Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 417 | Abril 2016



Nicaragua briets


Alluding to “the macroeconomic stability and growth” the country is experiencing, the International Monetary Fund announced on March 30 that it is closing the office it has operated in the country for 21 years. Nicaragua has had no program with the IMF for more than five years, although the latest mission here in February expressed concerns about the Social Security reserves, the imbalance in the commercial balance of payments, the tax exemptions and exonerations privileging various sectors and the abysmal quality of the country’s education, among other problems. In his analysis of the closure, economist Adolfo Acevedo suggests that “it may also have been influenced by the direct presence of an IMF representative in a context in which the complicated management of public statistics by the Central Bank (BCN) has become a focal point of questioning, and could have turned into a source of friction. The IMF representative’s unusually honest public declarations, clarifying that while his institution provides technical assistance to the BCN, it is not responsible for the decisions the bank adopts, earned him a governmental complaint. Perhaps that influenced the IMF’s decision to establish more distant relations.”

On March 28, the BCN released a report on the country’s economic numbers for last year. It reported Nicaragua’s growth rate at 4.9%, up from 4.6% in 2014, as a result of factors such as low fuel prices, the government’s public investment program, dynamic private investment and domestic demand. The country’s trade deficit also grew, however, with imports increasing by 11.6% and exports dropping in value by 2% due to lower international commodity prices. The most dynamic sector was construction, which grew by 25%, followed by financial services (9.5%) and commerce (7%). Preliminary figures (based on a third quarter report) indicate that tourism will have produced US$528.6 million in 2015, an 18.7% increase over 2014.


According to Central Bank figures, the remittances sent back to their families by Nicaraguans who have emigrated to Costa Rica, Spain and the United States grew 5.1% last year. The total received in 2015 was just over US$1.193 billion, an increase of US$57.6 million over 2014, with remittances from Costa Rica and Spain increasing the most. The contribution of Nicaragua’s emigrants to the national economy is equivalent to 49.3% of the country’s export income.


Nicaraguan journalist Arlen Cerda is representing Nicaragua’s weekly digital publication Confidencial in the world consortium of journalists from 120 media who are analyzing the “Panama Papers.” According to Cerda, Nicaragua’s name appears in the papers on 10,000 different occasions although as of April 7, the closure of this issue, neither the names of the Nicaraguans involved nor the operations they allegedly conducted have been released. The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak or hacking of 11.5 million files—emails, passports, checks, contracts, etc.—over the past year from the database of Panama-headquartered Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm. The documents obtained were given to journalists from the German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which then contacted journalists from the consortium that has now been analyzing the documents for months. The first information was published on April 3. The documents provide hard evidence of the deals made through this law firm and corporate service provider by personalities from all over the world with the cooperation of international banks (Deutsche Bank, HSBC, UBS and Societé General, among others) for the past forty years. The underlying aim of these deals was to set up offshore businesses in tax havens, either to launder money or to avoid paying taxes in their home countries. Among other things, Mossack Fonseca participated in the major 2002 embezzlement case known in Nicaragua as “la guaca” involving then-President Arnoldo Alemán and some US$100 million from the state treasury.


The Momotombo Volcano erupted again on March 24, sending a column of gas and ash 2,000 meters into the air and fiery material as high as 500 meters. Armando Saballos of the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER) said some of the explosions were loud enough to be heard by nearby communities. Momotombo began erupting in December 2015 and scientists say there have been 404 events since then, most of them small but some spectacular, with 32 over Easter week.

Meanwhile, a team of National Geographic scientists led by Sam Cossman arrived in Nicaragua on March 26 to explore the visible lava lake that formed last December in Masaya Volcano’s Santiago crater and prepare the way for a documentary film team. A combination of erosion by the violently degassing (“boiling”) lava, which is continuing to gradually widen the walls of the pit crater, and the joining of two lava ponds in two adjacent vents, presumably due to that erosion, have created a sizable lake. INETER adviser Wilfried Strauch explained that “we invited Sam Cossman to help us investigate what’s happening in the Masaya Volcano. There’s a lake of lava that has gotten very big and very beautiful and he has done work on similar volcanoes in other parts of the world,” using drones to film up close. “We hope his work on the documentary can help us understand what’s happening in the volcano because we can’t go down there easily.”


Gerard Staberock, secretary general of the international coalition of nongovernmental organizations called the World Organization against Torture (OMCT), sent a letter to Nicaraguan Minister of Government Ana Isabel Morales requesting permission for the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) to enter the prisons of the penitentiary system. The letter stressed that, despite repeated requests, CENIDH has been denied permission for the past six years to evaluate the conditions in which the inmates are being kept after receiving numerous information about torture in the country’s jails.


The March 7 digital edition of The New York Times ran an extensive front-page article by journalist Frances Robles titled “Ortega vs. the Contras: Nicaragua Endures an ’80s Revival,” reporting on the presence of politically motivated armed men in the country’s northern mountains in opposition to the government of Daniel Ortega. Among others she quotes “Comandante Rafael” as saying that “”The Ortega-Murillo family is getting richer while the country people starve. They don’t understand resolving things the nice way. They understand weapons.” Shortly after its publication, Jinotega’s Bishop Carlos Enrique Herrera said that three armed groups are operating in the north, “some supported by the drugs corridor, others by people who don’t accept the government’s irregularities and others who go around in uniforms, like the Army.” The priests and people who come to see him express fear “of the people who go by,” although he said it was very difficult to know how many of them are armed. The bishop of Estelí, Abelardo Mata, called on the Army and the Police to “halt this officious violence they are engaging in, which exacerbates feelings and creates tremendous distrust of the state institutions.” In early April residents in the northern area charged that paramilitaries are killing peasants who belonged to the Contra, as the US-funded anti-Sandinista armed organization was known in the eighties.

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