Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 440 | Marzo 2018



The dilemmas of this “other time”

It’s “another time” in world geopolitics, with worsening signs of the destructive climate change and other damage we human beings are doing. It’s also “another time” for Nicaragua.

Envío team

U S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to five allied Latin American counties between February 2 and 7 just weeks before his inexplicable firing, is the first clear sign that the Trump government has decided to resume the country’s meddling in the whole southern and central part of the continent rather than limiting its interest to Venezuela and the border wall with Mexico, as some expected.

Tillerson’s forceful warnings, questioning both China’s growing economic presence in Latin America and Russia’s advances in various countries, are evidence that in addition to Donald Trump’s “America first” project, there’s now a 2.0 version of the old Monroe Doctrine, “America for the Americans.” The eight years of Obama’s “soft power” are a thing of the past. How will the Nicaraguan government respond to this “other time,” as one of its top officials has called it?

Eyes on Venezuela’s
Orinoco Mining Arc

Tillerson worked for 40 years at Exxon Mobile. the fifth largest corporation in the world, 13 of them as its CEO, until Donald Trump picked him as secretary of state. At 20 million barrels a day, the United States consumes more oil than any other country in the world, including China, much of it fueling the gigantic US military apparatus that is now attempting to neutralize Russia and its new and powerful nuclear weapons. Exxon Mobile has lost various legal battles with Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, litigations Tillerson knew in detail. It is not surprising, therefore, that Trump’s secretary of state sees the world through lenses carefully gradated by all these realities and more.

In the five countries he visited—Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica—he always talked about oil. And in the same breath he always mentioned Venezuela, whose Orinoco Mining Arc has the world’s largest oil reserves as well as enormous quantities of strategic minerals for the new technologies. China is currently making use of large volumes that Washington has its eye on.

Tillerson called the US
a “multidimensional partner”

The day before taking off for his tour, Texas-born Tillerson spoke at a symposium on US involvement and engagement in Western Hemisphere affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied civil engineering. He laid out what he called the administration’s three “pillars of engagement in 2018 and beyond: economic growth, security and democratic governance,” emphasizing the relationship among the three as greater economic prosperity meaning greater security, and greater democracy meaning greater prosperity.

To achieve these three objectives, he said, the United States considers Latin America “a priority … for reasons other than simply our geographic proximity,” which is why it has decided to reassert its influence in the subcontinent. In what he defined as “this year of the Americas,” Tillerson called the United States the sub¬continent’s “multidimensional partner,” one that “benefits both sides with economic growth, education, innovation and security.” For anyone who has even minimal knowledge of the brutal history of US economic, political and social relations with Latin America, his words rang worse than hollow.

The United States
has a “holistic” focus

Tillerson warned Latin America that it must understand it “does not need new imperial powers,” as he called its other important partners, China and Russia. China’s presence in Latin America grew rapidly during the Obama years and is continuing. South America’s main exports went to China and Chinese manufactured products inundated the markets of all our countries.
In our region alone, a Chinese company called Landbridge Group purchased Panama’s largest port, on the Atlantic side of the canal, in May of last year, offering it intimate access to one of the most important goods distribution centers in the world. The next month, after Panama formalized its switch of diplomatic relations from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China, following Costa Rica’s decision a decade earlier, talks got underway on China’s construction of a high-speed rail line from Panama City to the province of Chiriqui, and in June of this year the two countries will begin negotiating a free-trade deal.

China’s investment in major projects in the subcontinent has totaled many billions of dollars. A projected bi-oceanic train designed to start in Sao Paulo and unite the Atlantic with the Pacific is seen as the centerpiece of China’s trade with Latin America. Some 150 complementary infrastructural projects have already been completed as part of this mega¬project, with another 400 under construction. But after Tillerson’s tour, and given the power of his voice, Brazil, the region’s largest economy, suspended initiation of the train component.

Tillerson called the US plan for the continent “holistic,” an increasingly fashionable word that must surely be interpreted as Washington’s geopolitical and geo-economic influence in Latin America. To that end, its determination to push back Chinese economic power in the region makes it strategically crucial to have an allied government in Venezuela. That plus the oil the country sits on made a change of government in Venezuela a central issue in both his university talk and his tour.

There will finally
be an interlocutor

By way of justifying the path it is choosing, the Nicaraguan government has argued ever since the US pressure began to ramp up that there is no longer a clear interlocutor in Washington. The post of assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere has been vacant ever since Trump took office.

Tillerson’s trip to Latin America is only part of the Trump admini¬stration’s increasing focus on defining a foreign policy for the region as Trump has also nominated Kimberly Breier, currently a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning staff covering the Western Hemisphere, to fill that vacancy.. The State Department blurb includes among her credentials having served as director of the US-Mexico Futures Initiative, deputy director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and director for the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council Staff. It adds that she formerly worked in what it euphemistically calls the “US intelligence community” (reportedly as a CIA analyst). She received a BA in Spanish from Middlebury College and an MA in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University, so knows the region and its major language well.

Neither Tillerson’s tour nor the expected appointment do anything to dissolve the tense uncertainties that have characterized and will probably continue characterizing the volatile Trump administration. Nonetheless, they help us analyze, or at least envision, how the scenario is increasingly complicating things for the Ortega government and how it might deal with the dilemmas presenting themselves.

The Chinese “imperial
power” isn’t here

Unlike what’s happening in nearly all the rest of South America as well as in Costa Rica and Panama, the Chinese “imperial power” has no real presence in Nicaragua. China’s use of what Tillerson calls “statecraft” to “pull the region into its orbit” isn’t happening here now and probably will not in the foreseeable future. Ever since the end of the revolution in 1990, the successive Nicaraguan governments, including this one, have maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan rather than switching to continental China. They have received abundant resources from the Taiwanese government for different social programs and important infrastructure projects. Nicaragua also has a free trade agreement with that country, all of which make it unlikely to abandon this generous “godfather.”

The “holistic” focus presented by Tillerson suggeststs that the interoceanic canal concession to Chinese businessman Wang Jing, which Ortega presented as the “path to the Promised Land,” will never be a reality, although Ortega is loath to recognize it and continues budgeting millions for the Grand Canal Authority. The only concrete product of that megaproject is the law that created the concession, which needs to be annulled to curtail the massive land grab that many intuited the mythical canal served to cover (for more on that, see the Analysis section of this issue).

Allies of Putin’s Russia

The imperial power that does have an increasingly “alarming” presence in Nicaragua is Putin’s Russia. Tiller¬son warned that Moscow “continues to sell arms and military equipment to unfriendly regimes who do not share or respect democratic values.”

He didn’t mention Nicaragua in either his speech or his trip, but the State Department is fully aware that in 2015 Russia and Nicaragua signed an agreement to install a land station for its Global Satellite Navigation System (Glonass), the Russian equivalent of the US GPS. This was followed in late October 2017 by the inauguration of the Russia-Nicaragua Anti-Drugs Training Center in Nicaragua. Designed as a regional training center for the fight against drug-trafficking, it was announced at the inauguration that this multi-story structure would have the “status of a branch of Russia’s Interior Ministry.” And Russia has also begun sending 500 military officers a year to train our Army.

Why this remilitarization?

In October 2016 envío published an extensive text by Nicaragua security expert Roberto Cajina analyzing the sending of Russian armaments, including four patrol boats, two missile boats, tanks—there was talk of 50—and an unspecified number of combat planes.

Cajina raised a number of questions that have yet to be answered. “Is it a purchase, a donation or a combination of the two?” And if it was a purchase, “Where will Nicaragua get the resources for it? Has a loan been negotiated with some Russian financial institution? And if so, under what conditions?” And of course the main question: “Why has Daniel Ortega’s government acquired both offensive and defensive military equipment?”

Whatever the answers, people in Washington, particularly those in Congress who have Daniel Ortega’s government on their radar, see Nicaragua as an ally of Russia again.

“A new world, another time”

In addition to its relations with Putin’s Russia, Nicaragua remains on their radar for its close ties with Venezuela, its electoral frauds and its anti-democratic model of government, which is the traditional condemnation offered exclusively for regimes that don’t happen to be US allies.

Although Tillerson said “many still live under the oppression of tyranny,” he segued immediately to Venezuela, challenging all countries to “stand with freedom-loving nations, those that support the Venezuelan people, or choose to stand with the Maduro dictatorship, if that is your choice.”

This posed a dilemma for Ortega given another grave problem he has avoided responding to for the past two and a half months. On December 21, President Trump added Roberto Rivas, president of Nicaragua’s electoral branch of government and one of Ortega’s key allies in organizing electoral frauds, to the Treasury Department list of corrupt individuals around the world put together under the Global Magnitsky Act. The sanctions applied to those listed brand them as financial pariahs unwelcome in most countries.

The Ortega government owes Chávez’s Venezuela so much that Tillerson’s challenge represented an authentic crossroads. The moment to respond to it came quickly: Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who is married to one of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s daughters, kicked off a tour around both the region and various African countries calling for solidarity with his country at the same time Tillerson was visiting others asking for choices. Nicaragua was one of Arreaza’s stops after first visiting Cuba and Belize.

In Managua, Arreaza was met with the solidarity he sought and fully assumed he would find. The new concept of “another time” was first heard officially that day, in the farewell to Arreaza. It’s a time in which Chávez’s once-hopeful Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) is experiencing the increasing ebb of what some dubbed the “pink tide” of progressive governments in Latin America (see more on this in the international section of this issue). Nicaragua is feeling the effects of this time as well.

Rivas’ dilemma and
“Ortega’s reform”

After sending Washington that sign of clear support for Venezuela, Ortega still needed to finally send some sign on the Roberto Rivas case, as he has not referred publicly to the issue since the sanction was imposed, nor has the electoral magistrate appeared in public.

The weekly Nicaraguan publication Confidencial reported that Rivas had been vacationing in Spain with his wife and three children when he was sanctioned, and that he returned to Nicaragua with his family on January 5 aboard a luxurious private jet at a reported cost of 130,000 euros.

The question many had been asking in Nicaragua since December was whether Rivas would resign as president of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) or Ortega would be obliged to fire him. Another question making the rounds was whether any of Nica¬ragua’s governmental institutions—the Attorney General’s Office, the Comptroller General’s Office, the Superintendent of Banks, the Financial Analysis Unit, the Public Ministry—would initiate an investigation to either reject or justify the sanctions imposed on Rivas by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Ortega gave his response on February 7 by sending the National Assembly a fast-track “reform” to the electoral law that removed all legal and administrative responsibilities corresponding to Rivas as CSE president and transferred them to its vice president. Rivas remained the titular head of the CSE, however, with a monthly salary of US$5,000, immunity and the many privileges the position affords him.

A “shameless State”

Ortega’s controversial decision triggered surprise around the country. The concern of his allies in the private sector was clearly reflected in the February 19 editorial of the daily newspaper El Nuevo Diario, which insisted on Rivas’ duty to resign. And journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, visibly indignant, said on his nightly TV magazine program that Ortega’s February 7 “reform” had consummated the State’s degeneration, turning it into a “shameless State.”

Some saw Ortega’s decision as governed by the need to protect an ally who knows too much. Others felt Ortega had to take at least that halfway measure because the sanctions tied Rivas’ hands operationally: he could no longer conduct the simplest institutional procedures and even his signature on a check had been rendered invalid.

Others believe Ortega wasn’t about to “give Rivas up” without some positive signal in exchange from the United States so he pragmatically opted for what is actually an unconstitutional path, since the electoral law has constitutional rank and cannot be reformed without broad consultation and approval in two consecutive legislatures. Still others consider that Ortega couldn’t appear to his base as bending to US pressure. And then there are those who believe he will simply wait to less ignominiously eliminate Rivas from the CSE in April 2019, when his term as electoral magistrate is up, a possibility that easily straddles almost all the others.

“A lost opportunity”

What was clear to everyone was that while Ortega called his decision an “electoral reform,” separating Rivas from his functions is far from any real change to the collapsed electoral system. CSE Vice President Lumberto Camp­bell, who now heads the electoral branch in practice, has always been an unconditional Ortega ally.

The reaction of US Ambassador Laura Dog carries the most weight in measuring the importance of having resolved the dilemma in such a pragmatic manner. Although diplomatically recognizing that the decision was the government’s to make, she said it was a pity the chance hadn’t been taken to make the needed changes, calling it a “lost opportunity.”

Ortega’s dilemma in the OAS

Another opportunity to send a signal to Washington that would put Ortega in a slightly better position presented itself when the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States called a session in Washington on February 23 to deal with Venezuela’s crisis. It was the first time the OAS had touched on Venezuela in a Permanent Council session in 10 months. The specific issue discussed and voted on was a resolution submitted by several countries exhorting the Venezuelan government to cancel the snap presidential elections Maduro has scheduled and “present a new electoral calendar that enables elections to be held with all necessary guarantees of a free, fair, transparent, legitimate and credible process, including the participation of all Venezuelan political parties and actors without any kind of exclusion, independent international observers, free and equal access to public media, and a National Electoral Council whose composition ensures its independence and autonomy and is trusted by all political actors. “

By that time, the governments of Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay had announced they wouldn’t recognize the results of the upcoming elections unless they meet certain requisites. They also proposed suspending Venezuela from Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, and withdrawing Maduro’s invitation to attend the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, on April 13-14.

Nine days before that OAS meeting, the State Department issued a statement on Venezuela that implicitly gave Nicaragua that new “opportunity” to climb on board the move to regionally censure Maduro’s administration: “Our hemisphere is speaking with one voice: free and fair elections in Venezuela must include the full participation of political parties and political leaders, a proper electoral calendar, credible international observation, and an independent electoral authority.”

AMCHAM’s position

The newly elected president of the American-Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), María Nelly Rivas, also expressed her hope that the Nicaraguan government would join the pressure for free elections in Venezuela. “It is important,” she told the daily newspaper La Prensa, “that the US position be considered. We cannot ignore the fact that in a globalized world, the political decisions taken have repercussions beyond our borders.”

(In the Speaking Out section of this issue, economist Mario Arana discusses the significance of Rivas’ election to head AMCHAM at this critical moment in Nicaragua’s relations with the United States and offers some of the private sector’s perspectives regarding these tensions.)

Again Nicaragua sends
a mixed message

The resolution was approved with 19 votes in favor (Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Lucia, the United States and Uruguay), 5 against (Bolivia, Dominica, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Suriname and Venezuela), 8 abstentions (Belize, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, San Cristóbal & Nieves and Trinidad & Tobago) and 2 absences. The abstentions were understood as an unwillingness to openly reject the resolution’s content and thus contributed implicitly as “lite” support.

Abstention and backing

Nicaragua’s abstention caused surprise here at home. But right after the vote, Nicaragua’s representative Luis Alvarado, visibly nervous as he listened to a message from Managua, relayed to the plenary that “Nicaragua wants to categorically make clear its total rejection of the call and the resolution presented, so it does not recognize anything that has been done and is not participating in the voting as it does not recognize its legitimacy.”

That official government position was immediately heard in its daily noontime broadcast on all official radio and TV outlets, giving another twist to the interpretation the abstention initially engendered. In so doing, the government ratified Nicaragua’s “invariable and unconditional backing of the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela, of President Nicolás Maduro and of the Bolivarian people in their defense of their institutions, their legislation and their own sovereign and independent decisions,” adding that “it categorically rejects all interventionist declarations and resolutions promoted and issued against the Venezuelan government and people…. Our government has not supported nor does it support that Council, its agenda or the declaration presented there, considering them illegitimate, illegal and in violation of International Law.”

Cautious pragmatism?

As with Ortega’s February 7 electoral “reform,” the mixed message of the abstention expressing the dilemma of his position in the OAS was the subject of widely varying analyses.

Some considered that Ortega wanted to send Washington a sign that he was tactically distancing himself from Venezuela. Others saw his ambiguous position as the fruit of a buddy talk with Maduro, a strategy to keep some neutrality for Nicaragua in reserve for other critical moments Maduro will face when it might be able to play a more decisive role, such as the Lima Summit or a possible renewal of dialogue between the government and the opposition in which Nicaragua has already acted as a guarantor and mediator. Still others saw the abstention followed by unconditional support for Maduro as a sign of Ortega’s caution in the face of the US sanctions that could lie ahead: passage of the Nica Act in the Senate or the possibility that more names could appear on the Global Magnitsky Law list…

Again Ambassador Dogu relayed Washington’s view by noting that although Nicaragua decided to abstain, “it has sent and shared strong words against the OAS activities. So in this context they continue supporting the Venezuelan government.”

The ALBA Summit:
On a slippery slope

Ortega, who is making ever fewer appearances away from home, traveled to Venezuela for the 15th ALBA Summit on March 5, an event that also commemorated Hugo Chávez’s death from cancer, marking the start of the “other time” in Latin America. The only Presidents to attend were those of Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua, whom President Maduro referred to as “the loyal ones.” Government representatives of Ecuador, Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, and St. Kitts & Nieve also attended.

The final declaration not surprisingly defended Venezuela against “coercion of any type,” including military threats and calls for a coup against its government; denounced Washington’s attempts to return to the mechanism of regional domination represented by the Monroe Doctrine; supported the international demand for the definitive lifting of the U.S. blockade imposed for more than half a century against Cuba; repudiated the advance of political and economic corruption in the region “manifested by the growing inequality in the distribution of wealth”; reiterated the commitment to “Latin American and Caribbean unity”; and defended their “commitment to genuinely Latin American and Caribbean integration processes such as CELAC, UNASUR, Petrocaribe, CARICOM and ALBA-TCP, to guarantee the sovereignty, independence, equality and self-determination of our peoples.”

How can the government ensure its power until 2012?

What’s the government’s gamble regarding the dilemmas of this “other time” in which it seems to be starting a new stage akin to the Cuban govern¬ment’s “special period” following the fall of the Berlin Wall? It’s no stretch to say that the number one strategic objective for the group in power is the survival of its project.

The governing couple is aware that the possibility of megaprojects like the “Bolívar’s Supreme Dream” oil refinery to be financed by Hugo Chávez or the interoceanic canal is a hope of the past. Also part of that past are the generous Venezuelan petrodollars with which the Ortega government financed social programs that kept his clientelist politics afloat.

So far a survivor of Latin America’s ebbing “Pink Tide,” Daniel Ortega has little choice other than to ratchet down his “Christian, socialist and solidary model” to one single goal: guarantee the survival of his power project in Nica¬ragua’s 2021 presidential elections.

His government therefore plans to make the financial and political adjustments its model urgently needs for survival, but not both at once. The political reform will be postponed as long as possible because 2021 still looks far away.

So what matters most: the Nica Act, which threatens to cut off access to loans from international financing institutions; or the Global Magnitsky Act, which could see other government officials and supporters listed for alleged corruption or human rights abuses? At the moment, the hope is that the lobbying in Washington will halt Senate approval of the Nica Act. And if other government officials appear on the Magnitsky Act list, they will be banking on similar protective responses to those Roberto Rivas is enjoying.

Public finances are a priority,
and it’s getting urgent

Never before in these second 10 years as President has Ortega been in such a tough spot, forced to hunker down as the poliotical and economic encirclement tightens. And it’s not just US pressure. The beginning of the “other time” is starting to be felt economically in Nicaragua with the end of Venezuela’s oil cooperation. And as we enter into these leaner times, the government is facing the political cost of changes that will affect both “the poor of the world” and the partners in its model of alliances, dialogue and public-private consensus.

Public finances are seriously deteriorated, largely as a result of the cessation of Venezuelan oil cooperation. With the rubber-stamp approval of the governing party-dominated legislative branch, the government has been forced to progressively transfer to the national budget social programs which that cooperation previously financed off-budget. Doing so bought the government time to stave off the more politically drastic move of seriously reducing or even cutting the programs.

Those transfers began two years ago when the Venezuelan oil deal collapsed, but they have sped up in the first months of this year. The solidary bonus for lowest-waged government workers and the subsidy to Managua’s collective transport have perhaps been the largest programs now financed with state resources. More recently, the government has shifted payment of the public institutions’ debt with the Caruna credit and savings cooperative and/or with Albanisa, the mixed Nica-Venezuela private company set up to manage and invest the Venezuelan oil revenues. All of these moves have thrust a huge burden on the public finance budget without compensating resources on the income side.

Energy rate subsidy cuts are
a first compensatory move

If shifting social programs to the public budget was an attempt to protect the poor, it remains to be seen who will be hardest hit by the now obligatory compensation measures.

So far it’s the poor, as the government has started reducing the cost of some social programs the Venezuelan funds financed. It just announced, for example, that over the next five years it will gradually reduce the electricity rate subsidy for low consumers of energy—i.e. the poor—that has been in effect for over a decade. It also has eliminated the subsidy to retirees. It respectively justified both moves as required to get a credit from the Inter-American Development Bank to reform the electricity system and to respond to a recommendation by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but these putative reasons are of little value to those affected.

The cuts get mixed reviews

The business elite were happy with the news about the changes in the electricity tariff. César Zamora, president of Nicaragua’s Chamber of Energy, explained that “60% of the population pays the lowest rate for energy in all of Central America [with the subsidies], while the other 40% pays the most expensive rate anywhere in Latin America. We want the subsidies reduced to 20% and are willing to pay the highest price, but only of Central America.”

Critics of the subsidy cut, such as energy specialist Fernando Bárcenas, pointed out that reducing these capriciously-established subsidies over a five-year period has no other objective than to anesthetize the most vulnerable population against the impact and avoid a massive political cost.”

Bárcenas requested a “technical explanation” for the measure. He calculates that by the end of the five years the poorest population will have paid US$102 million to the energy sector, now in the hands of the group in power, plus another $5.1 million implied by the sliding devaluation of the córdoba against the dollar.

Changes in social security
will probably be next

Even more politically costly cuts will also have to be made. In February, at the end of the IMF’s periodic eval¬uation of Nicaragua’s economy, its mission reiterated the urgency of finding “solutions that get to the root of the problem” of the social security system to guarantee its solvency beyond next year.

Proposals include extending the retirement age a few years, increasing the number of weeks contributors have to pay in, adjusting the formula for calculating new pensions and improving the administration of Nicaragua’s Social Security Institute. The mission even studied the effects of each of these proposed measures, but the government is dragging its feet in deciding what to do and eluding an open and inclusive dialogue about the issue, even though it affects everyone.

The one step that will probably be taken this year is extending the retirement age by five years, but applying it selectively rather than to all jobs. IMF representative Fernando Delgado justified this by saying “it is very positive that Nicaragua enjoys a life expectancy that is at the level of the industrialized countries.”

A serious impediment to the health of Nicaragua’s social security system is the very limited number of insured workers, in addition to the geographic and social inequality of this indicator. On the one hand, only two out of ten Nicaraguans have formal jobs and thus contribute to the system together with their employers. On the other is the increasing practice of out¬sourcing, which provides a salary but no insurance for those who get jobs with the subcontracting employers. Some large construction companies privileged by the government are even reportedly granted contracts that allow them to operate a subcontracting scheme precisely to avoid paying for workers’ insurance.

And the measures that affect
the government’s rich allies?

The IMF mission also repeated yet again that the fiscal exemptions and exonerations to business sectors need to be eliminated, openly recognizing that “those who most benefit from them are those who already have the most.” The IMF has been pointing out since 2015 that fiscal income could reach up to 6.5% of the gross domestic product if these privileges were eliminated. And of course the business elite have equally insistently refused to give them up, arguing that they depend on them for competitiveness in various economic activities.

Less than a month after the mission’s visit, the IMF director for the Western Hemisphere, Alejandro Werner, came to the country bearing a similar message. Given his post, his presence piled greater pressure on the government. So did the contents of his message: “There’s a deterioration of the public finances… A medium-term fiscal plan is needed… You need to start closing exemptions and special regimes for those who abuse certain sectors… You need to work on institutions to guarantee that the favorable economic realities we’ve seen in recent years are sustainable… You have to guarantee institutions that function independently of who is in power…”

The government has announced that it has proposals ready to restructure the pension system and modify the fiscal exonerations benefiting the business sector. Again, one affects the poor, the government’s electoral base, and the other affects the rich, its economic allies. Which one is likely to be hit first and hardest?

So how will Nicaragua survive?

A fundamental factor burdening our public finances has yet to be addressed publicly: payment of the oil debt contracted with Venezuela. We’ve repeatedly been told that it was a “private” debt, presumably of Albanisa, but there are reports that it, too, is now being converted into a “public” debt that we taxpayers will all have to pay.

And that is the greatest collective dilemma: what price will Nicaragua—all Nicaraguans, particularly the weakest—have to pay when this “other time” concludes? And will that be in 2021?

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