Interview with Jorge Alberto Martinez, President of CARUNA

Tortilla con Sal, July 14th 2011

Tortilla con Sal : Can you tell us about CARUNA's role in the management of ALBA funds?

Jorge Alberto Martinez : CARUNA RL is the legal entity in Nicaragua that holds and administers the ALAB funds, both the funds freed up from the oil account, 50% of which is a long term credit, and too the credits made available to Nicaragua via the Venezuelan Economic and Social Development Bank, BANDES. And we also play a facilitating role taking advantage of CARUNA's branch network of 35 offices throughout Nicaragua, by means of which we have been able to deliver the flagship programmes promoted by President Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

For example, one of the programmes that has made most impact, in my opinion, is the Zero Usury programme which is a project whereby women receive small credits at highly favourable interest rates, 3% on the balance annually. This has helped more than 90,000 women at this point. And this programme has helped renew the economies of families in Nicaragua, with particular emphasis on women.

Another programme that has had a big impact from my point of view is Zero Hunger which has brought cows, pigs, chickens and vegetables into the reach of Nicaraguan families to help with food supply and to contribute to the food sovereignty of women in our country, beacuse it is another program aimed at women.

Another of the important programmes has been the programme of collection and distribution of basic grains carried out by the National Basic Foods Company (ENABAS), with help from ALBA's donations and loans. These supply a network of more than 3500 distribution points, small shops across the country and these provide products to the Nicaraguan population at truly fair prices.

TcS : How are the social and production investment funds structured?

Jorge Martinez : 50% of the oil account held and managed by CARUNA we administer via two important components. A social component which to date has carried out over 50 projects in the three and a half years we have been running them and we have assigned 38% to those social projects. And 62% of those funds we have assigned to our country's productive sector.

To give you an example, right now we are funding thousands of producers throughout the country to strengthen the family economy and promote food independence and food sovereignty, with US$18 million for the first, second and third harvests mainly for maize, rice and beans. On instructions from President Ortega and Rosario, we are calling this programme CRISSOL which means Christian, Socialist and Solidarity-based. Nad this is part of the social-productive programmes we are managing with a component of 62% of the funds freed up as long terms credits.

TcS : What controls are there on CARUNA's use of the ALBA funds?

Jorge Martinez : CARUNA complies with all the norms established in the country for a Savings and Loan Cooperative. It presnets its annual audited accounts to the national Institute for Cooperative Development,. It presents its reports on private debt and funds received to two institutions. One is the Central Bank and the other is the Foreign Ministry's development cooperation office. In 2010 we requested a formal letter from teh national Bank Superintendent confirming that CARUNA complies with Nicaragua's laws and that all its operations satisfy that legal framework.

At the request of the Central Bank, we have appeared more than three times  to give presentations to officials of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to clarify to them some of their concerns in relation to the use and investment of the funds and their beneficiaries in Nicaragua. And we have given them concrete data about how much has been invested in social programmes. We have given them the data on how much has been invested in productive programmes. They have asked us if any of this constitutes public sector debt and we have told them no.

They have asked us if we manage our bank accounts responsibly, if we're going to maintain financial responsibility and not suddenly withdraw funds from the banking system and we have explained to them that, no, our role is to assist the government in Nicaragua to keep inflation under control, keep the economy growing, contribute to the growth in exports and always be at the government's disposal to work in line with the programme of human development promoted by the government of President Ortega.

TcS : What has been ALBA impact on Nicaragua's economy?

Jorge Martinez : Nicaragua's Vice -Minister for Finance said in one of Petrocaribe's technical summit here that Nicaragua's growth, even in 2008  - which was a year of global financial crisis beacuse there was much talk over what was caused by the US housing sector and other factors - even in 2008, Nicaragua had positive export growth, the same in 2009 and in 2010 the same with more emphasis still on growth in exports and the consolidation of exports. Perhaps without ALBA the economic situation in our country would have been very different.

One of the biggest achievements that can be attributed to this alliance, to this Latin American and Caribbean Union is that here in Nicaragua, President Ortega ended the power cuts that were as long as 14 hours. With energy, with stability we can see a change in the country's economy, above all because those resources and that change are reaching the people who really need it.