Nicaragua News Bulletin (March 22, 2016)

1. World Court rules in favor of Nicaragua
2. Economic briefs: remittances and energy news
3. Right-wing Congress members meet with US Central America ambassadors
4. Businesses, civil society and government join new United Nations goals
5. Caribbean Coast Briefs: Highway construction; Autonomy Law amended
6. National Assembly condemnation of US generates fierce debate
7. Disaster drill mobilizes more than one million

1. World Court rules in favor of Nicaragua

On Mar. 17, the International Court of Justice in The Hague (World Court) gave Nicaragua a major victory in its dispute with Colombia over waters in the Caribbean. The Court said that it had jurisdiction to examine a demand on the part of Nicaragua about violations of its maritime territory by Colombia. The Court rejected Colombia’s argument that it had withdrawn from the 1948 Pact of Bogotá, in which Latin American countries recognized the jurisdiction of the World Court. The Court said that such a withdrawal, which was done days after a 2012 ruling Colombia rejected, could not be retroactive and, in fact, took one year to go into effect. The 2012 ruling, although it gave the islands of the San Andres Archipelago to Colombia, awarded the surrounding waters to Nicaragua. The Court also said that it had jurisdiction to consider Nicaragua’s appeal to extend its territorial waters further over its extended continental platform and that its 2012 ruling had not closed off any further discussion of territorial limits. The Court also said that Nicaragua did not have to first obtain a recommendation from the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf before recurring to the Court. The Court’s rulings can be read here: http://www.icj-cij.org/homepage/

Nicaragua’s representative at The Hague, Carlos Argüello, said, “This means that now the Court will begin to consider the substance of the cases and that will follow a procedure of presenting first written and then oral testimony and if they follow a normal course it will take a couple of years.” Nicaragua accuses Colombia of not respecting the maritime limits laid out by the Court and also wants the Court to rule on whether Nicaragua’s waters extend further than 200 nautical miles over its continental shelf. Argüello said, “Legally we have the doors open to present our case and we are ready to do so.”

Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said that this was not a defeat for Colombia and was rather a tie because the Court did not accept Nicaragua’s claim that Colombia had used force against it in the area in question. Holguin repeated the position of her government that it seeks to negotiate a treaty with Nicaragua instead of accepting the Court’s ruling. She said, “Colombia was totally respectful of the international legal order but the ruling of 2012 by the Court at The Hague gave us reason to lose confidence in that international organism.” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Mar. 18 that Colombia will not appear again before the World Court and “will continue defending the rights of Colombians, the rights of the raizales people of the [San Andres] archipelago, through bilateral negotiations.” (Nicaragua has granted the residents of the islands permission to fish in Nicaraguan waters without any special permission.)

Nicaraguan government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo said that the World Court ruling was an “enormous victory” for Nicaragua and now the country must wait for the Court’s direction about the procedures for moving forward on the cases. Murillo praised the team led by Argüello that had represented Nicaragua before the Court. On Mar. 18, the government released an official statement which noted Nicaragua’s “firm commitment to the rule of law at the international level and to the peaceful resolution of conflicts between nations.” The statement added that Nicaragua has complied “with each and every one of the rulings in which it has been a part [and] for that reason Nicaragua has always expected reciprocity… from the other parties in a controversy that has been submitted to the ruling of the International Court of Justice whose rulings cannot be appealed and must be complied with.”

The political opposition praised the victory at the World Court. The National Coalition for Democracy, led by the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), celebrated the ruling and encouraged the government not to give in to pressures from Colombia to discuss a treaty to resolve the dispute. PLI president Eduardo Montealegre said, “Nicaragua is in the right and any president who cedes an inch more than what the International Court of Justice gave to Nicaragua would be a traitor to all Nicaraguans and, for that reason, I believe that it would be an error on the part of President Daniel Ortega to negotiate bilaterally with Colombia when the World Court has ruled.” (Informe Pastran, Mar. 17, 18; El Nuevo Diario, Mar. 17; La Prensa, Mar. 17)

2. Economic briefs: remittances and energy news

In 2015, Nicaraguans received US$1.075 billion in remittances through formal channels from family members living abroad, according to the Central Bank. This was 4.2% more than in 2014. At the same time remittances through informal channels were estimated at US$118.5 million, 13.5% more than the previous year. Remittances from the United States totaled US$666.5 million, from Costa Rica US$259.4 million, and from Spain US$90.1 million. (Informe Pastran, Mar. 18; El Nuevo Diario, Mar. 18)

At a recent meeting, members of the Chamber of Energy (CEN) discussed ways to lower energy costs to promote economic growth. CEN president Cesar Zamora said that it was important for Nicaragua to promote investment in efficient energy sources that would replace expensive electricity with less costly energy, and lower rates for industrial users. He noted especially the need to reduce losses of energy in the country’s distribution system and produce electricity to offer on the Central American grid. He said that Nicaragua’s current demand is 600 megawatts, much of which is consumed by industry. The high cost of Nicaragua’s electricity adds to the cost of goods produced in the country to the detriment of the economy, according to Zamora. (Informe Pastran, Mar. 17)

In related news, the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the National Electrical Transmission Company (ENATREL) installed electricity service in the homes of 350 families in the municipality of Teustepe in the Department of Boaco. The US$148,000 investment is part of the National Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy Program (PNESER), being implemented by the Nicaragua government in the 153 municipalities of the country. (Nicaragua News, Mar. 16)

3. Right-wing Congress members meet with US Central America ambassadors

A meeting with US ambassadors to Central America, which Ambassador to Nicaragua Laura Dogu described in her Twitter account as a meeting to “discuss the opportunities and challenges in the region,” was used by right-wing Congress members to raise questions about Nicaragua’s November 2016 presidential election. Tea Party Caucus member from South Carolina, Republican Jeff Duncan, Cuban-American New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the long-time Florida Republican nemesis of the Cuban and Nicaraguan governments, met with the ambassadors. All three are members of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Sires is ranking minority member. Informe Pastran notes that they have used their committee positions to demand that the Obama administration use USAID funding to pressure the government of President Daniel Ortega. Dogu thanked Ros-Lehtinen “for a discussion of a prosperous Nicaragua, secure and democratic and with free and transparent elections” which Ros-Lehtinen confirmed on her Twitter account. In another Twitter message, Dogu wrote that she met in Washington, DC, with Carlos Ponce, director for Latin American programs at the right-wing think tank Freedom House “to discuss civil society and freedom of expression in Nicaragua.”

US government intervention in Nicaraguan elections seems to be hardwired into its foreign policy despite relatively cordial relations between the two countries. Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice will lead an investigatory delegation to Nicaragua Aug. 5-14 to answer the question: “Is the US Still Interfering with Nicaragua’s Democracy?” For information and an application send an email to: delegations@AFGJ.org. (Informe Pastran, Mar. 17,18)

4. Caribbean Coast Briefs: Highway construction; Autonomy Law amended

On Mar. 15, work was begun on the project that will finally connect the Pacific and Caribbean sides of Nicaragua via paved highway. This section of the road has received US$44.3 million in financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the work is being done by Meco Santa Fe, a Central American company. The final 46 kilometers of the concrete highway will connect San Francisco in the municipality of Bluefields with Naciones Unidas in Nueva Guinea and from there to highways connecting to the towns and cities of Chontales and the Pacific side of the country. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Pablo Martinez said, “This is an historic event of great importance for Nicaragua and for the South Caribbean Region. Soon merchandise and medical patients will move over this highway which will contribute to the eradication of poverty. We will guarantee good bus routes that will run the route in seven hours with convenient stops.” Another section of 34 kilometers from San Francisco to Bluefields with World Bank funding is 40% completed. The entire highway is expected to be finished in 2019. (El Nuevo Diario, Mar. 15; Informe Pastran, Mar. 15)

The National Assembly approved amendments to what was called the Statute of the Autonomy of the Atlantic Coast Regions of Nicaragua to change the name to the Caribbean Coast Regions of Nicaragua. Sandinista Deputy Loria Raquel Dixon, chair of the Committee on Caribbean Coast Indigenous Affairs, said that while the constitution had been changed to say “Caribbean Coast Regions” the 1987 Autonomy Law still referred to them as “Atlantic Coast Regions.” The measure also changed the periods for elected officials of the autonomous regional authorities from four years to five years.

However, opposition deputies voted against the measure.  Opposition Deputy Carlos Langrand said that the measure did not address the real issues of the Caribbean Coast. He noted, “The leaders of the Caribbean Coast tell us of continued conflicts with colonizers and pillagers of resources all of which affect the original communities. The logging mafia is destroying flora and fauna, poisoning the rivers and threatening endangered species. The government has failed in its obligation to save and preserve these resources and natural reserves such as Bosawas.” (El Nuevo Diario, Mar. 16; La Prensa, Mar. 20)

5. Businesses, civil society and government join new United Nations goals

With the end of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals charging governments to halve poverty by the end of 2015, the UN passed 17 Objectives of Sustainable Development (ODS) to eliminate poverty and mediate climate change by the end of 2030. The new “Global Compact” includes not only governments, but business and civil society working together to achieve the objectives. The Global Compact Local Network held a conference last week in Managua with representatives from Nicaraguan business, civil society and government to commit themselves to “end poverty, struggle against inequality and injustice, and to combat climate change.” According to Sergio Argüello, president of the Local Network, 47 companies in Nicaragua have signed on to the ODS, joining 9,000 companies and 1,000 organizations in 190 countries. Fidel Moreira, executive director of the Center for the Studies of Governability and Democracy, explained that, because the sustainability objectives will not be achieved only by the government, the initiative to enlist “all three sectors” arose. He called for the ODS to be made part of Nicaragua’s National Development Plan.  Leonardo Torres, president of the Chamber of Micro, Small, and Medium Tourism Companies, emphasized that the private sector plays a fundamental role in achieving the ODS.  (El Nuevo Diario, Mar. 15, 16)

6. National Assembly condemnation of US generates fierce debate

A proposed declaration in the National Assembly condemning US President Barack Obama’s Executive Order declaring Venezuela a “national security threat” generated a fiery debate between its Sandinista sponsors and Independent Liberal Party (PLI) deputies.  PLI Deputy Eliseo Nuñez compared the Sandinistas to capitalists “supporting whoever crosses their palm with silver.” Deputy Maria Eugenia Sequeira proposed a declaration of solidarity with the people of Venezuela because “they suffer shortages and political prisoners.” Another PLI Deputy, Armando Herrera, accused Venezuela of state terrorism and called it a “threat to the region,” and Carlos Langrand defended the sovereign right of the United States “to impose sanctions on countries that threaten its interests.” He also lamented that Venezuelan oil “has strengthened President Daniel Ortega.”

Sandinista Deputy Jacinto Suarez, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, responded that a major reason that Obama declared Venezuela a threat is because it is sitting on the largest deposit of oil in the world and that Hugo Chavez had the audacity to defend those resources as an instrument of sovereignty and development for Latin America. He accused the Nicaraguan opposition of being “parrots who repeat everything the transnationals and North Americans say.” Sandinista bench coordinator Edwin Castro said that one State cannot be permitted to intervene in the internal affairs of another. He pointed to Nicaraguan history accusing the opposition of holding the same ideology as those who supported the “Knox note that the government of the United States used to overthrow the government of Jose Santos Zelaya” and who supported the occupation by US Marines from 1912 until 1933 when they were driven out by General Augusto Sandino. Before they left the Marines installed the Somoza dynasty that lasted from 1937 to 1979. “It is because of this [history] that today we oppose North American intervention,” he said.

The declaration passed 63-23. (Informe Pastran, Mar. 15, 2016)

7. Disaster drill mobilizes more than one million

A national disaster drill on Mar. 17 mobilized more than one million people, according to government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo who explained that the exercise is being held to train citizens to confront the many natural threats that the country faces. She said that 700,000 students and 330 community residents participated, including businesses, churches, hospitals, and free trade zones workers. The Nicaragua Army Chief, General Julio Cesar Aviles, said that more than 6,000 soldiers participated in the drill. “The exercise helped to strengthen coordinated efforts with the community related to risk management. We have also improved the equipment used by the Humanitarian Rescue Unit (UHR), which is the first instance for emergency aid in case of natural disasters of large magnitude,” Aviles said. Officials of the National System for the Prevention, Mitigation, and Attention to Disasters (SINAPRED) said that they had been making preparations in four areas: training, local workshops, preparation of community rescue and first aid brigades, and publicity for the event.

In related news, Murillo said on Mar. 21 that the country’s active volcanoes had been relatively calm in recent days with reduced microseismic activity and low levels of emission of sulfur dioxide gas from Momotombo while Masaya and Telica were unchanged. On Mar. 18, it was reported that one of the mouths of the Masaya volcano had grown larger due to collapses of internal walls inside the volcano and erosion caused by movement of magma. (Informe Pastran, Mar. 17, 21; Nicaragua News, Mar. 17; El Nuevo Diario, Mar. 17, 18)

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