Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 451 | Febrero 2019



Nicaragua briefs


Speaking at an event called by the pro-government National Student Union on December 3, Daniel Ortega effectively called his brother Humberto, chief strategist of the insurrectionary overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship then head of the Sandinista Popular Army for the next 16 years, a traitor to the revolution. After proudly describing the massive street rebellions he himself organized against the government of Violeta Chamorro in the context of his promise to “govern from below,” President Ortega engaged in a little reinterpreting of history. Addressing mainly youths who hadn’t even been born in the time he described (1990-91), he said his brother “set the Army against the protesters,” becoming a peon of the oligarchy and the empire” and “taking the side” of both. It was not clear why he chose to resurrect that particular memory since comparisons—and contrasts—with the unorganized uprising last April and his government’s violent overreaction to it hardly paint him in a good light. Just as unclear was why he wove his brother into the narrative, since the government response back then came from the police, not the army, and was remarkably nonviolent. Some suggest it may have something to do with rumors that Gen. Omar Halleslevens, who headed the army between 2005 and 2010 before serving as Ortega’s Vice President between 2012 and 2017, is being floated as a possible head of a transition government if the current governing couple depart. The fact that Halleslevens is a National Assembly representative, although he leaves that task to his alternate, puts him in the constitutional line of succession should Ortega, Murillo and National Assembly president Gustavo Porras all resign or are otherwise unable to serve.


The new US ambassador to Nicaragua, Kevin Sullivan, who has a reputation as a strong democracy and human rights advocate, arrived in Managua on November 14. He made his first public appearance four days later with his Argentine wife, Mariangeles Quinto, at the Managua Cathedral. As the Mass was celebrated on that Sunday by Managua’s auxiliary bishop, Silvio Báez, many interpreted the gesture as US backing for the bishop most criticized by the regime. Sullivan’s first official visit to any state institution came 12 days later, only one day before President Trump signed the order sanctioning the Nicaraguan Vice President. That visit, also public, was to the Army General Command Headquarters. Ortega did not receive Sullivan’s credentials until December 18.


On January 28, two months after hitting Nicaragua’s Vice President with sanctions, the US Treasury Department sanctioned PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company. Hardly the first US sanctions against Venezuelan targets, they are the first, albeit long-anticipated ones, against PDVSA. The Treasury Department ordered US financial institutions to refuse any transfers of funds from that company or any other entity in which PDVSA holds at least 50% of the shares. One such entity is Alba de Nicaragua, S.A., better known as Albanisa, a private joint-venture business consortium in which PDVSA has 51% of the shares and Petronic, Nicaragua’s oil company, the other 49%. Albanisa, in practice run by governing party business people, is involved in a broad array of economic activities. The main one is the sale and distribution of petroleum, which between 2006 and recent years came exclusively from Venezuela. Other categories include construction, foods, alternative energy generation and transport. Its companies also include service provision (credits, security, warehousing and the like). The sanctions against PDVSA will commence in March and its assets, frozen for now, will pass into the hands of the “transition” government headed by Juan Guaidó. In contrast, the sanctions affecting Albanisa went into immediate effect: US companies are not allowed to do business with its companies or with any company in any country that does so.


On January 28, the Socialist International (SI) Council, meeting in the Dominican Republic, voted to expel Nicaragua’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) due to the violations of human rights and democratic values committed by the Ortega regime. The SI, founded in 1951, is a worldwide association of more than 150 political parties that seek to establish democratic socialism. The issue of the FSLN was first raised in October when Costa Rica’s National Liberation Party presented a motion requesting its ouster. The SI’s Ethics Committee approved the motion on January 27 and passed it to the SI Council, which is made up of all member parties as well as the Socialist International Women, International Union of Socialist Youth and International Falcon Movement/Socialist Educational International. The Council plenary expelled the FSLN by majority vote after Nicaraguan Supreme Court Justice Francisco Rosales presented the party’s defense, adding nothing new to the well-known official version. It also heard a report on Nicaragua’s situation by Rafael Micheli, president of the IS Discipline Committee. “It is heart-wrenching to decide to exclude someone from the family,” said Miheli, “and even more so when it is the FSLN, which has a glorious past…. It hasn’t been easy to make this decision, but we have to be consistent with ourselves. The FSLN no longer represents the socialist family; it doesn’t represent our values.”


Managua’s Central American University (UCA) was informed at the start of this year that the government had cut some 26% of the resources that Jesuit university has received annually from the national budget since the 1990s. The cuts to the other universities that benefit from government funding ranged between 0.23% and 1.4%. This important reduction will affect more than 2,000 of the 5,000 students who receive financial aid, with only3,000 financing their own studies. The UCA’s rector, Jesuit priest José Alberto Idiáquez, said this about the cut in a long interview with Nicaragua’s daily newspaper La Prensa on January 11: “A university where thinking happens is seen as dangerous. Students in this university are being taught to think, to do critical thinking and be in touch with reality…. In addition, we in the Society of Jesus and in its educational institutions have to be on the side of the victims, of those who are suffering and are being treated unfairly, people like our students, who should have no reason to hide.”


At the end of November last year, the organizers of Granada’s annual Poetry Festival, held in that famous colonial city every February for the past 14 years, published a statement suspending it this year because “a propitious environment does not exist for holding any festive activity in Nicaragua.” Over the years the festival has acquired fame, attracting dozens of poets from around the world, with more than 80 scheduled to appear this year. Referring to the decision, Nicaraguan poet and writer Gioconda Belli said that “poetry is in mourning; poetry cannot be celebrated at a time in which the country is sunk in state violence that uses the pretext of a coup d’état when there was actually a people’s rebellion.”

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