The View from Nicaragua: Debt, Development and Confronting Empire
Interviews by Midge Quandt


When I went to Nicaragua in April [2003], the issue of water privatization was reaching crisis proportions and the problem of debt was coming to a head. In addition, the U. S. war against Iraq was bringing home to people the military face of empire. These concerns are reflected in the interviews with Magda Lanuza, Alejandro Bendaña and Mark Lester.

Magda Lanuza is an analyst and researcher at the Center for international Studies. Her specialty is ecological debt. Alejandro Bendaña directs the Center for International Studies and has written many books on politics and international affairs. He is Nicaragua's representative on Jubilee South's Coordinating Committee. Mark Lester is the Central American Regional Director for the Center for Global Education (CGE) affiliated with Augsburg College and also in-country representative for the Winds of Peace foundation. He has lived in Nicaragua since 1985.

Nicaragua has been under pressure from international financial institutions for almost a decade to privatize public utilities, among them telecommunication, electricity and water. Civil society groups have protested the privatization of utilities because it has been rife with corruption and universally accompanied by hikes in the prices of these services to the poor. Groups such as the Nicaraguan Consumers' Defense Network are part of a growing international network of citizens' organizations that are saying loudly that water is a basic human right, not a commodity to be used for private gain.

Privatization is one of the conditions for cancellation of a substantial part of Nicaragua's foreign debt under the International Monetary Fund's program for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). At the end of 2002, the country was burdened with a foreign debt of US$6.563 billion. This was equal to 2.3 times the Gross Domestic product (total of goods and services produced) for that year. Activists for the Global South (including Nicaragua) maintain that this debt should not be paid because most of it was illegitimately acquired and because the North owes the countries of the South more than the total of the debt in payment for resources taken out of their lands over the last 500 years.

Nicaragua also suffers under the burden of US$4.122 billion internal public debt, much of it illegitimately acquired. Many progressive analysts in Nicaragua are fearful that, when HIPC debt relief finally arrives, it will be spent on paying the bond holders of the internal debt instead of health care, basic education and other poverty reduction programs. These are just some of the topics covered in my interviews with Magda Lanuza, Alejandro Bendaña and Mark Lester.

Thanks to Aura Ruiz and Sergio Martinez for arranging interviews under personally trying circumstances. I am grateful to Mark Lester for his political insight and ability to explain the debt issue so clearly and to him and Ann Sweeney for their transcription. Thanks also to the people at the Nicaragua Network for publishing these interviews and for their support over the years. Thanks to Katherine Hoyt for following up on several essential points and for her inspiration.

Interview with Magda Lanuza

Interview with Alejandro Bendaña

Interview with Mark Lester