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  Number 464 | Marzo 2020
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Nicaragua

Nicaragua briefs

ANOTHER MEGAPROJECT?

Behind closed doors the government signed a 25-year sales agreement on February 17 with New Fortress Energy, a US company, to build a 300-megawatt natural gas-based electricity generating plant in Puerto Sandino, presenting it as evidence of foreign investor confidence in Nicaragua. The plant will cost US$700 million and will go on line by the second half of 2021. Electrical engineer Fernando Bárcenas argues that this huge amount of new energy in the national electricity system—reportedly excessive, given the contracts already signed with other generating plants—will increase the cost of energy to consumers. Bárecenas also says investor crisis of confidence in Nicaragua “means it is hard for this project to be viable and it will probably never be executed.” Since 2007 Ortega has promised various megaprojects
that have never materialized, the most infamous of which was the interoceanic canal (valued at US$50 billion). Others included a US$6.72 billion Venezuelan-financed refinery to supply oil to Central America; the Brazilian Tumarín electricity plant (US$1.1 billion); a deep water port in Money Point, South Caribbean (US$50 million), to be followed by two more ports; and a Chinese satellite (US$300 million).

VENEZUELAN AIRLINE SANCTIONED

Also on February 17,Venezuela’s Conviasa airline and its fleet of 40 planes were sanctioned by the US Treasury Department. Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami responded that Conviasa will continue working and denounced the sanctions to the United Nations, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and other international forums. The sanctions do not stop Venezuelans from continuing to travel on Conviasa, but US citizens and businesses are not allowed to have anything to do with it. Conviasa provides cheaper flights to Havana, Managua and Panama and allowed Venezuelan and Nicaraguan officials who can’t enter the United States to make air connections to Europe, Asia and Africa. The Nicaraguan regime announced it will not respect the US sanction. Conviasa, which flew to Nicaragua for the first time in November 2017, carried on selling tickets in Managua and the five weekly Conviasa flights continued landing in the capital’s airport, which worries other airlinea and agencies as they fear this will expose the airport to sanctions.

TSK HAS LEFT THE COUNTRY

It was learned in February that the Spanish consortium TSK-Melfosur has quietly left Nicaragua. Despite having no financial or administrative experience in the energy sector, the regime made it the principal stockholder of the Nicaraguan state electricity distribution companies Disnorte and Dissur in 2013 to improve the public service to consumers. That never happened. TSK’s inexperience proved that the operation was designed only for appearances and because it was functional for the lucrative hydrocarbons business in Nicaragua, which has been completely in the governing family’s hands since 2009. Nicaragua’s electricity system depends in large measure on plants powered by bunker, an oil derivative. TSK seems to have refused to continue serving as a “screen,” a stockholder of state companies trying to avoid the sanctions that the US imposed in December on the National Petroleum Distributor (DNP) for laundering money and for corruption. With its departure from the country, Disnorte and Dissur were “de facto” nationalized.

DENNIS MARTÍNEZ

Former US Major Leagues champion Dennis Martínez, the pride and joy of Nicaraguan baseball for being the first Latino to pitch a perfect game, was elected in February as honorary president of the platform that brings together five organizations of the Nicaraguan diaspora in the United States. These exiles say that they share with Martínez a “deep love for Nicaragua and efforts for its future.” Taking this step effectively means declaring himself an opponent of the Ortega regime. In October 2017, before the April uprising, the regime named the new national baseball stadium in Managua after him, but in June 2018 he began asking the government to stop using the stadium as a base for lethal police and paramilitary operations. Since then, the regime’s sports commentators have been prohibited from using his name to refer to the stadium, calling it “the house of the perfect game” instead. In that same first critical declaration, Martínez said: “It hurts me that the stadium that caries my name is being occupied for violent purposes affecting my Nicaraguan brothers.” Later, on several occasions, he made other declarations against the Ortega-Murillo regime.

VIOLENCE IN THE CARIBBEAN

Autonomous Regional Council members for the indigenous political party Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Aslatakanka (Yatama) charged that the community of Santa Clara in the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory of Waspan, Northern Caribbean, was invaded in mid-February by armed mestizo settlers determined to take over this territory. The Police and Army did nothing to stop them. The invaders entered the community and gravely wounded a 15-year old girl in
the jaw, destroying her teeth. Regional Council member Julio Ochoa reaffirmed that they will defend their lands, which have been continually attacked and pillaged. He also complained that rather than acting against the settlers, the Police want to disarm the community members,” who are defending themselves and their land. Territorial Council member Mauro Atimus said the communities are at risk both from the settlers and from officers of the Police Special Ops Division. The Police denied that a settler had been responsible for the girl’s wounds¸ claiming they were caused by a relative of hers, which only caused further indignation in the Miskitu community.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
AND THE CARIBBEAN COAST

Meeting in Assembly on February 17, the 14 parishes of the diocese of Siuna published a document whose section titled “What grieves us and concerns us” refers to a situation that has become common in Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast region: “the advance of the agricultural frontier that is affecting community life and Nature, seen as a means of enrichment; the incompliance with and disrespect for the law that is taking place and going unpunished; the silence and passivity of the state institutions regarding the violations of the law and the unrest this has created; the weakening of the capacity for representation in the communities to address their problems and concretely the issue of land.” The text proposes “the creation of a forum where representatives of our communities can debate this problem with the main institutions related to this conflict to make concrete proposals that help address this situation in a comprehensive and urgent way.” The document was signed by Pablo Schmitz, Catholic administrator of the seat of Siuna following the death of its first bishop, David Zywiec.

THICS AND TRANSPARENCY

On February 28, Ethics and Transparency (EyT), an organization with long experience observing elections both in Nicaragua and abroad and has been our country’s chapter of Transparency International since 2006, formally requested that the National Assembly include it in the consultation process for the electoral reforms that legislative body will approve this year. It based its request on the Electoral Law itself and accompanied it with the proposal of the Electoral Reform Bloc, which has been endorsed by the Civic Alliance, the Blue and White Unity, four political parties and the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP). It would also observe the development of the consultations with the political parties that have seats in the National Assembly. The initiative generated controversy, but EyT’s director, Roberto Courtney, an expert in electoral issues and a member of the Electoral Reform Promotion Group, which is part of the Bloc, has clearly said his organization’s participation will be “independent and impartial.” It would play the role of a qualified witness of what happens in the parliament. Courtney said EyT will only endorse the reforms if they are adequate and will denounce them if they are rigged or insufficient.

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
AND NICARAGUA

On February 12, in the 13th period of sessions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, updated her September 2019 report on the situation in Nicaragua, from. She said the human rights violations have not stopped in an extremely complex political and social context, in which the right to peaceful protest is systematically denied and the massive police deployments discourage people from demonstrating. She also referred to the persecution of former political prisoners, human rights defenders, journalists and independent media. Minister Valdrack Jaentschke, the presidential adviser for international affairs, who was present in the hall at the time, used his speech to reject both the report and the US and Canadian sanctions that have financially affected Ortega’s family and family businesses and other regime officials.

MORE POLICE

In February, 708 new police officers went on active duty after finishing their first basic course in the Academy, increasing the force from the 16,866 it had at the end of 2019. According to the National Police, the 15,179 officers it had in 2017 had dropped to 14,916 by the end of 2018, although it never specified whether these 533 fewer officers were the result of dismissals and internal movements or desertions in the wake of the violent police actions of that year. In 2019, the institution graduated five classes of officers in March, June (2), October and December, having recruited 920 new ones. The regime has also increased the police budget, by 541% between 2005 and 2020, particularly in the past two years following the April 2018 social uprising.

ERNESTO CARDENAL DOES

Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal died on March 11 at the age of 95. His body was cremated and buried in Mancarrón, the island in Lake Cocibolca’s Solentiname Archipelago he loved so much and where he was deeply loved. Cardenal left a work of insurmountable beauty and social and political commitment. From his “Cántico Cósmico” (1989), by which time he already had an extensive and marvelous collection of works and had served as the revolution’s minister of culture in that same decade, he wrote continuously right up to the end of his days. He called it “poetry inspired in science.” He titled his last book (2018) Así en la tierra como en el cielo (On earth as it is in heaven) and his last poem “Hijos de las estrellas” (Children of the stars).

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