Nicaragua News Bulletin

1. National Assembly forms committee to nominate officials
2. Nicaragua sends assistance to Haiti; worries mount about earthquake in Nicaragua
3. Ortega government has distributed over 55,000 property titles
4. US$77 million obtained for Polaris geothermal project
5. Talks begin on free trade agreement among ALBA countries
6. Artisans improve their quality of life
7. San Jose de Bocay holds cacao fair

1. National Assembly forms committee to nominate officials

The leadership of the National Assembly formed a Special Constitutional Committee on Jan. 12 to put together the list of nominations to replace the numerous high level government officials whose terms have ended or will end soon. Among the posts are those of Human Rights Ombudsman (whose term has already run out), comptrollers, magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Council, justices of the Supreme Court, superintendent of banks and others.

On Jan. 9, President Daniel Ortega had issued a decree allowing a number of high level officials to remain in their posts until their replacements were approved by the National Assembly even if their terms of office had expired. Opposition voices condemned the decree as unconstitutional. But Vice-President Jaime Morales Carazo said that he considered the decree to be a warning message to the National Assembly members, pressuring them to name the officials which, under the constitution, they are obliged to do.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly failed to vote on a resolution revoking the President’s decree. The draft resolution last week was approved for consideration by four of the seven members of the Assembly leadership. However, it was presented to the Secretariat of the Assembly with the signatures of the leaders of only three of the opposition party benches in the Assembly—the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), the Nicaraguan Democratic Bench (BDN), and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), lacking the signatures of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and the Nicaraguan Unity Bench (BUN). Guillermo Osorno of the BUN indicated that the resolution was unnecessary given that the Assembly had named the commission to nominate the officials whose terms were running out. Without the votes of the ALN and the BUN, the resolution could not bring together the 47 votes needed to pass the Assembly. Its stamp of approval by Assembly leadership was considered by former Assembly president Cairo Manuel Lopez to have only “symbolic significance.”

The Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) presented its list of recommendations for the 25vacant or soon to be vacant posts, a list which political leaders Eduardo Montealegre and Arnoldo Aleman called “excellent.” Among the proposals for the Supreme Electoral Council were conservative former Education Minister Humberto Belli, publisher Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, and Violeta Granera of the Movement for Nicaragua. For Human Rights Ombudsman, AMCHAM proposed Jose Esteban Gonzalez of the conservative Permanent Commission on Human Rights. Guillermo Argüello Poessy, outgoing president of the Office of the Comptroller General said, however, “Don’t be stupid; President Aleman will not cede even one the slots that he has! Is this a political party [referring to AMCHAM]? Do they have a vote in the Assembly?”

Luisa Molina, spokesperson for the Civil Coordinator (a coalition of non-governmental organizations), said that her coalition rejected the proposals by the political parties and by the business groups and wanted to see in the positions young people of proved honesty who showed respect for the constitution and human rights and who had the technical capacity to carry out the jobs efficiently. (Radio La Primerisima, Jan. 12; El Nuevo Diario, Jan. 17, 18; La Prensa, Jan. 13, 14)

2. Nicaragua sends assistance to Haiti; worries mount about earthquake in Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan rescue brigade pulled four people out alive in their visits to almost 50 neighborhoods in Port au Prince, according to Army General Mario Perezcassar, who arrived in Haiti on Jan. 14 with 31 military officers specialists in civil defense and in search and rescue in collapsed structures, a surgeon, a traumatologist, an epidemiologist, two primary care physicians and four nurses. Perezcassar said, “The medical post is working in a giant camp and has found all kinds of fractures and wounds and has seen 700 patients with medical conditions of all kinds.”

But, he said, “We haven’t seen an aid center of the size that we expected given the magnitude of the event in spite of the immense assistance that is arriving. The response, when you go out, you don’t feel it.” He went on to say, “When [the people] see you they think that you have food or water or masks, some immediate solution. We explain that we are looking for life and they are the ones who have taken us to the places where you hear the sounds.”

Perezcassar noted that rich and poor neighborhoods were affected and that tall buildings on the many hills fell down on top of neighborhoods below, making rescue even more difficult. Remembering 1972, he said, “Managua was a quake of 6.2 in a flat area where around 300,000 people lived; here it is the size of four cities with three million people with perhaps two million in extremely poor houses.” He said that roofs were made of concrete to prevent their blowing off in the frequent hurricanes and they became deadly traps when they fell on residents.

President Daniel Ortega criticized the sending of US troops to Haiti along with aid, calling it a manipulation of the tragedy. He said, “It is not logical that United States troops are landing in Haiti. What Haiti is begging for is humanitarian aid; it is not asking for troops. It’s crazy to send troops to Haiti.” He demanded that U.S. troops leave and at the same time said that he was pleased that the international community, including the member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for Our Americas (ALBA), was participating.

Meanwhile, the Haiti earthquake was serving as a warning to the city of Managua which has been destroyed three times in recent memory at intervals of approximately 40 years [1885, 1931, 1972]. William Martinez Bermudez, secretary of the National Association of Geologists, said on Jan. 18 that some 400,000 Managuans are at risk because they live near faults. He said that new houses were being built without proper technical supervision and without any urban planning especially in the southeast and southwest parts of the city. He added that of every 10 houses constructed only three are properly built and that this “urban structural disorder” is likely to result in another catastrophe.

Dionisio Rodriguez, also a geologist, said that the structures that are essential at the time of a natural disaster, such as hospitals and schools, should be inventoried by the National System for the Prevention and Mitigation of Disasters (SINAPRED). Geologist Angelica Calderon added, “You’ve got the experience, the geological conditions are present, there are trained people, prevention agencies, the building code” and all that is lacking is putting it all together.

City Council member Luciano Garcia added that 95% of the people who build in Managua do not get a building permit from the city which leads to great disorder. He added that the Municipal Markets Authority doesn’t regulate construction in the city’s markets but only is interested in the fees that the market vendors pay. (El Nuevo Diario, Jan. 15, 17, 18)

3. Ortega government has distributed over 55,000 property titles

The government of President Daniel Ortega has distributed over 55,000 property titles with a goal to distribute another 28,000 in 2010. These numbers compare to a total of 30,000 titles during the 17 years of neoliberal governments following the 1990 Sandinista electoral defeat.

In 2010 there is hope that 10,000 property titles will be distributed in Managua complying with the presidential mandate to legalize property in all the neighborhoods in Managua. In addition the government hopes to resolve property titles in the Departments of Leon and Rivas. One of the highest priorities of the Ortega government is to give clear titles to the poorest families. One of the criticisms of the first Sandinista government was that properties distributed under land reform measures in the 1980s were not legalized thus creating insecurity under the neoliberal governments opening the way for a reconcentration of property ownership.

The Ortega government has also distributed collective land titles to 12 indigenous communities on the Caribbean Coast and plans to continue to work with them to guarantee legal security over their lands. (Radio La Primerisima, Jan. 15)

4. US$77 million obtained for Polaris geothermal project

The board of Polaris Energy Nicaragua (PENSA) and the Central America Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) signed a credit agreement for US$ 77 million to expand electricity generation at the San Jacinto Tizate Geothermal Plant by 36 megawatts from its current 10 megawatts for a total of 46 megawatts by April 2011 and 72 megawatts by the end of that year. The project is being financed by a consortium of Canadian and Dutch banks and administered by the BCIE.

When its final phase is completed at a cost of US$149.5 million, the geothermal plant will produce 150 megawatts of electricity saving more than 542,000 barrels of oil a year and create 260 permanent jobs. The first phase alone will save US$38 million in oil purchases.

Treasury Minister Alberto Guevara and BCIE President Silvio Conrado also announced the signing of a loan for US$22.9 million to finance construction of the Larreynaga hydroelectric dam which has the potential to produce 17 megawatts of electricity. This loan is on top of US$36.7 million already approved for the project.

President Daniel Ortega spoke of the importance of developing diverse electrical generation because it is not possible to produce 100% of Nicaragua’s energy needs from geothermal but that rather it will take a mix of oil, wind, and hydro power. He emphasized the need to gradually reduce dependence on oil since it is a nonrenewable resource. (El Nuevo Diario, Jan. 13)

5. Talks begin on free trade agreement among ALBA countries

Industry and Trade Minister Orlando Solorzano announced last week that talks are beginning on a free trade agreement among the countries that belong to the Bolivarian Alliance for Our America (ALBA). “It won’t be the usual free trade agreement like Nicaragua has with the United States where all the countries of the region compete under unequal conditions and the poorest one loses,” he said. He added, “The main principle of this treaty will be its support for those countries with less economic development relative to the others; that is to say that the nations with greater resources will invest in the countries with fewer resources in order to increase their levels of production, whether in food or industrial products.” The People’s Free Trade Agreement, as he called it, will begin with the putting in place of the Sucre, an alternative currency to the United States dollar.

Solorzano also commented on the renewal of trade talks between the countries of Central America and the European Union, noting that it is possible that Honduras will be left out because of its political situation. He said, “At this moment consultations are going on in Europe and in Central America to decide how we will proceed with these talks and there are different proposals, one of which is that we go forward with four countries, without Honduras, because we are in the final stage of negotiations.” He noted that most of the international community did not recognize the recent elections in Honduras. (Radio La Primerisima, Jan. 15)

6. Artisans improve their quality of life

Yelba Guevara lives in El Cerro, in the Five Pines municipality of Chinandega, where she works creating baskets and other artisan goods from pine needles. She now exports her artisanry, earning around US$150 each month. With this money, she is able to pay university tuition for two of her children.

“Before I sold around US$25 worth each month,” she explains. Her earnings are much greater thanks to her participation in the Central American project to integrate micro-producers into an international value chain. “I have felt a positive change. I feel that through the sale of my art, I can more or less provide food for my family…If I didn’t work as an artisan, my children might not be studying because I have no other profession,” Guevara explained.

The project was directed by the Association of Producers and Exporters of Nicaragua (APEN) in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala. Between 2005 and 2009, 995 artisans from these three countries participated. The project was funded by the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

“There has been an interesting dynamic, because the program connects leading businesses who are already exporting with small producers who then become their suppliers,” explained Mirna Lievano, an IDB representative in Nicaragua. The project has increased the productivity of the artisans by 120.6%, and increased their earnings by 500%. (La Prensa, Jan. 16)

7. San Jose de Bocay holds cacao fair

As part of their program to promote eco-friendly production of cacao, the International Humane Society (IHS) and the Pueblos en Acción Comunitaria (PAC) organized a cacao fair in Nicaragua to promote the conservation of forest life and responsible agricultural practices. The fair, scheduled for Jan. 15 in San José de Bocay in Northern Nicaragua, was to include the participation of various associations, producer cooperatives, NGOs, and government officials. The program was initiated in 2003 by the IHS to encourage small cacao producers to improve their growing conditions in order to guarantee the protection of the natural habitat and the numerous wildlife species, while simultaneously increasing their quality and efficiency. (Radio La Primerisima, Jan 15)