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  Number 318 | Enero 2008
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

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BISHOPS WORRIED
During the Immaculate Conception (Purísima ) celebrations, the Catholic Bishops’ Council of Nicaragua published a document analyzing the national situation, praising the achievements and expressing concern about the problems it detects. The bishops said of the political situation: “We thank the Lord for the political maturity our people are reaching, leaving behind violence as a fanatical expression of their disagreements. Nonetheless, we view with concern the institutional crisis that has arisen around the installation of the Councils of Citizens’ Participation, which is causing unease in the population; the possible economic consequences of the international political line being taken; the instability caused by the frequent change of state personnel; the limited tolerance within some governmental entities and political parties when it comes to accepting criticism and different positions; the harsh language used against those who leave a party, calling them “traitors”; and the restlessness of our people due to delays in fulfilling promises.”

TERRITORIAL DISPUTES
WITH COLOMBIA
On December 13, 2007, the International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled on the territorial dispute that has pitted Nicaragua and Colombia against each other for years and was submitted to arbitration in 2001. The court determined that it had no jurisdiction to rule on the San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina islands, which are closer to Nicaragua than to Colombia, but will thus remain under Colombia’s rule. It did, however, declare itself competent to determine which of the two countries has sovereignty over the Roncador, Quitasueño and Serrana keys.
Most importantly, the Court ruled against Colombia’s insistence that the maritime limit separating the two countries passed through the 82nd meridian, slicing off some 50,000 km in the Caribbean Sea from Nicaragua, together with the islands and keys in that area. A simple look at the map suggests that the maritime territory and the islands and keys in dispute logically belong to Nicaragua, although historically and legally Colombia has administered them as its own.
In the judgment of jurist Mauricio Herdocia, Nicaragua’s representative in this litigation, “the retaining wall that Colombia attempted to impose on Nicaragua, cutting off its projection into the Caribbean Sea and its immense continental shelf, was the real heart of the dispute. The sentence means the complete legal demolition of the 82nd meridian. This implausible border has been deafeningly demolished.” For that reason Nicaragua celebrated the Court’s ruling as “a victory.” In January, President Ortega charged that Colombia still had an armed presence in those waters and was not withdrawing from the 82nd meridian.

ORTEGA EXPLAINS DECISIONS
ON ABORTION AND THE ICC
President Ortega met with a delegation of parliamentarians from Denmark, Iceland, Finland and Norway on January 17, in which the visitors presented their concerns about the criminalization of therapeutic abortion and Nicaragua’s refusal to become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Ortega replied that therapeutic abortion had been approved over a century ago, “but without enjoying the population’s approval.” As for the reasons that led to its criminalization, he mentioned “cultural elements” and US-promoted sterilization campaigns in poor countries aimed at stopping the struggle for liberation. He ended by stating that Nicaragua had “the lowest levels of domestic violence and violence against women in all of Central America.”

With respect to the ICC, Ortega argued that “It is virtually impossible for all the Central American countries that had a war to join the Court… Why? Because we have conflicts where we have been closing wounds and it has been hard for us to build reconciliation! The same thing is happening in El Salvador.” Ortega either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, given that the ICC can only judge crimes against humanity committed as of its creation in 2002, or else he is following the lead of the United States, which heads the opposition to the ICC.

21, as many had suspected would happen. The crime shocked the tourist town of San Juan del Sur where it was committed, and both the case and Volz’s trial were widely covered in the national media. Volz’s alleged accomplice in the rape and later murder of the girl, a Nicaraguan named Julio Chamorro, was not freed. Volz’s release and departure from the country
in an operation full of anomalies and privileges triggered a wave of national indignation, especially in San Juan del Sur. It also led to great speculation, particularly given the months of pressure by different US government entities to get him freed plus the international campaign unleashed by Volz’s family in powerful US media. After promising to review the anomalous process by which Volz’s sentence was revoked, Nicaragua’s Supreme Court of Justice announced on January 29 that those responsible for the revocation had acted “in line with the law.”

NEW US AMBASSADOR,
NEW EMBASSY
At the end of 2007, Under Secretary of State for Central American Affairs John Feeley congratulated the Ortega government for remaining within the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, adding, “We are partners in many things and in many areas.” In such a climate of mutual understanding cultivated during the first year of the FSLN government, the naming of Robert Callahan to replace Paul Trivelli as the US ambassador to Nicaragua is a bit of an attention-getter. He was press attaché in the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa in the worst years of the war by US-armed and Honduras-based “contras” to overthrow the Sandinista revolution, when he also acted as Ambassador John Dimitri Negroponte’s speechwriter. Nonetheless, the Ortega government was quick to welcome this hard-line hawk.
Callahan arrived just in time to settle into the new diplomatic headquarters in Managua, inaugurated on January 24. The modern, ultra-secure embassy cost over $80 million.

BENAZIR BHUTTO AND
ROSARIO MURILLO?
In an act held in a Managua barrio on the night of December 27, President Ortega referred to the assassination of Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, whom he described as “brave and exemplary.” His analysis of the deed was one of the most outlandish things ever heard from him. “There in Pakistan,” he said, “like here, there are those who cannot bear to see women holding responsible posts… Take good note how a campaign against a woman ends up with her murder, simply because she’s an intelligent woman, a fighter. Here, too, we can see campaigns from those media that inculcate hate against women, that inculcate hatred against women who have posts in the Government of Reconciliation and Unity. Everyday they are unleashing poison, feeding hatred. They even go so far as to say calmly that someone needs to shoot women with high government posts… I’m sure they’re celebrating that crime and would like to see that crime repeated here in Nicaragua… I’m sure they would like to see Rosario [Murillo, Ortega’s wife] dead; would like someone to decide to murder Rosario… When crimes such as these happen, and when there are situations like we’re living through here in Nicaragua, where hatred is being sown every day, then those crimes can be repeated… Well, we’re in God’s hands!”

FAMILY PROJECT
In late January a public debate arose around the fact that President Ortega is accompanied on his trips not only by his wife Rosario Murillo, whose presence is more than justified by her multiple government posts, but frequently by some of the presidential couple’s children, their partners and small grandchildren, all aboard the president’s private plane. When one such family retinue flew to Caracas on January 24 for the Sixth ALBA Summit, Murillo defended her children’s presence on previous trips to Libya, Iran, Venezuela and other countries: “On the one hand, we want it made clear that they do not represent expenses for the people or the government. And on the other, each of them fulfills a specific work function… Our children are working in communication, on radio and television and also doing executive and operational work in support of the tasks corresponding to the Presidency…” Murillo attributed criticism of this conduct to a “campaign with a lot of rage in the rightwing media.” Her justifications ignore the legal regulations against nepotism, bolster the view of the Ortega government as a “family project” and show the lack of sensitivity in a government that claims to represent the poor. Even if they are financed by “friendly governments,” as President Ortega explained days later, these costly trips are offensive and hardly appear austere.

FOOD TO VENEZUELA
It was learned in late January, via a letter sent by the Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment to President Ortega, that $20 million earmarked by the Inter-American Development Bank for a Comprehensive Hydrographic Watershed Management project had been reassigned to the Productive Food Program because the latter is a “top priority” for the government, Were it not for the fact that Ortega has promised to export so much food to Venezuela, food production could arguably be seen as more urgent than watershed protection. The watershed management project is essential for the protection, conservation and management of the country’s water sources, which would have positive consequences on public health and the productive system and would also give the country the capacity to deal with the negative effects of climate change.

In an interview with El Nuevo Diario days earlier, Nicaraguan environmental scientist Jaime Incer Barquero had dramatically warned that “Nicaragua is a country in the process of self-destruction. We are putting ourselves in last place in competitive capacity terms because we’re not going to have water or forests and are going to have eroded soil. We’re doing everything backward because we’ve had a short-term vision. No government with myopic, short-term vision is interested in initiating a process, and even if it does initiate one, it is discarded by the next government because there are no medium- and long-term institutional policies. Every day we hear how the water sources and forests are deteriorating and there’s no priority action to remedy or stop this process, much less reverse the environmental deterioration.”

YIYE ÁVILA ASKS ORTEGA
TO INTERCEDE WITH FIDEL
President Daniel Ortega met with Puerto Rican evangelical preacher Yiye Ávila, of the “Christ Is Coming” ministry, on January 21. Ávila was introduced by legislator Guillermo Osorno of the Christian Way party, traditionally allied to the PLC. It was Ávila’s seventh visit to Nicaragua and this time he told Ortega he was coming with an important purpose. “I wanted to see you so much because I was recently shut away fasting when I suddenly heard God’s voice, which shouted “Cuba!” to me. I asked Him: ‘When am I going?’ And now we’re making an effort for it to be soon.

That’s why I came, because I know that you [Ortega] have a friendship with the leader there and he is very ill. I need to go, but you have to be with me to pray for him, so that God will heal him and to tell him what I told you the first time I saw you: The gospel is a friend of all authorities. No evangelical will ever turn away from anyone, because we have an order from God: these authorities are put here by God and we must respect them and pray for them so they will understand that God loves them.” Daniel Ortega then pledged to Ávila: “Of course, when I have the chance I’ll go and talk to my brother Fidel.”

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