Perhaps you haven’t heard much in the press lately about the upcoming elections scheduled for this fall in Nicaragua. The future of the largest country in Central America is on the brink of a historic election and on a passage to possibly a record boost in its economy and place in the world view.
Gone are the days when just mentioning the words “Nicaragua” and “Ortega” conjured up images of guerilla tanks with soldiers dressed in fatigues patrolling through the streets of Managua and Leon.
Nicaragua has emerged to become a key player in the race for Tourism and investor dollars. The tourism industry blessed Nicaragua with US$308.5 million as income in 2010, according to the statistics provided by the Nicaraguan Central Bank, breaking an all time record of visitors to this Central American country.
Some of the draw to this “newly discovered” gem is the fact that Nicaragua offers 720 kilometers (450 miles) of coastline in the Pacific and Atlantic, 25 volcanic formations, thousands of miles of lakes, lagoons and rivers, with the second largest lake in Latin America, which in turn holds the largest island in a lake in the world (Ometeppe Island). In addition, the country has over thousands of nature reserves and interesting colonial cities with great cultural richness, amongst which the colonial city of León is among one of the oldest cities founded in mainland American soil. Under the Ortega regime, crime has remained significantly lower than most other Central American countries.
In fact Nicaragua had the distinction of being one of the safest countries in Central America. Nicaragua surprisingly has a low national murder rate only 3.5 per 100,000 people. In fact, the inter-American Institute on Human Rights states that Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in the world.
These statistics are a bit surprising considering that Nicaragua lived for 45 years under a Somoza family dictatorship that severely hurt International business and trading, not to mention liberty and democracy for the country. It wasn’t until the early 80’s after their government was overthrown by the Sandinistas that the country experienced a slow but steady introduction back into a somewhat “normal” society. A young José Daniel Ortega Saavedra joined the Sandinista movement in 1963 and rose through the ranks and became a leading player in the overthrow of the Anastasio Samoza regime. He actually was imprisoned several times during the course of his rise to power.
There is no question however, that despite Daniel Ortega’s insistence that Nicaragua enjoys a democratic society it truly is a dictatorship. His candidacy for the presidency is barred by the constitution, which prohibits acting presidents from seeking reelection after already serving two terms. However he has once again accepted his party’s nomination for the presidential bid. There have been outcries from within and from some on the outside world looking in, but early polls show José Daniel is favored to win this November’s election. The consensus from the Nicaraguan people is one of mixed feelings. Under his dictatorship the country’s sizable poor population has benefitted a hundred fold from Ortega funded social programs (Backed by Venezuelan dollars) and government handouts and an ever increasing flow of tourists and investors. The country’s exports reached a billion dollars this year based on high commodity prices for Nicaragua’s main exports, Coffee, Gold and Sugar. In 2001, almost 80% of all Nicaraguans lived on less than $2 per day. Today the figures show a significant drop to 45%.
At this point he is considered by most to be the lesser of two evils. A recent poll released back in May showed 61% of the Nicaraguans felt their lives in general had improved under Ortega while only 30% said they felt they were worse off.
One incredible thing this left- wing Sandinista leader has managed to do is to provide Nicaragua with Stability in a world with increasing political turmoil and social upheavals. The world has been watching, and so we discover Nicaragua is slowly, but steadily emerging as a close competitor to its neighbor to the east Costa Rica. But most importantly, once considered the second poorest nation in the hemisphere, Nicaragua is positioning itself to become the crown jewel of Central America