San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

First Iranian Tractors Donated Under ALBA

Small farmers in the northern Pacific agricultural department of Chinandega last week received 65 Iranian tractors, assembled in Venezuela, as part of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) initiative promoted by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

Nicaraguan farmers bought the tractors with loans from the Venezuelan Development Bank (BANDEV), which provides low-interest rate financing to small farmers under ALBA – a cooperative agreement between Venezuela and other left-leaning Latin American countries.

“The commercial banks ask for guarantees. The tractors themselves, in this case, are the guarantee,” said Carlos Corea, spokesman for the association of Nicaraguan cooperatives Nicaraocoop.

The profit-sharing network of small farmers also distributed 50 more tractors to small producers in southern Nicaragua last week. Corea said a team of Venezuelan technicians was in the country to train the

Nicaraguan farmers how to use their new machines.

“This is a big project because we’re also considering manufacturing tractor parts and other farming tools as medium and longterm projects under ALBA,” Corea said.

The tractors were produced in VENIRAN, a new manufacturing plant in Venezuela owned by the Iranian government. The tractors are among the first fruits of the Iranian cooperation agreement with Nicaragua and Venezuela – an arrangement that has raised eyebrows in Washington, D.C., and one that the Sandinista government is eager to strengthen.

Central Bank President Antenor Rosales told local reporters last week that Nicaragua has plans to officially become part of ALBA Bank, a Venezuela-promoted development bank start-up that aspires to rival the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Nicaragua will initially have to put up $1.2 million of the $20 million it’s expected to contribute to the bank. Rosales said that Nicaragua is seeking the funding.

The tractors are part of Venezuela’s larger cooperation plan for Nicaragua, which is focused on agricultural credit, housing, debt  relief and energy assistance. Critics say theVenezuelan aid may be contributing to Nicaragua’s soaring inflation rate by pumping unaccounted-for funds and large projects at low-interest rates into the economy.

Nicaragua’s accumulated inflation rate reached 5% in the first quarter of 2008, after finishing last year at a regional high of 17%.

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