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  Number 467 | Junio 2020
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Nicaragua briefs


A report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization predicts that the coronavirus pandemic will bring more poverty and hunger in Latin America, and lists the countries with the greatest percentage of people who will suffer hunger: Haiti (49.3%), Venezuela (21.2%), Bolivia (17.1%), Nicaragua (17%) and Guatemala (15.2%). The report calculates that 1.7 million Nicaraguans already have insufficient daily food consumption: 2.2% of children under 5 years old suffer acute malnutrition and 17% chronic malnutrition. In addition, 40% of the populations of the departments of Jinotega and the Northern Caribbean have significant food shortages. For its part, the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean expects the economic effects of the pandemic to leave 52.7% of Nicaraguans (3.4 million people) in poverty and 22.2% of that number in extreme poverty. It anticipates the greatest increases in post-pandemic extreme poverty to occur in Mexico, Nicaragua and Ecuador.


Among the measures the Civic Alliance proposes to protect the population most affected by the economic crisis is a moratorium on the payment of t public water and electricity services and something similar for the private phone and internet services. It also proposes a moratorium on the payment of loans, without affecting the debtors’ credit ratings. The government has not issued any response whatever to the idea. It must be kept in mind that the Ortega family and its close circle of power own both fuel and energy companies. “Ortega is now the country’s largest capitalist,” says Liberal politician José Pallais, a member of the Civic Alliance. With respect to the moratorium on loan payments, two public entities—the Superintendence of Banks and Other Financial Institutions and the National Microfinance Commission—would have to authorize the private banks and microfinancing institutions to defer payments.


In May rural leader Medardo Mairena challenged the Army to permit international human rights agencies to enter Nicaragua to verify recent charges of the murder of rural opposition members in different parts of the country, which the Army consistently denies. Last September the Nicaraguan Human Rights Collective Nunca + (Never more) presented a report to the inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the violations of the peasant population’s human rights. It documented, with evidence, the murder of 56 peasant farmers between 2008 and 2019, 30 of whom were killed between January 1 and September 22, 2019, and 25 in the years prior to the April 2018 crisis, all of the crimes linked to the Army and Police forces. The Collective defined them as “selective murders that reveal a disproportionate loyalty to the governmental repression, which is like that of wartime.” At the time, the Army pooh-poohed the report. It responded to Mairena’s more recent challenge claiming that “dark interests were behind it.”


May marked two years since the arrival in Nicaragua of a delegation from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission’s Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the latter created for the first time ever to follow the human rights situation of a country in the region. Observing the date, it released a message stating that Nicaragua is currently experiencing a fifth phase of repression. The first was characterized as repression with an excessive use of police force against demonstrators; the second was the regime’s Operation Clean-up against the roadblocks and neighborhood barricades, accompanied by massive killings and detentions. The third was the criminalizing of protests and kidnapping of opponents, while the fourth was the intimidation and silencing of opponent voices. This fifth phase is the maintenance of a de facto state of exception or police State, with such basic human rights as freedom of expression and association suspended or severely limited, thus consolidating the most intense and systematic attack on public freedoms since the start of the crisis in April 2018. In this fifth phase, those newly captured by the police are accused of drug trafficking, tried for that crime and incarcerated as common criminals.


On May 13 the government released to house arrest 2,814 prisoners (2,727 men and 88 women) jailed for common crimes, including rape, from La Modelo and Esperanza prisons in Managua, the Tipitapa jail and those of six other departments. The justification was Mother’s Day, which falls on May 30 in Nicaragua. Not one of the 83 political prisoners in the different prisons was released, even though 38 of them present COVID-19 symptoms, according to their families. The release of these political prisoners has been a repeated demand by international and national human rights agencies.


Joel Hernández, president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), was quoted in the May 9 issue of Confidencial saying that “Nicaragua’s crisis continues to cause special concern in the international community and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In the 2019 annual report the Commission just released, Nicaragua was placed in chapter four. That means the group of countries where a breakdown of the constitutional order exists that is impeding the full enjoyment of human rights. Nicaragua is among the Commission’s highest priorities.”

In an on-line gathering on May 15 to symbolically commemorate its 30 years
of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center’s work, its founder and president Vilma Núñez, accompanied by the director of the Center for International Justice and Law (CEJIL), presented Antonia Urrejola, vice president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and several of its members an “initial petition” against the Nicaraguan Sate for the harassments, threats, stigmatizing and attacks by pro-government groups, the police and top government officials against CENIDH members, criminalizing them as coup-mongers and terrorists. These aggressions “reached their maximum expression” with the arbitrary cancellation of CENIDH’s legal status on December 12, 2018, in the National Assembly, followed the next day by a violent police search of the CENIDH offices in Managua and its affiliate office in Juigalpa, expropriating both offices and all their goods.The petition requests that the IACHR open a case against the Nicaraguan State, listing 14 articles of the Constitution that were violated in its attack against the human rights organization. CENIDH also asks that the petition be “evaluated, processed and resolved with the greatest celerity,” given that “the events charged have taken place in a context of a grave crisis of democracy and human rights in the State of Nicaragua.” The petition concludes arguing that “treating the violation of CENIDH’s human rights as
a priority by the IACHR, particularly with respect to the cancelling of its legal status, would also have positive implications for the other eight Nicaraguan civil rights organizations whose status was also illegally cancelled. Moreover, the existence of an unequivocal pronouncement on the issue by the IACHR could help dissuade the Nicaraguan government from withdrawing the legal status of other organizations in the future.” CENIDH bases this fear on new rules for NGOs made public in December 2019.

Back at the start of the health crisis, the Ministry of Health (MINSA) established that all tests for the presence of the virus in individuals be administered only by the National Diagnostic and Reference Center (CNDR), which is where the MINSA laboratory is. No private laboratory is permitted to do the tests. Furthermore, all hospitals, public or private, must send all samples to the CNDR. In mid-May an anonymous CNDR source reported to Confidencial that the lab had done 5,900 tests, of which 1,600 were positive, a 27% infection rate of those tested. Given this trend, said the source, “thousands of
tests should be taken daily all around the country to learn the real dimension of the pandemic and, above all, the circulation of asymptomatic cases.” The CNDR laboratory has 110 employees, and the source said 45% of the scientific area directors and administrative personnel have tested positive because they don’t use protective equipment.


As of the end of May, the regime has not yet ordered the closure of public schools and universities in response to the pandemic, although back in March it authorized the private schools to give on-line classes. Many parents of public school children are not sending them to class to protect them from infection. According to UNESCO, only three other countries in the world are keeping their schools open: Turkmenistan, Byelorussia and Tajikistan. In late May it was learned extra-officially that the Education Ministry had oriented its public school directors not to pressure families to send their children, as it was doing previously. Teachers and professors, however, are obliged to be there under threat of dismissal and in at least some cases were being pressured by pro-government activists not to wear masks to avoid “alarming” the children. At the end of May, seven public school teachers had died with COVID-19 symptoms. In May Fulgencio Báez, a Nicaraguan pediatric oncologist, who was a Health Ministry official and is now a member of the Multidisciplinary Scientific Committee created in response to the pandemic, advocated that the schools be closed because while children and teenagers present milder symptoms of the virus than adults, they are major transmitters to adults: “This shows,” he said, “that the general contagion could be reduced by 30% if children don’t attend classes.”


Seeing the government’s repeated denial of the health crisis, four former Nicaraguan health ministers (Lea Guido, Dora María Téllez, Martha McCoy and Margarita Gurdián) and one former vice minister (Lombardo Martínez), who between them occupied these posts between 1980 and 2006, wrote a joint letter to the directors of the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization on May 10, “concerned about what is happening in our country due to the magnitude the pandemic is acquiring and its imminent worsening given the lack of actions.” They warned of the “grave risk for the Central American region” that such reckless inaction represents. PAHO put off taking a position that same day, instead assuring that “we are hoping the official information of Nicaragua will have a level of detail that permits us an adequate analysis of the situation.” It did, however, refer to “multiple” unofficial reports reaching the institution about increased hospitalizations and deaths. Two weeks later, the PAHO director said she “fully shares the concern expressed by the May 10 letter.”

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