MANAGUA – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez last week assured President Daniel Ortega that his oil-rich nation would keep the Nicaraguan economy afloat in the event that the international lending community were to pull out of this country.
Ortega told Chávez that his Sandinista government had “a gun to its head” to approve the 2008 budget in compliance with terms agreed to with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), because without international aid “Nicaragua would collapse.”
Ortega suggested that if this year’s budget is not approved before the next IMF mission visits Nicaragua in February, international aid could be in jeopardy.
Chávez, who last year ousted the IMF from Venezuela, said he wouldn’t let Nicaragua go down for the count.
“Nicaragua will not collapse, you can be sure of that,” Chávez said.
Antenor Rosales, president of the Central Bank, painted a slightly more optimistic picture of the future of the IMF program here.
“I am sure that when the IMF mission comes the budget will be approved,” Rosales told The Nica Times this week, adding that budget is an important tool for both national consensus and poverty relief.
IMF country representative Humberto Arbulú said that Nicaragua already missed the Dec. 31 deadline to approve this year’s budget, and said that the program could be considered “at risk” if it’s not approved soon. He said the IMF honchos in Washington, D.C., will have to issue Nicaragua a waiver since it missed its first deadline, but that a new deadline has not yet been determined.
Arbulú stressed that the government is only being asked to approve its own budget, not one imposed upon it by the IMF.
“The government has an obligation with the fund, but not because of IMF pressures,” Arbulú said. “It’s not that the IMF has a gun to the government’s head.”
After nine months of negotiations last year, Ortega, who has promised to rid Nicaragua of the IMF within five years, signed an agreement with the fund that will allow for more social spending. The IMF program is scheduled to support the 2008 budget with some $550 million, or roughly one-half of budgetary spending.
Oil for Freedom
Chávez, who traveled to Nicaragua Jan. 15 after attending President Alvaro Colom’s inauguration in Guatemala, said that the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) is the key to uniting Latin America and freeing countries from colonial models such as the IMF. ALBA is an alternative trade and development accord signed among Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia.
Under the auspicious of ALBA, Chávez reiterated his promise to help solve Nicaragua’s energy crisis and turn the country into an oil-exporter within five years.
Chávez said that his government is currently shipping to Nicaragua several new power generators, scheduled to arrive here this week and go on-line by March, to provide another 60 megawatts to the country’s fragile energy grid. Later in the year, a “third phase” will go into effect whereby Venezuela will provide an additional 120 megawatts of fuel oil plants, thereby providing the country with a comfortable surplus of energy for the first time in years.
“All the energy resources that Nicaragua needs are in Venezuela,” Chávez promised.
By next year, Venezuela hopes to start exploring Nicaragua’s resources for alternative energies, such as geothermal, Chávez said.
“By joining ALBA, you have joined our energy revolution,” the Venezuelan leader said.
Plans are also moving forward to continue construction on Chávez’s $4.5 million oil refinery, which will be capable of processing 150,000 barrels a day. By comparison, Nicaragua’s current level of consumption is only 27,000 barrels a day, a situation that would allow the country to export the surplus once the refinery is completed.
Chávez noted that even if Nicaragua doubles its current level of consumption, it will still be able to export around 100,000 barrels a day to the tune of $3.6 billion in annual earnings for this impoverished country. With all that money, Chávez said,Nicaragua can afford to free itself from what he called the grips of colonialism.
By establishing a refinery in Nicaragua, Chávez, too, hopes to lessen his dependence on the United States for refining his oil.
Chávez said his government currently has eight refineries in the United States, which are turning a profit for Uncle Sam.
“For 90 years, Venezuela was a petroleum colony (of the United States),” Chávez said.
“Now Venezuela is free and will never again be a colony of the United States.”
By converting Nicaragua into an oil exporter in the near future, Chávez said he thinks Nicaragua, too,will soon be on the path to economic, financial and political freedom.
“The objective of ALBA is independence,” Chávez said. “ Cuba and Venezuela are independent, and now Nicaragua is heading in that direction.”