News Summary for February

News from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela from emails received by IFCLA

Blog from CISPES (El Salvador); Nica Network News;

January 26th – Feb 20th

1/27/12- (Honduras) –NY Times Op-ed summarizing U.S. involvement or lack there of in the coup situation as the crisis worsens.  Full Article. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/opinion/in-honduras-a-mess-helped-by-the-us.html

1/30/12- (Honduras)- Gilda Carilina Silestrucchi, a Honduran reporters is receiving multiple death threats, for her stance on a new mining law that harms residents.

1/31/12- (Honduras)- Another article from the Miami Herald.  Graft, greed, mayhem turn Honduras into Murder capitol of the world.  Summarizes corruption at the highest levels. http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/30/v-fullstory/2601736/murder-capital-of-the-world.html#storylink=cpy

2/1/12 (Mexico)- Displaced families occupy SCLC Plaza in Mexico and Civilian Zapatista member, Francisco Santiz Lopez, is being detained for a crime at which he was not present http://compamanuel.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/january-2012-zapatista-news-summary/

2/1/12 (Peru y Venezuela)-   President Hugo Chavez, and Ollanta Humla’s state visit left the two countries in new agreements for trade, energy, education, social programs, and the economy: http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/6353

2/3/12 (Bolivia)- A commission from the Bolivian Legislative Assembly will draw up a bill to solve the conflict between two indigenous groups due to a road in the Indigenous Territory and Isidoro-Secure National Park (TIPNIS)

2/3/12 (Guatemala)- On January 24,GHRC Voiceless Speak grant recipient and New Bedford community member Adrian Ventura was attacked at gunpoint by two men wearing ski masks as he walked down the street in the middle of the day. The men hit him on the head as they yelled “Kill him.” Adrian, a K’iché Mayan from Guatemala and survivor of political persecution during the country’s long and violent internal conflict, was granted asylum in the U.S. Since then, he has worked with immigrant workers in the New Bedford area, first with Organización Maya K’iche, and then as a founding member of the CCT defending immigrant rights as well as holding companies accountable to pay minimum wage, overtime and enforce a policy of non-discrimination. He has recovered physically from the attack and continues his work for the immigrant community.

2/3/12- (Colombia)AFL-CIO urges Obama to postpone Colombia Free Trade Agreement after union leader murders.  The letter states that through January, one union member was killed by Colombian troops, a second was shot to death along with his wife, a third worker was “brutally murdered” and a fourth union member employed by the National Industry of Sodas (Coca-Cola) was “murdered by gunfire.”  Over 2,900 union members have been murdered in Colombia over the last 25 years, a number that makes the South American nation the most dangerous in the world for union members.

2/4/12- (Argentina) Article discusses the past and continuing role about Elliot Abrams in Latin America, specifically his knowledge of the Juntas’s involvement in stealing babies during the Dirty War.  http://upsidedownworld.org/main/international-archives-60/3440-elliot-abrams-dark-history-in-latin-america-and-the-struggle-for-justice.

2/4/12 (Colombia) Human Rights Watch Just released a report on Colombia. HRW explains in detail that the human rights violations the U.S. is aiding and abetting in Colombia are indeed the worst imaginable. As HRW explains, in Colombiaparamilitary successor groups continue to grow, maintain extensive ties with public security force members and local officials, and commit widespread atrocities. There has also been ongoing violence against rights defenders, community leaders, and trade unionists. www.Hrw.org

2/5/12- (El Salvador) El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes has effectively removed all high-ranking members of his public security cabinet who are linked to the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Their replacements, including several high-ranking military officers, indicate a disturbing trend toward the militarization of El Salvador’s public security force, which has remained a civilian agency since the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords twenty years ago. Many of the officers assuming leadership of these “civilian” security posts were trained by the US at the infamous combat training facility for Latin American military, the School of the Americas  (SOA), in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

2/5/12 (Panama) One indigenous Ngóbe-Buglé was killed this morning, and 4 more people have been seriously wounded after the government sent in the police to clear the interAmerican highway. Many indigenous Gnöbe-Buglé remain detained.  Bishop Lacunza himself waited all day yesterday in a place agreed with the Minister of Education, for a governmental mission that never arrived: http://voxxi.com/2012/02/05/panama-police-indigenous-clash-over-blockade-americas/

2/6/12 (Nicaragua) In a fit of petulant anger, the US government lashed out on January 25 against the outcome of Nicaragua’s recent presidential election.  Here is an interview with a Nicaraguan citizen and member of the FSLN to understand the context of U.S. threats. http://links.org.au/node/2725

2/6/12 (Panama)- Panama rejected on Friday a request from Colombia to extradite former spy chief Maria del Pilar Hurtado, who faces charges in Bogota over an illegal wiretapping scandal.http://laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=467850&CategoryId=12393

2/6/12 (Colombia)- Colombia’s central bank unexpectedly raised borrowing costs after the economy expanded at the fastest pace since 2006, defying President Juan Manuel Santos who said an increase wouldn’t be appropriate.  The seven-member board, led by bank chief Jose Dario Uribe, raised the overnight interest rate by a quarter point to 5 percent today, as forecast by only one of 31 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Inflation is expected to follow. http://www.sfgate.com/cgibin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2012/02/03/bloomberg_articlesYGZJU1A74E901-LYMPU.DTL#ixzz1mwwY4i6i

2/6/12 (Colombia)- Nukaka Maku Tribe in Colombia faces extinction. They have been driven from their lands from drug violence, lack of food resources, and health issues.  Full Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/05/colombia-nukak-maku-tribe-extinction

2/6/12 (Peru)- President Ollanta Humala is expected to meet with authorities from southern Peru’s Tacna region in an attempt to resolve concerns about the mining sector’s use of water.  Prime Minister Oscar Valdes said the meeting is expected to occur within the next 15 days and will be held at the government palace, the government said.

Read more: http://www.foxbusiness.com/news/2012/02/06/perus-humala-looks-to-resolve-mining-dispute-in-tacna/#ixzz1mwylt8ur

2/7/12 (Mexico) Anti-Feminicide Activist Attacked.  An unidentified man attacked Mexican human rights activist Norma Esther Andrade with a knife on the morning of Feb. 3 as she was leaving her current residence in the Coyoacán delegación (borough) of Mexico City. She was cut on one cheek by the attacker, who then fled without speaking. Andrade, a founder of the organization Our Daughters Return Home, has been a leader in denouncing the unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez in the northern state of Chihuahua.  http://ww4report.com/node/10621

2/7/12 (Argentina) President Cristina Fernández announced on live television that Argentina would be filing a formal complaint before the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Security Council over the alleged increasing “militarisation” of the South Atlantic region. http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/92144/argentina-to-denounce-increased-militarization-of-south-atlantic

2/7/12 (Venezuela y Colombia) Venezuela says it has arrested on murder and drug trafficking charges the last major Colombian far-right paramilitary warlord still at large.Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said Monday that the warlord known as “Martin Llanos” was captured Saturday along with his brother in the eastern town of El Tigre.Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/06/2628586/top-colombian-warlord-arrested.html#storylink=cpy#storylink=cpy

2/7/12 (Colombia)  Last Saturday, February 4, 2012, the legal representative for the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Jesus Emilio Tuberquia, was the victim of an assassination attempt. At 12:15pm near the public market, two paramilitaries on motorcycle shot at him without saying a word. Fortunately, he took off running and he was able to escape with his life. The incident happened only 100 meters from a police checkpoint, by which the attackers passed without being detained.

2/8/12 (Colombia) Victims in Colombia are becoming criminalized. Las Pavas is one of several recent examples of this phenomenon. It is not the paramilitaries who displaced the community, nor the palm-oil cultivators Daabon and Aportes San Isidro responsible for the environmental degradation and continued occupation of the land that are the subjects of judicial investigations; on the contrary, it is the dispossessed and displaced campesinos themselves who are under investigation for allegedly fabricating the story of their displacement, illegally invading and occupying land that is not theirs, while their leadership is also under investigation for allegedly being guerrilla insurgents. http://www.cpt.org/work/colombia

2/9/12 (Peru) Advocacy group Survival International reports that Peru has raided an illegal logging site in the Manú National Park, where a previously uncontacted Amazon tribe was spotted two weeks ago. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/08/mashco-piro-tribe_n_1263463.html

2/10/12 (Argentina) Article by Raúl Zibechi about resistance to mining in Argentine and land struggles on the Paraguay/Brazil border.

http://compamanuel.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/raul-zibechi-land-water-and-resistance/

2/12/12 (Honduras) Article citing police corruption in Honduras. http://www.npr.org/2012/02/11/146668852/in-honduras-police-accused-of-corruption-killings

2/12/12 (Cuba) American aid contractor Alan Gross made sure laptops, smartphones, hard drives and networking equipment were secreted into Cuba. The most sensitive item, according to official trip reports, was the last one: a specialized mobile phone chip that experts say is often used by the Pentagon and the CIA to make satellite signals virtually impossible to track. http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/ap-impact-usaid-contractor-1346980.html

2/13/12 (Honduras) Upcoming training opportunity for people qualified and interested in doing volunteer human rights accompaniment work with the Honduras Accompaniment Project / Proyecto de Acompañamiento internacional en Honduras (PROAH). The next training will be held in collaboration with the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS) in Nova Scotia, Canada, from June 24-27, 2012. Application deadline is March 31, 2012.

2/14/12 (Honduras) United Nations Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya said today that human rights defenders in Honduras continue to suffer extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, death threats, attacks, harassment and stigmatization, and called on the Honduran Government to urgently establish a protection programme.  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11827&LangID=E

2/14/12 (Guatemala) Miguel Angel González Ramírez, a member of the Izabal banana workers’ union SITRABI, was killed on 5 February. He was shot several times whilst carrying his young child in his arms…The murder took place in the midst of a battle being waged by SITRABI following the refusal of Del Monte subsidiary Bandegua to pay the minimum wage recently set by the government. http://www.business-humanrights.org/Links/Repository/1011115

2/15/12 (Colombia) Efraían Amezquita was assassinated outside a train station in the Ciudad De Cali.  Though officials say it was an attempted robbery, he was killed by a motorcyclist who did not take any possessions. He is the 5th Sinitral Union member to be killed this year. http://www.sinaltrainal.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2194&Itemid=1

2/15/12 (Honduras)  A prison fire killed hundreds at Honduras Prison.  Over 300 People were killed.  There is speculation as to whether the fire was the result of a riot the night before of an electrical circuit. Josue Garcia said the scene was “horrific” and that they couldn’t rescue inmates because they didn’t have keys to their cells and “couldn’t find the guards who had them.” http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/02/15/146914478/prison-fire-kills-more-than-200-inmates-in-honduras

2/16/12 (Honduras) More Articles on prison fire that details suspicious events during the fire, including a delayed fire response, gun shot sounds, and the lack of release of prisoners. Also, many of the deceased were unconvicted, and uncharged for their “crimes”

2/16/12 (Honduras) On Tuesday, February 14, 2012, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) circulated a House sign-on “Dear Colleague” letter (found below) addressing the ongoing human rights crisis in the Aguán region of Honduras.  It will be open for signature for two weeks – roughly until February 28. To identify your rep, type in your zip code this website (upper right corner):  http://www.house.gov/representatives  Ask to speak with the aide who handles foreign policy.  Use the script below in speaking with the aide.  If the aide does not recall seeing the letter, ask for his or her email address so that you can send a copy of the letter.

2/16/12 (Bolivia) Bolivian President Evo Morales has stated that certain non-governmental organizations are acting as a fifth column for the United States by passing on information about Latin America labor and social leaders in exchange for project funding.

Feb. 20th- Feb. 27th

2/22/12 (Mexico) Mexico’s Huichol Indians, who collect peyote from the surrounding mountains, are protesting plans to mine for silver and gold.  The tribe sees this mining project as a threat to their way of life.  Full Article: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2017537193_peyotevsmine19.html

2/22/12 (Nicaragua) President Daniel Ortega sent to the National Assembly the nomination of Alberto Guevara to be the new head of the Nicaraguan Central Bank following the resignation “for personal reasons” of Antenor Rosales. Ortega asked the Assembly to confirm the nomination “with urgency” so that the stability of the nation’s currency and the Bank’s normal operations would be preserved. The head of the Sandinista bench in the Assembly, Edwin Castro, said, “We are sure that Alberto Guevara will do an excellent job there as he has done at the head of the Treasury Ministry.” Ivan Acosta, who had been serving as vice-minister of Treasury, was named minister.

2/22/12 (Honduras) Two Articles regarding the Honduras prison fire allege that the fire was intentionally started by police.  One article cites that police poured gasoline on the inmates.  The second explains that the fire might have been set to assassinate a doctor who once ran for mayor.  The details are chilling.

http://www.hondudiario.com/content/“polic%C3%AD-rociaron-gasolina-para-provocar-incendió”-según-supuesto-reo-sobreviviente

http://www.latribuna.hn/2012/02/17/profugo-%E2%80%9Cel-objetivo-era-matar-al-doctor-y-sus-dos-acompanantes%E2%80%9D/

2/22/12 (Honduras) Rights Action / Alliance for Global Justice Honduras Delegation            The Coup vs. Democracy: Struggle of the Popular Movements.  May 19-28, 2012. This delegation will begin in San Pedro Sula, the gateway to the fertile Aguan Valley and the Caribbean Coast, and will end in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. It will focus on the threats of mining, tourist development, and African Palm monoculture export agriculture, as well as the neoliberal threats to public health and education and political repression of the nonviolent resistance to the coup. For an application, send an email to AFGJ@AFGJ.org.  Will Cost $850, does not include airfare.

2/22/12 (Colombia) From Feb. 28 through March 7th. Asoquimbo is calling for global mobilizations in defense of the territory, the community of the Magdalena river and in rejection of the crimes of state against the community affected by the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project.
New York is protesting the consulate tomorrow and Bogotá is protesting the offices of Emgesa on Saturday. Next week Miami, DC, Boston, and possibly Montreal and Buenos Aires, Argentina will be doing actions at Colombian embassies and consulates.

2/22/12 (Nicaragua) A mysterious epidemic is devastating the Pacific coast of Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease at rates unseen virtually anywhere else. Scientists say they have received reports of the phenomenon as far north as southern Mexico and as far south as Panama. Many of the victims were manual laborers or worked in sugar cane fields that cover much of the coastal lowlands. Full Article: http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Mystery-disease-kills-thousands-in-Central-America-3288301.php

2/26/12 (Colombia) FARC plans to release 10 prisoners.  The release of six were announced in December and the group now plans to release 4 more. Full Article in Spanish: http://www.telesurtv.net/articulos/farc-anuncia-que-liberara-a-todos-los-retenidos

2/26/12 (Cuba) Fidel Castro just hosted a convention in Havana meeting with press, writers, and politicians, discussing the achievements of socialism as well as expressing concerns for the environment and the future of the international market.  Full Article: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30644.htm

From CISPES:

Our new elections blog:  http://cispes.org/elections2012

8wpd0BIiJE”>FMLN Swept From Public Security Cabinet, Replaced By Military Officers Close to the US  Click here to take action against the re-militarization of El Salvador!

On Monday January 23, the Funes administration named retired general Francisco Ramón Salinas as the new director of El Salvador’s National Civil Police (PNC), replacing former Director Carlos Ascencio and thus removing the last high-ranking member of the public security cabinet linked to the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Read full article here.

Elections Bulletin #3: San Salvador Municipal Employees Attack FMLN Campaigners On Day 2 Of Campaign

On Wednesday, January 11, brigades from all parties took to the streets to post campaign materials for their parties and candidates on the first day of the official two-month campaign period for the March 11 elections. Read full article here.

Working Class Sees First Progressive Tax Reform In Decades

After twenty years of protesting tax reforms that only shifted the tax burden onto the poor and working class and off the wealthy and business elite, the demands of popular movement organizations were finally met… Read full article here.

TPS Renewed, El Salvador’s Minister Of Affairs Visits Department Of Homeland Security 

On January 9th the United States renewed the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for El Salvador.  TPS is a program which allows the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to grant temporary legal status to immigrants…  Read full article here.

Elections Bulletin #2: Two Months Before Election, Reforms Continue, San Salvador Race Heats Up
With little over two months remaining until the March 2012 legislative and municipal elections in El Salvador, the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) remains in the lead. Read the full article here.

Ambassador Aponte’s Confirmation Blocked By Senate Republicans

On December 12, a group of Republican Senators in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee effectively filibustered to block the confirmation of Mari Carmen Aponte to continue in her current role as US Ambassador to El Salvador… Read full article here.

FEATURED ARTICLE: ‘Removing The Veil’: El Salvador Apologizes For State Violence On 20th Anniversary Of Peace Accords

by CISPES members, Leah Wilson & Alexis Stoumbelis. Re-posted from NACLA.

February 7, 2012
This weekly news bulletin is the successor to the Nicaragua News Service and Nicaragua Network Hotline. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit the Nicaragua Network.
1. Contradictory signals from US policy makers
2. Ortega attends ALBA Summit
3. Political briefs
4. Tax exoneration for rice and milk
5. Talks begin on minimum wage increases
6. Combating illegal logging
7. MIFAMILIA to assist 19,000 child laborers
8. A million school meals a day
9. Urban permaculture for food sovereignty

1. Contradictory signals from US policy makers

There were contradictory signals last week from US policy makers on the issue of Nicaragua. Kirk Dahlgren, interim director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Nicaragua, speaking after a ceremony extending US assistance to Nicaraguan agricultural cooperatives, “We have a project here that is going to continue for the next two years.” In answer to a question about whether other projects would receive funding, he answered, “Yes, at this moment we are going to continue with our projects and we are in a process of reviewing our policies in order to do an evaluation with the government, our relations, and we will see. But at this moment we are going to continue our relationship of cooperation.” There was concern in Nicaragua about US aid because, on Jan. 25, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said that the Nov. 6 Nicaraguan elections were “marred by significant irregularities” and asserted that the US would “apply aggressive scrutiny to project loans” at the international financial institutions.

Meanwhile, James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence, speaking on Jan. 31 before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, placed President Daniel Ortega in a group of “populist, authoritarian leaders,” including the presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, who “are undercutting representative democracy and consolidating power in their executives.” He said that the US continued to be concerned about and to follow closely the connections between those governments and that of Iran. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad recently visited several countries in Latin America, including Nicaragua, but Clapper called the visit “unsuccessful.” Clapper asserted that “some Iranian officials… are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States.”

In response to Clapper’s testimony, House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) held a hearing on Feb. 2 to analyze the impact of Ahmadinejad’s visit. Ros-Lehtinen said at the hearing that the alliances between Iran and Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador could “pose an immediate threat by giving Iran—directly through the [Revolutionary Guard] or its proxies like Hezbollah—a platform in the region to carry out attacks against the United States, our interests, and allies.” Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, who testified at the hearing, however, said that while Congress should watch Iran’s actions in Latin America it would be an error to base our Latin America policies on “speculation and conjecture.”

The Informe Pastran makes the following summary: “Now Republicans and Democrats are coinciding on the subject of Nicaragua and keeping enormous pressure on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her in turn to pressure the Nicaraguan government about the necessity to make efforts toward a profound reform of the Electoral Law and toward changing all the magistrates on the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). But in Washington they don’t really believe that this is going to happen and they are saying unofficially that the waivers [on transparency in March and progress on property settlements in July] may not be extended this year.”

Meanwhile, a military group from the US Southern Command is building a maternity clinic in Jinotega with a total cost of US$381,000. The US Embassy statement said, “By means of this new donation, the government of the United States shows one more time its commitment to the people of Nicaragua.” (Informe Pastran, Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 2)

2. Ortega attends ALBA Summit

The presidents of the members of the Bolivarian Alliance for Our Americas (ALBA) held a Summit in Caracas, Venezuela, last week at which they agreed on establishing a permanent secretariat, a common economic zone, and a political-social committee. They also agreed to accept Surinam and Santa Lucia as new members and to support Haiti in the areas of energy, education and infrastructure. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the meeting’s host, urged each country to support the funding of the ALBA Bank, which would be a pillar of the common economic zone, saying that Venezuela was committing US$300 million to the institution. The leaders condemned a “systematic policy of intervention and destabilization” of Syria and expressed their support for Argentina in the recurrent dispute with the United Kingdom over the Malvinas in the South Atlantic. They planned a meeting of foreign ministers in Cuba to decide if the ALBA countries should attend an upcoming Summit of the Americas [sponsored by the United States] to which Cuba will not be invited.

President Daniel Ortega asked for the support of ALBA nations for the building of a canal across Nicaragua saying that “although they are widening the Panama Canal, there is [still] not enough capacity for the ever-increasing demands of international maritime shipping.” He said that Nicaragua had feasibility studies that he had presented to other countries and that he wanted to present also to ALBA for its possible participation in the project as the fulfillment of a dream of Nicaraguan hero Augusto Sandino. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 6; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 5, 6)

3. Political briefs

In the days following the Nov. 6 presidential elections, there was violence in several parts of Nicaragua and the criminal cases resulting from those incidents are coming before the courts. In Carrizo in the Department of Madriz, four men were found guilty of killing three people and injuring two others by Criminal Court Judge Erik Laguna. Two others were found not guilty. The men had waived a jury trial. The guilty included the political secretary of the local Sandinista Party, a Sandinista member of the local electoral council and two police officers. In Coperna, located in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region, testimony moved forward in the trial of 12 sympathizers of the Independent Liberal Party Alliance for the death of one Sandinista and the wounding of several police officers. Testimony concerning the confusing day was contradictory with the wife of the slaying victim saying that the man who shot first at her husband was a stocky man with dark skin while another witness said that he was light skinned and on horseback. (Radio La Primerisima, Feb.6; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 4; La Prensa, Feb. 3)

The opposition media is reporting numerous local grassroots protests by Sandinistas to top-down choosing of FSLN candidates for mayor and deputy mayor for the Nov. 2012 elections in towns around the country. There has been no comment in the Sandinista media. In Somoto, La Prensa reported Sandinistas protesting the visit of Nelson Artola, head of the Emergency Social Investment Fund (FISE). Artola, who had been put in charge of consultations about mayoral candidates, had informed the local Sandinistas that current mayor Wilson Montoya would be running for reelection. But Jose Armando Fletes said that the mayor had not done much for the city. “We hoped that the party would listen to the grassroots. If they don’t, the same thing will happen here as happened in Ocotal, Jalapa and other places,” he said. (La Prensa, Feb. 2, 3, 4; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 2, 3, 4)

4. Tax exoneration for rice and milk

While announcing that it was beginning work on building consensus with all sectors around major reform of the tax system, the government sent to the National Assembly a much smaller bill that would remove most of the tax on rice and plain and flavored milk. President Daniel Ortega said, “This initiative is directed toward protecting the price of basic foods. It’s a measure we have taken to identify problems that can be resolved quickly, because we have to take more time to discuss [further] tax reform.” Alberto Lacayo, a deputy of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) Alliance, said that his bench would support the measure because, he said, it benefits consumers by preventing an increase in the price of milk and rice. The PLI is the second force in the National Assembly, after the majority Sandinistas. (Radio La Primerisima, Jan. 26, 30; Informe Pastran, Jan 31, Feb. 1; El Nuevo Diario, Jan. 31)

5. Talks begin on minimum wage increases

On Feb. 2, the first session of negotiations on the semi-annual increase in minimum wages for the different sectors of Nicaragua’s economy began in the offices of the Ministry of Labor. Labor Minister Jeannette Chavez presented reports on GDP growth, salary comparisons with the rest of Central America, the cost of the basket of basic goods, and the monthly index of economic activity to the representatives of business and labor who had gathered for the discussions. Luis Barboza of the Sandinista Workers Central (CST) said, “The year 2011 ended with excellent exports and excellent [world] prices so since there was little growth [in minimum wages last year] it would be laudable to recognize with better wages the workers who have produced these riches.” (Last August, workers agreed to accept only a 6% wage increase.)

Miguel Ruiz of the Jose Benito Escobar Sandinista Workers Central (CST-JBE) said that the unions hoped that the spirit of tripartite consensus would prevail as it had in the past. He said that the workers expected that the salary increase would be at least 15%. However, Jose Adan Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), said that his organization was going to place on the negotiating table an increase of between 8% and 10%. The cost of the basket of basic goods has risen to US$430 per month while the average minimum wage in the covered sectors is only US$140. This is in spite of the fact that, under the first Ortega administration, the minimum wage rose 96% as a result of regular scheduled dialogues between the government, workers and employers. The second session of talks will occur on Feb. 9. (Informe Pastran, Feb. 3; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 2)

6. Combating illegal logging

According to Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) Minister Juana Argeñal, the Nicaraguan government is employing both enforcement and education to fight illegal logging throughout the country. Argeñal said that logging is putting at risk the water supplies of El Jicaral and Santa Rosa del Peñon in the Department of Leon and the problem is “profound” in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, and in some nature reserves on the Pacific side of the country. The main reasons for illegal logging are 1) to obtain precious hardwoods for sale; and 2) clear cutting to expand grazing land for cattle. The granadillo tree (platymiscium yucatanum) has been added to the list of protected trees whose wood is proscribed for sale.

On the education side, since 2007 the Sandinista government has been working to raise Nicaraguans’ consciousness and to create a whole new culture of environmentalism. There are multiple programs in the schools including planting of gardens and fruit trees to supplement the food that children eat. There are regular trash clean-ups that have employed thousands of volunteers to collect trash in rivers, lakes, and drainage ditches. And volunteers and government programs have reforested thousands of hectares of land, especially stream banks and other places susceptible to erosion. The July 19 Sandinista Youth organization recently held a congress where they affirmed the fundamental need to raise consciousness over dangers to the environment in order to mitigate the effects of climate change and they promised to work in their own communities to accomplish it.

Enforcement measures against illegal logging have also been stepped up. Nicaragua’s inadequate numbers of forest rangers are being supplemented by military personnel trained in environmental law enforcement. Since January 5, two companies of the army’s Ecology Battalion have been on a campaign named Green Gold in the Wawashang nature preserve in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS). Wawashang is the home of the indigenous Awaltara who have denounced the usurpation of their land by illegal loggers and timber traffickers.

Col. Oswaldo Barahona, chief of the 5th Military Command, announced to the press that command members have found irregularities at five wood storing facilities which are now under investigation by the Attorney General’s office. Barahona said they are collaborating with indigenous communities to identify the damaged areas and to jointly develop plans for reforestation. He said troops will be permanently stationed near the communities of Pueblo Nuevo, Kukra Hill, Nuevo Sauce, and Mango. Lenin Simon Watson, legal representative of the Awaltara, also denounced “colonists” who are penetrating indigenous land with permits to log in El Tortuguero, Cruz del Rio Grande, and Prinzapolka. There is a recognized problem of corrupt local officials working with wood traffickers. Cesar Oporta, a resident of Pueblo Nuevo said, “Really I don’t know who is making all that money because here in the community nothing is getting better.”

Government enforcement agencies have been confiscating the illegally cut wood and selling it at auction. For instance, 94,564 board feet of wood seized in the municipality of El Tortuguero in November was auctioned for US$898,364. The money is to be split in four equal parts between the territorial government, the municipality, the Regional Council, and the national treasury. (La Prensa, Jan. 31; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 2, 4; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 4)

7. MIFAMILIA to assist 19,000 child laborers

The Nicaraguan Ministry of Family (MIFAMILIA) has set the goal of reaching 19,000 child laborers on a national level this year. In an effort to assist these children, MiFamilia (through Program Love) will begin to integrate them into the school system. Included in this group of young workers, the program will focus efforts toward addressing the needs of children working (selling small items and cleaning windshields) at street lights. By March, the government will be prepared to begin registering children in a group home. The Zacarias Guerra Children’s Home has room for 40 children out of the 196 working at street lights according to a December census. (Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 3)

8. A million school meals a day

With the school year set to begin Feb. 15, the Ministry of Education is delivering food for school meals to 9,788 preschool and elementary schools in all 153 municipalities. Ninety-four percent of preschool and primary school students are fed through this government program. Deliveries of food to cover the first three months of the school year amounted to 7,700 tons of food including rice, beans, corn, fortified cereal, vegetable oil, soy beans, and wheat flour, enough to prepare one million meals a day on a budget of US$29 million. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called Nicaragua’s school lunch program one of the four best programs in the world. In addition, nutrition is supplemented by school gardens and orchards through the Integral Program of School Nutrition (PINE). Four hundred new school gardens will be started this year to join the existing more than 2,000. Students learn about nutritious eating while raising their own fruit and vegetables through the PINE program. (Informe Pastran, Jan. 31, Feb. 1; La Prensa, Jan. 31; Radio La Primerisima, Jan. 31)

9. Urban permaculture for food sovereignty

The Nicaraguan government, through the Nicaraguan Institute of Agro and Fishery Technology (INTA) is implementing a program of “permaculture” to guarantee the harvest of healthy vegetables all year round in urban and suburban areas. It will be incorporated into the Urban and Suburban Agriculture Project to guarantee food sovereignty and good nutrition. Rebeca Centeno, an INTA supervisor, explained that “permaculture” consists of having families cultivate edible plants in their gardens throughout the year. These include onions, green peppers, celery, tomatoes, and lettuce. The project is aimed at families who have 20 square meters or less of cultivatable land. It requires the installation of a ditch and a 5,000 liter water tank for irrigation. The water tank is provided by INTA free of charge as are vegetable seeds and seeds for plants that repel insects.

The third phase of the project ended in December with many families in the first two phases discovering that they produced not only enough food for their own consumption but a surplus they could sell. Greenhouses in INTA’s Demonstration Center in District 7 [at a slightly higher elevation than most of Managua] are experimenting with other vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli for later incorporation into the urban gardens. UN Food and Agriculture’s project coordinator Henry Gonzales said that they are trying to change the paradigm. He said conditions in parts of Managua are perfect for the production of beets, carrots, lettuce, cabbage and varieties of vegetables with high nutritious properties that in some countries are considered to be gourmet foods. (Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 1)

February 21, 2012
This weekly news bulletin is the successor to the Nicaragua News Service and Nicaragua Network Hotline. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit the Nicaragua Network.
78th anniversary of the killing of Augusto Sandino

1. Alberto Guevara named head of Central Bank
2. International briefs: US, Costa Rica, Honduras, Iran, Syria
3. RAAN land conflict escalates
4. Birth certificates unlock civil rights
5. Property titling advances
6. Managua hosts recyclers’ gathering

1. Alberto Guevara named head of Central Bank

On Feb. 14, President Daniel Ortega sent to the National Assembly the nomination of Alberto Guevara to be the new head of the Nicaraguan Central Bank following the resignation “for personal reasons” of Antenor Rosales. Ortega asked the Assembly to confirm the nomination “with urgency” so that the stability of the nation’s currency and the Bank’s normal operations would be preserved. The head of the Sandinista bench in the Assembly, Edwin Castro, said, “We are sure that Alberto Guevara will do an excellent job there as he has done at the head of the Treasury Ministry.” Ivan Acosta, who had been serving as vice-minister of Treasury, was named minister.

News flash: The Assembly approved the appointment of Guevara on Feb. 21 by a vote of 63 to 16.

Guevara served in the Sandinista military during the years of the revolution in the 1980s. He has a degree in economics from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua with graduate work in applied macroeconomics at the Catholic University of Chile. After finishing his studies he worked at the Central Bank, then at the Center for Promotion and Research on Social and Rural Development (CIPRES) with Orlando Nuñez, before becoming Treasury Minister in 2007. He said on a visit to the National Assembly that the nation’s economic policy “has been prudent, successful, and recognized by the international financial institutions” and that it would continue on the same path.

Out-going bank President Antenor Rosales was a colonel in the Sandinista Army during the 1980s. He later received a master’s degree in banking law, taught at the Central American University (UCA) in Managua and founded the Nicaraguan Center for the Study of Law. He has frequently represented the Sandinista Party at meetings of the Socialist International.

Reaction to the change was mixed. Jose Adan Aguerri, head of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) said, “The private sector has been clear that it was to the country’s benefit that [Antenor] Rosales stay in his post.” But, the executive director of the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), Avil Ramirez said, “Minister Guevara has been part of that [Rosales’] team and if things are going to continue on the same path, and the National Assembly which is controlled by the government approves him, no one should be worried.”

Representatives of the opposition political parties in the National Assembly were critical. Wilfredo Navarro of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) and Eliseo Nuñez of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) both said that the change was due to differences between Ortega and Rosales about the use of Nicaragua’s international currency reserves to provide capital for the new Bank of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for Our Americas) with Rosales maintaining that the decision was not one the President could make on his own.

Meanwhile, the government’s budget proposal included putting US$4.8 million of Nicaragua’s international currency reserves in the ALBA Bank this year with a total of US$28 million going into that bank over five years. This would fulfill Nicaragua’s obligation as a member of ALBA. The new Treasury Minister Ivan Acosta said the country’s US$1.76 billion in reserves is currently deposited in 40 banks around the world to spread the risk of any bank going under. He said that joining the ALBA Bank “can help us with development.” Opposition Assembly Deputy Eliseo Nuñez said, however, that he was worried, and asked, “What if President Hugo Chavez [of oil-rich Venezuela, a founder of ALBA] continues to suffer from cancer or loses the elections this year?”

News flash: The National Assembly approved the budget on Feb. 21.

The budget was reported out of the Economic Committee of the National Assembly on Feb. 16 and will have a final vote in the full Assembly in the coming days. Acosta told TV Channel 4 that the new budget included US$43 million more for health care and US$30 million more for education than last year’s budget. But opposition Deputy Eduardo Saenz, a member of the dissident Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), said that teachers’ salaries, even with the raises stipulated in the budget, were still not keeping up with inflation. Other opposition deputies accused the government of underestimating revenues in order to have a chance to propose changes to the budget in October and also said that not all sectors of country had been consulted on the budget. The budget total is US$1.878 billion. A deficit of US$200 million is expected to be covered by loans and aid. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 14, 16; Informe Pastran, Feb. 14, 16, 17, 20; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 14, 16; El 19 Digital, Feb. 21; La Prensa, Feb. 14, 16)

2. International briefs: US, Costa Rica, Honduras, Iran, Syria

Kevin Whitaker, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, arrived in Nicaragua for a three-day visit on Feb. 13. He met with Foreign Minister Samuel Santos, 2011 losing presidential candidate Fabio Gadea, opposition National Assembly deputies, and representatives of business and civil society. Whitaker said that the United States was “very concerned” about a regression in democracy that he alleged had marked the recent elections. He said that the US would continue to insist that Nicaragua respond to the suggestions by the Organization of American States to resolve what he called “problems identified in the electoral system.” He said the US had not yet made any decision about aid to Nicaragua. In related news, the nomination of Phyllis Powers to be US ambassador to Nicaragua was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 14. The appointment must be approved by the full Senate. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 14; Informe Pastran, Feb. 14, 15; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 14; La Prensa, Feb. 14)

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla last week inaugurated the polemical highway her government has built along the southern Banks of the San Juan River. Costa Rican Transportation Minister Francisco Jimenez said that in two months the building of eight bridges over tributaries of the San Juan would begin, noting that the highway’s total cost would be US$31 million. The Central American Court of Justice in January ordered Costa Rica to stop construction of the highway because of environmental concerns but Costa Rica has said it does not recognize the jurisdiction of the Court. The president of the Court, Honduran Francisco Lobo, announced on Feb. 20 that he would travel to Europe to explain the case to European Union jurists in Belgium and members of the Tribunal of Justice of the European Community in Luxembourg. He said that Costa Rica had painted the Central American Court “as the bad guys of the picture as if we were going beyond our jurisdiction” in ruling on the case. “It will be the truth against lies,” he said. (La Prensa, Feb. 17; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 17, 20; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 18)

President Daniel Ortega sent his condolences to the president and people of Honduras after the prison fire in that country that took over 350 lives on Feb. 15. Among the dead was a Nicaraguan. Francisco Diaz, assistant director of the Nicaraguan National Police, said that the Police maintain security in the Nicaragua’s jails and that nothing like the fire in the Honduran prison has occurred there. However, Gonzalo Carrion of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) said that last year there were at least five riots in Nicaraguan prisons. Pablo Cuevas of the Permanent Commission of Human Rights (CPDH) said that there are many internal problems in the prisons. “Mistreatment and insecurity rule,” he said, adding that prisoners injure each other but receive limited punishment. (Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 15, 16; Informe Pastran, Feb. 16; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 16, 21)

Foreign Minister Samuel Santos last week traveled to Spain, Iran, and Italy to consolidate relations with those countries, according to the government. In Spain, he met with government officials and representatives of the Spanish energy company Union Fenosa, which owns part of Nicaragua’s principal energy distribution company. In Iran, he met with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and announced that he expected to be able to negotiate a cancellation of Nicaragua’s debt of US$164 million to Iran. Santos said that Nicaragua supports Iran’s right to develop peaceful uses of nuclear power. In Italy, he met with Jacques Diouf, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and Italian government officials. (Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 15, 20; Informe Pastran, Feb. 16; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 16, 18, 20; La Prensa, Feb. 17, 19)

Five of the eight member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) voted against the Feb. 16 United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the Syrian government. They were Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Of the three other ALBA countries, St. Vincent and the Grenadines abstained, Dominica did not vote and Antigua and Barbuda voted in favor of the resolution. Nicaraguan Ambassador to the UN Maria Rubiales said that the foreign manipulation and aggression should stop in order to facilitate an urgent dialogue to arrive at a peaceful solution among Syrians, including general elections. (The Dominican, Feb. 16; La Prensa, Feb. 16; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 14)

3. RAAN land conflict escalates

Five women and a religious pastor were recently added to the six police officers taken hostage last week in Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) by the indigenous communities of Sukatpin and Lapan. The abductions were confirmed by Marvin Sanchez, Bilwi delegate for the Ministry of Governance. Those taken are members of the mestizo community of Santa Fe de Acawacito, some 600 families regarded by the indigenous as illegitimate colonizers. The indigenous are demanding that mestizo farmers leave indigenous areas before they will release the hostages.

However, a leader of the mestizo community, who wanted to remain anonymous said that some indigenous had sold land to mestizos and, “Now they want it back.” He added that the indigenous were used to government backing. “We’re preparing to mount a blockade,” he said, adding, “We aren’t about to let them throw us out.” Meantime the people of Santa Fe, fearing further attacks, are arming themselves to resist. [Editor’s note: Under Nicaraguan law, indigenous land cannot be sold, only leased.]

The RAAN Regional Council found resources to mount a six-person technical commission to try to resolve the problem on the ground, provided the hostages were released. However, none of the regional councilors of the Yatama indigenous political party was prepared to travel with it, so a second commission, of community leaders, was formed to accompany the technical group, to explain the process and purpose to the local community. To no avail: they all returned to Bilwi having accomplished nothing but reporting feelings were running increasingly high.

Other sources claim that the indigenous are protesting police and military presence around Sandy Bay, a zone the authorities claim is strategic to fighting the international drug trade. Still others say that Yatama representatives distanced themselves because Yatama is already starting to campaign for this year’s municipal elections. Yatama leader Brooklin Rivera said Regional Council President Reinaldo Francis had the matter in hand and that the indigenous are pressuring the authorities to get on with cleaning up their communities. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 14, 16, 20; La Prensa, Feb. 20)

4. Birth certificates unlock civil rights

In an unprecedented ceremony, 10,719 men, women, children and adolescents received birth certificates last week. These residents of the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS) previously had no legal existence. This UNICEF program, “a name and a nationality,” with the assistance of the Sandinista government, the Center for Human, Citizen and Autonomous Rights (CEDEHCA), and Save the Children, has given birth certificates to 43,919 children in the RAAS and a few communities in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) since 2008. Philippe Barragne, UNICEF representative in Nicaragua, said, “This birth certificate opens the door to attain the rest of their rights such as health, education, and culture.” The 10,719 people who received birth certificates were mostly indigenous Miskitos, and Ulwas in the communities of La Cruz and La Desembocadura del Rio Grande. Previously ceremonies have been held in Kukra Hill, El Rama, Muelle de los Bueyes, Nueva Guinea, Corn Island and Bluefields.

The National Assembly Committee on Population is holding hearings on a new civil registry law which would make easier the registration of children at birth and also of adults who were not registered at birth through the use of mobile registration offices. (La Prensa, Feb. 16, 19; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 14)

5. Property titling advances

About 172,000 families received titles to their property in the first five years of the Ortega administration. The goal for 2012-2016 is to legalize the properties of an additional 200,000 families. According to Rosario Murillo, coordinator of the Council of Communication and Citizenship, in the next week 3,000 heads of households will receive property titles, half of them women. Included are urban lots, parcels, and farms. Farms range from 8-17 acres, and lots from 300-600 sq. meters. In addition, communal titles to indigenous and African-descended communities have ranged from 20,000 acres and more.

Titling brigades from the Advocate General of Property’s office are surveying and verifying properties in the municipality of La Paz Centro in preparation for titling. Before starting they coordinated with government and community organizations to identify properties qualifying for legalization. March 2-4 the brigades will verify 7,379 parcels in the municipality of Telica. (Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 14, 19)

6. Managua hosts recyclers’ gathering

From Feb. 20 – 25, Managua is hosting the fourth Latin American and Caribbean recyclers meeting to help recyclers share their successes with one another and put forward proposals to improve the lives of some 4 million families in 21 countries across the region that work in picking through garbage for recyclable materials. The meeting was organized by the Latin American Recyclers Network (REDLACRE). According to Kamilo Lara, Executive Director of the Nicaraguan National Forum for Recycling, there is a negative image of those that work in this field. This discriminatory view often leads to social, labor and human rights abuses. The event sought to address this issue and improve the political and administrative will to support workers in the recycling industry through access to healthcare, social security and recognition of their right to organize.

In Brazil, trash-pickers are supported by part of the public budget and in Colombia they are highly organized. In Central America, Nicaragua has the most organized waste disposal work force.

Nicaragua annually exports 42 million dollars worth of recycled materials such as plastic, cardboard, etc. Increased organization in recycling programs has led to an increase in aluminum exportation. The convention aimed to help some of this money reach those that subsist on the collection of such goods, the vast majority of whom are female. Managua is now home to a total of just four registered recycling cooperatives. The city produces 1,800 tons of waste a day, but only 6-7% is sorted. Regionally, only some 15% of garbage-pickers are organized. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 20; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 20; La Prensa, Feb. 16)

 

February 28, 2012

This weekly news bulletin is the successor to the Nicaragua News Service and Nicaragua Network Hotline. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part. Please credit the Nicaragua Network.
1. European Union electoral mission releases report
2. New research on kidney disease among sugar workers
3. Regional leaders interested in Nicaragua’s social programs
4. New ministry to serve family enterprises and coops
5. PAHO praises Nicaragua’s health advances
6. UN Forum on Indigenous Issues meets in Nicaragua
7. Assembly passes energy law amendments

1. European Union electoral mission releases report

The mission from the European Union for the Nov. 6, 2011, presidential elections released its report on Feb. 21. Daniel Ortega was reelected president in those elections and his Sandinista Party achieved an absolute majority in the National Assembly. In the report, the mission said that it was impossible to follow the results because of an “absolute lack of transparency in the proceedings.” [In November, Yañez had said, “Undoubtedly, the (Sandinista) Front and Mr. Ortega have won.”] The report said that there were problems in the adding up of results from the different polling places at the departmental level where poll watchers either were not allowed or were not allowed close enough to observe the proceedings. The report said that the early publication of final results by the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) did not give the political parties time to present challenges. The EU mission made 24 recommendations, including a new electoral law, a political parties law, the choosing by consensus of CSE magistrates who are professional and neutral, and the permitting of local and international observers.

The first page of the report clarifies that it is only the report of the observer mission and has not been approved by the European Commission stating that “the European Union does not guarantee the exactness of the information included in this report.” Luis Yañez, the European Parliament member who headed the mission, defended himself from accusations that he favored the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) and the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) Alliance that the MRS joined for the Nov. elections by saying that the PLI was the only party that presented complaints about the elections to the mission. Yañez is a member of the Spanish Socialist Party. According to the Informe Pastran, a reception at a Managua hotel the night before the report was released was “dominated by leaders of the opposition and above all by the MRS.” [The report appears to be substantially more critical of the electoral process than the report of the Organization of American States. See http://www.nicanet.org/?p=1092 .]

Before this document was released, several countries indicated that they would base decisions on their continuation of aid to Nicaragua on the mission’s evaluation of the elections, among them France and even the United States. (La Prensa, Feb. 21, 22; Informe Pastran, Feb. 22, 23; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 22)

2. New research on kidney disease among sugar workers

The Chichigalpa cemetery is full of graves of young and middle aged men who have died of chronic kidney disease (CKD). In some families three generations of men are buried near each other, having died of the same disease. They are not the only ones. Each year from 2005 to 2009, over 2,800 Central American men have died from kidney failure. In El Salvador, 1,592 men died from the disease in 2009, up 26% from 2005; in Nicaragua, it was 815, up 41%. Over the last 20 years, the number of deaths from CKD in El Salvador and Nicaragua has increased by 500%. The Center for Public Integrity reports that that is now more than the deaths from HIV/AIDS, diabetes and leukemia combined. What these men have in common is work in the cane fields.

Dr. Manuel Cerdas of Costa Rica wrote in the journal Kidney International, “The most interesting feature of these [CKD] patients is epidemiologic—all of them are long-term sugar cane workers.” He found that the disease attacked a part of the kidneys called the tubules. This is rare; CKD usually attacks the small blood vessels in the kidney called the glomeruli. The known causes of tubulo-interstitial disease, the ailment of the Central American sugar workers, include toxic exposure and dehydration.

At a February 2011 United Nations summit of health ministers, Central American representatives said that they would not sign the conference’s final document unless chronic kidney disease was included. Salvadoran Health Minister Maria Isabel Rodriguez said that the United States delegation refused to include the disease on the list of the continent’s most serious chronic illnesses, or to accept language suggesting that the epidemic had distinct causes related to exposure to toxic chemicals. The conference was almost derailed but finally a single phrase was included mentioning chronic kidney disease in Central America. The U.S. government has heavily promoted the sugar industry as a source of ethanol biofuel— in the areas affected by the epidemic. In 2011 the US imported more than 330,000 metric tons of sugar from the region, representing 23% of its total raw sugar imports.

The Ingenio San Antonio, owned by the Pellas family’s Nicaragua Sugar Estates, said it has reduced work hours, provided more water and hydrating solution and hired social workers to accompany contractors in the fields to ensure adequate hydration. Workers’ blood is regularly tested for high levels of creatinine, which would indicate disease. Workers with a high reading lose their employment, as well as their care at the company health care center and any pensions they may have accumulated. Some who feel they need to work even if they are sick, sign on with a contractor with a false name and continue to work, worsening their condition each week until they die. The company knows that this takes place.

A Boston University scientific team has recently released a preview of new research on possible causes for the disease. David Brooks, lead researcher on the team said, “The evidence points us most strongly to a hypothesis that perhaps heat stress — hard work in a hot climate without sufficient replacement of fluids — might be a cause of this disease” During the days the team observed sugar cane workers, the average temperature in the cane fields was 96 degrees. The work at the Ingenio San Antonio is not mechanized. The workers manually cut the rows of cane, strip the leaves, chop the stalks into pieces and tie about 40 pieces at a time into bundles. For each bundle they earn less than a nickel.

Javier Sancho Mas, writing in El Nuevo Diario, says, “We are waiting for the results of a study by Boston University, although the results may not be conclusive. … Many of the ill and their families believe that there exists an alliance between political and economic forces to silence or not give priority to what is a true emergency. And although there is a certain amount of humanitarian aid available, it is clear that it is time to bring a new focus to the issue and provide attention to these workers. On the part of the communications media, I believe that it is not the time to look for the guilty party, when we don’t have scientific proof, but rather it is time to stop collaborating with the silence. Because, besides the disease, it is scandalous to observe how a company can enrich itself at the levels of a developed country of the 21st century based on the sweat and the lives of workers who live in the 19th century. You only have to go into their houses, right beside the sugar mill, to prove that something here is not right. There is a brutal imbalance when so many young men without name get sick and die.” [To read more go to http://www.nicanet.org/?cat=3.] (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 18; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 11; Informe Pastran, Feb. 9; Associated Press, Feb. 11; iWatch News, Dec. 12, 2011)

3. Regional leaders interested in Nicaragua’s social programs

In the last week, leaders of several countries have indicated their interest in copying some of Nicaragua’s anti-poverty programs. In Guatemala, President Otto Perez inaugurated his own Zero Hunger Program. President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras visited Nicaragua with a delegation to find out more about the Ortega government’s social programs. And former president of the Dominican Republic Hipolito Mejia who is running for president again in that country is promising, if elected, to implement in his country the property titling program of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo arrived in Managua on Feb. 23 saying, “I am particularly very interested in the social programs that Nicaragua has. I can see in the inhabitants of Managua an expression that I would be happy to see in all of our cities. I want to say that here there is a path that is moving forward and it is very important for us to learn your experiences.” He went on to say, “We have to support each other to fight this common battle to continue reducing the levels of extreme poverty in our countries. It is a long term struggle, but it is one that we are committed to and it is precisely for this that we are meeting today.” President Daniel Ortega said the two leaders had a common agenda which included social programs, the Gulf of Fonseca, and the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. After speaking to the press, the two held meetings until past midnight and signed several agreements. Among them were agreements on eliminating barriers to trade between the two countries, on joining with El Salvador to make the Gulf of Fonseca a “zone of peace”, and on collaboration on programs for food security and expanding basic services in the border area. (Informe Pastran, Feb. 24, 27; Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 23; La Prensa, Feb. 23; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 23)

4. New ministry to serve family enterprises and coops

During a ceremony honoring the 34th anniversary of the 1978 uprising in the Monimbo neighborhood of Masaya, President Daniel Ortega announced the formation of a new ministry, the full name of which is the Ministry of the Cooperative and Communitarian Family Economy but which, evidently, will be known simply as the Family Economy Ministry. The ministry will service small family businesses and farms as well as cooperatives. Only 1,772 cooperatives survived the three neoliberal governments between 1990 and 2007. Since Ortega returned to the presidency in 2007 the number of cooperatives has grown to 4,192. Ortega said the new ministry would “attend directly to this fundamental sector of the economy, the family and cooperative farming sector, so that the sector produces more and so that more families are incorporated into these activities.” He said that Nicaragua cannot depend only on big investments or the big business sector. He said about three million Nicaraguans work in the small and medium business sector which represents 70% of labor and produces 40% of the Gross Domestic Product. The new ministry will facilitate property titling, credit, training, and technology. There are 223,069 families currently in cooperatives. Also, the 100,000 women beneficiaries of the Zero Hunger Program will be served by the new ministry. (Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 24; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 25)

5. PAHO praises Nicaragua’s health advances

On Feb. 21 Mirta Roses, director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) praised Nicaragua for important advances in health, including reduction in maternal mortality, infant mortality, and chronic malnutrition. She said that Nicaragua could achieve most of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline. “We can say that control of tuberculosis and malaria by that date is sure,” she said. She made the statements during a regional health strategy meeting. Roses pointed to the fact that more Nicaraguans have access to potable water and to sanitation as well as greater access to medicine as contributing to the health advances “which as well are objectives of the Millennium Goals.” She also recognized Nicaragua as a leader in inoculations including rotavirus and pneumonia vaccinations and for extending the coverage of retrovirals and early prenatal care which have eliminated HIV transmission from mother to child.

In March 50,000 activists and health workers will vaccinate 1.5 million children. PAHO recognizes Nicaragua for having achieved in the past five years over 95% immunization which defines almost total coverage and has resulted in effectively eliminating measles and rubella in Nicaragua. School meals have helped reduce child malnutrition. (Informe Pastran, Feb. 21)

6. UN Forum on Indigenous Issues meets in Nicaragua

Delegates evaluated the impact of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People at a meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held in Managua. Five years after most countries signed on to the declaration, the forum criticized governments worldwide that still fail to recognize the cultural, economic and land rights of indigenous populations. The forum also noted the extreme disconnect between de facto and de jure rights.

“In the majority of countries there is an enormous gap between recognized rights and practical implementation,” said Nicaraguan Myrna Cunningham, president of the Forum.

The Nicaragua meeting was held with an eye toward refining proposals for the 6th annual session to be held in New York in May. The event attracted leaders from 11 of the 16 forum members, including the US, Mexico, Canada, Russia, Iran, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Congo, and more. They came to discuss issues such as militarization, human rights violations, health, education, language conservation, climate change, and resource extraction as they relate to indigenous communities.

El Nuevo Diario added that, in the 1980s, the Sandinista revolutionary government was one of the first to implement bilingual education in indigenous languages in the public schools of the Caribbean Coast area of Nicaragua. (La Prensa, Feb.22; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 21)

7. Assembly passes energy law amendments

On Feb. 23, the National Assembly amended the Law on Electrical Energy to authorize the National Energy Institute (INE) and the Ministry of Energy to seek financing to subsidize energy rates for consumers until 2016 when most of the country’s energy will be generated from renewable sources and the loan can be repaid from the savings. That conversion from power generated by the burning of imported petroleum to hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, biomass, and solar power is well under way with 40% of Nicaragua’s energy currently coming from renewables. Last month, light bills went up 9% for those consumers who use more than 150 kilowatts per month and the government subsidized those who use less so that their bills did not go up. However, INE President David Castillo explained that plans were for the rates to go up this month by an additional 6% which should have been 26% based on the recent increases in the price of oil. The approval of the amendments to the Energy Law will avert that rise. A likely source for zero interest financing for the subsidy will be ALBANISA, the joint Venezuelan – Nicaraguan company that imports oil from Venezuela.

Reaction from opposition politicians was negative while reaction from the business community was positive. National Assembly Deputy Luis Callejas said that the bill should have been sent to committee for discussion instead of passing as an urgent measure and the bill should have specified the amount to be borrowed. Businessman Cesar Zamora of AEI Nicaragua said that the measure guaranteed economic resources for the energy sector and does not go beyond what has been done in recent years while, in actuality, making more transparent the management of funds to finance energy payments.

Investors in the Tumarin hydroelectric project praised the measure. Marcelo Conde, president of Central Electric of Central America, the consortium that is carrying out the project expected to go on line in 2014, said, “The law is positive,” adding that the measure insures that the energy sector will remain healthy. Tumarin will dam the Rio Grande de Matagalpa and produce 253 megawatts of electricity after an investment of US$2 billion. (Radio La Primerisima, Feb. 23; Informe Pastran, Feb. 23; El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 23, 25; La Prensa, Feb. 24)

FEBRUARY 20112 ZAPATISTA MEXICO NEWS SUMMARY
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Contents of the February Zapatista News Summary are outlined below. See our Compañero Manuel blog for the full news summary:

http://compamanuel.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/zapatista-news-summary-february-2012/

In Chiapas

1. Seven More Released in Acteal Case
2. Update on Chiapas Prisoners
3. Other Campaign Communities Deprived of Electricity

In Other Parts of Mexico

1. Other Campaign Member Imprisoned for Refusing to Pay Electricity Bills
2. Mexico’s President Puts Up A Billboard on the US/Mexico Border

In the United States

1. US Officials Visit Mexico
2. Vice President Joe Biden to Visit Mexico and Honduras