“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt
Economic growth is one of the main factors in determining the progress of a country and its potential to satisfy the wants of individuals in their society. I am convinced Nicaragua has made significant progress in utilizing their abundance of natural resources to produce more efficient wind and solar energy. Technological development has played a role in Nicaragua to connect the population to the outside world through fiber optic internet cables. Ometepe Island public parks now have free wi-fi access due to a fiber optic cable strung under the lake from the mainland.
Yet, I wonder if all progress and advancements I see in Nicaragua truly benefit the majority of the people living below the poverty line. Are we adding to the abundance of the minority of Nicaraguans who have so much, and are we providing enough to the majority who have so little?
Last week I traveled to Managua for my regular check-up with my eye doctor. Arriving at the port in San Jorge, I noticed a new ferry, a desperately needed ferry because many people on Ometepe Island must travel to the mainland daily for work. This progress benefits everyone. And I have seen much growth in transportation with new airports, shuttles, taxis, and lots of cute tuk tuks that buzz around newly constructed roads like little mosquitoes.
The San Jorge port had a magnificent facelift. Restaurants, vendors, hotels, and major work on the sea walls benefits everyone, too.
But, never has progress been more evident than in Managua! We drove on a new bypass road, circling the most heavily trafficked areas. It now takes us one and a half hours to reach Managua instead of the two or two and a half hours. And when entering Managua, we are confronted with these ostentatious and extravagant electric trees. Daniel Ortega’s wife, who is now the Vice President of Nicaragua, thought this was progress I guess.
Real trees were cut down to make room for these costly and horrid looking electric trees. I heard that each tree cost $20,000, not to mention the electricity it takes to run these monstrosities at night. Most Nicaraguans will tell you they are feo! Do these trees demonstrate economic growth for the majority of the Nicaraguan people? Is this progress?
I always enjoy going to the big Sinsa hardware store in Managua. The last time I was there, I bought a toaster. I was thrilled with my purchase because it was the first time I found a toaster in Nicaragua. I will admit that I have an appliance addiction. This time, I bought a juicer, but I was shocked upon entering the store.
It is September and they had the store decorated for Christmas! September! Really? Now, I can forgive them because they don’t celebrate Halloween and it generally isn’t a traditional holiday in Nicaragua, although it is becoming more popular with the U.S. expats who live in Nicaragua.
But, I was dismayed when looking at the beautiful displays for two reasons. First, all the prices were in U.S. dollars. It is the first time that I noticed all the prices in dollars. At first I thought the Christmas trees and decorations were cheap. 1,049 cordobas for a huge decorated artificial tree was a bargain at $35. I asked the clerk and he said the prices were now in dollars.
How many Nicaraguans can afford $1049 for an artificial Christmas tree? The average monthly salary for Nicaraguans is between $150-$300 a month. Is this progress? And exactly who buys these trees and Christmas decorations? It appears to me that Sinsa caters to the wealthy minority.
The second thing that bothers me is the lack of Nicaraguan Christmas traditions in these displays. How many Nicaraguans have seen snow, ice skates, and snowmen? Has Nicaragua sold its traditions for capitalistic displays of meaningless excess?
I was not overjoyed at the Nicaraguan vision of progress displayed in Managua. Social factors play a crucial role in the economic growth of a country. Social factors involve customs, traditions, values and beliefs, which contribute to the growth of an economy to a considerable extent.
Walking into Sinsa was like walking into a mall in the U.S. at Christmas. I hope Nicaragua doesn’t lose its sense of direction in catering to the minority of wealthy people because they stand to lose so much more.
Thoughtful, sustainable progress is possible in developing countries and I have seen good progress in Nicaragua in the decade in which I have lived here. But, the needs of the majority of the people should always take precedence over the surreal displays of wealth and vanity.
What does progress mean to you?