You wouldn’t think that water would be an age discriminaton issue, but it is, according to a new report. According to the BBC (Latin American Young Lack Water) a third of young people in Latin America have not got access to clean water, compared to a quarter of adults. The report, co-written by the UN’s Economic Commission for latin america and the Caribbean and UNICEF, says the problem is a threat to nearly 21 million children. The worst countries are the poorest, Honduras, Bolivia and, surprise, surprise, Nicaragua. Within these countries the black and indigenous communities suffer most.

In the case of Nicaragua around a half of the population do not have access to clean drinking water, rising to 90 per cent on the Caribbean Coast. Given the continuing disaster of Nicaragua’s electricity company, Union Fenosa, which has led to a summer of power cuts throughout the country, water seems safe from privatisation (see our latest newsletter, posted earlier this month). In fact, in a meeting of Central American Vice Presidents in December, the privatisation of water seemed to be ruled out in all the region’s countries.

There are two qualifications. Firstly, there’s privatisation and then there’s management contracts, which are privatisations by the back door. Though government’s deny these are privatising services, handing over management contracts to foreign companies is a well known stepping stone to them getting their hands on public assets. Indeed, Union Fenosa first came to Nicaragua in the 1980s during the Sandinista government, when they were supposedly giving ‘technical advice’. Now, at a municipal level, British company Bi-water is doing the same thing in the North of Nicaragua.

Secondly, it is one thing to keep the assets public. It is another to widen the access to the population. Fortunately many good examples exist in Latin America, particularly at a local government level, where access to water is almost universal because of careful public stewardship. For a rich source of information about opposition to water privatisation and examples of successful public services, see the Transnational Institute’s Water Justice section.


After the emerging disaster of CAFTA, Central American countries recently launched into a new round of trade negotiations, this time with the European Union. The one surprise in the announcement is that it is scheduled to take place over two and half years, and not the one year that some were predicted.

Though some in Nicaragua think an agreement with the EU will ‘counter-balance’ CAFTA, the starting point for the EU’s Agreement of Association with Central America is WTO-plus – taking de-regulation beyond even that allowed by the World Trade Organisation.

A good history of the official relations between the EU and Central America was summarised in an article in the Jerusalem Post (EU and Central America community negotiate new Agreement) . It contains useful figures about trade, and the previous agreements between the regions. One organisation which has been gearing up for the negotiations is the Central American Women’s Network. The April edition of their newsletter Agenda contains several articles on the likely impact of an agreement, particularly on women, though their focus is on the involvement of civil society, rather than outright rejection of an agreement.

Besides the agreement with Central American, the European Union is in the middle of negotiating a sackful of bilateral agreements with former colonies. Many organisations are keeping their eyes on these dubious deals. One of the best is, which does what it says on the tin – it has several pieces on the European Partnership Agreements, which are meant to be concluded next year. The World Development Movement are currently asking individuals to contact the Douglas Alexander, the new Secretary of State for International Development, to say the UK must take steps now to stop unfair EU trade deals.

Whilst it might still be too early to assess the impact of the Central America Free Trade Agreement on Nicaragua, some of the predictions before its signature look like they are coming true. In two recent articles, a pair of regular commentators on Nicaragua highlight the affect of the Agreement.

In the first, Ben Beachy, a Witness for Peace worker, writes that CAFTA is beginning to take its toll on Nicaragua’s textile sector. In the first six months of this year 4,000 jobs were lost in the textile sector, whilst only 2,000 were created in other, non-textile, maquila jobs. The fall in textile jobs was widely predicted, as the Multi Fibre Agreement expired in 2005, and jobs started to migrate from Central America to China. It was thought Nicaragua was immune, having the lowest wages in the region, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

The second article by Toni Solo, Americanism vs ALBA, is a wide ranging article on how US policy is sharpening its focus on the Bolivarian Alternative. It also includes the startling news that since CAFTA came into operation, Nicaragua’s exports to the US, meant to increase because of the lifting of trade barriers, have actually fallen. A report by Nicaragua’s Ministry of Development, Industry and Commerce reckons the Central American Free Trade Agreement has so far resulted in a 0.1% net decline in Nicaragua’s exports to the United States while tax exempt maquila exports increased 16%. This doesn’t necessarily contradict Beachy’s conclusions, as the nature of maquila exports seems to be changing, and an increase in production (and profits) on the back of falling job numbers is hardly unknown. it was also thought that whilst maquila production might benefit from CAFTA, other sectors would be badly hit.

Nicaragua finalised their next agreement with the IMF earlier this month. According to the US Nicaragua Network, the IMF designated a total of US$90 million in loans for the next three years, U$30 million less than Nicaragua authorities were counting on. US$58 million will be loaned this year.

Daniel Ortega had earlier said this will be Nicaragua’s last agreement with the Fund. Nicaragua is looking seriously at alternatives to the IMF and World Bank, particularly the new Bank of the South. Launched in May by Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador and Venezuela, it is not being touted as an alternative to the IMF, but many will see it as that. In an anaysis by the IRC’s America’s Program (Bank of the South: Toward Financial Autonomy) it is seen as a way of financing some of the urgent social priorities in Latin America.

As Latin America grows increasingly confident in its rejection of the discredited International Financial Institutions, the World Bank has done nothing to increase its standing by the appointment of the replacement for disgraced Paul Wolfowitz. Robert Zoellick is cut from the same cloth as his predecessor, although perhaps a little more subtle. World Bank Gets Another U.S. Crusader details his contribution to Latin American understanding, including negotiating NAFTA with Mexico (which has seen poverty increase since the agreement was signed), the now dead in the water Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, and beginning the CAFTA negotiations. ALBA can expect a rush of new recruits in the not too distant future.

Nicaragua’s autonomy process, initiated by the Sandinistas in the mid 1980s, has won praise from a new report from Minority Rights Group International. Published this week, From Conflict to Autonomy in Nicaragua: Lessons Learnt, by Sandra Brunneger, is a potted history of the conflict between the Sandinistas and the Caribbean Coast’s indigenous people, and the subsequent negotiations and consultations which led to autonomy.

It also beings the story more up to date, with a description of such crucial legislation as Law 445 which deals with communal land demarcation and distribution of wealth earned from resources, and looks at cultural, political and economic developments.

Praising the consultation process, Chris Chapman of the MRG says, “The autonomy arrangement successfully ended violent ethnic conflict and the process is a source of good practice which should be considered in similar situations around the world today.”

The report ends with a list of recommendations, most to do with how the fine words of the autonomy law can be implemented.  YATAMA, sworn enemies of the Sandinistas for many years, entered into coalition with the FSLN before last November’s elections, based on the assumption that the FSLN is the only party at a national level committed to autonomy. One omission from the report, which details many of the problems that autonomy faces, is the lack of registration of citizens on the Coast (also common on the Pacific). It is estimated that up to 200,000 could be missing from the official role on the Coast, effectively disenfranchising people from voting, and from their wider rights as citizens.

The Wales Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign’s new newsletter is out. It includes articles on:

* the looming biofuel disaster in Central America * the successful campaign to stop water privatisation in Nicaragua * news of a Children’s project in Leon * the hell of living and working in Managua’s municipal dump, La Chureca * and a review of recent books.

July07 newsletter

Nicaraguan banana workers have taken another step in their demand for justice over their pesticide poisoning. They have launched a class action in Los Angeles against the Dole company, but some are not happy.

The case concerns claims of sterility caused by the DBCP chemical, applied liberally in Nicaragua (and other countries) when banned in the US. The campaign has been running for years, and is high profile in Nicaragua, but only recently has attracted the attention of the world press. The Washington Post details the launch of the claim in Los Angeles earlier this week. By today, however, some workers were distancing themselves from the action, saying it would fail in the US courts.

The conditions of workers in fruit picking are generally appalling in most of Central America. Many Nicaraguans cross the border to Costa Rica and head for the Pineapple plantations. A British trade unionist described their fate in a recent Banana Link newsletter: “The plantations are so massive that they have to wake up about three am to walk to work for five or six am start. They get paid for an eight hour day, but usually have to work for more like eleven or twelve hours to meet targets….Many of the Nicaraguan workers are poorly educated and don’t know how to get the right work documents, so rather than get into trouble with the police, they say nothing.”

Campaigning food writer Joanna Blythman highlighted the conditions in the Pineapple industry in the Observer last year, when she asked: “Sweet, healthy and juicy….So why are pineapples leaving a bitter taste?”