Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 255 | Octubre 2002




Envío team


During an extraordinary summit meeting of Central American Presidents held in Alajuela, Costa Rica, on September 25-26, the Presidents of Nicaragua and Costa Rica found time to reach an agreement on eliminating visas and migratory charges between the two nations as of January 1, 2003. In the same agreement, the Costa Rican government pledged to "freeze" for three years any claim against Nicaragua in international courts regarding Costa Rica’s right to navigate the Río San Juan, which forms the border between the two countries but is sovereign Nicaraguan territory. In exchange, Nicaragua shelved any move in its own defense in the International Court at The Hague for the same period. Presidents Bolaños and Pacheco decided on this truce to see whether they can successfully use the time to bring the two countries close enough through dialogue and friendship that recourse to the courts becomes unnecessary. During the meeting, Pacheco referred to Bolaños as "the leader in the region" for his fight against corruption. "You have served as an inspiration," he added. The parliaments of both countries must ratify the Alajuela agreements, which could present problems for Bolaños because Alemán’s wing of the PLC strongly criticized the decisions regarding the river dispute. Some Ortega followers and members of the Catholic hierarchy voiced more veiled criticisms in the name of "national sovereignty."


Alex Centeno Roque, captured three months ago in Honduras in a joint operation between the two governments, was sentenced to prison in Managua on September 30 along with his two brothers, who are still fugitives of justice. They were found guilty of six counts of fraud related to the bankruptcy of Interbank, which cost the state and the contributors some US$300 million. The three brothers were the most visibly responsible, but the former manager, lawyer and a dozen administrators of the bank based on Sandinista capital also received prison sentences.


Public opinion is closely following the alleged issue of selling off Nicaragua’s river water—one of the country’s most valuable and abundant natural resources. In late September, the Consumer Defense Network warned that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) would grant the Nicaraguan government a loan as part of Plan Puebla-Panama to privatize the water of 30 rivers in the country’s north, central and Caribbean areas to huge transnational corporations in a "hidden sale." According to the network, this private "super-deal" will be presented as a service to communities that still lack electricity. The IDB representative in Nicaragua categorically denied that the aim was to privatize the rivers or that the plan has anything to do with Plan Puebla-Panama. He did acknowledge that the National Energy Commission has a project to use these rivers to feed small hydroelectric plants that will provide electricity to some 90,000 people in small remote communities not on the national grid. He added that the IDB has not even received a financing proposal yet, but would be interested in helping finance such a plan with a social purpose, adding that it would not even interest transnational corporations.

The Consumer Defense Network also charged that President Bolaños and Daniel Ortega are renegotiating the proposed privatization of Hidrogesa, the state hydroelectric company in Jinotega. Both the PLC and FSLN benches rejected the original bill but Ortega is reportedly proposing privatizing half of the operation, which Sandinistas are apparently interested in purchasing.


After months of protests and camp-ins along Matagalpa’s highways by hundreds of coffee workers and their families severely hit by unemployment and hunger, the government finally signed what are known as the Las Tunas Accords with their representatives on September 13. A recorded 21 people—14 of them children—died of starvation in those camps between January and October. The agreements consist of distributing support bonds to families in six Matagalpa municipalities who send their children to school, reopening and expanding the coverage of children’s soup kitchens in hardhit rural areas, commitments to finance coffee production and create land banks, and handing over to their workers 10 farms belonging to the Centeno Roque brothers that were embargoed after the collapse of Interbank.
"We know that all these solutions are temporary; the only definitive solution is greater justice in international prices," commented Nicaragua’s agricultural minister. Although the Las Tunas Accords are not considered a definitive solution, they have provided a glimmer of hope amid the grim economic situation. It is the first time that a local grassroots initiative has successfully negotiated comprehensive agreements with the government that go beyond mere social compensation.
Catholic Relief Services has been implementing a food-work-program with some of the 13,000 heads of family affected by the coffee crisis since July, particularly the medium and large producers who are using the food to pay their workers. The World Food Program began its own food-for-work program the following month with 6,000 small growers and another 2,000 or so hired workers, paying them in food to continue tending and improving their plots and begin diversifying production.

A WFP official told envío that the production costs for small, family-based coffee plots are typically less than a tenth of those of the big plantations. Since bank credit policies exclude small growers, however, they are traditionally prey to usurers who charge exorbitant interests and demand payment at a time that forces them to sell their harvest cheap. Not even these usurers are coming around now, however, as most of the small coffee growers are completely decapitalized.

Those participating in the WFP program will thus be able to improve their harvest and its sale price, particularly because the implementing agency for the program is the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG), which also provides the needed tools as well as training in care of coffee and in diversification techniques. In addition, UNAG has created a warehousing network that buys the coffee at a better price because it can sell it at a better moment. This program appears to offer an even greater ray of hope, at least for the thousands of small growers, if not for the wage laborers on the big plantations.

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