NicaNotes: Nicaragua rebuffs attacks at human rights hearing

Nicaraguan Attorney General Wendy Morales defended Nicaraguan government Caribbean Coast policies at the hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 18.

By John Perry

Nicaragua was one of the first countries in Latin America to give constitutional rights to its Indigenous peoples and its laws to protect their territories are justly famous (especially the Autonomy Law of 1986 and the Demarcation Law of 2003). Some 40,000 Indigenous families live in areas that are legally owned and administered by over 300 Indigenous communities, covering almost a third of the country. Governmental recognition of land rights was the first step in tackling incursions by non-Indigenous settlers from western Nicaragua and the violent conflicts they sometimes produce. But because colonization of Indigenous territories has been taking place for decades, taking the next steps – delineation of the territories, dealing with illegal titles (primarily given under previous governments) and potentially removing settlers – is a complex process that involves delicate negotiation and agreement at the local level.

Sadly but inevitably, the invasions by settlers have become another issue on which to attack Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. A handful of local NGOs, in some cases funded by the US government and aided by US and European organizations such as California’s Oakland Institute, have weaponized the human rights of Indigenous Nicaraguans. They make outrageous claims that the government is not just trampling over such rights but is guilty of systematic assassinations, exterminating communities, forced disappearances and even genocide (using this term is particularly egregious: the NGOs claim there have been 46 deaths since 2015 and some of these cases are questionable; this is among more than 220,000 Indigenous Nicaraguans).

Claims such as these were repeated in an online hearing held by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 18. IACHR is part of the Organization of American States and gets much of its funding from the US government. The hearing began with the heads of two Nicaraguan “human rights” bodies, CEJUDHCAN and CALPI, making these accusations, giving few details and calling in evidence only one member of the communities said to be affected (who seems to have spent much of the last three years living in Europe). In fact, except for these two NGOs and the spokesperson for the Nicaraguan government, none of the eight other speakers at the IACHR hearing were Nicaraguan. IACHR called none of the democratically elected representatives of Indigenous communities nor did it accept any questions to the speakers during the 90-minute hearing, despite having invited and received several detailed questions beforehand (including questions from Nicaraguans and from AFGJ supporters). Before the hearing, AFGJ and Task Force on the Americas formally submitted as evidence the new report, Nicaragua’s Indigenous Peoples – Neocolonial Lies, Autonomous Reality: this was completely ignored.

Of the dozen people invited to take part, only one, Nicaragua’s attorney general Wendy Morales, was prepared to comment positively about developments in the Caribbean regions (her testimony is available in English and in Spanish). Morales responded very effectively and comprehensively to the allegations made by the NGOs. She pointed out that the constitution is unique in recognizing communal land rights, that the rights of Indigenous people to take part in decision-making and to use their own languages are not only protected but a key part of (for example) the school and health systems. She explained the investment which the government is making in good roads and highways as well as public services, and the steps already taken to regularize land holdings and mediate with settlers, many of whom are long-established in Indigenous areas and may have been illegally “sold” land even though it can only be held communally. She noted that 23 original peoples’ territories have been titled and delimited and gave examples of how these areas are protected (e.g. by community-appointed forest wardens and by locally agreed procedures for dealing with new settlers).

Morales also responded to some of the direct accusations made by the NGOs. One was that “precautionary measures” issued by the IACHR to protect local activists had been ignored by the government. In response she cited the case of Juan Carlos Ocampo, the Indigenous Miskitu giving testimony at the proceedings at the invitation of CEJUDHCAN; he had been granted such measures in 2018 but had never presented himself to the local judge, as required, to take advantage of them. Challenging the argument that the government was allowing indiscriminate logging and mining in tropical forests, Morales held up an article from the right-wing newspaper La Prensa in which logging companies were complaining that the government refuses permits and prevents them from operating. Another article in La Prensa praised an agreement made between an Indigenous community and a mining company. The Oakland Institute representative, Anuradha Mittal, repeated false accusations about cattle farming in Indigenous areas which were debunked last year by NicaNotes and in an article for FAIR. Morales explained how Nicaragua’s sophisticated traceability system prevents any meat coming from cattle in protected areas from entering the supply chain.

As the AFGJ National Co-Coordinator Chuck Kaufman said before the hearing, “It strains credulity that the IACHR will hold a legitimate and fair hearing when it has not invited any of the elected and traditional Indigenous leaders from the region. Why would it even choose to examine Nicaragua in the first place on the issue of colonization when it has by far the best record with regard to Indigenous sovereignty and rights in Central America, if not the whole hemisphere?”

No one denies that the land conflicts in Nicaragua’s Caribbean territories are real. But knowing that this part of the country is deeply divided between supporters and opponents of Nicaragua’s government, IACHR chooses to give voice only to one side, allowing the government to respond but ignoring the variety of views in the communities themselves. IACHR encourages a judgment that the government is deliberately refusing to adopt obvious solutions to land conflicts, when the reality is much more complex. In doing so, it overlooks the obstacles and supports allegations of government neglect, while disregarding the many advances being made alongside the problems that remain.

It remains to be seen whether – after a long history of treating the Sandinista government in a manner little short of contempt – the IACHR is capable of reaching a balanced appraisal of the problems faced by the people of the Caribbean coast and of the government’s efforts to resolve them. When the outcome of the hearing is received, NicaNotes will be ready to analyze it.

 

Briefs

By Nan McCurdy

President Ortega Remembers the Literacy Campaign
“The model of savage capitalism is terrible, it is devastating and here we endured it for 45 years and that explains why the people did not simply overthrow a person, who was Somoza,” but rather their objective was “to overthrow a social and political economic model that was made to strengthen the rich and exploit the people who were in poverty,” Ortega asserted. He recalled that during those 45 years the oligarchs and the traitors had the support of the Yankees and the governments that claim to be very democratic in Europe, “all of them got along very well with Somoza. And the reality is that in those 45 years savage capitalism was installed, leaving oligarchic groups as owners of wealth at the expense of the workers, at the expense of the peasants, at the expense of the unemployed,” he declared.

He emphasized that with the Somoza dynasty, the rulers imposed by the United States, Nicaragua was plunged into extreme poverty, which resulted in illiteracy. “With illiteracy it was easier for them to enslave the Nicaraguan people, what they left was pain and misery,” he said.

He said that the Great National Literacy Crusade was one of the great triumphs achieved by the Sandinista Revolution. “95,582 young people and teachers were mobilized in the Literacy Crusade, an army that did not go forth with rifles, did not go with cannons, but with notebooks, with pencils, with the word and solidarity.”  He added that the new campaign “From Martí to Fidel,” began in 2007 with the new stage of the Sandinista Revolution due to the fact that during the neoliberal governments, illiteracy had increased to 22.9%.”This prompted us to reduce it from 22.9% to 4.7%, and we were able to declare in August 2009: Nicaragua, a territory free of illiteracy. We won’t be satisfied until there is not a single person left who cannot read and write,” he said. (Radio La Primerisima, 23 March 2021)

In Nearly 2,000 Schools All Teachers Now Have Degrees
The Ministry of Education will declare that all teachers in 1,915 schools now have degrees in salute to the 41st anniversary of the beginning of the Great National Literacy Crusade. “This means that all teachers are qualified and not only hold the degree but also skills, educational technologies, and also a vocation,” said the presidential adviser on educational issues, Salvador Vanegas. The Great National Literacy Crusade began on March 23, 1980 with the participation of young people who went to all corners of Nicaragua to fight against the ignorance that Somocismo had left by denying the right to education to the people. (Radio La Primerisima, 22 March 2021)

Nicaragua: An Example in the Face of Natural Disasters and Emergencies
In evaluating  the First National Multi-Threat Exercise for Preparedness and Preservation of Life carried out last week, the Executive Secretary of the Center for Disaster Coordination in Central America, and the Dominican Republic, Claudia Herrera, stated that “Nicaragua is an example of organization, effectiveness and preservation of life in the face of natural disasters and emergencies, as demonstrated in this first national exercise and in the excellent response to hurricanes IOTA and ETA last year.” She also urged regional authorities to exchange ideas and learn from the Nicaragua model. 2.8 million Nicaraguans participated in the exercise, simulating volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, forest and agricultural fires. Also participating were 153 Municipal Committees for the Prevention, Mitigation and Attention to Disasters. (Nicaragua News, 17 March 2021)

SICA Encourages Efforts to Keep Schools Open
The Council of Ministers of Education of the System of Central America Integration (SICA) highlighted Nicaragua’s efforts to keep schools in operation, and of Costa Rica and Guatemala, which recently opened schools. The risks of keeping schools closed outweigh the risks of keeping them open in terms of learning, socio-emotional impacts, economic repercussions and consequences for families,” the ministers said in a statement. Nearly 12 million Central American students are currently kept out of the classroom due to school closures, SICA said. This situation generates disadvantage in the most vulnerable sectors such as people with disabilities, migrants, indigenous and rural communities, who lack internet access to guarantee virtual classes. They urged the member countries to promote dialogues between teachers, students and parents, with the aim of supporting the urgent, gradual and safe reopening of schools. (Radio La Primerisima, 18 March 2021)

Urban Potable Water Increased from 65 to 92%
Since 2007 potable water service has increased from 65 to 92% in urban areas and from 27 to 55% in rural areas, said Rodolfo Lacayo, director of the National Water Authority (ANA) during the V meeting of non-governmental and governmental organizations. In this meeting strategies for the adequate use of water were agreed upon, after the celebration of World Water Day, March 22nd. Lacayo said “Water has a value for life, for health, in this context of pandemic we know that it has vital importance for measures of prevention and protection. We call on the population to take care of their resources and not to waste water,” said Javier Moncada of the Water and Sanitation Network. (Radio La Primerisima, 22 March 2021)

Lake Managua Much Cleaner
With Managua’s wastewater treatment plant that began in 2009, the contamination levels of Lake Xolotlán have dropped considerably. The plant, built with funds from the State Development Bank of the Federal Republic of Germany (KFW) and a counterpart from Nicaragua, can decontaminate 182,000 cubic meters of water per day. Parameters were established to measure the levels of contamination and the results so far have been satisfactory, to the point that KFW shares this project’s results at an international level as an example of water purification. Another achievement was that shortly before the inauguration of the treatment plant, campaigns were carried out so that the companies located on the shores of the lake, which dumped a series of pollutants such as mercury and lead, would withdraw from the area. In the future there is the possibility of working on a project to make Lake Managua’s water drinkable with financing from the Japan Cooperation Agency. (Radio La Primerisima, 18 March 2021)

Creation of Sanitary Regulatory Institute to Guarantee High Standards
The National Assembly approved the Law to Create the National Sanitary Regulatory Institute. The new autonomous regulatory entity will guarantee that products and technology in the healthcare system comply with international quality and safety standards. In commenting on the new Law, Deputy Wálmaro Gutiérrez said that “the creation of the Sanitary Regulatory Institute is in keeping with recommendations of the World Health Organization and its purpose is to evaluate the equipment, personnel and practices of the healthcare system to guarantee compliance with the highest standards in healthcare service for the benefit of Nicaraguans.” (Nicaragua News, 18 March 2021)

60th Women’s Police Station Inaugurated in Quilalí
Some 18,000 women are the beneficiaries of the Women’s Police Station inaugurated March 18 in the municipality of Quilalí, department of Nueva Segovia. Commissioner Martha Irías, head of the national delegations, who joined the Police in 1983, explained that this is the 60th station in the country and the 11th so far this year. “We strengthen the commitment to improve the immediate and timely attention to women who come to this delegation, and to give a prompt response.” (Radio La Primerisima, 18 March 2021)

Flawed and Biased Human Rights Report
The UK Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG) described as flawed and biased a report released by Amnesty International on Nicaragua, based on testimonies from US-funded Non-Governmental Organizations and political figures closely linked to the 2018 coup attempt against the Constitutional Government of President Daniel Ortega. NSCAG released the statement entitled “Denying the Truth,” in which it rejects the position taken by AI on the events that took place in Nicaragua. It points out that the report, by AI’s own admission, is based on only 18 interviews and makes bold statements such as “more than 400 health professionals fired” without solid evidence to back it up. NSCAG asserts that AI focused entirely on allegations from sources opposed to the government, and completely ignored the acts of violence perpetrated by the opposition. It points out that the AI reports have repeatedly and systematically criticized the government, completely disregarding its massive achievements in addressing social and economic human rights issues, such as its achievements in poverty reduction, great improvements in health services, and the fight against gender inequality.

In the document, NSCAG urges AI to comply with, among other things, the organization’s commitment to political impartiality in its investigations and reporting. It also calls for contextualizing the reporting on Nicaragua by recognizing the progress the country has made since 2007 in reducing poverty and addressing the human rights of the population, including the right to free education and health care, among others. It also demands that the U.S. sanctions, illegal under international law, be denounced as a collective punishment of the entire population that will disproportionately impact the poorest. (Radio La Primerisima, 18 March 2021)

Nicaragua at UNESCO’s World Forum against Racism
The Delegation of Nicaragua to UNESCO participated in the World Forum against Racism on Mar. 22, organized within the framework of the International Day Against Racism and the 20th Anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action. The World Forum was attended by Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO Assistant Director for Social and Human Sciences, Stefania Gianini, UNESCO Assistant Director for Education, UNESCO Member State representatives, civil society, scientists and media. The forum aims to present the results of UNESCO’s initiatives against racism and discrimination, bring together Member States, high-level academic and scientific experts, and promote inclusive and gender-transformative actions that foster intercultural dialogue. (Nicaragua Sandino, 23 March 2021)

More than 15,000 New Jobs Created in 2021
Vice President Rosario Murillo presented the monthly report on growth of new small business ventures. She noted that 1,174 new businesses were created between February 16 and March 15, 2021, generating 5,870 new jobs. These new small and medium size businesses are in sectors such as sale of food products, transportation services, carpentry, mechanical workshops and others. This year 3,107 businesses have been established, creating 15,570 new jobs. (Nicaragua News, 18 March 2021)

Government Continues Support for Caribbean Coast Families
In support of the indigenous community of Tuapí in Puerto Cabezas municipality, affected by hurricanes IOTA and ETA, the Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture allocated 18 Fishery Packages to support fishing activities, including canoes and materials to make nets. The initiative is part of the Zero Hunger Program. (Nicaragua News, 18 March 2021)

Electricity for 24 Rama Communities
The Ministry of Energy and Mines delivered solar panels to 24 communities along the Rama River, in the South Caribbean Autonomous Region. Radio La Primerisima, 24 March 2021

46 New Sports Installations by 2026
The Government through the Nicaraguan Sports Institute will invest US$125 million in the period 2021-2026 to build 16 baseball stadiums, 13 soccer stadiums, 13 sports centers and 4 recreational sports centers. More than US$40 million will be invested to build five sports infrastructures in the period 2021-2022. The first project is the Masaya baseball stadium which is in the bidding process. The Estelí soccer stadium began in 2020. (Radio La Primerisima, 23 March 2020)

New Hospitals by 2024
The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) will help finance the construction of hospitals, providing US$85 million while the United Kingdom Export Finance (UKEF) will provide US$29.554 for a total of US$114.6 million. The hospitals will be built in Managua, Granada, Carazo, Rivas, Matagalpa, Jinotega, Estelí, Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Chontales, Boaco, Nueva Guinea and Río San Juan. (Radio La Primerisima, 24 March 2021)

Weekly Covid Report (March 23)
Between March 16 and March 22 there were 37 new registered cases of Covid-19 and 34 people who recuperated from it, and one death. Since March 2020 there have been 5,288 registered cases of Covid and 5,064 people have recuperated. There have been 177 deaths. (Radio La Primerisima, 23 March 2021)