Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 477 | Abril 2021



Nicaragua briefs


“The health crisis the coronavirus pandemic caused in Costa Rica should have led the Nicaraguan government to declare a national alert,” commented epidemiologist Leonel Argüello on April 30. Two weeks after Holy Week, the mass gatherings promoted by the Ortega government to project an image of “normalcy” sparked a new, rapidly growing surge of infections in Nicaragua. The regime continues to withhold accurate, credible information from the population and the independent medical community, keeping everyone in the dark.


A study conducted by The Financial Times, a British daily, on “excess deaths”—the term used for an increase in deaths over the normal average—caused by the pandemic lists Nicaragua as third among countries experiencing the phenomenon around the world. It follows Peru (first) and Ecuador (second). Updated data from both Peru and Ecuador are used for the study, including figures from December 2020 to April 2021, while those from Nicaragua only cover up to August 2020. This could mean that Nicaragua might hold first place. Dr. Carlos Hernández, a Nicaraguan public health specialist, has focused on studying this problem in his country. In the absence of credible official data, covered up by the government, Hernández believes 9,000 people died from the pandemic in 2020 in Nicaragua. According to his research, which compared death certificates from 2005 to 2019 with those for a comparable period last year, the average number of deaths in the country in the earlier years ranged from 25.5 to 29.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, while the rate skyrocketed to 44.5 deaths per 100,000 during the pandemic year.


Three thousand people in Nicaragua were vaccinated in March, using the 6,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine developed, produced and donated by Russia. Publicly, they first targeted people with chronic kidney failure, then on April 6 included those with heart disease, cancer patients not currently undergoing chemotherapy, and other chronic diseases, independent of their age. It is assumed that government officials were also immunized. In early April vaccinations were also extended to all those over 60, using the 335,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Covishield vaccine from India, received as a donation under the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative to help poor countries. On April 27, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration announced that the Nicaraguan government would take out a US$ 100 million loan to buy nearly 7 million vaccine doses. No information has been made public about the percentage of people who have opted not to get vaccinated.

Secretary of the Presidency Paul Oquist, a US citizen nationalized as a Nicaraguan in the 1980s when he served as a senior official in the revolutionary government, died in Managua’s Military Hospital on April 13. During Ortega’s second term in office (2007-2011), Oquist designed and developed the government’s national human development plans and peddled them around the world. Though they were never followed through to completion, the plans were written in the language of the international cooperation agencies and fit their requirements to a T. Thanks to Oquist, they were well funded. The author of countless government documents—one of the most recent of which explained Nicaragua’s “unique” strategy for dealing with the pandemic, emulating the “Swedish model”—reached embassies around the world. Oquist traveled extensively and frequently gave interviews to the international press using rhetoric that was convincing and even attractive to those who know little of Nicaragua’s reality. It was for precisely this role that he was sanctioned in October 2020 by the US Treasury Department, whose statement reads: “[he] plays a lead role in spreading disinformation to cover up the regime’s crimes and misdeeds of horrific human rights abuses.” He was indispensable to the regime for these reasons and is now irreplaceable. His wife died the following day, both rumored to have succumbed to COVID although that has not been officially confirmed.


One of the tasks of the recently deceased Ortega government high official Paul Oquist was to appear in international media defending the short-lived interoceanic canal project on Nicaragua’s behalf. Chinese businessman Wang Jing, owner of the canal concession, resurfaced on the occasion of Oquist’s death via a letter addressed to the government lamenting his passing. “To me,” wrote Wang, “he was the bravest North American and a very proud Nicaraguan. While he perfectly performed the role of Nicaragua’s spokesperson on the international stage, he was a respected economist within Nicaragua whose wisdom has greatly helped the country. He spent his whole life serving the Nicaraguan people. I especially appreciate his virtues as an excellent person, and I thank him for his extraordinary contribution to the Great Canal project on behalf of Nicaragua. History will always hold an entire page for him and will remember him as one of the great and eternal heroes of the Great Canal of Nicaragua.”


On April 29 Radio Corporación read on all its news broadcasts and published in La Prensa a paid advertisement reminding all politicians and citizens aspiring to hold public office that “it is not a job at a company, it is a SERVICE TO THE COUNTRY…, where the salary must be modest, and the work done with integrity. Currently this practice is costing our poor country millions of dollars: lifetime pensions, 92 representatives with salaries of US$ 3,500 [a month], monthly allotments of 200 gallons of gas, 200,000 córdobas [approximately US$5,700] per year for campaigning, tax-free importation of vehicles every two years, two life insurance policies, national and international, office expenses…. How many of those aspiring to public office would be willing to give up all these unearned and inhuman perks? If they did give them up, they would show the people that they are willing to SERVE THE COUNTRY AND NO LONGER TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT. The people would come together and vote with confidence for the only candidate they have chosen. Then we would be a people united in love for a new Nicaragua.”


In her address to the closing ceremony of the midyear meeting of the Inter-American Press Association held in April, the recently elected president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Antonia Urrejola said that “From the very beginning of the crisis in Nicaragua we saw the deployment of state authority to prevent independent journalists from doing their job of reporting the facts of the protest that was taking place in the country. Continuing to exercise independent journalism in Nicaragua is an act of bravery and heroism because the violence deployed by the Government against the press is physical, legal and symbolic.” Urrejola was previously the IACHR rapporteur for Nicaragua and in 2018 visited the country during that year’s most intense moments of government repression.


The United Kingdom sanctioned the governing party’s treasurer Francisco López on April 26 for having been involved in acts of corruption as vice president of the state-owned Alba de Nicaragua (Albanisa) consortium, itself sanctioned by the United States in January 2019 and today in decline. “During his leadership, public funds were diverted to fake companies or inflated projects, depriving the Nicaraguan State and its citizens of vital resources for development,” reads the sanction. López had already been sanctioned by the United States in July 2018 and by Canada in June 2019. So far, the UK has sanctioned seven high-ranking Ortega officials, including López. The sanctions embargo any property in the UK of those named and forbid the individual’s entry into the territory, composed of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


Riverside Coffee, a US company, filed a claim against the Nicaraguan State in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes for the destruction by armed parapolice in 2018 of an avocado farm owned by the company. According to the Nicaraguan news outlet Trinchera de la noticia, the suit is for US$590 million. It was common practice by the regime in 2018 to order parapolice to seize land. On some properties they destroyed crops; others remain occupied to this day.


Tomza, a 70-year-old liquified gas bottling company that has been present in Central America since 2000, was confiscated in Nicaragua by the government on March 15. Tomza came to the country in 2015, and having met all requirements, began construction of a liquified gas distribution plant on the new road to Tipitapa. In June 2016, with the plant halfway completed, the government revoked the permit previously granted by the Environmental Ministry, and authorities ordered the 85 employees working there to leave the site. From then on entrance was denied to what had been built of the plant. Though abandoned, it was guarded by police until this March, when the government ordered the entrance gate painted green—the color associated with the state-owned oil company Petronic. Tomza had invested US$4 million since 2015 and once operational, the plant would have guaranteed 235 direct jobs. The company will sue the Nicaraguan State both nationally and internationally for what it considers a confiscation. Company management has had no access to the case file because the government considers these files classified in expropriation cases.


On April 23 Brooklyn Rivera, National Assembly representative for Yatama, the indigenous Caribbean regional party, submitted to the Assembly’s legislative commission the 19-point proposal on Electoral Law reforms of the National Coalition, of which Yatama is a member. The document’s proposals and objections are similar to those presented in the joint statement of the entire opposition. Yatama, however, took the opportunity to add its own demand for compliance with the June 23, 2005, ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Yatama v. the State of Nicaragua, which mandates the State to recognize the political rights of the indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples of the Caribbean Coast.


At a press conference on April 15, whose location was surrounded by police, presidential pre-candidate Cristiana Chamorro spoke out against Ortega’s electoral reforms. “With his reform of the Electoral Law, Ortega is virtually canceling the elections. He is now preventing any change from coming through elections. Instead of improving, conditions will worsen with this law. He is reaffirming a state of police repression against our right to legitimate, credible elections. This law suspends international observation; he intends to block candidates, control votes and once again impose himself against popular will.”


Two weeks after her press conference, Cristiana Chamorro released a statement on April 29 in which she pushes hard for the unity demanded by the blue and white population that has not materialized. “The only way to defeat the Ortega dictatorship in November’s elections and restart the road to peace, social and economic development, and democracy,” she wrote, “is to go forth united as Nicaraguans in a single opposition force…. In mid-February, together with other pre-candidates I signed the ‘United Nicaragua First’ document, which contains a blunt message in which we urge all organized opposition forces to engage in dialogue to build the unity alliance for democratizing Nicaragua. To date, this dialogue has not taken place…. Forcing pre-candidates to register using a ballot slot with its own partisan rules, without agreeing on them with the other segment of the opposition, runs counter to the people’s supreme objective: national unity. Therefore, if the now divided forces manage to agree on a single slot, I am ready to compete with all the pre-candidates within a united opposition, which would additionally have sufficient strength to demand a fair and transparent electoral reform, one that truly guarantees respect for Nicaraguans’ votes to escape this dictatorship… A united Nicaragua will become a republic again.”

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