5 things Wales could learn from a ‘s**thole country’

Children in Nicaragua. Picture by Craig Cloutier. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ben Gregory

I’ve just returned from Nicaragua. Just before the trip we heard Donald Trump being his usual prejudiced self, talking about ‘shithole countries’.

It’s his catch all definition for any country that is poor, hot, and non-white.

Some of the events in the run-up to our leaving got me thinking of what constitutes a shithole.

Here in Gwynedd our youth centres are being cut, the leisure centres are going to transferred to an arms-length company, and our local buses have descended into chaos, with services being halved, and fares rising 50 per cent.

Of course, much of this is to do with the cuts to local government, and the slow privatisation of much which was public.

On a national level, to take just one area, the past few years has seen our government:

  • Offer a home to nuclear weapons if Scotland voted for independence
  • Be willing to accept nuclear waste dredged from nearby Hinckley Point in Somerset;
  • Launch consultation to see if any Welsh communities would like to be the dump for nuclear waste from Wales and England (with an initial offer of £1 million, rising to £2.5 million a year once the facility opens).

Of course, no country is a shithole, though – at the moment – we in Wales seem to be doing our best to create one.

So in the spirit of internationalism, here’s five things Wales could learn from Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

1 – Prioritise young people

Nicaragua decided to provide free wifi in all its public parks, whilst at the same time totally renovating the community spaces and renewing play equipment.

They have changed from being wastelands a decade ago to vibrant places, where families, children and the elderly mix. Most evenings they are packed.

2 – Create a co-operative economy

Since 2007 the number of co-operatives in Nicaragua has risen from 1,700 to over 5,000.

The increase has been due to government programmes, coordinated by MEFCCA – the Ministry for the Co-operative, Associative and Family Economy.

It includes not only the co-operative sector, but getting small businesses to work closely together, and helping set up infrastructure to get products to consumers.

3 – Create local, regional and national development plans which everyone can understand

Plans have been created at every level, which are easily understandable.

Why can’t we have plans which can be used with children and students, the ideas of which can be explained in half an hour, or on two sides of A4?

They need to be ambitious so that they hold out the hope of real change, and be created with local communities, so they reflect what people really want.

4 – Establish a union for the self-employed

Not everything is the role of government, particularly in an economy where the majority do not have regular, secure and full-time employment (something we seem to be trying to emulate).

In Nicaragua, they formed a trade union for the self-employed, for people who scrape a living on the streets, for everyone from market traders to money changers.

As well as giving advice on legal rights and negotiating with local and national authorities, they try to offer entry into the social security system.

They also mobilise, and organising protests when their livelihoods are threatened.

So, the next time small businesses in your town complain about the advantages that supermarkets enjoy, get them to organise a picket outside their local store (or better still, campaign to stop them coming in the first place).

5 – Invest in renewables

The world is converting to renewables – but not in Wales! In 2016 the percentages from renewables fell from the previous year, to 12.3%.

This is half the Northern Ireland and England figures, whilst we produce only 30% of the amount produced in Scotland.

For comparison, Nicaragua’s renewable energy went from next to nothing a decade ago, to over 50% today, with a target to reach 90% in the next five years.

With a Welsh economy five times the size of Nicaragua’s, why are Welsh renewables shrinking?


Of course, the current Nicaraguan Sandinista government are no longer the same revolutionaries they were 40 years ago.

One government representative told us they tried confronting capitalism in the 80s (30,000 dead in the US-sponsored Contra war, 33,000%  inflation, an economy down the toilet), and are now work alongside it.

Or as a journalist described it to us, the Sandinistas are ‘trying to navigate capitalist waters”.

No-one thinks the government is perfect, but what Nicaragua does have is a national plan, and a commitment to the poorest.

Which is, perhaps, the biggest lesson we in Wales can learn from them.

Ben Gregory is a member of the Wales Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign, and has just returned from a visit.

The Campaign will be organising another trip early next year.

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  1. Capitalist and Welshnash

    As cautious as I am unions as they can be oppressive and authoritarian to those who see work as a way of leaving the working class behind, a union for self-employed is could be a good way to fight taxes and regulations that drive our ambitious and our young people away.

    With all the bureaucracy being piiled up by the Labour-run Welsh government, it is reaching the point that it is worth doing my business in England, be it property business, opening a café, running a corner shop, because there is simply less hassle from the Westminster government on my business in England.

    Welsh Government, get your hands off my business. You’re killing me with regulations and extra fees I can barely keep up with.

    • “Welsh Government, get your hands off my business. You’re killing me with regulations and extra fees I can barely keep up with.”

      Would you provide examples of what you think are the most damaging regulations and extra fees your business is subject to that it wouldn’t be if it were located in England. Diolch.

  2. Graham John Hathaway

    Ben, a lovely and interesting comparison. I really thought first, a reflection on emerging countries and what can be achieved in more than difficult circumstances, and secondly what might Donald Trump think of Wales.
    A country hitched onto the rim and a follower. The comparison with our renewal energy targets and achievements speaks volumes about our poor enterprise and self management. But perhaps most of all the ability to see oppression and seek solutions. Something we here, have failed, and miserably so.

    A different and colourful addition to our debates.

  3. kim erswell

    That, Donald Trump used the word “shithole countries” is a total canard and as been dismissed by serious investigation. It was created by fake media and carried by them falsely.

    • Graham John Hathaway

      Kim, whatever the correctness of speech and accuracy or inaccuracy of reporting, since these matters are always open to much conjecture, but if true I would like you, utterly condemn, but the depth of the post is more of comparisons with Wales than the hyperbole. Such comments in the end are like anaesthetic, it wears off, but can give you a headache. Perhaps the thin end of the wedge, where it becomes minor to the major comment of where Wales stands in the line of comparison with another country. I found of much interest. It’s a sociological imagination, of much importance to the way others have invented themselves, from the dust

    • JR Humphreys

      President Trump was expressing frustration that immigration was not coming from, say, Norway or Switzerland. (btw, the USA buys 51% of Nicaragua’s exports and supplies 20% of its investment.)
      Why not learn, instead, from the Swiss?

      1. Secure independence
      2. Strong borders
      3. Re-establish WDA
      4. Work balls off
      5. Aim for Swiss cleanliness and health standards.

      • kim erswell

        Just back from Switzerland and I concur. You also get the added bonus of the right to bare arms: good way of protecting the State from corrupt goverment and external enemies.

        • There are reasons why few Norwegians and Swiss emigrate to the USA.
          Plenty of places in the USA could be described as “s**tholes” but on the upside those living in them have the right to bare arms and are playing their part in protecting the State from corrupt government and external enemies.

          As for the Swiss model we’d be coming rather late to the party in attempting to set up an economy founded to a significant extent on no questions asked banking that facilitates theft, money laundering and tax evasion.

          Whatever ideas and inspiration we might take from other parts of the world it would be good if the Welsh government were as committed to the people of Cymru as Nicaragua’s is to its poorest people.

      • Benjiman L. Angwin

        I dont support strong borders.

        Holland is a better model for us to look at. Linguistically of course, but also politically and economically. With its industrious character Wales can be a world power. Holland has a lot to teach Cymru.

      • The Swiss model would be more of a model for the UK to aspire to rather then Wales. Assuming we were to commit to the union.

        • Graham John Hathaway

          In seeking to gain more of a feel for the politics and history of Switzerland, then the ideas put forward of open borders and wealth, with a large % of ‘foreign’ born residents, seem to best fit where our Country should mirror. By default, we need to live with the fallout of centuries of conditioning from the Union of the UK , as a first step, even its regency, if that is the popular choice, (not mine) but be open to different ideas where we maximise both sentiment and pragmatism. Nothing else will be enough.

  4. Graham John Hathaway

    Not sure where the word ‘beacon’ has come from. I looked again and see only ‘world power’ used. With reference to its industrial past. Yes it was. Interconnected of course. But it’s what you aspire to be. ‘Reach for the stars and land on the moon’ . Can’t see anything wrong with that sort of ambition or belief. It’s what has been lacking in deed and spirit. I rather think a few of our Welsh Universities have found great distinction of recent times. There is much to learn from other countries and yes Switzerland, but what comes first, ‘the chicken or the egg’. Nothing is achievable of the high ground status if you locked into a Union of unequal parts. That’s the message, of hope and ambition. More please.

    • JR Humphreys

      It pops up fairly often across the Welsh political spectrum, and always makes me feel uneasy.
      I don’t mind looking at co-ops, but anyone fancy aiming low, and missing?
      In case no one has noticed the swiss are rather good at watchmaking, Hilti guns, chocolate, special electronics, and the Red Cross has been of some value, both in the past and present.

      • Graham John Hathaway

        Point taken. I will always admire the neutrality of the Swiss in its DNA, and avoidance of warfare. I ll read up on Swiss politics and its ability to respect and maintain its environment and nationhood.

        • Well Switzerland knows which side its bread’s buttered and it was buttered initially by powerful European states for strategic reasons that suited them. In modern times the world’s states need a mutually recognized neutral state and that together with it’s location gets Switzerland as close to being a neutral state in perpetuity as is possible.
          By itself being committed to being a neutral state is no guarantee others will allow you to be one.

          • JR Humphreys

            True. Peripherals like sweden and the country I reside in have some chance, though they are not unarmed.
            I initially was trying to raise the sights a bit, beyond touring the tobacco fields and could just as well have chosen Iceland or something. But I think I’ll choose Wales, great little country with a bright future.

  5. Red Dragon Jim

    Switzerland is in fact entirely open to its neighbours and is in the Schengen area.

    It does not have “secure borders”. You only get that impression because it is outside of the Customs Union. A poor choice for Wales, though we will end up in a customs union with England and Scotland.

    28.9% of people in Switzerland are foreign born. This may even be higher than Wales.

    I would agree that it is a succesful state, with high living standards, but it is not some kind of “secure borders” type situation. It is a country founded on openess and internationalisation.

    • JR Humphreys

      You are correct.

      There is, however, a current peoples initiative to re-introduce border controls.

      • JR Humphreys

        Further to the “openess & internationalism”, I put it, in flat tones, to someone who had spent time there. The answer was “absolute rubbish”. I wasn’t sure about this, so I mailed a musician I know in Zurich, who just laughed derisively.
        That is the trouble with musos, So I will give up now

        As to Ben’s article, two things stick in my mind;

        1. Farmers co-ops and 2. Farmers markets. I would definitely support Welsh farmers and market gardeners in such a scheme!

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