Clouds in the government’s statistical heaven
Heavy clouds have darkened
the sunny sky of official statistics
that show Nicaragua as a place
where life is safe and pleasant.
In the nearly eight years of
this is the cloudiest sky yet,
portending a nasty rain for many.
Extended drought, hunger, thirst, skyrocketing prices for beans and other staples, repercussions from the coffee fungus plague, economic downturn, budget cuts, no more US import duty privilege for the sweatshops, a decline in Venezuelan cooperation, rising violence against women, political violence that can no longer be denied… Life is grimmer for more people than the government would have us believe.
Drama in the dry corridorCentral America’s worst drought in 50 years has hit the length of the “dry corridor,” which runs from southern Mexico to northern Costa Rica. In Nicaragua it covers a wide swath right down the center of the country.
A 2012 study of the dry corridor by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Action against Hunger and the European Union says droughts severely affect 27 Nicaraguan municipalities (11.5% of its total territory) and can strongly effect another 63 (36.9%). The poverty and malnutrition figures are significantly higher in the country’s dry corridor than in its other municipalities.
No harvest Is the current drought another expression of the climate change already knocking on the whole world’s doors? Do we have the marine current known as El Niño to blame for the calamity, or is it La Niña this time, both of which periodically form in the Pacific Ocean? Or is this just another of those droughts that have frequently affected our country since long before these phenomena were known or at least called by those names?
and no animals
Whatever the cause, the reality is that four months into the normal six-month rainy season, there has been such an anomalous distribution of rainfall in the country’s seven climatic zones, causing major scarcities in the dry corridor, that more than 40,000 peasant families have lost all or nearly all of the season’s first planting of maize and beans (May-August). That in turn has meant they have no seeds for the second planting (September-December). People have also had to eat their barnyard animals (chickens and pigs) and are beginning to lose any larger livestock they had (cows and the short-haired pelibuey sheep) because there’s been nothing for the animals to eat. The dry corridor’s small cattle ranchers are selling off their starving cows at any price they can get rather than see them die.
In the drought areas some 3,000 head of cattle have already died. While that’s a small percentage of the nation’s total herd of some 5 million animals, leaders of the National Ranchers’ Commission, the Milk Producers’ Union and the Federation of Nicaraguan Ranchers’ Associations were warning as early as mid-July that up to a million head were malnourished due to the lack of pasture and rising cost of substitute feed.
There’s hunger…When the rains failed to come, the government opted to look the other way. At the July 19 celebration, President Ortega didn’t say a word about a situation that was already generating anguish in different parts of the country.
When silence no longer worked, the government minimized the problem. By early August and there was finally no choice but to accept the reality. Ortega called it a “critical social emergency,” requesting aid from international agencies and sending food packets out to territories where the harvest had been lost. He did it with support from the World Food Programme (WFP), which will assist 46,000 families living in the dry corridor for five months. According to official information, the monthly food packets contain 15 pounds of maize, 30 of rice, 10 of beans, 5 of cereal, 2 of salt and 3 liters of cooking oil per family.
Maize and beans make up the traditional basic meal in dry corridor households. The common accompaniment is eggs, at least once a day and up to three times, as well as milk, but the chickens and cows that have survived are barely producing.
Those most affected by the dramatic consequences of the drought are the poorest peasant families, particularly those headed by single women who only grow crops for subsistence. Such families are a good part of the population living in the dry corridor. The loss of the year’s first harvest is synonymous with hunger in households that only plant to eat; should they be lucky enough to have any surplus they have to sell it to be able to buy other essential items. Those households are now hoping against hope for rain in September and October to provide them survival food in the year’s last harvest.
…but no one’s starvingIn mid-August some media began to use the tragic word “starvation,” accompanying their reports with images of huge expanses of cracked, dry land strewn with scrawny cattle carcasses.
Helmut Rauch, WFP’s representative in Nicaragua, however, backed the government’s favorable statistics and the image of normality it has attempted to maintain despite the drought. Offering us a much-needed vocabulary lesson at this time, he argued that the term “starvation” is used to designate a “socioeconomic process that occurs when a population group suffers the deterioration of their food level over a long time because they don’t have enough food and there are no economic resources to provide it to them.” He argued that this can’t be applied to what’s happening in Nicaragua this year. Could it have been if the WFP hadn’t stepped in?
Structural solutions The declarations of Miguel Barreto, WFP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, seemed both more realistic and more worrying. He estimated the number of people in Central America’s dry corridor who are suffering “food insecurity” at a million and a half.
are urgently needed
Although he didn’t use the word starvation, he acknowledged that “if we do reach an emergency situation, we don’t currently have the capacity to respond to it, which could increase the levels of acute malnutrition in children under five years old, who are the most vulnerable.”
Barreto insisted on structural solutions: “As long as there is no investment in child nutrition, the children who will be adults within 20 years will never climb out of poverty.” He called on the Central American governments to make short-, medium- and long-term investments to underpin the drought response strategies: “There needs to be investment in water infrastructure to avoid depending exclusively on rain and getting into emergency situations each year.”
To keep any dark clouds from encroaching on the blue sky of official statistics, Nicaragua’s government has resisted declaring a “food emergency” even though the State’s own 2012 Demography and Health Survey showed one in three children in the municipalities of the dry corridor suffering chronic malnutrition even before this year’s severe drought.
There’s also thirst in thisAs grave as the hunger, if not more so, is the thirst. There’s no rain water to make things grow and also less and less water in the springs, rivers and wells for people and their animals to drink. Both the hunger and the thirst are provoking or aggravating illnesses and will continue to do so in the near future.
country of abundant water
No one seems to be responsible for the Niño and Niña currents, and responsibility for climate change is arguably shared by humanity as a whole—irresponsible corporations and millions of individuals of both today’s generation and preceding ones. But we must also admit that much of the responsibility for the thirst being accentuated during this drought falls squarely on our shoulders as Nicaraguans.
Research expert and water activist Ruth Selma Herrera put her finger on the underlying problem in a Speaking Out article in last month’s envío titled “How much longer will the country’s water last?” “Who wants to seriously discuss investment in water?” she asked rhetorically. “The issue isn’t even on the agendas of our public officials or, unfortunately, of our social, political, religious, community and economic leaders.” Like Barreto, she insisted on the urgent need to invest in water infrastructure.
A future with more thirst “There are studies,” says Herrera, “that show how climate change is going to reduce the rains in the Pacific area and increase the temperature several degrees, which will result in even greater and faster water evaporation. The increased temperatures also translate into greater demand for water by both humans and livestock. We may be facing a future of droughts and more heat while lacking systems to conserve the rainwater. Given the real possibility of that scenario, why not reserve [Lake Cocibolca’s] water for irrigation systems that guarantee the country’s food security? This should be a national priority, not an interoceanic canal.”
and a painful paradox
The irresponsibility of our governments, big private businesses and ordinary people has been drying up or contaminating innumerable water sources, rendering them unusable even before this drought. The greed of authorities at all levels in this and previous governments and of big lumber dealers, as well as large-scale ranchers clinging to traditional extensive cattle raising, have rapidly increased deforestation, preventing rain from infiltrating into the soil and recovering the groundwater.
It is one of the most painful paradoxes that water is being wasted, damaged, not cared for and not prioritized in Nicaragua, the country with the greatest amounts of available water on the continent, enough to supply the entire Central American region. And now the unconsulted decision has been made to risk its greatest reserve of water, Lake Cocibolca, by constructing a canal that will benefit a private Chinese company…
What’s with the huge The price of Nicaraguans’ basic daily protein, red beans, began an unstoppable rise well before the drought. The spike in their price in Nicaragua looks like this: they cost a relatively steady 7 córdobas a pound last year; 10 this January, 16 in February, 19 in April, 24 by the end of May and 30 by the first days of August, equivalent to a 329% rise in eight months, from $0.27 to $1.15. Never has gallopinto, Nicaraguans’ typical rice and bean dish, cost so much.
rise in bean prices?
Only small farmers grow beans. They plant at least two and in some cases three times a year depending on the zone they live in: January-April generally provides 60% of the production; May-August 20% and September-December the remaining 20%. Nicaragua annually consumes 2.7 million quintals of red beans, the nation’s favorite, the indispensable variety. Although enough red beans seem to have been produced in the 2013-2014 cycle both for consumption and export to other countries (Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador), the scarcity hit suddenly and with no clear explanation. Was less produced? More exported? Was there Hoarding? Speculation? And if the latter, who was doing it?
From black to redOne of the hypotheses making the rounds has to do with the government promising peasant growers very good prices over the last couple of years to help satisfy Venezuela’s demand for black beans, because part of Nica¬ragua’s oil bill to that country is paid in kind. In that country black beans rather than red are the preferred, indispensable variety.
The hypothesis is that the production of black beans grew more than Venezuela could absorb while shrinking the red bean production. But the Central Bank’s statistics show a normal production of red beans. Moreover, the State’s Export Procedures Center (CETREX) reports that red bean exports this year haven’t exceeded 2013 levels.
The black bean production was bought up by AlbaAlimentos, a division of Albanisa, run by the governing party’s economic group that monopolizes exports to and imports from Venezuela. AlbaAlimentos is already the fourth largest export company in Nicaragua. A good part of the red bean production seems to have been bought by ENABAS, the state company, paying peasants 400-600 córdobas a quintal.
Another hypothesis, then, is that the government stored the red beans ENABAS purchased to encourage Nicaraguans to buy the alleged excess production of black beans, but in the end put the red beans out for sale because the induced scarcity drove their price out of the reach of the poor, who aren’t used to and don’t like black beans. If true, that would explain where the government got what it’s calling “solidarity beans,” being sold in poor barrios “in defense of the family economy” at 15-16 córdobas a pound. While that’s about half the current market price, it’s 1,000 córdobas ($38) more per quintal than the producers were paid. But then again most poor farmers don’t have the means to store their harvest so would have had to sell at harvest time in any case, possibly to private merchants offering an even lower price.
“The cost of living The price of beans isn’t the only thing that has gone up. The prices of all basic products have been on an unstoppable rise this year.
went up again…”
According to Central Bank data, the price of the basket of essential goods increased an average 12% just between January and July, with food prices making the biggest jump: 19.6%. The same basket that cost 8,500 córdobas in May was already at 11,400 in July (an increase of roughly $326 to $438). This rapid rise, which everyone feels and resents, has long since eaten up the hard-negotiated 300-córdoba minimum wage increase that benefited some 100,000 workers in the first quarter of the year.
While the increase in the cost of the basic basket has been hard on minimum wage workers, it has been even harder on the majority of Nicaraguans who are underemployed and/or work in the informal sector, with no social security or fixed wage. Their shortfall is never captured in the official statistics.
The repercussions of Almost two years after the appearance of the rust plague, which affected 37% of Nicaragua’s coffee groves, the repercussions have yet to be surmounted.
the coffee fungus plague
The only good news about the drought is that it is slowing down that fungus, which advances faster in the rainy season. But the other side of this coin is that the drought is weakening the groves that were replanted and pruned to stave off the fungus, and the resulting lack of moisture in the ground impedes the effective use of fertilizers and compost to strengthen them.
The plants themselves are employing a natural defense mechanism in response to the drought: they’re dropping off the berries that didn’t develop well. But because of the drought even those berries that did develop don’t have enough “honey,” which means a drop in their quality. This discouraging situation will offset the better international coffee prices generated by Brazil’s problems with its harvest this year.
The repercussions of the rust plague are felt mainly in the standard of living of the families of small growers, laid-off coffee workers and migrant pickers. Nicaragua has 45,000 coffee-growing families. Half the country’s coffee is grown by the 5% with medium-sized groves and the 5% with large plantations while the other half is grown by the 90% of small peasant families, many organized in cooperatives.
Last November it was calculated that more than 32,000 small coffee growing families, some 176,000 people, had been suffering a drop in income for several years and that more than 120,000 migrant and fulltime farm¬workers would lose their sources of work because there would be fewer coffee groves to go to and less coffee to pick. All that adds up to more hunger and more migration.
The economy is deceleratingMany reasons are behind the notable increase in migration, including the coffee crisis, the general lack of work and the drought…
and migration is accelerating
The Costa Rican Consulate is now issuing 800 visas a day to Nicaraguan men and women, the majority of them young, who are heading to that neighboring country, or further south to Panama, in search of work, food and a future. Others with more means are going to Spain. Fewer are now going to the United States, unless they already have relatives there. Migrants are another enormous group never represented in the rosy official statistics and always forgotten in the upbeat government speeches.
The government has had to recognize that the economy is in a downturn, that inflation hit 5.03% in August due to the rises in basic basket prices. It has also admitted that it needs support from the international financing institutions because it can’t deal with the situation alone.
The economic deceleration was already observed in the first quarter and the government is now admitting that it will intensify until the end of the year. It’s attributing it to the effects of the drought, increased oil prices, dropping international prices for Nicaragua’s export products and the world economy’s slow economic recovery. Another thing the official statistics don’t measure and the government’s repetitive speeches never mention is the serious deterioration in the already low living standards of a huge segment of the population, which is also slowing down the economy’s vitality.
The budget had to be cutGiven this whole panorama, the government had to cut the 2014 budget by over 3 billion córdobas (nearly US$115.4 million) barely two months before concluding its execution, in an adjustment operation dubbed Plan B.
The legislative branch received the proposed budget cut on August 9. While the parliamentary opposition highlighted its “antisocial” slant, which especially affected investments in health and education and reduced transfers to the poorer municipalities. the governing party’s absolute majority approved it with no debate, objection or change 19 days later.
Both the legislators who approved the reduction and government spokes¬people offer three reasons for the cuts: deceleration in the construction sector, the drought, and the consequences of the April 10 earthquakes and their aftershocks, which affected people’s vacation and shopping plans during Easter week.
They neglected to But independent economists don’t accept the government’s interpretation. They have demonstrated that the need to cut the budget is largely explained by a 7% fall in tax collection not due to the earthquakes but to the new Tax Concertation Law. They calculate that changes to the law have caused a shortfall of over 5 billion córdobas (some $192 million) with respect to the expected target.
mention the new tax law…
That law, which went into effect in January 2013, was designed and “concerted” only between the government and the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) as yet another expression of the Ortega-Murillo corporative government in alliance with big national capital. Rather than reducing the tax exonerations and other fiscal privileges for the largest businesses and most profitable economic activities, it in fact increased some of them. It also favored the business elite with respect to their income tax payments and reduced the selective consumer tax on imported luxury items.
Tax law expert Julio Francisco Báez recalls that when the law was approved “we watched big capital’s representative [COSEP president José Adán Aguerri] passionately spreading the word about it, something that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world.” Economist Adolfo Acevedo wrote: “It would be an act of honesty on the part of those who designed the Tax Concertation Law to explain to us citizens why tax income has plummeted since it was introduced.”
…and the political decisionsFor his part, economist Néstor Avendaño says the budget is feeling the effects of a political decision by the government: “Since 2012 the budget has no longer received any multilateral support in hard currency to finance public spending [i.e. not tied to projects]—specifically the US$45 million the Inter-American Development Bank loaned the government the last two months of each year—after the executive branch decided not to sign the fifth three-year economic program with the International Monetary Fund.”
He also pointed out that in 2009, following the fraud in the previous year’s municipal elections, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/International Development Association, which are part of the World Bank Group and respectively provide support to middle-income and the poorest countries, suspended the annual US$25 million budgetary support loan they had been providing.
Will the end of the TPLs... A particularly threatening cloud in the sky of already scarce national employment is the possibility—to which the Ortega government already appears resigned—that its 10-year Tariff Preference Level (TPL) privilege with the United States will not be extended after expiring on December 31. Granted exclusively to Nicaragua in 2004 when the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic signed the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement with the United States, it has permitted assembly plants (maquilas) operating in Nicaragua duty free export to the US of textile products made with fabric produced in countries that did not sign that agreement.
This attracted foreign investors to Nicaragua because, in addition to the low wages the government allows in the free trade zones as one of the country’s “competitive advantages,” they could also bring in cheap cloth from other countries as well as importing cloth duty free from the US and still export the finished articles duty free to the US. Just before CAFTA was signed in the US in 2006, however, some US textile companies imposed a restriction known as “1-for-1” strictly for the production of trousers, in which the amount of US fabric must match that of foreign fabric in the total export of trousers to the US. Nicaragua’s compliance has been consistently deficient and in 2012 its TPL tariff-exempt fabric yardage level was cut by 3% and trousers that would otherwise have been eligible for duty-free entry were subjected to a rate ranging from 5.6% ad valorem to 28.2% ad valorem.
According to a lobbying document by American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), a US national trade association, Nicaragua is now the third largest market for US exports of industrially loomed fabrics and the 12th largest supplier of apparel to the United States. Stating that a number of large companies have already said they will move sourcing from Nicaragua to Asia if there is uncertainty about the program, the document argues that “this would hurt Nicaraguan purchases of US fabrics… and would eliminate a key sourcing tool for US apparel brands and retailers.”
The document concludes by urging the US Congress to extend the TPLs to Nicaragua “to facilitate continued growth in both countries.” But as this discussion is not one of Congress’ priorities, Nicaragua’s business association believes there will be no TPL, at least for the coming year. But maybe later, who knows…
...mean the end ofThe roster of public employees inflated by this government for political reasons masks Nicaragua’s chronic unemployment, which is also compensated for by the remittances our emigrants send back after finding work in Costa Rica, Panama, Spain and the United States. And of course it is alleviated by the 147 plants—60% of them of US origin—currently operating under the TPL regime in the free trade zones. Some 108,000 people work in exhausting and discapacitating jobs in the maquilas, where most sewing machine operators are women between the ages of 17 and 35, the majority of them single mothers.
thousands of jobs?
As the AAFA noted, the end of this tariff privilege would surely trigger the flight of what is known in the Latin American world of maquilas as “swallow capital.” This refers to assembly plants that bring little more than their sewing machines to the industrial parks built for them by the government, then pick up and leave at a moment’s notice when more favorable conditions open up elsewhere. The estimate is that between 10,000 and 15,000 workers could lose their sweatshop jobs next year.
Less Venezuelan cooperation? In August the Reuters news agency reported that fuel deliveries to Vene¬zuela’s 21 Petrocaribe partner countries have been reduced by 11% since last year due to Venezuela’s economic and political difficulties and because PDVSA, its state-run oil company, is prioritizing the export of its crude to China.
We in Nicaragua have only rumors, no hard or official data, of reductions in the deliveries of crude to Nicaragua’s state oil company, Petronic. But whether or not it’s true at this moment, there’s been no doubt for some time that it soon will be.
Embryonic political violence:In the Speaking Out section of this issue, Roberto Orozco, an expert on security and drug trafficking, warned that if we were to put little red stars on a map of Nicaragua in all the places where there have been serious armed combats with members of the Army and Police for political reasons, “we would see that we’re involved in what is militarily known as low-intensity conflict, which could increase in intensity depending on many factors; that we’re in a stage of embryonic political violence that could lead to more serious political violence.”
How far will it go?
The government is trying to act as if this cloud is no big deal either and will just blow over. The Army and Police insist on attributing the armed confrontations in rural zones over the past couple of years to “criminal groups.” The Police chiefs used the same term for two separate nighttime ambushes of a caravan of buses carrying Sandinista sympathizers home from the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the revolution in Managua on July 19. Five people were killed and more than twenty wounded. Those bloody events, which occurred hours apart in two different areas of the department of Matagalpa, shook even the nonpolitical population, earning the country’s map several larger red stars.
Are they really just On August 7, after two and a half weeks of raids on homes and arrests that violated both the human rights of the accused and all legal processes, National Police Chief Aminta Granera presented eight of the nine men accused of being the intellectual and material authors of the July 19 attacks and offered the official version of how the events occurred. According to her they had been planned for a month. She made no reference to the relationship between three Sandinista peasants initially accused of organized crime for having allegedly thrown rocks at the buses before the attackers opened fire.
In clarifying the attack “detail by detail,” as the government media described it afterward, she reaffirmed that the Police had found “no indication that it was a political act.” But her explanation generated questions the government has yet to answer. In response to insistent journalistic probing about the motive, she made a comparison that was both out of place and incoherent: “I would only ask myself what is gained by people in the United States who grab an AK and go shoot down thousands of students in a school. Was their motive political given that they didn’t rob their victims? I don’t believe robbery necessarily has to be involved to state that it is a criminal act.”
The accused will be tried on October 3, and for legally improper reasons the trial was moved from Matagalpa to Managua. Although one of the eight men was identified as linked to the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas, also responsible for trafficking in persons and international theft of vehicles, he had been moving freely around the country. The ninth man accused, who Granera said is a fugitive, is a former Sandinista Army captain.
Gonzalo Carrión, the legal director of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, (CENIDH), said that “we’re up against a farce. The way this case is being managed is as disastrous as the July 19 massacre itself was painful.”
At the September 2 commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Army of Nicaragua, President Ortega seemed to be referring to this case when he said that “there are criminals who want to present themselves as patriots and go around killing people as part of a network of drug traffickers interested in setting themselves up in the country, as they have done in the mountains of Jinotega.”
What it’s really showing us, however, as Orozco argues in his Speaking Out article, is that the concentration of power in a single individual, fraudulent elections, exclusion, social control, scandalous levels of inequity and the politicization of the security forces are all triggering political violence, an evil whose ravages we have already experienced in so many moments of our history.
It’s not femicide if Violence against women has also shot up, including the maximum expression of that violence: femicide. Violence against women isn’t new; it’s a very old thundercloud. What’s new is the way the statistics are currently trying to cloak it. This month the government organized a “legal” operation to reduce the femicide figure in its statistical heaven.
there’s no affective link?
With 48 femicides already counted in the first half of the year, National Police Deputy Director Francisco Díaz, an in-law of Daniel Ortega, reduced the figure to only 18 on July 4, when he stated in a press conference that the Police define a woman’s murder as femicide only “when the man who kills the woman has an affective link to her.” As an example of this new criterion, which violated the definition in the Comprehensive Law against Violence toward Women (Law 779), passed a year ago, he offered the case of US missionary Karen Colclough. In April, she was on an empty beach taking photos when she was surprised by a man who tied her up, raped her, strangled her, stole her camera and left her to die. “According to the investigation, the motive was theft of the camera and as there was no link, no kinship, we wrote it up as murder,” concluded Díaz. His declarations were the backdrop to a presidential decree regulating Law 779 that appeared in the July 31 edition of the official government journal La Gaceta Diario Oficial.
“Moving forward in That decree is illegal and unconstitutional both because only the legislative branch may legally reform a law and because no regulation can be above the law, but this decree substantially changes the law it is meant to regulate. Ignoring strong opposition by the women’s movement, the National Assembly’s FSLN bench had already modified the law in September 2013, only three months after it was passed, to introduce mediation as a prioritized “solution” in cases of violence against women.
faith, family and community”
Strengthening the family more important than proecting womenAccording to President Ortega’s decree, the objective of Law 779 is now “the strength¬ening of the family,” not the defense of women. Its characterization of femicide reflects Díaz’s definition: the murder of a woman is only femicide when the man kills her in the private sphere and has “interpersonal relations with her as a couple.” The law’s original language defines it as the murder of women in both the private and public sphere if there were “unequal power relations.”
The decree also now complicates the route for resolving cases of gender violence in the woman’s own home, as it will no longer be initiated with a charge filed in the National Police Stations for Women and Children, as befits the crime it is. Now it must start in one of the new entities called Family Counseling Services, made up of governing party members from the Family Cabinets (themselves originally called Councils of Citizens’ Participation, or CPCs) and “representative sectors of the community.” These counseling services will seek to resolve situations of violence against women by prioritizing the “conservation of family unity” and will do so “in house-to-house visits and in schools of values.”
Whatever input led the authors of this scheme to think it will have any effect on macho violence clearly didn’t include the written warning from the women’s movement when Law 779 was modified to force mediation in cases of gender violence: “The prohibition of mediation in the law was based on an analysis of the realities in which crimes of violence against women are committed… Before Law 779, mediation was promoted regardless of the seriousness of the crimes. Evidence shows that after agreements were reached the aggressors reinforced their abusive practices against the women and subjected them to reprisals. Far from halting the violence, mediation intensified it, leading to greater damage and, in the worst of cases, the woman’s death. The social message the State is sending out with this reform is deadly, because in addition to restitution implying the promotion of impunity, it also turns the State and all its operators into the inevitable accomplices of the violence. This is because despite knowing that the mediation mechanism doesn’t work for this type of anti-legal conduct, it indulges and deliberately favors the perpetrators of the crime, therefore leaving the women involved totally defenseless.”
All these changes reflect the new governmental slogan: “We’re moving forward in faith, family and community.”
An unexpected clash All of the country’s women’s organizations unanimously opposed the illegal presidential decree. The Nicaraguan Human rights Center (CENIDH) urged judges specializing in violence to reject it and continue judging violence and femicide in accordance with the original Law 779. Furthermore, CENIDH, the Sandinista Renovation Movement and Nicaragua’s chapter of the Latin American Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM-Nicaragua) filed writs of protection on grounds of unconstitutionality against the regulations decreed by Ortega.
with the Church
To the government’s surprise, this illegal move to clear the “official womanist” sky of storm clouds only aggravated its already rather dicey relations with Nicaragua’s Episcopal Conference. The presidential regulations instruct the family counseling services to attend to violence cases together with “family pastorals”—Catholic Church structures—and “religious leaders.”
Although various bishops and priests openly rejected Law 779, publicly declaring that it went against family unity, and clerics and pastors backed the reform introducing mediation, it seems that including them as actors in this juridical catastrophe went too far. The government didn’t expect such a firm reaction from the bishops, who held an urgent meeting in which they agreed to reject being obliged to work with government structures on this task, particularly as they were not consulted beforehand.
Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, whom the government insistently tries to bring into its fold, was clear in pointing out the Catholic Church’s proven experience with couples seeking counsel in the parishes. He warned of the danger that the community counseling services could aggravate cases of violence by “leaking comments” and rejected Ortega’s regulations as trying to straightjacket and manipulate them by adding them to his project.
The Canal: A functional red herring in times of crisisOver the Ortega-Murillo government’s nearly eight years in power, this is the greatest overlapping number of problems and challenges at any one time. In 2009, when it had to cope with the international financial crisis, which logically threatened major national repercussions, Venezuelan cooperation began to pour in, compensating for everything and blowing away any encroaching rain clouds. The crisis was barely felt in Nicaragua and the political situation never got as strained as it is today.
Now, with the sky a veritable patchwork of dark clouds, nothing could work better for Ortega than that the promise, fantasy or tall tale of the interoceanic canal megaproject. And it’s working. Ortega’s predecessor, Enrique Bolaños, threw out similar red herrings during his administration, which was also rife with problems, albeit very different ones. While the canal idea was originally floated during his term, the biggest fantasy he peddled was that the CAFTA-DR agreement with the United States, negotiated by his government in 2004, would be the “bridge to progress,” “the bridge to the future.”
Yesterday a bridge, today a canal… Our rulers keep dangling spectacular, magical solutions in front of us to draw our attention away from gathering storm clouds. And we governed keep expecting miracles.
What will it take for us to learn that the problems of the past we keep dragging along with us, darkening our horizon, will never dissipate if we don’t demand long-term processes requiring major commitments and hard work to achieve structural transformations? There are no magical solutions, no sleight of hand tricks to scale down the country’s problems. What we need is a fair distribution of land and income, proper care of the country’s resources, appropriate attention for the protagonists of the social economy, proper educational quality… in short, the very things the Sandinista Popular Revolution claimed to be fighting for in the eighties. Is that too utopian in this David and Goliath world? Is it really better to throw the country’s lot in with the rich and powerful, assuaging what’s left of one’s conscience with crumbs to the poor and self-congratulatory but hollow claims of corporate social responsibility?
Any processes that could really save this country require lucid rationality and political will on the part of those governing, and active, constant and constructively-critical participation on the part of those governed.