MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/03 November) – In the latter part of the 1980s, Nicaragua’s Sandinista government was forced to allot at least 50 percent of its national budget to defense, in response to the threat posed by the US-funded Contra, remnants of the ousted Somoza regime. The war against the Contra’s right-wing insurgency drained scarce resources needed for national reconstruction leading to discontent that eventually booted the Sandinistas out of power. The outcome was certain from the outset. For how can a struggling Third World country possibly engage in war and develop itself at the same time?

As the experience of Nicaragua shows, poor countries don’t have many choices in the allocation of resources even if a choice they made may be morally justifiable, such as suppressing the Contras whose members are remnants of the brutal National Guard. It was a hard choice however that the US under President Ronald Reagan forced on the Sandinistas. The Contras were unable to grab power for themselves. Nonetheless, Reagan got what he wanted when Daniel Ortega lost his reelection bid, in 1990, to a moderate politician, Violeta de Chamorro. Her victory was attributed to the economic hardships caused by the Contra war – and US backing.

Ortega won again in 2006. It can be said that he was able to return to power mainly because the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has remained intact. But others credited his victory to his political savvy. For example, his vice presidential candidate, Jaime Morales Carazo, is a former Contra leader. And, aside from Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, President George Bush called to congratulate Ortega.

The message, however, is not Ortega’s unusual journey back to the halls of power. It’s the difficulties that Nicaragua suffered during the course of the Contra war and beyond those turbulent years. According to the International Monetary Fund, as quoted by (February 9, 2011), Nicaragua’s economy is 65 years behind.

The United Nations’ 2011 Human Development Report on the country appears to corroborate IMF’s assessment. With a Human Development Index of 0.589, Nicaragua is ranked 129th among 187 countries with comparable data. Life expectancy at birth is 74 years, and gross per capita income is only $2,430. “The HDI of Latin America and the Caribbean as a region increased from 0.582 in 1980 to 0.731 today, placing Nicaragua below the regional average,” the report stressed.

Incidentally, the Philippines, which has been confronting communist and Moro rebellions for decades, is in a similar fix. Like Nicaragua, its HD index is classified as medium, netting 0.644 and ranked 112th overall. The Philippines’ gross per capita income is $3,478, but its life expectancy at birth is only 68.7 years, which is lower than Nicaragua’s. If you’re still unconvinced that we’re being left behind in terms of HDI, here’s something from the UN that echoes almost the same words on Nicaragua’s own HDI: “The HDI of East Asia and the Pacific as a region increased from 0.428 in 1980 to 0.671 today, placing [the] Philippines below the regional average.”

Now, imagine what another full-blown war with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – where government will be forced to divert more funds to the military – would do to the country’s effort, if any, to improve its HDI. And we’re not just talking about statistics. We’re talking about more families that will go hungry, more children who will have to quit school, real sufferings of real people.

Don’t even think about Nicaragua. Their government was forced to confront the Contras. We, on the other hand, are still free to choose the path to peace despite the vicious calls for blood. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])