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  Number 470 | Septiembre 2020
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Nicaragua

Nicaragua Briefs

TARGETING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

The regime has added ongoing subjugation tactics, like those deployed against the Catholic Church, to its strategy of attrition. Its fanatics are encouraged to profane sanctuaries: stealing, destroying images, opening tabernacles and stomping on hosts. And on July 31, they dared the unthinkable. Half an hour before noon an unidentified man, described by several witnesses as having his face half covered and with “something” in his hands, entered the Cathedral in Managua. He headed for the Blood of Christ Chapel, where a 380-year-old mahogany image of Christ Crucified, venerated by Nicaraguans—especially the capital’s parishioners—was on display. The man tossed what he was carrying, apparently an explosive device, into the chapel and fled. The resulting fire burned the image beyond recognition and charred the sanctuary and surroundings. During her daily noon TV appearance, Vice President Murillo was the first to offer any version of the event. She blamed the fire on an accident caused by candles placed by faithful too near curtains in the chapel. Soon after, Cardinal Archbishop of Managua Leopoldo Brenes, accompanied by several priests, went to see the Dantesque scene left by the fire. He assured the gathered reporters that there were no candles much less curtains in the chapel and that what had happened was a “planned terrorist attack.” That same day, Pope Francis sent Brenes a personal message and two days later, during his praying of the Angelus from the Vatican’s balcony, he made reference to the “attack” on Managua’s Cathedral.
The police issued three reports about the fire after picking up two of the witnesses, taking them to the precinct and interrogating them for six hours, in which they ended up denying ever seeing anything strange
that day. The final police report, issued on August 3, explained the fire as being caused by a small 200-ml plastic spray-bottle of alcohol, kept in the chapel to clean the hands of the faithful to avoid contagion. That alcohol allegedly released vapors that combined with the high temperatures of the area to cause the flames due to a complicated chemical process called “solvation.” The spray-bottle presented by the police was intact, even after the fire. This far-fetched explanation was refuted by chemist William Marín on the TV news magazine program “Esta Semana.” Marín explained that it would have taken three open barrels containing 3,600 liters of alcohol in a hermetically-sealed chapel to have produced this phenomenon. According to Marín, an independent investigation would be very difficult at this point because the police spent several hours inside the scene of the catastrophe, controlling entry. But due to the type of fire, Marín believes it was caused by an artifact capable of producing “rapid combustion.” “The truth will be known someday,” said Cardinal Brenes. Just days later police were sent out to various parishes to offer priests “protection” in the form of police cars stationed outside of churches. Though none accepted, the intimidating presence of armed men is exhausting. And in some cases the government offers something besides security: economic assistance for sanctuary upkeep... which some do accept.
These kinds of actions—viciously attacking today and trying to buy silence tomorrow—are implicit acknowledgement by the regime that both the Catholic Church hierarchy and its parishioners are currently the best organized and most credible opposition force.

JESUITS CONDEMN ATTACK
ON MANAGUA CATHEDRAL

The Jesuits of Nicaragua and Central America released a communique on August 1 about the criminal attack that caused the fire in the chapel. “It is not an isolated act,” they said. “It is part of a systematic campaign of intimidation, siege, harassment and persecution on behalf of the Ortega-Murillo government against the Catholic Church for being on the side of the Nicaraguan people, who are legitimately and peacefully demanding unrestricted respect for their human and constitutional rights.… We hope this is investigated and the criminals of this unfortunate act as well as the masterminds who planned and decided on it are found.” Since April 2018, there have been many profanations of Catholic churches and chapels, threats against priests, religious sites under siege to control the faithful who enter and other forms of repression aimed specifically at the Catholic Church. And since 2019, all international donations it received through Caritas and other institutions have been blocked in customs.

THE STATE TAKES OVER
THE CHURCH’S AUGUST FESTIVITIES

Against the decision made by the Catholic Church authorities, the Managua mayor’s office sponsored the festivities of August 1st and 10th with money and booze. It brought a replica of the tiny image of Santo Domingo onto the streets so the devout and promisers could accompany it. Traditionally about 50,000 people participate each year in the festivities of Managua’s patron saint. This year only about 500 showed up, in a crowd and without masks. The Church had announced back in July that for the first time in 180 years, there would be no celebrating the traditional carrying of the image from the church
in Las Sierritas to Managua on August 1 and back on August 10 to avoid infections and because of the mourning caused by the pandemic in the country. The bishop of León also asked the people not to celebrate the “Gritería Chiquita” on the streets on August 14, in honor of the Assumption of Mary, for these same reasons. The León mayor’s office, again defying the Church’s petition, promoted a massive celebration, but it had little success. In both traditional celebrations the Church’s criteria prevailed.

EEMIGRANTS’ UNWELCOMING RETURN

An estimated 1,961 Nicaraguans returned between July 4 and August 16, after losing their jobs in Panama, Costa Rica, Spain, Cayman Islands, Barbados and Guatemala due to the pandemic and the economic crises in these countries. They came back amidst great difficulties and facing the Nicaraguan government’s indifference and insensitivity, giving them no help even though the remittances these emigrants have sent to their families in recent years have helped keep the country’s economy afloat. The Nicaraguan government demanded a negative COVID-19 test from all of them to enter the country. Most of them either couldn’t pay the U$150 for the test or hadn’t been informed when they left those countries, so had to wait for a long time at the borders, or at sea in the case of those coming from the Caribbean, until they could have the test done. The tests were paid for by authorities or organizations of the countries where they were stranded, which also provided them food, shelter and health care. All of this was denied to them by their own government. Hundreds lived through this dramatic ordeal at the Costa Rican border for two weeks. On August 7, 66 Nicaraguans returned from the Cayman Islands, whose government paid for their tickets, did their tests for free and financed their trip from the Caribbean Coast to Managua, where they were from. In their case as well, the Nicaraguan government gave them no help.

“ANONYMOUS” HACKS
THE HEALTH MINISTRY

The area where success has totally eluded the government is its narrative about pandemic. No one believes the Health Ministry (MINSA) reports given so “succinctly,” in the words of the World Health Organization: in under a minute once a week.In mid-August, the international cyber-activist movement that goes by the name Anonymous demonstrated how right we are to mistrust the official figures of COVID-19 infections and deaths. Its hackers got into the MINSA laboratory database and proved that the public has been consistently lied to since the beginning. MINSA has been applying polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing as far back as late February, even as the government was disclaiming the virus even existed here and cavalierly announcing it “would be welcomed with a Carnival.”The hacked data show the number of PCR tests done between February 28 and July 24 by MINSA’s laboratory, the only one in the country authorized to run the test. To take just one example
of the government’s dishonesty, the hacked data show that, while MINSA detected 9,683 positive cases in that period, its public reports only declared 3,439, just over a third of the real number. The data also indicate that 23 children under a year old tested positive within those dates, while the government kept public schools open arguing that children don’t contract the virus. The information includes names, ages and places of persons who were tested while hospitalized. Anonymous made it public and Nicaraguan epidemiologist Álvaro Ramírez, who was assistant director of epidemiology in MINSA and now resides in Ireland, put it in order and analyzed it. The data revealed that Nicaragua has done the fewest PCR tests in America: only 17,249 during this period, when other countries of the isthmus have already done more than 100,000. In analyzing the COVID-19 information, Dr. Ramírez commented that the tests done by MINSA were not done “in communities to detect asymptomatic people and thus cut off community spread of the virus,” but only in people hospitalized with probable symptoms of the disease. He said this approach doesn’t respond to a preventive policy for a public health emergency of international importance. Dr. Ramírez sent the analyzed data to PAHO. Ramírez highlighted the fact that the hacking done by Anonymous proves there was information that was being reported to the presidency every day, but the decision was made to lie to the population. Lung specialist Jorge Iván Miranda, who also analyzed several of the databases, says they confirm what we have all been saying, that the epidemic is being managed politically and the vulnerable population and health workers are paying the price. Even after the Anonymous revelations, however, MINSA persisted with its cover-up. On August 31, it reported only 4,494 infections and 137 deaths. The Citizens Observatory—which is not allowed to do testing but maintains a count based on reliable information from doctors and local organizations—reported 9,998 infections and 2,680 deaths, not far from the leaked PCR testing data up to late July.

MASS INFECTION?

On the last day of August, it was made public that to get theUA$43 million IDB loan, the regime acknowledged to the bank that without international aid to improve the precarious health system, more than 5 million Nicaraguans would be infected and more than 23,000 would die (in a population of roughly 6.5 million). Dr. Álvaro Ramírez, the former assistant director of epidemiology at MINSA, commented: “Now that they need money, they reveal figures they’ve been hiding. But it doesn’t look like they will depoliticize the pandemic, which they have been politicizing from the highest levels.” Ramírez expressed fear that the government may have presented such high figures to the IDB just to get the money, but they are possible figures, considering how the government continues to be so erratic in applying measures, apparently betting on mass infection, a strategy known as “herd immunity.”
RUSSIAN VACCINE FOR NICARAGUA?

The official narrative about the pandemic is a mix of lies and fantasy. Following the script offering fabulous projects that never materialize—the biggest example being the interoceanic canal—Vice President Murillo announced in August that Nicaragua is on the list for producing the Russian Sputnik V anti-COVID-19 vaccine and exporting it throughout Central America.This “miracle” will allegedly happen at the Mechnikov Institute, inaugurated in Managua in 2016 with Russian aid and an investment of US$30 million taken from Nicaragua’s Social Security fund. Since then, there has been no reporting on the project’s development. Nonetheless, a number of Nicaraguans, having heard the news, have stopped wearing a mask, believing the vaccine to be just around the corner and thus they have nothing more to worry about. The immunochemist Ernesto Medina explains that producing vaccines is a complex scientific process for which Nicaragua lacks capacity, and “the only thing they would do in that laboratory is bottle, label and distribute what is received from Russia.”


GIOCONDA BELLI, FRUSTRATED,
LEAVES THE CIVIC ALLIANCE

Nicaraguan writer and poet Gioconda Belli resigned from the Civic Alliance on August 27 due to its internal divisions. She joined it on January 29, when its coordinator Carlos Tünnermann asked her to be his alternate. In her public letter of resignation, Belli explained that “I love Nicaragua, but I belong to the great nation called Literature.…The spontaneity, dispersion and absence of common direction in the opposition that worked for the self-convened in April [2018] continue to deprive and generate an inertia that resists finding the adequate mechanisms to confront, either by the electoral route or other means, the compact, obedient and organized behavior of an armed and ruthless enemy that is entrenched and blinded by arrogance.…I’ve had big dreams several times in my lifetime. One of them was the ill-fated 1979 Revolution. Another was the one that surfaced in April 2018: the possibility that a Motherland for all could arise out of so much trial and error, from so much courage and sacrifice. Until the end of my life, I will not stop dreaming of a such a beautiful Nicaragua that will arise someday, leaving behind all the complaining, confrontations and moral and physical killings. If we can dream it, it is because it exists…. Meanwhile, I feel my obligation, my true militancy is to recover my political independence and dedicate myself to my vocation, which is words and literature.”

DISASTERS IN THE CARIBBEAN

Torrential rains in August caused the Coco, Wawa and Kukalaya rivers in the northern Caribbean region of Nicaragua to overflow their banks, causing a significant number of communities to lose their rice, corn and root crops in the Wangki Maya territory in the lower Coco River, municipality of Waspan. They are now facing a food emergency, along with the health emergency brought on by the pandemic and diseases caused by the flooding. The Caribbean population has been given very little information on how to prevent the pandemic or how it’s transmitted. The Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN) has taken the initiative to broadcast information through different activities with the population in the territory. Its director, Lottie Cunningham, told La Prensa that the Caribbean population feels abandoned both by the Managua government and by its own regional government, unfortunately not a new situation.

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