Another Hurricane will hit Central America this weekend

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Eta struck Central America, leading to deaths from Panama to Guatemala, another Hurricane is expected to hit Central America, coming ashore just north of where Eta struck along the Nicaraguan coast.

A week after Eta, areas are still under water

Eta left extraordinary damage in its wake, especially along Honduras’ northern coast and inland, where rivers crested, entirely cutting off communities from assistance. In Guatemala, mudslides have killed scores off people.  In Guatemala and Honduras, the governments did little to prepare for the storm, and have been ineffectual in delivering emergency supplies to people in need. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees writes:

Honduras has been hit hardest by extensive rains and overflowing rivers, with an estimated 1.3 million people affected, 58 dead and 88,000 evacuated. Among these are 103 people who had been previously displaced by violence and persecution.

In Guatemala, over 640,000 people have been affected, including 46 dead and 96 missing nationwide. Some are buried under landslides or remain inaccessible to first responders. At least two families of asylum seekers have had to be evacuated from their homes due to flooding. UNHCR is coordinating the delivery of aid with authorities and partners and has made refugee housing units and essential supplies available, in response to the government-led appeal for support.

Video of damage in Honduras

Mulukukú, Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast

Nicaragua’s government managed to evacuate thousands of people prior to Eta’s landing. There were only two confirmed deaths in Nicaragua – both miners killed in a mudslide. Over the last week the government has delivered over 30,000 sheets of metal for roofing and other supplies to to begin reconstruction efforts. Nicaragua was better prepared than other countries in the region, as it had developed a national response network in the post-Mitch era. However, like everything else these days with Nicaragua, unless you are there, it is impossible to decipher the impact of government efforts from the media as every story of success has a counter-narrative these days. That said, like the rest of Central America, this hurricane hit at a time when economic growth has slowed due to the coronavirus outbreak and government resources are strained as a result. In Nicaragua, the struggle is further exacerbated by U.S. government sanctions aimed at pressuring the Sandinistas out of power.


Tropical Depression 31 heading toward Nicaragua and Honduras

As of now, another tropical system is heading toward Nicaragua, and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane. It is currently estimated to come to shore along the northern Nicaragua coast on Monday morning, and cut across Honduras, with impacts felt in Guatemala, El Salvador, Southern Mexico and Belize.

It goes without saying this is about the worst thing that can happen right now. We hope that conditions have changed enough to limit the strength of the storm. For example, this system is moving faster, and is not expected to reach the devastating Category 4 that Eta did. We will update as more is known.

Update: Friday 11:00 p.m.

The tropical depression has become Tropical Storm Iota. The latest from the National Hurricane Center now shows it potentially becoming a “major” hurricane by Monday morning – winds in excess of 110 MPH.

Update #2: Saturday 10:00 PM

Iota has slowed down, and is strengthening. The path has also shifted south some, currently on target to hit Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast very close to where Eta did. Honduras will get hit hard again on this path.

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Hurricane Eta strikes Nicaragua

Nicaragua was struck with a category 4 hurricane on Tuesday this week. Hurricane Eta formed and quickly strengthened in the Caribbean last week and into the weekend. It came to shore as a very strong, slow moving storm near Bilwi on the northern Atlantic coast, and cut across the northern part of the country, swelling rivers and dropping rain all around. 

As of Wednesday there were two reported deaths, both gold miners who perished in a mudslide west of Bilwi. Nan McCurdy with the Nicaragua Network reported on Wednesday, that “The torrential downpours on November 4 have caused the flooding of some neighborhoods in Jinotega, San José de Bocay and Wiwilí where 27 people were evacuated by the army.  The strong currents of the Wamblán River dragged down the suspension bridge.” Further flooding and mudslides are always possible as the rain continues to fall, but it does seem as though Nicaragua has seen the worst effects, and has come through okay. That said, there has been significant damage to homes along the Atlantic coast and interior flooding with the result that some folks will be displaced for a time.

National emergency response systems put in place since Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998 were mobilized before the storm. On Tuesday, Erika Takeo with the Friends of the ATC wrote about precautions being taken: “Within the framework of prevention and mitigation of damages, more than 80 tons of food and basic elements were sent to the shelters (about 20 thousand people have been evacuated) that have been installed in safe areas of the city of Bilwi. Also, more than 1,500 troops of the Nicaraguan Army rescue unit were mobilized to the areas with red alert, and a provisional hospital with medical equipment from the Ministry of Health has been installed to attend to emergencies.” 

We spoke with folk at Institute of John XXIII on Wednesday. As the rain was still falling, it was too early to know the full impact of the storm and, therefore, what emergency, or longer term responses might be needed. We will continue to be in touch. For now, we proceed mostly with relief that the people of Nicaragua seem to have come through the storm as well as could be expected. 

Honduras and Guatemala have been more severely impacted. In Honduras at least 13 people have died in flooding, and many more in Guatemala, as 25 people were killed in a single mudslide near San Cristobal Verapaz.

Flooding in San Pedro Sula

We will have more information on impacts in Honduras and Guatemala early next week. At this point any funds we raise for Honduras and Guatemala will go to the Franciscan Network on Migration, which coordinates the work of shelters in Central America and Mexico.

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Nicaragua in times of coronavirus: Amazement and suspicion

 Below we share a reflection on COVID-19 in Nicaragua. The country has seen very few confirmed cases compared to other countries in the region. While opposition figures have simply said the government is lying about the numbers, this hardly explains the difference – which goes far beyond anything the government could actually hide if it wanted to. So understanding what is happening in Nicaragua is very important. 

Magda Lanuza has been an activist and friend of the Quixote Center for many years. She regularly works in Nicaragua, but is currently in El Salvador where she penned this reflection earlier this week. The oriignal in Spanish can be read here.

by Magda Lanuza in San Salvador, El Salvador, April 18, 2020

What’s going on in Nicaragua? For some, it is interesting, scandalous and impossible that the country only has 9 reported cases as of April 18, when there are already countries in the region that outpace it, such as 640 in Costa Rica. In what follows, I will explain nine differences that make what is happening in this country distinct from what is happening in the Central American region. This is not the time to take advantage of the situation and discredit political rivals, to make apocalyptic messages, or to announce miraculous remedies or recipes for cleansing and magical eating. One should keep a level head as they read this story, which will be written for centuries to come.

  1. Massive vaccination campaigns: The country has focused on preventive health for the past 40 years. In the 1980s, the tuberculosis vaccine – BCG – became widespread. Then in the last 10 years influenza vaccinations have become widespread, giving priority to the elderly. Meanwhile, in Honduras and Guatemala, the health system is semi-privatized and no longer supports the needs of the general populace. Prevention is better than medicine, and in health it pays double!
  2. Public health system: In the last 12 years, 17 new hospitals have been built, for a total of 73 public hospitals available to 6.5 million inhabitants. In addition, there are 143 Health Centers equipped for patient observation and treatment, and 1,333 health posts. All of our health systems suffer from limitations, but in Nicaragua, public investment in public health is not negligible!
  3. Organized and informed communities: No other country in the Central American region has the information network and training with Health Brigade members that exists in Nicaragua. There are 5,806 community health centers. From these sites, communication with health authorities is received and distributed, reaching the farthest corners of the country. “ATTENTION, if you came to our Municipality you must isolate yourself for 14 days!” So say the posters that these brigades deliver and carry in recent months.
  4. There are no deportations from the United States: Despite having the airports closed and making constant requests to stop deportations, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have not stopped receiving chartered flights every day. These brothers and sisters arrive in precarious health conditions from the center of the pandemic (more than 700,000 cases and 37,309 deaths). The Guatemalan Minister of Health stated that between 50% and 75% have arrived positive. Nicaragua today does not have this problem either!
  5. Isolation since April 2018: Since the attempted coup in April 2018, the nascent tourist industry collapsed. We can still find on the web pages of northern embassies warning their citizens not to travel to this country. There are no flights from Iberia, British Airways, Lufthansa, Alitalia, KLM, or Air France, such as one finds in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Managua International Airport already had very few flights before COVID-19!
  6. 6. Strict controls for passengers and travelers: The Nicaraguan Army has dedicated itself to controlling the blind spots on both borders. Those who arrived via the airport are checked, and they are sent to social isolation and follow-up in their own homes. El Salvador, when it still had no cases, forced hundreds of people to remain in confinement centers in a single location. This measure of 30 and up to 45 days of compulsory confinement has been questioned because it is not recommended by the WHO / PAHO. The overcrowding in these centers may have contributed to the increase in imported cases (190 today). The strategies devised in each case will yield its own results!
  7. Tourism industry almost null: Guatemala has nearly 2.5 million tourists to year, while Nicaragua had only reached 1.7 million in 2017. In Costa Rica, tourism totaled 6.3% of GDP, while in Nicaragua, it barely reached 5% prior to April 2018. The Nicaraguan tourist industry went from receiving $840.5 million for tourism in 2017 to $544.4 million in 2018, according to official data. The virus likes to travel and they call the cases “imported”!
  8. Extensive territory versus population density. Nicaragua is the largest country by area in the region with 130,700 sq km and has the smallest population in the entire region with only 20 inhabitants per sq km. With almost 43% living in rural areas, compared to El Salvador which has 326 inhabitants per sq km, and Costa Rica with only 25% of its population in rural areas. The space is enviable and healthy!
  9. Closure of airports and borders of neighboring countries: Guatemala closed off flights on March 17. Costa Rica closed its borders (no flights) on March 19. Honduras closed its borders on March 16 (no flights) and El Salvador closed off flights on March 18. Meanwhile, COPA Airlines and AVIANCA, almost the only airlines that arrive in Managua, have suspended all their flights since mid-March. Nicaragua has already been quarantined since mid-March!

Finally, I would like to offer one more difference for those who are believers. God has protected and will continue to bless the suffering and dignified people of Nicaragua. 

And so, the headlines that have come out in large international media outlets such as El País, BBC, RTVE, The Guardian and CNN, are not valid but cynical. Then they have been copied by media in the region, such as La Tribuna in Honduras on April 12, with photographs from marches in 2018. 

Times of pandemic bring out the best and the worst in us. For some, their basest interests, fake news, racism, and hatred emerge and instill fear in the population. Others show their solidarity and dedication to the most helpless. Those are the Saints of these days, as Pope Francis said in his homily from Rome on Easter Sunday.

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ICE detentions are way down this month. That is not all good news.

Busses taking people to deportation flights in Brownsville, TX

According to ICE detention statistics, on March 21 ICE was holding just over 38,000 people. On March 28 the number was down to 35,671; by April 4 the number was 33,863. Which means over the last two weeks the number of people in ICE detentions has fallen by 4,200, or just over 11%. As we, and many other people have been advocating releases, this seems like good news.

However, is ICE actually releasing people on a large scale? It does not seem to be the case. The Global Detention Project estimated that only 200 people had been released in recent weeks by ICE under pressure from advocates for humanitarian parole. Rather, it seems that the decline is the result of a drop in book-ins to ICE facilities, coupled with ICE continuing to deport people at a significant pace. 

The first point to make is that fewer people are being booked into ICE facilities. Those transferred from Customs and Border Patrol to ICE hit its lowest level this year during March. This decline is the result of fewer people trying to get into the United States, and, more to the point, the fact the U.S. is simply sending those people who make it back across the border to Mexico without processing them. This policy was established under an emergency order issued by Trump – and if it lasts long enough to go to court, will almost certainly be overturned. But for now, CBP is holding fewer people, and thus transferring fewer people for longer term detention in ICE facilities. Book-ins from CBP were 9,218 for March, nearly 2,000 less than in February, and the lowest monthly total this fiscal year.

The number of people booked into ICE facilities as the result of internal enforcement operations (CBP detentions are generally the result of enforcement actions at, or near the border) also declined in March, though was still over 10,000. In mid-March, Mark Albence announced that ICE would be reducing its enforcement operations to focus exclusively on removals of people with criminal convictions. Reportedly, Albence was raked over the coals within the White House for this announcement, as it  had not been approved in advance. So we’ll see how long it lasts. The decline in book-ins in March was not great however, and through the first 3 days of April, 886 people were detained as the result of internal removal operations. This represents too few days to make much of a guess at April numbers, but if this early daily average were to hold, the total book ins would be near 9,000 people – lower than recent months to be sure, but still a lot of people. For March the total was 10,100 – lower than February or January, but higher than November or December. An important trend here is that internal removal operations are now higher than CBP transfers as the source for ICE detention for the first time in well over a year, if not longer.

So, one reason the overall numbers are down is a significant decline in those transferred into ICE’s massive detention network. However, this doesn’t explain how people are getting out. If the Global Detention Project’s estimates are correct, and relatively few people are getting released as a result of humanitarian parole (+/- 200), then there must be another source for the 11% fall in detentions over the last two weeks. 

The main source of the decline in detention numbers seems to be deportations. Of the 33,800 people in ICE detention right now, 12,000 are slated for expedited removal. So, many of these people may be gone by the end of April – offsetting any increase from ongoing enforcement actions.

Of great concern is the related fact that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has continued regular deportation flights with only a brief pause to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and in the last week has also flown people into Haiti, Colombia and Nicaragua. And, of course, ICE has been deporting the largest group of people back across the border into Mexico, as it regularly does. 

Deportation flights have become the source of growing criticism of ICE and the Trump administration’s immigration policies in the time of coronavirus. COVID-19 is now present throughout ICEs facilities, and will only grow in the coming weeks. ICE’s lack of preparation and discernible care for the people in its custody during this pandemic has been documented over and over-  most recently, by Amnesty International in a scathing report released earlier this week. And yet ICE continues to move people around within its detention network, and is still deporting people to countries, almost all of whom have otherwise closed their borders and shuttered international airports. All of these countries are now forced to spend precious resources managing arrivals from the United States – which is now the location of nearly one-third of the globe’s confirmed cases. 

So, ICE practices have become a significant source in the transnational spreading of coronavirus in the Americas. There have been 3 confirmed cases of people deported to Guatemala with COVID-19, and many other people arriving with flu-like symptoms to other countries. The attorney for a Hatian man due to be deported this week noted that his client had been in two different facilities in one week – both of which had confirmed cases of COVID-19 among either staff or people being detained. He was pulled off the deportation flight at the last minute, but none of the other 61 people on the flight to Haiti were tested for COVID-19. 

I would love to celebrate the decline in the number of people being held detention by ICE. And, all things considered, it is certainly better news than an increase in those numbers. But underlying the decline are disturbing practices; practices that in the context of a global pandemic rise to a level of indifference and irresponsibility that is shocking even for this administration’s already low bar on ethical behavior.

ICE must halt deportations AND release people from detention…NOW. 

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In Memoriam Ernesto Cardenal

Ernesto Cardenal in León (Nicaragua) 1979. PEDRO VALTIERRA / CUARTOSCURO

The famed Nicaraguan poet, priest and revolutionary Ernesto Cardenal died on March 1, 2020 at the age of 95. Over the years, many of the Quixote Center staff and our partners had met him. Even though he was a public figure, he was also known to be a man of the people, approachable and warm. 

His poetry expressed the complexities of his relationship to his Nicaraguan homeland, the natural world, and the United States. His life showed much of the same complexity. After graduating from the UNAM in Mexico, he continued his studies at Columbia University and returned to the United States to study under Thomas Merton in his Trappist community. From Cardenal’s early collection, Gethsemani, KY, we find a poem, which I have translated below, that gives a glimpse into how he understood the contemplative life in relationship to the realities of consumer society:

In the night lit up by words:

PEPSI-COLA

PALMOLIVE CHRYSLER COLGATE CHESTERFIELD

that flicker on and off on and off,

the red green blue lights of hotels and of bars

and of movie theaters, the Trappists go up to the choir loft 

and light the fluorescent lamps

and open their great psalters and antiphonaries

among millions of radios and televisions.

They are the lamps of the prudent virgins awaiting

their husband in the US night! 

From Kentucky, he moved to Antioquía, Colombia for seminary studies before settling on the island of Mancarrón, the Solentiname island in Lake Nicaragua, where he founded a radical intentional community that welcomed locals and international figures alike to reflect upon the nature of the Gospels as understood in lived experience. He developed a political and social consciousness quite at odds with that of the Catholic hierarchy and increasingly aligned with Sandinista leaders during the insurrection. As Cardenal described the development of the community’s collective conscience through the 1960s and 1970s:

These commentaries on the Gospel were radicalizing us, me and others in the community. Little by little, we found ourselves identifying with the movement in Nicaragua until a moment arrived in which we were practically assimilated to it. Some of the youths already wanted to leave the community to become guerrillas. It took a lot of effort for me to hold them back and a message sent to us by the legendary guerrilla Comandante Marcos was a great aid. He said that we had to maintain the community in Solentiname because it had social, political, military, tactical, and strategic importance for the revolution.

The consequences of that tactical and strategic importance were great. Several members of the community – Cardenal not included – participated in the failed uprising of October 13, 1977, with the goal to take control of a military base in nearby San Carlos. The reprisal was swift, with an aerial bombardment that decimated the island community of Solentiname and scattered the population. 

Even as Cardenal won many awards for his poetry, he was ostracized within the Church – particularly the Vatican – for his support of the Sandinista Revolution and his role as Nicaragua’s Minister of Culture from 1979-1987. He was famously rebuked by John Paul II on his 1983 visit to Nicaragua, who, wagging his finger at Cardenal, scolded him for his role in the government. His priestly ministries were suspended by Rome from 1984 until 2019, when Pope Francis lifted that suspension.  

Due to a combination of budgetary problems during the Contra War and what might be described as artistic differences with Rosario Murillo, Cardenal’s Ministry of Culture was closed in 1987. While he expressed a lifelong commitment to the Revolution, Cardenal left the Sandinista party in 1994 and publicly criticized its leaders. 

Although he was openly critical of the Sandinista party, his stature is such that the President and Vice President decreed three days of national mourning. As might have been anticipated in the current polarized environment, there have been media reports that the funeral services on March 4 were disrupted by Sandinista “turbas” [mobs]. But this claim is backed up with only a few brief videos supplemented with the claim that reporters were robbed

According to his wishes, Cardenal will be cremated and the ashes deposited in the Solentiname archipelago that was so dear to him. His archives, however, are stored at the University of Texas at Austin. 

In early 2018, Cardenal released a poem titled “Así en la tierra como en el cielo” [“On earth as it is in heaven”], reflecting on faith, mortality and the natural world. To capture the scale of his legacy I end this reflection with my translations of a few passages from this much longer poem:

Billions of galaxies with billions of stars

(there are more than one thousand million galaxies)

our galaxy of trillions of stars

barely one among millions of galaxies

a star gas

and a galaxy gas

I open the window and gaze 

at the stars from which we come

it seems that the universe had a purpose

in which we find ourselves

the universe conscious of itself:

stardust 

that can in the night

gaze at the stars

…………………………………………………………………………………..

We are lavish because of the Sun

always bathing in light and food

light that is food

because plants eat light 

a chemical reaction called photosynthesis

chlorophyll: light from the Sun and water from the Earth

by which plants are green

the variety of shapes and sizes of leaves

one over another fighting for the Sun

and the light made sandwich and made wine

“I am the light,” said Jesus

light and food

the universe is not only for man

and the Good News is for all of creation

the whole world with cries of childbirth

its mystery that surrounds us all

and is almost entirely empty space

…………………………………………………………………………………..

God/Love is not an unmoved mover

but rather change and evolution

the future that calls us

and the resurrection our future

all together in the center of the cosmos

there are many rooms there said Jesus

the Only planet in the solar system 

with lights in the night

And we are God’s dream

God dreams of us

wants us in a different world

without the sins of inequality

the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer

where no one rules over anyone

…………………………………………………………………………………..

The stars are not above

They are atoms like us

born of stardust

and from this same dust are they

Millions of conscious stars

their sacrifices shining all night long

the explosion of supernovas

teaching us how to die

 

~Rest In Peace, Ernesto

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Rubio’s Double Speak on Haiti and Nicaragua

People are in the street calling for the resignation of their president. The police are using excessive force; in the last three weeks at least 17 people have died in protests. Over the last 15 months of recurring demonstrations, close to 100 people have died. In November 2017, a government-affiliated gang massacred dozens of people in the home town of a leading opposition figure. This is not Nicaragua or Venezuela, but Haiti. The United States government steps up to the mic and says, what? 

Cue Marco Rubio:

That’s an internal matter for Haitians to decide. I don’t think it’s the proper job of the United States to call on a democratically elected leader to step down. That would be interference. Just like it would be wrong for the U.S. to step up and say he should stay.”

Before I write another word, I’d like to just note that this may be one of the few things Rubio has ever said that I agree with. It is just…how to say this…really hard to take seriously, especially coming from this guy. Earlier this year, Rubio threatened a coup d’etat against Maduro in Venezuela, saying of Maduro’s efforts to resist the U.S. installation of Juan Guaidó as interim leader:

“He’s picked a battle he can’t win,” Mr. Rubio, 47, said of Mr. Maduro in an interview on Friday. “It’s just a matter of time. The only thing we don’t know is how long it will take — and whether it will be peaceful or bloody.

Rubio also joined the chorus of neocons in the U.S. congress and their erstwhile “left” allies, in demanding Ortega’s ouster from Nicaragua’s presidency last year. Rubio was practically Trumpesque in use of Twitter, being very active but repeatedly getting reports wrong. E.g. His July 13 Tweet last year when he reported that “Ortega Thugs” were burning the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN). Buildings at the UNAN were set on fire that day – by opposition groups retreating into the UNAN after firing on an FSLN caravan (see pages 34-37 of linked article) taking part in the repligue (celebration of the Sandinista’s strategic retreat to Masaya in 1979 during the insurrection). Members of this opposition group shot and wounded 10 people. The resulting stand-off over night led to gunfire exchanged between police and opposition groups that had blockaded the university, some of whom had taken refuge in a church. The police response seemed excessive, at least as reported. But as was the case for most of last year’s international coverage of the crisis, what the police were actually responding to was never discussed. In the morning, most were allowed to leave the church. Once the area was cleared, stores of weapons were found on the campus, another detail rarely reported outside of Nicaragua. Certainly Rubio never got it right. Nevertheless he put Ortega “on notice,” and offered his support to opposition leaders (at least those wealthy and or connected enough to get to D.C.).

In Haiti, where Rubio has also applied pressure – pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and not to cut ties with Taiwan – all he can muster is some version of “not our fight.” The contrast is frustratingly familiar, but frustrating nonetheless. In reality, Moïse would not even be president were it not for U.S. interference in the election process in Haiti. 

The distinction Rubio would likely make is that Ortega and Maduro were not “democratically” elected. In fact, the only distinction between elections in Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, all of which were subjected to heavy U.S. interference, is that in Haiti the “right guy” (i.e., the U.S.-backed candidate) won  – the same guy half the country is in the streets today trying to remove from power. The “right guy winning” is what “democratically-elected” means in the U.S. foreign policy lexicon. As far as electoral processes go, arguably Nicaragua and Venezuela’s elections were cleaner. Certainly the OAS statement on Nicaragua’s 2017 elections offered critique, but noted that the problem areas they identified would not have changed the outcome. Meanwhile, Haiti’s election had numerous procedural issues, and by the time the final election occurred, was largely boycotted.

In an ideal world, the protection of human rights would never be simply “an internal matter,” but a multilateral commitment with the force of international law. However, as it stands, human rights advocacy is practiced almost exclusively as an expression of institutional interests and partisan framing. Which means it is not about human rights at all, but the use of human rights in service to other agendas.

The never ending doublespeak from Rubio and other policymakers, agencies like the UN, and even some human rights organizations, ensures universal protection of human rights never happens. Ortega will never have to face a meaningful, objective panel to answer questions concerning possible crimes committed under his watch, because the U.S. has made sure no such place exists. And so, of course, neither will Moïse, much less Hernández in Honduras, or Donald Trump, whose human rights record is arguably the worst, given its global reach. 

The U.S. should NOT intervene, but in Haiti’s case the U.S. has never stopped – not since 1804. So Rubio’s words are simply more of the typical, vacuous phrases intended to deflect responsibility we have come to expect from U.S. policymakers. Rather than just yawn, however, we need to understand that the consequences of such posturing are significant.

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12 Families Receive Homes in San Marcos, Nicaragua

Members of housing cooperative in San Marcos with Institute staff

The following report is abridged from the Institute of John XXIII/Assocation Roncali’s report on completing the first phase of housing in San Marcos, Nicaragua. The Quixote Center’s Homes of Hope program was the principal funder of this housing initiative. We thank all of you who have supported the project thus far!

On Saturday, May 4, twelve families who are members of the Cooperativa Fuentes de Agua Viva (COVIAMFAV) of San Marcos were able to move into their new homes. “This is a miracle,” said Pastor Anibal Chavarria, president of COVIAMFAM. 

The cooperative was created in January 2014 and in 2015 was able to purchase land for up to 20 houses. Once in possession of the land, they searched tirelessly for financing, but were unable to find a bank willing to work with them. Several people resigned in frustration.

In January 2018 the Institute of John XXIII (Association Roncalli) began working with the members of the cooperative through mutual relationships developed years before with another housing cooperative:¨One day Don Nicolás (a director with the Institute of John XXIII) arrived in San Marcos to get to know the project. We are very grateful to him. The hand of God has always been with us, thanks to God, the Institute of John XXIII and their partners¨ Pastor Anibal Chavarria concluded.

The construction process with COVIAMFAV has been difficult. The terrain is very hilly so several improvements had to be carried out before starting the construction of the houses including creating terraces for the homes.

Kenneth García is an engineer working with the Institute and oversees all of the construction sites. Mr. García explained that he had to design a new model home that would meet the requirements of families. The result was the Sapphire model of 57m2, an austere and more economical model than the 42m2 model that was originally created for this project.

New homes in San Marcos

Terracing the land also required the construction of retaining walls. “The processes of construction of retention walls, in many cases was more expensive than the construction of houses,” explained Mr. García. 

Liliet López, another Institute engineer, who was in charge of the supervision of the work during the four months, stressed that the biggest obstacle was the topography of the land and the need to create varying levels for each lot. Engineer Lopez pointed out that with this project four contractors were employed, who had several squads of workers, for a total of 50 people employed during construction. Members of the cooperative also helped work on the project.

“We had 50 workers working from Monday to Saturday and days of mutual aid by members of the cooperative on Sundays”.

Of the 12 members who received their housing, 11 are women who struggle daily to get ahead with their family. Silvia Dávila, member who received her house, with tears in her eyes expressed her gratitude to the Institute of John XXIII (Roncalli Association) for believing in the cooperative and giving them the opportunity to have a decent home. “One of the things we learned in this project was patience and working together. We had the land, but not the money for housing. Thanks to the association our children will have their space. Most of us are women, heads of family. I longed to have my house, and today is the day they give us the key, the beginning was difficult, but God is just.”

“I am very grateful we have persevered” were the words of Martha Lucía Galeano, 38 years old, a member of the cooperative, who received her house and who has a bakery as a means of subsistence. “When I arrived, I listened to the desire to have a home and in this cooperative we were given space as working women”.

Another member who received her home was 39-year-old Jeaneth Bonilla. She expressed the happiness of receiving her home. “I come to thank God for this blessing and all those involved in this project, the cooperative and the Roncalli Association that helped us make this dream come true,” said Mrs. Jeaneth. 

On behalf of the Institute of John XXIII, Roncalli Association, the director Edwin Novoa, also expressed his satisfaction at the completion of these 12 homes. “All this work is the product of faith, will and relationships. It has been a collective work, which has required the will of public authorities and families. But we are still missing eight homes and we have the commitment to build them, this is just beginning .”

Edwin also encouraged the members to support the board of the cooperative and encouraged them to plant trees to give the soil consistency. Likewise, he recognized the engineers, construction masters and local authorities for all the support and effort.

Edwin Novoa hands keys to member of cooperative.

For the development of this project, the support of the mayor’s office of San Marcos was indispensable. Mayor Linda Tellez acknowledged the accompaniment provided by the Institute of John XXIII to the cooperative and thanked Pastor Aníbal for making the mayor participate in this project.

The celebration of the delivery of the homes concluded with the handing over of the keys to their home to the 12 members who were very happy.

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Homes of Hope Update

In 2014, the Quixote Center launched the “Homes of Hope” initiative in partnership with the Institute of John XXIII in Nicaragua. Since that time, we have delivered over $1 million to capitalize housing projects in Nicaragua and the campaign has raised nearly $1.6 million overall. 

The program is delivered through two inter-related initiatives managed by the Institute of John XXIII: The Community Housing Program and the Family Housing Program.

The Community Housing Program works with low-income families. Families are organized into housing cooperatives, typically with construction on larger plots of land serving multiple families. Quixote Center funds are used to cover construction costs. Repayment is based on concessional rates, and the money flows into a revolving loan fund that is used to cover costs of future housing projects.

To date 41 houses have been completed as part of the Community Housing Program: (20 in Leon, 21 in Sebeco) with another 12 nearly complete in San Marcos. Work on an additional 19 homes is underway and there are already plans for more in the pipeline.

The Family Housing Program works with middle-income families, a group often left out of local credit markets. This portion of the program is coordinated with a private bank (Banpro). Quixote Center contributions are used to secure mortgages: at least 20% of the value of homes is deposited with the bank. Banpro pays the full value of the housing construction, including indirect costs and administration up-front. As security for the mortgages is freed up with repayment, it also flows into the revolving loan fund.

To date, 53 houses have been built as part of the Family Housing Program. In 2018, however, this portion of the program has been in stasis, as banks in Nicaragua have ceased all mortgage lending, as a result of the economic crisis.

In March, we visited current construction sites in San Marcos, San Dionisio, and Terrabona.

San Marcos

The Community Housing Program in San Marcos (Department of Carazo) is organized with the Cooperative “Fuentes de Agua Viva.” With support from the municipality, the cooperative secured 1 manzana (1.7 acres) of land which will eventually include 20 houses. The first phase of construction for 12 houses is nearly complete.

View of Housing Site, San Marco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Dionisio

The Community Housing Program in San Dionisio (Department of Matagalpa) is being coordinated with the mayor’s office. The municipality was able to secure a large plot of land with support through the national government’s land initiative. The site will eventually hold 40 houses but the first phase includes plans for 12 homes. At the time of our visit, the entry to the property had been complete, with a communal space to house celebrations and a regular market for local producers. The rest of the site has yet to be cleared. In meeting with the mayor’s office, Institute staff discussed the path of the road through the property, and reached agreement on a modest re-routing. Clearing activities for the rest of the property will begin soon.

Market in San Dionisio

Future site of San Dionisio housing units

Terrabona

In Terrabona (Department of Matagalpa), the municipality has offered participation in the housing initiative to teachers as a benefit for their work. The Institute is coordinating construction of 7 homes for this program. During our time in Terrabona, the Institute began discussions with the mayor’s office about an additional site for a Community Housing Program that will hold 26 houses. As in San Dionisio, the property in Terabono was purchased by the mayor’s office with support from the national government. The mayor’s office is offering the land for sale at concessionary rates to families without permanent housing; repaid funds will then go to purchase additional land for future housing.

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Annual Report 2018

The Quixote Center’s Annual Report for 2018 is now available. If you like the work we are doing, please consider a tax-deductible contribution. You can designate funds to a specific program, or put it toward general funds that support all of our work. 

 

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A New Round of Dialogue Launches in Nicaragua

Representatives of the Nicaraguan government begin meetings with business leaders and other members of the opposition Civic Alliance starting today. Church leaders are present to witness the discussions, but unlike the dialogue attempted last year – where church leaders were “moderators” –  they have no formal role this time.

Last year’s rounds of dialogue were very public affairs, with plenaries held before cameras and smaller working sessions held in private. The new talks are being held completely in private; indeed the location of the talks has not been released. A small group, working together outside the temptation of live camera feeds, may be more likely to reach an agreement. On the other hand, there is also a danger that an agreement reached by this smaller gathering won’t be accepted by the myriad groups cut out of the talks.

Context for Discussions

Since the fighting ended in July, a sustainable peace has been hard to achieve. In July, the government passed an anti-terrorism law which has since been used as the basis for the arrest of hundreds of people involved in demonstrations last year. While there was certainly violence from opposition groups – a point largely ignored outside of Nicaragua – the scale of arrests seems out of proportion to those crimes. In some cases, the sentences handed out have been questionable*, far in excess of the constitutionally mandated maximum 30-year sentence, giving the whole process the feel of show trials meant to bolster Ortega’s authority rather than as an effort to achieve justice. That said, there were crimes committed and families clamoring for justice. Not all of the arrests can be dismissed as political posturing. Even so, the process to date has not inspired confidence and is being used outside of Nicaragua to legitimate further sanctions.

Meanwhile the economy has come undone. Nicaragua entered 2018 with economic growth projected at 4-5%. By the end of the year, the economy had actually shrunk; 150,000 jobs were lost (even more in the informal economy), and banks had sharply reduced new lending, creating the potential for a protracted recession. The immediate cause for this is the political crisis. Blockades erected during demonstrations stopped almost all commerce for the months of May to July. Tourism, which had become a major source of foreign exchange and represented 6% of GDP in 2017, collapsed. Over 800,000 reservations into Nicaragua were cancelled in 2018, leading to a 54% decline in revenue and widespread job loss. Foreign direct investment (FDI) took a huge hit as a result of the crisis. FDI fell to $10.7 million in the second quarter of 2018, its lowest level in years. By comparison, FDI in the second quarter of the previous year was $113 million. Capital flight passed the $1 billion mark in August, creating a liquidity crisis for banks. The Central Bank intervened with sales to banks from foreign reserves for a time, but the Central Bank was facing its own liquidity crisis given the falloff in international transactions. By the end of 2018, foreign exchange holdings had fallen to their lowest level in a decade.

On top of the broader economic problems, the threat of sanctions is freezing out investment and raising the costs of borrowing to the government. Nicaragua had already been hit by the secondary effects of new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela announced in August of 2017. Venezuela’s oil company PdVSA holds a 51% stake in Albanisa, a private holding company that uses a portion of proceeds from subsidized oil sales to invest in variety of energy projects. Under threat of sanctions, Albanisa was forced to transfer all of its funds from private banks in Nicaragua to the Banco Corporativo (Bancorp), which is also an Albanisa company. The U.S. congress passed the NICA Act in December, an immediate result of which was that U.S. banks began withdrawing services from Nicaragua for fear of being caught up in sanctions. The long-terms impact of the NICA Act could be devastating. If the U.S. were to veto any new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (as called for in the NICA Act), the ability of the government to borrow funds would be severely hampered.

What’s on the table

As the sides meet today, they will be hammering out an agenda and delineating the process for discussions. The government is clearly looking for a path out of the economic crisis, or at least an agreement that would forestall implementation of further sanctions from the U.S. and avoid sanctions threatened by the European Union. It is doubtful that a formal agreement on new tax policies and social security reform would even be on the table at this point. But positioning for those coming debates will certainly be an undercurrent in the discussions.

The Civic Alliance is coming with demands (as reported in El Nuevo Diario): Release of political prisoners and the restoration of freedoms, rights and guarantees, established by the Political Constitution, as well as electoral reforms that guarantee fair, free and transparent elections; and Justice for the people of Nicaragua. Not on this list is the specific demand for early elections. This may still be a part of the discussion, of course, but there is some light here. The government has committed, on paper at least, to introducing electoral reforms and has met some opposition demands on local election policy already. Last night the government prepared to release 120-150 prisoners to conditions of house arrest. This is far from the freedom being demanded, but might garner the government some small amount of goodwill on this point. As of this afternoon, the government has already begun to follow through and a partial list of those under house arrest has been made public. 

Whatever is decided at the dialogue faces at least two further challenges, a domestic one and an international one.

If the Civic Alliance members are seen as compromising too much to get an agreement, it might well be rejected on the streets. This is particularly true on the questions of prisoners and elections. The hardcore opposition wants Ortega gone, and will demand all prisoners released. The Civic Alliance negotiators are not likely to get either, but they may get a process to review arrests, with some additional people released to house arrest in the intervening period, and they may secure electoral reform that will provide more space for opposition candidates and, possibly, no fourth term for Ortega. Will that be enough?  

Then there is the so-called international community. Throughout the crisis, the U.S. government has been pressing for early elections. National Security Advisor John Bolton recently said that Ortega is on his way out, one way or another. Will this posturing from the sidelines make an agreement impossible to reach? Will the United States accept an agreement even if it does not meet all of their demands?

All of which is to say, I am hopeful that this process is underway again, and even hopeful that an agreement will be reached; but this hope is tempered somewhat knowing that any agreement will face further challenges to be seen as legitimate and to be implemented. Compromise has not been in the air much since last April, but maybe the economic situation, which impacts everyone (if not equally) will force the question. We can only watch from here – and hope Bolton stays out of the way, allowing Nicaraguan negotiators to come to an agreement without putting his thumb on the scale. 

 

 
*This was edited slightly following publication, from “In some cases, the sentences handed out have been laughable…” 
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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)