NicaNotes: Vaccine Solidarity vs. Vaccine Diplomacy

By Becca Mohally Renk

[Becca Mohally Renk has lived in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, for 20 years, working with the Jubilee House Community and its project, the Center for Development in Central America.]

This week the Nicaraguan government announced that starting on October 20th it will be vaccinating children aged two to 17 with COVID-19 vaccines developed in Cuba. As soon as the announcement was made, my phone started buzzing as everyone I know sent each other the news. The excitement is palpable – two to 17 year olds represent nearly a third of Nicaragua’s population, and with this announcement it feels like we are really on the home stretch of the pandemic.

People line up at the Lenin Fonseca Hospital for their COVID vaccinations.

After a slow COVID-19 vaccine roll out in due to unequal distribution of the vaccines around the world, as of early September Nicaragua had only vaccinated 524,000, or about eight percent of the population, and only those over age 45. Finally in mid-September, larger donations of vaccines began to arrive through the COVAX system, the government lowered the eligible age to 30, and set the goal of vaccinating another half million people before October 9th. How’s that coming along? We’re now just a few days away from that goal and Nicaragua is set to surpass it, thanks to excellent organization and thousands of dedicated health care workers.

I got to see this system first hand last week when I got my own COVID vaccine. When the massive vaccinations began, I watched as the lines at five major hospitals in Managua trailed out of the gates, far down the block, and remained long throughout the week. On the fourth day, I decided to try my luck. When I arrived at the Antonio Lenin Fonseca hospital on the Western edge of Managua, the line began at the gate and snaked around all through the hospital grounds. But as soon as I joined in, I could see that the line wasn’t standing still, but rather was in near-constant motion.

Most of the people in line were in their 30s, most dressed professionally or in uniforms, obviously having been given permission to leave work to get the vaccine. There was a buzz in the crowd, and like me, most everyone was on their phones, taking pictures and video, sending texts, calling friends and family to report on the line’s progress. For two hours we snaked through the shade, the sun, a light rain, and then under tents. I could feel the excitement that we were nearing the end of a very hard time, and there was a powerful unity, a feeling that we were all in this together. When we finally got to the front of the queue we were grinning under our masks as we were given our vaccination cards and then shown to the vaccine room where we were quickly jabbed and then whisked back out onto the street to allow for the vaccinations to continue.

We estimated around 10,000 people getting their vaccine – at just one of five hospitals in Managua vaccinating that day, and there are daily vaccines being given out in the rural areas of the country as well.

And soon the kids will be vaccinated, too! Cuba, despite being a tiny country besieged by crippling economic embargoes and attempted coups from the U.S. for more than 60 years, has developed not one but five viable vaccines against COVID-19. In July the U.S. responded to this laudable effort by leveraging the pandemic to attempt yet again to overthrow the Cuban government; and by ramping up the U.S.’s illegal sanctions, including restricting and denying medical aid to the island.

As it always has done, Cuba managed to thwart U.S. attempts at destabilization, and Cuba’s history of steadfast solidarity with other nations once again served it well when its allies came to its aid. Nicaragua – which grows 90% of its own food – responded to Cuba’s difficulties by sending not one but two ships of food to its neighbor, totaling 50 containers of basic grains and 10 containers of vegetable oil. Cuban solidarity activists in the U.S. donated millions of syringes to help with vaccination efforts, and now Cuba has persevered and is on track to have 90 percent of its population vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-November.

Anticipating this milestone – which puts it far ahead of the lagging efforts of the richest country in the world – what is Cuba doing? Their first move is to reciprocate the solidarity: as soon as they get their folks vaccinated, they are helping their most vulnerable neighbors in Nicaragua.

I can’t help comparing Cuba’s actions in the time of pandemic with those of the U.S., my own home country. By early September, the United States had thrown out more than 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, more than enough to have vaccinated every Nicaraguan twice. The United States had donated vaccines to every country in Central America except Nicaragua, exercising “vaccine diplomacy” because the U.S. wants to overthrow Nicaragua’s democratically elected government.

In the U.S., not only can the system not give the vaccine away, but they can’t pay people to get vaccinated – despite raffling off new vehicles and cash prizes (in North Carolina they raffled off one million dollars to convince people to get vaccinated). The U.S. vaccination rate is currently only 56%. Meanwhile, in Rivas in southern Nicaragua, the police had to intervene when entrepreneurs began holding spots in the overnight vaccination lines, selling them for C$1,000 (US $29).  And yet, despite lack of demand in the U.S., with overabundant availability, the U.S. has begun offering a third vaccine, even while in so many other countries people are clamoring for their first vaccine.

The U.S.’s actions in response to this pandemic are sinful.

Hoarding vaccines during a pandemic is a sin.

Wasting hoarded vaccines is a sin.

Failure to put aside political agendas for the common good during a pandemic is a sin.

Violating the sovereignty of another nation and attempting to destabilize their democratically elected governments is a sin. Doing so while its people are suffering a pandemic, is shameful.

While talking about the U.S. response to the pandemic the other day, my 15 year old daughter said to me, “The problem in the U.S. is that people believe that they are the only ones that matter – gringos think they each live in a bubble, and they don’t understand that we are all in this together.”

Maybe that’s the essence of the difference. The U.S. claims to have all the answers, but its emphasis on the individual and on personal freedoms has meant that during a pandemic the country is fraught with divisiveness that has led to 700,000 deaths as of this week. Meanwhile, Nicaragua and Cuba, the Davids to the Goliath in the north, have understood that even small, poor, besieged countries can do anything if they stand together in solidarity.

Briefs
By Nan McCurdy

World Bank Projects 6% Growth in 2021
The World Bank published a report on Oct. 6 entitled “Recovering Growth: Rebuilding Dynamic Post-Covid Economies Amid Fiscal Constraints,” in which it projects the Nicaragua Gross Domestic Product will grow 6% in 2021. This places Nicaragua among the fastest growing economies this year, higher than Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. Last week The Economist and the international risk analyst S&P Global raised their growth forecasts for Nicaragua to over 6% by 2021. The World Bank projected a meager economic rebound in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to its latest regional report in which it calls for “urgent reforms” to overcome the covid-19 crisis and avoid another “lost decade.” The World Bank’s Chief Economist for Latin America, William Maloney, said that Nicaragua will make an extraordinary leap by growing its Gross Domestic Product by 5. 5% in 2021; 3% in 2022 and 2.5% in 2023. (Informe Pastran, 6 October 2021)

Funds Approved for Project in the Dry Corridor
The Green Climate Fund approved by consensus the Ecosystem-based Adaptation Project to Increase Climate Resilience in the Central American Dry Corridor. This project will support approximately 1 million people vulnerable to climate change in the region. The total financing will be US$268.3 million, with the Green Climate Fund contributing US$174.3 million and a co-financing of US$42.8 million from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and US$51.2 million from the Central American countries. Javier Gutiérrez, Secretary of Climate Change of the Presidency and Vice-Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) and member of the Board of Directors of the Green Climate Fund on behalf of Latin America and the Caribbean, participated on behalf of the Nicaraguan government. See details: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/aprueban-fondos-para-proyecto-en-corredor-seco/ (Radio La Primerisima, 7 October 2021)

INATEC Providing Training to Thousands
The National Technological Institute (INATEC) presented a report on the results of the 2021 Professional Training Plan: From January to September of this year, the 153 Municipal Trade Schools offered professional training to 26,642 students through 94 trade courses, 11 technological courses, 17 tourism services and 58 empirical job certifications. INATEC Director, Lloyda Barreda stated that “a 90% execution of the 2021 Professional Training Plan has been reported to date, guaranteeing the right to free and quality technical education for thousands who will contribute to the socio-productive development of the country”. (Nicaragua News, 11 October 2021)

Bringing Electricity to Remote Areas of the Caribbean Coast
The National Electricity Transmission Company inaugurated a solar system in Kisilala district, Rama municipality, Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region, benefiting 500 inhabitants. The US$214,246 investment was provided by the General Budget of the Republic, with support from the Export and Import Bank of South Korea and is part of the Supply and Installation of Solar Panels in Rural Areas Project of the National Program for Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy (PNESER) that the Government is implementing. (Nicaragua News, 8 October 2021)

Health Campaign Reached Nearly 100,000 People
The Ministry of Health announced that as part of the “My Hospital for my Community” Health Campaign, 95,000 people benefitted with medical consults, exams and surgeries by the medical brigades and mobile clinics from departmental hospitals. The initiative is part of the Family and Community Healthcare Model implemented nationwide. (Nicaragua News, 11 October 2021)

Record Investment in Sports Infrastructure
The government continues to invest millions in a special plan of sports infrastructure works that has no parallel in the history of the country, said the director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Sports, Marlon Torres. He said that the old Roberto Clemente Stadium in Masaya was demolished to begin construction this week on the new three-story baseball stadium, at a cost of US$18 million. The bidding process begins October 11 for the Leon stadium and the US$28 million dollar construction should begin in early November. The expansion of the Estelí stadium is 60% finished, detailed Torres, specifying that US$8 million are being invested there. In Chinandega a soccer stadium will be built in 2022 with an investment of US$3.5 million. Meanwhile in Matagalpa US$3.7 million are being invested in a sports center that has already advanced with the designs, plans and bids. And in Managua a gymnasium for weightlifting is being built that will have a capacity for 800 people with all the modern facilities for international competitions. “This is a milestone in Nicaragua’s sports life. The big cities of the country, besides Managua, are going to be equipped with new stadiums, and modern infrastructure. This plan includes 13 baseball stadiums; 13 soccer stadiums; 12 sports centers and five recreational centers such as the Luis Alfonso Velázquez Park in Managua. Some US$200 million are being invested in this first stage through 2023, said Marlon Torres, director of IND. (Informe Pastran, 6 October 2021)

Nicaragua Proposes Fair Vaccine Distribution
Nicaragua advocated during the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement for the fair distribution of vaccines against Covid-19, since they should be considered a common good of humanity, and also proposed a post-pandemic plan. Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said that actions of supreme respect for the Charter of the United Nations, defending peace, the inviolability of sovereignty and respect for the self-determination of peoples must continue to be promoted. (Radio La Primerisima, 11 October 2021)

UNI Students Win First Place in Innovation Competition
The National University of Engineering MT Creative Solutions team received the Award for “Most Innovative Project” for their “ANHUACALLI” proposal during the “2021 Latin American Innovation Rally”, held virtually on October 1 and 2. The winning proposal consists of a self-sustainable house designed with ecological materials, electrification from renewable energy sources, organic waste compost production, as well as obtaining potable water using clay jar storage and a saltwater desalination system. The Latin American Innovation Rally is an international competition open to Latin American students that seek to promote creative solutions to global problems. (Nicaragua News, 8 October 2021)

CSE Accredits 80,954 members of Polling Stations
The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) will accredit 80,954 members of 13,459 Polling Stations on October 14 (3 Board members of each polling station and 3 alternates). The political parties presented 245,746 candidates to be members of the Voting Board in the polling station: president, first and second member. The SEC also trained the Parties for the online presentation of their poll watchers (fiscales) who have these faculties: to be present on the premises and supervise the operation of each Voting Board during the voting day until the delivery of the minutes and materials to the CSE; they may also request copies of the voting minutes. The CSE has already delivered the electoral manual in order to train all the technicians who will work in the electoral process on November 7, the document was also delivered to the political parties and alliances. (Radio La Primerisima, 11 October, 2021)

Strong Letter to US Ambassador Sullivan from Foreign Ministry
The Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry released on Oct. 11 a strong letter to the US Ambassador to Nicaragua, Kevin Sullivan. The letter was in answer to a twitter post the US ambassador had made that same day congratulating a virulently anti-Sandinista media outlet for defending democratic values of press freedom and independent journalism. The Foreign Ministry letter said in part: “The Nicaraguan Ministry of Foreign Affairs … denounces the continued interference in the affairs of our country by the Ambassador of the United States, Mr. Kevin Sullivan. Our Sovereignty, which is not discussed, nor surrendered to the ‘fierce barbarians,’ cannot continue to be violated by the same invaders and interventionists as always. We call Mr. Sullivan to respectful and responsible behavior, in the context of the Vienna Convention, which all States are obliged to comply with in diplomatic relations and which imposes recognition of the sovereignty and self-determination of the countries concerned. Mr. Sullivan continually expresses himself, directly and indirectly, to the detriment of our institutional decisions and our independent national policies, as an independent country, which is not a colony of anyone. Mr. Sullivan intends to ignore our legitimacy as a state … and to comply with the principles and norms of our Constitution. We demand that Mr. Sullivan cease his covert attacks, his hypocritical greetings, disguised as a diplomatic courtesy that he abandoned long ago, and that rather has been, and is, an example of the continuous, perverse, detestable invasive interference of the United States in our Nicaragua, and of so many abusive and criminal interventions, which we have denounced and will continue to denounce … Refrain, Mr. Sullivan, from violating our national peace, and renounce the desire to impose your vulgar, crass, aberrant, insolent, ignoble, abominable and decadent Yankee policy, which we declare, once again, unwelcome to Nicaraguans.” (Radio La Primerisima, 11 October 2021)

Nicaragua Makes Demands at UN
The Government of Nicaragua said that the coercive and aggressive policies of the Empires must cease immediately in order to guarantee stability, peace and the development of families, peoples and nations. In times of pandemic, these measures are a crime against humanity. Jaime Hermida Castillo, Nicaragua’s representative the UN, reiterated the importance of ending unilateral coercive measures (also known as sanctions) to ensure stability, peace and development of families, peoples and nations. Hermida described the progress achieved by the Government since 2007 in terms of poverty eradication, free public education and health care, drinking water and electricity coverage, road improvement and production, within the framework of the General Debate of the UN Second Committee, which addresses cooperation and sustainable development. He also urged concrete results at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), in order to contribute to the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, through negotiations based on the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, with Climate Justice and the Policy of Reparation in the form of direct and unconditional cooperation, especially towards the most vulnerable countries. (Radio La Primerisima, 7 October 2021)

Nicanet Delegation Denounces Disinformation Campaign
A delegation from Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ) that visited Nicaragua from October 3-10 denounced the tsunami of false information generated daily by the US State Department and its allies in the national and international media against Nicaragua. They denounced the falsehoods that are promoted by the international media in collusion with right-wing governments and enemies of the Popular Sandinista Revolution; and recognized the successes of Nicaragua’s response to Covid-19. They also called for the mobilization of the entire progressive movement in defense of Nicaragua.

The mission visited Nicaragua with the objective of learning first-hand about the achievements in the areas of human development and the fight against poverty, citizen security, health and response to Covid-19, education, Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples, democracy, defense of national sovereignty and preparations for the national elections on November 7. During their visit, the delegation held meetings with Ivan Acosta, Anasha Campbell, Valdrack Jaenstchke, Edward Jackson, Sonia Castro, Carlos Saenz, Brenda Rocha, Cairo Amador, Flor de Maria Valle, Lautaro Sandino, Judith Lejarza, Johnny Hodgson, Jose Leon Aviles, Guillermo Gonzalez, Luis Morales, Commissioner Ramon Avellan and former Police Chief Francisco Bautista Lara. The mission visited the National Assembly and held meetings with Deputy Wilfredo Navarro, who spoke about the National Unity and Reconciliation Model promoted by the FSLN since 2007. They also traveled to Leon, Granada and Masaya where they met with small producers’ cooperatives, principals and students of primary and secondary schools, doctors and nurses from the Oscar Danilo Rosales Teaching Hospital and the university in Leon.

The delegation was coordinated by Coleen Littlejohn, a retired development economist, who has lived in Nicaragua for most of the past 41 years and is now the local volunteer coordinator for the Nicaragua Network of the Alliance for Global Justice. Members of the delegation included political activists and organizers who have long worked for change in the United States. Participants included Monica Moorehead of the Workers of the World Party and managing editor of WW; Yoav Elinevsky of Massachusetts Peace Action; Sara Flounders of the International Action Center and the Sanctions Kill Campaign; and Stan Smith of the Chicago-based ALBA Solidarity Network. See photos: HERE (Radio La Primerisima, 11 October 2021)