NicaNotes: Report from Masaya

By Coleen R. Littlejohn

Masaya, about a 45 minute drive from Managua, is a lovely little city. It’s a must stop for anyone visiting Nicaragua, given its incredibly beautiful handicraft market and the lovely volcanic lake bordering a neighborhood famous for its handmade hammocks. I was there again recently to buy a hammock for my grandchildren, from the same man who made me my first hammock back in 1980. Years later he even won an international prize for having crafted the most beautiful hammock in the world.

Masaya was also the home of Tom Baker, a long-time Nicaragua solidarity activist, and member of the Board of the Alliance for Global Justice (AfGJ) and a member of Veterans for Peace, until he passed on May 30th of this year. Two years before, in the spring of 2018, Tom travelled to Masaya, having decided that he wanted to spend the rest of his life there. He arrived just in time to witness what the supposedly non-violent opposition was doing: targeting Sandinistas and trying to burn down parts of the city, including the part near where Tom lived.  Luckily, he was not alone; over the years he had developed a network of friends and they were with him during the violence and also when he became quite ill in mid-March of this year.

Both Tom and I had worked for the Nicaragua Network at different times. Tom was originally from Fairfield, Iowa, but lived many years in Chicago, Illinois. He was the Midwest regional coordinator for the Nicaragua Network and later an Alliance for Global Justice board member. I opened the Nicaragua Network office in Managua in the spring of 1986 and was the Nicanet representative in Nicaragua for a little over two years; but our paths never crossed since Tom started coming in the later 1980s.

It was Chuck Kaufman of AfGJ who connected us at the request of Tom’s two sisters.  Tom was operated on twice at the Masaya Hospital in mid-March, 2020, and treated just like any Nicaraguan: quality health care, a treatment plan to follow up his case, and no bill sent for services. I met with his surgeon shortly after meeting Tom in early April and he told me that it was just a matter of time because of the advanced stage of his illness but that with better nutrition and some exercise, he would start feeling better. This was also when the hospital was preparing to deal with the coming pandemic; half the hospital was now conditioned for virus patients although there were no reported cases in Masaya yet. But all knew it was just a matter of time.

By mid-May, there were cases in Masaya and people starting paying more attention to the standard operating procedures that the Health Ministry had been publishing by TV, radio, a free hotline, and earlier home visits by volunteer community health brigade members. The month prior had been the yearly vaccination campaign with emphasis on childhood diseases and illnesses most dangerous for people over 60 – such as the flu and pneumonia.

By that time, I was visiting Tom twice a week.   As he improved with good care and better nutrition, we began to talk about ideas to get Nicaragua back on the solidarity map in the United States. One of the ideas was to create a Nicaragua Solidarity Fund via the AFGJ in order to support the Nicaraguan people in their different economic struggles, the most obvious right now being the fight against the pandemic, at a time when the major multilateral donors such as the World Bank did not include Nicaragua in their emergency programs [supposedly because of the NICA Act passed by the US Congress].

We talked about how that support wouldn’t even be necessary if the United States had paid up what Nicaragua had demanded after winning its case against the US in the International Court of Justice at The Hague in 1986. The US withdrew from the case after losing, saying that the Court did not have jurisdiction.  As might be expected, the US refused to participate in the negotiations on indemnization.  But Nicaragua had calculated the damage done by the US up to 1984, and it was in the range of US$ 17.5 billion which today would be about US$ 144 billion.

Towards the end of May of this year, the new Nicaragua Solidarity Fund was set up at the AFJG just as Tom’s condition became more delicate. A private doctor, who charged $35 a visit and came once to see him, urged his friends not to take him to the hospital for his planned checkup because it was supposedly overcrowded and “collapsing.” A call to his surgeon, not a Sandinista, had assured us that it was fine to bring him. But Tom passed on May 30th as he was preparing to go for a checkup to the hospital.  Over the years I have often felt that people decide when it is time to go and Tom passed when it was becoming increasingly difficult for his caretakers to travel safely.  His solidarity for others accompanied him to the end.

During the next two months, a group of us continued to work on the first round of fundraising for the Nicaragua Solidarity Fund and included an appeal to honor Tom’s memory. We also consulted with the Health Ministry about the use of the funds raised to date, which were about US$ 2,000, including a local donation of US$ 200. I mentioned our gratitude for Tom’s care at the Masaya hospital and health authorities suggested that we could support the Masaya hospital’s need for personal protective clothing and equipment (PPEs). A couple of us went to visit the Masaya hospital and the director asked us to support them with the purchase of 14 sets of PPEs for the surgical department. Their procurement staff consulted with local suppliers and the bid was won by a small local workshop known for its quality.

In early July we met again with the Hospital Director to witness his acceptance of the PPEs.  He told us that in the worst moments in June there had been 90 patients in the special part of the hospital for Covid 19. There had been 9 towards the end of June and 6 as we spoke that day. He thanked us for the donation and invited us to an event a few days later to honor all the health workers who had worked so hard to contain the virus and take care of those most affected.

To make a donation to the Nicaragua Solidarity Fund for personal protective equipment for Nicaraguan health workers, click HERE.

Three of us went, including Tom’s closest friend.  We were introduced as friends of the Masaya hospital. It was a very emotional afternoon, listening to the testimonies of patients treated, and family and colleagues of 4 health workers who lost their lives in the battle against the virus. It was extraordinary: the feeling of solidarity, commitment and dedication between the health workers and the people they served.   At the end as we were getting ready to leave, the next shift of health workers went into their hospital to continue the fight. We realized that one of them was Tom’s surgeon who had asked the director to request the PPEs for his unit, not knowing that Tom’s friends were the ones who had helped to organize the fundraiser.

The Nicaraguan Health Ministry statistics on Covid are released every Tuesday at about noon and I, along with most people in Nicaragua, follow them closely and have been comforted by the fact that the numbers are decreasing. You can also feel that on the streets of Managua, where I have lived most of my life since coming to this incredible country in the first days of January 1980. But people are still being very careful, going into any public place, including government offices, means washing your hands, having your temperature taken and wearing a mask.  But even so, there is hope in the air.

Unfortunately this is not the case in neighboring countries, nor in the United States.    Despite the evidence on the ground here though, major media in the US and Europe keep reporting on the “collapse” of the health system, the “neglect and irresponsibility” of the Nicaraguan government in how they have been dealing with this crisis and how the President has “disappeared.” Though how these “journalists” can verify what they are writing when they have not been on the scene in months (or years) is a very legitimate question, especially since many articles are released at about the same time, on the same subject, with the same message, but changing a few words here and there, thanks to the sharing of fellow “journalists.”

Unfortunately, Nicaragua is having to deal with another pandemic, false news, and there doesn’t seem to be a chance of having any type of vaccination, for those “journalists,” as long as the US government continues to fund them and their friends.  Fortunately, there are writers in Nicaragua who are documenting the truth and I have no doubt that the case of how the pandemic was handled here will be a model for future strategies worldwide.

And that model will show that even having an efficient community based national public health system is not sufficient to effectively combat a pandemic.   What is as important in a response strategy is a country’s basic infrastructure, its network of good roads, communication, potable water and sanitation and electricity. You can’t rapidly control a major health threat if you cannot rapidly access your population. That was a lesson I learned while working for the World Bank in Liberia, West Africa, during the Ebola epidemic in 2014. Six years later, the majority of the population of that beautiful country still do not have access to potable water, so even the basics of washing your hands is pretty difficult. This was not a problem in the Nicaragua of 2020, thanks to the incredible investments in infrastructure and the social sector over the last 14 years. The rest of the world has a lot to learn from this remarkable country.

To make a donation to the Nicaragua Solidarity Fund for personal protective equipment for Nicaraguan health workers, click HERE.

[Editor’s note: The media has become quieter in recent days because Nicaragua’s plan to confront the virus supported by its solid public health system has proven successful. Official government figures, which are also those used by the Johns Hopkins University tally, show 4,115 cases. Compare this to the 23,717 cases in El Salvador which has a population similar to that of Nicaragua. Even the total publicized by the politically motivated, unscientific Observatorio Ciudadano of 9,646 is lower by many thousands than the total for El Salvador and Nicaragua’s other neighbors. See https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html and https://observatorioni.org/estadisticas-covid-19-nicaragua/]

 

Briefs

By Nan McCurdy

IDB Recognizes Nicaraguan Government Is Not Corrupt
On August 14 the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) presented a report titled “Public Administration Panorama: Latin America and the Caribbean 2020” which states that Nicaragua ranks third in the region with respect to satisfaction of the population with healthcare services and is among the top ten in satisfaction with education. The report notes that Nicaragua is the country with the highest level of gender parity in ministerial positions (55.6%), followed by Colombia (52.9%) and Costa Rica (51.9%). It also states that the Nicaragua Government is one of the most respectful of the rule of law and among the most transparent in administration and management of public entities, affirming that “Nicaragua is not a country where bribes are paid to public officials”. Nicaragua News 17 August 2020

CABEI Signs Loan for US$171.65 Million
At least 18,660 people in extreme poverty and with low or moderate income will have the opportunity to acquire dignified, safe and easily financed housing solutions, after the signing of the loan contract between the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and the Nicaraguan National Program for the Construction of Social Interest Housing. US$171.65 million is destined for this project. Informe Pastran 19 August 2020

COVID-19 Vaccine May be Produced in Nicaragua for Latin America
A COVID-19 vaccine may be produced in Nicaragua. The vaccine would be developed at the Mechnikov Latin American Institute of Biotechnology, a Russian-Nicaraguan plant specializing in manufacturing vaccines, which was created in 2016. It is the only biotechnology company in Central America and is named after Russian microbiologist Ilya Mechnikov, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1908. “We, as the Méchnikov Institute, are looking at the possibility of producing one or several vaccines against the coronavirus in Nicaragua for all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean,” said General Manager Stanislav Uiba. The Institute was created as a manufacturing site for the last stages of influenza vaccines. They currently produce the trivalent vaccine and plan to produce the quadrivalent in 2021. The Institute’s capabilities allow it to produce up to 30 million doses of flu vaccine per season. Radio La Primierisima, 19 August 2020

Former Foreign Minister Confesses to Stealing Antiquities
The National Police arrested a gang of four men, including former Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, who were involved in the theft of two bells from the San José Obrero Church in Granada on August 1. Aguirre Sacasa confessed that he bought the stolen bells from Granada for one hundred dollars.

Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, a member of an oligarchic family, was foreign minister during the Arnoldo Alemán administration from 1997 to 2002. He was a pre-candidate for the presidency for the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and since leaving public office, he is frequently invited to radio and television programs of the anti-Sandinista opposition, as a “political analyst”. Aguirre is well known in Washington’s circles of power because he was a World Bank official and because he used to work on assignment to lobby U.S. senators and representatives for or against laws of interest to his employers. Radio La Primerisima, 15 August 2020

Caribbean States Meet Virtually to Develop Healthy and Creative Tourism
On August 14 the XXXI Meeting of the Special Committee on Sustainable Tourism, convened by the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) analyzed the work program 2020-2021 and assessed the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism sector of the wider Caribbean region. They discussed the re-launching of innovative technological tools, the sustainability of the Caribbean Regional Artisan’s Network, and tourism protection, security and resilience. The committee chair in charge of St. Kitts and Nevis emphasized the need to take advantage of the crisis of the pandemic to create a new world that includes healthy and creative tourism capable of reorganizing the sector to recover in this difficult time. Nineteen member states, associate members, observer states and the ACS General Secretariat participated. For Nicaragua, Karina Ramírez Sampson, head of the projects and external cooperation division of the Institute of Tourism (INTUR), participated. 19Digital 15 August 2020

98% of Nicaraguans Have Electricity
As of August 14, 2020, Nicaragua reached 98% of the national electricity coverage. In 2006 electricity only reached 54% of the population [for part of the day] and was scarce in the Caribbean. More coverage will be extended to the Caribbean with the new electric substation that will be built in El Tortuguero with 100 kilometers of line to El Rama and from El Tortuguero another 30 kilometers of electric line will be extended to Cruz de Rio Grande and from there to Kukra Hill and El Ayote. Informe Pastran 17 August 2020

Nearly 700,000 People Become Literate
Almost 700,000 Nicaraguans have been taught to read and write in the last ten years, as part of the continuation of the National Literacy Crusade of the 1980s, said Omar Cortedano, director of literacy at the Education Ministry. The National Literacy Campaign “From Martí to Fidel” between 2007 and 2009 reduced to less than 5% the percentage of people who could not read or write. Since then the Campaign has served 700 thousand Nicaraguans, most of them workers in rural sectors. Six hundred thousand who benefitted from the literacy campaign entered the Over-School Age Program, successfully completing primary and secondary education. Radio La Primerisima, 17 August 2020

New Hospital in Malpaisillo under Construction
The Health Ministry announced the beginning of construction on the new “Francisco Meza Rojas” Primary Hospital in Malpaisillo municipality, León department benefiting 33 thousand inhabitants. The US$7.3 million hospital will consist of 5 buildings fitted with operating rooms, and departments of anesthesiology, internal medicine, gynecology, obstetrics, general medicine, pediatrics, diagnosis, emergency room and outpatient units. The project is being financed through the General Budget. Nicaragua News 13 August 2020

FUNIDES receives US$3.69 Million from US
Between 2011 and 2019, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gave the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES), US$ 3.69 million for destabilization activities. In its homepage, USAID makes clear that its objective is to promote its famous “national security” and the “economic prosperity of the United States,” for which it “demonstrates American generosity and promotes a path to self-sufficiency and resilience for the beneficiaries.”

Radio La Primerisima stated that FUNIDES is one of the instruments of the CIA-USAID in Nicaragua to achieve US “national security” which they see threatened every time a country decides to free itself from US shackles. And as for Uncle Sam’s “economic prosperity”, the article went on to say, we already know that it is based on the plundering of other countries’ natural resources, and that is what they seek to ensure here with this coup-plotting NGO. Those who kneel before the gringos, like the directors of FUNIDES, are recipients of the “American generosity” proclaimed by USAID, and with the millions they receive to destabilize Nicaragua we are sure that they have travelled well on the “road to self-sufficiency and resilience” that they predict for the beneficiaries. Radio La Primerisima went on to state that, although the millions of dollars given by USAID to FUNIDES are reflected as corresponding to various programs, the truth is that the only objective is to conspire against the Nicaraguan government, as are the millions that these coup leaders receive from organizations such as NED, IRI, NDI, Open Society Foundation (from neo-liberal magnate George Soros) and others. To see this article and one of the documents on FUNIDES held by Nicaleaks go here. Radio La Primerisima, 19 August 2020

Covid Health Report August 18
During the week of August 11 to 17, there were 127 new cases registered, 139 people recovered and 5 people died. Since the first case on March 18 there have been 3,540 registered cases, 3,211 people recovered and 133 deaths. [The Johns Hopkins University tally shows 4,115. Either way, the total is many thousands less than other Latin American countries with similar populations.] Juventud Presidente, 18 August 2020