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  Number 357 | Abril 2011
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

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ORTEGA’S INAUGURAL LESSON
The news in March that the FSLN’s electoral campaign chief in León would be Róger Gurdián, rector of León’s National Autonomous University (UNAN) campus , raised concern about what his naming means for university autonomy. In that same context, the academic authorities of UNAN’s Managua campus invited President Ortega to give what is known as the Inaugural Lecture for the 2011 academic year. One of the central messages of Ortega’s speech on March 10 was yet another denunciation of “savage capitalism,” this time seeing it as embodied in the independent media, especially La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario, the two national daily newspapers. He accused them both of illicit enrichment and pillaging state resources by demanding tax exonerations. “They have a monopoly on the written press,” he complained, charging that these two newspapers, respectively critical of his administration from the right and the left, don’t dare publish “the forms of illicit enrichment of the millionaire firms that run ads in their pages,” which don’t pay taxes, receive “covert money from the United States and Europe” and act as they do because “they are the oligarchy, representing the interests of those who sell out their country at the service of the Empire and savage capitalism.” The management of both newspapers responded that the media exonerations are based on a constitutional right that dates back to the revolution and that Ortega is himself now the owner of various radio stations and two national TV channels and is a partner in another national channel, none of which ever denounce private businesses.

CIVIL SOCIETY SENDS A LETTER TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
Ten civil society organizations, including CENIDH, the Autonomous Women’s Movement and the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP) issued an open letter to the International Community on March 24. The letter states that “Twenty years after the end of the war in Nicaragua and after having undertaken a political transition and democratization process, our country is again heading into an extremely dangerous political dead end. The presidential elections in November 2011 are unfolding in a scenario of institutional decomposition, violation of the Political Constitution of the Republic and the absence of minimum democratic guarantees, with a Supreme Electoral Council weighed down by responsibility for the massive fraud in the 2008 municipal elections, corruption and the illegal continuation in their functions of the magistrates who perpetrated it… Only clean and nationally and internationally observed elections can form a narrow bridge supporting democracy and stability. If that does not happen, we Nicaraguans will have to legitimately insist on challenging the results and those who intend to hide behind them.

“We want to acknowledge that in this difficult transition, international cooperation in all its forms has accompanied our country, allowing us to channel the conflicts growing out of the war, pacification and the political transition. It also helped cushion the structural situations derived from underdevelopment and poverty....

“Today we are seeing a growing withdrawal of the international community as a result of the Nicaraguan government’s refusal to fulfill the commitments it acquired. We are also seeing that the government is denying support to national civil organizations working in defense of citizens’ rights and democracy, governance, transparency, electoral processes and national electoral observation. And, contradictorily, we observe that the international financial institutions are ignoring the standards of governance and democracy that the government of Nicaragua is obliged to follow. We Nicaraguans paid a high price for re-founding the country on new foundations, and now that they are teetering, we must make a new effort, yet we feel that the international community is not contributing to that if it decides to ignore the true reasons for the democratic reversal, above all because the international community is a weighty factor in the country’s reality…. If support to those who are struggling against a dictatorship is legitimate, just and necessary, how can one justify turning one’s back on them when democracy is foundering? If the international community assumes a lukewarm and calculated position, it will actually be tolerating the dismantling of democracy in Nicaragua.”

THE END OF BOSAWÁS?
In late March, environmental expert Eduard Müller, president of the University for International Cooperation and vice-chair for Mexico, Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean of the World Commission on Protected Areas, shared with Central American University students recent studies showing that Nicaragua’s Bosawás Biosphere Reserve (631 square kilometers) will disappear in the next ten years. Some 20% of the forest coverage in the protected area and 60% in the buffer area has already been lost. Müller blamed mining, cattle ranching and indiscriminate tree felling for this catastrophic situation.

According to legislative representative Agustín Jarquín, of the parliamentary environmental commission, however, the deterioration of Bosawás is due to the political influences of different parties (FSLN and Liberals) and to the voracious ambition for land. In the judgment of Nicaraguan environmental export and former environmental minister Jaime Incer Barquero, the international cooperation funds for Bosawás have been spent on conferences, trips and publications instead of conservation and protection projects for such an important reserve and “the donors are now tired.” He added that “we have laws but nobody obeys them. There is a mafia doing business, extracting lumber and selling lands to ingenuous peasants.” Yadira Meza, Bosawás Reserve director in the Ministry of the Environment, declared that alarm about the reserve’s future is “overblown,” attributing it to “x numbers of NGOs.”

DRUG MONEY AND GOODS
In early March, at a forum on the scope of Law 735 for the Prevention, Investigation and Prosecution of Organized Crime, IEEPP researcher Roberto Orozco said that between 2009 and 2010 the National Police (PN) seized US$5 million from drug trafficking, which was “lost” once in the PN’s hands. Legislative representative José Pallais lamented that the executive branch has not created the Administrative Unit of Seized, Confiscated and Abandoned Goods established in Law 735. Days later, the PN Chief declared that penal action could be taken against Orozco. At the end of the month, an investigation by the weekly Confidencial reported, based on IEEPP investigations, that between 2004 and 2010, the PN seized $29.1 million, 502 light vehicles, 161 heavy vehicles and 94 power boats from drug traffickers, but never reported on how that money and those goods were distributed or for what purpose they were used. The PN itself has reported that it confiscated 13 aircraft and 74 pieces of real estate (farms and homes) in 2010 again without indicating what then happened to them. While discretion and non-transparency reign, the law clearly establishes that all seized money and goods must go into a Treasury Ministry account to then be added to the national budget.

OUR OWN DRUG CARTEL
Retired General Humberto Ortega, former head of the Army of Nicaragua, declared in mid-March that the powerful Mexican drug cartels are working to establish logistical and social bases in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. “These cartels have made enormous advances and suddenly we in Nicaragua are going to have our own strong, independent cartel, working hand in hand with the Mexican cartels.” Ortega’s declarations came in the context of the International Court at The Hague’s ruling on the border conflict between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. According to Ortega, a meeting must be held to establish a bi-national commission that, among other goals, would prevent the disputed zone from becoming an area for drug-trafficking activities.

VENEZUELAN AID
The Central Bank of Nicaragua presented a report on April 6 on the cooperation Nicaragua receives from Venezuela and manages outside of the national budget. The amount in 2010 was $511 million, $69 million greater than in 2009. Of that, $337 million is income from the favorable oil agreement through which Venezuela is benefiting the country. Another $163 million is in the form of lines of medium-term bilateral cooperation financing and the remaining $11 million is investments. According to the report, the oil and bilateral funds were dedicated to social and productive projects.

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