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  Number 432 | Julio 2017
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Nicaragua

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PENAL REFORMS

The National Assembly, now totally controlled by the governing party, approved reforms to the Penal Code and Penal Processing Code on June 20. The reforms, which sparked intense debate among the country’s jurists, increase sentences for patricide, homicide, the rape of youths under 14 years of age and femicide, putting the accent on the sanction, even though the institutional policies neglect attention to denunciations and prevention. Jurists critical of the reforms argue that the most serious flaw is an ambiguity in the new language that lends itself to abuses by leaving the decision of what constitute “offenses of social relevance or of national transcendence” up to unspecified discretion and repressive practices. Moreover, crimes classified as such will now be tried in Managua rather than in the court nearest to where they took place. Constitutionalist expert Óscar Castillo sees “a political motive behind centralizing justice in the capital.” There is also discretion in selecting the “technical judges” in charge of trying those cases, which according to those opposing the reforms violates the right to due process The legislative bench of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, which won 13 of the 92 Assembly seats in last year’s general elections, did not vote for the reforms, claiming it considers them unconstitutional.

INTEROCEANIC CANAL FOUR YEARS LATER

The fourth anniversary of the concession to build an interoceanic canal through Nicaraguan territory via Law 840 was marked in the media and through various activities in June. The peasants who live along what has been designated as the canal route and have been struggling against the project and for the law’s repeal, held two new marches: number 88 in Punta Gorda on June 10 and number 89 in El Tule on June 13. Their 90th march was scheduled for July 15 on the island of Ometepe. Neither President Ortega nor any other government official has made any reference to the canal megaproject for the past year and a half, leading to a general view that it has been scrapped, although that hasn’t been confirmed. The opening of diplomatic relations between Panama and mainland China in June, which required Panama to break off its relations with Taiwan, contradicts the early speculation that the Chinese government was interested in investing in a canal through Nicaragua. As China is the primary user of the Panama Canal and has now opened diplomatic relations with that country, it’s hard to believe it would have much interest in another interoceanic canal so geographically close. Nonetheless, as long as Law 840 remains on the books, the threat of confiscation still hangs over lands along the canal route and any others deemed necessary for what the concession law terms “subprojects,” since the Chinese company holding the concession might still use its confiscatory clauses to invest in those other mega-projects, not all of which depend on the canal’s existence.

THE URGENT NEED TO RESOLVE THE SOCIAL SECURITY PROBLEM

After the visit to Nicaragua by a mission of the International Monetary Fund in April, the IMF board in Washington issued a press release about Nicaragua’s evaluation on June 26. Seconding the previous month’s remarks by IMF mission chief in Nicaragua Fernando Delgado, the communique reiterates that “Reforming the social security system is a priority. [The Nicaraguan Social Security Institute’s] liquid reserves will be depleted by 2019, which could increase government transfers to finance pensions and health benefits. Urgent action should be taken using a combination of measures to improve sustainability, which, to the extent possible, should be introduced gradually.” Despite the IMF’s serious warning, the government has not called for a dialogue to analyze measures that could be taken. Instead it has announced that it won’t increase retirement age or the number of weeks workers must pay in to be eligible for a pension. It has only sent an army of young people to residential areas with leaflets encouraging self-employed people to voluntarily affiliate, paying 10% of their income for a pension policy or 18.25% for a pension plus health care.
The IMF’s warning about INSS’ imminent insolvency led the news daily La Prensa to investigate the new investments made with workers’ contributions to INSS. It reported that they are in the form of loans to private companies building luxury condominiums and buildings, thus violating the law that empowers INSS only to invest in social housing.

GOVERNING COUPLE ADDRESSES REGIONAL BUSINESS MEETING

The American Chambers of Commerce of Latin America and the Caribbean (AACCLA) met for three days in Managua in early June in a forum called “The future of business for the Americas.” President Ortega showed up in the middle of the event, hugging, kissing or shaking the hand of all present, which is very unusual for him. In a brief speech, which is also unusual, he reiterated the great benefits of peace and stability brought to Nicaragua by his corporative government-business elite model, which now has constitutional rank. On the final day, Vice President Rosario Murillo, who, again unusually, hadn’t accompanied Ortega on his visit, issued extensive comments on her husband’s speech. Among other things she said that “I believe Comandante Daniel yesterday made it clear not only to the visiting businesspeople, visiting business chambers and Nicaraguan businesspeople, but also to our own people, the miracle Nicaragua is experiencing, the miracle of reconciliation, unity and everyone working for the good of all. A miracle, one miracle and other miracles and new miracles that spill onto our country, and the first thing the Comandante recognizes in that miracle is the work of God, and the work of God through the Nicaraguan people.”

TWO SOCIAL PROGRAMS ARE NO LONGER FREE

The Productive Food Program better known as Zero Hunger, one of the insignia programs in the Ortega government’s struggle against poverty, is no longer free to its beneficiaries. Rural families that want to access the packet must now request credits equivalent to between US$330 and $2,000 at 5% annual interest to buy the pigs, chickens, seeds, feed, materials, tools, an optional cow and other items the government once gave away, originally with the idea that the recipient pay it forward with piglets and chicks to other poor families in their area. The government’s justification for charging is that it wants to ensure the financial stability of the beneficiaries, who from the beginning have mainly been women heads of household with a minimum of 0.7 hectares of land. Another insignia program that has reached even more recipients was the Roof Plan, in which low-income families were given 10 sheets of zinc roofing and a bag of nails. It, too, is no longer free. Roberto Courtney, director of the electoral observation organization Ethics and Transparency, remarked that announcing in an electoral year that these programs will now entail a cost could make voting for the governing party “less attractive.” Political scientist José Antonio Peraza however, sees the announcement only four months before the municipal elections as yet more proof that they aren’t competitive.

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

On June 27, the US State Department released a 445-page report evaluating countries with respect to the crime of trafficking in persons. The document ranks them into three tiers based on government efforts to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Tier 1 is for the 38 countries that met those standards last year, Tier 2 for the 80 that did not fully meet them but are making significant efforts to do so and Tier 3 for the 23 that aren’t making significant efforts. There is also a fourth tier for “special cases”: Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Nicaragua appears on the Tier 2 Watch List, reserved for the governments of 45 countries whose absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or significantly increasing; that have not provided evidence since the previous year of increasing their efforts to combat those severe forms or have made commitments to take additional steps over the coming year. In the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua is in the company of Antigua & Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti and Suriname on that Watch List. The report begins its summary description of Nicaragua by stating the government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by increasing national awareness-raising efforts, but did not increase efforts to meet the minimum standards compared to the previous reporting period. Among other things it described the governmental coalition created to deal with human trafficking as ineffective and efforts to prevent it as weak, especially in the North and South Caribbean Regions. It also reported that the government neither provides nor finances adequate services for victims of human trafficking despite passage of a law to create a special fund for that purpose. Its country profile characterized Nicaragua as mainly “a source and transit country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor,” with women and children particularly “subjected to sex trafficking within the country and in other Central American countries, Mexico, and the United States.”

MIGUEL D’ESCOTO DIES

Maryknoll Father Miguel D´Escoto Brockman, Nicaragua’s foreign minister during the revolutionary years, died on
June 8 at 84. From an upper-class family, D’Escoto was baptized with Nicaraguan dictator Somoza García as his godfather. Founder of the Maryknoll publishing house Orbis Books, he joined the FSLN in 1977. Throughout the eighties, D’Escoto was one of the most active proponents of what was called the “Popular Church.” In 1984, Pope John Paul II prohibited him and three other priests holding public office in the revolutionary government—Ernesto Cardenal as minister of culture, his brother Fernando as minister of education, and Edgard Parrales as ambassador to the US—from exercising the priesthood. After the revolution ended in 1990, D’Escoto was the only one of the four who remained loyal to the FSLN and the Ortega-Murillo leadership. In 2014 Pope Francis lifted the prohibition against D’Escoto, who thanked him publicly and returned to celebrating Mass.

LAKE XOLOTLÁN IS GETTING CLEANER… SORT OF

A project to decontaminate Lake Xolotlán (also known as Lake Managua) initiated by the German Development Bank (KFW) eight years ago at a cost of 25.5 million euros is still progressing toward its goal. The project is treating the capital’s wastewater, which for decades was channeled directly into the lake with all the filth it picked up along the way. The treatment plant Germany financed is connected to 75% of the sewage ducts in Managua’s urban center and processes 150,000 cubic meters of wastewater per day before emptying it into the lake. Alexander Grieb, an engineer specializing in water and sanitation, and Elke Lüdemann, who is in charge of the project, evaluated its advances in June. They reported that while significant progress is being made in cleaning the lake of organic and bacteriological contamination, many of Managua’s rain channels still empty into it untreated, thus continuing to contaminate it. According to Grieb, Managuans would be able to swim in the lake safely if the problem of contaminated water flowing directly into it through those channels were resolved and the population cooperated by not throwing garbage into them.

NEW ARCHEOLOGICAL FINDING

On June 15, an indigenous cemetery of great value was uncovered during construction work in Villa Tiscapa, Managua, to build the new national stadium where the 11th Central American Games will be held on December 3-17. The cemetery, estimated to have been created between 800 and 1,300 AD, contained 40 funeral urns, many of them well conserved.

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