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Solidar Switzerland has been involved in Nicaragua for over 30 years. It has promoted the local people's rights to own land, earn a wage in decent working conditions, and live a life free from violence.
As one of Central America's bigger countries, Nicaragua made headlines in Switzerland chiefly due to the Solidarity Movement of the 1980s. At the time an economic embargo was imposed on Nicaragua's Sandinista government (1979-1990). Meanwhile, right-wing counter-revolutionary mercenaries, also known as Contras, made their violent incursions from Honduras thereby forcing the country into armed conflict.
After the Sandinistas lost the government elections in 1990, men and women in numerous social organisations joined forces in the fight against poverty and the increasing economic divide. In 2007 Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista party FSLN returned to power; they were re-elected by a clear majority in November 2011, a trend confirmed in the local elections of November 2012.

Economic success and continuing political polarisation

The country has achieved socio-political progress in terms of education, labour and agriculture; there has been considerable co-operation of government agencies with grassroots civil society organisations, such as rural cooperatives and labour unions. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO has praised Nicaragua for being one of the first countries to have achieved the first Millenium Development Goal, i.e. to halve extreme poverty and hunger. Nicaragua's Gross Domestic Product GDP has increased steadily by 4 to 5 percent, year on year; the Nicaraguan government has continued to increase its annual budgets for programmes to alleviate poverty.
In contrast, considerable political polarisation continues to exist; NGOs and critical journalists have deplored a lack of transparency and the many restrictions imposed upon civil society. A complete ban on abortions continues to be in force, having become law – with the help of Sandinista votes – prior to the Sandinista's return to power in 2007. Grassroots community organisations in rural areas, however, have seen increased and pragmatic co-operation between various political bodies tackling specific local issues.

Slow development due to violence

Nicaragua has some 5.8 million inhabitants, over 40 percent of whom are younger than 18. One million Nicaraguans live abroad, having left their country to escape the conflict or poverty. Three quarters of the country's poor live in rural areas; one third of all households are single-mother families; every other Nicaraguan woman (50%) has suffered physical violence.


Agriculture – opportunities and risks

Nicaragua's focus on the export of a few agricultural products has made the country highly dependent on world-market prices. Despite having the largest agrarian surface area in Central America, in terms of its exports Nicaragua comes last. Productivity among its small-scale farmers is low; they receive inadequate support to compete with cheap food imports from the U.S. and Europe. Like its Central American neighbours, Nicaragua has also been adversely affected by climate change, including extreme fluctuations in seasonal weather patterns, more frequent and severe natural disasters, and greater uncertainties in terms of agricultural production.
Nevertheless, the agrarian sector is Nicaragua's main source of revenue and holds promises for the country's economic and social development. It provides almost one third of all of the country's jobs. Government programmes to promote and support rural co-operatives and small-scale farmers are beginning to bear fruit. Currently, however, small coffee-growing co-operatives are suffering due to infestations with the coffee-rust fungus as well as a steep decline in world-market prices for the country's most important cash crop.

Solidar's wide-ranging commitment

Solidar Switzerland supports co-operatives, small-scale farmers' associations, women's organisations and trade unions in their struggle to improve the lives of people in deprived areas. Our commitment focuses on the following areas:
  • Participation and democracy to encourage people's active involvement in local politics and political bodies; special attention is focused on the promotion of equal rights for women and young adults, and on the prevention of domestic violence.
  • Decent work and fair labour conditions, including contact points for legal advice; stronger labour laws; improved social security for rural workers and the self-employed in the informal sector; social dialogue; promotion of decent wages and working conditions small-scale farmers; institutionally stronger co-operatives.
  • Humanitarian aid.
Anja Ibkendanz is Solidar Switzerland's desk officer for Nicaragua.