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Nicaraguan lawmakers vote to open the door to water privatization

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walks in front of a picture of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Vicepresident Rosario Murillo in Managua, Nicaragua March 27, 2020.REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas/File Photo

MANAGUA (Reuters) - The Nicaraguan parliament, controlled by the party of leftist President Daniel Ortega, on Thursday approved a reform that will open the door to the privatization of drinking water services in the Central American nation.

Seventy lawmakers from the ruling party voted to amend the law in order to permit concessions for private companies to deliver drinking water and sanitation services in some areas of the country. Sixteen abstained.

Nicaragua’s water services are currently controlled by the government.

“It does not just open the doors to the privatization of water, it opens all the gates,” Ruth Selma Herrera, former director of Nicaragua’s public Aqueduct and Sewer Company, told Reuters.

Walmaro Gutierrez, a lawmaker with Ortega’s ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front, said the water reform aims to “modernize the service and bring it to rural communities” without access to drinking water.

He said that the water service would not be privatized because “it is the government that will grant the concessions.”

Ortega opposed water privatization when he was the leader of the opposition from 1990 to 2006, during which time Nicaragua’s conservative governments privatized the country’s energy and telecommunication systems.

“They want to take advantage of the water in order to make money,” said Herrera, who led a 2005 social movement that thwarted former president Enrique Bolanos from his water privatization push.

For years Nicaragua’s, public water company has racked up millions of dollars worth of losses that have prevented it from investing in expanding its services.

Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Alistair Bell