News from Nicaragua

Nicaragua news February 11, 2014

This weekly news bulletin is the successor to the Nicaragua News Service and Nicaragua Network Hotline. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit the Nicaragua Network.

1. New developments in disputes with Costa Rica
2. Colombia continues to patrol Nicaraguan waters in Caribbean
3. Constitutional amendments now in force
4. Chronic kidney disease could be caused by agrochemicals doctors say
5. Universities adding career paths to qualify students for Grand Canal work
6. School year begins “on a good footing”
7. Army thwarts Bosawas land invaders
8. Drought resistant seeds increase yields in Esteli
________________________________________________

1. New developments in disputes with Costa Rica 

In reply to a request from Nicaragua, the International Court of Justice (World Court) announced last week that Nicaragua will be able to present a reply to Costa Rica’s defense of the road it built along the southern bank of the San Juan River and that Costa Rica will be able to present a rebuttal. Nicaragua has sued Costa Rica in the World Court for ecological damages caused by erosion into the river from the controversial road which was built without any environmental impact study and has been investigated for corruption by the Costa Rican legislature. The Court has combined two cases into one, the first being Costa Rica’s suit against Nicaragua over ownership of a small triangle of land at the mouth of the river and the second being Nicaragua’s suit against Costa Rica over the road, and is expected to rule on the combined case in 2015. International law expert Mauricio Herdocia said that this decision will give Nicaragua the opportunity to strengthen its arguments about the environmental damage caused by the building of the road and is an unusual step for the Court which was expected to proceed directly to oral arguments. The Court said that it took the decision given “the need for Nicaragua to be able to make, in an appropriate manner, such observations as it wishes on the new material produced by Costa Rica.” Nicaragua will have until Aug. 4, 2014 to present its reply and Costa Rica until Feb. 2015 for its rebuttal.

In separate but related news, the Nicaraguan government sent a note to the Costa Rican government on Feb. 2, on the occasion of the latter country’s elections and proposed that the “path of dialogue be taken up again… for the welfare of the families of Central America.” However, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo answered, “They talk about dialogue and brotherhood but, in reality, on the ground, they continue to be hostile, aggressive and overbearing.” Along with this reply, he confirmed that Costa Rica will file another suit against Nicaragua in the World Court alleging that Nicaragua is offering concessions for petroleum exploration in maritime territories that are within Costa Rica’s waters. Castillo said that the suit will be filed before May 8, when a new president will take office.

Law expert Herdocia said that the waters Nicaragua has opened for petroleum exploration are waters assigned to Nicaragua by the World Court in November 2012 in a dispute with Colombia. “None of the petroleum concessions that Nicaragua has issued is even remotely near maritime border areas with Costa Rica,” he said. Another international law expert, Norman Miranda, said, “I see this as a hostile act by the government of President [Laura] Chinchilla who wants to leave an inheritance to the next government of Costa Rica, leaving it tied to a new demand against Nicaragua.”

Miranda added that both candidates scheduled to compete in the April 6 presidential runoff election, Luis Guillermo Solis and Johnny Araya, have indicated that they would work to improve relations with Nicaragua. The center-left Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Solis agreed with Chinchilla that “We have very important differences with Nicaragua.” But, he insisted, “We can’t continue to ‘Nicaraguanize’ our entire foreign policy” and added, “Costa Rica and Nicaragua can’t get a divorce; we are countries that will be neighbors forever.” Araya, of the National Liberation Party (PLN) currently in power, said that Costa Rica “must continue with firmness to defend its sovereignty at the International Court of Justice… but we can’t close ourselves to dialogue. I believe that Costa Rica has been a country open to dialogue and we have to analyze if it’s sincere and respects our national sovereignty.” (Radio La Preimerisima, Feb. 5, 7; El Nuevo Diario, Feb.8; La Prensa, Feb.5; http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3&p2=2&case=152

2. Colombia continues to patrol Nicaraguan waters in Caribbean 

The World Court issued an order on Feb. 3 fixing the dates for the submission of initial arguments in a case filed by Nicaragua against Colombia on Nov. 26 of last year. As the Court noted, the case concerns a complaint by Nicaragua about Colombia’s violations of the Court’s ruling of Nov. 19, 2012, “and the threat of the use of force by Colombia in order to implement these violations.” The 2012 ruling, which came after 11 years of arguments, established the boundaries between the two countries in the Caribbean, confirming that the islands of the San Andres Archipelago belonged to Colombia but assigning the greater part of the waters to Nicaragua. Nicaragua must submit arguments in this new case by Oct. 3, 2014, and Colombia by June 3, 2015.

The threats by Colombia have continued. La Prensa reported that, on Jan. 29, a Nicaraguan naval vessel received a radio message from a Colombian war ship stating, “The ruling from The Hague [the World Court] is not applicable and for that reason units of the Navy of the Republic of Colombia will continue exercising sovereignty in these waters.” La Prensa said that the Nicaraguan vessel replied saying that it was Nicaraguan territory and closed with “Have a good day.” That same day Nicaraguan fishermen, out in their boat in the newly adjudicated waters, was contacted by the same Colombian vessel and told that the waters are not Nicaraguan but rather Colombian. The Nicaraguan boat captain said, “As far as I know, we are in Nicaraguan waters; if you don’t accept that, it’s your problem” to which the Colombian vessel replied, “It’s a decision of our government to permit you to remain in this area fishing.” The fishermen feared that “a conflict could begin as there were two Colombian frigates and just one Nicaraguan boat.”

Apart from the Nov. 26 complaint about violations by Colombia, on Sept. 17, Nicaragua had asked the Court to rule on the delimitation of the continental shelf between Nicaragua and Colombia beyond the traditional 200 miles from the Nicaraguan coast. Nicaragua and Honduras have an extensive continental shelf extending far out into the Caribbean. The shelf does not come near to the coasts of either Colombia or Costa Rica, both of which countries are challenging Nicaragua’s claim. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 6; http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/155/17980.pdf; La Prensa, Feb. 7; http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3&p2=2&case=154

3. Constitutional amendments now in force

On Monday, Feb. 11, the amendments to the Nicaraguan constitution were published in the official publication La Gaceta and went into effect. They were passed at the end of last year and approved again in the required second vote on January 29. The amendments change the constitution to reflect the expanded territorial waters in the Caribbean recognized by the World Court in 2012. In the realm of elections, they eliminate term limits for all offices and allow presidential candidates to win with a plurality of votes. Women must now make up half of each party’s slate for all electoral offices at both national and local levels.

As noted previously in this News Bulletin, several last-minute changes were made to the slate of amendments before the 2013 vote. The president will be able to issue decrees in “administrative matters” rather than “with force of law” as in the first draft. Members of the Army and Police will be able to hold office in the executive branch only “temporarily” for reasons of national need. The model of alliance with the private sector (large, small and cooperative) was changed to eliminate the idea of “shared responsibility.” The earth will not be “venerated” but rather only “loved, cared for, and regenerated.” The phrase “direct democracy” was changed to say that the people will exercise power “in a direct form.” The phrase “family cabinets” was changed to “territorial assemblies”. Telecommunications will not be controlled by the government but rather regulated, and data bases will not have to be in Nicaragua. The earlier version stated that the nation’s airwaves would be the property of the state and that the communications media would have to use the national radio spectrum and satellite communications rather than foreign carriers.

Persons unknown were able to hack into the web page of La Gaceta and temporarily block its appearance on the internet. However, the constitution establishes that a law has to be published with ink on paper in order to go into force so the interference with the web page had no effect. The hacking was probably done by members of the opposition who had come out firmly against the amendments. (Informe Pastran, Feb. 10, 11;http://digesto.asamblea.gob.ni/iunp/docspdf/gacetas/2014/2/g26.pdf; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 9) 

4. Chronic kidney disease could be caused by agrochemicals doctors say

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 24,000 people have died in Nicaragua and El Salvador from chronic kidney disease (CKD), a fivefold increase in the past twenty years. The disease affects principally workers in the sugar cane fields. In most countries the disease affects people over 70 years of age but, among cane worker, the disease hits the young. Many believe that the epidemic is caused by dehydration in the fields under the hot tropical sun. Others say that it could be that the workers chew on the cane and the combination of dehydration with cane juice would contribute to the disease. But Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, says, “People have been sweating and getting dehydrated in the sugar cane fields for hundreds of years, at least since the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. Why are we seeing these cases now?” One answer is agrochemicals. A 2012 CKD study in Sri Lanka found two toxic metals, cadmium from fertilizers and arsenic from pesticides, in the blood of farm workers in rice fields who suffered from kidney disease. WHO experts suggest that continuous exposure to these metals could explain the elevated levels of CKD in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Meanwhile, Ramon Vanegas, director of a dialysis center in Managua, said that Nicaragua does not have the capacity to treat all the cases of chronic kidney disease in the country. Vanegas, who on Feb. 5 marked the first anniversary of his clinic, said that while “kidney disease occurs in all parts of the world, it occurs more in poor countries where the demand for dialysis is greater than the supply.” He emphasized that the alternative is prevention. (Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 8; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 6) 

5. Universities adding career paths to qualify students for Grand Canal work 

The National Council of Universities (CNU) announced that Nicaragua’s 50 public and private universities and university branches will initiate courses this year to educate “highly qualified” personnel to work for the “Grand Canal”. The Grand Canal is an inter-oceanic shipping canal megaproject which will connect the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea with a deeper and wider alternative to the Panama Canal. The project also includes a railroad, two deep water ports, airports and free trade zones. President Daniel Ortega has said construction will begin by the end of 2014 if feasibility and environmental impact studies support its construction. The CNU announced that it will work to prepare Nicaraguan university students for jobs building and operating the canal and in social and economic areas where the canal will create changes. Areas include project management, oceanic studies, tourism, and agriculture, among others. The European Union announced that it will support the effort with a US$20.4 million grant to strengthen technical and professional education, and the CNU is looking into partnering with universities in Panama, Spain, and Italy. The canal and associated projects are projected to cost US$40 billion. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 6; Informe Pastran, Feb. 6; La Prensa, Feb. 5)

6. School year begins “on a good footing”

Marlon Siu, the newly appointed vice-minister of education, said that the new school year began on Monday, Feb. 10, with one million students registered and the expectation that 600,000 more will sign up before the registration period ends in rural areas at the end of March. “We are going at a good pace and we are optimistic that we will even exceed our goals at some of the levels,” he said. Education Minister Miriam Raudez said that this year special attention was being given to continuing education in rural areas and that the extension of the registration period until the end of March in those areas would allow adolescents and young adults to finish working in the coffee, tobacco, and other harvests before returning to school.

The Education Ministry also announced that it is moving forward with the training of more than 4,000 public secondary school teachers without degrees. Taking part are all the branches of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) as well as the branches of the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua (URACCAN). Telemaco Talavera, president of the National Council of Universities, said that of the 4,000 teachers participating in the program, 800 are from the Caribbean region of the country. (Informe Pastran, Feb. 10; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 6) 

7. Army thwarts Bosawas land invaders

The Army’s Ecological Battalion thwarted three invasions of indigenous land in the Bosawas Nature Preserve this past Tuesday. They seized the vehicles at two traffic check points and returned the 27 people from three families to their places of origin. One vehicle, traveling in the direction of Kukalaya at night, held 14 head of cattle, a horse and a mule in addition to five adults and two children. The people were returned to Mulukuku. Another vehicle transporting 10 cattle, three horses, and 11 people was stopped and the people were returned to Boaco. The third vehicle carried 13 cattle, a horse and 11 people from Wilicon in Rio Blanco heading to Miranda in the municipality of Bonanza. As reported in recent News Bulletins, indigenous communities with communal title to land in Nicaragua’s largest nature preserve, are demanding that the government crack down on illegal mestizo colonizers who are deforesting the preserve primarily for cattle ranching. Recently four land traffickers were arrested and will be tried for illegally selling property in the Bosawas to would-be peasant colonizers. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 8) 

8. Drought resistant seeds increase yields in Esteli 

Drought resistant corn and bean seeds introduced by the government in the department of Esteli, as well as training in new environment-friendly farming methods for small and medium scale agricultural producers, have produced much greater yields in corn and beans in the last two planting cycles, according to Jose Angel Rugama, Esteli regional delegate of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Farmers in Esteli harvested 300,000 hundredweights of beans whereas in earlier agricultural cycles they have harvested about 240,000 hundredweights. Yields using the new seeds and methods rose to 15-17 hundredweights per manzana (1.74 acres) from previous yields of about 12 hundredweights per manzana for red beans. Corn yielded 28 hundredweights per manzana. Esteli produces 18% of the national production of basic grains, most of which are consumed nationally. 45,000 manzanas of land are devoted to basic grain and vegetable production in the department. Of that, 20,000 are planted to red beans and 3,000 acres are devoted to growing black beans for export to Mexico and Venezuela. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 6)

9. Bristol International Women’s Day event on March 8th   Ambassador to attend

Tickets are now on sale from the Mshed shop for the event featuring Margarita Espinoza, womens equality worker and Fairtrade coffee producer from Jinotega, Nicaragua plus the regional premiere of the new Nicaraguan documentary “In the house, in bed and on the streets”. The film will be introduced by Nicaraguan Ambassador to the UK Senora Guisell Morales-Echaverry. Atuki Turner from Ugandan NGO Mifumi and Gwendolyn Serk from Rape Crisis (SASARS) will discuss violence against women. And Makala Cheung and the Cat’s Pyjamas will also perform plus Fairtrade wine and nibbles.

 

Nicaragua news December 17, 2013

This weekly news bulletin is the successor to the Nicaragua News Service and Nicaragua Network Hotline. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit the Nicaragua Network.

1. World Court decision interpreted differently by Nicaragua and Costa Rica
2. National Assembly passes 2014 budget; solid growth predicted
3. Illegally hooked up electricity customers have to “legalize”
4. Indigenous denounce invasion by “colonizers”
5. Women’s and Children’s police stations increase as do solidarity volunteers
6. Sugar is Nicaragua’s fifth highest export
7. Regional environmental groups meet on mining issues
__________________________________________________________

1. World Court decision interpreted differently by Nicaragua and Costa Rica

On Dec. 13, the International Court of Justice at The Hague (World Court) issued a decision on a request by Nicaragua for provisional measures against Costa Rica pertaining to environmental damage caused by the 130 kilometer-long road the latter country has built along the San Juan River. The measures would be temporary, pending resolution by the Court of the boundary dispute between the two countries expected in late 2014 or early 2015. The Court “concluded that the petition of provisional measures cannot be considered” because Nicaragua “did not demonstrate the urgency” of the measures. The judges added that the issue will be resolved in the Court’s final ruling on the San Juan River case.

Nicaragua had asked the Court to mandate that Costa Rica carry out three provisional measures: 1) Conduct an environmental impact study of the road; 2) Carry out mitigation tasks based on that study; and 3) Stop construction on the road until the final ruling on the case.

The Court said that Nicaragua had not contested Costa Rica’s estimate that the road only contributed 1%-2% of the sediment in the river and did not demonstrate how the road damaged the different species living in the river or what species might be affected. The Court noted that Costa Rica had already promised to present a study of environmental damage from the road on Dec. 19. The Court also said that Costa Rica had recognized that it had the obligation not to cause damage with the construction of the road in its territory and to take the appropriate measures to prevent such damage and had recognized the need to take action to remedy and mitigate the damages already caused by the poor planning and execution of the road in 2011.

Nicaragua’s representative before the Court, Carlos Argüello, said that the ruling would mean that Costa Rica would stop work on the road at least through 2014. He said that the road caused environmental damage to Costa Rica itself, adding, “If this decision of the Court puts a stop to that and paralyzes things so that they are studied well, then I believe that it is an achievement for Nicaragua and for Costa Rica because in the end both will benefit.”

Costa Rica appeared to understand the Court’s ruling slightly differently although it was unclear exactly how differently. On Dec. 14, President Laura Chinchilla said that her country would continue work on the road once the dry season sets in, addressing the impact of the previous rainy season. She admitted that errors had been committed but said “they were inflated to an infinite degree and the value of the road was ignored.” Chinchilla confirmed that Costa Rica was preparing an 800 page document evaluating the impact of the road on the environment that will be released on Dec. 19.

Costa Rican Minister of Public Works Pedro Castro said that in January a decision will be made on the design for the remaining sections of the road and bidding will begin in mid-year. But, in mid-year the rainy season begins again so it is unclear exactly when construction would resume. Castro said that about US$40 million had been invested in the road with its completion probably needing another US$60 million. La Prensa described it as “a rustic road almost impassible for vehicles.” It was begun in 2011 but suspended a year later after accusations surfaced of corruption in the use of millions of dollars of government funds, one of the worst scandals of the Chinchilla administration. (La Prensa, Dec. 13; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 13, 14; Informe Pastran, Dec. 13, 16) 

2. National Assembly passes 2014 budget; national and international officials predict solid growth 

On Dec. 11, the National Assembly debated and passed the national budget for 2014 with 66 “yes” votes from the Sandinista deputies and 23 “no” votes from the opposition. With US$2.2 billion in appropriations, this budget is US$320 million larger than the budget for 2013. The amount allocated to education is 22% greater than last year while the budget for health is 21% greater. Jose Figueroa, vice-chair of the Economy and Budget Committee, said that 60% of the budget is allocated to programs to reduce poverty and guarantee food security. He added that the budget assigns more money to health, education, affordable housing, and farm-to-market roads while guaranteeing the continuation of subsidies for electricity, water, and transportation for low income citizens. Committee chair Walmaro Gutierrez also mentioned credit for producers and citizen security as priorities reflected in the budget.

However, opposition Deputy Maria Eugenia Sequeira accused the government of implementing social programs such as Zero Hunger “in a political way to exalt the cult of personality” around President Daniel Ortega. Sequiera asserted that 2014 is threatened by continued economic crisis in both advanced and emerging economies and by a deterioration in Venezuela’s economic situation and therefore revenues will not be sufficient to finance the public investment and social policies included in the budget.

Meanwhile, government agencies and international organizations appear to agree that Nicaragua’s growth rate for 2013 will be near 5% with a predicted rate of around 5% for 2014. Central Bank President Alberto Guevara said the Bank predicted that Nicaragua’s growth rate for 2013 will be 5% and that growth for next year will be similar. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) predicted that Nicaragua will probably reach 4.6% growth for 2013 sustained by growth in construction, manufacturing, commerce and public services. CEPAL reported that Nicaragua is showing the fifth highest growth rate in Latin America, after Paraguay at 13%, Panama at 7.5%, Bolivia with 6.4% growth, and Peru with 5.2%. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was more conservative pegging Nicaragua’s 2013 growth rate at 4.25% while noting that the country’s macroeconomic situation was “favorable.”

Economist Alejandro Arauz told Informe Pastran that the agricultural sector grew 6.3% in 2013 with an increase in production for traditional crops like corn and beans and non-traditional crops like honey, cacao, chia, root crops, and other vegetables, making up for the drop in price on the world market for coffee, traditionally Nicaragua’s principal export crop.

Central Bank President Guevara pointed out that exports dropped in 2013 by US$28 million from 2012 mainly because of the drop in coffee prices but this drop would have been much greater if exports from the nation’s free trade zones had not risen by 12%, from US$1.6 billion to US$1.8 billion by October, with the year’s total FTZ exports expected to reach US$2.1 billion. Exports are expected to reach a grand total of US$4.6 billion which includes FTZ exports for which the country receives no tax benefits and ordinary exports for which it receives substantial export tax revenue. This year beef was the leading export, followed by gold, with coffee coming in third. Ovidio Reyes, general manager of the Central Bank, added that economic activity in the country increased by 10% in 2013 with dynamism seen in construction, fisheries, investments, and remittances. Remittances (money sent home by Nicaraguans living abroad) are expected to finish the year with a record of US$1.1 billion.(Informe Pastran, Dec. 11, 13, 16; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 12, 14; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 13)

3. Illegally hooked up electricity customers have to “legalize” 

On Dec. 15 the 180 day grace period for electricity consumers hooked up illegally to Nicaragua’s electricity grid to put themselves in compliance with the six month old Energy Stability Law ended. Residents have been forming long lines at the offices of the electricity company for days having postponed until the final moment arranging a payment plan and installing a functioning meter. The company estimates that it loses US$50 million yearly due to illegal connections not principally by poor barrio dwellers but by commercial and agricultural enterprises and also due to technical faults in the lines.

Marvin Pomares of the Consumer Defense Institute said that some 230,000 households have illegal connections and only 25% of those have been able to “legalize” their electricity consumption. He asked for a three month postponement of enforcement of the law which establishes fines and even jail time for those who do not pay their fines. Pomares said, “People are frightened; they’re afraid they will end up in jail because they are confused,” not realizing that legalization is free and the penalties will be applied only to those who earn three times the minimum wage and consume more than 200 kilowatt hours per month. Jail time is reserved for those who illegally consume more than US$390 worth of electricity per month.

According to the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Nicaraguans pay the most in Central America for their electricity at US$0.28 per kilowatt hour. Of the 920,326 customers of the Spanish-owned electricity distribution company TSK Melfosur, some 697,176 use fewer than 150 kilowatt hours per month and receive a government subsidy. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 14, 16; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 16; La Prensa, Dec. 15) 

4. Indigenous denounce invasion by “colonizers”

Indigenous from the territories of Wangki Twi, Twi Yahbra, Amasau y Prinsu, in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) denounced the invasion in their areas by “colonizers” from the Central and Pacific regions of the country when they met with regional authorities, representatives of government institutions, and civil society organizations at a gathering sponsored by the Masangni Cooperative of Professionals and the Foundation for the Autonomy and Development of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (FADCANIC).

At the gathering, noteworthy for the presence of women and young people, Daysi Clevan Pantin said that the colonizers are taking more and more of their lands, adding, “Those people, the colonizers, are transforming the traditional world of the indigenous people; there is no security; we fear for our lives.” She stated that people cannot go out securely to their fields because “the colonizers are heavily armed… [so] we are demanding that the government urgently carry out a cleanup plan in which we women are prepared to participate.” She went on to say that the colonizers chop down 500 hectares at a time in order to make pasture to graze cattle, adding, “The water is running out. No one stops the colonizers who daily destroy more forest and it is not considered by the government that these practices mean more poverty for our communities.”

Meanwhile, Colonel Nestor Lopez admitted that, while the Army has dedicated substantial forces to controlling illegal logging in the nature reserves and indigenous territories, those efforts have not been enough to stop the devastation. He said that the Army’s Ecological Battalion in September prevented 90 families from setting up new farms in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve. Lopez said, “They were 90 people, each with two, three or four family members, ready to settle with their plastic tarps, axes, machetes, hammers, pots and pans, beans and everything with which to confront adverse situations.” He added that often colonizer families are sent by others to create the conditions and “once they are settled [those who sent them] begin to open up the forest.” It is estimated that just since 2010, the Bosawas has lost 150,000 hectares of forest.

On the other hand, between 2007 and 2012, the government’s National Reforestation Campaign on 94,448 hectares has planted trees, managed the regeneration of native plants, and set up agro-forest and agro-pasture systems, principally in degraded zones in high risk watersheds. This has improved the quality of life for over 70,000 families in the departments of Managua, Leon, Chinandega, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Esteli, Madriz, Nuevo Segovia, Masaya, Granada, Carazo, Rivas, Rio San Juan and the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 10; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 12) 

5. Women’s and Children’s police stations increase as do solidarity volunteers 

Deputy Director of the National Police Javier Maynard and Erlinda Castillo, chief of police of the Women’s and Children’s Police Stations, attended the 7th National Conference of Voluntary Solidarity Promoters in Managua. Maynard told the group that 61 Women’s and Children’s police stations were inaugurated in 2013 for a national total now of 153 stations providing attention in cases of violence against women and children. Castillo said more than 100 investigators were added this year and the stations were strengthened with the hiring of civilian personnel specializing in psychology, social work, and legal expertise. Maynard also reported that there are now 4,527 volunteer solidarity promoters, 50 of whom are men. The promoters groups, which were formed in 2008, have conducted 62,414 preventative and proactive activities throughout the country including door to door trainings concerning women’s and children’s rights to be free of violence. Castillo reported that there have been 58 murders of women and girls in 2013, mostly in the North and South Autonomous Regions and the departments of Matagalpa and Jinotega. (La Prensa, Dec. 13)

6. Sugar is Nicaragua’s fifth highest export 

Nicaraguan sugar exports rose 4.6% in 2013 and December deliveries will raise earnings to a total of US$220 million, making it the country’s fifth export product in terms of value. This represents half a million tons of sugar, a record according to Mario Amador, president of Conazucar. If one includes the products derived from sugar such as molasses, rum, ethanol, and alcohol, the total value is expected to reach US$300 million. Sugar was the first product commercialized under the Central America and European Association Accord (free trade agreement) that went into effect on Oct. 23. Also boosting sugar exports is the fact that sugar forms part of the cooperation between Nicaragua and Venezuela under the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA). Venezuela is the biggest importer of Nicaraguan sugar followed by the US, Canada, Taiwan, and Europe. A Venezuelan cargo ship picked up 15,000 tons of raw sugar at the Port of Corinto last week as part of Nicaragua’s payment for oil under the Ruta ALBA-Petrocaribe project. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 12, 2013) 

7. Regional environmental groups meet on mining issues

Nicaragua hosted a meeting of Central American environmental groups on the issue of mining with an emphasis on non-compliance with indigenous and tribal rights. The group issued a statement saying the rights of these groups “are being systematically ignored through the violation of domestic laws and international conventions on these matters.” The organizations demanded the creation and implementation of policies of development which “respect fundamental human, economic, and social rights, above all the right to life, water, and a healthy environment.”

Nicaragua, which has not seen the large scale protests and militarized suppression that have occurred in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, has seen a rapid growth in the amount of territory in which exploration or exploitation concessions have been granted. The Humboldt Center, an environmental organization, reported at the meeting that 12% of Nicaraguan territory is under metal mining concessions of one type or another for a total of 16,886.17 sq. km. That is up from less than 9,000 sq. km. in 2009. There are 48 active gold and silver concessions and 126 inactive ones belong to 54 mining companies. Tania Sosa, an advocacy officer for the Humboldt Center, said that 4,156.02 sq. km. of environmentally protected areas are under concession with another 6,784.9 sq. km. where concessions are being sought. (La Prensa, Dec. 11)

Nicaragua news 11 December 2013

This weekly news bulletin is the successor to the Nicaragua News Service and Nicaragua Network Hotline. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit the Nicaragua Network.

  1. 1.     Nicaraguans celebrate “La Purísima”
    2. National Assembly approves “on first reading” package of constitutional amendments
    3. Ortega opens door to dialogue with bishops
    4. Ortega receives Honduras’ president elect in Managua
    5. 2013 to end with many more homes electrified
    6. New coffee law expected
    7. Ortega congratulates Maduro on election victory
    ________________________________________________________
    1. Nicaraguans celebrate “La Purísima”On the night of Dec. 7, in spite of rain in some areas (including downpours in Jinotega), Nicaraguans poured into the streets to sing hymns to the Virgin Mary at neighborhood altars and receive treats of sugar cane, sweet lemons, and traditional candies. The Dec. 8th Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which celebrates the Catholic belief that Mary was born without the original sin of Adam in order to be a fit mother of Jesus, is a national holiday in Nicaragua. The eve of the holiday is known as the gritería or “shouting” because, after signing hymns, neighbors shout, “What is the cause of such happiness?” and householders answer “The conception of Mary!” before passing out the treats.

    In Leon, where the gritería began 157 years ago, Bishop Cesar Bosco Vivas initiated the celebration which was accompanied in the streets by fireworks, drums, and the traditional giant puppets famous in that city. Historian Jorge Eduardo Arellano pointed out in El Nuevo Diario that prayers to the Virgin Mary on Dec. 8 began in Granada in 1675 when the city was threatened by attacks by British and Dutch pirates. The gritería began in Leon in 1856 at the time of another great threat—that of the U.S. filibusterer William Walker. Arellano states that the gritería is authentically Nicaraguan and marks a day when everyone is equal, children of the same mother, and therefore brothers and sisters.

    Complaints were heard from sellers of fireworks that sales were down this year. Richard Castillo, who sells fireworks at four stalls in Esteli, said that last year he sold US$120 to US$200 in fireworks at each stall but this year he had only sold about US$25. This news was surely well received by the Ministry of Health which had released a statement hoping for no burn injuries during the Purisima and Christmas holidays and containing recommendations for safe handling of fireworks. Sale of the explosives is prohibited to children and people under the influence of alcohol. In the days before the feast, sellers of the traditional candies were, in contrast, doing a good business. Juan Pascual, who makes several different candies from coconut, corn, molasses, peanuts and other ingredients, said, “Our sales have been super good because we have accessible prices and we sell to individuals and government ministries that celebrate the holiday.”

    There were also reports in the Nicaraguan media of celebrations of the Purísima by Nicaraguans in Miami and Boston.(La Prensa, Dec. 6, 8; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 7; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 7) 

    2. National Assembly approves “on first reading” package of constitutional amendments

    On Dec. 10 the National Assembly approved on first reading (that is, in general) by a vote of 64 to 26 the package of amendments to Nicaragua’s constitution proposed by President Daniel Ortega. Each amendment will be voted on separately in the next few days. Sixty-three of the yes votes were from Sandinista deputies who were joined by opposition Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) Deputy Wilfredo Navarro. Twenty-six other opposition members voted no. The package of amendments must be voted on again in 2014 in order to go into effect. During the debate, opposition deputies spoke against the amendments while outside about 100 people held a rally against the reforms. Navarro was seriously questioned by his colleagues in the PLC which had proclaimed its “total opposition” to the amendments. The Independent Liberal Party (PLI) had proclaimed its “clear repudiation” of the reform package and all PLI deputies voted against it.

    Before the vote the members of the special committee made several last-minute changes as promised by President Ortega on Nov. 29. The president will be able to issue decrees in “administrative matters” rather than “with force of law.” Members of the Army and Police will be able to hold office in the executive branch only “temporarily” for reasons of national need. The model of alliance with the private sector (large, small and cooperative) was changed to eliminate the idea of “shared responsibility.” The earth will not be “venerated” but rather only “loved, cared for, and regenerated.” The phrase “direct democracy” was changed to say that the people will exercise power “in a direct form.” The phrase “family cabinets” was changed to “territorial assemblies”. While political parties were, in the first draft, assigned only to functions in the sphere of electoral processes, the change noted “their participation in the economic, political and social affairs of the country.” Telecommunications will not be controlled by the government but rather regulated, and data bases will not have to be in Nicaragua. The earlier version stated that the nation’s airwaves would be the property of the state and that the communications media would have to use the national radio spectrum and satellite communications rather than foreign carriers.

    While the changes were viewed favorably by many, others said that they did not go far enough. The president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), Jose Adan Aguerri, praised the telecommunications changes but said that other matters of concern were not addressed, among them the lack of term limits for the president which he said would not serve the country well. Aguerri also said that, once this process of amending the constitution is finished, the country needs a new electoral law. He stated, “Nicaragua needs to return credibility to the electoral system which it does not have today. Also, we have been saying for the last three years that it is necessary to name the high officials whose terms have expired.” (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 3, 5, 10; La Prensa, Dec. 4, 10; Informe Pastran, Dec. 4) 

    3. Ortega opens door to dialogue with bishops

    On Dec. 3, President Daniel Ortega and First Lady and National Communications Coordinator Rosario Murillo attended a luncheon with the Nicaraguan Bishops Conference at the residence of the Papal Nuncio in Nicaragua, Bishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, which appears to have broken the ice for future dialogue between Ortega and the bishops. The occasion was the visit to Nicaragua of Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez of the Dominican Republic, sent by Pope Francis as his representative at the celebration of the centennial of the Archdiocese of Managua which had taken place the previous day. Bishop Rene Sandigo said upon leaving the three hour long luncheon, “It was an encounter, shall we say, to bring us closer together. I believe that this can open the possibility that in the future we can all work [together] for the growth of the country.” Cardinal Lopez had evidently invited all to dialogue and that was repeated by Ortega who, after apologizing for the confrontations with the Church in the 1980s, offered the bishops a new period of relations. Esteli Bishop Abelardo Mata, normally a ferocious opponent of the government, said, “The atmosphere was one of great fraternity.”

    Then Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez said, speaking of Ortega’s offer of dialogue, “I want to believe the President of the Republic and the words he said at the end when we were leaving, very brief but substantial, I believe them…. I want to believe them because I want the best for my country that I love so much. I want to believe that this dialogue that he offers us is true. We have to prepare the road and it is a long process of establishing the conditions…, but it did come from him in an atmosphere that was not a work atmosphere but a happy one. We were friends.”

    But La Prensa headlined: “Ortega seduces bishops with dialogue,” quoting Baez as saying the president and first lady were “charming” and “kind”. But La Prensa then had to publish a “clarification” from the bishop in which Baez said, “I have not let myself be ‘seduced’ by dialogue with Ortega. I have my own ideas and do not play both sides. I only said that I want to believe in that possibility. Nevertheless, I am not so ingenuous as to think that the possibility of dialogue with someone who we said in our letter [to the National Assembly committee on the constitutional amendments] governs in an ‘autocratic and abusive’ manner [will be easy]. But, why not leave the door open?” Then Baez quoted from a July statement by Pope Francis saying, “Today, either we bet on dialogue and the culture of the encounter or we lose everything.”

    Meanwhile, other groups said that they wanted to participate in dialogue with the president. Assembly of God leader Saturnino Serrato said that his church had been asking Ortega for dialogue without success and now he urged the president to meet with the evangelical churches “so that there will be peace in the country, in the society.” National Assembly Deputy Alberto Lacayo of the Independent Liberal Party said, that dialogue should begin immediately, adding that no one wants to go back to the conflicts of the 1980s. “He [Ortega] shouldn’t just sit down with the business leadership…he should listen to those who have less and form a national consensus so that the country will follow the path of democracy and liberty,” Lacayo said. (Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 3; Informe Pastran, Dec. 5, 6; La Prensa, Dec. 6) 

    4. Ortega receives Honduras’ president elect in Managua

    On Dec. 4, President Daniel Ortega met with president elect of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernandez in Managua and sent back with him a greeting to the Honduran people, to outgoing President Porfirio Lobo and former President Manuel Zelaya with whom he noted that his Sandinista government had had the opportunity to work closely. Ortega told Hernandez that the people of Nicaragua want to consolidate good relations with the people of neighboring countries, in particular with Honduras and to continue working for peace and for the integration of the Central American region. He emphasized that a principal challenge is that of fighting poverty and, in order to do that, the scourge of drug trafficking and organized crime must be overcome. Ortega said that he had also conversed with Hernandez about joint efforts to confront epidemics such as the current outbreak of dengue fever which has affected all of Central America. “Let’s not limit ourselves to communication but rather implement actions also toward better protecting the lives of families in Honduras and Nicaragua.

    Hernandez said that he was committed to joining forces toward eradicating drug trafficking and was especially interested in learning about the government social programs that have had such success in Nicaragua. He said he had spoken with Ortega about “best practices for attention to the most vulnerable sectors and about how we could share those things that could bring a good life to our societies.”

    There were several analyzes of Ortega’s reasons for being among the first to recognize Hernandez’s election when in 2009 he had supported Zelaya after he was overthrown in a military coup and during the election campaign when he had expressed support for Xiomara Castro, the candidate of the LIBRE Party and Zelaya’s wife. Former foreign minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa said that Ortega has been portrayed in some foreign media as an international trouble maker because of the current conflicts with Colombia and Costa Rica and in this case he gains points as a good neighbor, a “Central Americanist,” and “assures good relations with the neighbor to the north for four more years.” Informe Pastran pointed out that Honduran media outlets emphasized that Ortega and Hernandez had spoken about trilateral cooperation in the Gulf of Fonseca (which borders Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador and where there are some points of conflict) and collaboration between municipalities along the shared Honduran-Nicaraguan border, two more reasons for promoting good relations with the man that Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal has recognized as winning the presidential election in spite of challenges from the opposition. (Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 4; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 3, 5; Informe Pastran, Dec. 6, 9) 

    5. 2013 to end with many more homes electrified

    Engineer Salvador Mansell of the National Electrical Transmission Company (ENATREL) reported that by the end of 2013 more than 55,000 rural homes will have been newly provided with electricity. In addition, electricity is expected to arrive at 30 villages serving another 12,000 homes. He also reported that within the next few days two electrical substations will be installed in Boaco and Puerto Sandino. Substations will also be installed serving neighborhoods in Rivas, La Virgen, Malpaisillo, Mulukuku, Terrabona, Ocotal, Yali, and other zones. As reported last week, Nicaragua is one of 65 countries that made a commitment in 2012 to universal access to electricity for its population. Mansell said that the goal for 2014 is to electrify another 25,000 rural homes and to construct 300 kilometers of transmission cable in Bilwi and Waspam at a cost of US$30 million. Currently power in those regions is inefficient and unreliable with constant power outages.

    Danilo Hernandez of the projects department of the Caribbean Coast Development Council reported that homes in Pearl Lagoon, in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, now have electricity and that Set Net Point is scheduled to begin receiving electricity by Dec. 24. This is the first time either Afro-descended community has had access to electricity.(Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 3; La Prensa, Dec. 4) 

    6. New coffee law expected

    Nicaraguan coffee producers and the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) expect and support the passage this week of a new Law of Coffee Cultivation which includes the creation of a Fund for Transformation and Development of Coffee Cultivation. Coffee is one of Nicaragua’s most important exports and areas of employment. The coffee industry has been hit hard by the coffee rust disease, low international prices, and low yields from aging coffee bushes.

    The new law will insure that credit is available to replace diseased plants and for private and cooperative producers to modernize their production in sustainable ways. A new advisory board will include four representatives of private producers and cooperatives. The law includes a sliding scale fee per hundredweight of coffee based on international prices. The Center of Exports and Investments reported that through Dec. 5, Nicaraguan exports earned US$2.358 billion of which US$368 million was for coffee. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 9)

    7. Ortega congratulates Maduro on election victory

    President Daniel Ortega congratulated Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) on its victory in the Sunday, Dec. 8 municipal elections. The PSUV won over 58% of the vote and 196 of 337 municipalities. The election was seen as a test of Maduro’s presidency which he won a year ago by a razor thin margin after the death of Hugo Chavez. Ortega’s statement referred to the fact that in two months Nicaragua will mark the 80th anniversary of the assassination of Gen. Augusto C. Sandino “who so admired and was so inspired by Bolivar.” (Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 9)

 

Nicaragua News October 8, 2013

This weekly news bulletin is the successor to the Nicaragua News Service and Nicaragua Network Hotline. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit the Nicaragua Network.

1. Government presents proposal for Social Security “adjustment”
2. Poll shows desire for more and better paying jobs, continued support for government
3. New financing for projects announced
4. DR-CAFTA pushing pork producers out of business
5. NYC mayoral frontrunner attacked for past Sandinista support
6. Army halts illegal logging and business group calls for “certified wood” sales
7. Nicaragua advances against child labor
______________________________________________________________

1. Government presents proposal for Social Security “adjustment”

On Oct. 3, the government announced its proposals for what was called an “adjustment” to the nation’s Social Security system, rather than a major “reform,” evidently taking into account economic instability in the United States and financial crises in Europe along with the recent drop in the prices of Nicaragua’s principal export crops. With the proposed measures, government spokespeople said that the economic viability of the National Social Security Institute (INSS) would be assured for another 22 years, that is, until 2036. The government’s seven proposals were 1) an increase in the employer’s portion of the social security tax of 3% (from 16 to 19%) over a period of three years; 2) an increase in the maximum taxable earnings from US$18,000 (per year) to US$35,000; 3) a yearly payment by the government of US$11.6 million (2% of US$580 million) to begin paying off a historical debt to Social Security that dates back to the time of the Somozas; 4) adjustments in the formulas for setting the amounts of new pensions and 5) yearly increases; 6) the creation of a system for voluntary retirement savings; and finally 7) a commitment to continue policies leading to a growth in permanent, formal sector jobs.

Presidential economic advisor Bayardo Arce explained that, under the government’s proposal, pensions would not increase according to increases in the minimum wage but rather according to increases in the average salary. He pointed out that since 2005 the average salary has increased by 93% while the minimum wage has risen by 237% (about 12% per year). [This would appear to indicate that Nicaragua is moving gradually toward greater equality, away from its traditional extreme economic inequality.] Arce said, “That is to say that the yearly raise in the pensions is going to be less; they will receive less.”

Business and labor groups had 30 days in which to make counter proposals to those of the government. Jose Adan Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), said, “This proposal responds to the request that we made for the costs to be shared. We also commit ourselves to continue generating more formal sector jobs in order for the number of workers paying into Social Security to grow by 7% yearly.”

On Oct. 5, twenty-one unions and union federations signed a proposal which, while it accepted many of the proposals made by the government, differed in some important respects. The workers want the government to begin paying off its debt to Social Security at a rate of over 4% instead of 2%, maintain the current method of calculating new pensions for low wage workers, and establish that yearly increases take into account an inflation rate of 5%. Gustavo Porras, leader of the National Workers Front (FNT), said, “We are saying, ‘Save us from inflation’ so that our pensions aren’t devalued. The INSS says that the increases in the minimum wage are a pressure so we agree to go with the average salary.”

Manuel Israel Ruiz, an expert in Social Security matters, said that the debt to the INSS should be paid off more quickly. However, former Central Bank president Mario Arana said that the government’s proposal is reasonable because the funds with which the debt will be paid will be coming from the annual budget. He said, “What we give to the pensioners will be competing with expenditures in health, education and poverty reduction.” INSS president Roberto Lopez noted that in Nicaragua there are 10,000 people who earn between US$18,000 and US$450,000 (per year) and nearly 2,000 who earn over US$480,000. Ruiz pointed out that raising the maximum taxable earnings to US$35,000 would not affect those who earn the highest salaries and, in light of that, he suggested that the maximum could be raised even higher than US$35,000. Porras agreed saying, “Those who earn more should pay more.” (Informe Pastran, Oct. 3; El Nuevo Diario, Oct. 3, 5; Radio La Primerisima, Oct. 4)

2. Poll shows desire for more and better paying jobs, continued support for government 

CID Gallup released the results of its most recent poll on Oct. 1, saying that “all is the same” with a continued feeling that the country is heading in the right direction but also with a continuing concern about the need for more and better paying jobs. Those surveyed noted that the inability to cover basic needs still propels family members to emigrate in the hope of earning more money. What did not appear on the list of concerns were health care and cost of public utilities, possibly due to the government’s health programs and energy subsidies for poor families. Informe Pastran noted that, in the period since the last poll, the cost of the basic basket of consumer goods had not increased but people perceived that it was harder to stretch money for the goods they needed, leading one to suspect that people’s expectations were increasing. CID Gallup polled 1,222 people age 16 and older between Sept. 6 and 13.

The Sandinista Party has the support of 52% of those polled with support among all social groups and all ages. Only 6% said they supported the Constitutional Liberal Party; 3% supported the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) and 1% supported other parties. CID Gallup analysis noted, “Nicaragua is becoming a one-party political entity if the current situation continues. The FSLN receives the support of a united and constant group, in the face of an opposition ever more disunited, which assures one way or another continued Sandinista stability.” The figure with the highest level of popular support continues to be Aminta Granera, head of the National Police, with 81% approval. President Daniel Ortega is second with 56% and former presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre is third with 43%. Of those polled 48% classified as “very good” the performance of Ortega, 25% said “so-so” with another 25% saying “very bad.” While a large majority said there was corruption in the Ortega government, a similar majority also said the government was efficient.

On Oct. 7, a report from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, by Prof. John Booth entitled “Democratic Political Culture in Nicaragua” was released. It stated that 80.1% of adult Nicaraguans participate in general elections, 4% higher than the average for Latin America with men and women participating equally. Nicaragua ranks fourth in Latin America in community participation, according to the report. Those who protested were motivated by what they felt was discrimination by the government and the report noted that important factors here were the political polarization in the country and complaints about the last two electoral cycles. The communications media and the Army tied with highest approval ratings of 69%. The evangelical churches had an approval rating of 64.4% and the Catholic Church 62.7%. President Ortega received a 60.9% approval rating, followed by the Police at 60.5%, and then, in descending order, the Supreme Court, the National Assembly, the Supreme Electoral Council and the political parties. (Informe Pastran, Oct. 1, 7)

3. New financing for projects announced

EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs announced on Oct. 7 that the European Union was allocating a total of US$275 million for assistance to Nicaragua for the period 2014-2020. President Daniel Ortega said that the aid would help Nicaragua raise its productive capacity. Piebalgs said that the aid would be focused on education, economic and commercial development, and adaptation to climate change. While in Nicaragua, Piebalgs also met with the ministers of agriculture, education, and industry.

Piebalgs also signed an agreement with the National Police that would provide €10 million (US$13.4 million) for a project to support security on the Caribbean Coast entitled “Prevention and Control of Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking.” Among the projects planned in both the North and South Autonomous Regions, according to National Police Chief Aminta Granera, are Youth Formation Centers similar to the one in Managua. Piebalgs noted that EU collaboration with the Nicaraguan Police had begun with a forensic laboratory that was inaugurated in 2012.

Leon de la Torre, Ambassador of Spain in Nicaragua, announced that Spain is leading a fund that will provide US$300 million in financing to Nicaragua for water and sanitation projects in towns that have never had potable water systems. De la Torre said that, while Spain was providing the largest part, also collaborating were the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the European Investment Bank, and other individual nations. The duration of the project was not clear, but the efforts would logically take a number of years.

And finally, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) announced that it was providing US$200 million in backup fiscal support which, according to BCIE representative in Nicaragua Silvio Conrado, could help with any liquidity problems the government might have and increase confidence in the country’s fiscal and monetary stability. Nicaraguan Central Bank President Alberto Guevara explained that the slow recovery of the world economy and a deterioration in the prices of Nicaragua’s principal export crops could cause a liquidity problem for the Bank. This is the fourth renewal of this line of credit from the BCIE, according to Guevara. “Thank God we haven’t had to use it,” Guevara said, adding that “We wouldn’t vacillate in using it if the day came when we needed it.” Conrado said, “Nicaragua’s policies have enabled it to maintain stability even in the adverse conditions of the international economy and that shows prudence and responsibility when you have had the resources available but not used them.” (El Nuevo Diario, Oct. 1, 7; Radio La Primerisima, Oct. 6, 7; La Prensa, Oct. 6) 

4. DR-CAFTA pushing pork producers out of business

Each year the amount of pork that the United States can send to Nicaragua free of tariff charges increases by 10%, based on the 2005 trade agreement between the United States and the countries of Central America plus the Dominican Republic, known as DR-CAFTA. As a result, more Nicaraguan pork farms are being forced out of business. Milton Arcia, president of the National Association of Hog Farmers, said that of 56 large producers, eight had gone under. He stated, “The government there [in the US] provides incentives for the growers of sorghum. So there the price is about US$11 per hundredweight while here is US$16.” He added that the pork from the US is frozen and of lower quality but it is sold cheaper and people buy it. He explained that he used to have 6,000 sows but now has only 3,500 because he is expecting to close his business. “We have survived because I grew my own sorghum,” he said. Antonio Sujo, who runs a slaughterhouse, expressed the hope that the price of US pork would rise because of a virus that had lowered the number of piglets born in the US. “This broke the cycle of production… and is modifying the prices,” he explained. Sujo said that through the Zero Hunger Program the government was improving the nation’s pig herd and swine fever had been eliminated but that exports of pork and hogs on the hoof were still stalled. He did, however, have hopes that exports to El Salvador could begin in earnest soon.

There are products that can enter Nicaragua tariff-free currently but their volume has not been great enough to disturb the market, according to a report in El Nuevo Diario. Among them are fish and seafood, sweet corn, squash, okra, sugar cane, and liquors. However, there is some fear that when the tariffs come off peanuts, pineapple, peanut butter, fresh vegetables, cabbages, some cooking oil and others there will be more impact. Carlos Abaunza, who produces peanuts for export, said that he is not worried about problems with competition from US peanuts because Nicaraguan consumption of peanuts is very low. He said that only 1% of Nicaragua’s peanut production is consumed nationally. Most of it is exported to Mexico, Europe, Canada and the other countries of Central America. However, growers of pineapple are more concerned. Antonio Marenco said, “We destine almost 90% of our production for the national market and if pineapple comes in from the United States without paying anything it could lower our prices here.” Other products classified as “sensitive,” including beef, sugar, coffee, beans, rice, honey, cacao and some cooking oil, will have to wait another 8 to 13 years before they will be allowed to enter Nicaragua tariff free. (El Nuevo Diario, Oct. 1, 7)

5. NYC mayoral frontrunner attacked for past Sandinista support

Former Nicaragua solidarity activist Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, is the frontrunner for election as New York City’s next mayor. His main Republican opponent, John Lhota and right-wing New York media [in particular the New York Post] have launched a negative campaign against De Blasio (52 years old) based on his support as a 26 year old for the Sandinista Revolution. The New York Times called him a “child of the Left” and Lhota said his strategy for “class struggle” in New York is “straight out of the Marxist handbook.” De Blasio describes himself as a social democrat and says while he admires the Sandinistas he has strong critiques as well. De Blasio has defended himself, denying that his support of the Revolution was a “sin of youth” but rather that he was part of a movement opposed to President Ronald Reagan’s contra war and policies against Nicaragua. Former NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was the latest to attack De Blasio, calling him “anti-police.” The election is Nov. 5. (El Nuevo Diario, Oct. 3)

6. Army halts illegal logging and business group calls for “certified wood” sales

The Army has ordered a halt to logging within 15 kilometers of the border with Honduras in the Department of Nueva Segovia, even of species authorized by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources and the National Forestry Institute. The ban on logging is based on Law 749 which designates the border to be a protected zone. Enforcement of the law protects 41,200 hectares of forest in the municipalities of Dipilto and Jalapa. Col. Alcides Garmendia Cruz, flanked by Nueva Segovia prosecutor Holman Matamoros Artola at a press conference in Ocotal, explained that the Madesa company was discovered to have cut 31,000 cubic meters of pine in the zone. Col. Garmendia also said the army maintains surveillance in all protected areas in the region which are in a fragile state due to incessant logging, including Miraflores and the Somoto Canyon.

Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan Union for Socially Responsible Business (UNIRSE), called for logging companies to “better relate to the environment” by meeting the criteria for “certified wood” which will open larger markets in Europe and the United States. UNIRSE is comprised of 80 Nicaraguan companies. Out of about 4,000 Nicaraguan wood shops, only about a dozen use certified wood and there is only one environmentally managed tree farm producing timber. Marvin Centeno, president of the Nicaraguan Council of Forest Certification said that the other certified farms are not yet producing. In the past year Nicaragua exported US$7.3 million in processed wood, US$5.8 million in wood products, US$2.9 million in sawn timber, US$1.9 million in paper products, and US$1.5 million in furniture. (El Nuevo Diario, Oct. 3; La Prensa, Oct. 6)

7. Nicaragua advances against child labor

Last week the International Labor Organization (ILO) recognized Nicaragua for its campaign to eliminate child labor, a priority of the Sandinista government. Alba Luz Torres, Minister of Labor (MITRAB), said that so far this year the ministry has conducted 2,496 inspections and found 1,854 children employed in violation of the law. MITRAB has also signed 2,065 agreements with coffee farmers not to employ children in exchange for multi-agency support in the areas of education, security, health, and sports and recreation.

The Federation of Organizations of Local Development (FODEL) reported that Nicaragua has the third highest number of child laborers in Central America with 238,827. But, FODEL predicted that within three years eight Nicaraguan municipalities will be “child labor free”. FODEL concentrates on getting child laborers into the school system. Supported with a small grant from Holland, FODEL is working to eliminate child labor in the municipalities of Jinotega, Matagalpa, Condega, Leon, San Marcos, La Libertad, San Pedro de Lovago, and El Rama. (El Nuevo Diario, Oct. 3; La Prensa, Oct. 4)

August 27, 2013

This weekly news bulletin is the successor to the Nicaragua News Service and Nicaragua Network Hotline. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit the Nicaragua Network.

  1. Supreme Court rules Law against Violence toward Women constitutional
    2. 35th anniversary of takeover of National Palace commemorated
    3. 33rd anniversary of literacy campaign celebrated
    4. Electoral Council announces Caribbean Coast elections; some opposition groups unite
    5. FAO praises Nicaragua’s fight against hunger and announces lobster diver initiative
    6. COSEP proposes three year minimum wage agreement; unions doubtful
    7. Enforcement slowing deforestation in Bosawas Reserve
    8. PAHO promises dengue fever vaccine by 2015
    9. Climate change delays Olive Ridley turtle nesting
    __________________________________________________________________
    1. Supreme Court rules Law against Violence toward Women constitutionalOn Aug. 22, the Nicaraguan Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling declaring that Law 779, the Integral Law against Violence toward Women was constitutional. The Court rejected four separate challenges saying that the law complied with all requirements in the constitution and other previous legislation on the subject. The special courts created by the law had also been established in compliance with the constitution, the Supreme Court said. National Assembly Deputy Carlos Emilio Lopez, vice-chair of the Committee on Women, Children and Family, praised the decision saying that it would help to “eradicate the delay in justice which has negatively affected women.” Those who had opposed the law said that it would continue to privilege women over men and violate the principle of equality before the law.At the same time, the Court proposed that mediation, not included in the law as originally passed by the National Assembly, be allowed for less serious violations and first offenders. Law professor Arbel Medina said that he favored mediation, noting, “It is contradictory that the law permits mediation between people who do not know each other but not between couples who have shared a life together.” However, the Network of Women against Violence immediately responded that mediation would put women in a position of vulnerability. Johana Arcia of the Maria Elena Cuadra Women’s Movement said, “Mediation has been in many cases the anteroom to a woman becoming part of the statistics on femicide.”On Aug. 26, the Supreme Court sent to the Assembly a proposal to amend Law 779, noting that it is not congruent with Law 260 which establishes the possibility of mediation. The proposed amendment would allow mediation if the victim “freely agrees” in cases where there is no serious violence or intimidation. Sandinista representative to the Central American Parliament Doris Tijerino, chief of the Sandinista Police in the 1980s, said that she opposed the amendment because it is difficult for a woman to go through mediation with the man who has been hitting her.Meanwhile, the National Police reported that 32 new women’s police stations had opened and government communications coordinator Rosario Murillo announced that by the end of October, there would be women’s police stations in all the country’s municipalities. (La Prensa, Aug. 23; El Nuevo Diario, Aug. 24; Informe Pastran, Aug. 23; Radio La Primerisima, Aug. 22, 26)2. 35th anniversary of takeover of National Palace commemorated 

    August 22 was the 35th anniversary of the takeover of what was then the National Palace and among those gathered at the Plaza of the Revolution to remember the event were 12 of the original 25 members of the Sandinista commando. The National Palace is now the Palace of Culture, home to an outstanding museum, but it will always be remembered for those days in August 1978 when a group of Sandinistas, dressed and equipped as members of Somoza’s National Guard, took over the building with the Chamber of Deputies in full session. Among the legislators were a first cousin and a nephew of the dictator. The Sandinistas held the Palace for two days finally achieving the release of political prisoners and an undisclosed amount of money. In his speech, President Daniel Ortega said that the idea of taking over the National Palace had always been that of Eden Pastora, who became famous during the operation as Commander Zero. Ortega told how, earlier in 1978, he and Pastora had explained the operation to Cuban President Fidel Castro and when they took their leave, Pastora said to Castro, “Fidel, in your name, in your honor, the assault on the Palace will go forward.”

    Ortega said that eleven of the original members of the group had died while 14 were still living. Of those, he said he did not hesitate to recognize two who were not present at the plaza, Hugo Torres and Dora Maria Tellez, [Commanders One and Two in the operation] who, he said, “decided to form another political movement; it was their right.” He added that those are things that happen in all revolutions. But, he said, “Here they are all comandantes, all heroes, members of a heroic commando.” Ortega also recognized the mediation of Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, then archbishop of Managua, who “was able to make [Anastasio] Somoza see that if he tried to take the Palace back it would be a bloodbath and the blame would fall on him.” Finally, Ortega said, “We achieved the liberation of our comrades, and at the head was Tomas [Borge].” Borge died last year at the age of 81. (Radio La Primerisima, Aug. 23; Informe Pastran, Aug. 23; El Nuevo Diario, Aug. 24)

    3. 33rd anniversary of literacy campaign celebrated 

    On Aug. 23, the 33rd anniversary of the end of the five month long literacy campaign was celebrated. In his speech the night before, Ortega noted that thousands of young people had left from that same plaza and from plazas around the country to go into the countryside, into the mountains, into the villages and the neighborhoods to teach reading and writing and returned victorious on Aug. 23, 1980. National Assembly President Rene Nuñez told journalists that Nicaragua was able to reduce illiteracy from 52% of the population to 12.9% and he noted that the second step was the creation of a vice-minister for adult education marking a first time emphasis on the continued teaching of adults.

    Francisco Lacayo Parajon, former vice-minister of education and former director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Nicaragua, said that before beginning the campaign organizers studied the experiences of seven countries. Cuba, Spain and UNESCO helped fund the effort which began only eight months after the 1979 victory over Somoza. Lacayo remembered that there were problems at each step of the way, including obtaining eyeglasses for adult students and kerosene lamps for evening classes. “We worked like crazy,” he said, “but it was a national effort that merited the many international awards we received.” Juan Bautista Arrien, permanent secretary of UNESCO in Nicaragua, said that the government continues “to work with commitment” on adult literacy and education. Arrien noted that in March of 2006, the “Yes, I Can” campaign began in cities and towns [with Sandinista mayors] around Nicaragua in which over 125,000 people learned how to read and by July 2009, after a major effort by the central Sandinista government, the literacy was lowered to 3.5%.(Radio La Primerisima, Aug. 23; Informe Pastran, Aug. 23; El Nuevo Diario, Aug. 24) 

    4. Electoral Council announces Caribbean Coast elections; some opposition groups unite

    The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) announced on Aug. 23 that the election of regional council members and other officials in the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (the RAAN and the RAAS) will be held on March 2, 2014. CSE official Luis Alfonso Luna said that the political parties must present their lists of names for the regional electoral councils by Sept. 17 of this year and their provisional slates of candidates by Nov. 22. The campaign will begin on Jan. 16 and end on Feb. 26. Provisional election results will be announced on Mar. 11, 2014, and three days after that parties may present challenges to the results. The swearing in of the new regional authorities is scheduled for May 4. Voters in the autonomous regions have until Dec. 1 to apply for new voter identification cards.

    Meanwhile, some opposition political parties and civil society organizations came together in a Managua hotel to form a coalition called United for the Republic, which will be known as UNIR. Among those who signed the founding document were leaders of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), dissidents from the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), and representatives of other groups. Absent from the gathering were representatives from the Conservative Party or PLC leadership. Victor Hugo Tinoco, National Assembly Deputy for the MRS, said, “This is a coalition that is not an electoral alliance at this moment, but rather a social-political coalition … that represents 95% of the vote that doesn’t support [President Daniel] Ortega.” Carlos Tunnerman, also a dissident Sandinista, said that the coalition does not recognize the concession granted to Chinese businessman Wang Jing for the building of a shipping canal across Nicaragua.

    Eduardo Montealegre, a PLI leader, said that the PLC shouldn’t remain outside the coalition, “but the PLC has to change” intimating that it had to rid itself of its leader, former President Arnoldo Aleman. Montealegre admitted that he had differences with the MRS on a number of issues saying that he wouldn’t pretend that he could change them or they could change him. He asserted that he felt the opposition should sit down with the Sandinista Party, which has a super majority in the National Assembly, and negotiate the selection of the high level officials whose terms have run out and who continue to occupy their posts based on a presidential decree. He said that he would accept three Liberal magistrates out the seven who sit on the Supreme Electoral Council, all of whom have expired terms. He said, “I am of this opinion because I am pragmatic.” (La Prensa, Aug. 21, 23; Informe Pastran, Aug. 20, 21, 22; El Nuevo Diario, Aug. 22; Radio La Primerisima, Aug. 22) 

    5. FAO praises Nicaragua’s fight against hunger and announces lobster diver initiative

    UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director General Jose Graziano Da Silva praised the government of President Daniel Ortega for its progress in the fight against hunger and poverty during a tour of projects in the interior of the country. “Nicaragua is very advanced in its programs such as Zero Hunger and family agriculture, in its programs to promote fresh and healthy foods,” Graziano said. He said the FAO is thinking about ways to share Nicaragua’s programs with neighboring countries. Graziano also praised the Sandinista government’s school lunch program and its rapid advance in improving the nation’s food sovereignty and security. He noted the creation by the government of markets for fresh products such as eggs, milk, cheese, vegetables, and legumes which have nutritional values far superior to traditional products such as cereals and the promotion of family agriculture to meet local demand. Pedro Haslam, Minister of Family and Community Economy stated that the FAO is also helping to strengthen the small scale fishing industry on the Caribbean Coast and the transformation of the coffee culture.

    Expanding on the collaboration on the Caribbean Coast, Graziano stated that Nicaraguan lobster divers are being taken to Mexico to learn new ways of fishing for lobster that do not involve risks to their lives and health. “We are taking the fishermen to visit a community and fish with the Mexicans, to learn those new techniques and we think that with this … little by little this new way of fishing will be transmitted and they will make the substitution,” Graziano said. President Daniel Ortega said, “We have a law but it has been a challenge to put it into practice and now the FAO is accompanying us to comply with this law to the benefit of the population on the Coast.” While diving is relatively well paid, hundreds of mainly Miskito Indian divers have died or been permanently incapacitated from the bends when ascending after dives. (Radio La Primerisima, Aug. 22; Informe Pastran, Aug 23)

    6. COSEP proposes three year minimum wage agreement; unions doubtful 

    Jose Adan Aguerri, president of the Superior Council on Private Enterprise (COSEP), proposed last week that the government, the unions, and businesses negotiate the country’s minimum wage agreement for three years, as is done for workers in Free Trade Zones, instead of annually as has been the custom in recent years. He said that in the face of slow growth in the world economy and the recent drop in prices on the international market for Nicaragua’s principal exports—coffee, gold, and sugar—a three year minimum wage agreement would help the country become “more productive and competitive.” He asserted that the change would permit the private sector to stimulate more investment, generate stability and promote more employment. But Luis Barbosa of the CST-JBE union confederation said workers would have to see what benefits the private sector was willing to put on the table for workers in exchange for accepting that plan. “We can’t give the business people a blank check,” he said, adding, “Let’s see what they propose for after 2014, how many formal sector jobs they expect to generate and then we can see what possibilities there are for an agreement.” (El Nuevo Diario, Aug. 22; Informe Pastran, Aug. 23) 

    7. Enforcement slowing deforestation in Bosawas Reserve

    Environment and Natural Resources Vice-Minister Robert Araquistain, during a tour of Jinotega, said that the Environmental Brigade of the Army, bolstered by police, has slowed the deforestation of the northern part of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve. He lamented that at least 20% of the core area of the biosphere has been deforested by illegal settlers and loggers. “They have damaged the heart of this lung of Central America,” he said. He reported that about 30 lawyers are under investigation for creating fraudulent deeds and selling land in the reserve to mestizo settlers. There are an estimated 10,000 illegal settlers in the 20,000 sq. km. rainforest. Legal Mayangna and Miskito communities in the Reserve have complained for years about the encroachment of the agricultural frontier on their ancestral lands where 40,000 of them live in harmony with nature. The Bosawas has more than 270 species of plants, more than 200 animals and some 200,000 insect species, which is 13% of known tropical biodiversity, according to Nicaraguan environmental organizations.

    President Daniel Ortega, during a meeting with Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño said that a Canadian mining company wanted to exploit gold resources believed to be in the Bosawas. Ortega said, “I told them it was, in practice, untouchable.” He said his government is investing in restoring the ecosystems in the Reserve. He also asked Patiño to convey to Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa Nicaragua’s solidarity with him in his struggle against transnational corporations that are trying to exploit Ecuador’s natural resources. (Radio La Primerisima, Aug. 21, 26)

    8. PAHO promises dengue fever vaccine by 2015

    The new representative of Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) in Nicaragua, Dr. Socorro Gross, said that PAHO expects that a vaccine against dengue fever will be on the market by 2015 and Nicaragua will be one of the first countries to receive it through PAHO. “It’s in the final testing stage,” she said. Gross noted that Nicaragua has a 30 year relationship with PAHO for medicine and vaccines and praised Nicaragua for its public health programs. She also met with Rene Nuñez, president of the National Assembly to discuss changes to Nicaragua’s General Health Law to regulate organ transplants and other needed changes. (El Nuevo Diario, Aug. 22; La Prensa, Aug. 21)

    9. Climate change delays Olive Ridley turtle nesting

    Environmental authorities are concerned over the late arrival of endangered Olive Ridley turtles to their nesting grounds on the beach of the La Flor Wildlife Refuge. Typically 150,000 sea turtles lay their eggs at La Flor between July and January. Environmental scientist Jaime Incer Barquero, as well as other environmentalists, speculated that the late arrival is due to climate change. “The water is warmer than normal,” Incer said. Incer stated that when the water temperatures fell to normal he expected the turtles to arrive. Indeed, on Aug. 22, a group of 2,626 Olive Ridley turtles arrived at La Flor according to Col. Giovanny Perez, chief the Army’s Fourth Regional Command. Turtles normally arrive in groups of 3,000-5,000. (La Prensa, Aug. 23, 25; El Nuevo Diario, Aug. 26; Radio La Primerisima, Aug. 23)

Nicaragua news July 16, 2013

This weekly news bulletin is the successor to the Nicaragua News Service and Nicaragua Network Hotline. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit the Nicaragua Network.

1. Snowden thanks Nicaragua; US threatens consequences; spying further exposed
2. Liberals celebrate July 11; Ortega rates high in another poll; Arturo Cruz dies
3. Canal briefs: chief engineer, reforestation, employment predictions
4. Violence against women continues; more special gender prosecutors needed
5. Program improves child health and nutrition on the Caribbean Coastv

6. Well-regarded Esteli foundation threatened by land grabbers
7. Turtle protection measures in place
8. Nicaraguan student earns top US tennis rating
_______________________________________________________

1. Snowden thanks Nicaragua; US threatens consequences; spying further exposed

On July 12, former CIA staffer Edward Snowden met with human rights activists at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow where he said that Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia had his “gratitude and respect for being the first to stand against human rights violations carried out by the powerful.” He said that he was announcing his “formal acceptance of all offers of support or asylum” that he had been offered. He noted that “threats” from powerful nations made it impossible for him to travel to Latin America immediately and asked for “assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted.” Meanwhile, members of the Defending Dissent Foundation visited the embassies of Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia in Washington, DC, last week to thank those countries for offering asylum to Snowden. After those visits they held a protest in front of the US Department of Justice.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration was exerting diplomatic pressure at the highest levels on Latin America countries to try to prevent Snowden from achieving his goal of asylum in the region. Informe Pastran quoted The New York Times as saying that Vice-President Joseph Biden had called Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa personally. And senior State Department officials have been contacting high level Latin American officials with the message that accepting Snowden in their country would have lasting negative consequences. A senior State Department official said, “There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point,” adding that helping Snowden gain asylum “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.”

In related news, more information came out about the spying program of the National Security Agency in Latin America which, as we reported last week, includes Nicaragua along with many other countries in the region. The Brazilian daily O Globo reported that the undersea fiber optic cable of the company Global Crossing connects South America, Central America and Mexico with the United States and, Informe Pastran summarizes, “permits rapid access by the National Security Agency (NSA) to all the data.” Nicaragua entered the information super-highway in 2002 by linking to the cable of the Americas Region Caribbean Optical-Ring System (ARCOS). ARCOS links 14 countries (including Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, and the countries of Central America) with the United States and is one of the communications networks included in the Washington Post’s July 10 revelations about how the NSA accessed the information captured in its PRISM and Upstream operations. State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki said that Washington was speaking with Latin American officials through diplomatic channels about the spying activities. But, Carl Meacham at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that the reaction in Latin America will be, “See, the US hasn’t changed. It doesn’t matter who is in the White House, the US is the same. The US is the big imperial power.” (Informe Pastran, July 10, 11, 15; http://wikileaks.org/Statement-by-Edward-Snowden-to.html, July 12; Radio La Primerisima, July 12; New York Times, July 11; Washington Post, July 10) 

2. Liberals celebrate July 11; Ortega rates high in another poll; Arturo Cruz dies 

In a Managua cemetery, in separate ceremonies a few hours apart, members of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) and the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) laid wreaths on the tomb of Liberal President Jose Santos Zelaya who governed Nicaragua from 1893 to 1909 [when he was overthrown in a coup supported by the US]. Liberals celebrated on July 11 the 120th anniversary of the 1893 Liberal uprising in Leon against a Conservative government which resulted in Zelaya’s taking over the presidency later that month. The PLC held its convention in Managua on July 11 where PLC president Maria Haydee Osuna said that the party’s elimination of qualifications for membership was a response to calls from the public for unity among Liberals. Former President Arnoldo Aleman, who was the principal speaker, denounced the Sandinista government for giving up Nicaragua’s sovereignty by signing the shipping canal concession [a bit ironic considering that Zelaya sought a contract for a canal with Japan and Germany after the US chose Panama]. In a separate gathering, PLI leader Eliseo Nuñez Morales said that as long as Aleman insists in perpetuating his control and that of his family over the PLC, he will be an obstacle to Liberal unity.

Meanwhile, the polling firm Borge y Asociados released another survey which showed President Daniel Ortega with an acceptance level of 76% which Director Victor Borge attributed to his government’s social programs including Plan Roof, Zero Hunger, Solidarity Housing, and food packets for the poor. Borge said that these programs have been so successful that they are being adopted by the presidents of Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama. He added that another factor has been the economic growth that the country has experienced. “People note improvement and that helps,” he said. As for the opposition, he said that while the leaders of the two Liberal factions—Aleman and former presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre—have negative popularity ratings, 40% of those polled said that the PLC and PLI should unite to make up an opposition party to the Sandinistas while 31% said that there should be a new opposition party. But, Borge said, “First they have to decide what they want power for. That is not clear. They have no plan of government. They have strong criticisms of the manner in which Daniel Ortega governs, but apart from the criticisms of the opposition, the people are in agreement with the way Daniel is governing. The opposition must define what it wants to do as a government.”

In other political news, Arturo Cruz Porras died on July 9 at age 90 in a Managua hospital. Cruz spent a year as a political prisoner under dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia after which he worked for some years for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC. He was one of the “Group of Twelve” notables who called for the resignation of Somoza Debayle in 1977 and served as president of the Central Bank under the first Government Junta after the Sandinistas took power in July of 1979. He was a member of Junta for a year before being named ambassador to Washington. In 1982, he broke with the Sandinistas and joined the counterrevolution. He ran briefly for president in 1984 but withdrew from the race. Laying aside political differences, the Ortega government declared three national days of mourning in recognition of Cruz’s role in Nicaraguan history. (Informe Pastran, July 9. 10, 11; El Nuevo Diario, July 9, 11; La Prensa, July 12, 14) 

3. Canal briefs: chief engineer, reforestation, employment predictions 

The HKND Group announced on July 15 that Australian Neil Murchie Hodge had been hired as chief engineer for the proposed shipping canal through Nicaragua for which feasibility studies are underway. According to the HKND communiqué, Hodge has 40 years of experience in the building of “important engineering projects throughout the world” including in China, Australia, India, Dubai, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Africa. The communiqué stated that he has “designed and led diverse civil engineering projects, including land and offshore constructions, highways and railroads, public services, petroleum, gas and marine projects” worth hundreds of billions of dollars. He has even designed and built refugee camps for the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR).

The South China Morning Post reported that William Wild of HKND had told the Post that one of China’s largest state-owned companies, China Railway Construction Corporation, was carrying out the technical viability study for the canal. According to Wild, the company has built half of the railroads of China as well as highways in Algeria and the subway line in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences held a forum on the canal at which geographer Jaime Incer Barquero, president of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Sustainable Development and environmental advisor to President Daniel Ortega, said that he recommends that before deciding on a route for the canal, the rivers that form the watershed that drains into Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) must be cleaned up and the watersheds reforested. Incer said that agriculture must be regulated and the dumping of sewage in to waterways stopped so that the lake will be able to absorb the environmental impact of the dredging and finally the passage of the shipping fleets. At the Third Annual Recycling Forum also held in Managua last week, National Assembly Deputy Edwin Castro said that the canal demands reforestation. He said, “The trees are indispensible for the functioning of the canal. The reforestation that they did in Panama was enormous and it is permanent. So with this canal here we are going to reforest the country and make us green again.”

In related news, the executive branch on July 10 released a study of the expected impact of the canal on direct and indirect employment and on poverty. Formal sector jobs are predicted to triple, from the current 600,000 workers paying into the social security system to 1.9 million in 2018. If the canal were not to be built, the study predicts a growth in formal sector employment of only about 50% or 300,000 jobs by 2018. The study also predicted that 350,000 people would be lifted out of extreme poverty and 400,000 would be lifted out of moderate poverty (meaning individuals living on less than US$1 and US$2 per day respectively). However, La Prensa quoted economist Adolfo Acevedo as maintaining that is impossible to know or predict at this time what the employment impact of the canal could be. (Radio La Primerisima, July 11, 15; Informe Pastran, July 10, 11, 15; El Nuevo Diario, July 13; La Prensa, July 12) 

4. Violence against women continues; more special gender prosecutors needed

At a Managua forum, Odette Leyton, a special prosecutor on gender at the Public Ministry, said while the Ministry has 24 special prosecutors on gender, it needs 60 more prosecutors and 200 forensic specialists to address the cases of violence against women and children and effectively apply Law 779, the Law against Violence toward Women, passed early in 2012. She said her office received 800 cases in 2012 and had received 487 by May of 2013, the majority of which were for psychological violence, including threats and intimidation. The Network of Women against Violence reported that so far this year 43 women had been murdered in Nicaragua, eight more than the same period last year. The Network said that 23 had never reported to the Women’s Police Stations that they were victims of domestic violence. Three had reported domestic violence but accepted mediation with their attackers and ended up dead. At least ten of the dead were under 18 years of age. (El Nuevo Diario, July 15; Radio La Primerisima, July 15) 

5. Program improves child health and nutrition on the Caribbean Coast 

From March of last year to date, 33,000 children in 117 communities in the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions have benefitted from a children’s nutrition program financed by the World Bank and administered by the Ministry of Health and Save the Children. The program monitors the health and diets of children under five years old in primarily indigenous communities insuring that they are vaccinated and providing for their specialized dietary needs.

Dixmer Rivera Siles, national coordinator of health programs for Save the Children said that by taking care of the children the health and diet of the whole family improves. The program focuses on isolated communities with poor access to health and other services. He called the program’s result, “growing human capital.” Many of the communities are accessible only by water and are often cut off by drought or floods. The Ministry of Health (MINSA) is providing three pangas (motorized canoes) and four smaller boats to assist in regular visits to the communities. The program has trained 215 community health workers and equipped 117 clinics.

Berna Mendieta, project advisor, said that they have already seen a reduction in chronic child malnutrition, but the key goals are to strengthen MINSA’s capacity, train healthcare staff and community health brigades, and to provide resources to get the work done. (El Nuevo Diario, July 8, 15) 

6. Well-regarded Esteli foundation threatened by land grabbers

The Christine King Cooperative and the SUPEREMOS Foundation, which many international delegations to Esteli have visited, is under threat from two local businessmen who are trying to seize the cooperative’s property on the north side of the Esteli River west of the Las Chanillas Bridge. Two local businessmen, Oscar Valdivia and Concepcion Rodriguez, developed a property without arranging access to the road and are now trying to snatch SUPEREMOS property through threats of violence and vandalism. The violence has forced the postponement of a SUPEREMOS project to reforest the riverbank and has forced the foundation to call the police twice when members of the 20 person Christine King cooperative were threatened and when armed relatives of the two businessmen occupied the property. The police have issued a restraining order against the two businessmen. SUPEREMOS has operated on the property for 15 years providing education and social services, including to domestic violence victims, and provides training and employment in a small ceramics enterprise and a bakery. The cooperative was named after an international solidarity activist who died in a car wreck. (Radio La Primerisima, July 13)

7. Turtle protection measures in place 

The Nicaraguan Army has assigned 20 soldiers to assist police, park rangers, and volunteers in the preparation for the arrival of sea turtles which will lay their eggs at the La Flor-Chacocente Wildlife Reserve during the July 2013–January 2014 season. The 800 hectare reserve in the Department of Rivas in the 2012-13 season saw eight waves of turtles totaling 153,399 that produced 1,038,096 hatchlings of the endangered Olive Ridley, Leatherback, and Hawksbill turtles. Turtle eggs are considered a delicacy and the Sandinista governments, including the revolutionary government from 1979-1990 have worked to protect sea turtle nesting grounds. Despite the efforts last year, 5,110 nests were looted and police seized 2,664 dozen eggs. Turtle egg laying, and the subsequent hatchlings’ sprint to the sea, are a major tourist attraction. Foreign tourists pay between US$5-$10 and Nicaraguan nationals pay between two cents and US$4 to watch. (La Prensa, July 12; Radio La Primerisima, July 12; El Nuevo Diario, July 11) 

8. Nicaraguan student earns top US tennis rating

Twenty year old Nicaraguan Esther Zuñiga learned to play tennis in Managua’s then dilapidated Luis Alfonso Velzsquez Park beginning when she was six years old where her father, a tennis teacher, taught her to play the sport. Today she is a member of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All American Team in the US and national junior college player of the year. She is a student at Florida State College at Jacksonville, a school not known nationally for women’s tennis. She won her first national tournament in Arizona on May 10. Before going to the US for college Zuñiga twice won the Central American Championship at ages 15 and 16. (El Nuevo Diario, July 15)

Nicaragua news May 14, 2013

Copa Sandino – football for Nicaragua this Sunday 19th  from mid-day at Ashton Park secondary, Blackmoors Lane BS3 1TA – latino food available…

Venue : Ashton Park school, Blackmoors Lane BS3 2JL (near Ashton Court)

1.     UNESCO asks for protection of indigenous in Bosawas Reserve; government announces prosecutions
2. Churchmen, with one exception, lambast Law 779
3. Government presents outline of plan to confront coffee leaf rust
4. Hydroelectric projects move forward
5. Nicaragua pays for Venezuela oil with food
6. Ortega meets with Palestinian Foreign Minister
7. Nicaraguan students to receive NASA training
8. School lunch supplies distributed
_______________________________________________________

1. UNESCO asks for protection of indigenous in Bosawas Reserve; government announces prosecutions

United Nations officials urged the Nicaraguan government to protect the habitat and indigenous inhabitants of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve (a UNESCO site) and the Attorney General announced that the Supreme Court had been asked to open investigations of 17 lawyers for illicit activities in the writing of illegal land titles in the reserve. James Anaya, UN Special Raconteur for indigenous rights, said in a communiqué, “The lack of advancement with effective measures to secure the territorial rights of the indigenous communities inside the reserve can lead to a worsening of the social tension that exists there” because of the settlement of “people who are not of indigenous origin.” He added that the deforestation of the Reserve puts at risk the habitat of the indigenous people there. He said that he would continue to monitor the situation.

UNESCO Director Irina Bokova, who visited Nicaragua last week, said that she observed strong conservation policies and a consciousness of conservation in public opinion. She stated that sensitivity to ecological issues should “begin in the schools where responsible citizens who will protect the environment are formed.” Bokova flew over the Indio Maiz and Ometepe Biosphere Reserves and visited the colonial cities of Leon and Granada and indigenous community of Subtiaba in Leon. Both Leon and Granada are home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Possibly because of recent violent incidents there, Bokova did not travel to Bosawas.

At his meeting with Bokova, President Daniel Ortega said Bosawas was a “human problem” with the Mayangna community that cares for the Reserve on the one side and the mestizo communities that have moved into the forest to plant fields and raise cattle on the other. The problem has resulted from the lack of a response “that settles this peasant population and stops the migration that keeps moving the agricultural frontier.” He said that there was also the problem of the illegal loggers “who use the needy peasant population, getting them to invade the reserve so that they can take out the timber. That is to say that we have need combined with delinquency which requires a response that attacks the diseases of extreme poverty and the lack of jobs.”

Attorney General Hernan Estrada announced that he had asked the Supreme Court to open investigation of 17 lawyers who are alleged to have violated legal norms in the sale of land. The request stated that the government had knowledge of acts of usurpation and invasion of indigenous communal lands located within the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve. “Among the irregularities we have found,” said Estrada, “are actions by lawyers in the exercise of their functions that affect the rights of the indigenous communities and the natural resources of the reserve, as are laid out in the police report.” Among them were false sworn statements about land ownership. The lawyers mentioned in Estrada’s report are from Siuna, Puerto Cabezas, Boaco, Matagalpa, Nueva Guinea and Managua. (El Nuevo Diario, May 11, 13; La Prensa, May 10; Radio La Primerisima, May 9)

2. Churchmen, with one exception, lambast Law 779 relating to Violence against Women

With Esteli Bishop Abelardo Mata announcing that the sign of the beast (from the Bible’s Book of Revelations) was no longer 666 but rather 779, referring to the Law against Violence toward Women, known as Law 779, and Protestant evangelicals calling for a demonstration against the law on May 16, Nicaraguan churchmen, almost without exception, came out strongly last week against a law which they said was destroying families. Mata told Channel 12 News, “How many times is there a reaction based on anger, on desire for revenge, and once the accuser of her husband, her uncle, her cousin, calms down, she asks to revoke the case, but it is already in the hands of the law.” He added that there should not be distinctions or privileges for one sector of society, namely women, adding, “There cannot be laws of first and second class.”

Mata was joined by Monsignor Silvio Fonseca, head of the Catholic Office of the Family, who said that the law was arbitrary, subject to the interpretation of the judge and of the woman who is making the accusation and “while there is no doubt that many cases will be just there is also no doubt that many others will be unjust.” He said that “We have to work so that the family is reconciled in the peace of Jesus Christ.”

Meanwhile, Assembly of God churches were calling on all those who felt injury from the law or that their constitutional rights were being violated to join them in a demonstration on May 16th at the Supreme Court building. The demonstrators will be demanding that the court rule in favor of the constitutional challenges to the law that have been introduced. Assembly of God leader Saturnino Serrato said that his church supports all of the challenges.

However, one high-ranking Catholic priest, Auxiliary Bishop of Managua Silvio Baez, came out in favor of the law. He said that he was against violence toward women and felt that crimes and violence against women should be punished with the force the crimes merit. He added that murder of women had become too common a crime and society was wounded. He added, “I believe that it merits a special law and that doesn’t take anything away from the dignity of men… because our laws, the penal code, already punish violence against any human being. (El Nuevo Diario, May 9; Informe Pastran, May 7, 13; Radio La Primerisima, May 7)

3. Government presents outline of plan to confront coffee leaf rust

Jose Adan Garcia, Agriculture Ministry official in Jinotega, announced a plan last week for the coffee groves of small coffee farmers which will include replacement of some bushes, and rehabilitation and maintenance of others over the next three years. He said that 60 technicians and three phytosanitary inspectors will work on the project in the Department of Jinotega which, as Garcia noted, produces the most coffee of any department in Nicaragua. He said that 26,000 acres of groves will be replaced this year while 45,000 acres will be rehabilitated through selective pruning and other operations. Another component of the program will be the application of fertilizer on those plantations that were minimally affected by the leaf rust to prevent the further advance of the fungus which attacks weak plants first. Garcia said that 34,000 small growers who grow fewer than five acres of coffee and 400 medium and large scale growers with 85 acres or more would be included in the program. This program will be financed from the national budget through the government development bank Produzcamos and the Ministry of the Family Economy.

A longer term program was announced by Juan Ramon Obregon, director of the National Coffee Commission. He said that the plan would affect 215,000 acres over eight to ten years and would involve coordination between the government and the private sector. Obregon said that certified seed would be imported and the best national seed collected to create a germplasm bank. Financing will come from ALBA-CARUNA (the ALBA funded credit cooperative), private banks, Produzcamos Bank, and micro-finance organizations. Obregon explained that the country will continue to have to live with the leaf rust but with the help of Brazil will learn to work with plants that are more resistant.

On May 13, opposition members of the National Assembly were scheduled to introduce a bill that would provide a government subsidy of US$85 per acre of coffee affected by leaf rust to growers to enable them to combat the plague. Included with the bill was a letter from a number of growers asking Sandinista deputies to also support the initiative.

There are an estimated 40,000 farmers who produce coffee in Nicaragua with the harvest for 2012-13 reaching two million hundredweights in spite of the leaf rust infestation. While Nicaragua only produces 1.5% of the world’s coffee, the International Coffee Organization puts the country among the top ten producers in terms of quality. The government is expected to reveal more details about its plan to confront the leaf rust crisis in coming days. (La Prensa, May 8, 10; Radio La Primerisima, May 7, 10; Informe Pastran, May 9)

4. Hydroelectric projects move forward

Officials of Nicaragua Hydroelectric Central (CHN), the company planning to build the giant Tumarin hydroelectric dam/power plant on the Rio Grande de Matagalpa, announced last week that they had reached an agreement with 315 families in the affected area of Apawas in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS) to pay them US$2,065 per acre for their land. The farmers said that if the payments are not made on schedule, they will resume the protests that have held up the project for six months. CHN General Manager Roberto Abreu said that construction will begin in October and finish in 2017. The plant will cost US$1.1 billion and will produce 253 megawatts of electricity. When the project is finished, Nicaragua will reach 72.6% of its energy produced from renewable sources. The expected savings in petroleum imports is US$70 million annually.

Meanwhile, construction was begun on May 7 on the El Diamante hydroelectric project in the Department of Matagalpa which will generate power from the Upa River and provide electricity to the communities of El Jinete, El Jobo, Buena Vista, El Jícaro, and Azancor, in the municipality of San Ramón, as well as other communities in the municipality of Matiguas. Company officials said that it will not include a dam or reservoir and will have no affect on the surrounding environment. Official Sergio Rios said that the project had been well received by the indigenous communities of the area. It is expected to be completed in 18 months. The project will cost US$16 million to build and will produce five megawatts of electricity. (La Prensa, May 10; El Nuevo Diario, May 9)

5. Nicaragua pays for Venezuela oil with food

Nicaragua greatly increased the proportion of Venezuelan oil it paid for with food products in 2012. Of the 17 countries that are part of Petrocaribe, Nicaragua led in the amount of oil bartered for food. It sent 496,389 tons of food to Venezuela, a 208% increase over 2011. Guyana and the Dominican Republic also exchange food for Venezuelan oil. The food-for-oil transactions are handled through the semi-private companies Albalinisa and Albanisa which are jointly owned by Nicaragua and Venezuela. [These companies also provide much of the poverty alleviation funding in Nicaragua.] Nicaragua paid part of its oil bill with 21,362 steers, 13,778 heifers, flavored and skim milk, tuna, vegetable and palm oil, sugar, coffee, beans and bean seeds, among other food products.

The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) praised the food-oil exchange calling it a “positive option” and a “benefit” to Nicaraguan businesses because it creates a greater export demand for Nicaraguan products. [And, since the introduction of the ALBA currency known as the Sucre, it also enables trade without use of US dollars.] (Informe Pastran, May 7; El Nuevo Diario, May 9)

6. Ortega meets with Palestinian Foreign Minister

On May 7, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki met with President Daniel Ortega during a visit to strengthen ties of friendship between the two nations. President Ortega pledged Nicaragua’s continued support for the Palestinian cause “for which so much blood has been spilled.” He said it is still being spilled because the State of Israel does not abide by [UN] resolutions and [international] agreements to go forward to consolidate the Palestinian State.

Al-Maliki, for his part, praised Ortega and the Sandinista Revolution. “I have to confess,” he said, “we live the Sandinista Revolution moment by moment, day by day.” He said that the victories of the Sandinista Front are victories for the Palestinian people. Al-Maliki noted that Sandinistas have even shed their blood for the Palestinian cause, citing Patricio Argüello who fell in battle in Palestine “defending the revolutionary cause of the territory and is now an icon and a leader for the new generations.”

Ortega lamented the fact that the people of Israel, who were victims of Fascism in the years of Nazi Germany, now have a government where the interests of the imperial powers dominate. “They have converted the State of Israel into a military base to ensure their control, their dominion, their expansionist policies, destabilizing the region that has so much human wealth and natural resources.” Ortega said, “We want to normalize relations with the Government of Israel, but for that it has to have, as a minimal condition, respect for the Palestinian people.” Al-Maliki also visited the National Assembly and, after leaving Nicaragua, he travelled to El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama. (Radio La Primerisima, May 7)

7. Nicaraguan students to receive NASA training

Thirty-one 6th to 8th grade students (16 boys and 15 girls) from the Pierre and Marie Curie Universal School of Nicaragua will travel this week to the United States for classes with NASA scientists in Houston, TX, in space engineering, in particular the work in preparation for travel to Mars. The school came to the attention of NASA last year when five of its students discovered asteroid 2012 FE 52. In February the school inaugurated the Neil Armstrong Astronomical Observatory, the first of its kind in Latin America, a project which was initiated by Nicaraguan government science advisor Jaime Incer Barquero. It has a 15 foot dome transported from Baltimore, MD, which houses an 11 inch reflector telescope. The project was coordinated with NASA and cost US$500,000. The students will be accompanied by teachers and some parents. (Radio La Primerisima, May 11; El Nuevo Diario, May 11)

8. School lunch supplies distributed

Government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo announced that the second disbursement of products for the school lunch program was being distributed to 10,000 schools in all 153 municipalities. She said, “We are talking about 100% coverage of preschool children in community, public and subsidized schools and primary schools, public and subsidized…covering nearly 1.1 million boys and girls from three to 12 years of age.” Supplies for the school lunch program amount to almost 200 million pounds of food including beans, corn, fortified cereal, vegetable oil and wheat flour. She said that as long as poverty exists “We have to keep fighting, battling together to defeat these scourges…” (Informe Pastran, May 13)

2 thoughts on “News from Nicaragua

  1. Hello there! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will
    forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read.
    Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s