The United States, Sweden, England, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Germany and Finland have all cut aid to Nicaragua since President Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2007. Spain, however, will not be following the rest of those countries out the door, despite the Iberian country’s grinding economic crisis.
Though Spain has more than halved its bilateral aid to Nicaragua in the past three years, from around $125 million in 2009 to about $52 million last year, the Spanish government remains committed to maintaining its support for Nicaragua, according to Pío García-Escudero Márquez, president of Spain’s Senate.
“I bring the pledge from his Majesty the King [Juan Carlos] and from the government of Spain that despite the economic difficulties we are experiencing in Spain, we will maintain our commitments to collaborate in solidarity with the programs that the Government of Nicaragua is developing to eliminate poverty, to improve education, to improve sanitation, to improve tourism, infrastructure and other ambitions projects by the government of President Daniel Ortega,” García-Escudero told President Ortega during a meeting Wednesday night at the presidential compound.
On Wednesday afternoon, García-Escudero inaugurated a new $5 million crime lab that Spain built for the National Police. The Spanish senator commended Nicaragua for its commitment to citizen security, and said the new crime lab—complete with equipment for DNA testing, forensic analysis, and acoustic identification—will help the country improve its crime-fighting abilities even more.
In recognition of his support for the Government of Nicaragua, the Spanish politician was decorated with two of Nicaragua’s highest medals of honor: one from the National Police and one from the National Assembly, which awarded him the Grand Cross of the “Order of Gen. Jose Dolores Estrada, the Battle of San Jacinto.” That’s a lot of bling for his first visit to Nicaragua.
President Ortega was also very courteous during his evening visit from García-Escudero. Ortega said he was pulling for Spain in the Euro Cup (Portugal’s government had not reacted at press time) and stressed the common bonds between Spain and Nicaragua.
“We have Indian blood and Spanish blood, we are a mix of Indian blood and Spanish blood and our potential as a people in the Americas comes from that mix, which gives us the will to fight against our adversaries to overcome poverty, that is our great objective,” Ortega said.
Ortega politely did not mention Spain’s violently exploitive role during the colonization—a favorite topic of the president’s during other moments.
Instead, Ortega asked the Spanish parliamentarian for help unblocking TV broadcasts of Spanish league soccer in Nicaragua.
Sticking with Nicaragua
Though the amount of Spanish aid for Nicaragua has dipped in recent years, Nicaragua remains a priority for the Spanish government, García-Escudero said. In fact, only two other countries in the world receive more bilateral aid from Spain than Nicaragua does.
Holding on to that aid is also a priority for the Sandinista government. Spain now accounts for more than half of all European aid for Nicaragua, and the Ortega government can’t afford to lose any more.
Spain has stuck with the Ortega administration despite a rocky start. In 2007, Spanish King Juan Carlos walked out on President Ortega’s speech during the XVII Latin America and Iberia Summit in Chile, when Ortega used his allotted microphone time to rail against Spanish power-distribution company Unión Fenosa and to accuse the Spanish diplomatic mission in Managua of allegedly interfering in the 2006 general elections.
The Spanish International Cooperation Agency (AECI) also had a difficult time adjusting to the Sandinistas’ so-called “restructuring period” in 2007. In fact, the Spanish government was the first to cut funding for Nicaragua over political concerns when they decided to prematurely terminated a $1 million gender-equality program for the Nicaraguan Institute for Women in 2007.
At the time, María Soler, AECI’s head of gender issues for Nicaragua, told me the decision came after months of frustration trying to work with a government that she claims didn’t appear to be interested in women’s rights or continuing programs started by the previous administration. The issue of gender equality, Soler said, had become too “complicated” in a country that insisted upon outlawing therapeutic abortion and where “the rights of women are being violated.”
The remaining $700,000 in funding that was earmarked for the canceled government program was then redirect to non-governmental organizations that are working on gender and rights issues in Nicaragua.
That pattern of decentralizing aid has continued. Spain remains an important contributor to Nicaraguan civil society and gives a lot of its bilateral aid to autonomous communities and local governments.