Nicaragua News Bulletin for the week of December 4th

1. Ortega and Santos meet in Mexico on World Court ruling
2. Nicaragua to use Sucre for ALBA trade
3. World Bank lauds Nicaragua’s progress
4. Nicaragua hosts water forum; canal viability challenged
5. Indigenous conferences on climate change held
6. US companies eye Nicaraguan fruit and vegetables
7. International HIV/AIDS Day celebrated with new law and education
8. Coffee rust fungus threatens harvest in north

1. Ortega and Santos meet in Mexico on World Court ruling

President Daniel Ortega and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met for 15-20 minutes on Dec. 1 in Mexico City where they had both attended the inauguration of Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto. The two discussed the Nov. 19 ruling of the International Court of Justice which, while it gave the islands of the San Andres archipelago to Colombia, assigned to Nicaragua control over 90,000 square kilometers of waters on the country’s continental shelf. On Nov. 28 Santos had announced that Colombia would not accept the ruling and was withdrawing from the 1948 Pact of Bogota which committed most Western Hemisphere countries to abide by World Court rulings.

Both men discounted any possibility of military action. Ortega said, “The two parties are totally discarding the use of force.” He said that Nicaragua would exercise its sovereignty over the waters but that Colombian vessels remaining in those waters were not a problem because “there is permanent communication between those [forces] that are in the zone.” He reiterated that Nicaragua would respect the fishing rights of the traditional inhabitants of the Colombian islands and urged Colombia to accept the Court’s ruling. While Santos said “No one wants bellicose actions,” he also said “We will continue to seek the reestablishment of the rights of Colombians that the ruling at The Hague violated in a serious way.” Several reports have noted the disparity between Nicaraguan and Colombian military and particularly naval forces. La Prensa reported that Nicaragua’s defense budget this year was US$67 million and that of Colombia was US$14 billion. Colombia has a navy with 34,964 members while Nicaragua’s naval force includes only 800. A columnist for the Bogota daily El Tiempo noted, “If Colombia doesn’t want to remove its warships from the zone, Nicaragua will not be able to force them out.”

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, said that the withdrawal of Colombia from the Pact of Bogota damaged the Pan American system. He stated, “What I have always tried to achieve is that the great part of the Latin American and Caribbean nations and also those of North America subscribe to and ratify the treaties of the organization [the OAS], and for that reason an exit is always prejudicial; certainly there is always damage.” At a meeting of South American member nations of UNASUR, the presidents of Peru and Chile expressed their implicit rejection of Colombia’s position saying that they would respect the ruling of the World Court in their dispute over territorial waters under consideration by the Court.

Colombian legal expert Enrique Gaviria said that leaving the Pact was mistaken, adding, “In the end Colombia will have to recognize the decision and I don’t believe that it is to our advantage for Nicaragua to have to go to the Security Council [of the UN] to have measures taken against us.” President Santos’ popularity rating dropped 15% from two months ago in a late November poll, down to 45% approval. However, the Ipsos poll also showed that 85% of those Colombians surveyed agreed that Santos should reject the Court ruling.

The Court decision has put the fishing industry, both industrial and small scale, into limbo. Capitan Santo Donaldo Lopez, a Honduran industrial lobster fisherman with authorization to work in waters around the Colombian islands, said that “in this problem Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Costa Rica and all of the western Caribbean” are involved because their maritime borders with Colombia and Nicaragua are affected. He has docked at San Andres to await resolution of the situation. Fishing vessels authorized to work in Colombian waters now need authorization from Nicaragua while those authorized to fish in Nicaraguan waters are waiting for the go ahead to fish in the waters that had previously belonged to Colombia. Lopez said, “The owners of the companies spend their time calling the Nicaraguan and Colombian authorities to see when they can cross the limits defined by the Court.” Meanwhile, Nicaraguan fishing businessman Alberto Woo said, “The crew of my boat has told me that they are in the new fishing banks and that Colombian frigates appear and their helicopters fly over the boat in a hostile attitude.” He said he had informed the Nicaraguan naval forces.

On Nov. 30, the Nicaraguan National Assembly approved a presidential decree authorizing for six months the entry of “troops, ships, and planes of the armed forces” of the United States, Venezuela, Russia, Taiwan, and Cuba into Nicaraguan waters and territory as well as the participation of Nicaraguan armed forces in Central American military events. National Assembly Deputy Filiberto Rodriguez said that a meeting was planned between the armed forces of the United States and Nicaragua to plan joint activities against drug trafficking in the zone recently “defined by the International Court of Justice as Nicaraguan territory.” The media also reported that on Dec. 2, Brigadier General Steven J. De Palmer of the US Southern Command met with Colombian military officials on the Island of San Andres and boarded Colombian coast guard vessels there.

Meanwhile, Nicaragua has asked the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) for a ruling that Nicaragua’s territory extends the full 350 mile width of its continental shelf in the Caribbean. Carlos Argüello, Nicaragua’s ambassador to The Hague, said that the World Court decision “opened the door and we are stating that our platform extends much further than the 200 miles” the Court awarded. [You can read about this commission and the referenced law of the sea at: http://www.un.org/Depts/los/clcs_new/continental_shelf_description.htm#definition ] (Radio La Primerisima, Nov. 28, 29, Dec. 3; El Nuevo Diario, Dec. 3; La Prensa, Nov. 29, 30, Dec. 1, 2; Informe Pastran, Nov. 29, Dec. 3)

2. Nicaragua to use Sucre for ALBA trade

The National Assembly on Nov. 28 approved Nicaragua’s use of the Sucre for trade with other countries in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA). The Sucre is a “virtual” currency that allows trade among the ALBA countries without the need for US dollars. To date, ALBA member or observer states using the Sucre are Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Bolivia, and now Nicaragua. The total market among those countries is 68 million people. The Sucre is a bookkeeping device used by the countries’ central banks. Businesses will receive payment ultimately in local currency or dollars. Trade in the Sucre is less expensive than with dollars because countries do not need to hold as many US dollars to back up their trade. (Radio La Primerisima, Nov. 28; La Prensa, Nov. 29)

3. World Bank lauds Nicaragua’s progress

In an extensive interview with Informe Pastran, Camille Nuamah, World Bank representative in Nicaragua, praised the country’s progress in bringing economic and social well being to its poorest citizens, noting, “The advances in issuing titles for indigenous lands, inclusion of women who are today the principal beneficiaries of micro-financing services, maternal waiting homes that have meant more assisted births, roads paved by local community residents. These are some of a multitude of things that Nicaragua can show the world.” She cautioned, however, that the challenge of closing the gap between rural and urban standards of living still exists. “Work needs to continue on this,” she said. She noted the reduction in poverty over all and in extreme poverty in particular. She continued, “These advances are due in great measure to an increase in investment in agriculture in the rural zones and in improvements in education and access to social services. Also they are due to the great shared efforts of central and local governments, the private sector, civil society, and each person who volunteers in the fight to reduce poverty. It is something that I have not seen in other countries to the same degree that I have seen in Nicaragua.”

The World Bank recently signed a new five year Country Partnership Strategy Agreement with Nicaragua after consultations with different sectors of Nicaraguan society with the goals of improving the wellbeing of the poorest and increasing the productivity and competitiveness of the nation, according to Nuamah. The International Development Association (IDA) of the Bank will provide donations and no-interest loans in the amount of US$55 million each year along with technical assistance and South-South exchanges. The International Financial Corporation (IFC)—also a part of the World Bank—will provide over US$400 million in loans over the next five years to the private sector and another World Bank organization, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), will analyze opportunities to support foreign direct investment in agro-industry, energy, and the financial sector. [The Nicaragua Network, which was a founding member of the 50 Years Is Enough Network in the United States to change the policies of the World Bank and the IMF cannot help but be a bit skeptical upon reading all of this. While the Bank appears to have truly abandoned its immoral policies of the past such as public school fees and to be truly interested in policies to reduce poverty, it is also obvious that the old World Bank is still alive and well in the IFC and the MIGA.] (Informe Pastran, Nov. 29)

4. Nicaragua hosts water forum; canal viability challenged

On Nov. 28, Nicaragua hosted an international water forum to study alternatives to conflicts between nations over water resources. The forum was sponsored by the Latin American Water Tribunal and the Nicaraguan Alliance for Cooperation in the Use and Protection of Water Resources. Victor Campos of the Humboldt Center in Managua said that there were cross border tensions in the Gulf of Fonseca, shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua and also on the banks of the San Juan River, the southern shore of which forms the boundary between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Javier Bogantes, president of the Central American Water Tribunal, said that these forums, held every year since 2000, have helped to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Speaking at the forum, Salvador Montenegro, director of the Center for Research for Water Resources at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), said that a shipping canal across Nicaragua that uses Lake Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) is not viable, especially if it is combined with other projects that have been proposed for the lake. He said that it would not be possible to use the lake for massive irrigation projects, build a hydroelectric dam on the San Juan River (which drains the lake into the Caribbean), and use the lake for a trans-isthmian canal. He noted that the lake has an average depth of 13.2 meters while the Post Panamax ships need a draught of over 12 meters. He added, “They would have to dredge a channel in the lake with a depth of 25 meters that was 90 kilometers long; it’s not viable.” All of the six possible routes for the canal pass through at least part of the lake with one route using the San Juan River as well. The Nicaraguan National Assembly has passed a law authorizing the building of a canal and investors from China, Brazil, Russia and Venezuela have expressed interest.

Also related to the water forum, the National Water Authority (ANA) announced that it had imposed sanctions on 40 agricultural, industrial and hotel businesses for contaminating surface or underground water sources. Luis Angel Montenegro, ANA director, said that, with the help of German funding, water resources were being protected in the departments of Masaya, Rivas, Boaco and Chontales. (La Prensa, Nov. 29; Radio La Primerisima, Nov. 29)

5. Indigenous conferences on climate change held

Indigenous leaders and environmental experts from Central American gathered in San Salvador on Dec. 3 for a three day meeting to “design a strategy on climate change,” according to Amadeo Martinez, senior advisor to the Central American Indigenous Council (CICA), which is part of the System of Central American Integration (SICA). “What we want to tell the world is that indigenous peoples have always been right in the sense that if we do not respect mother earth, she will protest because we are not caring for her.” Martinez said.

Meanwhile in Bluefields, Nicaragua, a bi-national indigenous forum on climate change with delegates from Nicaragua and Honduras concluded Dec. 3. Nicaraguan forum delegates said that floods have destroyed crops in indigenous communities in Nicaragua leading to food shortages and Mayra Martinez of Awas, Honduras, said the climate there has changed and ancestral knowledge has lost validity, limiting the ability to forecast the weather and affecting livelihoods in her community. “Flooding on the Patuca River and the abrupt weather changes devastate production and communities are going hungry,” she said. Communities like Cabo Gracias a Dios in the indigenous region of Tawira, Nicaragua, cannot dig wells because the water is salty, said community leader Oscar Spelman. Anthony Sambola described similar problems: “The coastal erosion is wiping out indigenous and black communities in the Laguna de Perlas’ village of La Flor; erosion is taking part of the area where the community is.” Some training projects sponsored by European organizations and the Foundation for Autonomy and Development of the Atlantic Coast are working to attempt to deal with the effects of climate change in coastal communities of Nicaragua and Honduras. (La Prensa, Dec 1; El Nuevo Diario, Dec 3)

6. US companies eye Nicaraguan fruit and vegetables

A USAID-funded trade mission traveled to Nicaragua last week to explore investing in Nicaraguan fruit and vegetable production, according to Pro-Nicaragua, the government agency in charge of promoting foreign investment. The food companies which met with Nicaraguan agricultural producers included Walmart Global Food Sourcing Central America, Bagley Produce, Farm Fresh Market, and Anthony Marano Co. The US companies were looking at Nicaragua’s ability to produce watermelon, plantain, roots, tubers, and shrimp. (La Prensa, Nov. 28; Informe Pastran, Nov. 28)

7. International HIV/AIDS Day celebrated with new law and education

The National Assembly on Nov. 29 passed 85-0 a law guaranteeing the human rights of people with HIV/AIDS. On the following day, hundreds of people marched in celebration of the new law and in recognition of World HIV/AIDS day on Dec. 1. The march was from Managua’s commercial center to the Roberto Huembes Market where the group held educational activities for merchants and shoppers. The rapid growth in the number of Nicaraguans living with HIV/AIDS has reached “epidemic” levels according to Secretary General of the Ministry of Health Enrique Beteta. There are 7,756 known cases in Nicaragua with more than a thousand new cases identified this year. Only about a quarter of those infected are receiving regular treatment. The increase is likely related to the greatly increased testing promoted by the Sandinista government. The public health system has performed 125,000 tests this year; the majority of those tested have been pregnant women. Three new cases of infection are occurring every day according to officials. Non-governmental organizations are calling for the urgent implementation of sexual and reproductive education programs to control the spread of the disease. The government has also established a molecular biology lab to help combat and prevent HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. (La Prensa, Nov. 28, 29, 30, Dec. 1; Radio La Primerisima, Nov. 30)

8. Coffee rust fungus threatens harvest in north

The Nicaraguan Agriculture Ministry will train coffee growers in methods to prevent the spread of the coffee rust fungus Hemileia vastatrix which has affected plantations in the north of the country. The training will begin at the end of the current harvest period. Agriculture Minister Ariel Bucardo explained that there is nothing that can be done during the harvest and the coffee grains damaged by the rust this year will be lost. He said that the Ministry had no figures yet on what the total losses will be for this harvest cycle which extends from November 2012 through February 2013. Bucardo told a meeting of the Regional International Organism on Agricultural Health (OIRSA) and the Central American Agricultural Council in Managua that the Central American countries would push a joint program to fight the fungus. At the same meeting Guatemalan and Salvadoran authorities said their harvest would be less this year while Honduras estimated a loss of up to 70,000 tons, about 7% of the usual harvest.

Grower Julio Solorzano of Matagalpa said that farmers are carrying the rust from place to place on their clothing and all growers need to take preventive measures. Coffee is Nicaragua’s principal export crop, produced by large, medium and small scale planters. (La Prensa, Dec. 1; Radio La Primerisima, Dec. 3)