I’ve been thinking about what a Trump presidency is going to mean for Nicaragua and the ALBA countries. My basic conclusion is: how can it be any worse than it has been under Obama’s presidency, or would have been under Hillary Clinton’s presidency?
Since Bill Clinton, Democrats have sub-contracted US policy toward Latin America to the far-right, self-exiled, Cuban counter-revolutionaries and their legislative champions, past and present, including Jesse Helms, Robert Torricelli, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Robert Menendez, plus a raft of mid-level State Department career diplomats. Ronald Reagan created the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) “to do overtly what the CIA did covertly 25 years ago,” according to one of NED’s architects. Of course, the CIA never stopped its dirty deeds. My favorite Facebook meme currently is “What? The Russians hacked the US election? I can’t hear you over the laughter from ALL of Latin America.”
But it was Clinton who completed the make-over of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from a bricks and mortar agency to an election manipulation agency under the guise of “democracy promotion.” That didn’t change any under Bush the Younger or Barack Obama. Indeed, Obama has been worse for Latin America than Bush was. His government continues to its last days to support the illegitimate coup government of Honduras. He supported the legislative coups in Paraguay and Brazil. He’s spent tens of millions of dollars to affect “regime change” in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and picked fights with Christina Fernandez’ government in Argentina. His State Department and USAID representatives attacked Nicaragua’s elections in a House hearing a few months ago on the perfidious NICA Act. While saying that the administration didn’t support blocking all international loans to Nicaragua, nevertheless they repeated all the right-wing talking points about why the bill should be passed.
So how could Trump make it any worse other than by sending the Marines to invade a Latin American country?
Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s going to make it any better. It is not a good sign that Trump appointed former Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly, who headed the Southern Command which projects US military might in Latin America, as head of Homeland Security. Kelly is an ideologue who ought to be brought before the International Criminal Court for torture given his treatment of prisoners at the illegal US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But, his mission at Homeland Security is to “secure US borders,” not to formulate policy toward Latin America. It is possible he might even favor policies that reduce the numbers of refugees streaming north.
Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, is, of course, an oil man, and that can’t be good. Exxon Mobil has a legal dispute with Venezuela that is not likely to indicate he’ll support normalizing relations with Maduro’s government, but on the other hand, he’s not likely to be more hostile to the Venezuelan government than is already established policy. At best, his and Trump’s attention will be turned to other parts of the world, especially improving relations with Russia, which is a good thing. History shows that Latin America thrives in periods of US inattention.
But, the Cuban right-wing is deeply entrenched in the State Department, and the idea that Latin America is the testing ground for US economic and military experiments is a fundamental principle of the foreign policy culture. My conclusion therefore is that US policies in this hemisphere, under a Trump presidency, are not going to be any better than they were under Obama, but probably not any worse either. The Latin America solidarity movement will be called upon to continue to work to change US policy and to walk the path of solidarity with Nicaragua and all the movements for justice, sovereignty, and peace in Latin America.
- Jose Adan Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) reported that by 2018 Nicaragua should be ready to accept bids and begin construction of a new Caribbean Port with feasibility studies being conducted during 2017 for a port near Bluefields. The Inter-American Development bank has already loaned Nicaragua US$20 million for a pre-feasibility study, and recently loaned another US$87 million for the study itself. Aguerri said Nicaraguan companies pay between US$800-$1200 per container extra because of the need to ship through ports in Honduras or Costa Rica. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 16)
- Barometer of the Americas, a Latin American-wide Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) affiliated to Vanderbilt University, released the results of its Nicaragua survey taken before the November presidential election. It confirmed other polls which showed President Daniel Ortega enjoyed 69% approval for his handling of the economy. The poll also showed that “the majority of the Nicaraguan people (68%) said the economy of the country and their personal economic situation is better or the same as it was twelve months ago.” That’s up from only 34% who agreed in 2006. Sixty-seven percent said the economy was their most important concern while only 5% said it was security. Barometer pointed out that security is the top concern in other countries in the region. The survey was conducted across the country from September 13 to October 19, 2016. (Nicaragua News, Dec. 15; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 14)
- The Nicaragua National Assembly is poised to approve US$103.3 million for an exploration and feasibility study project of geothermal energy generation in the Department of Chinandega’s Cosigüina volcano. National Assembly Deputy José Figueroa, member of the Production, Economy and Budget Commission, reiterated “great interest in the promotion of public-private investments for the exploration of geothermal energy. There is a huge potential, Cosigüina alone has the capacity to generate more than 100 megawatts of energy and there is a long volcanic chain on the Pacific side of the country,” Figueroa said. (Nicaragua News, Dec. 15)
- The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reported that the Nicaragua economy was the third fastest growing in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2016. The “2016 Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean”, states that the Nicaragua economy grew 4.8%, surpassed only by Panama (5.2%) and the Dominican Republic (6.4%). With respect to Nicaragua the Overview noted that “robust domestic demand had a positive impact in accelerating the creation of formal jobs.” ECLAC estimates that in 2017 the Nicaragua economy will grow 4.7%, driven by private investment as well as reactivation of exports, mainly manufacturing. (Nicaragua News, Dec. 15)
- Nicaragua ranks 15th in the Global Microscope Report 2016 on financial inclusion in more than 50 countries. Conducted by The Economist with support from the Multilateral Investment Fund (of the World Bank), the Inter-American Development Bank, the Center for Financial Inclusion in Action, and the MetLife Foundation, the report found Nicaragua two points higher than the previous year with a score of 55. Report examines the environment for financial inclusion, and focused this year on the agreement signed in 2016 between Banpro Grupo Promerica, Nicaragua’s largest bank, and ProMujer, a womens micro-credit organization. Banpro offers ProMujer’s 46,000 clients a prepaid loan disbursement card, which increases their access to credit. (Nicaragua News, Dec. 15)
- Nicaragua is a multi-threatened country that, because of its vulnerability, was exposed to risks throughout the year, said Abdel García, member of the National Risk Management Roundtable (MNGR). From January through November 2016, MNGR counted 86 disaster threats. Thirty-three of these events were geological, (earthquakes and volcanic erruptions), 42 were events associated with the climate (floods and droughts), and 11 were human-caused events such as fires, deforestation, migratory crises. “These events affect not only the emotional stability of the individual but also their economy well-being and that of the country,” Garcia explained. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 15)
- Representatives of the Central America law enforcement organizations noted that Nicaragua is the country with the lowest juvenile delinquency rate in the region. The Nicaragua educational model and the creation of job opportunities for at-risk young people are some of the factors that have influenced the decline in juvenile offenses in the country. The Nicaragua National Police has found that reduction of crime rates in children under the age of 17 is due to integrated programs designed for at-risk young people, keeping them from joining criminal groups. Construction of new sports facilities has also been a priority of the Nicaraguan government to promote healthy entertainment and maintain low juvenile crime rate. At the meeting of the Chiefs and Directors of Police of Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Colombia, Nicargua’s Police Chief Aminta Granera was re-elected president of the body. Many of Nicaragua’s police reforms have been initiated under her leadership. (Nicaragua News, Dec. 14; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 14)
- The United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF recognized the effectiveness of social programs carried out by the Government of Nicaragua in favor of children. The UNICEF representative Iván Yerovi said, “It is of great importance to recognize the achievements of Nicaragua. We are in favor of these positive results; it is a good time to reiterate our support and our decision to align ourselves with these national priorities and to be a reliable partner, a partner that can be efficient and effective.” Likewise, the former Special Ombudsman for the Rights of Children, Carlos Emilio López, noted the substantial amount of social programs for children carried out by the administration of President Daniel Ortega through institutions such as the Ministry of Family that contributes to the reduction of the levels of malnutrition, infant mortality, adolescent crime, the eradication of child labor and increased vaccination coverage for the prevention of diseases. (Nicaragua News, Dec. 13)
- The Nicaragua National Chamber of Tourism (CANTUR) is estimating that about 200,000 tourists will arrive in the country in the present month of December, generating about US$65 million in revenue. The president of CANTUR, Leonardo Torres, said that 26% of tourists visiting Nicaragua come from North America and 8.5% from Europe. He added that improvements were made to the airports, such as reducing the amount of paperwork and increasing the number of Passport windows. Official data from the International Airport Authority states that between January and November of this year 602,710 foreign passengers arrived by air, 10,957 more than the same period in 2015, reflecting a 1.85% increase. (Nicaragua News, Dec. 13)