Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 418 | Mayo 2016



Nicaragua briets


In mid-April the presidential office finally reacted to weeks of pressure from residents of the mountainous northern area of Dipilto-Jalapa over the clear-cutting of pine trees authorized in January by presidential decree. A national commission was formed, chaired by the attorney general and made up of the minister and deputy minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (MARENA), the director of the National Forestry Institute (INAFOR), and delegates of the Army and Police, among other officials. Jaime Incer Barquero, the presidential adviser for environmental issues, at least in name although he is ignored in practice, criticized the omission of independent scientists and others on the commission as well as the inclusion of those largely responsible for the country’s deforestation. “Now the foxes will inventory the chickens,” he said. The presidency also issued an unwritten order establishing a nationwide moratorium on the cutting, use and sale of all lumber, thus confusing the natural forest’s ravagers with legitimate businesspeople involved in forestry plantations. Fifteen days later, the presidency lifted the no-fell order for the latter.

At the end of April, INAFOR’s executive director, William Schwartz, was sacked by presidential order right before the National Forestry Congress scheduled for April 28-29 in Managua but cancelled at the last minute. As is now the norm, the government provided no information about Schwartz’s dismissal, but it presumably has to do with INAFOR’s supposed technical recommendations justifying the presidential decree that authorized the felling of the pine trees due to a beetle infestation, a solution other scientists questioned. Neither MARENA nor INAFOR have provided any information about the forest exploitation practiced for years by ALBA Forestal, one of the companies created with income from the sale of Venezuelan oil and fingered as a major factor in the accelerated deforestation affecting the country. According to a recent study, Nicaragua occupies sixth place in the world for its deforestation in the past five years, preceded only by Malaysia, Paraguay, Indonesia, Guatemala and Cambodia.


The potable water project for Bilwi, capital of Nicaragua’s North Caribbean Autonomous Region, is going forward with US$343 million in funds from the European Union, Spanish Cooperation, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Investment Bank. The last load of pipes that will soon carry drinking water to some 160,000 inhabitants of Bilwi and the Miskitu communities of the plains north of there were offloaded onto Bilwi’s docks at the end of April.


Two top government officials appeared before the National Assembly to report on their administration in 2015. The president of the Comptroller General’s Office, Luis Ángel Montenegro, reported on sanctions for irregular management in 17 municipal mayor’s offices, although he gave no details on the cases or the officials implicated, including their party affiliation. He also reported on 1,500 audits in which his offices found the State was apparently embezzled to the tune of 124 million córdobas (some US$4.4 million), again excluding details on the cases. Meanwhile in her report to the legislative body, Prosecutor General Ana Julia Guido complained that her institution, the Public Ministry, only has a presence in 66 of the country’s 154 municipalities. When questioned about the more than 8,300 prisoners released under the family coexistence regime since 2014, she said that benefit was granted to those suffering a terminal disease, had served three-quarters of their sentence, were not reoffenders and/or had been convicted of a minor offense. Another legislator asked about the June 2013 case of #OcupaINSS, in which there is video evidence that people organized by the Managua mayor’s office beat up youths supporting elderly pensioners who were protesting the Social Security Institute’s refusal to grant them the partial pensions they were legally entitled to. During this incident, eight vehicles were stolen. Guido quipped that the investigation could take as long as that of the assassinations of John Kennedy and Olof Palme.


In a historic first interpreted as an act of disdain, the Nicaraguan government did not send any representative to the April 7 hearings of the 157th regular session of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Thirteen NGOs from Nicaraguan civil society did attend, presenting reports on the effects on Nicaraguans’ human rights of the executive branch’s control of the judicial branch, Army and Police; the canal concession; sexual violence; and the concentration of the media in government hands. Vilma Núñez, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, presented several detailed cases of human rights violations to the Commission, among them that of the brother of a young woman with whom President Ortega had a relation for years starting in 2005, when she was 15, resulting in the birth of a girl. When the woman’s brother finally made demands on Ortega in 2013, he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison “for rape.” According to Núñez, this man, now 43, was held incommunicado in a maximum security prison and “subjected to exceptionally grave disciplinary procedures that could be qualified as torture.” His case is now known by the World Organization against Torture.


Following its denunciation in mid-March of the case of a girl given up for adoption to a Spanish couple by the Ministry of the Family in Estelí against the birth mother’s will, CENIDH began to receive complaints related to other illegal adoption cases. The issue was headline news for days in media outside the official orbit, while the government remained silent. Finally, in late April, the presidency ordered Nicaraguan Social Security Institute staff to audit the ministry, removing computers, files, dossiers and other possible evidence from the building. It was learned that the general director of adoptions, one of the two deputy ministers and several other workers had all been fired with no explanation to the citizenry. It is rumored that Minister Marcia Ramírez, one of the officials closest to the First Lady, offered her resignation.


On April 24, the Army of Nicaragua confirmed news that had appeared in Sputnik, the multimedia news agency launched in late 2014 with centers in dozens of countries, that Nicaragua had acquired 50 T-72B1 tanks from Russia at a cost of US$80 million. The Army justified the purchase as “the replacement of equipment that has now served its useful life.” The previous T-55 Russian tanks, dating back to the eighties, have only been used in military parades with the exception of 1989, when they surrounded the US Embassy in Managua during the US invasion of Panama in retaliation for US troops doing the same to Nicaragua’s Embassy in Panama City. Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís expressed “sadness” at the news of the tank purchase “because they [Nicaraguans] are peoples who still need a lot in human development terms and we are neighboring countries that at the end of the day receive the migration resulting from these incomplete development processes.” On April 29, the head of the governing party’s legislative bench, Edwin Castro, defended the acquisition of the tanks as part of a "comprehensive” vision of the country’s development to combat drug trafficking. The next day, President Ortega issued a communique clarifying that “only the President of the Republic and the Army of Nicaragua have the faculty to address national security issues” and disqualifying “those who address or comment on issues outside of their competency, playing the game of interested media agendas.”

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