Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 300 | Julio 2006




Envío team

On June 29 the Nicaraguan Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC) presented the results of its eighth population census and fourth household census, conducted in 2005. The previous census was in 1995, and the projection at that time was that the Nicaraguan population would have reached 5.4 million inhabitants by the end of the next decade. According to the new census, however, there are currently only 5.1 million of us, indicating a drop in the annual population growth rate from 3.5% to 1.7%.

The lower population means the Bolaños government can rightfully claim that the per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) rose during its watch from $906.3 to $1,050. That this reflects a declining population growth more than an overall GDP increase and is a mathematical average that doesn’t remotely reflect the country’s extremes of poverty and wealth doesn’t seem to bother government officials in the slightest. Nicaragua is already officially known as a “poor” country and thus benefits from trade concessions and social “poverty reduction” programs financed by international cooperation.

According to INEC demographic expert Domingo Primante, the new census data are reliable. He explains the flawed projections by the flow of emigrants to the United States and Costa Rica as a survival strategy and by the drop in female fecundity since 1998. Although the government has no population or birth control policy, the census indicates that the average number of children per woman today is 3.2 and that 68.6% of women use some form of birth control. Other important data are that a quarter of the population lives in the department of Managua, and 37.3% of
the total is under 15 years of age.

A formal Mass in honor of Saint Thomas More, declared by Pope John Paul II the patron saint of rulers and politicians, was held in the Managua Cathedral on June 22. It was presided over by the new archbishop of Managua, Leopoldo Brenes, who concelebrated with a sizeable representation of Managua’s clergy. Three presidential candidates attended the Mass: Eduardo Montealegre (ALN-PC), Herty Lewites (MRS) and Edén Pastora (AC). José Rizo (PLC) had prior campaign commitments and Daniel Ortega (FSLN) was out of the country, although he was represented by his wife and campaign chief Rosario Murillo. During the ceremony Murillo and Lewites embraced with beaming smiles for the TV cameras. This massively disseminated image led Daniel Ortega to remark the day after Lewites’ death: “Rosario told me that on that day Herty had told her not to worry because ‘we’re the same.’” This moved Dora María Téllez, of the MRS Alliance, to immediately respond during the funeral vigil for Lewites: “No, we’re not the same. We’re not brothers and sisters. Those of us struggling against the pact and against corruption are brothers.” And although only months earlier the FSLN had gratuitously described Lewites as “the most corrupt mayor in Managua’s history,” Ortega also said in his condolence message that Herty’s had been a “good administration.”

During his annual visit to his friend President Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya , former President of Nicaragua and current FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega stated in June that Libya would provide ample solidarity cooperation with Nicaragua if the FSLN wins the November elections. Days later, FSLN legislator Bayardo Arce announced that an FSLN government would also reestablish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China and that Taiwan would probably be forced to reduce its presence in Nicaragua to a trade office. The Chamorro government opened diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1990, after the Sandinistas lost the elections, withdrawing recognition of the People’s Republic, the world’s most populated country. Only 20 governments have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and all are from impoverished countries to which Taiwan makes donations and soft loans in exchange for voting in the UN on behalf of Taiwan’s petition for official recognition. In response to Arce’s declarations, the Taiwanese business attaché in Managua declared that they would pull out altogether if Nicaragua establishes relations with continental China.

By a vote of 33 to 32, a Japanese motion to authorize commercial whale hunting was passed during the 58th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, held in St. Kitts & Nevis on June 16-20. Nicaragua voted in favor of this and all other Japanese proposals challenged by environmentalists. When the news of Nicaragua’s decision-swinging vote broke in Nicaragua, diverse sectors of public opinion harshly criticized the government—which contradictorily had announced months earlier its intention to turn whale sighting in its waters into a tourist attraction. The Young Environmentalists Club accused government officials of having “sold” their vote to Japan. The government’s justifications reeked of ignorance: whales eat the fish that Nicaraguan fisherman make a living from (Minke whales, which are most sought after by Japan, do not circulate in Nicaraguan waters); Japan only hunts for scientific purposes (the Japanese eat whale meat); whale hunting helps reduce overpopulation (whales are an endangered species). Without ever having been a whaling country, Nicaragua joined the Commission in 2003, as did 25 other impoverished countries recruited by Japan for their votes in exchange for economic aid to fishing projects.

The Pellas Group, which owns Nicaragua’s Compañía Licorera rum distillery and the vast San Antonio sugar plantation and refinery, recently invested some $4 million to kick off the mass production of ethanol, an alcohol derivative of sugar cane. In April, the Group announced that by later this year the ethanol it produces could supply the country’s entire gas-propelled vehicular park in a proportion of 85.9% gas and 10-15% ethanol—it can’t be mixed with diesel. Only specially designed vehicles, which are being increasingly produced all over the world, can use pure ethanol. Over half the cars in Brazil now use ethanol, which does not contaminate the environment. The introduction of this alternative fuel would lower Nicaragua’s high petroleum bill, which is further devastating the economy due to the rise in international oil prices. Over 80% of Nicaragua’s energy consumption depends on oil and its derivatives. Investments are also underway to produce biodiesel, based on African palm oil, within a few years.

On June 26, the Nicaraguan government signed a five-year agreement with the Icelandic government for the latter’s technicians to train Nicaraguan counterparts in identifying and exploiting of volcano-generated geothermic energy. Iceland, which ranks second highest on the Human Development Index, has 200 volcanoes, of which 30 are active and producing energy. Nicaragua, also a volcanic country, only generates 35 megawatts of geothermal energy (10% of the country’s total energy consumption), but it is calculated that it could generate over 1,000 megawatts by exploiting its volcanoes.

Two political cartoons by Pedro Molina, who appears on the Op-ed page of El Nuevo Diario and is the creator of the paper’s Sunday political humor supplement “El Alacrán” (the scorpion), were selected to appear among the best 390 cartoons of 2005 in an anthology published by Charles Brooks in the United States. In one of his drawings, Molina compares the religious fundamentalism of Osama Bin Laden with that of US preacher Pat Robertson. In the other he depicts the literally snail-like speed of President Bush’s responses in the search for Bin Laden, in Iraq and in the reconstruction of both Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina-battered New Orleans.

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