MANAGUA – Calling the U.S. financial crisis “the funeral of capitalism,” President Daniel Ortega last week said Nicaragua is implementing “an alternative model of development” based on solidarity, justice and regional integration.
Ortega, arguing that capitalism has led to “exclusion and poverty for millions of human beings,” said that Nicaragua is opting for another path toward “getting all Nicaraguans out of poverty.”
The president’s plan, spelled out in a thick document called “The National Plan for Human Development,” was explained in broad, ideological strokes Oct. 14, during a speech before the National Council of Economic and Social Planning (CONPES), headed by his wife, Rosario Murillo.
“The national development plan was made with one clear objective … to overcome poverty, with work, education and health, which are the fundamental elements that need to accompany a country to get out of poverty,” Ortega said.
The foundation of Ortega’s alternative model are the pillars of so-called “21st Century Socialism” promoted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez – the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and the PetroCaribe oil agreement with other Latin American and Caribbean nations.
“This is the model that we are defending,” Ortega said, “The alternative model we are working on, in which ALBA and PetroCaribe are already a reality.”
Ortega said that “just four years ago, this alternative model seemed like a dream, but now it’s becoming a reality.”
Though Ortega claims an alternative model is on the rise and that capitalism is floundering, economic analysts here say the dramatic fall of world oil prices could have a strong effect on Chávez’s ability to bankroll his socialist project.
Oil prices have fallen by 45 percent since July, raising new doubts about whether Chávez will be able to maintain his growing aid commitments under the banner of ALBA (NT, Oct. 17).
In that sense, ALBA and Chávez’s alternative model could be dragged down by the capitalist crisis, because 21st Century Socialism is intimately linked to financial markets.
Though the head of Venezuela’s state oil company said this week that cooperation with Nicaragua “continues and is getting stronger every day,” Ortega acknowledges that funding his project could become tricky.
“Logically, we are achieving very important advances under ALBA, but we’re still lacking financing,” Ortega said. “We are complying with the constitutional mandate in terms of free education and health, but we need resources because our country still isn’t out of poverty.”
The president added, “We need resources because we don’t have them to be able to guarantee medicines for the entire population, which is arriving now for free care. We don’t have the resources. The budget debate is going to come up in the next few weeks, and there we’ll see all the great tensions that exist.
How we wish we had the resources to really guarantee quality health and education!” Ortega, however, wants help on his own terms. Since taking office, Ortega has applauded the “unconditional” aid from Venezuela, while criticizing the conditional aid from Nicaragua’s traditional sources of foreign assistance.
“We have to ask for international cooperation, but without conditions!” Ortega stressed. “We have to break with the conditionality of international cooperation. From 1990 to Jan. 10, 2007 (when Ortega returned to power) the international community became accustomed to maintaining a policy of interventionism in Nicaragua.”
Ortega again lashed out at representatives of foreign donor countries, who he said “come here and talk as if they were a delegate of the king in colonial times; they come to review and complain and criticize.”
Several months ago, he famously told members of the European donor community here to “take their coins and buy someone else.”
On the other hand, Ortega said the “unconditional” aid from leftist countries under ALBA “doesn’t hurt the sovereignty of the country.”
“Cuba has never put even one condition on its collaboration with Nicaragua. Nor have our Venezuelan brothers; our dear brother, compañero Comandante Hugo Chávez has never said these are the conditions. Never! It’s simply unconditional cooperation.”
Opposition lawmaker Francisco Aguirre, president of the National Assembly’s budget and economic commission, said now more than ever Ortega needs to maintain good relations with traditional donors, rather than opt for unproven relations with other countries based on ideological reasons.
“Ortega had hoped to diversify his aid sources by courting Russia. But Russia’s outreach is also tied directly to its petrodollars, and these, too, are coming down,” Aguirre said. “So Daniel will have to mend his badly frayed relations with traditional donors like the U.S., Europe and the international financial institutions they control.”
The economic analyst added, “Let’s hope he realizes this and does not continue damaging those relations to the point where they snap and aid is greatly reduced or cut-off altogether.”
While the nature of Venezuelan aid for Nicaragua remains an unsolved mystery, the Ortega government has launched a highprofile investigation into several nongovernmental organizations accused of “triangulating” U.S. and European aid for political purposes and other “suspicious” activities.
In the name of the U.S. government, Ambassador Robert Callahan last week clarified that his government has always been open and transparent with its funding for Nicaragua.
“I want to aver publicly that everything we do here, every program that supports development, democracy, health, and education, every exchange of a student, soldier, or artist, every donation to the police or the armed forces – everything, all of it – we do in a public and transparent fashion,” Callahan said in an Oct. 15 speech to the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Business (AMCHAM). “So when you hear accusations that the United States is secretly attempting to undermine Nicaragua’s democracy, or is furtively involved in partisan politics, please remember what I just said: Everything we do, we do openly.
The ambassador’s remarks came one week after the Sandinistas’ official weekly newsletter, “El 19,” published a report called “Gringo Subversion,” in which it charged: “The government of the United States, through its intelligence services and agencies that are supposedly non-governmental, has a plan in place to subvert Nicaraguan politics with the goal of destabilizing the government of President Daniel Ortega and prevent new victories for the Sandinista National Liberation Front in the (municipal) elections.”
The government attack publication also accused USAID of funding opposition civil society groups here to function as opposition political parties against Ortega.
The Nicaraguan government has also included U.S. nongovernmental organization International Republican Institute (IRI) in its questionable investigation of certain civil society groups that have been involved in activities questioning Ortega.
Callahan told the press last week that the U.S. Embassy had sent a letter to various members of Nicaraguan government to “express our concern about the case of the International Republican Institute,” but said that the government responded to the letter quickly and amicably.
Callahan would not divulge the content of the letter, which he said he would keep confidential for the sake of diplomacy.
The ambassador did, however, say that he was “a little worried” with the treatment that IRI has received under the Ortega government.
He said that the NGO has always “acted according to the laws and in an open and transparent” manner. NGOs, Callahan said, are “here to help promote economic development and democracy.”
The ambassador also defended a “democratic capitalist” system, saying, “We think it is the best system – not perfect, not without flaws or defects, as the current economic crisis shows, but the best available over time – we have encouraged others to adopt it.
He said the U.S. would “never impose it on another country,” but that “we want Nicaragua to be an active part of that world.”
“That,” Callahan said, “is the intention of our programs.”