(posted Feb. 15, 8:00 p.m.)- Following the conga-line exit of European donors from Nicaragua, Foreign Minister Samuel Santos left today on a three-country tour of Spain, Iran and Italy in search of replacement aid and investment.
Garrulous first lady Rosario Murillo announced Santos’ trip during her daily soliloquy to the Sandinista propaganda outlets.
The most provocative stop on Santos’ amazing journey will be in Tehran, where the white-haired foreign minister will meet with his Iranian counterpart and other officials from the Islamic government, presumably to try to figure out what happened to all the unfulfilled promises of Iranian investment and aid and to push again for bilateral debt relief.
Nicaragua still owes Iran some $164 million from 1986, when Iran sold Nicaragua some oil and the Sandinistas said “bill me later.” Iran has refused to pardon the debt, despite the chummy rhetorical relationship between Presidents Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Daniel Ortega.
Murillo didn’t offer any further details about Santos’ visit to the beleaguered Islamic nation with a penchant for Uranium-enrichment.
In Spain, Santos is reportedly going to meet with government representatives to review Spanish aid for Nicaragua. Spain was one of the few countries to send a high-level government official to Ortega’s inauguration in January.
Santos will also meet with representatives of Spanish power company Unión Fenosa, Nicaragua’s unpopular electricity distributor. In 2007, the Sandinista government acquired 16% of Unión Fenosa.
In Italy, Santos is reportedly going to meet with representatives of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, which runs food security programs in Nicaragua.
Making up for lost aid?
Both countries’ governments have made statements saying that the decisions to cut aid are based on Nicaragua’s poor democratic performance. The Sandinistas, however, insist it’s due to the European economic crisis.
According to Nicaraguan economist Adolfo Acevedo, since the return to power of President Ortega, Nicaragua has lost bilateral cooperation from Sweden, England, Denmark, Norway, Holland and Germany. Finland will make its position official next month.
“There are two basic reasons for the pullout,” Acevedo says. “The fist reason is due to the budget crisis; European nations have decided to accelerate the process of diminishing the global amount of assistance and reorient aid to poorer countries on the planet.”
Nicaragua, he said, is no longer on that list, despite being the second poorest country in Latin America.
“And the second reason,” Acevedo says, “is the perception that Nicaragua’s democracy has deteriorated by legal and human-rights standards.”
Acevedo said he expects the pullouts to continue.
The reduction in European loans and aid from 2009 to 2010 alone was $139 million, Acevedo said.
“It’s difficult to know how much each of those two factors weights on each particular country, but it’s certain that both are combining to accelerate the reduction of bilateral cooperation from Europe,” the economist said.