son to remove those who are doing
their job well.”
In contrast, Ortega’s reach into the
judicial branch will continue. The
Sandinistas still have a majority in
the Supreme Court. His cabinet will
look the same as it has in the past,
with positions filled by Sandinista
sympathizers loyal to Ortega’s polar-
izing leftist proposals.
The campaigns of Pérez Molina
and Ortega laid out ambitious plans
for improving their respective countries. But now comes the hard part
for both leaders.
Nicaragua’s health and education
ministries, key to Ortega’s subsidy-filled agenda, will receive the largest
slice of the fiscal pie under the 2012
budget, which is nearly 15 percent
higher than last year and includes
plans to modernize hospitals and
build 1,300 new homes for the country’s marginalized poor.
More than half of Guatemala’s population live in poverty. One
out of every five children suffers from
malnutrition and two-thirds of Guatemala’s land is in the hands of just 2
percent of the population. But Pérez
Molina’s government will ignore
land reform—the controversial issue
that ignited the war—and proposals for the 2012 minimum wage will
not cover the cost of the minimum
monthly food basket for the nation’s
Elections always bring hope of
change. But in a region where optimism has frequently been curdled by reality, the differences in
temperament, background and
philosophies of the new leaders
of Guatemala and Nicaragua will
prove less determinative than the
harsh challenges of the deeply entrenched problems they face—and
the weak states they inherited.
Ortega will be under the micro-
scope during the next five years and
will look to expand his programs to
include scholarships, housing, food
rations, and medicine funded by Al-
banisa, before oil money from Chávez
,Pérez Molina’s popularity will depend on his ability to tackle crime,
and his legacy will be measured by his
response to wartime human rights
abuses. He will need to tread delicately in congress if he doesn’t want
to further isolate an agitated left looking to obstruct PP proposals in an effort to crush the party’s reputation.
His 2012 budget falls short of what
he needs to jumpstart his agenda
and—with no motivation for reelection—his agendas for change could
easily fall short.
BFFs: Hugo Chávez and Daniel
Ortega embrace in Managua.
Pérez Molina will continue these
initiatives under his new ministry
of social development, although he
could change how the programs are
administered. Pregnant mothers
will receive priority under his plan
and will be given basic food rations
of rice, beans, corn, and cooking oil
until their children turn two years
old—the most crucial years of de-
Colom’s government laid the
groundwork for Guatemala’s welfare programs. During his presidency,
he and his ex-wife, Sandra Torres,
launched the Bolsa Solidaria (
Solidarity Budget)—a monthly food ration
for the neediest families—and Mi Fa-milia Progresa (My Family Progresses),
a conditional cash transfer program
to mothers to buy school supplies for
their children and pay tuition.
He also will focus on pulling underemployed and informal workers,
who make up 60 percent of Guatemala’s population, into the formal sector with plans to boost tourism and
attract renewable energy companies.
But increased training and education
for the nation’s low-skilled, self-employed workforce is unlikely to bear
fruit in his four-year mandate.
Ortega will be judged on his ability to continue delivering social
handouts. Any changes in the financial pipeline from his Venezuelan
benefactors will threaten Ortega’s
ability to realize his social agenda.
Ultimately, sustainable, long-term
progress will depend on creating an
an independent, nonpoliticized judicial system—that can effectively
reach the neediest beyond his political clients and beyond the largesse
of President Chávez.
In Nicaragua, funds from Venezuela
finance social programs that combat
hunger and improve literacy. While
the programs have helped, poverty
and unemployment persist. Around 7
percent of Nicaragua’s 5. 8 million citizens are jobless and nearly 70 percent
of the population works in the poorly
paying informal sector. The number
of poor has dropped since Ortega took
office in 2006, but 45 percent remain
impoverished, 15 percent survive on
one dollar per day and nearly 20 percent are illiterate.
JORGE S. CABRERA A./LATINCONTENT/GETTY
Mike McDonald is a stringer for
Reuters and has covered general
news in Central America for three
years, including presidential
elections in Costa Rica, Guatemala
and the coup in Honduras.
Americas Quarterly WINTER 2012