Nicaragua News Bulletin (April 12, 2016)

1. Canal briefs: reforestation; another march planned; Creole protest; NYT article; archeology
2. Foreign affairs briefs: Russia to fund airline; German and South Korean aid continues; CEPAL predictions;
Miami rabbi visits

3. Nicaragua’s ratification allows nuclear materials accord to go into effect
4. Aleman denies working with Mossack Fonseca; US funded investigation
5. Social policy briefs: vaccination campaign; diabetes; sexual abuse
6. US volcanologists arrive to measure Momotombo; Telica danger zones marked

1. Canal briefs: reforestation, another march planned, Creole protest, NYT article, archeology

On Apr. 8, the HKND Group, which holds the concession to build a shipping canal across Nicaragua, announced a 500,000 tree reforestation program along the canal route beginning in the coming months of the rainy season. HKND adviser Bill Wild said his company is committed to the reforestation program because it will ensure water for the canal and greater protection of natural resources, as well as improvement of living conditions for the Nicaraguan people. “Local farmers can cultivate the trees that will be used in the reforestation program and earn income for their families,” Wild said. “We are committed to the carry out the largest program of reforestation ever in this part of the world because reforestation is the easiest and cheapest way to preserve the water.” The area covered will be the northern border of the Indio Maiz Reserve, much of the Punta Gorda Reserve, from Punta Gorda north to Bluefields, and the southern part of the San Miguelito wetlands.  (El Nuevo Diario, Apr. 10; Nicaragua News, Apr. 11; Informe Pastran, Apr. 11)

Opponents of the canal plan another march against the project for Apr. 22 in the municipality of Nueva Guinea in the South Caribbean Autonomous Region. Last week environmental organizations and opposition political movements turned in to the National Assembly 28,696 signatures on a petition demanding the repeal of the law granting the concession to build the canal to the HKND Group. (Informe Pastran, Apr. 8, 11)

The Creole Communal Government of Bluefields (GCCB) denounced the National Commission on Demarcation and Titling (CONADETI) for cutting off the rights of the Afro-descendent community to most of the territory that belongs to them by ancestral rights. The GCCB said in a press communique that its ancestral territory, along with that of the Rama and Kriol, includes 52% of the route of the proposed canal and, with the current demarcation of territory as released by CONADETI, “the way is open” for the canal megaproject. According to the GCCB, the Title of the Black, Creole, and Indigenous Communal Property that was issued on Mar. 31, 2016, only recognizes 7% of the total land and maritime territory claimed by the GCCB. Dolene Miller, Creole representative to CONADETI, said that she was not invited to the assembly called by CONADETI and another person was put in her place. Maria Luisa Acosta of the Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples (CALPI) said that “This title is the product of violations of legal due process and for that reason the Creoles of Bluefields have presented eight claims to the Supreme Court.” (La Prensa, Apr. 9)

On Apr. 3, the New York Times carried an article entitled “Lost in Nicaragua: A Chinese Tycoon’s Canal Project” which said that the canal, which “would be the largest movement of earth in the planet’s history—is shrouded in mystery and producing angry protests.” It noted that “President Daniel Ortega has not talked about the canal in public for months.” Margaret Myers at the Inter-American Dialogue said she believes the project is probably dead for lack of funds. However, Pang Kwok Wai, executive vice-president of the HKND Group, said that the company is in talks with potential investors and will announce progress “in due form,” noting that the head of the company, Wang Jing, had already invested about US$500 million of his own money in the project. (Informe Pastran, Apr. 4; New York Times, Apr. 3)

On Mar. 31, the HKND Group presented the results of the first phase of the archeological studies being carried out over the route of the canal. These studies were located in the area of Brito in the Department of Rivas at what would be the Pacific Ocean terminus of the canal. Historian and archeologist Patrick Werner, who headed one of the research teams, said that they made 77 probes which produced a total of 5,000 archeological pieces. Among the discoveries was the first pre-Columbian salt processer ever discovered in Central America and 14 hearths dating from the 1400s. HKND adviser Bill Wild said that there are still other areas in Brito that need to be investigated before work on the canal can begin. (Informe Pastran, Mar. 31)

2. Foreign affairs briefs: Russia to fund airline; German & South Korean aid continues; CEPAL predictions; Miami rabbi visits

Nicaraguan authorities and Russian Deputy Minister of Industry Alexander Morozov signed a loan agreement last week for US$300 million, repayable over 40 years at low interest under which Nicaragua will buy Russian jet planes to establish a Nicaraguan-flagged airline, something the country has not had since the 1990s when Aeronica was bought by a Central American consortium. The funding would also be used for the expansion of the Augusto Sandino International Airport, the building of a complex of silos and grinding mills for storage and processing of grains, along with the purchase of agricultural machinery and the expansion of a system of radar in the country. Russia also supports Nicaragua’s fight against drug trafficking and has provided donations of wheat and public transportation buses. (Nicaragua News, Apr. 7; El Nuevo Diario, Apr. 7, 8; Informe Pastran, Apr. 7, 8)

In a visit to Nicaragua, Hans-Joachim Fuchtel of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development said that his country would continue supporting the Managua sewage treatment project that is cleaning up the waters of Lake Xolotlan (Lake Managua) and would finance other projects such as geothermal energy. On the subject of geothermal energy, he said that German experts “are seeking the best sites that can sustain long term development.” Fuchtel met with President Daniel Ortega and with government economic officials in charge of foreign investment including Alvaro Baltodano and Javier Chamorro. He said that he also met with German investors who said they wanted to continue investing in Nicaragua based on the level of security in the country. (El Nuevo Diario, Apr. 10; Informe Pastran, Apr. 7)

South Korea extended to Nicaragua a loan in the amount of US$33.3 million to finance the electrification of more Nicaraguan homes through renewable energy. Present at the signing of the agreement between the two countries were South Korean Ambassador to Nicaragua Hong Seok-hwa and Nicaraguan Minister of Energy Salvador Mansell along with Foreign Minister Samuel Santos. The Korean ambassador said that the funding will bring electricity generated from renewable sources to 10,000 families on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. In addition, the Nicaraguan government will allocate US$3.3 million to the project. Nicaragua has advanced from 54% of the country with access to electricity in 2007 to 85.3% today. (El Nuevo Diario, Apr 8)

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) predicts that economic activity in the region will contract this year by 0.6% for the second year in a row, pulled down by the economies of Brazil and Venezuela. In 2015, the Latin America and the Caribbean economy as a whole declined by 0.5%. However, some economies are predicted to do much better. Central America as a whole is expected to grow by 3.9%, down from a growth rate of 4.3% in 2015. As for the top three countries in the entire region, CEPAL predicts that Panama will grow by 6.2%, the Dominican Republic by 5.5%, and Nicaragua by 4.6%. (Informe Pastran, April 11)

President Daniel Ortega met on Apr. 4 with Rabbi Yechiel Zayde of the Biala Center of Florida who said he was visiting Nicaragua on a mission of peace. Also present at the meeting were a number of Nicaraguan religious leaders. Rabbi Zayde suggested that more religious symbols in the country would strengthen Nicaragua. Ortega said that he was open to rebuilding the Managua synagogue which was a project of late Managua Mayor Herty Lewites. Ortega said that Nicaragua was a lover of peace and of the Israeli and Palestinian people, adding that he had had a good relationship with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and with former Israeli President Simon Peres. (Informe Pastran, Apr. 5; Nicaragua News, Apr. 5)

3. Nicaragua’s ratification allows nuclear materials accord to go into effect

Nicaragua’s ratification of a 2005 international accord on nuclear materials turned out to be significant. The International Atomic Energy Agency announced in a press release on Apr. 8 that, “The entry into force of the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) was secured today with the deposit of the instrument of ratification by Nicaragua, which brought the number of adherences to 102 States Parties to the CPPNM, the threshold required for the agreement to come into effect in 30 days.” The IAEA press release went on to say: “The Amendment, adopted more than a decade ago, will make it legally binding on countries to protect nuclear facilities. It will also extend the [Convention’s] application to nuclear material in domestic use, storage and transport.” Hernán Estrada Román, Nicaragua’s representative to the IAEA gave his country’s instrument of acceptance to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.

Amano said, “This is an important day for efforts to strengthen nuclear security around the world.” He added that the entry into force of the amendment will “help reduce the risk of a terrorist attack involving nuclear material, which could have catastrophic consequences” and also “increase international cooperation in locating and recovering stolen or smuggled nuclear material.” (El Nuevo Diario, Apr. 8, 9; https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/; Informe Pastran, Apr. 8; Nicaragua News, Apr. 11)

4. Aleman denies working with Mossack Fonseca; US funded investigation

Former President Arnoldo Aleman denied last week that he had had any relationship with the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.  The firm, as revealed in the massive trove of documents known as the “Panama Papers,” was involved in the creation of offshore companies to avoid taxes, implicating important figures from many countries. Aleman was accused of laundering Nicaraguan state funds in Panama but was later acquitted. Aleman said, “Never have I had anything to do with that law firm, not today or years ago; therefore what they are saying is a lie.” However, journalist Arlen Cerda on the program “Esta Noche” on Managua’s Channel 12 television said that reporters were examining Mossack Fonseca documents related to Nicaragua and that the Mossack Fonseca firm did do work for Aleman and at one point attempted to set up a branch office in Managua but no Nicaraguan law firm wanted to associate with them. “There are still scandals to be revealed,” Cerda said, indicating that names of Nicaraguan businesspeople could appear.

Meanwhile, at least 33 Salvadorans, among them politicians, businesspeople, and media figures, have been named as having used the services of the firm, according to the daily newspaper El Faro which stated that the businesses were created to guarantee the anonymity of their owners with the movement of hundreds of thousands of dollars “off the radar of local authorities.”

In related news, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner admitted to reporters that one of the groups that produced the documents was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). He stated that “They have received support from various donors, including the U.S. Government. [T]his organization conducts investigative journalism…. Obviously, these are the kind of organizations that USAID has and continues to fund, but not specifically… to go after any particular government, … or any particular individual, but simply to conduct … independent investigative journalism that we believe can shine a light on corruption.” (Informe Pastran, Apr. 5, 7; Apr. 5; US State Dept. Daily Press Briefing, Apr. 7)

5. Social policy briefs: vaccination campaign; diabetes; sexual abuse

In a little over three weeks, the Sandinista government reached over 50% of the population targeted for this year’s National Vaccination Campaign. Over 895,000 of the 1.8 million targeted children have received their vaccinations. The campaign includes protection against polio, tuberculosis, viral meningitis, bacterial and viral pneumonia, diarrhea, rubeola (measles) and rubella (German or three-day measles), among others, along with Vitamin A and anti-parasite medicine. The campaign ends on Apr. 28. (El Nuevo Diario, Apr. 11)

According to a study released last week by the World Health Organization as part of its World Report on Diabetes, six of every 100 deaths in Nicaragua are caused by diabetes and the prevalence of the disease has increased from 4.7% of the population in 1980 to 8.5% in 2014. Nicaragua’s country profile can be seen here: http://www.who.int/diabetes/country-profiles/nic_en.pdf?ua=1. The WHO report reveals that women are more at risk, with more women than men dying from diabetes. More women are overweight and obese (51.3% and 21.1% respectively) than men (40.7% and 9.7%), according to the report. (El Nuevo Diario, Apr. 11)

The Axayacatl Women’s Association last week released a study, entitled “Stolen Lives,” of 30 cases of girls and adolescents between ten and 19 years of age who had been raped. Of the 30, 19 reported the crimes against them to the police. Of those 19, five perpetrators have been tried and received minimum sentences of between three and five years, and the other 14 are pending. One case that has not moved forward is that of a girl who sang in her parish choir, was raped by the priest beginning at age 13 and had a child by him. The child’s father said that a report was made to the police of the crime when the parents realized she was pregnant, but “it is in a drawer somewhere.” As for the minimal sentences received by the convicted rapists, attorney Evelin Flores Mayorga said that, even though the penal code establishes 15 to 20 years in prison for rape, “There is a lack of sensitivity on the part of many judges who don’t consider the seriousness of the circumstances in each of these violations; for example the position of authority the violator has over the victim and the grave psychological and physical damage that can result.” (El Nuevo Diario, Apr. 9)

6. US volcanologists arrive to measure Momotombo; Telica danger zones marked

Volcanologists Elizabeth Gallant and Douglas Myhre from the University of South Florida arrived in Nicaragua on Apr. 10 with the goal of measuring the amount of volcanic material that has accumulated on the slopes of the Momotombo Volcano. They will continue the work that the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER) has been carrying out since early December 2015 when Momotombo began its current period of eruption. INETER volcanologist Jose Armando Saballos said that this was the first time a study of volcanoes with high tech equipment has been carried out in Central America. “With the radar, one can measure the amount of lava expelled by the volcano, the places where more magma has accumulated, the resulting deformations and the stability of the slopes,” Saballos said. The studies by Gallant and Myhre will be completed on Apr. 15.

Meanwhile, INETER has installed signs in Spanish and English on Telica Volcano to indicate to hikers where they can walk and climb without risk and what areas are too dangerous to visit. Saballos said, “In 2015, [Telica] was the most active volcano in Nicaragua and during the explosion on Nov. 22, it expelled a great many rocks of varying sizes that flew as far as one kilometer from the crater.” (El Nuevo Diario, Apr. 9, 10)

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