NICARAGUA: Young People Exiled by Poverty

By José Adán Silva

MANAGUA, Oct 19 (IPS) – If they could, about 60 percent of Nicaraguans
under 30 would go to live abroad, according to studies on migration,
which find that the country’s chronic poverty is the main reason for
wanting to migrate.

Between 1990 and 2005, more than 800,000 Nicaraguans left the country,
and 400,000 more could migrate by 2010, according to the United
Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2009, devoted
this year to the topic of migration. But local projections put that
figure even higher.

The report, “Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development”,
adds the caveat that its estimates for 2010 of migration for economic
reasons are based on long-term trends, and may not exactly predict the
effects of unexpected short-term fluctuations like the ongoing global
economic crisis.

According to Bayardo Izabá, the head of the non-governmental
Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre (CENIDH), the statistics in the UNDP
report are an underestimate. Although the report was released this
month, it is based on surveys carried out by the Economic Commission
for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in 2007.

“Over one million people have left the country because of poverty,”
Ibaza told IPS. “No one leaves the country for any other reason, and
there are another million or more young people who want to migrate.”

CENIDH publishes an annual report on the general situation in
Nicaragua, including the number of people who migrated and those who
were deported back to the country.

The Human Development Report indicates that Nicaraguans living abroad
represent 13 percent of the country’s population, which was 5.5
million in 2007. Nicaragua is ranked 124th out of 182 countries in
terms of its human development index, a measure of a country’s success
in providing citizens with a long, healthy life, education and decent
living standards.

Nicaragua has the lowest human development index in Central America
and the second lowest in Latin America after Haiti. The UNDP puts the
poverty rate in Nicaragua at 48 percent, and extreme poverty at 17
percent.

The head of the non-governmental Permanent Commission on Human Rights,
Marcos Carmona, told IPS that people migrate for two main reasons:
chronic poverty that was aggravated by the 1979-1990 civil war, and
government neglect because the administration’s economic policies are
focused on meeting financial obligations to multilateral lenders.

The overthrow of the four-decade Somoza family dictatorship in 1979 by
the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was followed
by the counter-revolutionary (Contra) attacks by former members of the
Somoza armed forces and other opponents of the Sandinistas, financed
and equipped by the United States. After 1990, right-wing governments
implemented neoliberal free-market economic policies.

Carmona said Nicaragua’s economic troubles have been accentuated by
the global crisis that originated in the United States last year, and
by a halt to international aid as a result of allegations of electoral
fraud in 2008.

The FSLN, which returned to the government in January 2007, was
accused of fraud in the 2008 municipal elections by opposition parties
and civil society, religious and economic groups. As a result, major
donors like the United States and European countries stopped sending
aid, which had amounted to some 500 million dollars a year.

This brought about lower levels of funding for social projects, a
contraction of the economy and no employment growth in the public and
private sectors.

“Young people, our greatest human capital and the driving force in any
economy, want to migrate, which is a clear sign that we are failing as
a society. They have lost confidence in their future and in the
ability of their country’s leaders to provide answers to their needs,”
said Carmona.

Figures from the state Youth Secretariat and the Nicaraguan Institute
of Information for Development indicate that 69.9 percent of the
country’s 5.7 million people (according to 2009 estimates) are under
30.

In a 2007 study by the Nicaraguan Civil Society Network for Migration,
60 percent of respondents under 30 said they would like to leave the
country in search of employment and opportunities for personal growth.

The official unemployment rate in Nicaragua is under nine percent, but
private sources put it as high as 14 percent.

Companies in the industrial free zone are the main source of
employment, but more than 30,000 people have lost their jobs there in
the last two years.

Fifty-five percent of the economically active population works in the
informal economy, scraping a living as street vendors or in different
microbusinesses. Nicaragua’s per capita GDP is the lowest in Central
America, at 2,570 dollars, according to the UNDP. A survey by the M&R
Consultores polling firm found that 59.4 percent of Nicaraguans
between 16 and 55 were considering leaving the country because of
economic difficulties.

This means that approximately one-and-a-half million people would be
willing to cross Nicaragua’s borders to seek better opportunities
abroad.

In 2007, Nicaraguans working abroad sent home 740 million dollars in
remittances, equivalent to 12.1 percent of GDP, according to the Human
Development Report.

The UNDP report also analysed social and economic characteristics and
educational achievements among Nicaraguan migrants.

It found that 40.7 percent of migrants had been to primary school,
41.1 percent had studied at secondary or technical schools, and 18.1
percent had some higher education.

These figures are similar to those provided by other international
studies, such as the World Bank’s International Migration, Remittances
and the Brain Drain report of late 2005.

The World Bank study estimates that nearly 30 percent of those who
leave the country are skilled workers or professionals, and 67 percent
are under 29 years old.

Mario Quintana, a member of the board of Coordinadora Civil, an NGO
which observes social indicators and analyses the socio-economic
situation in the country, told IPS that migration is rising in
response to a lack of public policies to foment job creation.

“There isn’t a single report, official or private, that predicts
economic improvement in the country in the short or medium term. On
the contrary, everyone expects the local financial crisis to get
worse, and that at least another 100,000 people a year will fall into
poverty,” said Quintana.

“What will all these people do? The same thing that over one million
have already done: leave their homeland,” he said. (END/2009)

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