Nicaragua Network Hotline (September 22, 2009)

1. Ortega criticizes Bishop Albelardo Mata for intervening in politics
2. NDI trains young political leaders; FSLN absent
3. IMF announces a “preliminary accord” with Nicaragua; budget and tax reform talks continue
4. United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food says he was misquoted
5. Ortega: “We have no more problems with the NGOs; we just wanted information.”


Topic 1: Ortega criticizes Bishop Albelardo Mata for intervening in politics; Mata defends himself

On Sept. 19, President Daniel Ortega, in a speech after giving out property titles in Managua to 7,500 people including 1,500 demobilized contras, criticized the Bishop of Estelí, Abelardo Mata, for intervening in partisan politics. He said that by working for Liberal party unity the bishop cannot be a pastor to his whole flock. “Such a bishop is killing the confidence of the people. If a bishop is a Liberal, if he is a member of the PLC [Constitutional Liberal Party], then he should say so,” Ortega said.

Ortega contrasted Mata’s role with that of Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo who he said mediated several times during the conflict in the late 1970s and was instrumental in the final days of the insurrection of 1979 in preventing the execution of the members of the National Guard of Somoza. “He was carrying out his pastoral work and did not go around asking if one was Sandinista or Liberal,” Ortega said. On Sept. 16, Bishop Mata had strongly reprimanded the various Liberal parties’ political figures who he said had asked him to mediate to bring unity so that, he said, they can work together in the National Assembly and for the Caribbean Coast elections scheduled for March 2010. He said they lacked the political will to actually come together. Mata said, “Better the different currents should agree on a common agenda in the Assembly and those would be concrete gestures to generate confidence among the population.”

On Sept. 17, Pope Benedict XVI asked priests to stay out of politics in order to support unity among the faithful, but Mata said that he did not believe the Pope was referring to him or to the Cardinal. “We are both working for the common good,” he said.

Topic 2: NDI trains young political leaders; FSLN absent

Speaking of moves to unify an anti-Sandinista political opposition, which the US has repeatedly failed to do since its short-lived unity efforts succeeded in ousting the Sandinista government in the 1990 election, 88 young people from 14 departments graduated last week from a four month long training funded by US taxpayer money through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a core group of the mis-named National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED was founded during the Reagan administration to take over some of the CIA’s role in manipulating foreign elections.

The young people demanded unity, modernization of the political parties, greater leadership roles for young people, and for party leaders to set aside their personal interests during the closing ceremonies of the Capacity Building Program for Young Political Leaders. The young people came from the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), the Let’s Go with Eduardo Movement (MVCE), the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN). Once again the MRS has disappointed international solidarity by allying itself with Nicaragua’s right-wing and political forces which serve US government interests. The four person MRS bench in the National Assembly is now composed of two former Sandinistas and two former contras.

María Isabel Membreño, a member of the PLC in Matagalpa, said that the capacity building program will help promote the internal democratization of her party. She took advantage of the presence of several leading National Assembly deputies [among them Eduardo Montealegre (MVCE) , Ramón González (PLC), and Carlos García (ALN)] to reiterate that the youth want unity in order to guarantee the rule of law, institutionality, and governability for the country.

During the ceremony the group began to chant “unity, unity, unity.” Somewhat startled, Ramon González (PLC) approached Eduardo Montealegre (MVCE) and Carlos García (ALN) and, at the urging of the youth, they had no other choice than to join arms and show enormous smiles. “We youth are working for unity [against the governing Sandinista Party], now we just hope that those leading our parties and our legal representatives will look to make it concrete. It is their part that is missing in making all the pieces fall into place,” said Jacinto León, of the PLI-MVCE of Boaco.

US Ambassador Robert Callahan explained that this program is intended to help young politicians to develop their capacity as leaders in the areas of communication, political negotiation, strategic planning and the internal democratization of their parties, with the goal of developing more dynamic and transparent parties and political organizations. He insisted that the program is “open to all political parties without any restrictions.” The FSLN refused to participate in this NED program because the NED has consistently worked to manipulate Nicaragua’s political system against it.

Deborah Ullmer, director of NDI Nicaragua, stated that, despite criticism from the Supreme Electoral Council, the NDI would continue holding such activities, as they are legal because they are included in the agreement signed between the organization and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Topic 3: IMF announces a “preliminary accord” with Nicaragua; budget and tax reform talks continue

The International Monetary Fund announced on Sept. 16 that it has reached a preliminary accord with the Nicaraguan government that could lead to the release of US$35 million in October “to support the country’s plan for growth and the fight against poverty.” A communiqué from the IMF said, “An agreement in principle has been achieved, [which is] still subject to the consideration and approval by the management and board of the IMF, on an economic program for 2009-2010.” If Nicaragua commits itself to continuing its “current prudent economic and fiscal policies” and achieves a broadening of its tax base, “the board of directors of the IMF could consider completed the second and third revisions of the PRGF [Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility] agreement at the end of October,” stated the IMF note. This is significant because the IMF, which had begun to show greater flexibility in its demands for damaging neoliberal conditions on its loans to poor countries, appeared to become once again ideologically rigid after receiving a huge infusion of funds from rich countries aimed at cushioning poor countries from the ravages of the international financial crisis.

Meanwhile, budget and tax reform talks continued. Walmaro Gutierrez, chair of the Economic Committee of the National Assembly, said that the budget modifications that are being considered would cut expenses by US$30.65 million and would affect only the government bureaucracy. He said that expenditures in education, health care and social programs would not be affected. With reference to pending tax reform, he said that consultations with all economic, political and social sectors were coming to an end and the results of those consultations would be presented to the Assembly soon. “It’s not possible for the wealthiest economic sectors of this country, who have paid so little, to continue in this manner,” he said. However, with only 38 Sandinista party votes of the 47 votes needed for passage and only the six vote ALN bench not yet publicly opposed to the revisions, it is uncertain that the National Assembly will be able to pass a bill this year. Failure will jeopardize IMF funding.

Topic 4: United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food says he was misquoted

Olivier De Schetter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, wrote to the newspaper El Nuevo Diario last week saying that he was misquoted. Here is the letter:

Sir:
“I was saddened to read in your edition of Sept. 12, 2009, a declaration that you attributed to me saying that the government of Nicaragua was using social assistance for clientelistic political ends. The headline about the presentation of my preliminary conclusions was ‘Social Aid Manipulated.’ In this case, it was not the social assistance that was manipulated but rather the information.
“I ask you to print this letter on the front page of your next edition along with the complete text of my press release, which was much more balanced than was indicated by your article.
“The time has come for the different political bands of this country to stop distrusting each other. My mission seeks to contribute to the promotion of this confidence, while your publication achieved exactly the opposite.
Sincerely,
Olivier De Schutter
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

El Nuevo Diario did not publish the letter or the press release. To read the article in El Nuevo Diario to which De Schutter refers, go to http://impreso.elnuevodiario.com.ni/2009/09/12/nacionales/109461]

Topic 5: Ortega: “We have no more problems with the NGOs; we just wanted information.”

President Daniel Ortega met last week with Oxfam-Great Britain Director Barbara Stocking and afterward said, “We have had some political problems with some organizations; you know which they are; we don’t need to hide them. But currently we do not have problems; we only wanted information.” The Nicaraguan Prosecutor’s Office had subpoenaed the financial documents of Oxfam, the Center for Research and Communications (CINCO) and the Autonomous Women’s Movement in an investigation last year of improper use of funds. The organizations were cleared of wrongdoing in February.

Ortega said he recognized that non-governmental organizations fill gaps in social assistance coverage in poor areas of the country. Stocking thanked Ortega for clearing up the problem that her organization had had with the government. Ortega thanked Oxfam for its support for programs in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) where the group carries out most of its work. Stocking said that Oxfam-GB would continue to work in Nicaragua’s agricultural sector and considered positive the government’s Zero Hunger Program.

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