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  Number 283 | Febrero 2005
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Envío team

BOLAÑOS ON THE ASIAN TSUNAMI:
AN INSPIRING FUNDRAISER
On January 10, while presenting his annual report to the National Assembly, President Bolaños referred to the tsunami in Asia with these words: “The peoples of the Indian Ocean have been devastated by an act of nature immensely greater than Hurricane Mitch. We Nicaraguans know on a lesser scale what these natural disasters mean. Let’s initiate this act with a silent prayer that the souls of those tens of thousands of dead will rest in eternal peace and we can all accept God’s designs with resignation in the face of things over which we have no control.” It was not until February 4 that a national campaign was launched to collect funds to help the victims of that horrible disaster, and even then at the initiative of the Red Cross and Civil Coordinator. Barely $15,000 was raised.

THE ORTEGAS AND CARDINAL OBANDO:
THICKER THAN THIEVES
In one of her many recent messages, Daniel Ortega’s wife Rosario Murillo referred to the January 12 agreement between her husband and President Bolaños as a miracle of Sor María Romero (the Nicaraguan-born nun being fast-tracked for sainthood by the Vatican). She also said, “With all my heart, I want to congratulate His Eminence the Cardinal, Pastor of Reconciliation, whose unarguable merits and explicit gifts have brought us here, to the Doors of Dawn…. For Nicaragua, he is not so much a beacon, such as the one now bearing his name, but an expert guide of souls, who brings us together and persuades us of what is indispensable.” Her references were not simple poetic excess. On December 20, her husband had accompanied Cardinal Obando when he blessed and christened a lighthouse on the beach at Masachapa that had been designed to guide local fishermen. The name of that “beacon”: “Cardinal Obando Lighthouse.”

In his letter rejecting Bolaños’ mid-December offer of a dialogue, Ortega reminded the President that the FSLN’s position is “unvarying”: Cardinal Obando is the “most capable, respectable and unique Witness and Guarantor” of any dialogue. “It would seem to us,” he added, “not only unnecessary but also profoundly tactless and even disrespectful to his Eminence’s elevated hierarchy, authority and conciliatory experience to propose or present other Witnesses or Guarantors.” The FSLN and PLC representatives to the National Assembly also announced that they would bestow the title “Cardinal of Peace” on Obando.

BOLAÑOS LOSES TWO
OF HIS MINISTERS
Treasury Minister Eduardo Montiel and Education Minister Silvio de Franco surprised the country in mid-December by submitting their resignation to President Bolaños. Explaining his decision, de Franco referred to “unfortunate changes of priorities” in the government and to having felt “marginalized” by certain other members of the Cabinet “who have their own agendas, which are not necessarily national ones.” He also mentioned his displeasure with the request that the Cabinet provide money for the creation of the Alliance for the Republic (APRE), Bolaños’ failed attempt to create a new political organization.

For his part, Montiel mentioned that he had not realized until he took over his ministry that “40% of the national budget [the part earmarked for investments] is negotiated with an entity other than the Treasury Ministry.” As a result, he felt he had no option but to resign.

The new education minister has immediately been faced by a major national strike by public teachers demanding a fair salary increase ensured monthly on their salary chart, and not through bonuses, as the government proposed. Because of the strike, public schools did not reopen as scheduled on January 31. On February 8, as this issue of envío went to press, thousands of teachers marched in Managua in defense of their demands.

GEOLOGICAL TREASURE
In mid-December, a team of Czech scientists working with the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies and the Environmental Ministry studied the geological importance of a little known canyon near the town of Somoto, in the mountainous department of Madriz. They calculate the 100-meter-deep floor of the Namancambre Canyon, sliced through a 3-kilometer long peak of pure volcanic rock by the Río Coco, at between 5 and 13 million years old (the Late Miocene Era). The Río Coco, Nicaragua’s longest river, starts just west of the canyon, born of the confluence of the Río Coimalí, which crosses over from neighboring Honduras, and the Tapacalí, which begins in Madriz itself. It then travels all the way across the country to empty into the Caribbean Sea.

On reporting the findings, scientist Zdenek Novak said of the gorge’s towering walls, breathtaking even in photographs, “It is one of the most impressive geological landscapes I’ve ever seen.” The canyon has enormous tourist potential and the relative advantages of declaring it a national reserve, natural park or national monument are now being studied.


GORY NEWS BECOMES
NATIONAL CONTROVERSY
The most-watched slots on national TV channels 2, 8 and 10 are dedicated to close-up coverage of accident victims, people wounded in neighborhood or marital spats, aggressions against women, sexual assaults and rape, illnesses, murders, suicides and other social tragedies. The camera and commentator show no concern for the dignity of the victims, most of them women. The growing popularity of what is known in Nicaragua as “red news” programming has generated national controversy about the effects of such exhibitions of violence on a society that is largely impoverished and without educational opportunities. Media owners and some journalists have defended their programs as a social service and argue their right to free expression. One of the pioneers of this information model is Radio Ya, now Nueva Radio Ya, whose manager is Daniel Ortega’s adopted son Rafael Ortega Murillo, Zoilamérica ‘s full brother.

The debate over “red news” coincided with the National Assembly decision to eliminate tax exonerations on paper, machinery and spare parts imported by the national media. According to Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) president Dora María Téllez, who was one of the legislators responsible for establishing the exonerations in the 1995 constitutional amendments, “We introduced that exoneration because the media provide a social service. The exoneration should be retained, but conditioned. The economic fostering of freedom of expression needs to be couched in social responsibility.”

IRRESPONSIBLE FATHERS
The National Institute of Statistics and Censuses calculates that 152,000 children were born in Nicaragua in 2005, bringing the population to nearly 5.5 million. The number of children per couple in Nicaragua’s poorest areas is typically between 5 and 8. One of the problems accompanying this high birth rate is paternal irresponsibility. In January, the Ministry of the Family announced that 100 free DNA tests would be offered as a pilot project to promote a new responsible paternity bill, thanks to collaboration by the Dutch and Danish embassies. The ministry was immediately flooded with over 500 applicants.

DNA testing is relatively new in Nicaragua and currently only available in the Molecular Biology Center of the Central American University. Its $200 cost is prohibitive for many single mothers seeking to force the fathers of their children to pay child support. According to the Special Children’s Defense Attorney, 31% of Nicaraguan households are sustained only by the mother’s work and wages.

CENTRAL AMERICA’S
FIRST WOMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP
On December 5, Bishop Medardo Gómez, president of the Communion of Lutheran Churches of Central America, presided over the ordination of Victoria Cortés as the first female Lutheran bishop in Central America. The event was held in Managua’s Faith and Hope Lutheran Church in Managua, and was attended by authorities of the Anglican, Moravian and Baptist churches and of other evangelical denominations. Sixty-year-old Cortés was born in El Salvador but has worked as a minister in Nicaragua since 1983. “I’m not interested in whether people become Lutheran,” she said. “I’m interested in them being Christian. From my faith, I have struggled to get women to read the Bible and see that it isn’t true that we’re inferior.”

ERNESTO CARDENAL AWARDED
FOR POETRY AND PROPHECY
On January 19, Ernesto Cardenal’s eightieth birthday, President Enrique Bolaños honored the Nicaraguan poet with the Order of Rubén Darío. In listing the reasons for the award, Bolaños praised the former Sandinista Minister of Culture with the following words: “A learned man, firm believer in the transformation of the people and the nation through culture; a poet equally adept at epic chronicle and prophesy, he scrutinizes our past and deciphers our future.”

Cardenal was the first public figure to leave the FSLN in the mid-nineties, publicly arguing corruption and betrayal of its revolutionary ideals in a letter published in the national newspapers. On January 30, he attended a massive demonstration in Jinotepe organized by Herty Lewites as part of his campaign to run against Daniel Ortega for the FSLN’s presidential candidacy.

THE GENERAL’S BOOK
Former Army chief Humberto Ortega’s new book, La epopeya de la insurrección (Epic of the Insurrection), went on the stands in December accompanied by a huge publicity campaign. The retired general, who is also Daniel Ortega’s brother, says he worked 10 hours a day on the book for two years using his own records, meeting notes, archives and analytical schemes to reconstruct the history of the struggle that ultimately brought down the 43-year Somoza family dictatorship.

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