el bono salarial
I've been wanting to write about this for a while, but haven't known how to frame the discussion of Ortega's announcement May 1st (international workers day celebrated, like the World Cup of Soccer, just about everywhere else _except_ the U.S.!) that the goverment was going to give a "bono solidario" to pubic workers earning up to 2x minimum wage. That's about $250USD/month in Nicaragua, since a minimum wage salary is about $125USD/month. The salary bonus is about 500córdobas/month, the equivalent of about $25USD, paid from June 1 through the end of the year. Public employees to receive this bonus include schoolteachers, police officers, firefighters, administrative workers, etc. - basically working class goverment jobs. Ortega's announcement of the bonus was met by almost immediate rejection from the international financial community, namely the International Monetary Fund, which oversees Nicaragua's participation in a fiscal structural adjustment program, whose conditions include caps on public salaries. So the IMF said that the bono goes against the structural adjustment conditions, and decided that Nicaragua will therefore be ineligible for loans and capital investment promised for this year that would have totalled as much as 18 million USD. That's a big hit to the Nicaraguan economy. Justifying this action, IMF president Strauss-Kahn said, "while we help poor countries, that doesn't mean they can do whatever they want". So while international finanical organizations like the IMF and the U.S. embassy here in Managua have critized the bono, no one seems to be making the comparison to the actions of many "developed" countries in response to the economic crisis, which was to give money to taxpayers as a way of stimulating the economy. Remember those stimulus checks?!? Because the U.S. controls international financial institutions like the IMF, the rules of the global political economic game are set by the U.S. and its economic allies, meaning they can criticize poor countries led by non-ally governments like that of Ortega while looking the other way when they apply similar policies to their own economic problems. The hypocrisy in this is what confounds me most. While I've noted here my own critique of aspects of the Ortega regime, this bono seems a practical way to boost the economy (of course, there's a political motive as well). Similarly, most Nicaraguans I know who are critical of the government see the benefit to working families of such a bonus, and so support it, while they might not support the President generally. I know this news doesn't reach the U.S. very often, but this is big economic news this past month in Managua.