Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 398 | Septiembre 2014




Envío team

At roughly 11:30 the night of September 6, a huge explosion in a wooded area perilously near Managua’s international airport and an adjacent Air Force base shook the capital, remarkably resulting in no damage, no casualties and no burning of surrounding vegetation. Fourteen hours later, once rumors and speculations of all kinds were flying, government officials, including geophysicist Wilfried Strauch of Nicaragua’s Institute of Territorial Studies, announced that the area must have been hit by a meteorite that broke off from an asteroid named 2014 RC, which had passed over the Earth at roughly the same time. NASA asteroid expert Don Yeomans was among outside experts who soon voiced skepticism that the crater, which measures 39 feet in diameter and 18 feet deep, was caused by the impact of a meteorite. “This event was separated by 13 hours from the close Earth approach of 2014 RC, so the explosion and the asteroid are unrelated,” he said. NASA’s own update seconded that view: “As yet, no eyewitness accounts or imagery have come to light of the fireball flash or debris trail typically associated with a meteor of the size required to produce such a crater.” With that, Nicaraguan officials asked scientists from several countries, as well as the US Geological Survey, for help in sorting out the mystery, but no investigative assistance had been confirmed by the time this issue went to press. Government scientists, however, did eventually show rocks they say are probably from the meteorite and announced they will send them abroad to be analyzed.

The First International Mining Congress was held in Managua on August 12-14, attended by 300 investors from 22 countries. Nicaragua is now the most attractive country for mining after Chile, which the mining companies recognize is largely explained by their “harmonious” relations with the government. Mining production (fundamentally gold and silver) has increased 300% during the first seven years of the Ortega-Murillo administration. Denis Lanzas, vice president of the Mining Chamber of Nicaragua, called Nicaragua the “guiding light of the nations,” adding that “everyone wonders how we’ve done it.”

For 200 residents of Rancho Grande the situation was not the least bit harmonious on August 13, when a military operation involving both anti-riot police and armed civilians prevented them from leaving for Managua in four trucks and three pick-ups to demonstrate peacefully in front of the Mining Congress. They wanted to show their opposition to the start-up of an open-pit gold mine in Cerro Pavón, Rancho Grande, operated by the Canadian mining company B2Gold because of the environmental disaster it will cause to an area still rich with forests and water sources. Two days later some 2,000 residents opposed to the mine and 400 residents taken by B2Gold to defend the project engaged in a rock fight in Rancho Grande. Matagalpa’s bishop, Rolando Álvarez, and his clergy have been firmly opposing the project for more than a year.

On August 28, an avalanche of mud and rock trapped 29 small-scale miners (called güiriseros in Nicaragua) in a shaft of the Comal gold mine in Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean mining town of Bonanza. Two escaped that same day and 20 more were rescued by a search team after being trapped for over 30 hours. The possibility of new landslides made it impossible to recover the bodies of the others, who had been crushed by the landslide. That mine, currently held by Hemco mining company, has been functioning for 80 years, but is no longer safe. The güiriseros make their living looking for discarded ore and selling it to Hemco, recently acquired by Colombia’s Mineros S.A. Hemco then extracts the small amounts of gold, an operation that only became profitable with the recent boom in gold prices. According to the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, “this is the greatest mining tragedy of the past decade and reveals the precarious and unsafe working conditions of small-scale miners who, according to sources from the sector, only earn some 150 to 160 córdobas [roughly US$6] a day despite the excessive dangers involved.” One of the rescued miners said “they told us digging here was risky, but sometimes one’s willing to risk it for a few more cents.”

President Ortega held a work session on August 22 with representatives of the two Brazilian companies that five years ago signed on to build the Tumarín hydroelectric generation plant. Eight starting dates have since come and gone, but Ortega has now said the construction will start for sure in 2015 and conclude in 2019, and that the same companies will also build another hydroelectric dam on the Río Tuma, this one to be called Boboke. The two projects will reportedly generate 21% of the country’s energy demand. Ortega reported that the combined investment in the two projects is US$1.345 billion and will generate 7,500 job posts. Government communications secretary Rosario Murillo celebrated the signing of the agreement with these words: “God’s blessing will continue streaming down on this people and will continue producing miracles. And one miracle has been the signing of the agreement to start construction of the Tumarín project. This is the good news God brings us; these are the miracles that are produced and that we produce in unity, tranquility, liberty, dignity and fraternity in our Nicaragua that, thanks be to God, is moving forward.” There are rumors that ALBANISA, which is linked to the governing party, will also participate in this megaproject/megabusiness.

According to Telémaco Talavera, a government spokesperson for the interoceanic canal project, it will start with the construction of a deep-water port in Brito, in the Pacific Coast municipality of Tola, department of Rivas, where the Chinese HKND Group also plans to build a free trade zone and “citadel” for 140,000 people. Brito is currently a fishing community of 28 houses close to 128 biodiversity-rich hectares of mangrove trees.

In early August, HKND’s director, Wang Jing, told the Chinese newspaper Global Times that three powerful state companies from the People’s Republic of China “have joined the effort” to build the canal: China Gezhouba Group Corporation (a company specializing in building water infrastructure), Xugong Group Construction Machinery and China Railway Construction. Observers believe this indicates that the government of China is behind the project, although that link has never been openly affirmed. In the newspaper interview, Wang said his company will be spending between US$7 million and US$20 million a month on the megaproject, which he reiterated will be “the greatest infrastructure constructed in the history of humanity.”

The country’s women’s organizations unanimously rejected the presidential decree published in the official government journal La Gaceta Diario Oficial on July 31. The decree supposedly only regulated the Comprehensive Law against Violence toward Women (Law 779) but it in fact made substantial changes. The following excerpts are from a paid ad published by the Autonomous Women’s Movement on August 14: “Ortega turned himself into the National Assembly, changed the object of the law, reformed the crime of femicide, reduced the sphere of application and gave functions to structures that do not legally exist… putting women’s lives and integrity at greater risk…. The regulations of Law 779 thus become part of the social control scheme being designed from power…. The ‘Family Counselling Service’ structures created in the regulations will invade women’s privacy and decide over and above their words, voice and rights, reducing them to the category of ‘protected’ individuals, without the capacity for their own agency and representation. Through these regulations we are returning to the Napoleonic Code, which consecrated women’s civil and political death by declaring them legally incapacitated and subjecting them to the authority of their father, brother or husband, or in this case that of party-state structures. Ortega’s Bonapartism is attempting to trap women between the rock of an authoritarian pathological family and the hard place of a party-run community.”

The Santa Fe Bridge over the Río San Juan between Nicaragua and Costa Rica was inaugurated on August 30. The bridge, whose construction got underway in 2010, is 362 meters long, 11 meters wide and 40 meters high. It crosses between the Nicaraguan town of Las Tablillas, a small community near the westernmost end of the river, and Los Chiles on the Costa Rican side. The US$30 million cost was donated by the government of Japan. The bridge will absorb 25% of the migratory flow and cargo transport that previously moved through the border post of Peñas Blancas in the Pacific Coast area, thus cutting distances, time and costs for people and commerce. Japanese cooperation has donated and built more than 24 smaller bridges in Nicaragua since the nineties. The Santa Fe Bridge, the largest in the country, has an estimated useful life of 100 years.

First Lady Rosario Murillo announced on August 6 that, “complying with President Ortega’s guidelines” to have an “illuminated and beautiful” capital, the government will install 50 more mustard yellow steel “trees of life” by December. Forty-four already line the avenue in Managua’s historical center or have been “planted” in the middle of its dozen or so traffic circles. The new trees will line both the North Highway from the airport to the Subasta traffic signal and the Masaya Highway from the Jean Paul Genie traffic circle to the Metrocentro traffic circle in the center of the capital.

These identical 21-meter-high, 7-ton trees are a poor imitation of Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt’s airy painting. The double sided silhouettes are punctured with 15,000 small yellow 2.5-volt krypton light bulbs. Electrical engineer Fernando Bárcenas has calculated that the electricity needed to light up these 94 trees four hours a night will equal that of 12,000 homes consuming 150 kWh a month. But no matter; the Ortega-Murillo government owns 16% of the stock in Nicaragua’s Disnorte-Dissur electricity distribution company, and the Managua mayor’s office will get the bill. El Goliat, the presidential family’s security guard business, has assigned one employee to guard every four trees.

This tree of life design is also becoming ever more ubiquitous as a logo of the government, now appearing on the official stationery, decals and t-shirts of its institutions, as well as on the billboards fomenting the cult to the personality of President Ortega, increasingly with Murillo at his side, as in real life.

On August 4 the Catholic News Service reported that Pope Francis had revoked the suspension ‘a divinis’ Pope John Paul II ordered in 1984 against Maryknoll priest Miguel D’Escoto for working as the revolutionary government’s foreign relations minister in the eighties. According to the Vatican, 81-year-old D’Escoto had written a letter to the pope, via intermediation by the papal nuncio in Nicaragua, expressing his desire to celebrate Mass again “before dying.” The Vatican communiqué said D’Escoto had complied with his sentence without conducting any priestly activity and “had set aside his political commitment.” That’s not actually true because even following the revolution D’Escoto held political posts linked to the FSLN and is currently Ortega’s adviser for border issues and foreign relations with the rank of minister of State. Interviewed on the governing party’s Channel 4 days after his rehabilitation, D’Escoto said that “the Vatican can silence everyone. Then God will make stones speak…. But he didn’t do that; instead he chose the greatest Latin American of all times, Fidel Castro, and it was through Fidel Castro that the Holy Spirit transmitted Jesus’ message to us of the need to struggle to establish the kingdom of God on Earth, which is his alternative to the empire.”

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