Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Embassy

By: Chris Hellwig

The delegation is quickly coming to an end. Today (1/12/11) we had our culminating experience, summing up all that we have seen and learned then turning those experiences into questions that were presented at the United States Embassy here in Managua. We had the opportunity to meet with and question four representatives of the embassy working in four different sectors politics, consular, USAID and economics. 

Consular: this section of the embassy deals with the more familiar side of what we think of when we hear the term embassy. The consular is responsible for issuing visas and dealing with immigration. We learned (or were reminded) that the US issues a limited number of visas and operates on a family based immigration policy. This means that in order for an individual to move to the US legally an immediate family member must petition for that individual. On a side note, most Nicaraguans have a family member in the states. Tourist visas are also limited and because of logistics/costs are out of reach for most Nicaraguans. Tourist visa applications must be completed online and cost $142. Keep in mind that the mean monthly salary in Nicaragua is approximately $60. In addition to visa/immigration the consular also provides American Citizen Services (lost passport, jail visits, basic health services, property management and exportation of remains.) 

this year is an election year in Nicaragua. Exciting right? You bet. In November there will be both presidential and national elections. The section representative noted concerns of due process and electoral sanctity. These concerns stem from the 2008 municipal election that the US determined was fraudulent, resulting in the withholding of the Millennium Development Goal funds, and continue into the current election cycle. Nicaragua maintains four separate but equal branches of government (similar to the US’s 3) executive, judicial, legislative and supreme electoral council. The issue the US has was described as a “creeping executive coup.” Meaning the current administration is gaining control of the different branches of Nicaragua’s government. The current constitution was ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court in October because the presidential term limits were found to violate human rights by not allowing presidents to run as many times as they wish. It is interesting to compare US interest in international elections and to see how displeased our government gets especially considering the elections in the United States are not exactly problem free and as far as term limits go, all we have to do is look across the river at NYC to see how those in power change rules to suit themselves.

USAID (United States Agency for International Development):
is the primary foreign assistance program of the US. Approximately 1% of the US budget goes towards foreign assistance. Here in Nicaragua, USAID has a budget of $34.41 million and has programs areas in strengthening democracy, economic growth, environment, health, education and humanitarian assistance. Specifically some of the programs that USAID is involved with are:
•    Civil society activities
•    Municipal development
•    Election support
•    Trade
•    Agriculture
•    Food security
•    Conservation/Sustainable tourism
•    Health Programs
•    Outreach/behavior change
•    High risk groups
•    Education
•    Testing/counseling
•    Improving policies
o    Family planning
•    Through 2009 74% of contraceptives came through USAID
o    Maternal and child health
o    Standardization of care training
o    Vaccinations
o    Child growth monitoring
o    Nutrition programs
o    Family planning
o    Training of Ministry of Health personnel
o    Safe water
o    Health systems strengthening
•    Trained staff
•    Service quality
•    Education

Economics: the US is Nicaragua’s number one trade partner and Venezuela is second. The described purpose of CAFTA is to increase trade between countries and to have lower taxes on those traded goods. Nicaragua’s trade agreement with the US was the first to have specific labor and environmental chapters included. Nicaragua’s main exports by far are textiles and apparel. Other exports include agricultural goods. The official unemployment rate as of August 2010 stood at 8% but this barely tells half the story. The unemployment rate is calculated by a monthly survey asking individuals simply whether or not they worked in the past month. Here in Nicaragua about 65% of the work force works “informally.” Think street workers, people working out of homes and those working under the table; basically non-taxed income. A more realistic number that helps clarify the current situation is the un and underemployed rate which is about 64%. Creating jobs is a top priority of Nicaragua and one of its biggest “pros” in attracting foreign investments is the availability of cheap labor.

The embassy visit was a great experience. In a way, we ended where we began. United States policies and the effects those policies had.

Below is the list of prepared questions our delegation asked the US Embassy representatives. Please take the time to read through them and if you would like to know the answers we received let us know. Thanks!

Embassy Questions

  1. During our stay here, we had the opportunity to visit a women’s pubic hospital and were very surprised by the lack of equipment. They locked many of the essential amenities for proper maternal health care, such as an ultrasound machine that had broken two years ago. The United States gives $34.41 million dollars to Nicaragua through the USAID program, $10 million are allocated to people, which include maternal and child health. Our questions are how is this aid allocated? Is any of that specifically allocated toward medical equipment? How does USAID in Nicaragua decide what programs to implement? 
  2.  Historically the United States government has shown interest in Nicaraguan politics.  For example in the 2008 municipal elections in Nicaragua, the United States claimed fraud and has since frozen the millennium challenge funds.  Our question is, what are the concerns of the United States government regarding the upcoming national elections in Nicaragua, specifically Ortega’s attempt to change the constitution so he can run for a third term and, how might the outcome of the election effect United States interests in Nicaragua?
  3. Recently, the United States has put stricter policies in place regarding illegal immigration. Unfortunately people in developing countries, such as Nicaragua, do not have many job opportunities. According to the Nation Institute of development and information of Nicaragua, 65% of the Nicaraguan population is un-and-under employed. We learned that many Nicaraguans rely on remittances for their survival. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, in 2007 remittances reached 990 million dollars. Consequently, this money is being removed form the United States economic circulation. Our question is how can the United States instill development programs and job creation in Nicaragua to help put an end to illegal immigration into the United States
  4. The United States controls 17% of the IMF, as you know a country only needs 16% to hold veto power. Based on these percentages any IMF policy is a United States policy. Being that Nicaragua owes 10.175 Billion dollars to the IMF which is 7 times the county’s GDP and are requested to pay back 30% of their GDP. While the United States owes 14 trillion dollars, 99.3% of the country’s GDP, and only pays back 9.6% of this annually. How does the IMF and the United States rationalize the lack of a standard debt payment percentages between countries?
  5. We have been learning about CAFTA during our time here. We understand that according to some CAFTA regulations many goods, such as textiles and shoes manufactured in Nicaragua cannot be sold directly to the Nicaraguan market. They must first be exported to the US (for example) and then imported back into Nicaragua. This increases the price of products and expends natural resources, which could be prevented. Our question is – What is the reasoning behind this practice and how does it benefit Nicaraguans. In addition – we would like to know when CAFTA comes up for renegotiation – what are the possibilities of the Nicaraguan market receiving direct access to goods manufactured here, which would lower the cost and be more environmentally friendly.
  6. In regards to structural adjustment/privatization of public entities; how are the realities of the lack of interest from foreign investments in developing countries, like Nicaragua, being dealt with? For example, the public electric company here in Nicaragua had only one bidder. What is being done to increase or ensure competition?


  1. You asked a lot of good insightful questions. I hope you got answers that satisfied you....if nothing else, you made them (and all your blog readers) think about the injustices you found. What a wonderful eye-opening experience for all of you! Your lives will be forever changed.

  2. It has been very interesting to know about your experience with los hermanos de Nicaragua. These questions are the summary of many that you probably have, what I can tell you, from past similar experiences, is that you have the responsibility to make the difference, in the way you live your life, because you now know from first hand the injustice of this world. Querida Jennifer estoy muy orgullosa de ti y espero que esta experiencia te ayude a ser mejor persona. Te amo y aqui te esperamos pronto. Mom.

  3. I'd like to hear the response to #4.

  4. Thanks for the great poost. it was really interesting & konwledgeable information.

    Tourism in Nicaragua