“The MCC’s Commitment to Strengthening Democracy and Upholding the Rule of Law”

Millennium Challenge Corporation’s 20th Anniversary
George W. Bush Presidential Center
Dallas, Texas, May 6th, 2024

President George W. Bush
Alice Albright CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield United States Ambassador to the United Nations
H.E. Lazarus Chakwera, President of the Republic of Malawi
H.E. Vjosa Osmani, President of Kosovo
H.E. John Briceño, Prime Minister of Belize
Shalini Trapithi Deputy Director MCA Nepal
Fellow dignitaries
Dear friends

It is an honor to be celebrating with you the Millennium Challenge Corporations’ (MCCs’) 20th Anniversary.
Tonight, I stand here as an example of how MCC’s work not only delivers assistance but establishes a partnership to build better societies based on the country’s needs and decisions, while at the same time promotes the rule of law and investing in people and democratic values. That is the right formula and that is the MCC model.
MCC Program in Nicaragua
At the start of the MCC-Nicaragua partnership in 2004, the MCC Vice-President of Operations visited Nicaragua and was candid with us. He stressed that despite being selected as a potential MCC partner country, there was no guarantee of funding. The final decision would depend on the quality of Nicaragua’s proposal, and more broadly, how the proposed program would help to overcome the country’s most challenging development obstacles. Working for the Nicaraguan government, we established a collaborative consultation process that included the private sector, local municipal governments, and civil society organizations. We built a proposal that included the construction of roads, assistance to smallholder farmers and producers in rural areas, and strengthened property rights through land titling.
After the approval of the program, we set up the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA)-Nicaragua as an independent foundation governed by a board comprised by central government ministers, municipal governments, members of the private sector, and civil society organizations. It was the first development organization of its kind in Nicaragua.
We executed the program on time and almost according to plans.
Years later, an independent academic evaluation was conducted, using a rigorous assessment of the data gathered on beneficiaries of the rural program project. Part of the report was published in a prestigious economics journal, and it concluded that:
“…we find statistically and economically significant impacts on gross farm income and investment in productive farm capital…. we find that the estimated income increase persists and that the impacts on productive capital stock continue to rise even after the program concluded.”

The economic benefits of the Nicaragua program were undeniable. By the numbers:
– The three roads built showed increased traffic and investments in the areas of impact; and
– The benefits of land titling showed rates of return above 12 percent.
While the success of the program was well-documented, a shadow lurked in Nicaragua – the shadow of tyranny.
The rise of Daniel Ortega to power in 2007 instilled tension in the relationship between the United States and Nicaragua, but the MCC program continued as planned.
In November 2008, however, the regime provided clear and open evidence it was becoming an autocracy, by perpetrating massive electoral fraud in municipal elections, the first of many more to come.
MCC Program Suspension
The evidence accumulated before, during and after the electoral process was unequivocal. The will and trust of the people had been abused. In response to the Government’s actions, MCC suspended US$64 million out of the Compact’s US$175 million. For the people of Nicaragua, this meant a road, not yet procured, and assistance to the government’s land titling efforts were stopped.
MCC’s Contribution to Democracy
Although this was a difficult decision, MCC upheld its principles. In real time, MCC showed in not just words, but actions, that in order to develop economically, countries must promote, protect and defend democratic values.
The role of government institutions are fundamental, particularly their commitment to the rule of law, the separation of powers, and checks and balances.
MCC’s two great contributions to economic development were, first, to establish a high bar, a set of rules and standards long identified by economists and social scientists as necessary conditions for societies to develop and, second, to generate synergy with the private sector, which is the sustainable engine of employment and economic growth.
We were deeply saddened by the suspension. We worried about the promises we had made to people. However, by suspending only non-procured projects, MCC found a way of sending a firm message of defending democratic values while standing on the side of thousands of beneficiaries and small farmers and producers that believed in MCC.
The people of Nicaragua understood that the antidemocratic regime, not MCC, was responsible for the suspension.
MCC was the first donor to send a clear message, and many others followed.
As I speak, all traditional donors have suspended aid, and only one regional bank, Russia, Iran, and China provide assistance to Nicaragua.
American values
By standing firm on the importance of democracy, MCC honors the US founding fathers’ understanding of government, whose purpose is to safeguard the inalienable rights “endowed by their Creator” and ensure that nobody is above the law.
These fundamental ideas were incorporated in the institutions, laws, and norms of the new republic. And, MCC has become, in a short period of time, one of the best instruments to extend to the world these values.
My personal account
MCC was absolutely right to alert the world to the democratic regression in Nicaragua. The Dictator became more brutal over time, until Nicaraguans were fed-up and took to the streets to demand their rights and freedom.
The Ortega regime responded with bullets, killing hundreds of my countrymen and women in just a few days. And many of you know, the repression has become even worse in the last years.
I could not stay indifferent to the repression. I became a politician, a human rights defender and a presidential candidate. As a consequence, I suffered intimidation, death threats, police harassment, beatings, house arrest, prohibition to mobilize in the country, false accusations, arbitrary detention, torture, and incarceration.
The regime put me on trial without due process and denied me a legal defense. I was accused of treason, sentenced to 13 years in prison, and served almost two years.
While in prison, I was subject to degrading treatment, isolation, harassment, and denial of the right to practice my religion. I was banished from my country and stripped of my nationality and all of my properties.
The current Nicaraguan regime has violated, just in my own case, 20 out of the 30 rights guaranteed under of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. My commitment to democracy and human rights are stronger than ever.
I wanted to share with you this personal experience because when MCC includes democratic values and investing in people as part of its eligibility criteria, it does so with the purpose of changing and protecting people’s lives in an integral way.
Democracy is not an abstract concept. The erosion of democracy has material effects on people’s lives, like my own and those of the millions who suffer from oppression around the world.
Institutions like MCC build more than roads – they exist to construct a better world, one in which every society flourishes in every aspect – economically, socially, politically, and even spiritually. If one of these aspects fail, there will be no sustainable development.
Final message
Presidents, Prime Minister, and other dignitaries, your presence here is a testament to your commitment to democratic values and the rule of law. We need more leaders like yourselves defending democracy and freedom, in response to disturbing democratic backsliding.
And we need more institutions like MCC, willing to be honest, firm and committed partners to helping democracies deliver for people around the world.
CEO Albright, thank you for the invitation, and I salute the 20th anniversary of this organization that has done so much good for the world.
Thank you.
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Por Juan Sebastian Chamorro

Político y economista comprometido con el desarrollo y el futuro de Nicaragua. Académico visitante en políticas públicas en el Kellogg Institute de la Universidad de Notre Dame. Miembro del Directorio Político de la Concertación Democrática Nicaragüense Monteverde. Activista por la defensa de los Derechos Humanos y la Democracia. Preso Político de junio 2021 a febrero 2023. Precandidato a la Presidencia de la República. Director Ejecutivo de la Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia del 2019 a enero del 2021 y Director Ejecutivo de la Fundación Nicaragüense para el Desarrollo Económico y Social FUNIDES. Director Ejecutivo de Macesa, Director General de la Cuenta Reto del Milenio, Vice Ministro de Hacienda y Crédito Público, Secretario Técnico de la Presidencia de la República y Director del Sistema Nacional de Inversiones Públicas.
Doctor (Ph.D) en Economía por la Universidad de Wisconsin-Madison, con especialidad en Econometría y Desarrollo Económico, Máster en Economía por la Universidad de Georgetown con mención especial en Políticas Sociales y Licenciado en Economía (graduado Magna Cum Laude) por la Universidad de San Francisco, California. Casado con Victoria Cárdenas y padre de Victoria Isabel.

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