Welcome to Latin America 2010

The annual Latin America conferences have become one of the most successful events of their kind in the UK. Since December 2005, thousands of delegates from across the country have come to hear speakers from more than 30 countries discuss and share experiences of developments in the Caribbean and Latin America. (more…)

Nicaragua, the Millennium Development Goals and ALBA

In 2000 the UN announced a declaration outlining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015. These included goals and action plans to be implemented through global partnerships to eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal primary education,  eliminate gender inequalities, combat HIV/AIDS and malaria, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health care and achieve environmental sustainability. Ten years on a UN summit was held 20 – 22 September to review progress and agree strategies and an action plan for the next five years. Paul Oquist Kelley, Secretary of National Policy for the Nicaraguan Presidency, represented the Nicaraguan government at the Summit. In his speech, Oquist gave details of the achievements in poverty reduction and wealth redistribution in Nicaragua since the Sandinista government took office in 2007, and highlighted the importance of transforming  the global  financial, economic and political power structures if the MDGs are to be achieved by 2015. Qquist went on  to explain  how Nicaragua has  benefited from the solidarity model developed through the Bolivarian Alternative for the People of our America (ALBA) which he describes as the most ‘ingenious innovation in development financing of the 21st Century.’ This is transcript of his speech translated by Karla Jacobs ( www.tortillaconsal.org ): "To fulfill the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] it is not only necessary to resolve technical, administrative, and financial problems and problems relating to political will, but also to confront structural challenges including the very nature of the current economic and social model which concentrates income and wealth in the hands of the few.  This tendency has become more acute since 1980 with the rise of neoliberalism and the Washington consensus which have imposed deregulation, privatization and the minimization of the State including its role as a redistributor. The consequence of these policies has been greater inequality between and within countries, something particularly relevant to Latin America and the Caribbean which is the most unequal region in the world. The same tendencies have also affected developed countries. Indeed working class families in the US had, on average, a higher real income in 1980 than they do today, a situation which generates imbalances that have contributed to the current financial and economic crisis. In Nicaragua, extreme poverty increased between 2001 and 2005. Since 2007, however, the government of President Daniel Ortega has been able to reduce extreme poverty despite the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression. The Nicaraguan government's figure shows that, at present, 14.6% of the population lives in extreme poverty, which means the country is half way to reaching the first Millennium Development Goal [MDG1 - to reduce by half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015]. A study financed by the Netherlands and Switzerland and carried out with technical assistance from the World Bank, found that in 2009 only 9.7% of the population was living in extreme poverty which would imply that Nicaragua had already met MDG1. Similarly, in their 2010 report, the FAO [the UN Food and Agriculture Organization] and the WFP [the World Food Program], also found that Nicaragua, in terms of the reduction of malnutrition, had already met MDG1. Nicaragua has also registered improvements in all other indicators [used to measure progress in terms of the MDGs], except for the rate of HIV and AIDS which has increased. This problem is an international problem that requires greater efforts globally if these MDGs are to be met in Nicaragua. Examples of the reduction in key indicators include illiteracy which has dropped from 22% in 2006 to 3.3% in 2009 thanks to a campaign using the successful Cuban model “Yo Sí Puedo” [“Yes, I can”]. Maternal deaths and infant deaths have also been reduced while the malaria rate has dropped from 4.4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the base year to 1.1 at present. During the last three years there has not been a single death due to malaria. Nicaragua has benefited from the most ingenious innovation in development financing of the 21st Century. This consists in Venezuelan solidarity channeled via the PetroCaribe agreements which converts half of the petrol  costs of poor countries into low interest, long term credit for poverty reduction. ALBA [the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America]'s support for social processes, the ALBA Bank and the new regional currency, the SUCRE, represent other novel elements of this new solidarity-based alternative model. These are examples of the sort of innovative finance methods that are required to confront the challenges of reducing poverty and inequality as well as the costs of climate change. It has been estimated that an additional US$50 billion in ODA [Official  Development Assistance] is required each year to meet the MDGs  between now and 2015. Under current circumstances, however, it appears unlikely these funds will be made available: at present only five countries comply with [the requirement to set aside] 0.7% of GDP [for ODA]. Meanwhile, during the inauguration of this conference we heard the Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, call on donor countries not to cut external cooperation due to the crisis. It might be more effective, however, to issue US$250 billion in Special Drawing Rights like the ones which were so rapidly approved and distributed to the world's central banks in 2008 and 2009 to maintain global financial liquidity. Special Drawing Rights to meet MDGs would establish that reducing extreme poverty around the world by half is given at least as much priority as rescuing banks. Additionally, it is necessary that the struggle to achieve the MDGs is inclusive. In this sense, we applaud the progress over the last two years in the efforts in favour of peace and prosperity on both sides of the Taiwan Straits and we hope that the UN is able to find adequate forms for the participation of Taiwan in this struggle, a struggle that belongs to all of us. With the government of President Commandant Daniel Ortega it has been possible to reduce poverty by prioritizing the production of micro, small and medium businesses including access to fair credit, seeds and fertilizers as well as providing the tools for production directly to informal sector women in urban areas and female small farmers in the countryside. On top of this the human and constitutional right to free education and healthcare, which had been denied as a result of the “cost recuperation” policies of the previous neoliberal governments, has been reinstated. Also public transport, water and electricity has been subsidized for the poor majority in urban areas, and a Christian, socialist and solidarity bonus has been distributed to low income State sector workers. In summary, the deregulation, privatization, liberalization and minimization of the State has been replaced with policies that facilitate the State's role of promoting development and redistributing income and consumption in favour of the poor. The result has been the reduction of the inequality indicator, GINI, from 0.41 to 0.36 between 2005 and 2009 making Nicaragua the least unequal country in Central America. In order for these achievements to be sustained, of course, the economy must grow. And the good news is that Nicaraguan exports this year are up 30% on last year. However, we and everyone else are faced by serious threats. What would happen if there was a double dip recession? Or a lost decade for many countries due to debt repayments which is what happened in Latin America and the Caribbean in the 80s when the regional economy shrunk by 1.9% over the whole decade. We all need the world economy to recover in order to achieve the MDGs. It should be clear by now that this is not possible only via public spending, and within a short time it will become clear that this also applies to savings. In actual fact we face multiple, massive imbalances which indicate the need to transform the current financial and economic architecture. This is the case because the process of globalization has been so fast, the market so predominant, the State so weak, regulation so impotent, speculation so profitable, the virtual economy over the real economy so powerful, finance capital so hegemonic, credit so limited, investments so short term, high unemployment rates so resistant, the commercial imbalance so chronic, the debt so enormous, currency emission so astronomical, the main reserve currency so undisciplined and international political power so concentrated. These factors are interrelated and form vicious circles which impede the transformation to the new model so urgently needed to achieve economic recovery and the reduction of the structural inequality which has contributed to this crisis. To finish, I would like to point out that, if these issues are not dealt with, the fulfillment of the MDGs by 2015 - or at any point in the future - will be in danger. The same can be said for the possibilities of reaching an inclusive and binding global agreement about climate change within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol and Convention. The solution resides in inclusion, it resides in the democratization of international political and economic relations as a means of achieving global peace and stability, a world with human rights and social justice, a world without poverty. In other words, the very objectives for which the United Nations was created.’ On 6 October Helmut Rauch, the World Food Programme representative in Nicaragua, affirmed that the government’s National Development Plan is an example to other countries in the world. He applauded as outstanding Nicaragua’s efforts ‘to reduce hunger, poverty and malnutrition among children.’ Rauch went on to state that the country in ‘on course to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 especially the goals related to reduction in hunger and cutting malnutrition by half."