popular economy, as Nuñez points out, produces more than fifty percent of the wealth in Nicaragua in terms of income (big business produces around thirty percent while the public sector produces fourteen percent).[iii] Considering government policy in general, and tourism policies specifically, one can observe that it is precisely the popular economy that is at the center of the Sandinista government’s priorities.

Tourism Minister Campbell, one of a majority of women who head Nicaraguan government ministries, emphasizes that, “For us, tourism is seen as a strategy for the human development of the Nicaraguan people. From 2015 until now tourism has been the main income generating sector for the Nicaraguan economy in general. That means work for the Nicaraguan people, but it also means that the people of Nicaragua have seen the sector as a means to generate their income; both to develop their families and to develop their own community.”[iv]

Tourism Policy, the Biosphere and Nicaraguan Culture(s)

Nicaraguan government tourism policy[v] has specifically focused on being coherent with orienting resources and plans in order to integrate the concept of equity with the biosphere and Nicaraguan culture(s). The pillars of the strategy are the following:

  • Develop tourism activity based on national identity, integrating the very lives of Nicaraguans, (their way of being, idiosyncrasies, culture, traditions, religiosity, gastronomy, history and national heritage) within national and international tourism.
  • Integrate productive activities, like agriculture and the Family and Community Economy, into tourism networks.
  • Link tourism activities and networks with small businesses and productive enterprises.
  • Promote and develop National Tourism in order to strengthen Nicaraguan identity and pride by integrating with tourism the knowledge and identification of culture, values, traditions and attractions of the different regions and departments of the country.
  • Incorporate tourism in all sectors; public, large, medium, small and micro private enterprises, and family and community economy.
  • Encourage shared responsibility in tourism management between the different types of users.
  • Promote a special role for the people, Nicaraguan families and communities within tourist activity, as part of its attractiveness.
  • Promote training for all participants in tourism as a mechanism to improve the quality, care and responsibility with which to provide tourism services and complementary activities.
  • Promote the Nicaraguan values that permit the evolution of a responsible tourism that encourages respect and places people, families, women and children and the environment at that center.
  • Promote investments that improve conditions and infrastructure not just with tourism in mind but also the rights and desires of Nicaraguan people.

Notwithstanding the contradictions of implementing change in a predominantly capitalist world, Nicaraguan government initiatives have attempted to push back against the governing economic world-view, asserting its sovereign right to act according to values of culture, democracy and justice as perceived by Nicaraguans and in the Nicaraguan context – not Western-imposed interpretations.

Tourism (both international and domestic) has also allowed for a renewal in the relationship between the Pacific and the Caribbean (Atlantic) Coasts of Nicaragua. For the majority of Nicaragua’s history, the Atlantic Coast was marginalized from the rest of the country. However, the Sandinista government has focused on rehabilitating the relationship between both parts of the country. As a result of improvements in infrastructure, health and education on the Atlantic Coast, tourism policy also promotes the experience of, as Campbell puts it, “a different part of Nicaraguan history; how to interact with the different cultures.” Campbell says that she, herself, is part of the policy of diversity and peace:

“I am one of those examples. I am from Bluefields (on the Atlantic Coast) and this democratization of tourism brings it together, brings that ease of interaction between Nicaraguans, between the Pacific coast of Nicaragua and the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua…that in itself is how tourism has been providing benefits to all the different parts of society, helping to bring about understanding among the people, encompassing that multicultural and multiethnic part of the nation in general. Therefore, we believe, not only in terms of employment or income generation, that tourism enhances that understanding between cultures and also contributes to strengthening the culture of peace in all countries. Nicaragua is no exception.”

Between 2007 and 2018, tourism policy in Nicaragua served as an example around the world.[vi] In addition to being the second fastest growing destination in the entire American continent (eighth in the world), Nicaragua was also classified as one of the safest countries to visit in Central America, second in Latin America. Security and tourism attractiveness, however, should not be looked at in a vacuum. These are the results of a comprehensive governmental effort to bring a sense of dignity back to the people through free health care and education, access to electricity and water, roads, food-sovereignty and more.

2018 Coup Attempt and Tourism

But the government of Nicaragua was, unfortunately (in the eyes of Western capitalism and “democracy”) not going in the right direction with these policies.[vii] The Nicaraguan capitalist conservative sectors and the oligarchy, in coordination with the US government, could not stand the continued success of a government that was not directly controlled by their interests. As Kevin Zeese and Nils McCune put it in their article Correcting the record: What is really happening in Nicaragua, the problem is “the example Nicaragua has set for a successful social and economic model outside the US sphere of domination.”[viii]

Nicaraguan tourism policies aren’t necessarily a ‘problem’ for the US government in of themselves, as much as the fact that they successfully attracted foreign (i.e. US) tourists to visit the country. If there is a threat of successful “tourism” in Nicaragua, it is that Nicaragua, a country with few resources compared to wealthy countries like the US, could improve so much in terms of general human social, economic and health well-being.[ix]

The United States’ long-term regime change efforts in Nicaragua culminated in an attempted coup that saw the tourism sector come to nearly a full stop in mid 2018.[x] The main initial objectives of the “soft” coup-attempt were to discredit Nicaraguan government policies and delegitimize the president, Daniel Ortega, in the hopes of imposing a new government more favorable to US and oligarchical interests.

However, in the months after the 2018 coup-attempt failed, and despite a relentless and continued barrage of fake news – not only in Nicaraguan-opposition and international media outlets but also on official US and European foreign ministry websites – regarding the situation, tourism slowly started returning to Nicaragua.

Challenges to a Different Future in Tourism: Development, Capitalism and Path-Dependency

Since its formative years as a state, Nicaragua has played a small but revelatory role in the global economy of resource extraction and capital circulation. The European discovery of ‘America’ and the industrial revolution made Nicaragua’s geographical location and landscape greatly susceptible to the demands of international commerce and, as a result, US hemispheric commercial interest.

From coffee, cattle and cotton to mining and cheap labor, the demands of the global trade in goods (and labor) have shaped Nicaragua’s landscape. Successive US-imposed Nicaraguan governments deepened the entrenchment of Nicaragua’s economy, culture, and politics into the global order of capital circulation. In 1979, however, the Sandinista Revolution put this trajectory of traditional development and growth into question.

To break from this trajectory is extremely difficult and complicated. From Sandinista government policies in the 1980’s to its policies during the last fourteen years, the most significant challenge to creating an alternative to ‘development’ has been to overcome the combination of long-term US government intervention and the chains of “path dependency”, imposed by political, legal, socio-economic and psychological local and international structures. For Nicaragua to break away from the path chartered by global capitalism means confronting the traditional paradigms of development and growth, a transformation that is not as easy as “dandole vuelta a una tortilla” (Nicaraguan saying; literally meaning “flipping a tortilla;” metaphorically meaning changing a situation quickly).

Presently, international tourism is vital for Nicaragua, as are other export goods, since it not only allows people from around the world to discover “the land of lakes and volcanoes,” but, thanks to government policy, it provides Nicaraguans with the possibility of a dignified means of income that does not directly over-exploit humans and the environment. However, given that tourism, as all other export-revenue (dollar) generating activities, is inevitably part of the global metabolism of capitalism, the challenge for Nicaragua in the future will be to decrease its dependency on the double-sided coin of foreign exchange and export activities.

This is not an easy task because it means transforming how and what people consume. It means transforming not only what Nicaraguans consume – most Nicaraguans already consume very locally, except for the middle and upper classes – but also what tourists consume. This doesn’t mean cutting Nicaragua off from the world, but finding a balance that is favorable to Nicaraguans in times of instability. It means creating a new tourism that is low-carbon, circular, complimentary, respectful of people and the environment.

In his latest book, Paul Oquist, Minister and Private Secretary for National Policies for the Presidency of Nicaragua, remarks that “the hegemonic economic, social, and political structures, as well as mechanization, automation and artificial intelligence have concentrated wealth to the point where one percent of the world’s population controls over fifty percent of the world’s wealth. At the same time wealth redistribution mechanisms have been weakened. If this continues with the imminent rapid expansion of artificial intelligence, nearly worldwide economic, social, labor, and political instability and crises are completely predictable.”[xi]

Oquist and the Nicaraguan government are very conscious of the situation Nicaragua faces in light of global challenges. In writing about the dominant forms of development, Oquist says “we have lost touch with our place in the evolution of the universe and Mother Earth. Our most common answers to the big questions have worn thin and lack the spiritual urgency that can be the basis for a Survival Movement. For this we need to have an understanding of the Universe and Mother Earth and how we are an integral part of evolution, collectively and individually, that renews our identity and values, and elevates our level of consciousness of our current situation and the vulnerabilities and risks that threaten our existence. What is required is a transformation through a Survival Social Movement that constructs a low-carbon, climate-resistant and resilient, circular, sustainable society with far greater equality.”

In effect, Nicaraguan government (tourism) policies are rooted in the spirit of a “Survival Social Movement” seeking to discover, through real world practice, other ways of living fulfilling lives as individuals, families and communities, all this while facing enormous internal and external contradictions and pressures to succumb to the imperial God of development.

 

[i] Di Fabio, Luca. “Economic Growth in Nicaragua Has Helped Reduce Poverty,” April 30, 2018. https://borgenproject.org/economic-growth-in-nicaragua-helped-reduce-poverty/.

[ii]  “Turismo, Democracia y Desarrollo En Nicaragua.” 19 Digital, August 26, 2018. https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:80715-turismo-democracia-y-desarrollo-en-nicaragua.

[iii] Nuñez Soto, Orlando, and César Martínez. “Who Produces the Wealth in Nicaragua?” Tortilla Con Sal, 2018. http://www.tortillaconsal.com/tortilla/node/7155.

[iv] “Turismo, Democracia y Desarrollo En Nicaragua.” 19 Digital, August 26, 2018.

[v]  “Nicaragua, Crezcamos Juntos!: Políticas y Proyectos de Desarrollo Para Potenciar la Inversión 2017-2021.” ProNicaragua, 2016. https://www.el19digital.com/app/webroot/tinymce/source/2016/00-AGOSTO/Politicas_y_Proyectos_Nacionales.pdf.

[vi] Sayles, Jill. “Nicaragua Announces Commitment to Sustainability.” Travel Daily Media, 2017. https://www.traveldailymedia.com/nicaragua-announces-commitment-sustainability/, and also

“Tourism Booming in Nicaragua,” January 12, 2018. http://www.nicaraguasc.org.uk/news/article/273/Tourism-booming-in-Nicaragua.

[vii] S. Wilson, Brian and Nils McCune. “US Imperialism and Nicaragua: ‘They Would Not Let Our Flower Blossom.’” In Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup? A Reader. Alliance for Global Justice, 2019.

[viii] Zeese, Kevin, and Nils McCune. “Correcting the Record: What Is Really Happening in Nicaragua?,” July 11, 2018. https://www.globalresearch.ca/correcting-the-record-what-is-really-happening-in-nicaragua/5647092.

[ix] McCurdy, Daniel. “Nicaragua: Improvements in Social and Economic Well-Being and the Nov. 6 Elections.” Center for Economic and Policy Research, November, 2011. https://cepr.net/nicaragua-improvements-in-social-and-economic-well-being-and-the-nov-6-elections/.

[x] Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup? A Reader. Alliance for Global Justice, 2019.

[xi] Oquist, Paul. Equilibra: The Philosophy and Political Economy of Existence and Extinction, 2020. https://read.amazon.com/kp/kshare?asin=B087DYQCX9&id=iII_FBbCSDyIMC28j6vCnw&reshareId=BAF3C493KZYQZTJ2QHNY&reshareChannel=system.

 

Briefs

By Nan McCurdy

Nicaragua Demands End to Coercive Measures against Countries
On Sept. 29 Nicaragua demanded that the illegal unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States against a number of countries be immediately stopped in order to guarantee stability, peace and the development of families. Foreign Minister Denis Moncada gave the government’s message during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The diplomat stated that Nicaragua will continue to promote a culture of peace and peaceful coexistence among the countries that make up the United Nations and that Central America will continue to be a factor of stability, peace and regional security.

Moncada also said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has not acted with justice and equity with regards to Nicaragua, turning its oral updates and reports into intentionally politicized statements. Moncada stated that in addition to presenting serious methodological deficiencies, the reports are prepared from sources exclusively opposed to the Government, reproducing information only from NGOs and media financed by the US and directly linked to the failed coup attempt of 2018. Radio La Primerisima, 29 Sept. 2020

Government Explains Law on Foreign Funding
On September 29, in a video conference for foreign embassies and international organizations, the Nicaraguan government explained the significance of the Law on the Regulation of Foreign Agents which is under discussion in the National Assembly. National Assembly Deputy Wilfredo Navarro stated that any NGO that receives funding from foreign sources must report that funding to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He added that this will not limit their work; it will only guarantee that the money goes to the projects for which it was sent. He stated that all nations have the fundamental right to guarantee their sovereignty and he noted that there are international covenants on this subject, some from many years ago. He said that there has been a great deal of misinformation coming out about this new law but he noted that it is just twenty or twenty-five of the thousands of NGOs in Nicaragua that are protesting. This law, Navarro stated, will not affect remittances, payments for exports, etc. and there will be no tax involved; it is merely to prevent foreign interference.

National Assembly Deputy Walmaro Gutierrez added that the law does not conflict with the constitution; rather, it establishes a regulatory framework for groups that answer to foreign interests and that may put at risk our national sovereignty. He explained that those organizations that have a legal mission have no reason to fear. Many other countries, he noted, have laws that are much stronger than this one, including are Costa Rica, El Salvador, and the United States. He further explained that non-profit organizations have as their missions various social goals but, if they use foreign funding for political ends, they will violate the law. Not all NGOs receive foreign funding, he said, but, if they do, they commit no crime if they use those funds for social ends. There are many NGOs that do a magnificent job, the vast majority, he said, adding that others divert the funds to sow chaos. Foreign Ministry Video Conference, 29 Sept. 2020

More Small Enterprise Loans
The US$50 million fund that the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) made available to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to help in the aftermath of the pandemic will be channeled through credit unions and micro-finance institutions, according to a source from the Nicaraguan Counsel of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (CONIMIPYME). In an interview with Radio La Primerísima, the representative of the small businesses said that they made this request to CABEI, since the banks are not facilitating small financing. CONIMIPYME will send a proposal concerning the entities that could channel the credits. Radio La Primerisima, 24 Sept. 2020

Bank Deposits and Reserves Increase
A Central Bank report states that as of August 31, Nicaragua’s Gross International Reserves (GIR) were at US$2.8 billion dollars, representing a US$70.4 million increase over the previous month. The Central Bank also reported that the monetary base registered a balance of C$33.6 billion córdobas (US$960 million) as of August 31, 2020, which meant a decrease of 0.3% with respect to the previous month, and a year-on-year increase of 24.3%. For its part, the legal reserve reflected a monthly decrease of 6.5 percent and 8.5% increase in year-on-year terms. Total deposits of the National Financial System are C$139 billion córdobas (US$3.97 billion), of which 72.6 percent corresponded to deposits in foreign currency. Total deposits increased by 14.6% compared to the balance of Aug. 2019. Radio La Primerisima, 25 Sept. 2020

Lower Incidence of Diseases in 2020
According to the Health Ministry (MINSA), 1,510 cases of pneumonia were reported throughout the country last week with a total of 58,967 cases of pneumonia to date in 2020, a 27% decrease in positive cases of pneumonia compared to 2019. In its report on the country’s epidemiological situation, MINSA highlights a 12% increase in dengue cases in the last week, and an 87% decrease in dengue cases compared to the same period last year. In this week, 9 confirmed cases of leptospirosis were reported, for a total to date of 163 cases in 2020, which represents a 69% drop in cases in relation to the same period in 2019, in which there were 534 cases. There were 794 cases of malaria last week, 25% more than the previous week. To date, 22,885 cases have been registered in 2020, 155% more than in the same period last year. To date in 2020 there are 36 positive cases of influenza. During this same period in 2019, 617 positive cases were reported. Radio La Primerisima, 28 Sept. 2020

Education Projects Move Forward
On Sept. 28 the Education Ministry announced that it will begin thirteen infrastructure projects costing over US$1.2 million in Bonanza, Villa El Carmen, Nandaime, Telíca, Estelí, San Lucas, among others, in order to guarantee a quality attention to the children. There will also be rehabilitation and school improvement costing more than US$1.3 million in Matagalpa. Radio La Primerisima, 28 Sept. 2020

New Women’s Police Station in San Juan del Sur
On Sept. 24 the National Police inaugurated a Women’s Police Station in San Juan del Sur, department of Rivas, in homage to Lieutenant Mireya Espinoza Castañeda.

Commissioner General Yuri Valle explained that “there are already 33 Women’s Commissariats in the country to provide immediate attention to victims of violence but above all to prevent violence, and with highly trained staff. Another 13 women’s commissariats are in construction. The government’s goals in this area are very big, especially in the area of violence prevention.” Radio La Primerisima, 24 Sept. 2020

Children and Adults Still Suffer After-effects of Coup
The violent attacks at the roadblocks in Juigalpa, Chontales in 2018 continue to leave after-effects on the victims of kidnapping and torture. In an interview with Stephen Sefton, Juan Alberto Rodríguez relates how his wife, son and three grandchildren were kidnapped from their house by five men armed with AK-47’s just because they are Sandinistas. They were taken to a nearby roadblock. “The criminals grabbed even the two-year old twins…I do not understand why my grandchildren had to live the terror that these criminals generated,” said Rodriguez. The men stood on his diabetic son and on his grandson causing great pain. A neighbor woman, Gloria was also kidnapped and they beat her. Those in charge of giving the orders for the kidnapping and torture in the Juigalpa area were Medardo Mairena and Francisca Ramirez, who also delivered arms to those at the roadblocks.

In Sefton’s interview with William José Sirias, a worker in the prison system, Sirias said that when he was kidnapped they threatened to burn down his house with the family inside. Sirias also pointed to Medardo Mairena as the one who gave the torture orders and who said they wanted to overthrow the government of Daniel Ortega. “When they beat me, they told me they would come to my house, take the children away and that the same thing would happen to them as happened to some children in Managua that they burned,” Sirias said. The victim said that during his abduction he was beaten with a sledgehammer and was naked and tied up, so it took him over 10 months to recover.

Radio La Primerisima, 21 and 24 Sept. 2020

Leon: New Member of Global Network of Learning Cities
On Sept. 23 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced that the city of León has been designated a member of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. Founded in 1524, León is one of the most important cities in the political, social, and cultural history of the country and was the site of the first university founded in 1812. The Mayor of León, Roger Gurdían, stated that “the city is honored by the recognition of the Government’s efforts to promote and implement educational practices that guarantee inclusivity, equity and quality in education.” The Global Network of Learning Cities encompasses cities that demonstrate through public policies and effective learning practices at all levels that they are inclusive, safe, and resilient, contributing to the objectives of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. Nicaragua News, 25 Sept. 2020

New Loans for Women’s Small Businesses
The government sponsored microloan program “Zero Usury” allocated US$102,500 dollars to finance 2,800 women in 75 municipalities the week of Sept. 21 for creating and expanding small restaurants and miscellaneous stores in urban and semi-urban areas. The financing is part of the Plan to Strengthen Productive and Organizational Capabilities of the Creative Economy Model being promoted throughout the country. Nicaragua News, 25 Sept. 2020

Advances in Clean Energy Recognized
The week of Sept. 21 the Clean Energy XXI digital magazine published a report prepared by the National Center for Electricity Dispatch on energy generation from renewable sources. The report states that 72% of the energy generated in Nicaragua during the first fifteen days of September came from renewable sources: 33.5% from geothermal sources, 19% wind, 17.5% hydroelectric and 1% solar. The report also noted that “diversification of sources of supply into the energy grid has allowed the country to successfully manage volatility in energy generation, substituting one renewable source for another when necessary to continue generating clean energy with stable supplies.” Nicaragua News, 25 Sept. 2020

Wangki Indigenous Territory Elects Authorities
The Indigenous Territorial Government Wangki Áwala Kupia held an assembly in which they elected their authorities with the participation of 286 people from 15 communities in the area of Waspam, North Caribbean Autonomous Region. The members of the previous board of directors were reelected by unanimous decision, as community members considered that they have done an excellent job. The activity was carried out with the accompaniment of the Wihtas (traditional leaders), government institutions, the Municipal Mayor’s Office, the Regional Advisor’s Office, community leaders, the media and the inhabitants. Radio La Primerisima, 27 Sept. 2020

Health Ministry Weekly COVID19 Report
For the week of Sept. 22 to 28, there were 81 new registered cases of COVID19, 94 people recuperated and two people died. Since March 18 there have been 4,146 registered cases of COVID19, 3,898 people recuperated and 151 deaths. Nicaragua has the lowest mortality rate in Central America. Juventud Presidente, 29 Sept. 2020

Forbes Magazine: Nicaragua is an Ideal Post-Pandemic COVID19 Destination
Nicaragua could be the ideal post-Coronavirus destination. The country has been among the least affected by COVID19 in the region, so once the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic are lifted, it could reactivate its activities as a tourist destination before anyone else. Recently Tourism Minister Anasha Campbell discussed with Prensa Latina the strategies of the tourism industry after Coronavirus, and pointed out that the recovery of tourism will first happen among locals, where she visualized an encouraging panorama for tourism. Although the destination has an impressive natural offer, among lakes, volcanoes and paradisiacal beaches, it has never been considered as a destination that brings masses of visitors in comparison with other Central America nations. Radio La Primerisima, 26 Sept. 2020