TODAY NICARAGUA – A fire over the weekend in Nicaragua has destroyed the Mercado Oriental,one of the biggest markets in Central America, part of a traditional market in the centre of the capital, Managua.
More than 60 stalls and shops at the Mercado Oriental have been lost to the blaze, which began in the early hours on Sunday. Shopkeepers and market workers rushed to the area to try to rescue their belongings and minimise their losses.
It took firefighters four hours to control the fire. There were no casualties, the authorities said.
The fire began before 06:00 local time (13:00 BST). Firefighters struggled to reach the central area of the market, according to Nicaragua’s Disaster Prevention Agency.
Access to many hydrants has been blocked by shops built illegally over the years as the market expanded without proper planning, local media reported.
An estimated 100,000 people visit Nicaragua’s biggest market every day.
TODAY NICARAGUA – Another Miami-based company is recalling imported cheese because of potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.
Global Garlic Inc. recalled “Queso Fresco/ Whole Milk Cheese” from Nicaragua but did not report how the possible bacterial contamination was discovered. Global Garlic distributed the De Mi Pais brand cheese to retailers in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fl, and in Fairdale, KY.
recalled De Mi Pais cheeseThere is concern that people may have unused packages of the cheese in their homes because of the long shelf life of the cheese. The recalled cheese is packaged in 16-ounce plastic bags with the De Mi Pais brand logo and an expiration date of Sept. 19. No other traceability codes were included in the recall notice.
“Consumers who have purchased ‘De Mi Pais Queso Fresco/Whole Milk Cheese’ are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund,” according to the recall notice posted on the Food and Drug Administration’s website. “Consumers with questions may contact the company at 305-545-6305.”
Global Garlic Inc. recalled “227 units” of the cheese, but the recall notice did not indicate the weight of the units. Photos of labels posted with the recall notice show the cheese is a product of Nicaragua and was shipped in 30.80-pound cases.
Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled cheese and developed symptoms of Listeria infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure to the bacteria so the proper diagnostic tests can be performed.
Also, people who have eaten the cheese recently but have not become ill are urged to monitor themselves for the coming weeks because it can take up to 70 days for listeriosis symptoms to develop.
Symptoms can include fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms, listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women. Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are also at high risk.
The Global Garlic Inc. recall is dated May 15. Three days earlier, on May 12, another Miami company recalled imported cheese because of possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination. La Nica Products Inc. recalled three tons of Queso Duro Blando/Hard White Cheese, also referred to as Morolique, from El Salvador.
La Nica Products distributed the Quesos De la Costa brand cheese to supermarkets and other retailers in California. The recall resulted from sampling by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which revealed that the finished products contained the bacteria. The company has ceased the production and distribution of the product.
A 2% increase in electric energy rates has been announced, and an assurance that it will be the only increase during the present year, 2017.
An article on Elnuevodiario.com.ni reports that Óscar Mojica, president of the Nicaraguan Institute of Energy (INE), justified the increase as being due to the international price of bunker fuel. Mojica also stressed that “… the subsidy to consumers using up to 150 kilowatt hours will be kept.”
On the other hand, the president of Cosep, Jose Aguerri, indicated that “companies operating formally had set their budgets taking into account an increase in the prices of the energy greater than 2%, based on the prices of bunker at the end of last year. Within the negative, I think at least, in the case of those who assumed that we would have higher energy costs, the impact will not be as high as we had budgeted for.”
Changes in imports
Between 2013 and 2016, the total value of parts for vehicles imported from Nicaragua grew by an average of 7%, with the highest increase in the year 2014, up 10% from 2013.
From 2014 to 2016 imports from China maintained an average growth of 15%, with the year 2015 registering the greatest variation, of 19%.
Origin of imports
In 2016, 19% of the value imported from Nicaragua came from the US, 18% from Japan, 16% from China, 10% from Thailand, 9% from South Korea and 6% from Mexico.
Between January 2012 and December 2016, the month that registered the maximum monthly import value was April 2016, when Nicaragua bought $4 million, while the month with the minimum import value was February 2013, with $1.9 million.
Before I dive into my love for Nicaragua, I have to confess that my journey there was and is far from complete. I believe that any journey in a new place is never complete, for there’s always more to see, learn and explore, but my own in Nicaragua is far from it.
Far from it because I didn’t explore it in a way that makes me comfortable to say I saw a large variety of it. I didn’t visit the bustling metropolis of Managua. I didn’t walk barefoot along the whitewashed domes of Our Lady of Grace Cathedral in León. I didn’t time travel to when pirates were abundant and ransacking Granada.
But, what I did do was experience the beauty of Ometepe and San Juan Del Sur (SJDS), two places that are worth a visit as much as any of the others
At first glance, San Juan Del Sur could be seen as your typical Central American surf town (like Jaco or Tamarindo in Costa Rica). And, while there are multitudes of bleached-haired tourists milling about the town, taking part in SJDS’ notorious “Sunday Funday,” or chowing down on greasy burritos and tacos, I noticed something unique about the town.
Unlike many other places, there was no clear delineation between the lifestyle of the locals and that of the tourists. This may be an odd claim, but bear with me. I saw tourists and locals mixing together in the streets as you would see two neighbors chatting on a Saturday morning in a suburban town in the States.
Instead of Nicaraguans isolating themselves to an exterior part of SJDS, they lived within the bustling town itself and felt comfortable doing so without any apprehension or resentment towards their foreign visitors. This is what I’m trying to capture. This atmosphere of acceptance and amicability. An unforced coexistence. It’s something that is truly rare. In many places, there’s this feeling of “us” and “them.”
An obvious (and often warranted) resentment on the part of the locals towards the tourists for increasing prices, throwing up in their streets and everything else they bring with them. Or, if not resentment, a feeling of opportunity, where every tourist is the embodiment of a cash register and all locals flock towards them to max them out before everyone else does. I didn’t feel any of this in SJDS.
The food is delicious (I was addicted to a taco spot on a corner – sorry, that’s my best description), chicken buses are a way of life and the market has everything you want. Aside from that, the main park has surprisingly quick wifi and, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you can hear a man screaming “Jugo de Naranja!” every morning as he pushes his cart down the road.
Travel Video of Nicaragua (animator: Rachel Olney)
The Island of Ometepe
The hour glass-shaped island of Ometepe is a truly magical place. The best way to get there is by a $1.50 ferry ride from San Jorge, to which you can get a cheap taxi ($2) to after taking a bus to Rivas from SJDS.
It’s simply stunning. The streets are all made out of interlocked cinder blocks, which make you think of the yellow brick road from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Horses are everywhere, and you can rent scooters (don’t pay more than $17 / day), bicycles or walk around barefoot from place to place. The hostels are out of this world, especially the sprawling Zopilote, which has a brick-oven pizza night on Tuesdays and Thursdays that can’t be missed.
Aside from the hostels and the horses, the island’s main draws are its volcanoes and the majestic San Ramon Waterfall. I didn’t have enough time to hike the volcanoes, but I heard both Concepción and Maderas are worth it.
What I did do was take a scooter to the San Ramon Waterfall, which was even more stunning than I had imagined. When you arrive, there’s a sign that says you’ll have to hike for about 45 minutes, but it’s more like 1.5 hours. After hiking through a humid, but beautiful and lush, jungle, you’ll meet a wide river with large boulders and, after a few more minutes of hiking, see the wonder that is the San Ramon Waterfall.
Highly, highly recommended even if there are hundreds of bees everywhere. The Ojo de Agua was a bit overrated, but cool to check out. What I recommend most is to rent a scooter and spend a few days riding around the entire island – you won’t be sorry.
As I said, my journey in Nicaragua was and is far from complete, which means I’ll certainly be back. If you’re in Central America, you must go. If you’re not in Central America but have thought, “Is Nicaragua worth visiting?” you must go. If you don’t fit into either of those
categories, you must go. It’s a beautiful place with extremely kind and hospitable people and there’s no shortage of adventure (and tourists, but still).
Mateo Askaripour is a writer who quit his flashy job in NYC to live life on his own terms. He’s done everything from working at an orphanage in Nairobi to building a new university in Abu Dhabi to sleeping on volcanoes in Guatemala. And right now, he’s working to get an agent for his book. Regardless of where he is, he’s always working.
TODAY NICARAGUA – The Nicaragua Interoceanic Canal project is either paralyzed, or nonexistent.
In June 2013, the Nicaraguan National Assembly passed Law 840, which authorized President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega to transfer the responsibility of the project to Wang Jing, a little-known Chinese businessman. Since then, the country has been waiting for the project’s completion and a chance to compete with the Panama Canal.
Law 840, also known as the “Special Law for the Development of Nicaraguan Infrastructure and Transport to the Canal and Free Trade Zones,” allow for the construction of the project, which is estimated at US $50 billion.
The agreement establishes that the Canal will have its own special operation team with immunity to Nicaraguan law, and Wang’s descendants will be the owners of the Canal until the year 2129. The law allows for 16 years of building time and a search for investors. Wang’s company would be required to pay Nicaragua $10 million over 10 years, though that figure is reportedly up for debate.
The project’s infrastructure development plan included two deepwater ports (one in each ocean), an airport, two free trade zones, a railroad, a wet canal and an oil pipeline.
The project has involved taking many economic, environmental and social risks, which have raised doubts: What would be the most efficient method for creating a canal 173 miles long? How does it affect the environment? Is Jing really the best person to contract for this project? Where would the 400,000 displaced residents live?
Four years after that agreement, no concrete action has been taken to begin the project. There is no Chinese investment, no new jobs, construction, no camp or land set aside. The only actions taken in the area have been 87 environmentalist protests against the Canal. One of them is Doña Francisca Ramirez.
“We do not believe in that canal, and we will not accept it,” Ramirez said. She’s asking Ortega to acknowledge his failure to repeal Law 840 and put a rest to the matter once and for all.
Wang Jing has told the media he is no longer planning to travel to Nicaragua and that government officials are forbidden to see him unless he happens to be carrying money. Wang has never shown evidence of the money needed to execute the plan.
TODAY NICARAGUA – Nicaragua is an interesting place, with a tumultuous history and a relatively peaceful present. and even if many things can be better, many people live happy lives there.
If there is one thing that unifies all Nicaraguans is the love for their tradition and their culture. Nicaraguans are proud of what they have. And one of the things they have is their local food.
The Nicaraguan cuisine includes a mixture of the indigenous Miskito people, Spanish cuisine and Creole cuisine. Despite the blending and incorporation of pre-Columbian and Spanish influenced cuisine, traditional cuisine differs on the Pacific and the Caribbean coast.
Many of the local dishes are based on corn, and some of them are cooked on banana leaves for a unique taste.
A mixture of rice and beans (appearing above in breakfast), most Nicaraguans eat this almost daily and it is considered a national symbol. It’s delicious but I ate this so often that after a few weeks I asked if I could have my rice and beans “separado” for some variety.
A medium sized tortilla topped with molten cheese, pickled sliced onions, sour cream, rolled into the shape of a burrito. Very convenient for eating on the run. It has become a staple of the Nicaraguan cuisine (although it may have its roots elsewhere)
Originally from León, it’s a simple dish but so tasty that restaurants are dedicated to selling only quesillos. They say that the best are found on the highway between Managua and Leon, but I had them and did not notice a difference from those sold on the street in Leon.
Sopa de queso (Cheese soup)
It’s a tomato – chicken broth topped with crispy fried cheese-balls. The cheese taste comes from the fact that the cheese-balls disintegrate into the broth at the moment you put them in. Again, there may be similar dishes to this one in Latin America.
Nactamales is the local take on the traditional Latin America Tamale. It’s big. It’s tasty, it’s high in calories. It’s made of corn flour, and filled up with as many as 20 ingredients, which may include: pork, chicken, peas, carrots, onions, peppermint, sour orange, peppers, and many others. This is one of the meals that is cooked in banana leaves. An average Nacatamal may have 1000 calories. It is very popular.
This is the most common street food in the country for night time. If you want to eat local at any town, just ask anyone: “Where can I have the best Fritanga”, and they will guide you to their favorite food spot. Fritanga is a mixture of fried and tasty pieces of beef, chicken, pork, plantains, cheese, all topped with chopped cabbage and tomatoes. Will fill you up quite well.
Pork cracklings with tenderly cooked cassava, topped with chopped cabbage and tomatoes. This is one food that can be traced to its origins. Nicaragua is a country where Baseball is the most popular sport.
A lady entrepreneur was looking for a way of selling food at a baseball stadium, in such a way people could eat it without using forks, and could easily dispose of any trash. She came up with the ingredients, and the name has to do with a medicine with the same name, which was used to increase the vigor of people.
The food became a staple of Granada, the town where it was developed, but it is eaten around the country and beyond. It is usually served on banana leaves.
This one is more elaborate, and it takes dried beef and some vegetables: cassava, plantain, tomatoes, onions, all topped, yes, with the same chopped cabbage and tomatoes as in the previous plates. This food is popular for lunch, and also served on the people’s plates. Very tasty, very hearty.
These are just some examples of the food you get in Nicaragua, across the whole country. But there are many local dishes in every city that can be taken advantage of.
Nicaraguans are proud of their country, their culture and their food. Just ask.
What do Nicaraguans eat daily?
Breakfast: Beans, rice, tortilla. Served with water, sometimes flavored with powder.
Lunch: Beans, rice, tortilla. Sometimes chicken on the side. Sometimes cucumber or cabbage on the side. Occasionally soup as an alternative to this meal.
Dinner: Beans, rice, tortilla. Sometimes chicken or pork on the side. Sometimes cucumber or cabbage on the side. Sometimes pico de gallo on the side.
In rural Nicaragua, there isn’t a whole lot of variation between days or between meals.There is also a lot of snacking. Pick mangos and mamon off of trees and eat them when they want is not uncommon.
In the cities, there is a lot more variation of what you can eat, similar to anywhere else.
TODAY NICARAGUA – By any measure, Alfredo and Theresa Pellas have already transformed their home country of Nicaragua. With the help of 1,000-plus partnering nongovernmental organizations in the U.S. and beyond, their American Nicaraguan Foundation has served 265.5 million meals; built 19,936 homes; improved the health of 2,000 severely malnourished children; provided access to clean water for 81,000 Nicaraguans; and built or improved 128 schools, 55 community centers, 13 medical clinics, and 8 computer labs. For a country that was turned upside down by political revolutions and natural disasters in the late 20th century, it’s been a vital economic jump-start.
In 2016 alone, ANF allocated $5.8 million in cash and $90 million worth of in-kind goods toward helping Nicaragua’s poorest communities. In its 25 years of existence, ANF’s total impact has exceeded $1.8 billion.
Now the foundation is seeking a new, innovative way to reach potential donors: through a small, extremely luxurious resort that follows the goals of the nonprofit and offers an eco-friendly, ultra-exclusive experience.
The six-month-old Nekupe Sporting Resort & Retreat is a stunning eight-room countryside compound in the shadow of the Mombacho volcano, an hour and a half south of Managua. Unlike the backpacker lodges and surfing resorts on the country’s coast, Nekupe (or “heaven,” in the local language of Chorotega) is built to immerse travelers in Nicaragua’s little-known inland treasures: horseback riding along a series of lakes and mountains, clay shooting near a babbling brook, or sandboarding down an active volcano. It also has the goal of teaching moneyed visitors about ANF’s goals—including improving local employment opportunities, sustainable farming, and environmental stewardship. The owners have even reforested 1,300 acres around their property, which had been destroyed by slash-and-burn agriculture, and designated the land as a nature reserve, in hopes of conserving and regenerating local flora and fauna.
Nicaragua’s Wealthiest Family
Nekupe was founded by Alfredo and Theresa Pellas, who are among Nicaragua’s wealthiest couples. Alfredo’s great-grandfather made a fortune in shipping and sugar production in the late 1800s, and his brother, Carlos, tasked himself with rebuilding the family’s businesses following the Contra war in 1987. Alfredo and Theresa are more soft-spoken and private about their wealth than Carlos, who has proudly borne the moniker of Nicaragua’s first billionaire, but the siblings share an eye for hospitality. While Alfredo and Theresa were busy turning ANF into the country’s leading relief and development organization, Carlos was building the country’s first five-star resort, Mukul.
Mukul set the standard for luxury in Nicaragua, ensuring that local communities could benefit from the country’s burgeoning travel industry. But Nekupe and ANF take things to another level entirely.
“The whole story of ANF is what I call the ‘millennium,’ ” Alfredo Pellas told Bloomberg. “It’s an economic and business model where we build homes but concentrate on villages,” he said. He doesn’t mean that figuratively. For ANF, building almost 20,000 homes for low-income families is just step one; providing water management solutions, improving education, and creating access to health care are what constitute a functional village.
Once a village is up and running, ANF gives it a tailor-made toolkit to help it thrive. “If the area is good for farming beans, we bring in an expert on beans to increase the productivity of campesino [farming] families,” explained Pellas. Beans are just one example. He has a team of 29 technical staff to implement a long-term economic strategy for each village; a common theme is replacing slash-and-burn agriculture with sustainably sound and more efficient practices, such as beekeeping, small-scale animal husbandry, or bio-intensive farming.
The end goal? Multiplying locals’ income from $2 a day to upwards of $10. Only then will Pellas see his work as fully realized.
“We’ve managed ANF like a business from the beginning, with internal and external auditors and only 2 percent dedicated to internal overhead,” he said proudly. He and Theresa cover that overhead personally, while Carlos and other relatives are among the more significant annual donors.
Where Philanthropy and Luxury Collide
Nekupe was never supposed to be part of the ANF story. “We were thinking of it originally as our personal vacation home,” said Alfredo. But it took seven years to build the property, and in that time it evolved its own philanthropic missions.
For one thing, it became part of the sustainable farming narrative when the Pellases decided to reforest their 1,300 acres by planting more than 14,000 endemic teak, mahogany, and fruit trees. (The area had been blighted after years of destructive agriculture.) Now it’s designated as a nature reserve, with hopes that habitat restoration will bring back local populations of wild boar, iguanas, monkeys, and native birds.
Turning Nekupe into a hotel also created a significant source of local employment: 100 percent of the 143-person staff is Nicaraguan, with 80 percent coming from the immediate community of Nandaime. With just eight rooms, they form a staff-to-guest ratio of 9 to 1.
Rooms, which start at $750 per night (and come with meals), include four suites in the main house, each with spacious proportions and sumptuous, masculine furnishings: tufted leather headboards, dark-stained wood walls, gabled ceilings, and wall-to-wall windows. And four standalone villas are each themed after local trees, using either the wood, fruit, or scent of indigenous species such as the madroño and jicaro.
“We wanted our clients to have very high-end luxurious accommodations that blend in with nature,” said Pellas, adding that “every move we made during construction, we made with respect to nature and the trees.”
An Escape From the World
No, your stay is not a sales pitch for ANF. And the room rates don’t turn into automatic ANF donations. In fact, the hotel and the foundation are registered separately and treated as different businesses. You can come here with zero social agenda and have a perfectly undisturbed getaway with no heavy-handed reminders of the real world outside Nekupe’s five-star bubble.
But Pellas believes that subtle exposure to ANF’s missions—be it interactions with the staff, an afternoon picking endemic crops in the property greenhouse, or a visit to the local school—will give travelers a deeper connection to the country they’re visiting. So he’s creating a series of programs, showcased in beautifully branded materials in each room, that allow guests to visit or volunteer with a series of ANF-funded projects.
“I imagine the type of clientele that we attract are also sensitive to the things that are happening in the places that they visit,” said Pellas, pointing to a growing class of socially engaged travelers. He thinks highly of his guests, both intellectually and professionally, imagining they’ll offer him support in the shape of both donations and creative problem-solving skills—say, a cost-effective connection for solar panels. Whatever people are interested in personally, he said, is a springboard for possible contributions with ANF, monetary or otherwise. And if one of those travelers happens to be the chief executive officer of a company looking to boost its charitable giving, he’ll consider it icing on a very tall, very carefully crafted cake.
“People can come here and enjoy Nicaragua, see how good the Nicaraguan people are, the tremendous character they have in everything they do,” he said. “And maybe then they will say, ‘OK, how can I help?’ Every client and every donation stands to change our country tremendously.”
TODAY NICARAGUA – PUNTA GORDA/BRITO, Nicaragua (IPS) – Less than three years from the projected completion in Nicaragua of a canal running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, there is no trace of progress on the mega-project.
IPS traveled to both ends of the routet: Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast in eastern Nicaragua, 383 km from Managua, and Brito, on the Pacific coast in the southern department of Rivas, 112 km from the capital.
In the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, IPS traveled by boat from Bluefields, the regional capital, to the town of Punta Gorda to the south.
There are 365 small scattered indigenous settlements along the banks of the rivers, in a region divided into two sectors: the Southern Triangle, facing the sea, and the Daniel Guido Development Pole, along the banks of the Punta Gorda River – the Caribbean extreme of the projected canal.
“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned.” — Anonymous indigenous leader
According to the plans of the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND) group, in charge of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, in this sparsely populated jungle area bordering the territory of the Rama indigenous people, a deep-water harbour must be built, as well as the first locks on the Caribbean end for the ships that cross to or from the Atlantic Ocean.
The entire Great Canal project, according to HKND, is to include six sub-projects: the canal, the locks, two harbours, a free trade zone, tourist centres, an international airport, and several roads.
Other connected works are a hydroelectric power plant, a cement factory, and other related industrial facilities to ensure the supply of materials and the successful completion of the canal in five years, counting from 2014, when the project officially got underway.
But in Punta Gorda there are no infrastructure works, no HKND offices, and among the local population nobody is willing to openly talk about the subject.
“The silence is a matter of caution, people think you might be a government agent,” a local indigenous leader of the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K), an autonomous organisation of indigenous communities that own the lands that will be affected by the canal, told IPS on condition of anonymity.
In the days prior to IPS’ visit to the region, army troops and the police carried out operations against drug trafficking, and there was an overall sense of apprehension.
The members of the GTR-K are divided between supporting and opposing the project, but negotiations with the government representatives have been tense and conflict-ridden, to the extent that complaints by the local indigenous people demanding respect for their ancestral lands have reached the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned,” said the indigenous leader of this remote territory that can only be accessed by boat or helicopter.
Silence on the subject is not just found among the locals. There is no talk anymore at a government level about what was once a highly touted project.
However, Vice President Rosario Murillo, the chief spokesperson of the government of her husband Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua since 2007, announced this month that with Taiwan’s support, a deep-water harbour, not connected to the plan for the canal, would be built in the same area with an investment that has not yet been revealed.
María Luisa Acosta, coordinator of the Legal Aid Centre for Indigenous Peoples, told IPS that the Special Law for the Development of Infrastructure and Transportation in Nicaragua Relating to the Canal, Free-Trade Areas and Associated Infrastructure, known as Law 840, was passed in June 2013 without consulting local indigenous and black communities.
A year later, on July 7, 2014, HKND and the Nicaraguan government announced the route that had been chosen for the canal, running from the Rivas Isthmus across Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, to Punta Gorda.
The route would negatively affect the indigenous communities of Salinas de Nahualapa, Nancimí, Veracruz del Zapotal, Urbaite de las Pilas and San Jorge Nicaraocalí, along the Pacific, while in the Caribbean region it would impact the Creole communities of Monkey Point and Punta Gorda, as well as the Rama people of Wiring Kay, Punta de Águila and Bangkukuk Tai, home to the last speakers of the Rama language.
According to leaders of different indigenous communities, government representatives began to pressure them to give their consent over their lands to allow the canal to be built, giving rise to a still lingering conflict.
The canal is to be 278 km in length – including a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca – 520 metres wide and up to 30 metres deep.
It was to be built by the end of 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars – more than four times the GDP of this Central American country of 6.2 million people, 40 per cent of whom live in poverty.
The construction of a harbour, the western locks and a tourist complex is projected in Brito, a town on the Pacific coast in the municipality of Tola.
The town is named after the Brito River, a natural tributary of Lake Cocibolca, which winds through the isthmus until flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The works were officially inaugurated in Brito in December 2014.
The president of HKND, Wang Jing, together with Nicaraguan government officials, appeared in the media next to the construction equipment to inaugurate the work on a 13-km highway, which would be used to bring in the heavy machinery to build the initial infrastructure.
It was the last time Wang was seen in public in Nicaragua.
There is no new paved highway, just a dirt road which in winter is difficult to travel because it turns into a muddy track.
No heavy machinery is in sight, or vehicular traffic, workers or engineering staff.
Here, as in Punta Gorda, people avoid talking about the canal, and if they do it is on condition of anonymity and in a low voice.
“In Rivas we drove out the Chinese with stones when they tried to come to measure the houses, and after that, the police harassed us. They disguised themselves as civilians – as doctors, vendors and even priests, to see if we were participating in the protests,” said one local resident in Brito, who was referring to the 87 protest demonstrations held against the canal in Nicaragua.
In Managua, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the state Commission of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, said briefly to a small group of journalists, including IPS, that studies on the canal continue and that “the project is moving ahead as planned.”
However, Vice President Murillo announced in January that a 138-km coastal highway would be built along the Rivas Isthmus, to cater to the tourism industry and improve transportation, at a cost of 120 million dollars – with no mention of the canal.
One month later, government machinery was moved to Rivas to begin building the road where the canal was supposed to go.
A Nicaraguan woman who was burned to death in an exorcism that caused worldwide shock was starved and beaten in the week before her killing, witnesses told a court on Wednesday.
Evangelical pastor Juan Rocha and four followers are accused of murdering Vilma Trujillo, a 25-year-old mother of two, because they believed she was possessed by the devil.
On the second day of their trial, which is being carried live on Nicaraguan television, Trujillo’s relatives told the court how Rocha had his followers bound her, beat her, and refused her food, water and visitors.
“He told us not to feel any love for her, because that was just the devil, that she had to be burned until only her head was left,” the victim’s cousin Roberto Trujillo told the court in the capital, Managua.
“They wouldn’t let me near her. Pastor Juan Rocha told us not to pay any attention to her because she was possessed by a demon,” said her sister Marlene, who told the court of seeing Trujillo tied to a hammock.
Trujillo was killed in a grisly week-long rite from February 15 to 21 in the isolated village of El Cortezal in northeastern Nicaragua.
Witnesses said she was stripped naked and thrown on a pile of wood that was set alight.
Rocha has reportedly denied that version, saying the woman herself leaped at the fire and was suspended aloft by a malign spirit in her.
Trujillo’s father said Rocha had forbidden him to see his daughter during the ritual.
When he and her cousin went to get her in the small chapel where she was kept, they found her naked and horribly burned after five hours over the fire, they said.
Trujillo died of her burns in a Managua hospital on February 28.
Forensics expert Ricardo Larios told the court she had been subjected to temperatures of 400 degrees Celsius (752 Fahrenheit).
A pastor associated with the Assemblies of God church, Rocha apparently holds huge sway in the small village where he preached. Residents have been reluctant to discuss the case.
Rocha is accused alongside two brothers and two other suspects. The trial is set to resume on May 2.
TODAY NICARAGUA – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Nicaragua in 92nd spot, on a list ranking 180 countries according to level of press freedom.
The Paris-based press advocacy group says in its 2017 Press Freedom Index released Wednesday Nicaragua is a country with a “Stigmatized media”.
Second to Costa Rica, ranked 6th, in Nicaragua the press continues with censorship, intimidation, and threats.
President Daniel Ortega’s re-election in November 2016 for a third consecutive term was accompanied by mistreatment of Nicaraguan journalists, especially those with independent or opposition media outlets.
Journalism as a whole is stigmatized and journalists are often the targets of harassment campaigns, arbitrary arrests, and death threats. At demonstrations, reporters are treated as participants and are often physically attacked.
Nicaragua’s constitution tolerates only “constructive” criticism – a vague concept that allows the government to censor and restrict freedom of information.
Norway ranks in first place, followed by Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Reporters Without Borders, or Reporters Sans Frontières, is an international non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press.
BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua (IPS) – The effects of climate change have hit Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastal regions hard in the last decade and have forced the authorities and local residents to take protection and adaptation measures to address the phenomenon that has gradually undermined their safety and changed their way of life.
Bluefields, the capital city of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, has endured a series of hurricanes, floods due to heavy rains or storm surges, droughts, environmental pollution and general changes in temperatures, which have caused economic damages to the local population.
The latest catastrophic event along Nicaragua’s eastern Caribbean coast was Hurricane Otto, which was a category 2 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit in October 2016.
The structural damages and heavy flooding were the same as always, but something changed for the better: there were no fatalities, wounded or missing people in Nicaragua.
The 10,143 people from the 69 coastal communities directly affected in the South Caribbean Region survived with no injuries, having taken refuge in shelters set up by the governmental National Agency for Disaster Management and Prevention (SINAPRED).
This was due to the gradual development of social awareness in the face of climatic events, according to Ericka Aldana, coordinator of the non-governmental international organisation Global Communities’ climate change project: “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”.
“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore.” — Guillaume Craig
“Historically, Nicaragua’s South and North Caribbean regions have been hit by natural disasters due to their coastal location and environment surrounded by jungles and big rivers which have served as means of transport. But with climate change the vulnerability increased, and it was necessary to make an effort to change the mindset of the population,” Aldana told IPS.
Her organisation, together with the civil and military authorities, have organised conferences, discussion forums and environmental awareness campaigns, in addition to prevention and coastal community rescue plans in the entire South Caribbean Region.
The two autonomous Caribbean coastal regions represent 52 per cent of the territory of Nicaragua and are home to 15 per cent of the country’s 6.2 million people, including a majority of the indigenous and black populations.
Aldana said that in the coastal communities, especially Corn Island and Little Corn Island, located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Bluefields, the waves changed due to the intensity and instability in wind patterns.
This makes it difficult to maneuver fishing boats, alters fishing cycles, drives away the fish, and erodes the coasts of the two small islands.
On Little Corn Island, local resident Vilma Gómez talked to IPS about the threats posed and damages caused by the change in ocean currents, winds and waves.
As an example, she said that she has seen almost four km of coastline submerged due to the erosion caused by waves over the last 30 years.
The municipality of Corn Island, comprised of the two islands separated by 15 km, with a total area of 13.1 square kilometres, is one of the most populated areas in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, with about 598 people per square kilometre.
Gómez said that on her island, infrastructures such as seawalls was built with government funds, to contain the coastal erosion, the damage in wetlands, the shrinking of the beaches and the impact on tourism, which together with fishing make up 90 per cent of the municipality’s economic activity.
But in her opinion, they are futile efforts in the face of the strength of the sea. “I believe that if this continues this way, in a few years the island will become uninhabitable, because the sea could swallow it entirely after contaminating the water sources and arable lands,” lamented Gómez.
Other communities located near Bluefields Bay and its tributaries suffer ever more frequent storm surges and sudden floods, that have destroyed and contaminated the wetlands.
But once the shock and fear were overcome, the population started to try to strengthen their capacities to build resilience in the face of climate change, said Aldana.
Guillaume Craig, director of the environmentalist organisation blueEnergy in Nicaragua, is involved in the project “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”, in which authorities, civil society and academia together in Bluefields carry out campaigns to strengthen the Caribbean communities’ response capacity to the impacts of climate change.
“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore,” Craig told IPS.
As a result, he noted that “the wells dry out in January, when that used to happen in April, the rains in May sometimes fall in March, or do not occur until July. It is crazy, and the local people did not know how to handle it.”
After years of training and campaigns, the locals learned to apply techniques and methods to save water, plant crops resistant to the changes, and techniques for building in coastal areas, which started to suddenly flood due to storm surges or heavy rains.
Climate change has already cost the communities a great deal: a fall in the production of basic grains, a loss of biological diversity and forest resources, water shortages, degradation of soils, salinization of wells, floods in low-lying coastal areas and landslides, among other phenomena.
“The rise in temperatures is affecting people’s health and producing cardiac problems, increasing the populations of vectors that carry diseases, erosion by sea waves and loss of soil, and increasing energy consumption and the risk of fires. The rise in the water level is driving up the risks,” said Craig.
Bluefields, originally a pirate base of operations, is 383 km from the capital city, Managua, and can only be reached by air or by boat along the Escondido River from the El Rama port, located on the mainland 292 km from the capital.
The population of just over 60,000 people is multi-ethnic: Creoles, mestizos (mixed-race), Rama and Garifuna peoples, and descendants of English, French or Asian immigrants.
It faces a bay that serves as a barrier to the sea’s direct waves, and is surrounded by rivers and lakes that connect the region with the Pacific Ocean and the North Caribbean. The elevation above sea level is barely 20 metres, which makes it especially vulnerable.
Marlene Hodgson, who lives in the impoverished coastal neighborhood of El Canal, on the outskirts of the city, told IPS that she and her family have been suffering from the bay’s swells for years.
“Sometimes we did not expect it and all of a sudden we had water up to the waist. Now we have raised the house’s pilings with concrete and dug canals and built dikes to protect it. But we have also become aware of when they come and that allows us to survive without damages,” said the woman of Creole ethnic origin.
After the storms, many houses in the area were abandoned by their occupants, who moved to higher and less vulnerable lands.
The phenomenon also disrupted the economy and the way of life of the traditional fishers, said Alberto Down.
“Just 20 years ago, I would throw the net and in two hours I would get 100 fish,” he told IPS. “Now I have to spend more in fuel to go farther out to sea and I have to wait up to eight hours to get half of that. And on some occasions I don’t catch anything,” said the fisherman from the 19 de Julio neighbourhood, one of the most vulnerable in this area forever threatened by the climate.
TODAY NICARAGUA – The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s recent assessment of Nicaragua reinforces the narrative that the country has made tremendous strides in fighting poverty, but many experts stress the importance of staying vigilant against the country’s still deep inequalities and precarious economy.
The routine assessment of Nicaragua’s economy was conducted by a group led by the IMF’s head of mission to Nicaragua, Gerardo Peraza, last week. At the end of the visit, Peraza issued a statement that cast the economy in a pretty promising light.
“Notwithstanding challenging external conditions, economic activity remains buoyant,” Peraza said on the IMF website. The statement said economic growth is projected at 4.7 percent this year, supported by strong agricultural and commercial activity, while inflation is projected to moderate to below 4 percent given low food and other commodity prices.
Peraza also warned that the Central American country will be challenged “to maintain strong, sustainable and inclusive growth” as the face of global trade and economic activity grows less certain. Among several recommendations, the IMF urged Nicaragua to continue strengthening its public finances.
Nicaragua’s ongoing progress is often associated with its newly re-elected President Daniel Ortega. During his previous two terms in office, Nicaragua experienced stable economic growth and low rates of crime and violence compared to elsewhere in Central America. Ortega also helped many Nicaraguans out of poverty: between 2005-2014, poverty in Nicaragua decreased by 30 percent. Many of the country’s poor, who benefited from his social programs, supported his re-election.
In what was widely perceived as an official mark of the country’s renewed stability, the IMF even closed its office in Nicaragua this year, saying it was done helping the country reduce debt and poverty and get on the path to sustainable growth.
But many experts warn that Nicaragua’s progress needs to be kept in perspective. Nicaragua remains the second-poorest country in the Americas after Haiti and has the lowest level of GDP per capita in Central America. Roughly 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty, while in rural areas, the rate of poverty reaches nearly 60 percent.
And some analysts warn social inequality may again be on the rise. A survey published last Thursday by the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development found that a growing number of high-income Nicaraguans perceive improvements in their purchasing power, from 17 percent in March to 38 percent in October of this year.
“Meanwhile, the net balance of consumers in the [lower economic]strata decreased relative to that observed in June,” reads the report, “suggesting that these groups are more vulnerable to the rise in price levels.”
The roots of these deficiencies in the economy are debatable, but some experts have pointed to the country’s low quality of education. Nicaraguan teachers are the worst paid in Central America, earning less than 60 percent of the average wages for other jobs. And with a pitifully small portion of the national budget allotted to education, Ortega’s government has come under fire for not doing enough to improve it.
Informality in Nicaragua is also a top concern, as informal employment is associated with lower education, lower productivity and higher poverty levels. An estimated eight out of 10 Nicaraguans are self-employed and without steady income or social security, said Nicaraguan journalist and writer María López Vigil in a recent interview with Latin America Press, making it one of the biggest challenges in the country today.
“[And] migration to Costa Rica and Panama is massive,” López added. “The dollar remittances that migrants send to their families are an important support for the poorest people in the country.”
This immigration trend has sent waves of Nicaraguans to neighboring Costa Rica, searching for better paid work opportunities but doing little to strengthen the economy back home.
TODAY NICARAGUA – The monthly variation in March was 0.12%, mainly explained by the behavior of prices of various goods and services and furniture and household items.
From a report by the Central Bank of Nicaragua:
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed a monthly variation of 0.12 percent (0.63% in March 2016), mainly explained by the behavior of prices of some goods and services in the divisions of miscellaneous goods and services (0.40%) Furniture, household items and routine household maintenance (0.31%) and Health (0.36%), which together contributed 0.068 percentage points to the observed variation. In contrast, in the division of Housing, water electricity, gas and other fuels there was a variation of -0.19 percent (-0.017pp).
In cumulative terms, domestic inflation was 1.48 percent (1.45% in March 2016), induced by the behavior of prices in the divisions of Food and non-alcoholic beverages; Housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels; and Education, with a joint contribution of 1.283 percentage points.
In inter annual terms, inflation stood at 3.17 percent, 0.49 percentage points lower than in March 2016, and core inflation was 3.87 percent (5.02% in March 2016).
STODAY NICARAGUA – For the first time in it’s 28 year history, American Apparel, The company, which prided itself on being the largest domestic apparel maker, is now producing shirts in Honduras and Nicaragua.
Gildan Activewear, which bought American Apparel out of Chapter 11 earlier this year, confirmed that labels denoting “Made in Nicaragua” and “Made in Honduras” will start appearing on its clothes this summer.
Gildan operates fabric and sewing factories in Central America for its wholesale division, which sells shirts to corporate customers, including those who print concert-related shirts.
Those customers are much more price sensitive, said Gildan spokesman Garry Bell.
TODAY NICARAGUA – US officials are keeping a keen eye on a Russian complex nestled on the edge of a volcanic crater in Nicaragua.
The center, which is believed to be a satellite station, has been built near the Laguna de Nejapa in Managua – the capital.
The Washington Post reports the local government described the complex as, ‘simply a tracking site of the Russian version of a GPS satellite system’, but not everyone is convinced it isn’t something more sinister.
‘Clearly there’s been a lot of activity, and it’s on the uptick now,’ a US official and expert on Central America, said.
Other officials said there are concerns the hub could be a ‘dual use’ facility, meaning it could house equipment and workers with the ability to conduct electronic surveillance against American citizens.
From where the compound is located, it offers those who are based there a clear view of the US Embassy about 10 miles away in the heart of Managua.
One local spoke about the type of people working at the GPS center.
‘I have no idea,’ she told the Times, when asked about rumors it was a spy center, before adding: ‘They are Russian, and they speak Russian, and they carry around Russian apparatuses.’
The increase in activity is the latest in a growing string of similar upticks by Putin’s government in recent years – including sending troops into Crimea, backing Ukrainian separatists, and the country’s involvement in Syria and Iraq.
Security experts, according to the Times, believe this could be different however, as it could be a direct response to American activity in Eastern Europe.
And while the US is not entirely alarmed, it is on alert – and acting accordingly. A new State Department chief appointed to the landlocked country was moved there from the Russian desk.
Other American officials, the Times reports, who have recently been sent to Nicaragua speak Russian or have experience in the former Soviet state.
The US and Russia have a long and complicated history with Nicaragua, as the Soviet Union backed rebels during the Cold War to overthrow the American-supported dictator, Anastazio Somoza in 1979.
The CIA was quick to respond at threw its weight behind rebels known as ‘contras’ – who fought against the Soviet-friendly Sandinistas.
In the war that followed, tens of thousands were killed.
And in recent years, Russia has worked in the country to reestablish its foothold, which largely disappeared after the Soviet Union fell.
Putin’s government has donated everything from wheat to buses to Nicaragua – support which was seen by many intelligence officials as an attempt by the Russians to have a military presence in the heart of Central America.
It has also sold tanks and other military equipment to the Nicaraguan government.
The Times reports experts on the country and believe there are about 250 Russian military personnel currently stationed there.
Juan Gonzalez told the newspaper America and other countries nearby are right to be worried about just what Russia is up to.
‘The United States and countries of the region should be concerned,’ Gonzalez – who was deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under President Barack Obama – said.
‘Nicaragua offers a beachhead for Russia to expand its intel capabilities and election meddling close to the United States.’
TODAY NICARAGUA (Theguardian.com) – Two brothers stand in a dusty alley in the town of Chichigalpa in Nicaragua. They stare with suspicion at Australian photographer Josh Mcdonald, who has just captured their image – a picture that won a Wellcome Image award last week for its depiction of the impact of a medical condition that has been devastating the male population of Central America.
The illness is described as “chronic kidney disease of undetermined cause” and it is responsible for 75% of deaths of young and middle-aged men in Nicaragua. Workers in the sugarcane industry are worst affected, and the disease has been destroying families and communities for 20 years. Yet the cause remains unknown.
In the case of Mcdonald’s picture, the two boys are known to have lost uncles and cousins to the disease, although their mother still works as a sugarcane cutter. However, the boys were reluctant to speak to the photographer – perhaps because they thought their contact with someone from the developed world might jeopardise their chances of working in the fields themselves.
“It was early in the morning and I had walked out the backyard of the house where I was staying and into a back alley,” said Mcdonald.
“I saw the two standing there. They had arrived to buy flour, which was handed over the fence to them. They were not keen on talking to me, as you can see from their expressions. I managed to capture just the two images, this one and one where the boy on the right is reaching up to grab the bag of flour being handed down over the fence.”
Mcdonald later found out – after speaking to neighbours – that the boys had recently lost their uncles and cousins. Neither was receiving an education, and it is likely they will end up working in the sugarcane industry.
Their prospects are therefore grim. At least 20,000 people – most of them young agricultural workers – have died from chronic kidney disease in Nicaragua since it first came to the notice of doctors in the late 1990s.
Other countries in Central America – such as Costa Rica – are also badly affected. “In the west, chronic kidney disease affects between 5% and 10% of people, most of them elderly or affected by diabetes,” said kidney expert Ben Caplin of University College London. “Less than 1% of people aged around 30 have chronic kidney disease in the UK. By contrast, in parts of Nicaragua that figure is 20% to 30% for people in the same age group.”
Caplin said that the only treatment for the condition was dialysis, but few machines are accessible to the poor in central America. Prevention remains the main hope for countering the condition. However, this prospect is limited by the fact that the cause of the spread of the disease through the young male population of Nicaragua is unknown.
“There is probably an occupational element,” said Caplin. “Conditions for sugarcane workers are absolutely brutal. They have to work in incredible heat – more than 40 Celsius– and they have limited personal protection against the toxic agents being used in fields. The sugarcane is also burned before being gathered and that releases all sorts of things into the air and the soil. So heat stress or pollution are possible agents.
“In addition, infectious diseases could be involved. There are a huge range of potential causes but until we find out what they are, we cannot hope to halt these deaths.”
The tragedy, said Caplin, is that the disease has been known about for more than a decade yet no effective action to counter it has been taken. “I think it is an indictment of public and occupational health across the world that we have not sorted this out. If this was happening in the west it would have been dealt with long ago,” said Caplin, who is working on a long-term project – with the Autonomous University of Nicaragua and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – to reveal the roots of the condition.
Caplin said a similar pattern of illness was now being observed in south Asia, although he stressed the experts were not sure yet if it was the same disease.
The prospect is extremely worrying. As Mcdonald told the Observer, he spent much of his time in Nicaragua living in an area of Chichigalpa that is known as “the island of widows” – a name that reflects that devastating rate of male deaths there. “The lady I lived with had lost her husband, two sons and many friends to chronic kidney disease,” he said. “Life is really, really grim there.”
(Laht.com) MANAGUA – Emergency management chief Rogelio Flores said on Tuesday that “thousands of people took part” in the first national multiple-threat drill of the year in Nicaragua.
The evacuation and reaction of citizens faced with extreme natural phenomena that could turn into disasters, such as an earthquake, a tsunami, the eruption of a volcano or the blast of a hurricane, were the focus of the simulation, according to officials.
A total of 10,000 troops of the Nicaraguan army took part in the drill. They alerted the population to a hypothetical tsunami coming on top of an earthquake, and rescued those who acted the part of victims, the emergency management chief said.
Taking part in the simulation besides state institutions were elements of the private sector, since office buildings and shopping malls were evacuated along with supermarkets, private schools and state schools.
Nicaragua carries out national disaster drills periodically since its territory is considered a multiple-threat zone, exposed as it is to extreme natural phenomena of various kinds.
TODAY NICARAGUA – Companies in the tourismt sector expect to generate US$660 million in revenue this year, mainly driven by an increase in visitor spending.
In addition to an increase in the number of visitors to the country, the tourism industry also expect a rise in the average daily spending tourists, which at the close of the third quarter saw an increase of 8.5% compared to the previous quarter.
The former president of the National Chamber of Tourism of Nicaragua (Canatur), Silvia de Levy, told Elnuevodiario.com.ni “…’We are seeing that average spending is growing a little bit and that tourists are extending their stay in the country. We are diversifying, all tourism entrepreneurs are being asked to diversify their products, to see what other activities can be done. For example, in Managua there are more things to do because of all of the investments that have been made’.”
For his part, “…Leonardo Torres, president of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Small and Medium Tourist Enterprises, projected a 16% increase in foreign exchange earnings from tourism for in 2017.”
To boost tourism, the International Tourism Fair will take place on June 9 and 10, when local tourism businesses will be meeting with 50 wholesalers from the United States, Europe and South America, to explore business opportunities.
“… Among the companies taking part are hotels, restaurants, tour operators and providers of specialized tourist services. Valenti said the five previous fairs have been a resounding success, allowing Nicaragua to be positioned at the international level,” Lucy Valenti, president of Canatur, told Elnuevodiario.com.ni.