Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 396 | Julio 2014
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On June 5, the web page of HKND, the company of Wang Jing, the businessman whom President Ortega granted the right to construct an interoceanic canal a year ago, announced more sub-projects than those already included in the concession. The original eight were two airports, two ports, two free trade zones, an oil pipeline and a railroad line. The new entry has eliminated an airport while adding a vacation center, electricity plant, cement and steel factories and “other installations” to guarantee having the canal ready in five years. This information further convinced those who think the canal is just an excuse for these other projects, so they can benefit from the privileges established for the supposed canal megaproject. One of these privileges, for example, is that the concession holder will pay no tax and need not comply with any penal or labor law in Nicaragua. Point I of article 2 of the concession opens the door for Wang Jing to add any project he so chooses.

The web page also referred to meetings with the Inter-American Development Bank and International Financial Corporation in December 2014 (sic). The latter is a World Bank Group member offering investment, advisory and asset management services to encourage private sector development in developing countries. Meetings were also reportedly held to present the canal as environmentally friendly to four internationally influential environmental organizations. The web page further mentioned a meeting in Washington with the World Bank team for Central America, in which environmental and feasibility studies were presented. In late June the World Bank clarified that it had only been presented the initiative itself, but no study. HKND said the canal construction will involve the excavation of 40 billion cubic tons of dirt. On June 24, the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry announced that it would reveal the canal route the following week. But a week later the government only met with representatives of big Nicaraguan capital to provide them some advance information on the issue. The president of the Chamber of Construction “calculates” that prior to the canal there will be yet other megaprojects, starting with the deep-water port on the Caribbean coast.

Emilio Álvarez Montalván, an acute analyst of Nicaragua’s politics and political culture, and also a prestigious ophthalmologist, died on July 2. His last writing was the prologue to a book published on May 15 by Nicaragua’s Academy of Sciences that pulls together critical studies and other contributions to the debate on the Ortega government’s megaproject to build an interoceanic canal through Nicaragua. Among other things Álvarez Montalván said this: “Our country’s vocation is basically agricultural because we have at least 700,000 hectares of fertile land the length of the Pacific Coast, a reserve of several million cubic meters of water for human use and irrigation, a labor force adequately prepared for work in the countryside, a demand for food from all parts of the world and suitable zones for cultivating forest reserves…. Many wonder why it matters if the Academy of Sciences of Nicaragua participates in these studies [on the canal]. We have to remember that the scientific method is the most important and applicable that humans know, because it puts us on the right path to the truth, both reasoned and experimented…. [The contributions gathered in the book] are barely the tip of the iceberg of all we must know before Nicaragua embarks, full sail, to cut a path that if not well thought through would bring us irremediable damage.”

Two years after Nicaragua’s Family Code was passed in general by the National Assembly, then shelved for all those months, the governing party bench finally finished the task of approving it point by point on June 24. The opposition Assembly members promptly filed suit claiming unconstitutionality because a chapter incorporating the FSLN’s Cabinets of Family, Community and Life—the new name for what were originally called Councils of Citizens’ Power when First Lady Rosario Murillo created them in 2007—was added in February of last year by the governing party’s representatives and thus never debated or put to the general vote. In envío’s June 2012 issue, sociologist María Teresa Blandón analyzed the contents of the code that has now been approved, describing it as “conservative neoliberal interventionism.”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, reelected in mid-June, declared that he
will not change his position on refusing to respect the November 2012 ruling by the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The decision awarded Nicaragua as its exclusive economic zone over 90,000 square kilometers of the Caribbean Sea previously under Colombian sovereignty. Santos reiterated that the ruling is “inapplicable” because Colombia’s Constitution establishes that the country’s borders can only be modified through a treaty. In one of his first interviews after his reelection, Santos told CNN’s Spanish-language programming that he would work to hammer out such a treaty with the government of Nicaragua. In Nicaragua it had been feared that the elections would be won by Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the candidate backed by former President Uribe, whose positon on the border issue would have been more negative for Nicaragua.

In his first visit to Washington, Costa Rica’s recently elected President Luis Guillermo Solís advocated what he referred to as “intelligent pragmatism.” This involves taking the controversial issue of the countries’ shared border, the Río San Juan, out of Costa Rica’s relations with Nicaragua, thus freeing up the two governments to cooperate on issues of common interest that “go far beyond border problems.” Solís believes “we need to ensure that the complex binational agenda continue to be dealt with through commercial, diplomatic or security means.” He recalled that Costa Rica exports over US$700 million in products to Nicaragua annually and that many millions more have left Costa Rica for Nicaragua in the form of remittances sent by the more than 400,000 Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica. “I’d have to be crazy,” he said, “not to understand the need for caring, close work to deal with these people’s needs. But that doesn’t stop me from maintaining an absolutely clear and firm position on the border issue.”

In the first six months of this year, 49 women were murdered, an average of almost two a week. The killers in these often furiously cruel crimes are mainly the women’s partners or ex-partners. The majority of the victims were no older than 40. These tragedies have stirred up the debate about the efficacy or pertinence of Law 779, which severely penalizes all forms of violence against women. Women’s organizations are demanding that the government adequately apply the law, which has already been in effect for two years, and provide a large enough budget to guarantee effective policies that address the murder of women as the maximum expression of the misogyny characterizing machista culture. They are also calling on the State to take care of the dozens of orphans these crimes leave, 60% of whom reportedly witnessed their mother being killed. They insist that a “red alert” be declared due to the increase of these tragedies, which also relate to the prevalence of sexual abuse in our society. This month the Institute of Legal Medicine reported that 80% of the charges of sexual abuse reaching that institution come from girls under 18 years old.

The mayor of the municipality of Waslala, Luis Ramírez, reported in Managua that “any number of truck trailers continues to leave the Bosawás nucleus zone carrying thousands of cubic meters of lumber, but no one says anything. The Army isn’t saying anything and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment isn’t either, because they say it’s an order.” His declarations echo previous ones that this order comes “from above” and that ALBA Forestal is responsible for exploiting that lumber and causing the disaster in the Bosawás forest reserve. With a total extension of 20,000 square kilometers, Bosawás is home to 10% of the world’s biodiversity and has been a biodiversity reserve since 1997. William Schwartz, director of the National Forestry Institute, a state institution now under the direct orders of the presidency, said the pillaging of Bosawás has been going on for decades, but the disaster is only now being talked about “because this government is putting it on the agenda and seeking a solution.” Schwartz announced that 11 million trees will be planted across the country in 2014, including areas near Bosawás.

With the annual commemoration of the revolution approaching, First Lady Rosario Murillo sent a circular to the governing party’s base that begin with these two paragraphs: “Thirty-five years after the triumph of the Revolution, and with so many and such Glorious, often Difficult Periods, with such a Historic Battle, we cannot lose sight of the fact that each day, each hour, each minute, is one of Struggle and must contribute to all the Victories. Each day we receive in our Consciousness, in our Heart, in our Hands, the Keys to the Future. Each day we are called upon to open Doors. More and More Doors, using the Keys that are, precisely, our Capacities, our Devotion, our Commitment, to the Ideals, the Mystique and the Mythic nature of the Nicaraguan People’s Heroic Struggle, in the Sandinista National Liberation Front.”

She also presented the official song of the celebration, titled “A better world.” Given that Murillo wrote the lyrics, her son Juan Carlos did the musical arrangements, and Juan Carlos and another of Murillo’s sons, Maurice Facundo, were responsible for the production, it was quite a family affair. Days later it was learned that the song, originally composed in 1996 by Les Reed and Geoff Stephens with the title “There’s a kind of hush,” was a hit for British beat band Herman’s Hermits and has since been recorded by musicians ranging from The Carpenters to Perry Como and Barry Manilow. Los Yakis recorded a version in Spanish, titled “Murmullo de amor.”

On June 26, with the 63 votes of the governing party bench, the National Assembly finished approving the new National Police Law on an article-by-article basis. This is the Ortega government’s final step to ensure total control of the country’s institutions. Among other things, the new law no longer prohibits the National Police from engaging in political proselytizing. For months now, well before the law was passed, police uniforms have sported a new embroidered logo, which is also printed on police stationery and on posters and banners. It shows the silhouette of Sandino, plus two numbers: 80 (for this year’s anniversary of the assassination of Sandino) and 35 (the anniversary of the revolution). The silhouette is surrounded by the phrase “In Sandino and with Sandino. National Police always at your service.” Although all Nicaraguans consider Sandino a national hero, the logo symbolizes a subtle partisan skew the governing party wants to imprint on this armed institution.

Costa Rica’s team made history in the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil. Although the passion for soccer is quite recent in Nicaragua and the country is far from having a team with World Cup aspirations, one Nicaraguan was present in the competition: The Costa Rican team’s most valuable player, defender Óscar Duarte, was born in Catarina, Masaya. When he was five, his family migrated to Costa Rica, where they still live. Duarte’s goal against Uruguay “made Costa Rica dream” and his sending off against Greece “left a hole hard to fill,” according to the neighboring country’s media. Duarte visits Nicaragua regularly because he still has relatives here. His mother says his grandmother, who died last year in Nicaragua, was always “his inspiration.” Duarte’s role as a sports and human bridge is surely helping improve relations between the two peoples, if not their governments.

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