Ar ol ein gwybodaeth am ein ymweliad nesaf i Nicaragua i weld cydweithfeydd, dyma erthyl gan Tortilla con Sal ar teleSUR Saesneg, sy’n esbonio am sut mae cydweithfeydd wedi datblygu ers amser Sandino – gweler fan hyn.
After our information about our next visit to Nicaragua, which focuses on co-ops, here’s an article from Tortilla con Sal on the teleSUR English website, which explains how co-ops have developed since the days of Sandino – see here.
More analysis is appearing on a regular basis about the impact of the canal. A lot of the heated debate focuses on its environmental impact. For those in favour, the project is seen as a way of protecting the environment, particularly providing economic opportunities which will halt the movement of the agricultural frontier, and undertaking a huge re-afforestation project.
There’s no doubt that the area along the route has been the subject of degradation for many decades. Earlier this week Toni Solo on Tortilla Con Sal lambasted the international coverage of the canal, particularly from newspapers like the Guardian (The Sensationalist Campaign against Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal – see here). Instead of seeing the canal as devastating a pristine environment, Solo presents the case that the canal might be the only way to save the rainforest. At the heart of the article is a startling map, which shows the progress of the agricultural frontier since 1980.
Even during the Revolution of the 1980s, the vanishing of the forest continued. The policies championed by people within the government like Jaime Incer only managing to slow the rate of disappearance. There’s no doubt what this means for the people living on the land. In March the Nicaragua Network visiting the Bosawas reserve. It’s in the north of the country, well away from the canal route. But the desciption of the pressures that face indigenous people in the Bosawas is exactly the same as those faced by people on the South Caribbean Coast.
Every indigenous group we met with has experienced a massive invasion from all sides, starting slowly decades ago and increasing with time. There are now almost as many mestizo campesinos on indigenous land as there are indigenous. The Mestizos are even talking about marking out their own territory in the indigenous area. More come every day, clearing the forest as they go, using the land for pasture, crops and more cattle than the land can support. Some use or sell the wood, others simply burn it. Not only is the land deforested, but the cattle further damage the land and pollute the rivers.
On Sept. 29, the Cocibolca Group, composed of environmental and other civil society organizations, held a forum in Managua where they presented the results of their independent study of the social, environmental, and legal impacts of the canal. The study reported that 109,000 people will be displaced by the canal which will also affect 193,000 hectares of forest, more than 40 species of animals, as well as nature preserves that include protected wetlands. Maura Madriz of the Humboldt Center said, “Almost 60% of the area affected by the canal is covered in forests, including broad-leafed forests, mangroves, and palm. It is not true that all of the territory which the canal will go through is destroyed and, even if it were, that is not justification for a project of this type.” The study examined the territory ten kilometers on each side of the chosen 278 kilometer route of the canal.
The Humboldt study indicated that during the rainy season the canal will need 7.5 million cubic meters of water each day and during the dry season 8.4 million cubic meters while the current supply is 14.7 million cubic meters. However, Victor Campos, deputy director of the Humboldt Center, said, “Due to climate change, between 2015 and 2039, we expect a reduction during critical years of up to 35%, which would leave available only 8.45 million cubic meters of water daily, meaning that the canal would be operating with all the water available and by 2039 with a deficit of three to four percent.” Campos said that, in order to fill the planned Atlanta artificial lake, 7.4 billion cubic meters of water would be needed from the watershed of the Punta Gorda River. This would take three consecutive rainy seasons making it unlikely that the canal could begin operations in 2019 as proposed, Campos said.
On balance, the only positive aspect of the canal, in addition to a possible activation of the economy during the construction phase, would be the large-scale reforestation needed for proper operation of the canal. On the other hand, there are numerous negative aspects:
Little assurance that even if the environmental impact study is done rigorously and seriously it will be taken into account.
The absence of the environmental aspect in the law, which could remain at the discretion of the concessionaire.
The loss of a legal framework for the government of the Republic to act as the representative of the people of Nicaragua and defender of the nation’s natural heritage.
A marine impact with potential pollution problems to other countries in the region as well as the coastal marine impact in Nicaragua.
A drastic impact on Lake Cocibolca, a valuable freshwater resource, knowing that the importance of this resource will grow enormously with the passage of time.
Change in the course of the rivers affected by the canal that would increase the amount of sedimentation, both in the rivers and the lake.
The canal’s exit point on the Pacific coast conflicts with plans for developing tourism.
Spokespeople for the National Canal Commission are expecting the studies to be completed by mid October, with a start time next year. Meanwhile, the esimtated construction cost has risen from an initial $40 billion to $50 billion and indigenous people and farmers have been protesting at the lack of consultation. Nicanet also reported in its update that Canal officials have started a door to door census to speak to individuals, though as yet there are no reports of collective discussions on any issues that arise from the communal land ownership of the indigenous communities:
The census of properties and homes along the route of the proposed shipping canal across Nicaragua is proceeding according to schedule on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the country, according to government officials. Communities along the route of the canal are being visited by groups composed of representatives from the Chinese HKND Group (which holds the canal concession), the Office of the Attorney General (which oversees property rights), the General Directorate of Revenue (DGI), and the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER). The group is accompanied by members of the National Police and Army but these personnel do not enter the homes nor are they involved in the compilation of information. According to a spokesperson, the census is simple and is only carried out with the permission of the home or property owner. In the community of Tola, Rivas, Belkis Gonzalez, a 32 year old homemaker, knowing that her home was in the route of the proposed canal, received the census takers into her home, answered the questions to fill out the form, and allowed the workers to measure her property. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, where the Caño Chiquito River joins the Punta Gorda River before it reaches the Caribbean Sea, member of the census group travel by boat from early morning to visit locals who, while allowing the census workers to compile their data, take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about the impact that the canal will have on their lives. (Informe Pastran, Oct. 2, 6; Radio La Primerisima, Oct. 2, 6)
Other property owners protested the canal census in El Tule, Department of Rio San Juan, and in San Jorge, Department of Rivas. La Prensa reported that two thousand people protested in El Tule with signs that said, “We demand respect for private property! No to the canal!” “In San Miguelito we will not sell our land!” and “What do the farmers want? For the Chinese to go!” [¿Que quieren los campesinos? ¡Que se vayan los chinos!] Some of the protesters said that they took up arms against the Sandinista government in the 1980s and would now defend their properties at any cost. The protesters, some of whom were on foot and others on horseback, continued their march throughout a downpour of rain. (La Prensa, Sept. 29, Oct. 3)
The end of the year is usually a time for reflection. Commentators on Nicaragua are no different. Over the holiday period two excellent assessments appeared, one specific and one general.
The first looked at Nicaragua’s relationship with the IMF. In Faint praise, bad faith and disinformation– Western pundits, the IMF and Nicaragua (see here for the full article) tortilla con sal analyses Nicaragua’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund. The country’s good working relationship with the body known for its neo-liberal zealotry has been a puzzle for some on the Left. Yet again this autumn Nicaragua received a good, if qualified, assessment by the IMF.
The article charts the history of the IMF, the nature of Nicaragua’s relationship with the financial organisation, and how the country has been able to avoid some of the pitfalls other countries have faced. By and large Nicaragua has ignored IMF ‘advice’ on social issues and tackling poverty, whilst maintaining the economic stability Nicaragua sorely needed.
The second article is by Adolfo Pastran Arancibia (see here for Touchdown Daniel Ortega and the FSLN).
Pastran gives the FSLN a favourable verdict. He describes the criticisms of the opposition, even if he does not agree with them. Their inclusion helps put in context the debates currently taking place in Nicaragua, against the backdrop of huge changes in the economy and significant advances in reducing poverty. He also provided an excellent analysis of the news of the year (and the century?), the inter-oceanic canal. This is what he had to say on the matter:
THE GRAND CANAL
There is no doubt that construction of the inter-oceanic Grand [shipping] Canal not only was the news of the year, but also the most emblematic project of the government, in which the HKND company and Wang Jing assume the investment risks, according to what he has stated.
In the concession to Wang Jing, Nicaragua received 1% ownership upon signing the agreement and will receive US$100 million dollars in ten payments, after the first ship passes through, but after the tenth year, Nicaragua will receive 10% ownership, at 20 years 20%, and 30 years 30%. Upon reaching age of 50, Nicaragua will have 50% of the profits and from then there will increase to 99% ownership.
The largest construction company in China, CRCC, has already done feasibility studies in Nicaragua. They are already working with the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Group Company, known as COSCO, one of the major shipping companies in the world and a state-owned company. In addition, the Chinese companies CIMC, expert in maritime transport and containers, XCMG, a construction machinery expert, CNBM another Chinese company dedicated to building materials with experience in mega projects, and the supervisory company of the Chinese Three Gorges hydroelectric mega project. These are the crème de la crème of Chinese construction companies.
THE MAJOR OUTSTANDING ISSUES
The release of feasibility studies and presentation of the route chosen for construction of the Grand Canal, the financial support achieved so far, and who will be potential investors in the project, will all be crucial at the beginning of the year to give credibility to the project.
If the Chinese businessman, Wang Jing, delays this information further, (it was already postponed in December), it will begin to generate uncertainty and real doubts about the project and optimistic skeptics will become negative skeptics. Uncertainty around the canal would generate negative impact in attracting more investment in 2014.
Everyone wants to know if the government and the military of China are behind the project and whether it will be possible or not. Further delay of these clarifications would result in loss of credibility.
In addition, Wang Jing has the enormous challenge with his Xinwei Telecommunications Company of starting the TELCOR concession this year that he received a year ago to operate a third telephone service in Nicaragua. That also raises questions about the possibility and capacity of his company to build a Nicaragua canal, because Xinwei has planned to begin installing the telecommunications infrastructure in April 2013 and none of that happened. Xinwei is obliged to start the project this year or TELCOR must have the concession removed for breach of contract.
Already the timetable is slipping, no great surprise with a project of this size. The same slippage is apparent in the other mega project slated for the next few years, the Tumarin hydro-electric dam (though this is dwarved in scale by the Canal).
The opposition are already hoping the Canal project will be kicked into the long grass, along with the Sandinista government’s reputation. What seems to be overlooked is, even if the Canal doesn’t go ahead (and there remain serious questions about the environmental effects and the impact on indigenous communities), in the past 12 months Nicaragua’s decision- and policy-makers have undertaken a year long speed-dating session with some of the most dynamic companies in the world. So far Nicaragua hasn’t seen major Chinese investment, which sets it aside from many Latin American countries. These opportunities could yet arise, whatever the final decision on the Canal.
Nicaragua’s municipal election results are now clear. The FSLN won 134 of the 153 municipalities, further increasing their hegemony after last year’s successful Presidential elections. There have been protests by the opposition (as in 2008 and 2011), and disagreement by election observers. The contingent from the Organisation of American States (OAS) were far happier with the conduct of these elections than last year’s ballot. In summary:
- the FSLN got 68% of the vote – polls showed that a slight rise was expected in their percentage from their 63% in the Presidential elections last year, and this is what happened
- despite a call for a boycott by the opposition, and some reports by the media that people didn’t go to the polls, there was a 55% turnout, more than in 2008, and the same as 2004. The percentage is on the high side for municpal elections in the region
Two summaries have been produced of the election results. The first, on Tortillaconsal, gives the results plus a breakdown of who won each municipality (see here). The second is the from the weekly press summary of the US Nicaragua Network. We reproduce it below, as it looks at all the different aspects of the election.
The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) announced on Nov. 5 that, in the local elections held on Sunday Nov. 4, the alliance headed by the Sandinista Party (FSLN) had won the mayor’s races in 134 of the country’s 153 municipalities, with the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) winning 12 and the Constitutional Liberal Party two. The regional indigenous party Yatama won in three localities and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) won in one municipality. CSE President Roberto Rivas said there were 2,020,192 valid votes and 70,025 ballots that were declared void. He said that the rolls contain 3,670,000 active voters which means that 55% of voters cast valid ballots
In percentage terms, the FSLN won 67.9% of the votes, the PLI 21.1%, and the PLC 8.5%. The FSLN percentage was in between the predictions of the last CID-Gallup and M&R polls which showed 56% and 72% respectively favoring the Sandinistas. [For more on those October polls, see http://www.nicanet.org/?p=1184.] The CSE reported Sandinista wins in all of the largest cities, including the capital Managua and (for the first time) the Conservative Party bastion of Granada and the cattletown of Matiguas. On Nov. 6, the PLI announced that it would challenge the results in six municipalities including Matiguas, Ciudad Dario and La Paz Centro.
Analysts noted that the negative critiques of the Catholic Bishops Conference and the campaigns of some non-governmental organizations and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) against participating in the elections out of distrust of the Electoral Council damaged the turnout for the PLI because those who answered those calls to stay home were likely to vote against the Sandinistas. Fabricio Cajino, winning PLI candidate in San Jose de los Remates, Department of Boaco, said that he won in spite of his party’s distrust of the electoral authorities by getting everyone out to vote. He said, “We won because the people came out to vote and defend the vote; we went to these elections with this same CSE but ready to defend our votes.” Others noted that the policies of the Sandinistas in recent years helped the FSLN win its overwhelming victory. Informe Pastran gave as an example El Crucero, where former President Arnoldo Aleman has his hacienda and which had been a Liberal Party stronghold—until now. Under the Sandinistas, Plan Roof began giving out galvanized roofing, poor women got micro-loans or Zero Hunger Program cows and chickens, and schools and health centers opened. This time 61.19% of the votes went to the Sandinistas.
President Daniel Ortega said on election day, “I want to congratulate the thousands of Nicaraguans, youth, adults and seniors, who have come out to vote, ratifying in this manner that the path Nicaragua is on is irreversible, that never again will we have violence and confrontation in our country. Those hard years, so painful for our people, will never return and today and forever we will have a Nicaragua in peace, with wellbeing and security.”
The election accompaniment team from the Organization of American States (OAS) reported that it had observed the voting in 11 of the nation’s 17 departments. Lazaro Cardenas, chief of the mission, said that the observers had full access to the polling places and that the voting had proceeded in an atmosphere of civility. He praised the recent changes to the electoral law which mandated the alternating of men and women on the party slates saying that Nicaragua was a leader in the participation of women. Cardenas noted that while the voting booths were well designed to guarantee a secret ballot, in some cases the placing of the booths did not guarantee privacy. He observed that in the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS) all materials were in Spanish, without taking into account the constitutional mandate to respect the languages of the Caribbean Coast. Another recommendation of the team was that campaign funds received and expended by the parties should be reported. Other recommendations included assigning members of the election board at each precinct by lot rather than party membership, purging the voter rolls of deceased citizens, and improving mechanisms for accrediting poll watchers.
National observers’ statements following the elections varied. Telemaco Talavera, head of the officially accredited observers from the National Council of Universities (CNU), said as polls were closing on Nov. 4, that not all credentialed election board members from the PLI appeared to take their places in the precincts and those spots had to be filled with others from among the poll watchers. On Nov. 5, the CNU team noted that abstention was within the normal range for municipal elections, there was flexibility in the voting and the count was open and without problems. Other groups had different versions. The Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), which was not accredited to observe officially but used volunteers to report on voting around the country, said that abstention was high and a number of citizens were not able to vote because their names were not found on the voters’ list. Ethics and Transparency (E&T), which also observed with non-accredited volunteers, said that the presence of police and military officers could have intimidated voters, that 190,000 voters were unable to obtain their voting cards, and that the Sandinista Party illegally used funds from ALBA [the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas] in the campaign. IPADE and E&T both have received funding from US “democracy promotion” programs in the past for electoral observation.
There was violence in several towns beginning on election day (Sunday) and continuing into Monday. In La Paz Centro (in a clear violation of its name) riot police were unable to stop fighting between supporters of the PLI and the Sandinistas. In the town, located in the Department of Leon, protesters set fire to the local market, the old train station which was used for meetings by the Sandinistas, and (in reaction) the PLI meeting house. Things were even worse in the Department of Matagalpa, where two people were killed in fighting in Ciudad Dario, and in El Jicaro, Department of Nueva Segovia, where a Sandinista poll watcher was killed. In all, three police officers were wounded and 27 persons detained.
Meanwhile, United States State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a press statement, “The U.S. government is concerned that the municipal elections conducted Sunday, November 4, in Nicaragua failed to demonstrate a degree of transparency that would assure Nicaraguans and the international community that the process faithfully reflected the will of the Nicaraguan people. There have been widespread complaints about the partisan manner in which Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council managed the process in the run-up to and on Election Day to the advantage of the ruling party. Irregularities observed on election day included citizens being denied the right to vote, a failure to respect the secrecy of citizens’ votes, and reported cases of voters being allowed to vote multiple times. These disturbing practices have marred multiple recent Nicaraguan elections. We again urge the Government of Nicaragua to implement the recommendations the European Union and Organization of American States electoral observation missions made following the controversial 2011 national elections, and to uphold its commitment to representative democracy under the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”
One opposition member, Wilfredo Navarro, a National Assembly for the PLC, critiqued the opposition saying that the parties competed “to scream at the FSLN” but without projects, programs or ideas to present in confronting a Sandinista Party that “knew how to do things.” He added, “You don’t have to be an analyst with great knowledge to have predicted what happened. The opposition did not have the capacity of the Sandinista Front, with its organization, its resources, its strategy, its continuity in the management of its programs at the municipal and national levels.” He stated, “Today I have to say clearly that it was a transparent, clean triumph of the FSLN.” (El Nuevo Diario, Nov. 5; Informe Pastran, Nov. 4, 5; Radio La Primerisima, Nov. 5; La Prensa, Nov. 4, 5, 6; http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/11/200169.htm)
Tortilla con sal has produced its first reaction to the election results. See here for the analysis from the website which has constantly offered analysis of the political situation in Nicaragua, whilst maintaining support for the Frente Sandinista.
Latin America is again making strides in their plans for greater regional co-operation and integration. This week UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) has been meeting in Buenos Aires. The bloc has been working on strengthening economic and political ties for a number of years, co-ordinating approaches at an international level. One example already highlighted by this blog has been the case of Palestine, where contacts between UNASUR and the Arab League led to a wave of recognitions for Palestine from Latin American countries, something which has led to the imminent UN vote on recognition.
The Buenos Aires summit saw agreement on economic issues, less on diplomatic issues. UNASUR failed to agree a common line on Libya, unsurprising as Colombia has already recognised the TNC, whilst Venezuela still vocally supports Gaddafi. The remaining countries have been fairly consistent in calling for, together with the African Union, a negotiated and peaceful process to resolve the conflict in Libya.
Economically the biggest decision was to take steps to create a new multilateral payments system, which will lead to the replacement of the dollar in inter-country trading. It follows a similar initiative by the ALBA countries, where trades have started to take place in the SUCRE. Neither payment system will lead to a new currency like the euro – the new ‘money’ will be for recording trades only (see here for more details).
This was one of the subjects which cropped up in the discussion led by Pablo Navarette in his ALBA workshop in the El Sueno Existe festival in Machynlleth last week. Pablo took the view that the number of ALBA countries were unlikely to increase in the near future. The most likely candidate for a new ALBA member is Peru. But Pablo’s view is confirmed by statements that Ollanta Humala, the new President of Peru, made in the election campaign.
Whilst the growing confidence and reach of UNASUR is a welcome development, it lacks one of the main planks of the ALBA, the relationships based on solidarity. The latest film by Tortilla con sal examines how ordinary Nicaraguans have benefited from signing up to ALBA, something Daniel Ortega did the day after taking power in January 2007.
The registration of candidates for Nicaragua’s Presidential and National Assembly elections closed last week. The FSLN sprang a surprise with their choice of Daniel Ortega’s running mate. The Right registered no fewer than four parties or coalitions.
If the elections were held tomorrow the Frente Sandinista would look certain of victory, partly because of the social gains made by the majority of the population since 2007, and partly because the Right vote will be divided.
However, a lot can still happen between now and November. Candidates can withdraw, and no one knows yet how much US interference there will be.
For an analysis of the state of the parties and alliances that will battle it out, read Karla Jacobs on Tortilla con sal