Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 347 | Junio 2010




Envío team

May was rife with speculations, proposals and backtracking about how and where the government would issue the $25 monthly “Christian, solidarity and socialist” bonus promised by President Ortega to the well over 100,000 state workers whose salaries fall below 5,500 córdobas (some $260). Finally, on May 27, only days before Nicaragua’s Mother’s Day, First Lady Rosario Murillo announced where the beneficiaries could go stand in line to get their money each month. (Because the bonus is being bankrolled by ALBA CARUNA, a private financing institution with links to the FSLN, it seemingly can’t be simply included in the government-issued paycheck.) The government chose the branches of three private national banks—Banco de Finanzas, Bancentro and Banpro—for the task. Murillo also announced that the number of beneficiaries had been increased from the 120,000 initially considered workers in education, health, the army and the police to 136,878, which now includes those of all state branches, municipal governments and other public workers whose salaries are below the set minimum.)

She also announced the prompt launching of other programs: the Productive Food Bond, the preschool program “Love for the Littlest Ones” and Agricultural Cycle. Murillo concluded her announcements declaring: “This is the good news we have for Nicaragua’s working families. We’re going forward with God’s favor.” In the meeting President Ortega held the previous day with the business elite of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), as always with his wife at his side, he asserted that “Rosario is the prime minister of this government”... an unofficial and unelected post.

Overlapping the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), celebrated on May 15, an international mission made a three-day visit to Nicaragua to appraise respect for human rights in the country. It was headed by Eric Sottas, secretary general of the World Organization against Torture, and Souhayr Belhassen, secretary general of the International Federation for Human Rights. The mission was received by President Ortega’s Vice President, the chief of the National Police, a Supreme Court justice and representatives of the National Assembly’s Justice Commission. At the end of its visit the mission expressed concern about the harassment of civil society organizations and human rights defenders, the lack of police response to acts of street violence led by the governing party, the absence of independence of the judicial branch and the climate of impunity described to it by people involved in cases of human rights abuse. The mission also questioned the criminalization of therapeutic abortion, considered a violation of women’s human rights. Its next step is to write up a report of what it learned.

The Nicaraguan government paid homage to Cardinal Miguel Obando on May 19 for the 25th anniversary of having been named cardinal in an event organized in the Rubén Darío National Theatre. The ceremony was attended by the presidential family, high government and religious officials, priests and invited political figures, among them former President Arnoldo Alemán and his former right hand as PLC treasurer and head of the government tax division, Byron Jerez. In the homage presided over by the presidential couple, President Ortega told the cardinal that “it is difficult to be able to express everything that the contribution of His Eminence, Cardinal Obando, as Christ’s representative, has meant for the people of Nicaragua. That is, it is Christ at the side of the poor, bringing them that message of hope, peace and reconciliation.” First Lady Rosario Murillo seconded the message: “The Nicaraguan soul is synthesized in Cardinal Miguel…. We see our shepherd, our inspiration in Cardinal Miguel…. He has taught us to weather all difficulties with faith, with love and above all with Christian spirit, which is not resignation, but accepting what the Lord designs…. Cardinal Miguel represents the future for us, in terms of that sign or that mandate of learning to live and coexist, learning to build peace every day.”

In Madrid on May 19, after nearly three tense and intense years, Nicaragua and the other five Central American countries concluded the negotiation process with the 27 countries of the European Union (EU) to make the Association Agreement (AA) between the two regions a reality. The agreement will go into effect within two or three years. According to José Adán Aguerri, president of Nicaragua’s Superior Council of Private Enterprise, the main advantage for Nicaragua is that all its agricultural products and 99% of its industrial ones will enter the European market without import duties while the agricultural products subsidized in the EU will not enter Nicaragua. The disadvantage is that the quotas for the sensitive products that Nicaragua will be able to export to Europe (meat, sugar, dairy products and textiles) were not as high as expected. The Europeans, in contrast, feel that the AA will strengthen Central American integration, since the EU wants to negotiate with a single interlocutor. President Ortega called the agreement a “success” and said he is “pleased and proud” to have saved the agreement from selfishness and disunity. Nicaraguan Trade Minister Orlando Solórzano said the President followed the windup of the negotiations by telephone. Mendel Goldstein, the EU ambassador in Nicaragua, defined the agreement as “equitable, fair and correct” and underscored the importance of increased European investment in the region, adding that attracting these investments requires juridical security, an aspect that “will depend a lot on the political climate” in the country.

After several years of national efforts, UNESCO declared the Island of Ometepe, situated in Cocibolca, Nicaragua’s Great Lake, a Biosphere Reserve on June 2. Up to now this island, with its two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, was considered a Natural Reserve in Nicaragua. With 276 square kilometers and 35,000 inhabitants, Ometepe is one of the largest fresh water islands in the world and has an important biodiversity in endemic flora and fauna, not to mention important Pre-Colombian archeological wealth. Given its geographic location, it is also an important stopover for migratory birds. Nicaragua has two other Biosphere Reserves: the Bosawás forest on the border with Honduras—currently in danger from invasions of settlers—and Río San Juan, which borders Costa Rica. Over the course of 2009, an ultimately unsuccessful media movement was developed to get Ometepe declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

The Budgetary Support Group, aptly known by its Spanish acronym GAP, was dissolved at the end of its legal mandate, after only five years. It was created in 2005 to support Nicaragua’s national budget with donations, a novel idea allowing the government to apply the money to budget lines it considered priorities as opposed to projects and programs of the donor countries. The GAP was initially made up of Finland, Switzerland, Holland, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Norway, the European Union as a whole, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Following the fraud-riddled municipal elections of November 2008, the GAP froze the US$60 million disbursement in non-reimbursable aid to the national budget for the end of that year because the government had failed to comply with the political conditions in the contract linked to that aid (democracy and electoral transparency, among others). When no sign of rectification by the government was forthcoming, countries began withdrawing from the GAP, some of which continued providing support to Nicaragua through other modalities, until only Holland, Finland, Switzerland, the EU, the World Bank and the IDB remained. Now the GAP as a whole is disappearing and with it Nicaragua loses a very beneficial mechanism of dialogue and international cooperation, not to mention significant freely available financing.

Since 2009 the government has had to replace the GAP donations with loans from the World Bank and IDB. Each GAP country is studying how and where to redirect the resources it supplied Nicaragua. On June 12, when announcing that Russia has donated Nicaragua $10 million in budgetary support, President Ortega made a big deal of the fact that the Russian government imposed no conditions.

National Police anti-narcotics agents and members of Army intelligence pulled off their most spectacular blow to international drug trafficking on May 13 when they detained the cargo ship Vitality, flying a Cypriot flag and carrying over a ton of cocaine packets camouflaged in huge sacks of cement from Colombia. They were discovered inside one of hundreds of containers of merchandise in the shipment headed to Guatemala. After seizing the drugs, the police surprisingly gave the boat’s Egyptian captain, Walid Moustafá Andezin, and the 24 crew members permission to continue on their way to Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, without detaining anyone. National Police Chief Aminta Granera announced that the operation was the result of international coordination and said she could not reveal details because investigations into the case would continue. She declared that neither the captain nor the crew knew what they were transporting and that in the 28 hours the ship was anchored in the Nicaraguan port they uncovered no evidence against any crew member. The drug haul, valued at more than US$20 million, was incinerated on May 16.

On June 2, First Lady Rosario Murillo announced that the government had decided to suspend diplomatic relations with the government of Israel as an expression of condemnation for the attack by the Israeli military in international waters against activists of various countries on a fleet of ships taking humanitarian aid to the population of the Gaza Strip in Palestine. Neither the Nicaraguan foreign minister nor his deputy minister could explain what “suspending” relations would involve, as the concept doesn’t exist in international diplomacy. Israel has no embassy in Managua, although its ambassador in Costa Rica is accredited with the Nicaraguan authorities.

The most surprising aspect was the reaction of evangelical pastors and even Salvador Talavera and Guillermo Osorno, two legislators linked with the evangelical movement, who not only opposed the gesture but warned of the gravity of breaking with Israel given that it is “God’s chosen people.” They fear that the governmental decision will bring God’s curses down on Nicaragua. They base their fears on biblical verses dedicated to the Israeli people in the book of Genesis (12:3), written some four thousand years ago: “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” They presented these messages to the media as “divine” and “eternal,” declaring that the government must therefore respect and obey them.

With support from the Government of Japan and the Pan American Health Organization, the Ministry of Health has conducted an entomological study in rural areas of the country. It concludes that Chagas Disease, a grave, even deadly disease transmitted by blood-sucking bugs, is present in rural areas of five northern departments of Nicaragua (Jinotega, Matagalpa, Estelí, Madriz and Nueva Segovia), especially in adobe houses. This illness, endemic in the poorest rural zones of Latin America, was identified in Nicaragua in 1949. It was first “discovered” by doctors Carlos Chagas (Brazilian) and Salvador Mazza (Argentine) in the early 20th century. The Argentine film “Houses of fire” (1995), relates the activity developed to eradicate it.

Former President Arnoldo Alemán filed on May 5 as the only aspiring presidential candidate for the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC). The next day, in a press conference, he showed his hands so that “disbelievers” could see that they bore the wounds and nails with which he “had been crucified.” But, he assured his audience, “We have resisted and we’re reengineering the PLC to await the resurrection of victory.”

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