Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 344 | Marzo 2010




Envío team

In mid-February President Ortega, who appeared concerned about forecasts that the rains will come late this year, created a national commission to deal with the effects of the drought produced last year. by the meteorological phenomenon known as El Niño It has ravaged crops and led to serious problems of hunger over the past few months in more than 30 municipalities in the northern and central areas of the country; two communities reported having completely run out of both food and water weeks ago. Ortega also finally presented a national plan he said had been worked out with private enterprise. He assured that the government has enough food reserves for 40,000 families for six months and that the water shortage problem in many zones will be resolved by digging 392 new wells. He further announced that the Army will assign a permanent continent of 300-500 soldiers to act as forest rangers to deal with any emergency, presumably referring to forest fires.

Responding to criticisms of his government’s slowness in reacting to the problem, Ortega said he has been “working in silence, because when preparations are made it has to be done in silence.” With his now customary religiosity, he opened the explanation of his plans by recognizing that “we have to take firm and rapid steps, always foreseeing the most difficult and complex situations, but, as I have said on other occasions, only God determines, decides about Nature, whether it will rain or not! No government in the world has the capacity to make rain, to regulate time, to control the weather…”

With 87 of its 92 representatives voting in favor, the National Assembly passed a controversial “Moratorium Law” on February 24. It was originally proposed by what is known as the Nonpayment Movement, which, with early backing by President Ortega, has grown to some 5,000 producers owing a total of $8-10 million to the national micro-financing institutions (MFIs). Many of Nicaragua’s MFIs are small nonprofit organizations created in the past two decades to fill the vacuum of loans available to small producers following the demise of the State’s development bank. The new law suspends all pending lawsuits and sets the interest rate for renegotiating these debts, which is unconstitutional as the Central Bank, not the National Assembly, is the monetary system’s lead body and the General Law of Banks, not the National Assembly, sets interest rates, which it establishes as free of limits.

Given the government’s pledge to the IMF in 2009 not to approve this law, it’s hard to figure out why the FSLN and all other parliamentary benches voted in favor of it. According to the Nicaraguan Micro-Finances Association (ASOMIF)—whose member MFIs place loans averaging $800 with some 500,000 clients across the country—the law will have very negative consequences for the national economy by exacerbating the insecurity and risk of the international financiers who lend resources to the MFIs. Because of the Nonpayment Movement’s actions and the country’s generally high risk level, these financiers already reduced their loans to the MFIs last year, leaving them unable to serve around 50,000 clients, most of whom are small and medium rural and urban producers, low-income salaried workers and organized groups of women, many of them single mothers. The new law will leave another 80,000 clients unattended due to the anticipated loss of an estimated $70 million more formerly available as productive credits.

On February 21, General Julio César Avilés received the baton of authority from President Ortega as the new head of the Army of Nicaragua for the next five years. In his first speech, Avilés reaffirmed the army’s commitment to remain a professional, non-party, non-deliberative institution loyal to the Constitution and the law.

With his characteristic insistence, economist Adolfo Acevedo published a worrisome figure from the 2010 national budget: while the government dedicated only $257 million to education last year, it will be over $12 million less in 2010, equivalent to nearly 23% of the $72.8 million reduction in total government spending as a consequence of budgetary restrictions and Nicaragua’s commitments in the agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The education budget has already been cut three times since Ortega took office, distancing Nicaragua even further from its pledge to dedicate 7% of the gross domestic product to education so as to meet the Millennium Development Goals, which all the world’s governments committed themselves to achieving by 2015.

Among the recommendations made to Nicaragua at the Periodical Universal Examination in February, Iran lauded the Ortega government’s achievements in the literacy crusade, but recommended that it “assign more resources to education in the national budget, ensuring access to all levels of education, particularly for the most vulnerable groups.”

February 8 was the Nicaraguan government’s turn for the Periodical Universal Examination, a mechanism by which the United Nations Council on Human Rights reviews the human rights situation in member countries. During the three-hour discussion, government delegations from 47 countries in 4 continents made 109 recommendations to the Nicaraguan State, 32 referring to concern about the high rates of violence against women. The recommendations of eight countries—Great Britain, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Finland, Holland and France—focused on rescinding the criminalization of therapeutic abortion and allowing the interruption of pregnancy when the mother’s life is at risk or the pregnancy is the product of rape or incest. Nicaragua’s government delegation, headed by Minister of Government Ana Isabel Morales, discarded reestablishing therapeutic abortion: “The legal transformations and new regulations referring to abortion in Nicaragua,” she argued, “are the result of the exercise of sovereignty in our country. It is not a religious issue. The majority of Nicaraguan citizens believe that the right to the life of the unborn fetus is important because it is also a human being and thus enjoys the right to life, and that abortion is not an appropriate birth control method.” Her words did not go down well in the international hearing, not least because she misleadingly referred to therapeutic abortion as if it were abortion in general.

After the catastrophic earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, President Daniel Ortega ordered the immediate creation of a commission to organize the response to a similar future event in Nicaragua. On March 6, architect José Francisco Terán—one of the builders of the capital city of Managua—gave a conference on “Our coming earthquake.” Managua, built on top of active and risky seismic faults, was devastated by powerful earthquakes in both 1932 and 1972. Studies suggest that the capital could be at the doors to the next large one—more superstitious residents believe it could come in 2012, following what they believe to be a 40-year sequence, even though Managua suffered 5 moderate earthquakes in the 88-year period before 1932, none of them 40 years apart.

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