Church agency calls on Nicaragua to prioritise anti-poverty action

By staff writers
January 13, 2007

As Nicaragua welcomes Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega back to power after nearly seventeen years this week, UK-based development agency Christian Aid has called on the new president to use international debt relief for urgently needed anti-poverty programmes.

Under the HIPC debt relief agreed at Gleneagles, Scotland, during the UK presidency of the G8 countries in 2005, Nicaragua was one of the 18 countries identified to benefit.

The previous Nicaraguan administration bowed to International Monetary Fund pressure to service internal debts with the money released by external debt relief. In September 2006, the internal debt stood at 1.2 billion US dollars.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, only slightly better off than Haiti. Nicaragua also has the world’s highest level of per capita debt at 13,000 US dollars.

The external debt now stands at 4.4 billion dollars and the government social spending budget is just 1.5 billion dollars.

Daniel Ortega previously held office from 1979-1990 after he led the Sandinista movement to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration in the US illegally funded the insurgent 'Contras' to oust Ortega from power. He lost the 1990 election at the hands of a nation worn out by conflict.

The new president has emphasized that he will now use markets and moderation to stabilize the country, however. But the Bush administration is still deeply suspicious.

Christian Aid says it fears that, far from being a threat to US interests, President Ortega will not do enough for the country’s poorest people.

Moises Gonzalez, who runs the Nicaragua programme for Christian Aid, said: “Ortega’s rhetoric is very clearly in favour of helping the poorest sections in Nicaraguan society. But the fear is that in order not to lose international investment or fall out of favour with the International Monetary Fund, Ortega’s actions will not match his pledges.”

Se continued: “For example, it is very important that the country uses money from debt relief to fund social programmes. This has not been done in the past and would make a huge difference in providing education and medical care to those most in need.”

Women’s groups have also expressed outrage that under pressure from the conservative Catholic hierarchy, Mr Ortega has backed a controversial law which makes abortion illegal in Nicaragua, even in cases where the mother had been raped – a move which will cause great suffering.

This support has led many commentators to believe that his political views have changed radically since the 1980s. But Ortega says he is still committed to the cause of the poorest.

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