CONFIDENCIAL INVESTIGATES ALBANISA For three months a joint team of journalists from the Nicaraguan weekly bulletin Confidencial and Venezuela’s Armando-info investigated the privatization in recent years of nearly US$3.05 billion from Venezuela’s supposedly state-to-state oil deal in favor of private businesses of the Ortega family and circle of cronies. The investigation, published in the June 8, 2015, issue of Confidencial, looked at Alba de Nicaragua, S.A. (Albanisa) , the private emporium created with those resources, which in turn spawned a consortium of private companies: Alba Alimentos, Alba Forestal, Alba Construcción, etc. It shows how the rules of Venezuelan cooperation with Nicaragua changed in early 2010—with Venezuelan President Chávez’s consent—to allow 62% of the money generated to go to “for profit” projects and only 38% to “social” projects. The original agreement had been that the 50% of the oil bill not payable in 90 days would all be used to finance infrastructure works and social projects, paid back over 25 years at very favorable interest rates. But in April 2010 the two Presidents signed the ALBA energy agreement, modifying the agreement yet again, establishing that only half of the long-term amount would be a loan assumed by Nicaragua and the other half a donation channeled through the ALBA Fund, implying that part of the 62% of for-profit investments would involve non-reimbursable funds. Albanisa’s weight in Nicaragua’s economy includes generating 25% of the country’s electricity consumption and controlling its distribution, managing the import of oil and controlling a sizable network of gas stations. Questioned about thiese findings, Comptroller General Luis Ángel Montenegro declared that it is not his institution’s job to investigate the diversion of these public funds, leaving one to wonder what exactly is its job..
DESTRUCTIVE STORMSThe three hours of torrential rains that fell on most of the country on June 2 and the over four hours that followed on June 11 starkly revealed the capital’s vulnerability to climate change-related events. The capital became a disaster zone as a result of the volume of rain coupled with the intense deforestation of Managua’s southern basin; the up-scale housing tracts built along the highway in that same area that don’t meet the required standards; the accumulation of garbage in the city’s streets, storm drains and drainage channels; and the old, never-repaired drainage systems. Pressured by the chaos, the government announced a series of measures that included reforesting Managua’s watershed, known as Basin 69, with nearly 700,000 trees. Jaime Incer Barquero, the government’s environmental adviser, whose views are virtually never taken into account, applauded the decision but added that it would be more effective to stop stubble-burning, limit urban tract developments and foster the regeneration of native vegetation to re-cover the watershed naturally and quickly before beginning to selectively plant trees that will take dozens of years to grow.
Meanwhile, after 24 days of arduous work, the Managua government’s Office of Historical Patrimony, together with archeologists and researchers of diverse nationalities, managed to safeguard the historical Acahualinca footprints, swamped by mud after a protective wall collapsed during the June 2 rains.
CATTLE CONTRABANDAccusations of increased cattle rustling made by cattle-raising and beef-export businesses intensified throughout June. Some calculate that 290,000 head of cattle were illegally taken out of Nicaragua in the past two years. In defense of what both ranchers and beef exporters call the national economy’s “main category,” they issued a statement calling on the government to “urgently” appoint a commission to investigate this crime and work with the businesspeople involved to come up with solutions to the cattle sector’s problems. Representatives of these sectors point to the fact that slaughterhouses are currently operating at 50% of their installed capacity due to the shortage of animals and estimate that the country is losing US$276 million through the smuggling of cattle out of the country. Some months ago, René Blandón, president of the Central American Federation of the Bovine Meat Sector, charged that drug-traffickers were hiding drugs destined to Mexico and the United States in the bodies of cattle rustled across blind points of the border. Some businesspeople backed his denunciation and others rejected it. On June 7, Bayardo Arce, President Ortega’s economic adviser, declared that “not even minimum evidence was ever found.”
NICARAGUA FAILS TO MEET With less than half a year to go before the end-of-2015 deadline, Jorge Mendoza, director of the Education and Human Development Forum (FEDH), has already announced that Nicaragua will not meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universalizing primary education. Although lacking sufficient statistics, given that the government either doesn’t publish them or pretties them up, Mendoza reported that while primary enrollment did increase significantly, the coverage was short of universal, and more importantly, retention of the enrolled students was largely a failure. He pointed out that the MDG’s goal was for boys and girls entering first grade to remain in school for all six primary years. In the World Education Forum held in South Korea in May, Miguel de Castilla, originally Ortega’s education minister and now his adviser on the topic, admitted that “we have large lags in education, in coverage and even more in quality,” which is perhaps not surprising given that the 2015 budget only assigns 2.4% of the gross domestic product to education. Cuba was the only Latin American country to meet the MDG of universalizing primary education.
MDG FOR EDUCATION
THE CANAL AND COSTA RICA In early June, Costa Rica’s President Luis Guillermo Solís said his government had asked its Nicaraguan counterpart for access to the environmental impact study on the proposed interoceanic canal to learn of the effects it would have on the Río San Juan, the river dividing the eastern half of the two countries,. “We have asked for the information because the canal construction involves dredging the lake [Cocibolca] to a depth of 30 meters, twice its current depth, and that could generate sedimentation in the Rio San Juan [which starts in the lake], with a possible environmental impact on Costa Rica.” Solís denied having asked the United States to pressure Nicaragua not to build the canal. “It is Nicaragua’s sovereign decision and all we want is information about its possible environmental impact in Costa Rica,” he said. “Apart from that, we wish them well.”
Meanwhile, Nicaraguan and Costa Rican academic specialists met to discuss aspects of Nicaragua’s canal project on June 10 in the University of Costa Rica’s Biology Department auditorium, organized by the Wilhelm and Alexander Von Humboldt chair in Humanities and Social Sciences. They concluded that the canal will have cross-border impacts as the two countries share Central America’s largest binational watershed. The majority of Nicaraguans live in that watershed’s 40,000 kilometer extension, called Basin 69, which feeds both of Nicaragua’s large lakes—Cocibolca and Xolotlán—and also the Río San Juan. Dredging hundreds of millions of tons of sediment from Cocibolca will affect ecosystems in both countries, damaging Costa Rican rivers and wetlands and the water tables the two countries share. Costa Rica’s specialists concluded that their country has a right to examine and debate the canal’s environmental impact studies, a position shared by the participating Nicaraguan specialists—environmental lawyer Mónica López Baltodano, water resources expert Salvador Montenegro and president of the country’s Academy of Sciences Manuel Ortega Hegg.
NOT EVEN LATRINESSome 12% of Nicaragua’s rural population still doesn’t have latrines and thus performs bodily functions in the open air. Another of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 was to assure that 96% of the population of all countries has sanitation coverage: adequate management of residual waters through a sewage system, which requires far more costly investments than potable water, as well as ongoing education. In September new Sustainable Development Goals will be presented to the United Nations General Assembly for all countries to meet in the next 15 years. One of these goals is to completely eliminate open-air defecation in all countries. It is calculated that 946 million people around the world still use this practice.
FEMICIDESAccording to the monitoring by Nicaragua’s Catholics for the Right to Decide, 34 Nicaraguan women were murdered inside the country and another 3 were killed abroad between January and June of this year. The weapon used most commonly—in 19 of the cases—was a machete. The crime occurred in the woman’s own home in 25 cases, and in 16 the killer was a relative of the victim (her partner or ex-partner in 7 cases). In 8 cases the victims were between 12 and 20 years old.