Ortega touts war on poverty in state of the nation

Tourism in Nicaragua continues to grow, create jobs, and spread the economy

Tourism in Nicaragua continues to grow, create jobs, and spread the economy

The Sandinista government spent more than $6.5 billion to fight poverty in Nicaragua over the past seven years, including $1.08 billion last year alone, according to President Daniel Ortega’s 2013 State of the Nation report, released this week — four and a half months overdue.

The president’s report, printed in ALL CAPS 19-POINT COURIER NEW FONT for the benefit of those who are nearly blind and hard of hearing, was delivered to the National Assembly by Ortega’s finance minister, Iván Acosta. According to Nicaraguan law and tradition, the president should deliver the state of the nation report to congress on January 10. Ortega hasn’t personally delivered his state of the nation report since 2007.

The state of the nation, imaginatively titled “The 2013 Management Report by the Good Government,” is a combination of remarkable achievements (especially in the areas of energy and electrification), curious claims (employment has grown 46% since the Sandinistas came to power), and eye-widening statistics (Nicaragua has 6.8 million cellphone lines in a country of 6 million people).

The report is also peppered with fist-pumping optimism. The much-hyped and little-known Great Interoceanic Canal of Nicaragua, a project estimated to cost between $40-$50 billion (give or take a dozen billion), is placed atop the government’s list of future projects that will “transform” the Nicaraguan economy. Third on the list is the long-delayed “Supreme Dream of Bolívar” oil refinery complex that former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced seven years ago and wanted to inaugurate in 2012 — a date that came and went without the cutting of any ribbons. The $6.1 billion refinery megaproject, since given a more generous deadline of 2017, promises to include a cross-country pipeline that the report lists as being stuck in the “visualization phase,” which seems appropriate for a project named after a dream.

The state of the nation also features some of the Sandinistas’ greatest hits. The report opens with some overripe poverty statistics dating back to 2009, when the poverty rate dipped to 42% — six percentage points lower than it was in 2005. The report says that extreme poverty also dropped from 70% to 63% during the same time period. Which is great news, but a bit dated to use as the lede in the 2013 state of the nation report. It also begs the question: what’s happened since then, and why can’t you tell us about it?

The government does cite more recent private home surveys that allegedly “confirm the tendency of poverty reduction in Nicaragua.” But for a government that claims to prioritize poverty reduction, it seems a bit odd that they aren’t able to provide any official numbers from the past five years.

There are other statistics that seem impressive at first blush, but less so when considered in a greater context. For example, the government’s claim that it has doubled spending on poverty reduction is a great thing; but it’s slightly less spectacular when considered in the context of an economy that has nearly doubled and an official budget that increased by 65% (not counting the $2 billion-plus in Venezuelan money that is managed in private government accounts parallel to the budget). Overall, social spending accounts for about $1 billion of Nicaragua’s budget.

The most impressive statistics in Ortega’s state of the nation report concern advances made in renewable energies and rural electrification. Most of Nicaragua’s power — 52% — now comes from renewable energy sources, up from 25% in 2007. By 2020, Nicaragua hopes to produce 90% of its energy from renewable sources, according to the government.

The Sandinista administration has also increased electrification coverage from 53% of households in 2006 to 76% in 2013. Last year alone, more than 74,500 Nicaraguan households got hooked up with electricity for the first time.

By the Numbers— Nicaragua’s State of the Nation at a glance

Exports. Nicaraguan exports nearly hit $5 billion last year, up 159% since 2006. Nicaragua’s top exports in 2013 were Gold ($431 million), Beef ($349 million) and Coffee ($246 million). Nicaragua’s top exports markets were: USA (25%), Venezuela (16%), Canada (13%) and El Salvador (8.9%)

Banking. Nicaragua’s international reserves remain above $2 billion.

Tourism. 1.27 million tourists visited Nicaragua last year, generating $417 million for the national economy. There are 6,445 officially registered tourism-related companies in Nicaragua, more than 1,000 of which are new, generating more than 5,000 new jobs last year.

Telecom. There are now 6,808,930 cellphone lines in Nicaragua, up 321% since 2006. At the same time, there are only 324,917 landlines and 207,275 Internet connections in Nicaragua.

Education. Enrollment in primary education reached 880,601 last year, or 92%. High school enrollment was at 507,375 last year. University enrollment last year was 158,792 students, 108,792 in public universities and 50,000 in private colleges.

Water & Sewage. In urban areas, 86% of households have drinking water, and 40% have sewage service.

Housing. The government built or repaired 9,691 homes in 2013, and gave sheets of roofing zinc to 53,020 homeowners.

Finally, the award for the least noteworthy achievement of 2013 goes to a dubious claim in the rather sparsely populated category of “political democracy.” The achievement? A 2013 agreement with the Indonesian government that allows Nicaraguan and Indonesian officials traveling on diplomatic passports to enter each other’s country without a visa.

Ortega should have led with that; it’s not the most impressive, but at least it’s current.

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