Nicaragua News Bulletin

1. Severe drought affects Madriz and Nueva Segovia
2. 2009 – A good year in the Mining Triangle
3. Leon and Chinandega close out the year working on reforestation
4. Liberal Parties negotiate appointments to Supreme Electoral Council
5. Supreme Court ends year with cases pending

1. Severe drought affects Madriz and Nueva Segovia

A spokesperson for the European Union announced on Jan. 4 that the EU would donate US$154,000 to aid Nicaraguan victims of a prolonged drought in the northern part of the country. The donation is especially allocated to people in six municipalities who have lost the totality of their crops and who depended on those crops to feed their families. The aid will be channeled through the group Action against Hunger and will include seeds and training in soil conservation techniques.

The Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER) has identified 25 municipalities severely affected by the drought and another 73 affected moderately.

Even the millet—the most resistant of the grains to drought—in the field of farmer Juan Perez Gutierrez near Totogalpa in the Department of Madriz was dying. “We won’t get anything,” he said, noting that he had also lost his corn and beans in both the first and second plantings. A study done by the Totogalpa mayor’s office indicated that for the first harvest, 58% of the corn harvest had been lost, 63% of the bean harvest and 45% of the millet harvest was also lost. But the figures were even more alarming for the second harvest where the study revealed 96%, 94%, and 89% lost respectively for corn, beans and millet.

Small farmers throughout Madriz and Nueva Segovia are increasingly desperate now that they are confronting eight months until the time of the first harvest of the New Year which will not come until August. Municipalities are encouraging the raising of goats and chickens and are hiring men to work in local government construction projects in order to provide families with an income. Residents say that they are praying that the price of food grains will not go up. El Nuevo Diario reported that a pound of beans was selling for US$0.45 and a pound of corn (dry kernels) for US$0.18.

Water from community wells is being rationed. In the village of El Frayle, the eleven families take four buckets of water each in the morning and three buckets in the afternoon from the communal well. To bathe or wash clothes, they walk to a hill where there is a spring that has not dried up. Families with underground cisterns that captured a bit of water during the inadequate rainy season are able to use that water for plants and for farmyard animals.

Carmen Gomez said, “We are not going to have food; we didn’t even get seeds for next year.” She said that her children had gone to the mountains to pick coffee.

At the junctions of the major roads in the region, groups of men and women are gathered waiting for the trucks from the big coffee plantations to pick them up and take them to farms in Dipilto, Jalapa and other coffee growing areas. The La Cascada Farm in Dipilto has hired 200 pickers, among them Yadira Muñoz of Yalagüina, her husband, and two children. “Today we picked 10 tins; that’s US$10 plus food,” said Muñoz, adding, “When would we earn that at home? We will stay here three months picking coffee.”

But, according to the National Coffee Commission (CONCAFE), some 200,000 hundredweights of coffee could be lost this year because of the drought which the group’s President Luis Osorio said was caused by the El Niño climate pattern. Osorio said the 2 million hundredweights that Nicaragua expected to export this season could be lowered to 1.8 million. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 30, Jan. 4; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 30, Jan. 4)

2. 2009 – A good year in the Mining Triangle

The year 2009 was, in the main, a good year for the region traditionally known as the Mining Triangle in the interior of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) of Nicaragua. The year began with municipal elections in January that had been postponed for that region from November 2008 to allow for recovery from Hurricane Felix in 2007. The Sandinista Party retained the city hall in Bonanza and also won in Rosita. The Constitutional Liberal Party won in Siuna.

Indigenous communities received communal titles to their lands during the year. Some 10,450 square kilometers of territory were demarcated and titled, fully one third of the territory of the RAAN as the work of the National Demarcation Committee continued. In the case of the Mayangna (Sumu), of nine territories, only two (Mayangna Sauny Arunka and Sumu Mayangna Tuahsa Takln Balna) remain to be titled and those have been approved with the titles to be given to the communities early this month.

The government, through the Council for the Development of the Caribbean Coast, allocated an important sum to bring the isolated communities of the RAAN onto the national electricity grid. Siuna, Mulukuku, Alamikamba, and Rosita were all connected last year and the government plans to link Bonanza and Sahsa to the grid in the first quarter of 2010.

Another major infrastructure improvement was the building of ten bridges on the road from Siuna to the port of Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas) on the Caribbean Coast. Among the rivers that the highway crosses are the Kulinwas, the Yaranwas, the Waspuk, the Omizuwas and the Bambanita.

In the important area of education, the entire municipality of Bonanza was declared free of illiteracy, as were the urban areas of Rosita and Siuna. The local government of Rosita built a public secondary school at a cost of US$450,000 which replaced a deteriorated warehouse.

The region received better health service. It was visited by medical brigades of doctors from the United States, from Cuba, and by brigades of Sandinista doctors. They brought medicines and performed major and minor surgery. In Rosita a maternity house (for rural women with high-risk pregnancies) and a house for doctors were built.

The Zero Hunger Program had an impact on the region with a total of 6,000 women benefitting from the program in the entire RAAN. More than 60% of those who participated were successful in caring for their pregnant cow and pig, along with the chickens, seeds, and tools which are part of the program. The Zero Usury Program benefitted another 1,500 women with loans of up to US$250 to set up their own small businesses.

There was bad news as well in the Mining Triangle during 2009. Most noteworthy was the death of six artisan gold miners on June 20. They died from inhaling carbon monoxide 150 feet underground in a mine at Potosí Hill in the municipality of Siuna. A bus accident killed three teachers near Sahsa in March. And a number of murders took place in the region. In fact, 79 people died violently in the Mining Triangle during the year. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 29)

3. Leon and Chinandega close out the year working on reforestation

During 2009 a diverse group of institutions continued a reforestation project on hillsides and in river basins, in parks and in school yards to improve environmental conditions in 13 of the 22 municipalities of the Departments of Leon and Chinandega. The campaign, the third in a series, completed the reforestation of 11,000 acres. Among the thousands of trees planted were mahogany, teak, laurel, pochote (Bombacopsis quinata), eucalyptus, oak, Guanacaste, Genízaro (Albizia saman), Ceiba, and cedar. There was a special emphasis placed on the reforestation of land near rivers.

The program received support from many sources, including the National Forest Institute (INAFOR), the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA), mayors of the municipalities involved, the Ministry of Education, the Nicaraguan Army, the Young Environmentalists Club, the United States Millennium Challenge Account (CRM), and the Monte Rosa and San Antonio sugar mills. Over 600 high school students from Chichigalpa and Posoltega participated in the program. Each school and institution that participated received an award.

There was also an environmental education campaign for populations located near the reforested areas, to teach them about proper trash disposal in order to avoid the contamination of rivers and the spread of illnesses. The campaign will continue through next year with the goal of caring for sources of water and trees so that they can be inherited by future generations, thereby strengthening preservation of the rivers, and maintaining the river basins.

Gloria Gonzalez, Education Ministry delegate for Chinandega, said that a total of 7,000 students from that department had planted 60,000 trees. They also cleaned up the Acome River which had been contaminated by dumping. Alejandro Palma, Mayor of San Pedro de Potrero in Chinandega, said that extensive areas in his municipality had been reforested. He added that the population has learned to conserve the pine forests of the area near the Honduras border and now many have solar panels to provide electricity and no longer burn pine branches for light. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 30)

4. Liberal Parties negotiate appointments to Supreme Electoral Council

Early this year the terms of numerous high level government officials will run out and new appointments must be made and approved by the National Assembly. None of these is more controversial than the appointments to the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) which was severely questioned after the municipal elections of Nov. 2008. Between February and June, the terms of all seven magistrates and their three alternates will end. As part of the ongoing talks between the various Liberal parties [the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), the “Let’s Go with Eduardo” Movement (MVE), and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN)], the negotiators are also strategizing about who their candidates will be for these important posts.

National Assembly Deputy Freddy Torres (PLC) said, “I understand that in the conversations between [PLC leader and former President Arnoldo] Aleman and [Eduardo] Montealegre [MVE], they have talked about the possibility of Eduardo’s people proposing a heavy weight, someone of high caliber, to occupy one of the seats on the Supreme Electoral Council.” While Torres spoke of only one person, La Prensa reported on Dec. 30 that it had from an unofficial source that Aleman would support the MVE naming all the Liberal candidates for the CSE while the PLC would take charge of finding the Liberal candidates for the appointments to the Supreme Court. However, the next day, El Nuevo Diario reported that, according to PLC spokesman Leonel Teller, the PLC had already selected its candidates for the CSE posts and expected no objections from the other Liberal parties or from civil society groups because, Teller said, “we are going to propose a list of magistrates to the CSE of people of high integrity.” He denied that there had been any agreement to give all the CSE nominations to Eduardo Montealegre’s party.

The Liberals want to reach an agreement among themselves on who would fill half of the posts on the Supreme Electoral Council, the Supreme Court, the Comptrollers General of the Republic and other institutions and then begin to negotiate with the governing Sandinista Party (FSLN). Confirmation of the appointments to these positions requires a supermajority of 56 deputies and neither the Liberals nor the FSLN alone can bring together that number of votes. (La Prensa, Dec. 30; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 30; El Nuevo Diario, Jan. 1)

5. Supreme Court ends year with cases pending

The Supreme Court ended 2009 without issuing a number of important decisions that had been expected during the year. Court President Francisco Rosales had announced that the decision on the constitutionality of the prohibition of therapeutic abortion was written and the full Court had only to meet to approve it. However, Justices Sergio Cuarezma and Ligia Molina stated that they had not seen the ruling and did not see how it could be ready for approval.

Meanwhile, women’s and human rights groups along with medical associations, who had introduced the appeal, continued to demand that the Court rule, holding marches and sit-ins and issuing proclamations. Juana Jimenez of the Autonomous Women’s Movement said, “The period for issuing this ruling is up, nevertheless, there it sits because of a politically partisan system that overrules human rights.” She added, “With a ruling in our favor, Nicaragua will cease to be listed as a violator of human rights. But they have used this ruling as a negotiating card between the government and the church while stepping on our rights.”

There are also cases before the Supreme Court related to murder investigations, among them the case of U.S. citizen Eric Volz, convicted of murdering a young Nicaraguan woman and then pardoned under what many considered suspicious circumstances; the case of the murder of Frank Garcia, husband of indigenous land rights lawyer Maria Luisa Acosta in which the intellectual author of the crime was never brought to justice; and the case of the killing of journalist Maria Jose Bravo where the mayor of El Ayote, convicted of the crime, was set free when the charge was reduced to manslaughter.

In the case of the members of the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, the ruling that would confirm their sentences and order them extradited to Mexico to serve their prison time was not issued. They remain in a Nicaraguan prison. In the case of the bars that in 2006 sold distilled cane liquor laced with wood alcohol resulting in the deaths of nine people, the justices are deciding whether the bar owners acted with malice or only with profit in mind. A decision is expected soon.

Opposition commentators noted that while the Court is taking its time with these cases, it ruled quickly on the case of the prohibition on consecutive reelection for the President and National Assembly deputies declaring the prohibition to be in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens. On Jan. 11, the Judicial Branch begins the work of the New Year with more than 20 new appeals judges taking up their posts around the country. Two new labor courts will begin to function, hopefully to speed cases through in the area where rulings are the most delayed, according to the judges themselves. (El Nuevo Diario, Jan. 3)