Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 388 | Noviembre 2013




Envío team

Central America is grappling with the most serious dengue epidemic of the past five years. The Pan American Health Organization says the epidemic is due to a more resistant and aggressive strain that reproduced rapidly during the rainy months. An estimated 100,000 people have been infected in the region. After arguing for months that the situation in Nicaragua was under control and the most positive in the isthmus, the government was obliged to decree a health red alert on October 24 given a generalized resurgence of the epidemic. As of November 7, 16 people had died, the majority of them children and adolescents. More than 6,000 cases had been detected around the country, with an average of 90 new cases per day. Hundreds of people, dozens of them in critical condition, were interned in overflowing hospitals and health centers. The government deployed all its forces and efforts to halting propagation of the dengue-transmitting Aedes aegiypti mosquito, but is sticking to its policy of not openly sharing its information with any medium that is not governmental or at least pro-government.

Ever since June, when the relevant municipal institution announced that it was “modernizing” Managua’s urban transport by replacing cash payment of the 2.50-córdoba (US$0.10) bus fare with rechargeable e-tickets, there has been no end to glitches with the new system. The problems continue causing delays, annoyance, anger and even humiliation for the more than 400,000 Managuans who at least once a day use one of the 835 buses circulating on 35 routes through the capital. There are too few recharging posts, those that do exist don’t operate on the weekend and the electronic “validator” installed in the buses doesn’t always recognize the recharge, meaning that users have paid in vain as well as losing time standing in line to recharge the card.

MPeso, the private company that was selected with no bidding process to install the system and run it for the next 15 years, earning 0.16 córdobas per passenger using the card, has yet to respond to the avalanche of claims it has been receiving. No state or municipal authority has stepped forward to defend the users, increasing suspicions that the government is an MPeso stockholder. Some buses accepting both the card and coins circulated for several weeks, but that led to a situation in which the mixed buses were crammed with passengers while the card-only buses were nearly empty. As a result, the card was made mandatory in October, rendering the situation more problematic for those who come to the capital and have no card, particularly if they come on the weekend. “Modernity has only brought discomfort” was one user’s sum-up of a problem affecting tens of thousands of the capital’s poorest population, who most depend on public buses.

Twenty-two new mustard-yellow metal “trees of life,” inspired by the design of Australian Timothy Parish, who in turn was inspired by a painting by Austrian Gustav Klimt, were installed the length of the recently widened Bolívar Avenue in Managua at the order of the presidency. The live trees along the avenue were uprooted to install these 45-foot-high stylized structures, repeats of the eight that looked down on the celebration of the 34th anniversary of the revolution in July and are still there, plus the five that adorn Managua’s Hugo Chávez Plaza, which was inaugurated on July 28. Yet another 18 were “planted” in Managua’s traffic circles in early November, curiously replacing the Christmas trees made totally of colorful electric lights just as they were coming back into season. Those trees remained lit all year long for four consecutive years. but the change won’t mean an energy savings. Both surfaces of these 5-ton sandwiched tree silhouettes are punctured with hundreds of holes through which small bulbs glow for much of the night. The estimated cost of the materials is at least US$20,000 per tree, excluding labor, installation costs, the guards who protect them 24-7 and of course electricity. Neither the central government institutions nor the Managua mayor’s office is offering any information about the cost of this wasteful and seasonally untimely esthetic change.

On October 24, Nicaragua’s Academy of Sciences held its third forum on the possible construction of an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua. Three scientists presented their analyses: German evolutionary biologist Axel Meyer; Belgian entomologist Jean Maes, currently living in Nicaragua; and architect and climate change specialist José Antonio Milán. Meyer, who since 1984 has been studying Nicaragua’s crater lakes, which sparked particular interest in his talk because he explained how these lakes, although they are less than 20,000 years old, are places where “one can study the law of evolution.” A large variety of species of cichlid fish live in these waters and evolve independently because they are isolated and have no way of exchanging genetic information with other fish yet are subjected to the same environmental conditions. Different species of these fish are found in each of the country’s eight crater lakes. Meyer said these fish “are as important to understanding evolution as Darwin’s finches.” Biologists trained by Meyer today teach classes in universities of 15 different countries, sharing their knowledge of “this treasure” in Nicaragua, which Meyer warned could be lost with the potential ecological disaster the canal construction could cause.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post News in October, Wang Jing, the Chinese businessman who in June was granted an enviable concession to construct an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua, reconfirmed that construction will get underway late next year and “ships will be using it” by December 2019. He also announced that detailed information about the investors committed to this work will be released by the end of 2013 and again denied that the government of China is behind the project.

A delegation of 15 business leaders from Nicaragua’s Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), headed by President Ortega’s son Laureano Ortega Murillo and accompanied by several pro-government figures— FSLN legislative bench chief Edwin Castro, environmentalist Kamilo Lara, political analyst Arturo Cruz and National Council of Universities president Telémaco Talavera—traveled to China for a week in October to meet with Wang Jing. It had initially been announced that Luis Callejas, the head of the opposition bench, would be part of the delegation but in the end he was excluded, presumably because other bench members had announced that he would use the trip to let Wang Jing know his concession would be repealed “once there is a democratic government in Nicaragua.” Not surprisingly, the visitors returned convinced of Wang’s capacity to pull off this megaproject and fascinated by the Chinese companies he has contracted for it. They are now asking that the HKND Group, Wang Jing’s own company, created especially for this project, be given “the benefit of the doubt.” The Canal Concession Law has been the object of 32 suits signed by a total of 180 Nicaraguan citizens for violating some 40 articles of the Constitution.

The rust plague that hit the region last year has by now affected some 46,000 hectares of Nicaragua’s coffee groves, 32% of the total. More than 32,000 of the country’s coffee growers and their families, some 176,000 people, will suffer from a drop in income for several years and more than 120,000 agricultural workers will lose their jobs. As if this wasn’t enough, coffee growers and exporters have also been hit by a reduction in international coffee prices. Almost a year after the fungus began infesting Nicaragua’s coffee trees, the government has just informed coffee growers of a “national coffee growing transformation and development program” to which they are expected to contribute via a new tax of between US$2 and $5 per quintal of coffee exported over the next four years. The coffee growers’ guilds, which were not consulted, rejected the plan because it was imposed in this emergency situation. They say the cost of producing a quintal of coffee is US$160-165, while the international price they are paid to export it is only US$105.

Meanwhile, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) introduced a bill on October 18 to both protect coffee growers from the propagation of the fungus and adapt coffee-growing to a context of climate change. The drafting of the bill was preceded by consultations with growers, exporters and technicians who work on coffee production. Among other things it proposes that the State decree a phytosanitary emergency for six months and provide a package of agrochemicals free of charge to affected small growers with 3.5 hectares or less and at half price to those with between 3.5 and 7 hectares. It also proposes that the state development bank, Banco Produzcamos, grant a short-term loan with no more than 8% annual interest to coffee growers with between 7 and 14 hectares to buy inputs to control the plague and that the State give all those with under 14 hectares a package of seeds and inputs to grow food. Finally, the bill proposes that the State create a coffee renovation program and a set of monitoring and control, research, training, technology transfer and technical assistance actions to improve coffee cultivation and also expeditiously legalize the lands of small coffee growers who still don’t have property titles.

On October 29, at the 149th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) presented various cases it has documented showing the increasing institutional weakening of the National Police. The most notorious one occurred on June 22, when police looked on without intervening as a gang of FSLN militants assaulted and robbed some 50 youths who were supporting elderly retirees protesting the government’s refusal to give them the small pension to which they were legally entitled. CENIDH decided to denounce the situation before the IACHR after exhausting all channels with domestic entities and seeing no progress in the investigation.

On October 26, the seventh anniversary of the criminalization of therapeutic abortion independent of the cause, Nicaragua’s women’s organizations reminded the public that the Supreme Court has shelved 46 suits of unconstitutionality against that law for six years and nine months, violating the 60-day legal deadline for ruling on them.

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