Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 403 | Febrero 2015




Envío team

In mid-December, Costa Rican Deputy Foreign Minister Alejandro Solano referred to the “many doubts” his country has about the economic viability of Nicaragua’s interoceanic canal project. At the end of the month, just before his January 6-8 trip to China, President Luis Guillermo Solís stated that his government has no official information about the canal but will remain “vigilant” about possible environmental impacts, given that Costa Rican rivers flow into Nicaragua’s Río San Juan and that same border river flows into Costa Rican rivers and wetlands. “I’m not going to waste time talking to the Chinese President about the canal in Nicaragua,” said Solís. Once in China, he told his country’s newspaper La Nación in a telephone interview that the People’s Republic of China is not behind the canal project. “The topic was not on the agenda, but I have seen repeated Chinese government opinions in various media that it has nothing to do with the canal, and I believe them.” La Nación reported that other “top-level” Costa Rican government executive branch sources have also said the Chinese government had assured them it was not behind this project.

On the occasion of the festival of the Christ of Esquipulas in mid-January, Matagalpa’s Bishop Rolando Álvarez released a pastoral letter urging “respect for the thoughts, proposals, suggestions and constructive criticisms we may be presented with, without seeing a person who thinks differently as someone who must be eliminated, without viewing somebody who does not share our way of seeing things as someone who must be destroyed, and without looking at those who contradict us as people who must be taken out of the game sooner or later, attempting to dispose of them, or, what would be worse, of their life…. There are those in Nicaragua who are more interested in money than in justice; more interested in the economy than the environment, without conciliating the rationale that protects it; more interested in profits than in man himself; more interested in megaprojects than in respect for history, identity, culture and faith. They are not interested in whether bread comes with justice or at the price of corruption…” Among other things, he was alluding to the government’s repression of the peasant population that is complaining about and protesting against the canal and the destructive gold mining project that B2Gold is going ahead with in the Matagalpa municipality of Rancho Grande.

After many months of telling people there
is now a new ID/voter card format and that the cost of replacing their old card would be 300 córdobas (over US$ 11) if they didn’t do it by the deadline, the government finally announced in early December that the old card would definitively be invalid as of the last day of that month, having already extended that deadline several times. Panic hit the more than a million people still using old cards and enormous lines formed at the few Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) offices equipped to make the change. On December 15, after days of disorder and government inattention, President Ortega finally ordered the National Assembly representatives to interrupt their vacation and hold an urgent session to reform the law and extend the validity of the old format all the way to January 2018. For reasons of efficiency, and to sever the link between issuance of the identity document and sympathy with the governing party, there have been demands for years to create a Citizen ID Card Institute independent of the partisan and corrupt CSE and technically qualified to provide this public service, as the card is indispensable for any bank or other transaction as well as to vote.

Two politically motivated rearmed men were blown up on January 20 in the district of El Portal, Pantasma, Jinotega, by a remote control-activated bomb inside a backpack supposedly full of food they had been given. The explosion, a military intelligence-style action, was immediately followed by men in military uniforms sweeping the area, killing a civilian named Modesto Duarte and wounding his son. Carlos Enrique Herrera, the bishop of Jinotega, called the action an “act of terror” and “a well-planned crime,” and demanded a full investigation. The Army denied having been in the area, while the Police, without benefit of investigation, identified the events as a confrontation between two groups of drug traffickers. Testimonies taken in the community by the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) held the Army exclusively responsible for the deaths, which caused indignation in the zone. The operation also caused concern throughout the country, as it was typical of a wartime scenario. Meanwhile, the government continues to reject the idea that there are politically motivated rearmed groups in the mountains, even though the bishops in northern Nicaragua have been insisting it is true since 2009.

Valentina Ivanovna Matvienko, Council president of the Russian Assembly Federation, came to Nicaragua on January 13 accompanied by a delegation of 20 Russian officials. She ratified Russia’s economic, social, cultural and military cooperation with Nicaragua. After meeting with President Ortega, she called the mutual relations “friendly, fraternal and confident,” referring to Nicaragua as “the most important and solid partner, proven over time.”

Nicaragua’s Tariff Preference Level (TPL) benefits, granted for the past 10 years to its free trade textile assembly plants in the framework of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, ended on December 31, 2014. Although no textile plant has yet closed, it is estimated that the adjustments required by the end of this privilege will mean the loss of 5,000-6,000 jobs over the first half of this year. The official total employment in Nicaragua’s free trade assembly plants is 108,000, of which 73,000 are in textiles. It is calculated that 65% of the workers employed in the textile plants are women, the great majority of them single mothers who are heads of family. In 2014, exports by the textile and apparel sector of Nicaragua’s free trade zones totaled US$ 1.5 billion.

The Ortega government reported that on January 19, four US researchers came to study the conditions of life on northwestern Nicaragua’s Cerro Negro volcano for a week. They were Brian Hinek, director of the University of Colorado’s Astrobiology Center; Tom McCollon, a specialist on the geochemistry of gases and minerals from the same university; Karyn Rogers, a microbiology specialist from New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and Laura Gracia, a student from that institute. The study is part of a project being conducted in different countries to compare zones of our planet with areas of Mars to try to determine whether there was ever life on the “red planet.” Cerro Negro is one of the world’s youngest volcanoes, as it first appeared in 1850 among ash eruptions and currents of lava, and is also one of the most active. It is now 728 meters above sea level and has erupted 23 times.

Communication and Citizenry Coordinator Rosario Murillo announced on January 22 that by presidential decree General Julio César Avilés will remain as head of the Army for another five years. Avilés should have been replaced on February 21, but the Military Code reforms ordered by President Ortega in 2014 removed the prohibition of reelection in the military top command passed in 1994 to guarantee healthy mobility in the Army chain of command. The same thing also happened in the National Police in September 2011, when First Commissioner Aminta Granera agreed to remain as director general for another five years.

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