Maduro promises to improve ALBA

In a possible attempt to quell rumors that Venezuela is concerned about the Sandinistas’ management of aid money, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro traveled to Nicaragua this weekend to promise a strengthening of bilateral relations under the ideological banner of the Bolivarian Alliance for our Americas (ALBA).

“Cooperation is going to increase and deepen,” Maduro said upon arriving at Managua’s Augusto Sandino International Airport late Saturday night for a visit that was announced only hours before his arrival. “Now there will be more cooperation in energy, food, finances, social projects, tourism, and trade.”

Presidents Maduro and Ortega at the Salvador Allende Port (photo/ CCC CPerez)

Maduro’s drop-in comes less than a week after Nicaragua’s Comptroller General announced it is auditing ALBA de Nicaragua, or ALBANISA, a private company that is jointly owned by Venezuela’s PDVSA oil company and Nicaragua’s PETRONIC. ALBANISA has handled some $2.8 billion in Venezuelan aid since 2007, according to Central Bank numbers.

The inquiry from the normally uninquisitive Comptroller General’s Office has revived old rumors that Venezuela is concerned about Nicaragua’s handling of its oil money, and perhaps requested the audit of ALBANISA itself. Maduro’s visit this weekend played to media suspicions that Venezuela is not pleased with the slow rate of progress on its emblematic megaproject, the Supreme Dream of Bolivar Oil Refinery, which has not advanced much beyond the “supreme dream” phase nearly six years after the cornerstone was laid.

But during his Sunday afternoon tour of Managua, Maduro was all smiles, waves, triumphant fist-pumps and grandiose promises about how ALBA will only get better with age. At an evening political rally in front of a giant billboard of a former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Maduro and Ortega announced a new series of undetailed agreements to increase cooperation in areas of trade, food, energy, and security, as well implement new cultural, educational and social exchanges under ALBA.

Following in Hugo’s footsteps

Maduro’s visit to Managua on Sunday was a strange déjà vu of Hugo Chávez’s visit to the Nicaraguan capital in 2010, which, curiously enough, was also allegedly to seek clarification on how the Ortega government was spending Venezuelan aid money.

Similar to Chávez’s visit three years ago, Maduro got to drive around the city in Ortega’s Mercedes SUV and wave through the windshield to Sandinista supporters gathered at traffic roundabouts. Then the two presidents visited Lake Managua’s Salvador Allende Port and tourism complex, just like Ortega and Chávez did in 2010.

Maduro and Ortega wave to Sandinistas from the presidential Mercedes-Benz SUV (photo/ CCC CPerez)

Maduro, similar to Chávez, got to walk down the boardwalk with Ortega and climb aboard a lake ferry. Then, like Chávez, Maduro told Ortega how impressed he was with the Salvador Allende port and promised to build something similar in Venezuela.

Also similar to his deceased political mentor, Maduro made grand new promises about how ALBA will continue to develop new projects and change Latin American history. Like Chávez before him, Maduro also failed to mention all the other previous promises that ALBA has not delivered on.

When Chávez did his lakeside tour in 2010, the former strongman ended the day by promising Nicaragua a regasification plant and fertilizer plant—two projects that were never mentioned again. Also on the list of forgotten ALBA promises are two factories to produce aluminum, a factory to produce industrial bags, construction of 200,000 new homes by 2012, the construction of two engineering universities, an airline and a baseball league.

Undeterred by the growing list unfulfilled projects, Maduro promised that ALBA’s best days are yet to come.

“Relations are going to improve and deepen, now there will more cooperation in energy, more cooperation in food, finances, social projects and tourist projects like this port; it is going to be more in every sense,” Maduro said.