Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, second only to Haiti. I had seen that statistic several times in the past, but for some reason I never believed it. I thought that surely there must be other countries that are poorer … Cuba? … Honduras? … Bolivia?
Perhaps Guatemala as well, for I had seen firsthand the poverty in Guatemala when we were there in 2010. However, now that I have seen Granada, the crown jewel of Nicaragua, I understand why this country can be considered so impoverished. Guatemala´s crown jewel, Antigua, seems wealthy by comparison.
Nicaragua is very fortunate to be located where it is, just South of the drug shipments that pass through Honduras, El Savador, Guatemala, and Mexico on their way to be sold in the USA. The demand for illegal drugs in the USA creates the supply, but if there was no demand then the illegal drug trade would shrink together with all of the associated violence. Below Nicaragua is Costa Rica, a very prosperous nation indeed, and interestingly one of the few countries in the world that does not have a military. I sometimes wonder what we could do with the one trillion dollars we spend every year on our military if we skipped one year of that spending and instead found something different to invest in. Would our economy go belly up? Would the world fall apart? Would some other nation overrun us and take away all our liberties?
When my wife and I travel, we try as much as possible to absorb the local culture … the food, activities, and life in general. Nonetheless, in less than one week we have already eaten at half a dozen restaurants that most Nicaraguans would not even consider due to the prohibitive cost. For example, the other night we ate at one of the nicest restaurants in town and spend $37 (which in Nicaraguan currency is 1000 córdobas). In light of the fact that the average annual income for a Nicaraguan family is around $1800, it would be excessive for one of the local folks to spend $37 on a single meal. So, while we like to say that we try to experience the local culture when we travel, the reality is that we don´t get anywhere close. One soothing grace is the knowledge that tourism money is one of the principle sources of income for the country of Nicaragua, but the difficulty is in getting that money to the people who need it most.
In the USA 90% of the wealth is controlled by 20% of the population, however the problem of income inequality is even more pronounced in Latin America where 90% of the wealth is controlled by only 10% of the population. I am proud to be a US citizen, but I don´t believe that our capitalistic system as it has evolved to this point is particularly pleasing to God. The socialism of Cuba and Nicaragua is not the answer either. Wouldn´t it be wonderful if we could create a system that honors ingenuity and hard work and wealth building while making sure that most of the wealth is not controlled by such a small percentage? For example, what if 50% of the population of the USA controlled 90% of the wealth? It seems absurd to say that this would be a significant improvement over the current reality, but that is the truth.