Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 263 | Junio 2003




Envío team


Throughout the month of May, the public was treated to increasingly precise and serious news reports about the extensive penetration of drug trafficking on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua. Following zealous investigative work, the newspaper La Prensa kicked off its coverage by reporting that the anti-drug chief in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region was involved in the trafficking of cocaine from Colombia. When several journalists received death threats, the National Police initiated an investigation, which on June 4 demonstrated “very serious administrative responsibilities” on the part of four anti-drug police officials in Bluefields. The continuing journalistic work uncovered other drug dealing links with the most varied sectors in both the South and North Atlantic Autonomous Regions. Days after the reporting began, Lino Orozco, a logging entrepreneur and police collaborator in the coast, was murdered in Managua in the classic style of drug-related crimes. The Nicaraguan army declared that it lacked the resources to deal with the drug trafficking, which it linked to lumber trafficking. Finally, a high-level delegation from the Human Rights Attorney’s Office visited the coast and offered a very bleak assessment of the social situation there: massive unemployment; growing impoverishment alongside the opulent lifestyle of those linked to the drug trade; generalized child labor; and “indescribable levels” of violence against women and both girls and boys.


The Central Bank planned to auction off over 1,000 rural and urban properties from all over the country, plus some works of art and a portfolio of some 5,500 loans with an estimated value of about US$380 million on May 21. Over half of the properties were farms, of which 21% were located in the coffee-growing department of Matagalpa. All of these goods were the loan collateral held by several state and private banks that collapsed in recent years, mainly due to fraudulent activities. Since there was no depositors’ insurance in the country at the time, the Central Bank was forced to cover their liabilities. It therefore embargoed these holdings in the hope of recovering some of its outlay. Recovering public money through such auctions is also one of the International Monetary Fund’s conditions for pardoning part of Nicaragua’s foreign debt within the Initiative for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). It was to have been the largest such auction in Nicaraguan history.

Leaders of the agricultural sector organized impressive protests in the run up to the auction in which they warned
of the instability that this dispossession would create in the countryside and the ruin it would bring to small, medium and large rural producers. President Bolaños countered that the Central Bank had to raise the funds to honor its commitments, and the only other way was further increasing taxes. The pressure grew by the day until only five days before the scheduled event, President Bolaños made a concession. He announced that only the assets of the 2,874 debtors whose arrears exceeded the equivalent of US$10,000 —which include several hotels and plantations valued at between $1 million and nearly $4 million—would be put on the block. The 32,132 debtors owing less were given another chance to recover their properties, but Bolaños insisted that they would have to pay before the end of the year or see their properties auctioned off as well.

In the end, only 110 written bids were submitted by the date of the auction, most of which were by Nicaraguans and none of which were for rural properties. The Central Bank recovered only 7% of the value of the properties offered, an undisclosed percentage of which it must pay to the private company contracted to run the auction.


Following dramatic mobilizations by hundreds of workers from the San Antonio sugar plantation and refinery who are suffering the serious symptoms of chronic kidney failure they attribute to the agrochemicals used during the cane harvest, the National Assembly approved the incorporation of this problem into the list of labor-related ailments covered by social security. This reform to the Labor Code, passed on May 16, also allows those affected to demand compensation from their bosses, in this case the Pellas family, owners of San Antonio and head of the most powerful group of capitalists in the country. The Pellas’ are also closely linked to the Bolaños government. The managers of the refinery, which also produces Flor de Caña rum, argued on the basis of studies they have been conducting for some years that chronic kidney failure has numerous causal factors, including genetic ones, diabetes, malnutrition and hypertension, and affects much of the rural male population of the entire Pacific area following the pattern of “a national epidemic.” They further argued that the San Antonio refinery does not use chemicals that produce this illness, and that many of the demonstrators have never even worked in San Antonio’s cane fields. Business leaders belonging the umbrella organization called the Supreme Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) asked Bolaños, who was the president of COSEP in the early eighties, to veto the law, which he did partially on June 4, seeking to “incorporate concepts that assure its viability and improve its judicial validity.” Both the Sandinista and Liberal legislative benches rejected the veto.


In mid-May, Managua’s Mayor Herty Lewites floated the idea of transferring the capital’s gigantic open-air garbage dump known as “la Chureca,” which is reaching its capacity, to the Masaya volcanic complex, to use the heat from one of its active craters as a natural incinerator for thousands of tons of trash. An added advantage, he explained, would be the energy produced by the combustion. The mayor’s preposterous idea was rejected by the residents and mayor of Masaya, by scientists, ecologists, tourists and all other intelligent people who heard about it, except for President Bolaños, who considered it “reasonable” and said it merited discussion.

The Masaya volcano is one of the country’s main tourist attractions and has been part of a beautiful national park since the seventies. Historian and natural scientist Jaime Incer Barquero called
the proposal “improbable, absurd and dangerous.” He added that “any professional scientist in command of his five senses knows that a volcano is not a continual brazier where one can throw garbage to be burnt. It is incredible that anyone is thinking of converting a tourist spot into a garbage dump. It would be a repetition of what happened with Lake Managua [Xolotlán], which was turned into a sewer, and with the Tiscapa volcanic lake, where the capital’s water drainage channels dumped rainwater and all the accompanying street filth. Nicaragua is the only country in the world that creates sizable projects to blemish the most beautiful landscapes.” One of the most dangerous aspects of the plan, which most Nicaraguans know nothing about, is that burning plastic, which accounts for an estimated 30-40% of Managua’s garbage, releases dioxin, a powerful toxin.

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