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Venezuelan Aid Explanation Raises New Questions

May 23, 2008

President Daniel Ortega’s acknowledgement last week that $520 million in Venezuelan aid has entered Nicaragua over the past 16 months under the umbrella of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, ALBA, has raised new demands that the money be accounted for and included in the national budget.

Ortega has treated ALBA funds with total secrecy and a lack of any third party audit or oversight, sparking speculation about how much money is entering the country and who has benefited. Opposition leaders have accused Ortega of using the money to get rich rather than to fund social programs, and economists have warned that the lack of transparency and control could contribute to inflation.

Ortega, who has dodged the issue for more than a year, last week acknowledged for the first time that there are doubts about ALBA. “Many people ask, ‘Where are the ALBA funds? What happened to the ALBA funds? Why don’t we take the money from the ALBA fund?’”Ortega said.

However, Ortega said, the ALBA funds are already “overextended.”

By means of proof, Ortega then rattled off the following list of ALBA expenditures: $207.6 million on new electrical plants; $8 million for the new oil refinery project; $71.8 million for ALBA development programs (streets for the people, housing programs, “zero hunger” program and microcredits to women); $36.9 million in credits from the Bank of Alba; $35.3 million in other non-specified social programs; $21.3 million in programs to export cattle and meat to Venezuela; and $60.6 million in “other programs.”

In total, Ortega said,Venezuelan aid to Nicaragua over the past 16 months totals $520,516,500 – a pretty exact figure considering the president only accounted for around $442 million, and in very vague terms.

Venezuela, with its $520 million, is giving Nicaragua almost the same amount of foreign aid as the rest of the world combined.

Opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre jumped on Ortega’s attempt at transparency by accusing him of using the Venezuelan aid to create “dark private businesses” that are making money for him and his partners, while not bringing any benefit to the country.

Montealegre said, “$520 million is a lot of money, and it’s got to be somewhere, but it definitely hasn’t been invested in improving the conditions of the Nicaraguan people.”

 

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