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  Number 309 | Abril 2007
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Envío team

THE DEBATE OVER ETHANOL HEATS UP
After George W. Bush’s trip through Latin America in March, the issue of producing bio-fuels to replace the contaminating, costly and ever scarcer petroleum has generated a continent-wide debate. Following initial declarations in favor, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega shifted to the side of Venezuela and Cuba, expressing his concern that huge expanses of land would be dedicated to sugar cane or other crops to produce bio-fuels for export to the North. The argument is that this would mean returning to mono-crops and even the latifundista model of giant landholdings, depriving many in the South of food crops and putting their food sovereignty at risk. Once again, Ortega resorted to religious arguments. “God never planned for land to be used to feed the automobile industry,” he said in a speech to Central American Parliament representatives meeting in Managua in March.

Meanwhile, the Inter-American Development Bank has announced that it will support the production of bio-fuels in Latin America, earmarking US$200 billion to such investments in the next 14 years. In Nicaragua, the Pellas group, the country’s most powerful economic group, is already producing ethanol with sugar cane refuse and exporting it to Europe, is building a second factory in Nicaragua and has announced that it will expand its ethanol investments to Olancho, Honduras.

CHÁVEZ DROPS IN ON NICARAGUA
After his formal visit on March 6 to ratify the cooperation agreements he had promised to President Ortega, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez showed up unexpectedly in Managua again five days later. It was his final stop on a tour through several Latin American countries to coincide with President Bush’s visit to other areas of the continent. In a speech dripping with anti-imperialist rhetoric, delivered in the Sandinista stronghold of León, Chávez signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of an oil refinery in Nicaragua, which he announced would be built in León even though the technical, environmental and economic feasibility studies have yet to be finished. He called Bush a “political corpse” and encouraged Ortega to set up a governmental model like Venezuela’s “so that the Sandinista project and the Bolivarian project can end up being one great revolutionary project.”

MASSIVE LITERACY CAMPAIGN
The Carlos Fonseca Amador Popular Education Association, headed by Sandinista militants, is forging ahead with a literacy campaign using the Cuban “I can do it” method. They estimate that half a million Nicaraguans will be taught to read and write, 180,000 of them by the end of 2007. In March, educator Orlando Pineda, the Association’s coordinator and the motor force behind making the department of Río San Juan a “territory free of illiteracy” in the eighties, announced that he had established an agreement to include 120 organizations of people with disabilities in the campaign. With appropriate methodologies and support from specialists, some 360 people who are deaf, mute, blind and/or have motor problems will acquire literacy. Venezuela announced that it will back the effort with electricity generators, motorcycles and bicycles. Spain’s support will include financing and the sending of university students to help teach the literacy courses in Nicaragua.

OPERATION “CLEAN-UP”
Following the the Communication Strategy guidelines drawn up by communications czar Rosario Murillo, which include the warning that “a single emblematic case of corruption would cause a stain that is very, but very difficult to erase,” the FSLN ordered Supreme Court Justice Roger Camilo Argüello to resign his office in the first week of March. Argüello claimed he was resigning for “personal reasons,” but gave no further explanation. Last year he headed up what could very properly be termed an emblematic case of corruption, when his involvement was proven in the disappearance from the Court of $609,000 seized in a drug bust. Apart from being forced to step down, Argüello remains unpunished for his responsibilities in both this highly publicized case and another in which he is implicated.

As part of the governing FSLN’s operation to spruce up its image—the guidelines insist that “we must position ourselves internationally and nationally as a new ethical, transparent and clean system”—it also got rid of the elected mayors in the Sandinista-run municipalities of Ticuantepe and Granada due to alleged corruption.

The new government is practicing other forms of “clean-up” as well… in this case not to punish the corrupt but to get rid of critics. On March 26, Margine Gutiérrez, the director of the Institute of Culture, was fired less than 24 hours after granting a long interview to La Prensa in which she distanced herself from President Ortega’s gift of two handwritten poems by Rubén Darío to President Chávez, ignoring the law establishing that his works are national patrimony. Neither President Ortega nor Rosario Murillo offered any reason for Gutiérrez’s dismissal. The departing director said, “They have given me no explanation…. I’ve been working with civil society for 16 years and am not used to asking permission…. I believe in freedom of expression, which has cost this country so much blood…. I believe that there can be no civic participation without information, because uninformed people have no capacity to make decisions.”

NO RECONCILIATION WITHOUT
ASKING FOR FORGIVENESS
Bernardo Hombach, the bishop of Granada, was among those who spoke out against Cardinal Obando accepting the government post President Ortega was offering him. He was also the only bishop not to attend the meeting between the Bishops’ Conference and Ortega, in which the bishops bowed to the acts “consummated” by Obando and Ortega. Speaking days later about reconciliation, Monsignor Hombach said, “Without asking for forgiveness there can be no real reconciliation. It now seems that reconciliation consists of obtaining a quota of power, material goods. That’s not reconciliation. The former contras now expect the new government to give them quotas, and insist that they fulfill the [postwar agreements of the early nineties]. The agreements do have to be complied with, but it’s more fundamental that both the contras, who committed so many errors and crimes, and the Sandinistas ask for pardon from each other and from the people, who suffered the most. If we don’t ask for forgiveness, if we can’t do that, no commission is going to guarantee any authentic peace, because we won’t reach reconciliation by fulfilling material promises.”

NEW SUPREME COURT JUSTICES
On March 27, the FSLN and PLC representatives to the National Assembly elected four justices to the Supreme Court for a new five-year term. It was known ahead of time who they would be, as both parties had previously negotiated the list of candidates. ALN and MRS representatives walked out of the session in rejection of the pact between the FSLN and PLC expressed in the selection and the vote.

Liberal Iván Escobar Fornos and Sandinista Alba Luz Ramos were reelected and Liberal Sergio Cuaresma and Sandinista Juana Méndez were brought in. Escobar Fornos had been Alemán’s choice to succeed him in the presidency in 2001 until big capital imposed Enrique Bolaños as the PLC candidate. Questioned about his relationship to Alemán after the Assembly vote, he replied: “I have affection for him and he has affection for me. Why should I deny affection to someone who gives it to me?”

Cuaresma’s wife was the judge who granted Alemán the privilege of free movement throughout Managua in July 2005, while Juana Méndez was the judge who in December 2001 ruled that the accusation of rape against Daniel Ortega by his stepdaughter Zoilamérica Narváez had exceeded the statute of limitations. She also sentenced Arnoldo Alemán to 20 years in prison for embezzlement against the state in December 2003 and, in the same trial, admitted accusations of electoral crimes against President Enrique Bolaños and a dozen of his officials, which has allowed Ortega to manipulate both processes to his own benefit ever since.

A NATIONAL WATER EMERGENCY
Nicaragua’s water crisis is becoming increasingly critical. After monitoring key municipalities, the Humboldt Center reported that the populations in municipalities all over the country are suffering between one and all three of the following problems: lack of access to quality water, consequences of the drought and contamination of water sources. The cases of Juigalpa and Boaco are the most serious because they have “reached the point of no return.” In late March, the government decreed an emergency to guarantee the supply of water through cisterns and tank-trucks to 175,000 families around the country in danger of dying from lack of water in the next two months, the driest of the year.

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