A week after the Superior Business Council (COSEP) presented President Daniel Ortega with its 20-point plan to improve Nicaragua’s business climate, the Sandinista Front responded to calls for positive change and stability by marching against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in protest of the financial institution’s alleged “meddling” in Nicaraguan affairs.
COSEP’s 2010 agenda, which was presented to Ortega May 26, calls on the government to improve the international image of Nicaragua through dialogue, de politicization of state institutions, respect for the constitution and separation of powers, and an honest effort to improve the violent image of the country by eliminating the illegal use of homemade mortars in government protests. Ortega, who responded to the call for stability by joking about dissolving congress, didn’t seem to get the message, opponents claim (NT, June 4).
Neither did Sandinista legislator and union boss Gustavo Porras, who attended the May 26 meeting with COSEP on behalf of the government team. The following day he announced a June 3 march on the IMF, which state workers were forced to attend – violating several of the points about separation of powers and de-politicization of state institutions. The protestors also fired mortars at the IMF – violating several other points on the COSEP agenda.
The march on the IMF was allegedly in defense of Ortega’s $25 monthly campaign bonuses to all state workers, which the president calls “Christian, Solidarity and Socialist” – the same slogan he’s using to campaign for his illegal reelection.
The IMF has asked the Sandinista government to explain the nature of the bonuses, which come from the Sandinistas’ murky Venezuelan-funded parallel economy. So far, the only answer has come in the form of marching and mortars.
Despite the Ortega government’s reluctance to explain itself, economic analysts claim the IMF program for Nicaragua can still be saved due to the country’s relatively solid macroeconomic situation.
“The reality is, I think, that the IMF program is easy to rescue – it’s not an unsalvageable problem,” said former Central Bank President Mario Arana, who played an instrumental role in bringing the IMF back to Nicaragua during the previous administration of President Enrique Bolaños.
Arana said he thinks Ortega’s economic team realizes it can save the IMF program, but first wants to gain some political points with the Sandinista bases by putting on a show of street protest.
Arana told The Nica Times the protest against the IMF probably has to do with the Sandinistas trying to keep their base of support “permanently mobilized against something” as a way of reasserting their leadership and keeping people on their toes.
Plus, when the government finally sits down and works it out with the IMF, Porras and the Sandinista bases can spin it as “The IMF doesn’t normally react to situations of street protest,” Arana said.
He added that the IMF makes its decision to loan money to governments based on “formal and technical criteria” and doesn’t respond to street pressure. But, he said, “I don’t think there will be any fallout on a technical level.”
COSEP is also taking last week’s protest in stride.
Enrique Zamora, president of the Nicaraguan Association of Producers and Exporters (APEN) and vice-president of COSEP, said the private sector can’t expect the Sandinistas to change overnight, but hopes there will be progress in the future.
While some lateral movement is to be expected, Zamora said, the important thing is that the government keeps the country moving forward in the right direction and tries to stay “within the solid white lines.”
“There are lots of different ways to drive from Managua to San Juan del Sur,” Zamora said. “What we’re trying to do is give the government the road that is the quickest and safest to avoid accidents.”