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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 330 | Enero 2009
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Envío team

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE?
Following the Latin American presidential summit in Brazil in mid-December, where he failed to get a word of support in its final document despite a vehement denunciation of the US and European Union “blockade” of his government, President Ortega went on to Russia and Libya in search of trade agreements. Upon arriving in Moscow, having already announced that Russian capitalists are interested in building an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua to compete with Panama’s, he declared himself “ready to develop relations with Russia in all spheres: economic, cultural, sports, scientific, technological and military.” He signed several trade agreements with President Dimitri Medvedev about which he provided no details, although in January, the government announced that Russian businesspeople will invest in a large cocoa and chocolate factory.

CRISIS OF EL 19
After 16 issues, the weekly El 19 stopped publishing due to budgetary limitations and lack of reader interest. Created last August by Rosario Murillo, the government’s Secretary for Communication and Citizenship for Social Development, as an “uncontaminated” alternative information source, El 19 specialized in official propaganda, defamatory articles against a wide variety of individuals and organizations, long pieces by Murillo and saccharine interviews with different public officials. Its print run was 30-50,000 full-color issues, and printing costs alone totaled $12,000. At first copies were sold at three córdobas, but they were soon given away through the Councils of Citizens’ Participation she heads.

MUNICIPAL ELECTION RETURNS
IN THE NORTHERN CARIBBEAN
Municipal elections were held on January 18 in seven municipalities of the Northern Caribbean region, after being postponed for over two months at the request of Yatama, a regional indigenous political party, which claimed a lack of conditions due to damage by Hurricane Felix in September 2007. The FSLN retained its mayoral seat in Bonanza, won the Miskitu-dominant municipalities of Puerto Cabezas and Waspám away from Yatama and won Rosita away from the PLC. The PLC kept Siuna for the fourth straight time and won Mulukukú, which attained municipal status in 2005. Yatama only won Prinzapolka, a poor showing explained by its deficient performance in the governments it ran, though it alleged FSLN fraud in Waspám and announced an assembly in March to evaluate whether to maintain its alliance with that party. Local FSLN members had pressured their party to run alone rather than in the alliance with Yatama, accusing it of poor handling of post-Felix funding. Yatama in turn accused the FSLN of vote-buying through the widespread handing out of Venezuelan stoves and production bonds from the Zero Hunger program. Patronage could well have played a determining role in a region as impoverished and accustomed to receiving handouts as the coast. Unlike the municipal elections in the rest of the country last November, where no national observers were accredited, the Caribbean elections were observed by the Ecumenical Council of Churches; the Center of Human, Citizen and Autonomous Rights (CEDEHCA) and the Institute for Democracy (IPADE), all of which endorsed the results. Also unlike the Pacific side of the country, the Supreme Electoral Council released information on abstentions, which exceeded 50% of the electoral rolls, as is common in the coast.

PERSECUTION OF NGOS CHANGES TACK
On January 22, the Office of Public Prosecutor General decided not to criminally indict eight NGOs it had been investigating since October, after having accused them of money laundering and “illegal triangulation of funds” for their activities, with no evidence. It had also called some of their activities—such as the struggle to overturn the criminalization of therapeutic abortion—”conniving against a criminal act.” The attacks on the Center of Research for Communication (CINCO), the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM), the Civil Coordinator, the Nicaraguan Network of Community Commerce, the Network of Municipalist Women, Grupo Venancia of Matagalpa, Forum Syd (a Swedish NGO) and Oxfam UK was officially orchestrated with great fury by the Ministry of Government and pro-government media, causing an international scandal. In January the Public Prosecutor’s Office returned to these NGOs all the accounting information it had requested—or taken by force, in the case of CINCO and MAM. Instead, it fingered the organizations for “improper use of funds” for personal and family enrichment, and requested that the Ministry of Government apply administrative measures. The affected NGOs view the case as political persecution and are convinced that new chapters are yet to come. Days after this government backpedaling, it was learned that the Foreign Ministry is preparing a manual to regulate and control the funds NGOs receive from international cooperation.

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