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The “president of the poor” wins another term in Nicaragua

Following the recent re-election of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, violent clashes in the north of the country last week led to four deaths.

Protests were sparked after the main opposition candidate said fraud had taken place during the election. Mr Ortega and his governing Sandinista party won with an official result of nearly 63% of the vote. European Union (EU) election observers were unable to endorse the process as impartial and transparent, but the head of the EU mission confirmed “there is no doubt Mr Ortega and the Sandinistas won the elections”.

Outside observers  may have expressed concerns about the democratic process and the legality of Mr Ortega’s candidacy (after a ban on serving two non-consecutive terms in the top office was overturned), but many Nicaraguans responded to Mr Ortega’s positive election campaign, with its adoption of themes such as love, wellbeing, peace, Christian belief and solidarity. Polling before the election showed Mr Ortega’s messages were proving popular among independent voters, who account for around a quarter of the electorate.

His win also reflects a new confidence in the Sandinista government. When Mr Ortega returned to power five years ago, according to ‘The Economist’, inflation was running at 30,000% and Nicaragua was the poorest country on the American mainland. While it still remains the poorest, over the last five years the economy has grown creditably. In 2010, the country boasted the fastest growth in Central America after Panama. Exports have doubled and the country has actually benefitted from rising global food prices because food products make up a significant portion of its exports. And foreign direct investment has increased fivefold under Mr Ortega, thanks to tax breaks and business-friendly regulations introduced by his government. The World Bank currently rates Nicaragua as the Central American country which best protects investor’s rights.

Such business-friendly policies may seem at odds with the Sandinista party’s communist background and its socialist principles. But in a BBC article, the president’s economic adviser, Bayardo Arce, was reported as saying that the party’s experience of power in the 1980s taught them “you can’t achieve social justice or eradicate poverty by distributing what we have”. Instead, Mr Arce said Nicaragua had to “generate new wealth for social justice” which would “benefit more people”.

Poverty has been falling in Nicaragua. And with money made from special access to Venezuelan oil, the government has helped fund social programmes such as “Zero Hunger”, which provides poor families with livestock. Subsidies have also been introduced for transport and electricity, where access has risen from 55% four years ago to 70%. It is therefore little wonder that Mr Ortega is proving popular with many of his countrymen, who call him the “president of the poor”.

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