Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 378 | Enero 2013




Envío team

The 17 men and 1 woman disguised as journalists for Mexico’s Televisa media network who were captured in August 2012 transporting US$9.5 million hidden in six state-of-the-art broadcasting vans with the network’s logo were sentenced on January 18 to 30 years in prison, Nicaragua’s maximum penalty. The cash seized by the police, on which traces of cocaine were found, was the only evidence considered, and the sentence was therefore for money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime. It is known from migratory records that this same group had traveled through Nicaragua in these same vehicles some 45 times in the previous two years, but no one was tried for the complicity that has to have existed in Nicaragua among officials of various institutions to ensure that they weren’t picked up earlier. Nor did the trial look into why they finally were stopped. Although Televisa has denied any link to the group, declaring itself unaware of the events, the evidence indicates the contrary. A National Police specialist trained in the United States revealed that 106 calls were made to Televisa’s news vice president from the phones of Raquel Alatorre, who headed the group, and José Luis Tórrez, her second in command, in a single month. The possibility that the convicted group will be extradited to Mexico is not being discarded.

The latest national poll by M&R Consultores, conducted between December 17 and 28 last year, shows 52.1% of those surveyed identifying themselves as Catholic and 30% as Evangelicals. The corresponding figures in 1991, just over two decades ago, were 90% Catholics and 4% Evangelicals. According to Benjamín Cortés, rector of the Evangelical University of Nicaragua, the greatest growth has been in the Pentecostal Community, grouped within the Assemblies of God. Reverend Saturnino Cerrato, national superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Nicaragua, has stated that they have 400,000 faithful. They are followed in number by the Baptist churches, which have been in Nicaragua over 100 years, and then by the Moravians, which have been in the Caribbean Coast region for over a century and a half.

According to Nicaragua’s Center for Export Procedures, gold will be the country’s leading export product this year, edging out beef (first place in 2011) and coffee (first place last year). The gold boom is due to increased investment across the country by transnational mining companies and the subsequent increase in the volume of extraction, in turn spurred by the quintupling of international gold prices in the past decade.

A year-long study conducted in 2012 by the Humboldt Center, the River Foundation and the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua’s Aquatic Resources Research Center, monitored the environmental damage caused by the construction of a 160-kilometer highway given the green light by the Costa Rican government along the very edge of the San Juan River, which serves as the border between the two countries along part of its length. The study estimates that more than 13,000 species of flora and fauna inhabiting that valuable ecosystem have been affected. At least 100 kilometers of the highway, says the study, were built “in one of the most fragile and ecologically sensitive zones and in one of the main nodes of biological connectivity of the Meso-American corridor.” It concludes that this “will have unpredictable consequences on the ecological stability of the region over the medium run.” The construction of this highway, disparagingly known even in Costa Rica as the “dirt road” (see envío November 2012), was interrupted when corruption and the lack of environmental feasibility studies preceding it were discovered. In January of this year Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla announced the resumption of the construction, whose final cost will exceed US$130 million. Ten protected areas, five in each country, have already suffered damage, thus violating six international agreements. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo rejected the Nicaraguan study as “groundless.”

In a December 30 interview published in the daily newspaper La Prensa, journalist Fabián Medina asked Silvio Báez, auxiliary bishop of Managua and secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, about priests considered “oficialista,” i.e. pro-government or even in the government’s pay. Monsignor Báez responded: “The phenomenon is real. In recent years the position of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua has been very coherent and very clear. We have clearly denounced a social and political situation that is not good for either the present or the future of the nation. We are aware that for diverse motives and to differing degrees, priests in some dioceses are not following the orientations or the type of vision the Episcopal Conference has. It’s a phenomenon we bishops reflect on when we meet, and is a problem that concerns us. We have spoken directly with some and also reprimanded some. As an older brother, as a pastor, I personally have reprimanded some of the most famous ones who appear on television and the like. They have promised me they will change, will lower the intensity; they have promised me to be more loyal to the Church, but in one or two weeks they are at it again… Interests of all kinds are at play there. It is a dark world that concerns us bishops. But it only worries us to a certain point, because the number of priests acting that way is minimal.”

He added that “I’ve had information from some priests, and can denounce the fact, that the government has offered them money to use without reporting it. That is one of the explanations. In some cases, I’ve told some parish priests not to ask help of the government. Better not to have a bell tower or not to have the hall fixed up than to mortgage one’s freedom of conscience and the value of speaking in the name of the gospel. That is worth more than anything. There are very faithful priests who call you to tell you, ‘Look they’re offering so much to the parish.’ ‘No, don’t accept it. Stay free, keep your freedom to speak in the name of Jesus Christ.’ In one case, in one diocese, the bishop prohibited the priests from receiving any kind of government perks or help. One of them went so far as to admit: ‘But they’ve already given me stuff.’ ‘Go return it.’ And he went and gave it back. There’s a certain level of concern on our part, accompanied by a certain level of understanding as well. We want to think that the priests have good intentions, although we don’t deny that there could be dark interests behind it… Probably the fact that Cardinal Obando is at the government’s side has stimulated these priests to distance themselves from the positions of the Episcopal Conference and made it seem less scandalous, because the cardinal is also supporting the government’s policies without making any kind of criticism.”

A 2012 study by the Manpower company reports that Nicaragua has 553,000 “ni-ni” (neither-nor) young people, which refers to the fact they are neither studying nor working. They are under 25 years old and are finding it difficult to incorporate themselves into the labor market for different reasons, including the country’s scant generation of jobs to absorb them and the lack of technical careers available in the educational system.

According to a study by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, 72% of Nicaraguan government institution websites offer no information, outdated information or information that’s not pertinent. Only 5% of the state institutions with web pages meet the minimum requisites of providing the citizenry up-to-date information. They are the Central Bank, the Nicaraguan Energy Institute and the Nicaraguan Electricity Transmission Company. The only one that offers no information at all is the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS). Those with skimpy or outdated information include the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. And, lastly, some 23% of the institutions more or less fulfill their function of informing the public, among them the Ministry of Development, Industry and Commerce; the Ministry of Labor; the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Foreign Relations Ministry.

Nicaragua’s 2006-2007 Health and Demographic Survey (ENDESA 2006-2007) shows that 119 per 1,000 teenagers aged 15 to 19 are already mothers. Five years ago the number was even greater: 139 per 1,000. But according to a joint Health Ministry/Pan American Health Organization publication, the number of child mothers between 10 and 14 years old increased from 1,066 to 1,577 between 2000 and 2009. The number of pregnant girls and adolescents is higher in rural areas than urban ones.

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