A Sandinista, a Liberal, and a businessman walk into a club…

Francisco Aguirre (L), Jose Adan Aguerri and Gen. Alvaro Baltodano participated in a panel discussion on Nicaragua's Economic and Political Outlook last week in Washington, D.C.
Tim Rogers

Francisco Aguirre (L), Jose Adan Aguerri and Gen. Alvaro Baltodano participated in a panel discussion on Nicaragua's Economic and Political Outlook last week in Washington, D.C.

A Sandinista, a Liberal and a businessman walk into a club in Washington, D.C…

Ten years ago, that would have been the opening line to a bad joke. Today, it’s the lede to a news article—and a reminder of how much Nicaragua has evolved in a short time.

Since the 1980s, Nicaragua has gone from being a complete economic basket case to becoming Central America’s fastest-growing economy after Panama. And no one is more surprised by that progress than Nicaragua itself.

“In 2006, when I talked to other leaders of the business sector, no one at that moment expected that we would be where we are today; no one thought that the private sector would have the role we do today,” said José Adan Aguerri, president of COSEP, the Nicaragua’s association of business chambers.

Speaking at a Nicaragua panel discussion hosted by the Council of the Americas at Washington’s National Press Club last week, Aguerri noted that Nicaragua’s economy over the past eight years has gone from the slowest growth rate in the region to the highest. “Today we talk about how a 4.5-percent growth rate is not sufficient,” he said. “That’s a good problem.”

Retired Gen. Alvaro Baltodano, President Daniel Ortega’s delegate for investment promotion and trade facilitation, listed Nicaragua’s economic achievements in greater detail. He noted that Nicaragua’s has outpaced the rest of Central America in foreign investment growth, while at the same time leading the region the region in export growth —up 130%— under the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

Baltodano credits the government for laying the groundwork for that growth.

“You can’t have economic development without energy,” he said, noting that Nicaragua has made huge strides to wean the country off its oil dependency and switch to renewable energy sources. In addition, Nicaragua has increased electrification from 50% to 80% over the past eight years, he said.

Baltodano acknowledged that Nicaragua still has the highest energy costs in the region, and said the next battle in its energy revolution is to lower costs for homeowners and businesses.

The key to moving forward, he said, is for the country to continue to work in alliance between the government and the private sector. That partnership, recently codified in Nicaragua’s new constitution, has already led to a new era of consensus between COSEP and the Sandinista government, Baltodano noted.

It’s not a perfect marriage, but it’s working better than the old arrangement from the 1980s, Aguerri said.

“We already paid price of political confrontation in the 1980s, when we had negative growth and the lowest per capita income in the region,” he said. “In 1990, we only had $300 million in exports, $2 million in international reserves, and inflation was in measured in thousands.”

Today, the COSEP president says, Nicaragua is a new country where the private sector works with the government and the Sandinista politicos “no longer decide for us.”

“Now the economy is totally different, and the private sector plays a determining role,” he said. “No longer are laws decided unilaterally.”

That’s a slightly simplified version of Nicaragua meant for a Washington, D.C. crowd. The Sandinistas have shown that they’re not afraid to legislate unilaterally when they think COSEP is being intransigent or unreasonable in its demands. It’s also worth noting that the “consensus” touted by Baltodano and Aguerri doesn’t extend to all sectors of society, or even members of Nicaragua’s increasingly irrelevant opposition parties. Still, the Sandinista-COSEP alliance is working, Aguirre insists; of the 81 economic laws passed by Ortega’s government, 77 have been in consensus with COSEP.

The result is a new era of economic stability, investment and growth.

“Before, we weren’t on the radar and we were in last place in every economic category,” Aguerri said. “Now we are on the map again and we are competing again. Its not just us saying that, its World Bank with all its indicators.”

The goal now, Baltodano said, is to take the next leap and get Nicaragua to a place where it can grow 7-8% annually. And the way to do that is with the $50 billion interoceanic canal project, Baltodano said.

“The great canal of Nicaragua will convert us into logistics and distribution center for the world, giving us the infrastructure we need to develop and have impact on world trade,” the general told an audience of several dozen people in Washington, D.C.

Economic advance, political slide

Not everything is heading in the right direction in Nicaragua, however. Former opposition lawmaker and ex-Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre, the third member of the Nicaraguan panel in D.C., said governability should be understood as a process with three components: economic, quality of life, and political.

He says Nicaragua is making strides in the first two categories, but moving backwards in the third.

“It’s no secret that Nicaragua representative democracy is in decline,” he said. “A lot that was achieved between 1990 and 2007 has been turned back in recent years.”

Aguirre says Nicaragua’s lack of transparency, clean elections and judicial security are all conspiring to prevent the country from growing at more accelerated clip.

Still, he said, issues of democracy are not the “fundamental preoccupation for Nicaraguans.” Most people are still more concerned with the cost of living, finding employment and assuring the wellbeing of their families.

In the orchestra of concerns, democracy plays second fiddle. But the political class is learning how to get along better, and that’s progress, Aguirre said.

“I don’t want to kill my political adversaries, and I don’t think they want to kill me,” he said. “I think that is sign that we have evolved a lot.”

The former lawmaker added, “We are far from being perfect state, but interesting things are happening in Nicaragua.”




  • Pepe Turcon

    Nothing new here…It’s the same good old Somocismo at work. The only difference here is in the US with a liberal do gooder for President….for a while at least.

    • DeathtoDuarte

      Somoza and his American butt-buddies were only concerned with lining the pockets of the already well off.
      The Great Sandinistas and their Party, in true form to the memory of Sandino are providing far more for the Average Nicaraguan that any (besides a late 19th century man who was disposed, and perhaps even more than him) leader has for this Astounding State.
      Quit with your ignorant prevarications you fugly lumpen.

      • randypower

        I’d love to read some civilized commentary from both of you. You know, the kind with substantiated facts instead of name calling. But I’d settle for opinion sans name calling.

        • DeathtoDuarte

          On what subject?
          The fact that proper Socialism is what Capitalist demons call: Mixed Market Economy?
          We’re all socialist. Some to a lesser extent, some are self-hating Socialists called ‘capitalists’ whom stuck, though raised and in that sense understable, in the cold war paradigm have yet to come to terms with what they actually are.
          What do you want me to say? That the Gang-Oriented Electorate (i.e. Nicaraguan ‘maras’ have free reign so long as they limit drug activity and violent activity and, most importantly, make sure their neighborhoods vote for the Sandinista Party while also serving as an unofficial and thus plausibly denialable paramilitary force for anti-Sandinista activities and protest? All the while garnering a superior image among Tourists to improve the overall economy?) is somehow less equal that the American psuedo-Democracy?
          You must direct me with what you want me to discuss, something so broad as Nicaragua’s proper Orthodox Marxist interpretation of the Free Market’s place in a Socialist Economy is simply good. It’s not surprising.
          Even Jimmy Carter told Ms. Chamorra to allow the Sandinistas to maintain their extreme executive branch powers (especially in terms of the Army, which if you know anything about Central American politics is really the deciding Political element) so America could say they ‘won’ even though the Sandinistas and Ortega have been running the Nicaraguan politics since 1978?
          It’s a Credit to the Sandinistas and Ortega that they were willing to Lose Face to America in order for the war and abuses and terrorism commited by the Americans against the Nicaraguan people to stop. How could you NOT respect that.
          Oh, and let’s not forget the Economic depredation and intentional extrication of already underdeveloped infrastructure by the American-backed-led-trained Eastern Jigaboo and Indian Terrorists of which they’ve been fighting recovering against for the past 26 years?
          Viva Ortega!

          • randypower

            To be clear, I had no particular topics in mind. I only requested that the comments avoid name calling because I’d find a lot more value in comments without them.

            You hit on a lot of important talking points and I appreciate that. I won’t set out to debate them here, though that might be an interesting forum conversation.

            A couple of thoughts. I actually respect Ortega for standing up to the US. I am not proud of many things my governments have done over the years. However, the comparisons between Ortega and US governments are not very fruitful for me if the purpose is to rationalize wrongdoing by saying it’s just the same as the US. I wouldn’t want Nicaragua to be a puppet or a clone of the US, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, or China. They are ALL guilty of very bad things and manipulations.

            Your fervent support of the person Ortega causes one to wonder if that allegiance is stronger than your love for Nicaragua. I suppose only you can answer that.

            In any case, than you for taking the time to write on many topics. Maybe you can help a civilized educated discussion start over in the forum.

          • DeathtoDuarte

            My Allegiance to Ortega is the Manifestation of my Alliegance to Nicaragua.
            Am I ignorant of Rosario, am I ignorant that his sons are driving around in BMWs in Costa Rica? No.
            But if I fought and bled and gave face for this great nation and Peoples then I would take my guerdons as well. There’s no sin in that. To be remunerated in kind for his sacrifice.
            Send me a Link to a Debate you start and I will be MORE than happy to contribute.
            And to Answer your question, the moment Ortega betrays nuestro Padre Partia I will put a bullet into his head myself if necessary. But at the moment, he’s like pre-39 Hitler, doing near-everything right for our country.
            Once the Interoceanic Canal is built, we must reconquer Guanacaste from the Tico duplicitious basterds.

    • Alessandra Mondadori

      Thanks for your comments Pepe, love them!
      Actually in a short statement you describe the joke this whole Orteguismo is. They are trying to reedit the Somocismo. Sometimes I would like them to succeed for the good of the people but I am afraid they are already a failure. Actually the best and only strategy for a good shot at success is through real democracy with truly in depending institutions much like Costa Rica, Chile and Colombia are doing. The Ortegas think they can “sell trust” by talking and trying to convince. Once the petrodollars from Venezuela are over they will also run out of toilette paper. Everybody I interview has a very negative opinion of Nicaragua including the Danielistas who happen to hate Rosario Murillo. The fall will star from their inside. Actually this whole trip is a “patada de ahogado” as their future looks dark, very dark indeed.

  • Alessandra Mondadori

    Tim…are you making the introduction as if telling a joke? If so…then you succeed then this whole stage of Sandinismo does sounds, looks and smells as a joke.

    • DeathtoDuarte

      Go fuck your ugly grandmother to death for the iniquity of bringing you into this world.

  • Pepe Turcon

    Hey Tim….let’s turn the beat around:

    It seems you cannot turn on the news anymore without being utterly depressed and devastated by the images from our southern border, Israel, Iraq and Syria, the increasing dangers of Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions, and hear the scandals of Benghazi, the IRS, and our Veterans hospitals, just to name a few.

    And where is our Commander-in-Chief? Where is Barack Obama? The lack of leadership and direction from our President and his so-called “Cabinet and advisors” has been shocking and frankly appalling.

    In my lifetime I have never seen a more indecisive and disconnected US President.
    What can we expect from out little banana Republic? (By the way… I meant Nicaragua )

    • Alessandra Mondadori

      Right on the money Pepe!