Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 332 | Marzo 2009




Envío team

The director of the government’s Zero Hunger program, Gustavo Moreno, resigned his post on February 10, after constant harassment and charges by the Councils of Citizens’ Power that he was involved in influence peddling and favoring suppliers and intermediaries providing allegedly sub-quality cattle to poor rural women. Moreno said he was open to any investigation and any sanction that would come out of it. In the midst of this crisis in the government’s insignia social program, it was learned that between April 2007, when the program got underway, and January 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture spent nearly US$38 million on the program’s components, including cattle, pigs, chickens and seeds, without submitting the purchases to public bids as required by law. Direct contracting and purchasing of public goods and services without bids is becoming state policy in the Ortega government, with the justification that these are works of “social benefit” that require “fast tracking.” In 2008, the government asked the Comptroller General’s office to waive the bidding process on 249 occasions and the state watchdog institution agreed on 244, for amounts totaling roughly US$138 million. President Ortega has also sent a bill to the National Assembly to legalize his government’s evasion of the public tender procedures.

After the new school year got underway in February, the Education and Human Development Forum calculated that 200,000 children and adolescents did not sign up for school despite government efforts to ensure “free education,” which so far only translates into the elimination of school fees. This number is on top of an additional 500,000 that have not been entering the school system from years back. According to Jorge Mendoza, the Forum’s liaison, education needs to be “truly free, and that includes the school snack, bookpack, uniforms and textbooks. And it fundamentally has to do with the autonomy of families that can’t send their children to school in this crisis.” It has been demonstrated that the greatest expenditure for low-income households to educate their children isn’t the fees, but the cost of transport, uniforms, books and other school supplies. The Nicaraguan Youth Movement has proposed that the government extend the fuel subsidy for interurban transport and taxis to cover half the transport cost for public school students. The Education Ministry hasn’t given official figures on school enrollment for this year, but last year 1,640,000 students enrolled in primary and secondary (1,300,0000 in public schools and the rest in private schools).

After 40 years of talking about the need to save Lake Xolotlán, also known as Lake Managua, and 13 years of investments and efforts to actually do so, Managua’s waste water treatment plant was finally inaugurated in February. The plant will filter the solid waste that the capital’s sewage system has been channeling directly and untreated into the lake for the past 82 years, when the government of Anastasio Somoza García effectively turned the 1,016 sq. km lake into a latrine. The treatment project cost US$86 million, $36 million of which was donated by the government of Germany, which is touting this work as its “star project in Central America.” The Inter-American Development Bank collaborated with a $30 million loan and the Nordic Development Fund with another $12 million, while the state of Nicaragua contributed $8 million. The construction was done by the English company Biwater International and English technicians will operate and administer it until 2014, while they train national technicians to operate the new technology involved. This work first began to be discussed and plans drawn up in 1996, during the Chamorro government.

The lake can be saved, but it will still have a high level of contamination for a long time, with heavy metals and other chemical substances that the plant can’t eliminate or even filter. For decades, 42 industries have dumped all manner of harmful waste into Xolotlán’s water.

The deputy environmental minister recognized that Nicaragua is one of the countries most affected by climatic change and recalled that at the December 2008 UN conference in Poznan, it was ranked third among countries affected by climate change, after North Korea and Bangladesh, due to the devastation caused in the northern Caribbean region by Hurricane Felix in September of the previous year. Felix left over a hundred people dead and felled 1.3 million hectares of forests, causing incalculable ecological damage to the flora and fauna.

On February 12 the National Assembly approved a sign language law that obliges public institutions, informative spaces on TV channels and official events to provide sign language interpretations for deaf people. The law creates a national council, made up of various institutions, to promote, research and disseminate Nicaragua’s sign language. The legislators also approved a fund of approximately $7,500 a month during 2009 to train interpreters.

On February 26, President Ortega and his economic team met with the Association of Micro-Finance Institutions of Nicaragua (ASOMIF). Ortega distanced himself from the “no payment” movement, made up of some 6,000 clients in arrears whose demonstrations he egged on last year. The protestors, who occasionally turned violent and even destroyed the branch offices of a couple of micro-lending agencies, were demanding exoneration from their overdue debts. During the gathering, ASOMIF’s president, Julio Flores, reminded the government of the important social role played by the micro-financing institutions, which together have 300 branches around the country and provide some 350,000 clients with a total of $500 million annually in small credits. Despite this apparent “truce,” President Ortega again referred to the micro-financing institutions as “usurers and criminals” on a visit to Matagalpa only nine days later.

Competing against 17 other organizations from different counties, the Nicaraguan Communal Movement won the United Nations 2009 Population Prize for the constant organized work of its 15,000 health volunteers to eradicate epidemics, promote sexual and reproductive rights and struggle against violence in homes. The Communal Movement grew out of the Sandinista Defense Committees created with the revolution, and has gradually established autonomy from the FSLN. Perhaps for this reason it has not been taken into account by the Councils of Citizens’ Power created in Ortega’s presidential offices.

To improve relations with the Catholic Church hierarchy, which has strongly criticized November’s electoral fraud, the government’s Education Ministry signed agreements on February 23 to maintain the state subsidy for 566 schools of the Episcopal Conference, which generate work for 2,291 teachers. At the official signing, Deputy Education Minister Milena Núñez expressed “our government’s willingness and orientation to maintain close relations with the Episcopal Conference and to recognize its pastoral and educational work.”

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