Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 437 | Diciembre 2017



Nicaragua briefs


On November 7, the US government’s Department of Homeland Security lifted the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) granted to Nicaraguans in 1999 following the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch. It made its decision both because those conditions no longer exist and because the Nicaraguan government itself has made no request that the TPS be extended. It is calculated that half of the 5,349 Nicaraguans who benefited are no longer availing themselves of that status. The remaining beneficiaries have until January 5, 2019, to legalize their migratory situation, return to Nicaragua or, of course, continue living in the United States as undocumented migrants. Unlike the others in the region, the Ortega-Murillo government does not have pro-migrant policies and never mentions the hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans who have emigrated or the over US$1 billion they send home in remittances annually. Some 80,000 Hondurans were also benefited by the TPS at the same time and for the same reason, but that status has not yet been rescinded for them.


After broadcasting its plan to do so, the Nicaraguan government delivered a document to the UN headquarters in New York on October 23 adhering to the December 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Only Nicaragua and Syria did not sign the agreement hammered out in the Paris meeting, the former arguing that it did not go far enough and the latter because it did not attend. “Despite not being the ideal agreement,” said the government upon formalizing its change of position, “it is the only instrument at the current time that permits a unity of intentions and efforts.” Víctor Campos, director of the country’s Centro Humboldt environmental organization, told envío that “Nicaragua’s position that year could be interpreted as less than totally legitimate, as it called for environmental justice abroad that it doesn’t respect at home.” Campos described its environmental behavior as “utterly deplorable, at variance with best practices, and promoting projects like the interoceanic canal that jeopardize our country’s environmental integrity. We can also interpret Nicaragua’s position as a smoke screen the government wanted to create so no one would ask it for environmental accountability and also to avoid any future commitment.” Alejandro Alemán, the Centro Humboldt’s climate change officer, considers Nicaragua’s new position to be an effort to improve its international image, taking a step in the right direction by joining a “universal consensus.”


At the end of the first week of October, tropical storm Nate, which tipped the northeast corner of Nicaragua near Cape Gracias a Dios on the border with Honduras before heading northwest to the US upgrading to hurricane category, did unexpected damage to Central American countries. Although it never acquired the force of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which had just hammered numerous Caribbean islands and US Gulf Coast states, the two weeks of their near-constant rain had left the region’s ground saturated and its rivers swollen, damaging some crops even before Nate hit. In Nicaragua, thousands were left homeless after Nate’s additional rain and heavy winds caused landslides, overflowed riverbanks, toppled huge trees and, together with the storm surge, swept away flimsy homes and beachfront restaurants, particularly in the southwestern department of Rivas, which was also one of three departments left without electricity. Nate was blamed for at least 28 deaths in Central America, 16 of them reportedly in seven different departments of Nicaragua.


On October 31, Modi Ephraim, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s director general for Latin America and the Caribbean, inaugurated a business office for his country in Managua. The event came seven months after Nicaragua and Israel resumed diplomatic relations, suspended by Nicaragua in 2010 to protest the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in which nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed by Israeli commandos while trying to break the blockade of Gaza. The Ortega government delegated Evangelical Pastor Augusto César Marenco to receive the diplomat at Managua’s Augusto C. Sandino International Airport two days earlier. That gesture honored the Ortega government’s alliance with Nicaragua’s Evangelical denominations. They had applauded the reestablishing of relations as they preach that the current Israeli State is equivalent to the biblical Israel. During the seven years of ruptured relations, these denominations believed the decision had put Nicaragua in danger of a “divine” curse.


The Russian-Nicaraguan Anti-Narcotics Training Center was finally inaugurated in Managua at the end of October, after being talked about for the past four years. Designed initially as a regional training center for the struggle against drug-trafficking, it was announced at the inauguration, presided over by the Russian ambassador and Laureano Ortega Murillo, that this immense multi-floor structure will be an “affiliate of the Russian Ministry of the Interior.”


On October 10 the FSLN’s National Assembly bench approved at President Ortega’s request a reform to the legislative branch’s organizational law granting current Assembly president Gustavo Porras, an unconditional loyalist of the presidential couple, attributions previously decided by the Assembly’s seven-member board. Porras now has total control of the institution’s administration and the power to eliminate its divisions and name or dismiss those who direct them. This decision is one more step in the concentration of all branches of government in Ortega’s hands, increasingly eliminating the number of people he has to negotiate with.


With maximum formality, President Ortega inaugurated a new baseball stadium in the center of Managua on October 19. Replacing the 69-year-old stadium, it has been named after Dennis Martínez, Nicaragua’s pride for his brilliant career in the US Major Leagues. The roughly 20,000 people attending the inauguration were hand-selected by the governing party structures. Over US$50 million, $30 million of it contributed by the Taiwan government, was invested in the stadium’s construction, which meets Major League standards. The new structure will be the main site of the Eleventh Central American games, to be held in Managua on December 2-7. Nicaragua is spending over US$75 million on quality sports infrastructure to ensure the success of this four-yearly event, being held in Nicaragua for the first time since its creation in 1973. The new infrastructure includes tennis courts at the Luis Alfonso Velazquez Park and an “extreme sports” park, which includes a BMX bike course and skate boarding as well as an auditorium for up to 500 spectators.


Francisca Ramírez, leader of the peasant movement that has fought tirelessly against the interoceanic canal plan since it was first announced in 2013, was invited to Dublin, Ireland, in mid-October for an event organized by Front Line Defenders honoring 100 human rights activists from around the world. Rámirez was nominated for the organization’s international award. With Nicaragua’s flag held high and with her voice faltering, she began her brief speech with these words: “Today I am hearing very pretty words from countries that respect human rights, but regrettably I am here to speak about my country, where all people’s rights are being violated.” She referred to the 95 marches against the canal by the Council in Defense of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty, the movement she heads. “We are treated as criminals,” she said, on the verge of tears. In the days prior to her trip, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures for her and her family, following threats and harassment by the Ortega-Murillo government.


A reform to the 2017 budget approved by the FSLN-dominated National Assembly in mid-October added another 3.9 million córdobas (US$128,500) to the “current expenses” budget for Nicaragua’s Grand Interoceanic Canal Authority, thus increasing the amount the institution will receive this year to 6.5 million córdobas, even though the project Ortega approved with great pomp in 2013 has never gotten off the ground. According to economist Enrique Sáenz, the decision not only continues to guarantee high salaries to the directors of this inoperative institution but maintains the myth of the canal, since “canceling its budget would mean admitting that chimera has evaporated.”


The National Assembly representatives also increased the national salary budget for the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) by nearly 120% for 2018. At between US$25 and $30 each, Nicaraguan votes are the most expensive in the region. The CSE justifies the high cost by saying that it has thousands of polling stations to make the vote in Nicaragua is as close as possible to the voter. But Ética y Transparencia director Roberto Courtney points out that this is also true in the other Central American countries, where the per-vote cost ranges between $8 and $10.

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