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  Number 425 | Febrero 2017
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Nicaragua

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INTEROCEANIC CANAL ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN…

At the end of last year it was unofficially confirmed that the government has discarded the interoceanic canal mega-project. Business leaders acknowledged that the project has never been incorporated onto their agenda and while both the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) and the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) are on the project’s technical advisory committee, neither has any information about how it’s going. President Ortega failed to mention it in his long inaugural speech on January 10 but, while he was receiving the presidential sash for the fourth time, 2,000 peasants demonstrated in the municipality of Nueva Guinea’s La Fonseca district demanding repeal of the canal law and concession.

It was the 85th protest by a peasant group too invested in the canal issue to be lulled into demobilization by the current inactivity on it. Sergio Ramírez, Ortega’s Vice President between 1984 and 1990, said in a January 15 interview on the “Esta Semana” TV news magazine program that “the issue isn’t whether the canal is built or not. This law approved by the National Assembly profoundly violates national sovereignty; the concession handed over to an unknown gentleman gave him a huge slice of national sovereignty for a hundred years. That’s a judicial barbarity that has to be reversed. The struggle against that law being headed up by Francisca Ramírez [the leader of the peasant anti-canal movement; no relation to him] is just and must be supported. Her democratic voice has to be respected and supported.”

“ORTEGA’S NEW CABINET

President Ortega swore in his Cabinet on January 18, ten days after his inauguration. It includes 117 ministers, deputy ministers, presidential advisers, and secretaries and presidents of autonomous government entities. Foreign Minister Samuel Santos, marginalized for months, was replacedby former Army officer Denis Moncada Colindres, who was the deputy chief of counterintelligence in the eighties. As acting foreign minister, Moncada has been the visible face of the government’s negotiations with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro. Following Ortega’s custom of changing ministers into advisers (the same policy logic described by former US President Lyndon Johnson in his own inimitable way as “keeping them in the tent pissing out rather than outside the tent pissing in”?) Santos was named “Ministerial-Ranking Adviser for International Policies and Affairs.” Eight deputy ministers and six other advisers were also named to the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Another former Cabinet member Ortega kept in the tent was his outgoing Vice President, retired General and former Army chief Omar Halleslevens, who was named the President’s Delegate Minister for Specific Affairs and assigned the same offices and tasks he had during the previous five years. Meanwhile, in the first month of the new term, Rosario Murillo, Halleslevens’ replacement as Vice President, has continued exercising the many tasks she already performed and surely a number of new, as yet unknown ones.

THE NEW NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

The new National Assembly legislative session was inaugurated on January 9. The person designated by the President to preside over the legislative body was health union leader Gustavo Porras, an FSLN legislative representative since 2007 and known to be one of Rosario Murillo’s close confidants. The November 6 elections gave Ortega a mega-majority of 71 legislative representatives, way more than enough to pass, annul or alter any law the President wants. Of the remaining 21, all of whom are subordinated to Ortega one way or another, 14 went to the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, headed by former President and party strongman Arnoldo Alemán, which moved back up to second place after the Independent Liberal Party was stripped of its right to run in the elections.

LOBBYISTS CONTRACTED TO DEFEAT NICA ACT…THEN FIRED?

Concerned that the Nica Act could be revived in the new US Congress, Ortega contracted the Gephardt Group, founded by former Democratic Congressman Richard Gephardt from Missouri, to lobby congressional members in both parties in hopes of halting that legislation. The one-year contract was signed on December 1 at a reported fee of US$420,000, but is rumored to have already been cancelled, although there is no information on which party pulled out.

DEADLY LAND CONFLICT CONTINUES IN THE NORTHERN CARIBBEAN

The conflict has not ceased between Miskitus defending their ancestral territories and the settlers invading them to resell the lands illegally, which are then deforested, turning valuable forests into pastureland. The indigenous owners of those territories have been demanding for years that the government honor its obligation to clear the titles of anyone with legal prior claims to indigenous lands and throw out all illegal invading settlers, thus theoretically putting an end to the invasions. On January 5 and 6, after still more Miskitus had been killed in various territories in previous months, an armed confrontation between Miskitus and settlers in the communities of Layasiksa and Isnawás, both in Prinzapolka, the country’s largest and poorest municipality, resulted in two settlers being killed, one wounded and five captured. While one of the hostages had managed to escape by the end of January, the government authorities, customarily indifferent to these conflicts, signed several agreements in mid-January promising to initiate the title clearance process in exchange for the release of the remaining four. The indigenous residents in that particular area are defending 175,000 hectares of territory. They gave the government six months to honor the agreement. “If they don’t,” warned one angry indigenous leader, “we’ll do our own title clearance because we’re not going to give our lands over to invading settlers. We’re going to get them out even if in a pine box; even if we have to spill our own blood to do it.”

ORTEGA’S FIRST ORDER ON INAUGURATION DAY

At his inauguration on January 10, Ortega directed the first words of his extensive speech to his wife, who had just taken the following oath to be his new Vice President: “Yes, I swear, with the power of God, entrusting myself to God and to the Nicaraguan people who are accompanying us.” Ortega then said, “Allow me to give you your first orientation, decision, order, an ‘order me’! Women are not meant to have tape over their mouth; they are not meant to be muzzled. I thus order compañera Rosario to speak a few words to the Nicaraguan people.” While he meant these words humorously, they seemed to carry the implicit message that “I’m in charge here.” Visibly uncomfortable, Murillo spoke briefly, thanking God: “We have come this far with his grace and by his hand.” She also promised to represent the aspirations of Nicaraguan women: “We will go forward together, aware of all we still lack!”

SEX CRIMES AND FOOD SUPPORT PENSIONS

The Legal Medicine Institute reports that it dealt with 16,000 sexual aggression cases in 2016. That amounts to an average of 40 cases a day or 2 every hour, with girls under 13 the victims in 7,600 (47.5%) of them. Although these figures represent only those cases actually denounced, suggesting that many more are very probably not reported, they still point to sexual abuse of children as an extremely serious problem that eats away at the foundations of Nicaraguan society.

For its part, the Public Defenders’ Office attending low-income people reported that it resolved food support demands for 11,000 children, adolescents and elderly adults in 2016, recovering for all of them the right to receive that economic support from parents and other relatives. In the Managua courts specializing in violence, an institution to which these demands also arrive, some 70% of cases involve fathers failing to comply with the food support pension they owe their children. A total of 83% are brought by women suing their former partners, while the other 17% are the other way round.

FREE WI-FI IN PARKS A BIG HIT

One of the current government’s most popular projects has been the rejuvenating of existing parks and creation of new ones in Managua’s barrios and some municipal seats, including the installment of free Wi-Fi connection. This has brought teenagers, young adults and even older adults out to their nearest park to hook up to Internet where they spending hours chatting, seeking information, sending messages and photos, doing homework, playing games and the like. The Managua Mayor’s Office allocated a million córdobas (some US$33,000) for what it calls the Virtual Communication Strategy in Parks project. It is estimated that some 200,000 people who can’t afford their own Internet connection at home have benefited.

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