After several years of criticizing and mocking U.S. aid for Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega changed his tune this week and openly celebrated the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account, which is aimed at helping to revitalize the northwestern agricultural departments of León and Chinandega.
Ortega this week hosted Millennium Challenge Account president John Danilovich, who traveled with the president and U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli up north to Chinandega to assess progress in the U.S. poverty relief effort thus far.
The five-year, $175 million Millennium Challenge Account program is focused on providing assistance to small producers, legalizing land titles and constructing roadways to help producers get their products to market.
Ortega and Danilovich met with several leaders of small agricultural cooperatives who delivered testimonies about how the Millennium Challenge program has helped them. Carlos Gutiérrez, head of the La Esperanza Plantain Cooperatives, said that thanks to the Millennium Challenge Account his group has grown to three cooperatives and 150 members who are receiving technical assistance, training and packaging material to help export plantains to Honduras and El Salvador. Gutiérrez said his cooperatives have also benefited in the form of 70 irrigation systems, and that they are in the process of getting 60 more.
Danilovich, the former U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, listened contently to the presentations and said that they were a clear example that the Millennium Challenge Account “is bearing fruits and helping to reduce poverty.”
“Our objective is to promote economic growth in the long term in developing countries such as Nicaragua,” Danilovich said. “This donation is a tangible example of the solidarity of the United States with the people of Nicaragua.”
Danilovich said that from July 2006 to December 2007, the Millennium Challenge Account has generated more than 2,000 permanent jobs in Nicaragua. The program has also helped to normalize hundreds of property titles, 700 of which were given to Nicaraguan families this week as part of that effort.
“There are 700 families that today can sleep a little more soundly and tomorrow you can begin to plan your future with the tranquility of having a secure property claim,” Danilovich said.
The Millennium Challenge ambassador concluded his speech by urging Ortega and Nicaragua to look beyond the conflicts of the past, toward a future of partnership with the United States.
“In the 21st century we have a common enemy: poverty!” Danilovich said. “We are united in the fight against poverty. Together we can look toward the future, consolidating this alliance of solidarity to confront the challenge of generating prosperity for Nicaraguans.”
Ortega, in turn, acknowledged “at first I had my doubts” about the Millennium Challenge Account, but said that now he is grateful for it after learning more about how it works and seeing some of its early advances.
“I want to tell my friend John Danilovich that we are thankful for this cooperation from the people of the United States and that we are going to unite efforts,”Ortega said.
The president also commended the U.S. government for following through on its commitment to helping Nicaragua even though the 2006 presidential elections here did not go the way Uncle Sam had hoped.
“We know that the government of the United States is continuing the project and that the program is not being altered because of the results of the elections, even though some said that if Daniel wins, U.S. cooperation will disappear,” Ortega said.
The president added, “We are assuming a obligation to unite efforts, the people and government of the United States and the people and government of Nicaragua, in these programs that are humanitarian, in solidarity and to combat poverty…Together we will eradicate hunger, together we will eradicate poverty, united we will move forward our fatherland, Nicaragua.”
“Long live the people of the United States!” Ortega said.