Nicaragua News Bulletin for the week of December 11th.

1. Nicaraguans concerned about health of Chavez
2. Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador meet on Gulf of Fonseca
3. Colombia still refuses to recognize World Court ruling
4. Purisima without fireworks accidents!
5. Energy Ministers commit to biofuels
6. Nicaraguan police show region’s police their training methods
7. Nicaragua advances the rights of domestic workers
8. Estelí wants to become a litter-free city

1. Nicaraguans concerned about health of Chavez

Speaking at the XVII Graduation of Army Cadets on Monday, Dec. 10, President Daniel Ortega said that Nicaraguans are praying for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to recover and to continue to lead the Bolivarian revolution and the “extraordinary project that is ALBA [the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas]”. Chavez traveled to Cuba on Monday for further cancer treatments. Ortega referred to him as “a man who was forged in the armed forces of Venezuela and who came from the people and from the armed forces to head a liberating struggle for our America and for humanity.” He stated that Chavez had sown the seeds and the harvest was ready in Venezuela and in all of America, including Nicaragua.

Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo said his Sunday mass at the Catholic University of Nicaragua (UNICA) for the special intention of Chavez’ recovery. In his Sunday sermon, Managua Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes said, “I saw a very human Chavez who recognized the gravity of his illness.” He added, “This is a sign of a man who has matured in the faith … and who has discovered that we are in the hands of the Lord.” The 19th of July Sandinista Youth Organization held an ecumenical rally which included Catholic and Protestant ministers to pray for Chavez. Bosco Castillo, national coordinator of the Sandinista youth organization, said, “Comandante Chavez is one of our greatest leaders who has always raised his voice in support of the poor and now, from the great family of Nicaragua, we send him strength and faith.”

Given the benefits that Nicaragua has enjoyed as a member of ALBA under the leadership of Chavez (beginning with the end of the energy crisis in 2008 and the ongoing revival of the agricultural sector), it was predictable that his illness would be the cause of much anxiety in the country. Business leaders again brought up the subject of a formal trade agreement with Venezuela. Noting that Venezuela has become the second largest market for Nicaragua’s products, Jose Adan Aguerri, head of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) said, “Today more than ever it is necessary to return to what the private sector has been saying since 2009: secure a free trade accord with Venezuela.”

Former Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa said that a deterioration in the health of President Chavez will not affect the flow of oil as some people believe “because Nicaragua pays international market prices.” He said that big projects such as the Supreme Dream of Bolivar Oil Refinery could be affected, however. Informe Pastran quoted analyst Alberto Ramos in The New York Times as saying that there could very well be a Chavism without Chavez. Ramos said that Vice-President Nicolas Maduro is very popular in Chavez’ circle and because he was foreign minister for six years he has good contacts with influential countries, while being a firm believer in Chavez’ policies. (Informe Pastran, Dec. 10; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 10; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 10) 

2. Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador meet on Gulf of Fonseca

The presidents of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras met in Managua on Dec. 4 “to establish a zone of peace” in the Gulf of Fonseca which the three countries share. Daniel Ortega, Mauricio Funes, and Porfirio Lobo signed a joint resolution establishing a tri-national commission to prevent conflict and promote sustainable development of the Pacific Coast bay. There have been sporadic incidents in the Gulf between and among fishing and naval vessels of the three countries, with at least four encounters during the past year including one a week ago, according to Honduran media outlets. The Gulf and surrounding area are home to 16 protected areas and the waters are rich in fishery resources. It is also one of the best natural bays in the world.

The presidents denied that there had been any confrontations between their armed forces with Funes saying, “We three presidents have been concerned that there are sectors interested in distorting some of the incidents.” He added, “We are looking for a solution to the conflicts in a peaceful and negotiated manner and we reject any use of military force.” Ortega said, “We are recognizing the 1992 ruling by the World Court which resolved a difference between Honduras and El Salvador. Our point of departure is recognition of the World Court.” He added that the joint declaration includes a review of the compliance with the 1992 ruling. Lobo emphasized the importance of the political will of the three countries to safeguard the Gulf as a zone of peace where economic projects can be developed to benefit the population. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 4; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 4, 6; La Prensa, Dec. 5)

3. Colombia still refuses to recognize World Court ruling

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos assured the residents of the islands of San Andres and Providencia that he would not allow the Nov. 19 ruling of the International Court of Justice at The Hague to go into effect until all Colombians had their rights restored and guaranteed into the future. The decision of the World Court gave the islands to Colombia but gave all except the waters immediately surrounding the Caribbean islands to Nicaragua. Santos said that the decision was “a blow that hit us in the heart, which we still find painful, which we still find bewildering.” He promised that he would use all possible channels including “direct conversations with Nicaragua, or through the resources that the Court itself offers for interpretation of its rulings, or other diplomatic routes.” When asked by a journalist if Colombian navy ships would continue to patrol in what are now Nicaraguan waters, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said that Colombian vessels would continue their presence the waters around the islands “of course in a prudent manner, protecting Colombian interests.”

Meanwhile, the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), meeting in Guatemala, urged both Colombia and Nicaragua to respect the World Court’s ruling. The six member regional legislature unanimously agreed to recognize “the legitimate claim of Nicaragua to recuperate its maritime territory and to delimit its [maritime] borders without in any way prejudicing its rights over the Continental Shelf.” PARLACEN urged the two countries to maintain peaceful relations without any type of provocation or intervention.

On Dec. 6, President Daniel Ortega said that Nicaragua would not give concessions for oil exploration in the part of the recently recovered waters where the UNESCO Seaflower Marine Biosphere Reserve is located. He explained, “If there is one arena where Nicaragua has stood out it is in the struggle to protect the environment, the rivers, the lakes and the seas.” Ortega’s statement, made at the graduation of officers from an Army security and defense course, came hours after Energy Minister Emilio Rappaccioli had announced that the Spanish company Repsol was interested in exploring for oil in the area. The UNESCO web page describes the Seaflower reserve: “As a marine biosphere reserve, it covers approximately 10% of the Caribbean sea, with three main islands, surrounded by coastal mangroves swamps and highly intact and productive associated coral reef ecosystems.” In the same speech, Ortega also said that Colombia, when it agreed to submit the case to the Court, agreed to accept the final ruling. “We would have liked the ruling to have recognized the rights of Nicaragua to those territories that are only 160 to 180 kilometers from our coast and almost 800 kilometers from the coast of Colombia, that is the Archipelago of San Andres and Providencia,” he said, but the Court decided otherwise and Nicaragua has accepted that ruling.

General Julio Cesar Aviles, head of the Nicaraguan Army, also speaking at the defense course graduation, said that Nicaraguan naval vessels are patrolling the area recovered under the World Court ruling. He said that the “brave sailors and pilots,” as part of the General Augusto C. Sandino Peace and Sovereignty Mission, are protecting Nicaraguan “sovereignty with patriotism and national pride in those geographical spaces [with] the same conviction as our national heroes.” He also stated, “We want to point out and recognize the patriotism of our small scale and industrial fishermen who have gone into these new waters exercising their sovereign rights to fish there.” He said that Nicaragua had communicated to Colombia’s navy that “there should be no harassment of any kind” against Nicaraguan fishermen. He added that Colombian forces had not boarded any Nicaraguan fishing boats but that “they have been around there.”

Meanwhile a committee of the Colombian Congress, which is controlled by the opposition to President Santos, called former Colombian presidents Belisario Betancur, Cesar Gaviria, Ernesto Samper, Andres Pastrana and Alvaro Uribe to testify on Dec. 12 at a hearing to investigate what decisions were made that led to the loss at The Hague. (La Prensa, Dec. 5, 7, 9; Informe Pastran, Dec. 5, 6, 10;http://www.unesco.org/mabdb/br/brdir/directory/biores.asp?mode=all&code=COL+05 ; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 5, 8, 10; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 6) 

4. Purisima without fireworks accidents!

Nicaraguans commemorated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary on Dec. 7-8 with the usual mix of devotion and loud celebration but this year without any reported burns from fireworks run amok. The Red Cross reported that, while there were more emergency ambulance calls than last year (up from 76 calls to 91), none were of a serious nature. The Fire Department inspected 98 fireworks stands throughout the country and reported no fires or explosions. On the night of Dec. 7 (the Griteria) when Nicaraguans go out to sing for sweets at altars in front of neighbors’ houses, there were instances of lost children, heart attacks and traffic accidents with a total of seven deaths. For the feast, which celebrates the Catholic belief that Mary was conceived without the sin of Adam in the womb of her mother St. Anne, government agencies and private businesses in Leon also put up two dozen altars on downtown streets and many hundreds of traditional treats were distributed. The custom of the Griteria has been submitted by the bishop and people of Leon for possible listing on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. (La Prensa, Dec. 9; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 7, 8; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 8) 

5. Energy Ministers commit to biofuels

Central American Energy Ministers met in Managua last week for the first Ordinary Meeting of the Council of Energy Ministers of the Central America Integration System (SICA). They committed to seek funding for a variety of biofuel projects aimed at reducing energy consumption from burning wood and oil. They cited a study showing that 38% of Central American energy use is from wood, primarily for cooking. The energy ministers agreed to seek funding to distribute one million energy efficient wood burning cooking stoves for the region between 2013 and 2020. They also agreed to a pilot project to convert their Ministry vehicles to a biofuel-gasoline mix to study the results. They plan as well to begin discussion of converting the region’s public bus fleets to natural gas. The goal was set to reduce by 10% the use of gasoline by 2015.

Kamilo Lara, president of the Nicaraguan National Recycling Forum and the Environment SOS Movement, urged the ministers to insure food sovereignty and security as they move forward with biofuel production. He cited Africa and Brazil as lessons that conversion of agricultural land to biofuel crops can increase hunger. He also noted the danger of introducing genetically engineered crops, saying that Nicaragua’s laws were not strong enough to prevent the introduction of genetically modified plants. (Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 4; La Prensa, Dec. 5; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 10)

6. Nicaraguan police show region’s police their training methods 

A three day meeting (titled the 4th Meeting on Scientific Policing) that included Central American, Colombian and Mexican police academy officials was held in Nicaragua last week. Nicaragua, with 12 homicides per 100,000 residents stands second to Costa Rica (10.3 per 100,000) in homicides, significantly below Honduras’ 92 per 100,000 and El Salvador’s 67 per 100,000. Javier Davila, director of Nicaragua’s police academy, said one of the reasons is that Nicaraguan policing is aimed more at preventing crime than solving it. He said that the meeting was organized internationally so that other countries’ police training officials could learn about Nicaragua’s model and see if it was applicable in their own countries. Davila said that the Nicaraguan police also have a disability which is their inability, with 17.9 police per 10,000 residents, to respond rapidly to crimes.

Roberto Cuellar, executive director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, praised Nicaragua’s police. He said, “Nicaragua not only has a police force that can show huge achievements and extraordinary humanism in protecting people and communities, but it is also a seedbed of human rights.” (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 6; Informe Pastran, Dec. 5)

7. Nicaragua advances the rights of domestic workers

Nicaragua was the first country in Central America, and fourth in the world to ratify International Labor Organization Convention 189 concerning domestic workers. However, all involved recognize that there is much work to do to bring domestic workers to the same level of labor rights as other workers. Nicaragua celebrates Dec. 10 as the Day of the Domestic Worker. According to El Nuevo Diario, only 2% of domestic workers are enrolled in the social security system. Of the total labor force, 10% are domestic workers, a total of about 280,000 people, 86% of whom are women.

Speaking at the National Forum of Domestic Workers, Bertha Rosa Guerra Gallardo, the ILO representative in Nicaragua, praised Nicaragua for ratifying Convention 186 and pointed out that there are great obligations for the government under the Convention; obligations that will require changes in the country’s laws such as reducing the domestic workers’ workday from 12 to eight hours and the establishment of child care centers for workers’ children. Both the ILO representative and Andrea Morales, Women’s Secretary of the Sandinista Workers Central (CST) emphasized the need to train domestic workers (and their employers) about their rights as workers. Labor Minister Jeanette Chavez, said that approval of the ILO Convention fulfilled one of the Sandinista government’s commitments to restore rights to the people after 17 years of neoliberal governments. She acknowledged and supported the need to change the legal code to protect the rights of domestic workers and to train workers about the rights they have. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 10; La Prensa, Dec. 10)

8. Estelí wants to become a litter-free city

In order to convert Estelí to a trash and pollution free city by the end of 2013, the mayor, environmentalists, community leaders, the Nicaraguan Army and the National Police, began a daily cleanup campaign, prioritizing the stretch of the Pan-American Highway that runs through the city. On the first campaign day two dump trucks were filled with trash from along the highway. Volunteers blamed bus travelers who throw litter out the bus windows. Jorge Ulises González Hernández, former mayor of Estelí, said that, despite the extraordinary population growth in Estelí, garbage collection service is still considered good.

Current deputy mayor Rosa Argentina Rugama has planned public area cleanups and announced that every week, along with a public message about littering, a different entrance to the city will be cleaned. The municipality of Estelí makes an effort to keep the city clean, even though not all citizens pay for the collection service and many throw waste in illegal dumps. On average the city of Estelí produces 9,000 cubic meters of garbage per month but 2,500 cubic meters are not disposed of properly in the landfill. Trash collection costs US $.50-$.60 per residence monthly, while supermarkets and factories pay around US $70. (El Nuevo Diario, Dec, 10)