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  Number 473 | Diciembre 2020
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Nicaragura briefs


While the government reduces the number of infections and deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in each of its brief weekly reports, the Citizens’ Observatory’s weekly reports show different figures. As of November 25, the Observatory had verified 11,357 suspected Covid-19 infection cases and 2,085 deaths. By that same date, it had verified 822 infected health workers and 109 deaths among then. This same report also discusses the Health Ministry’s inadequate attention to victims of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, pointing out that the protocol was not followed to prevent the spread of the pandemic either during the evacuation or in the shelters as no masks or water for hand washing were available. It also reports that the Red Cross treated 315 cases of Covid-19 in its humanitarian operations to assist the population affected by the hurricanes. These figures, too, are much higher than those provided by the Health Ministry.


While an increase in Covid-19 cases is all but inevitable due to the crowding, poor hygiene and lack of protective equipment in the hurricane evacuation sites where thousands of people were taken for between four hours and over three weeks, that is not the end of the health crisis in the affected zones. Endemic epidemics are also expected to rise as a result of accumulated fresh water at the disaster sites due to the floods and overflowing rivers, which is what dengue-transmitting mosquitoes require to lay their eggs. For their part, malaria-transmitting mosquitos will find no shortage of the stagnant dirty water they need for the same purpose. The upsurge in malaria already this year in the Caribbean region is particularly worrisome. Even official data show 12,640 cases between January and August just in Bilwi, the capital of the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, more than double the number in 2019. More alarming yet is that 5,173 of this year’s cases were falciparum malaria, which transmits a parasite that reaches the brain and causes death.


On October 29, shortly after passage of the Law against Cybercrimes, more popularly known as the “Muzzle Law,” dozens of students in the University Coordinator for Democracy and Justice donned disguises in a Managua hotel to ridicule the presidential couple. They titled the protest “Güegüense in a dictatorship,” referring to an early colonial play in which the protagonist mocks and undermines the colonial authorities. Their stated goal was “to mock a corrupt, murdering and dictatorial system that predominates even within the university campuses.” They added that “No muzzle law can silence a Güegüense in a dictatorship” and chanted the slogan “Smiling is resistance.” For their part, the three main cartoonists in the national media announced they would be intimidated by a law that carries stiff jail sentencing for transmitting whatever the regime decides are hurtful messages on the social media. Award-winning Confidencial cartoonist Pedro X. Molina told the daily newspaper La Prensa that “We’re all afraid. Anyone who doesn’t feel fear for being a journalist feels it for being a student or an opposition politician or religious figure. We have to learn to manage it and become aware that the only way to live without fear of the dictatorship is getting out from under it and acting accordingly.”


On November 12, the Costa Rican government established that Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Cubans in its territory who have been denied refuge can now opt for the “Special Category of Temporary Complementary Protection,” which will allow them to stay legally in Costa Rica and work freelance or as employees. This temporary status is good for two years and can be extended for another two. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, 80,000 Nicaraguans have taken exile in Costa Rica since April 2018 and represent 80% of those denied refugee status. In the view of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the situation in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, countries from which thousands have left and cannot return to, formed the basis for this decision by the Costa Rican government.


Remittances in dollars and euros sent home to recession-hit families by Nicaraguans living and working in the United States and Spain are “saving” the depressed Nicaraguan economy. “The good news in the new projections is that remittances are continuing to grow,” acknowledged Finance Minister Ivan Acosta when he presented the 2021 budget to the legislative branch on October 15. He skirted any reference to the human beings responsible for those remittances or the political causes behind so many people emigrating and the lack of opportunities in the country. According to official figures, the average monthly amount coming from the US in remittances in the third quarter of 2020 was US$247.30, $38.70 more than in the same period in 2019. The same is true for remittances received from Spain in the same quarter: $316.60, which is $37.30 more than 2019. There are currently 57,403 Nicaraguans living in Spain, 435 with refugee status. In contrast, remittances sent by Nicaraguans in Costa Rica fell from US$74.5 million to US$60.2 million in that same period.


The Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua issued the following message on November 10 referring to the national situation: “If the permanence of the coronavirus is worrying in our nation today, as it also is in the rest of the planet, the persistence in our country of another endemic virus is much more worrying: the thirst for power at any price. With sadness we see that, instead of solutions being found to the country’s problems, more and more dark shadows are appearing in the social, economic and political landscape, such as dehumanized tax measures that ignore the poverty and misery of the majority of the population. Also, the most basic and fundamental freedoms of Nicaraguans are being criminalized by repressive laws or actions that impede the right to free expression and mobilization. We support those who justly and civically claim their rights.... Drunken craving for power is aberrant behavior. It is a hard drug that many people in political life lack the firm character necessary to counteract.”


Between April and June 2020, Managua’s airport was desolate. Starting in June expensive and sporadic charter flights were organized between some airlines and travel agencies, while the airlines that normally fly to Nicaragua began to put off their regularly scheduled flights month by month due to the regime’s demands. So far, the only one to accept them, in September, has been Avianca, the Colombian airline. The other six that for years have traveled to and from Managua, will not do so again until 2021. While the Ortega government never closed its international airport, as some other governments did for a time, it set four conditions. that the airline be responsible for receiving negative Covid-19 PCR tests from all passengers, taken within 72 hours of the flight, and send them to the Nicaraguan health authorities for approval 36 hours before the trip; that they send the Nicaraguan government the list of passengers with copies of their passports; that they inform the government the type of plane they will be arriving in; and that the crew, pilots and flight attendants present negative PCR tests in the same time frame, even if they don’t leave the airport.


On November 18, Judge Erick Laguna released FSLN militant Abner Pineda, an employee of the Estelí mayor’s office, immediately after sentencing him to only one year in prison for “reckless homicide.” Pineda allegedly murdered Jorge Luis Rugama in cold blood on July 19, 2019, in La Trinidad, department of Estelí, after Rugama shouted “Long live free Nicaragua!” as a vehicle full of FSLN sympathizers, including Pineda, drove past his house. Numerous eye witnesses report that, upon hearing this, Pineda got out of the vehicle and shot Rugama in the neck, killing him instantly. Ebert Acevedo, the lawyer who represented Rugama’s mother, defined this as “the most aberrant sentence in the history of justice in Nicaragua.” Judge Laguna is known for another such ruling against FSLN officials who in November 2011 murdered a family (a father and two sons) in the northern community of El Carrizo, San José de Cusmapa.

On December 2, Nicaraguan Finance Minister Ivan Acosta officially announced that the government has earmarked US$107 million to import a vaccine against Covid-19, which would be applied to the entire population in the first or second quarter of 2021. Nicaragua has more than three decades of experience in mass vaccination campaigns. While Acosta did not indicate the laboratories Nicaragua would purchase the vaccine from, this information effectively rules out the earlier fantasy announcement by Vice President Rosario Murillo that the Russian vaccine would be produced in Nicaragua.

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