NicaNotes: Nicaragua Hit by Two Giant Hurricanes in Two Weeks—Donate to Help!

Nicaragua and Central America just got slammed by the second hurricane in two weeks, with Hurricane Iota, the strongest in history to hit Nicaragua when it made landfall just 15 miles south of where Hurricane Eta made landfall less than two weeks ago.

Again, Nicaragua was the most prepared country in the region. Seventy thousand people were evacuated from the danger zone, but two devastating hurricanes within two weeks would tax the resources of the wealthy nations, much less Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the hemisphere.

“Almost the entire country is in a national emergency, because it has been one hurricane after another, and this impacts all of Central America,” President Daniel Ortega said, according to state media.

The Alliance for Global Justice and allied solidarity groups are raising emergency funds through the existing Nicaragua Solidarity Fund “Padre Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann”. The hardest hit part of the country is the North Caribbean Autonomous Region, home to the Miskito and Mayagna people and the largest extant rainforest north of the Amazon. Both Eta and Iota made landfall just miles south of the regional capital of Bilwi/Puerto Cabezas.

Disaster officials estimate that 80,000 families have been uprooted or otherwise affected. The damage is catastrophic and widespread. Nicaragua is going to need help to rebuild. The US NICA Act has cut it off from most multilateral loans so it is up to you and me to help make up the difference. Please make a tax-deductible contribution today at https://bit.ly/nicaraguasolidarityfund or send a check to Alliance for Global Justice, 225 E 26th St., Ste. 1, Tucson, AZ 85713. Put “Nicaragua Hurricane Recovery” in the memo line.

 

Hurricanes strike the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua and Honduras

By John Perry

Central America’s “Mosquito Coast” is aptly but mistakenly named. In fact it’s home to the Miskitu people, and stretches between Honduras and Nicaragua. The border is at a point which juts out into the Caribbean and was called Cabo Gracias a Dios (“Thanks to God Cape”) by Christopher Columbus for the shelter it provided on his last voyage.  As the storm that became Hurricane Eta formed above the seas of Venezuela on October 30, it headed directly west towards the cape 2,000 kilometres away, following the track of Hurricane Edith in 1971, Mitch (the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in over 200 years) in 1998, Felix in 2007, Ida in 2009 and many other lesser cyclones.

Eta swung south as it approached, devastating coastal settlements and then, at hurricane force 4, turned inland to Nicaragua at Wawa Bar on November 3, destroying the Miskito village. At the nearby port of Bilwí 77 houses collapsed and 803 were damaged. As the winds weakened, heavy rains began and ten rivers broke their banks. A day later, heading northwest, Eta crossed into Honduras.

Nicaraguan authorities had five days’ notice of Eta’s arrival and Honduras had six. Nicaragua’s disaster agency announced its plans on October 30, and next day lorries were carrying roofing materials, mattresses and food to Bilwí. 30,000 people were evacuated and moved into stronger buildings such as churches and schools. Two people died: artisan gold miners working despite the warnings, buried by a mudslide.

In Honduras, where the Covid-19 epidemic is still at full strength, November 4 was to be the start of a traditional holiday that the government hoped would lift the public mood. Faced with warnings of up to 60cm [24 inches] of rain, their preoccupation became whether or not to let the holiday go ahead, rather than preparing for the emergency. By the time festivities were cancelled on November 2 coastal settlements were already flooded yet a “red alert” covering the region came only the same day.

On the following day, the valley which holds Honduras’s second city, San Pedro Sula, began to flood. NGOs warned that a “catastrophe” was happening and people should save themselves. A red alert was issued only when 400,000 people had fled their homes, collected on the roofs of buildings, and began sending video clips of the water lapping at their feet. One, Julio Guerrero, appealing for help on Facebook, blamed the government for his likely drowning and that of “thousands of Hondurans.”

He was eventually rescued along with many who spent as much as 30 hours stranded in heavy rain. By November 16, the official death toll had reached 125 with many more still missing; nearly three million people had property destroyed, including in many cases their homes; 21 road bridges were destroyed, one swept away dramatically by rising waters, and 51 major roads rendered unusable.

Recriminations began. The minister responsible for dealing with disasters, whose nickname is “Killa”, blamed the victims for not leaving their homes quickly enough. Journalists who had criticised the government for encouraging people to travel during the holiday week despite the pandemic, then attacked it for prevaricating while the disaster unfurled. Well-known presenters from channels Televicentro and Une TV made stinging comparisons of Honduras’s inaction with Nicaragua’s early preparations. When officials blamed the pandemic for depleting the public coffers, journalists blamed the corruption which has siphoned off much of the international aid which Honduras has received to deal with it. The Honduras Solidarity Network in its Honduras Now podcast pointed out that “only the people save the people.”

Honduras was in crisis, of course, before it was hit by Eta. The president, Juan Orlando Hernández, is running a narco-state having fraudulently gained re-election in 2017. The murder of Berta Cáceres in 2016 brought no respite in attacks on human rights defenders: in the midst of the pandemic five members of an indigenous coastal community fighting tourism developments were kidnapped and have yet to reappear. Well before Covid-19 arrived, the health service had been stripped of funding, partly via a gigantic fraud to fund the ruling party’s election campaigns.

In a sense, both Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua took calculated risks when the pandemic began in March. Ortega backed his investment in 19 new hospitals and a community-based health system to ride the crisis without imposing a highly damaging lockdown. Hernández knew his health service wouldn’t cope and enforced a strict lockdown in which police regularly used violence. Nicaragua appears to have emerged from the pandemic having officially registered 5,600 virus cases (opposition sources claim the real total is 10,900). Honduras reached 100,000 cases as Eta arrived. In conditions after the deluge, the virus is likely to proliferate.

Hurricane Iota hits Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. Photo: Equipo JP+ on El 19 Digital
https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:109897-iota-primeras-imagenes-de-la-destruccion-del-huracan-mas-potente-que-ha-tocado-tierra-nicaraguense

As I write this, the floods that had started to recede after Eta’s departure have been renewed – and made worse still – by Hurricane Iota. It hit almost the same spot of Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast on Monday as a category 5 hurricane and has made its way inland affecting almost all of Nicaragua before entering Honduras. Already the rains are heavier and the flooding more widespread than was the case ten days ago. The combined effects of both hurricanes are devastating despite a new effort to mobilise supplies and evacuate people in Nicaragua, and what appears to have been a better response on the part of authorities in Honduras than they managed in the wake of Eta. The extent of the damage will be known over the next few days.

An earlier version of this appeared in the London Review of Books blog.

Briefs

By Nan McCurdy

Government Prepared to Rebuild after the Disaster of Two Hurricanes
Iota has left Nicaragua with disastrous consequences, Nicaragua’s Vice President Rosario Murillo said on the night of Nov. 17. She said that as of 6 p.m. Nov. 17, there are 62,914 people housed in 683 shelters, where they are assisted by 41,000 members of community brigades, the Army, the National Police and the fire department, as part of the government’s prevention and risk management model. She said the Government is preparing plans for the reconstruction of all areas affected by the winds and rains of Iota. The Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) plans to provide part of the affected families with technology packages for planting, cultivating and harvesting food.

The Minister of Energy and Mines, Salvador Mansell, has already prepared the program for the installation of “small irrigation systems to grow vegetables on the Caribbean Coast,” he explained. He noted that roofing for 2,000 homes has been moved by sea and by road, and hundreds of stoves and gas tanks have already been sent to Las Minas “to distribute to families who have lost their belongings.” When the Wawa River goes down, a new shipment of galvanized roofing will be sent.

Among the damages to infrastructure, Murillo mentioned three destroyed bridges: in the Puerto Viejo community, municipality of Waslala; in the Bana Cruz community, Siuna; and the Rosa Grande bridge, located between Siuna and Waslala. Transportation and Infrastructure Ministry brigades are already working to reestablish vehicular and human traffic. The Vice President reminded people that the danger has not passed since the rains and flooding will continue for 24 hours and there is a risk of landslides. She urged the population to take precautions and protect themselves to avoid more deaths. (Radio La Primerisima, 17 Nov. 2020)

Severe Damage to Homes and Forests
The night of Nov. 16 Hurricane Iota entered Nicaragua with 162 miles per hour winds between Halouver and Wawa Bar, north Caribbean Coast, near where Eta hit, devastating Bilwi and adjacent areas. The powerful winds swept away the forests in the northern part of Prinzapolka. At 3:30 am on the 17th the hurricane hit the whole area of the Mining Triangle with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour. The first reports from Bilwi at dawn indicated that the city was severely affected, with hundreds of homes damaged and more than 20 totally destroyed. The Nikko River has been flooded as never before. Although the winds have passed, the flood-danger is beginning. To see photos of the hurricane’s damage, go here. (Radio La Primerisima, 17 Nov. 2020)

Dead and Disappeared in a Landslide
Authorities confirmed the death of at least four people after a landslide on Nov. 17 in the Los Roque sector of the municipality of El Tuma-La Dalia. The dead are: Martha Hernández, 34, and her children, seven months and nine years old; and Karen Martínez, two years old. The rescue brigade made up of members of the Army, Police, Fire Department, other agencies, and the community entered the Peñas de Blanca Massif and the preliminary information is that there are people missing. The FSLN Political Secretary Pedro Haslam said that the search and rescue of the other people continues. He explained that these families in previous years were offered help to relocate because they were in a risk zone, but they did not accept it. They were visited a few days before and told to leave the place before the arrival of the Hurricane, but they decided to stay. (Radio La Primerisima, 18 Nov. 2020)

Description of First Dead and Missing
Six people died between Nov. 16 and 17 and three others are missing as a result of the intense downpours falling over much of the country. Three girls were swept away by a river in Santa Teresa, Carazo. A father and son died in the region of El Jilguero, in the municipality of Wiwilí. The two, identified as Carlos Carazo and his son Francisco had already been evacuated but returned to their homes to get clothes and a landslide occurred along the way, burying them. The volunteers of the Municipal Committee for the Prevention of Disasters (COMUPRED) managed to rescue the two bodies.

In the community of La Piñuela, in the Department of Carazo, an entire family was swept away by the sudden flooding of the river on whose banks they had their home. Daniela Umaña, 8 years old, and David Umaña, 5 years old, died and their bodies were rescued. Luz Chávez, Juana Canales, 20 years old, Yahosca Canales, 12 years old and María Canales, 9 years old, were also swept away by the powerful current and only Luz could be rescued. The parents of the children were not in their homes at the time of the tragedy. In El Chipote Zero, municipality of Quilalí, María Duarte fell into a river when the currents carried away a large part of her home. Carlos López, 41 years old, was carried away by the river in Santa Ana, Jinotega. (Radio la Primerisima, 17 Nov. 2020)

Central America Demands Climate Justice
The region’s leaders and the president of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), Dante Mossi, held a video conference on Nov. 16 to discuss how the hurricanes in the isthmus are an effect of climate change. The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and representatives of El Salvador, Belize and the Dominican Republic asked CABEI to act as a regional intermediary for financing of recovery, restoration and adaptation plans for the region from the serious damages it is suffering as a result of climate change.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega explained the situation which Nicaragua is suffering in less than two weeks from the onslaught of two hurricanes, including Iota whose winds exceeded 162 miles per hour. Damage from Eta is estimated to total US$179.8 million dollars. “There is no way to avoid a hurricane but there are ways to protect the population. There are no ways to prevent or stop an earthquake, or a tsunami, but there are ways to create interregional cooperation mechanisms to face this kind of event,” Ortega said. Vice President Rosario Murillo stated that “The presidents have proposed a special plan to confront the consequences of these catastrophes that have been hitting us one after another.” She explained that this is a plan “that will allow all of Central America to rebuild, restore and adapt to climate change. We say it is a demand of the people, climate justice.” She said that the countries of the region have done nothing to contribute to the problem. Such damage comes to Central America “as a result of the world they call developed and that should be governed by the principles of climate justice,” said Murillo. She noted that the rich countries must “compensate those who deserve compensation because we cannot continue to receive disasters, we continue to see the destruction of our natural resources and nothing is done from the centers of power, nothing is done to help restore, adapt, to rebuild.” (Radio La Primerisima, 16 Nov. 2020)

Waspam Was Prepared for Iota
Rose Cunningham, mayor of Waspam, said that Waspam was prepared with food and water for 15 days. She indicated that the soil was saturated due to the recent passage of Eta, therefore, so there were already problems of flooding in 14 communities. Twenty-one shelters were activated with more than 5,000 people installed there after the passage of Eta, and churches and schools were available to attend to the ravages of Iota, the second hurricane that the families of the 115 communities of Waspam would face. (Radio La Primerisima, 16 Nov. 2020)

Families from Bismuna and Cabo Viejo Transferred to Shelters
The Humanitarian and Rescue Unit “Comandante William Ramírez Solórzano” of the Army, in coordination with State institutions, in preparation for Hurricane Iota, evacuated 449 people from the communities of Bismuna and Cabo Viejo by river and land to shelters in Waspam. Likewise, 387 people were transported from the docks of Bilwis and Lamlaya to the shelters of the URACAAN and BICU Universities, among them 168 minors, evacuated by sea from the coastal communities of Wawa Bar and Wouhnta. Fifty-six tons of humanitarian aid sent by the Government were unloaded in the warehouses of SINAPRED in Bilwi. (Radio La Primerisima, 16 Nov. 2020)

Preparations for Hurricane Iota
The first families evacuated by the Sandinista government from their homes in the community of Bihmona arrived in Waspam on Nov. 13 in preparation for Iota. More than 200 families were expected to arrive at Waspam from Bihmona. The Safe Site Commission and the Security Commission of the Waspam Municipality were in charge of the transfer and shelter of the Bihmona families, guaranteeing adequate conditions of accommodation and food. On Nov. 13 and 14 the Army unloaded tons of food in Waspam. The entire community of Wawa Bar, hard hit by flooding from Eta was evacuated to Bilwi.

The Sandinista government also sent a caravan of ambulances and other Red Cross vehicles to Waspam at dawn Nov. 15 with food, hygiene kits and water to assist families. On Nov. 14 dozens of families evacuated from Cayos Miskito, Cabo Gracias a Dios and other indigenous communities located on the banks of the Coco River, which serves as a natural border with Honduras, arrived at Waspam. In the area of Laguna de Perlas 250 people evacuated to Tasbapaunie. In the Río Grande municipality, all the people in the Karawala keys were evacuated. As with Hurricane Eta, those working in the Keys have been taken to safety in advance as have left their boats. (Radio La Primerisima 14, 15 Nov. 2020)

Money Awarded to Nicaragua for Protected Areas on the Caribbean Coast
The US$115 million that Nicaragua will receive from the Green Climate Fund will be used to strengthen the management and administration of protected areas, said the head of The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Marena, Sumaya Castillo on Nov. 12. She said that these resources and other financing provided by international entities will be directed to 15 protected areas prioritizing the Caribbean zone. More than 54 ecological parks and 80 private wildlife reserves have been declared this year by MARENA. (Radio La Primerisima, 12 Nov. 2020)

Grigsby Denounces European Funding of Nicaraguan Opposition
Besides funding from the US, the Chamorro family also receives funding from European countries for destabilization activities in Nicaragua. Journalist William Grigsby revealed on Nov. 11 on “Revista Sin Fronteras” of Radio La Primerísima, that countries like Spain and Belgium have disbursed large amounts of money recently for non-governmental organizations to continue the work they began in April 2018 with the coup attempt. Although the Europeans try to portray their intentions as democratic, this is another disturbing example of intervention in another nation’s internal affairs.

The complaint, supported by documents, indicates that in October 2020, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI) gave to the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, led by Cristiana Chamorro, the amount of €831,527 euros (US$977,051). These funds were given for a supposed program of integral development of young communication entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, Grupo Cinco, owned by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, received in October from AECI €125,977 euros (US$148,022) for the supposed promotion of public freedom through the Voices of Freedom Program.

Other NGOs such as Popol Na, headed by Monica Baltodano, and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), headed by Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, which actively participated in the attempted coup against the government also received money to continue their political activities from the Spanish Cooperation Agency. For its part, Belgian Cooperation for Development plans to disburse to non-governmental organizations, which according to them “promote democracy in the country.” (Radio La Primerisima, 11 Nov. 2020)

Reform Creates National Water Authority to Improve Administration of Water
The National Assembly approved with 74 votes in favor an amendment to Law 620, the General Law on National Waters, and created the National Council for the Development of Water Resources and the Commission for the Sustainable Management of Water Resources. According to National Assembly President Dr. Gustavo Porras, the reform will protect water and guarantee a service with efficiency, quality, with equity and above all the sustainable use of water. With the approval of the reform, the National Water Authority (ANA) absorbs the functions of the Nicaraguan Institute of Aqueducts and Sewerage (INAA), in order to have a single regulatory body for water resources at the national level. The goods and rights of the State assigned to INAA will become part of the patrimony of ANA. It will make it possible to improve the provision of drinking water and sanitation services to the population and to respond quickly to the development of the economic and productive sectors.

The Commission for the Sustainable Administration of Water Resources will promote the organization of rural producers and the construction of collective infrastructure in the form of irrigation districts for the use of water for agricultural, pastoral and forestry purposes. As for the National Council for the Development of Water Resources, it will promote incentives and economic stimuli, to natural or legal persons that protect and conserve the water sources and reforest the basins where their properties are located. Deputy Edwin Castro stated that “the drinking water service will not be subject to any kind of privatization. It is clear that drinking water is a right of all Nicaraguans, it is reaffirmed that water is a national patrimony and is not the property of anyone. This reform is to rationalize and administer water and to guarantee it as a sustainable resource for future generations.” Sandinista Deputy Jenny Martínez, president of the Infrastructure and Public Services Commission, emphasized that currently the distribution of water at the national level reaches 91% and by 2023 it will exceed 95%. (Radio La Primerisima, 13 Nov. 2020)