Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 415 | Febrero 2016



Nicaragua Briefs


On December 15, the International Court of Justice at The Hague issued its ruling on three disputes between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The first relates to the sovereignty of 2.5 kilometers of wetlands on the northern edge of what Nicaragua calls Harbour Head Lagoon and Cost Rica refers to as Calero Island in the Río San Juan, the river belonging to Nicaragua that serves as its border with that southern neighbort. The ICJ granted Costa Rica sovereignty over the wetlands, which Nicaraguan environmental scientist Jaime Incer Barquero describes as an “estuary swamp.”
In the second dispute, the ICJ established that within the next 12 months Nicaragua must financially compensate Costa Rica for the environmental damages caused by three creeks having been opened in that marsh by Edén Pastora, a former Sandinista comandante turned contra leader turned erratic politician, ostensibly hired by the government to dredge the river. One of the creeks was opened in 2010 and two more in 2013, after the ICJ had handed down cautionary measures in Costa Rica’s favor forbidding Nicaragua from making any forays into the disputed zone. Nicaragua did not comply with those measures, taking both Sandinista Youth militants and military personnel into the zone. Hours after the ICJ released its ruling, the Nicaraguan government said it would respect it. The next day, Pastora declared that he had only been following Ortega’s “direct orders.”

The third dispute the Court was asked to decide was Nicaragua’s suit against Costa Rica for environmental damages caused in the Río San Juan by the 160-plus-kilometer highway the Costa Rican government began building right along river’s edge in 2010. The ICJ determined that Nicaragua had not presented proof of this alleged damage.

In this regard, Víctor Campos, director of the Humboldt Center, told the following: “In 2010, seeing that the government was taking no action, the National University’s Center of Aquatic Resources Research, the Río Foundation and the Humboldt Center decided to study the environmental damages the highway was causing in the river. We did it stretch by stretch of the river, with the latest technology. The study upheld that the highway was causing very serious damage. We sent it to the presidential offices, to the Foreign Ministry and its legal advisers and to the Ministry of the Environment. We also delivered a copy to Carlos Argüello, Nicaragua’s representative at The Hague. But the government didn’t use that study as evidence with the Court, for reasons we can’t explain. It’s irresponsible, just as it was reckless to take young people from the Sandinista Youth to Harbour Head and to give a person like Edén Pastora responsibility for dredging the river.”


Last November the Nicaraguan government prevented the passage through Nicaragua of thousands of Cuban migrants who had left their country legally, flown to Ecuador then made their way by land through Costa Rica on their way to the United States where they hoped to take advantage of the US “Wet Feet, Dry Feet” policy. As the migrants continued to accumulate at Nicaragua’s southern border, President Ortega also boycotted attempts at a meeting of the Central American Integration System to find a solution to what Pope Francis called a “humanitarian drama.” Finally a diplomatic initiative in January with Mexico’s decisive participation facilitated an agreement by Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize with support from the UN’s International Organization for Migrations (IOM), the backing of the United States, the non-objection of Cuba and the absence of Nicaragua, which obstinately maintained its position. The agreement opened a safe land-air route for the migrants, with the first group of Cubans overflying Nicaragua to El Salvador on January 12, then continuing by land to the Mexico-US border. The remaining Cubans will follow the same route between February and March, paying all transportation costs, which exceeded what they had anticipated because of the flight over Nicaragua and the cost of being trapped in Costa Rica for at least two months.


The first peasant march against the interoceanic canal project in La Fonseca, Nueva Guinea, took place on January 9. It was the 56th demonstration to be held in different parts of the country—two of them in Managua—since the canal concession was issued to the Chinese HKND Group in mid-2013. The struggle of peasants opposing the canal, organized by the National Council in Defense of the Land, Lake and Sovereignty, will focus this year on getting 5,000 signatures to be presented to the National Assembly in hopes of getting the canal legislation—both Law 840 and the Framework Agreement—overturned.

On January 10, members of the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government charged that they are being pressured by civilian and military functionaries to turn over 236 square kilometers of both land and sea in “perpetual lease” for the construction of a canal that will divide their ancestral territory in two. This same government was the first of 40 plaintiffs to file suit against the canal in late 2013 with the Supreme Court, which summarily dismissed them all. In March of last year the Rama-Kriol people submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) a suit against the central government for failure to obey the Autonomy Law by first consulting them about the canal construction.


The day after the recapture on January 8 of “El Chapo” Guzmán, Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel drug lord, Nicaragua’s name appeared in the magazine Rolling Stone in the context of US actor Sean Penn’s story of meeting with Guzmán in Mexico on October 2, 2015, three months after his famous prison break, to personally request an interview with him. “Four days later [after an October 6 military operation against El Chapo’s rural headquarters where they had met],” writes Penn, “I fly from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru, to participate in a World Bank panel discussion. After a few days in Lima, and an overnight in Managua, Nicaragua, to visit an old friend, it’s October 11th – the day El Chapo and I had agreed to meet.”
To honor his commitment to El Chapo, Penn flew from Nicaragua to Mexico City, but contact was never made. In the end, the Mexican film and TV star Kate del Castillo, who had gained El Chapo’s trust and brokered the meeting with Penn, arranged for Guzmán to give a videotaped interview from hiding using questions Penn sent to him. The transcript of that video ends Penn’s article, which can be found on http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/el-chapo-speaks-20160109#ixzz3zsZQ5D3h.


Fifteen former workers at the San Antonio Refinery’s sugar cane fields in Chichigalpa, Chinandega, arrested last October 7 in the middle of a disturbance they didn’t cause and accused of serious offenses including “organized crime,” were finally freed on December 19. The men, all of whom are suffering from chronic renal insufficiency and have been demanding compensation for their illness from the refinery owners, Nicaragua’s most powerful business consortium, were taken to Managua’s maximum security police prison, El Chipote. Around the same time, 20 mining union members from Mina El Limón in León were also arrested and accused of 10 offenses including organized crime after violent disturbances broke out in the mining town when the powerful Canadian mining company B2Gold refused to reinstate labor rights obtained in an earlier collective bargaining agreement then rolled back. They were also held in El Chipote, where three national human rights organizations say abuse and torture are practiced. After 59 days in jail, with their trial illegally delayed, President Ortega surprisingly ordered the release of both sets of prisoners. General police commissioner Ramón Avellán offered this explanation: “Seeing that we’re in the Christmas season, which is traditionally when Nicaraguan families get together, Comandante Daniel ordered compliance with a measure being followed to change the process.” Days later the Prosecutor General’s office called for definitive dismissal of both cases in favor of the detainees.


In late January, Susana Marley Cunningham, a Miskito leader popularly known as “Big Mama” who heads up the Technical Commission of the Waspam Community Civil Society, denounced in Managua the violence that three paramilitary bands have unleashed in the Northern Caribbean. The Army has made no attempt to control these groups or even investigate their abuses. They kidnap people snf rape women, have burned down more than a hundred houses and more recently set fire to the middle school in Waspam, the town popularly known as the capital of the communities along the Río Coco, which borders Honduras. Lamberto Chow Macklin of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) office in Waspam added that “these armed people cut down trees, bring in cattle and mine for gold. It’s an invasion that’s wiping out Nature and the indigenous people. There are deaths on both sides and no one wants to say anything. Why isn’t the government doing anything?” The objective of this violence is to terrorize the population, forcing people to abandon their land so the mestizo settlers for whom the paramilitary groups reportedly work can take it over. Local indigenous leaders have been demanding that the government implement the “saneamiento” or title clearance process laid out in Law 445, the indigenous territorial demarcation law. The final step in demarcation, it involves reviewing the settlers’ claims to the land they are occupying to ascertain which are legal. Agreements favorable to the indigenous owners of each territory must then be reached with those who have legal rights, while those who have simply invaded the indigenous territories are required to leave. As described in envío’s October 2015 Speaking Out article by René Mendoza, the reality is infinitely more complicated than the steps described in the law.


On January 19, after 38 days without appearing in any public events, President Daniel Ortega received a delegation from the Institute of Vaccinations and Serums of St. Petersburg, Russia, which plans to build a vaccination factory with joint Russian-Nicaraguan financing on the land of the old Ramos Laboratories. The Institute’s director, Victor Trujin, unveiled a model of the future building, to be called the Metchnikoff Vaccinations Plant, in homage to Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff, one of the precursors of immunology science.

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