US may punish Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega with $64 million aid cut
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Wednesday with the Millenium Challenge Corporation to decide whether to cancel US aid in response to the leftist leader's alleged attempts to steal elections.
(Page 2 of 2)
"In the case of Nicaragua, where you see really a huge variation from the norm of good governance, we say 'Hold the phone, is this a partner who we can do good stuff with?' " says Bent.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Europeans also considering canceling funds
There could be much more at stake for Nicaragua than just $64 million in MCC development aid. Nicaragua's Budget Support Group, a group of nine European donor countries plus Canada, last year suspended about $70 million in aid over similar concerns about last year's mayoral elections, in which the Sandinistas are accused of stealing some 40 municipal races.
The European donors have been similarly frustrated by attempts to discuss last year's elections with Sandinista officials and will be watching closely as the MCC makes its precedent-setting decision.
"If the United States is not going to continue with its programs, that is a very important signal for Nicaragua, and one that we will also take very seriously," says Dutch Ambassador Lambert Grijns, of the European Union's Budget Support Group.
Nicaraguan opposition leaders worry that the MCC decision could be the first domino to fall.
"June 10 looms like D-Day, as in 'donors' day' for Nicaragua," said Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) lawmaker Francisco Aguirre, of the national legislature's Budget Commission. "Other traditional donors, as opposed to Venezuela and Iran, – Ortega's new friends – have similar concerns and will no doubt be influenced by the decision taken in Washington."
Adds opposition political leader Edmundo Jarquín, a former ambassador and analyst for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington: "The democratic standards of European countries are no less than those of the United States, so the decision by the American government will have consequences in other countries."
For small Nicaraguan farmers who have benefited from MCC aid, it's unimaginable that any politician would willingly let it go.
"Maybe Ortega doesn't need the help, but the poor do and we're thankful for it," says cassava farmer Luis Salazar, who credits MCC assistance for helping him turn his farm around and save it from the brink of ruin in 2007. "Without this help, I would be in the same situation today as I was before."