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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