1. Tax reform and budget bills before National Assembly
2. Conservative forces in European Parliament pass resolution condemning Nicaragua
3. Ortega says OAS Democratic Charter is dead after Honduran elections
4. Hotel in Solentiname taken from Ernesto Cardenal’s group
5. Free Trade Zones report
6. Grant Gallup dies
Topic 1: Ortega says OAS Democratic Charter is dead after Honduran elections
President Daniel Ortega said on Nov. 28 that “with the so-called elections in Honduras, the Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States has been destroyed.” Ortega spoke at the signing of a US$86 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank. He said that Nicaragua would not recognize the elections. He said those Nicaraguans who have “applauded the coup makers, visited the coup makers, served as election observers there in Honduras” should not now use defense of democracy as a reason for opposing his government. The Nicaraguan government closed the crossings on the border with Honduras on the eve of the elections, including the border posts at El Espino, Guasaule and Las Manos.
Leaders of the Civil Coordinator (CC), who usually oppose Ortega government positions, said on Nov. 26 that Central Americans for Dialogue (CAD), a coalition of Central American civil society organizations, considered the Honduran elections illegitimate and would not recognize the results. Therefore, the CC would not be sending observers to Honduras for the elections. The CAD condemned the United States, accusing it of being an accomplice to the coup, and called on international organizations not to recognize the elections and support the resistance.
Topic 2: Tax reform and budget bills before National Assembly
On Nov. 30, the executive branch sent to the National Assembly its tax reform bill titled “The Law on Fiscal Equity” which is expected to be passed this week. As stipulated in the bill, the product of a negotiating process that included the Superior Council on Private Enterprise (COSEP) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government expects to bring in an additional US$44 million in tax receipts which would amount to 0.7% of the country’s gross domestic product for 2010.
On the equity side, the bill would raise the threshold for paying income tax from US$2,500 per year to US$3,750. Nicaragua’s per capita income in 2008, according to the World Bank, was US$980, indicating that a majority of workers will not pay income tax. The bill would place a 10% tax on income from interest and dividends and place or increase a special tax on such things as cigarettes and individually-owned large cars and trucks. At the insistence of the IMF, it would establish a minimum income tax for individuals (with incomes above US$3,750) and companies at 1% which would affect about 1,200 companies not previously taxed.
The 2010 National Budget is expected to be voted on after the tax reform bill is approved. The budget authorizes expenditures of US$1.55 billion, based on expected revenues of US$1.26 billion, with a deficit of US$291 million to be covered by international donations and loans as well as internal public debt through the sale of treasury bonds.
Topic 3: Conservative forces in European Parliament pass resolution condemning Nicaragua
The European Parliament on Nov. 25 passed a resolution that called on President Daniel Ortega “to respect the constitution which does not permit two successive presidential terms” and urged the European Union to send an observer mission “to supervise” the next national elections. The resolution stated that “the attitude of President Ortega reflects his limited comprehension of and respect for democracy, rule of law” and of fundamental rights such as “freedom of expression and political action.” Besides deploring the municipal elections of Nov. 2008, where the opposition alleged fraud, and the recent Supreme Court decision allowing successive presidential reelection, the Parliament also condemned “the threats, insults and intimidation against the delegation from the Liberal International headed by [former neo-fascist] Deputy Johannes van Baalen.” Van Baalen visited Nicaragua in November to “unite the Liberal Parties” and meet with leaders of the Nicaraguan Army to sound them out about their willingness to stage a coup against President Daniel Ortega.
Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos called the resolution “shameful” but minimized its importance because, he noted, it was approved by only 53 deputies out of the total of 736 members of the European Parliament. Raul Romeva, Vice-President of the Greens, said it was “shameful to manipulate a session designed for urgent matters as they did. Urgent issues were taken off the agenda in favor of this [resolution] which is unprecedented.” “The right and the Liberals misused human rights to attack Nicaragua,” said United Left Deputy Willy Meyer, noting that the vote was taken at the end of the day with half the chamber absent.
Santos met last week in Brussels with representatives of Spain, Belgium, and Hungary, the countries which will successively hold the presidency of the European Union during the next years. On Dec. 1, he was scheduled to meet with representatives of the European Commission and with members of the European Parliament in an effort to end the freeze on budget support funding that the E.U. put in place based on allegations of fraud in the 2008 elections. In Sept., the E.U. released US$10 million in recognition of Nicaragua’s efforts to “rebuild” confidence in the electoral system. Santos said that the government has invited the E.U. to send observers for the Atlantic Coast regional elections in March of 2010 and for the general elections in 2011.
Topic 4: Hotel in Solentiname taken from Ernesto Cardenal’s group
In another chapter in a years-long struggle for possession of a hotel in the Archipelago of Solentiname, Judge Gregorio Orozco and local police officers removed Bosco Centeno and Esperanza Guevara from the Hotel Mancarron and turned the property over to Nubia Arcia. The struggle over the hotel has made the national and international media over the years because Centeno and Guevara are members of the Association for the Development of Solentiname (APDS) of which famed poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal is president.
Arcia said in a statement published in the government media that she and her late husband built the hotel in the early 1990’s but that it was taken from her in 2003 by the APDS and ceased to operate as a hotel. She said that the removal of Centeno and Guevara was based on an order from the Appeals Court of Juigalpa, Chontales.
Opposition press sources stated that there was no court order but rather “orders from above” which Cardenal said came from President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. He demanded an investigation. His assistant Luz Marina Acosta said that the hotel had been used for a school and the APDS had expected to set up a museum and a library with help from the city of Huelva, Spain.
Topic 5: Free Trade Zones report
Alvaro Baltodano, director of the Free Trade Zone Corporation, cited growth in some areas such as tobacco. He anticipated that total exports which have fallen US$60 million so far this year, may only be down US$40 million by year end, for a total of nearly US$900 million. In the last three months, 26 new companies have joined the 131 registered as part of the free trade zones. He said that other companies want to move to Nicaragua which indicates that the country has a good investment climate and can generate employment. Baltodano did note that ten textile factories closed this year.
In other labor news, the government has ordered dozens of national and foreign companies to equalize the pay of nearly 10,000 women who were being paid less than the minimum wage or who were being paid less than male workers for exactly the same work, announced Minister of Labor Jeanette Chavez on Nov. 25. Chavez said that the Ministry of Labor wants equality of labor rights for women. “We have been given this task,” said Chavez, “and for the first time this government has included it as part of our inspections.” Chavez said there is still work to be done to sensitize employers with regard to equal opportunity for women.
She said that with the world economic crisis “generated by the Yankee empire,” millions of jobs were sacrificed, mostly those of women. “First affected when it is necessary to lay people off in a company are the women; they are the first ones to lose their jobs,” Chavez said. She added, “I believe it is in this government that we are really achieving equality of opportunity for expression, and the restitution of women’s rights.”
Finally, free trade zone businesses will present a new proposal on wage increases for next year and unions in the sector will evaluate a tripartite agreement signed earlier this year in a meeting with their counterparts from Honduras and El Salvador in which they will share experiences concerning actions to preserve employment in the face of the global economic crisis.
Pedro Ortega, general secretary of the Union Confederation of Free Trade Zone Workers said that in March, businesses, unions and governments from the three countries signed a tripartite agreement to preserve jobs which included an 8% raise in 2009 and a 12% raise in 2010. “Apparently the businesses hope to push off the 12% raise to 2011 and 2012, nevertheless, before we sign another agreement, we have to consult with 25,000 workers,” he said.
Topic 6: Grant Gallup dies
Episcopal priest Maurice (Grant) Gallup, who lived more than 20 years in Nicaragua, died of natural causes at age 78, leaving a legacy of love, solidarity, and hope for Nicaraguans. Originally from Chicago, Fr. Gallup’s religious work and his deep love of the poor, led him to create a small school where children and young people took music, English and computer classes. He was a strong supporter of the Sandinista Revolution. Each door in his small church, Casa Ave María in the Monseñor Lezcano neighborhood, was painted with images of the heroes of the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship including Julio Buitrago, Carlos Fonseca, and Ricardo Morales Aviles. Aynn Setright, another long-time US resident of Nicaragua, viewed Fr. Gallup as a true example of solidarity and humility. “For our community Maurice Gallup signified solidarity. He loved to live with the people, plan big activities for his friends, and he is remembered with fondness by the people who received so much love from this great man,” she said.
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