Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 333 | Abril 2009




Envío team

In mid-March a Summit of Progressive Governments was held in which US Vice President Joe Biden met with the Presidents of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. The meeting was the Obama government’s first approach toward Latin America. Biden then proposed another meeting on March 30, this time with the Central American Presidents. Although Nicaragua should have hosted the meeting in its capacity as president pro-tem of the Central American Integration System, Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias jumped the gun in inviting his colleagues. In response, the Presidents of both Nicaragua and Honduras refused to attend. Biden told those participating that the only aid his country can offer them is to reactivate the US economy because that will also reactivate Central America’s exports. Nor did he make any offers on migratory issues, which are so important to the Central American countries.

The Nicaraguan-owned, Estelí-based Segovia Cigars company, which employs 350 women, has reaped a major success in the US market with its new brand of cigars made from organic tobacco, called the “Obama” Havana, which retails at $5.25. The idea came up in July 2008 as a way to respond to the economic crisis and cash in on “Obamamania.” Requests from the main US cities have steadily increased to around 10,000 a month and the next project is to market this new brand of cigar in Europe. According to the magazine Cigar Aficionado, eight brands made in Nicaragua are listed among the world’s top 25 cigars. Number one is the Casa Magna Colorado Robusto, also made by Segovia Cigars.

This month President Daniel Ortega admitted for the first time that the diesel-powered generating plants Venezuela started shipping to Nicaragua in 2007, which he previously referred to as a donation, have generated a $250-million debt at 6% annual interest, which Nicaraguans will pay for through their electricity bills over the next 15 years. All Venezuelan cooperation that comes into Nicaragua in the form of preferential payment for the oil President Chávez is sending the country continues to be administered by the government with no controls. Economist José Luis Medal says that the Venezuelan cooperation is in fact creating “a new economic group that’s using the state as an illicit mechanism of capital accumulation.”

President Ortega signed a decree on March 13 that eliminates the need for citizens from 73 countries—mainly impoverished African ones—to obtain a visitor’s visa before traveling to Nicaragua. From now on, these visitors will pay for their entrance visa when they get to Nicaragua, by land, sea or air. The measure is aimed at resolving the problem of Nicaragua’s limited diplomatic missions (some 30 for 192 countries). The decree was inappropriately criticized by sectors of the Right, which claimed it amounted to a free pass for terrorists and Mafioso. In response, President Ortega emphasized that it will favor “the tourism of the poor.”

On April 2, the government finally decided to retire the dozens of men and women hired to “pray” on Managua’s nine main traffic circles under the motto “Love is stronger than hate.” Since last August, groups of indigent people spent day and night on these roundabouts under an awning with the Council of Citizens’ Power (CPC) logo on it, wearing tee-shirts with that motto, waving flags, bearing banners and playing music on huge sound systems. They were provided portable toilets, meals delivered in Styrofoam containers and a small stipend. There was never any official explanation for all this prayer or any analysis of what it achieved, but its cost was apparently unsustainable and its purpose increasingly bizarre.

Only a few days earlier, the Spanish-based transnational electricity distribution company, Unión Fenosa, announced that members of the government-created CPCs living in 50 neighborhoods of Managua would work for it collecting users’ overdue light bills. Some months ago, the state bought 16% of Unión Fenosa’s stocks even though the company had been publicly condemned for years by President Ortega, who accused it of being “gangster-like” and “Mafioso.” The debts of some 25,000 users amount to roughly 94 million córdobas (nearly $5 million).

Journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro was honored with the Casa América Catalunya fourth annual Prize for Freedom of Expression in Ibero-America. The prize recognizes the work of media and professionals who distinguish themselves in the exercise of journalism aimed at defending freedom of expression and opinion. The judges found that Chamorro “has become one of the referents in Latin America for journalism that is free, independent of power and committed to democratic values.” It recognized that investigative journalism has been responsible for uncovering most of the cases of corruption and abuse of power committed by the Alemán, Bolaños and Ortega governments, as well as by large Nicaraguan capital.

On March 30, 24 Nicaraguan scientists and intellectuals created the Academy of Sciences, four years after the creation of its predecessor, the Scientific Association. Jorge Huete, director of the Central American University’s Molecular Biology Center, was named its president. Huete said the academy’s “greatest commitment” will be to “promote use of the sciences in decision-making that affects the country’s development” and noted that the national political class “usually ignores and even rejects scientific and technical criteria” in making these decisions.

The representative of the United Nations Population Fund, Junko Sazaki, reported her agency’s records as showing that 1,400 girls under 14 years old became pregnant as the result of rape in Nicaragua in 2008. She warned that the figure could be even higher given the frequency of this crime in rural areas, where there is no culture of denunciations and where the girls’ mothers often suffered the same tragedy and lack economic independence to confront the men responsible.

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has publicly backed Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial comments on the use of condoms, despite the strong criticism it generated worldwide. The pope called HIV/AIDS “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem.” The statement drew an unusually strong reaction from the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, which stated that “when any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record.”

Nonetheless, the Presbyterial Council of Matagalpa, presided over by Bishop Jorge Solórzano, came out in solidarity with the pope in a letter that said, among other things: “We have witnessed your vigorous message about the true response to the drama of AIDS affecting our brothers of Africa and the world…. The irreverent reactions of sectors of this world have not only wounded the love we feel for you, but the truth of Jesus Christ about an issue that is so serious for humanity…. May God pardon all those blinded by sin who do not know what they are saying.”

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