Nicaragua

Reality is just so much less interesting

While the usual suspects up north try to drum up panic over the possibility of an insidious Iranian incursion into the American continent, the always-excellent Tim Rogers just went ahead and asked Iran’s ambassador to Nicaragua what they’re up to:

The Iranian Embassy in Managua, he said, is “the smallest diplomatic mission in the entire American continent.”

The ambassador said the three-member mission, which operates out of a rented house in an upscale neighborhood in Managua, is just him, a cultural attaché and an economic adviser.

“I wish it were a bigger mission with more people. But that’s the way it is,” the soft-spoken ambassador said, in fluent Spanish.

Contrary to rumors that Iranians are flooding into Nicaragua without visas, Pour insists the “Iranian colony” here is less than 40 people, many of whom have been here for decades. In fact, he said, for the March 21 celebration of Iranian New Year, the entire Iranian community in Nicaragua was invited to the embassy – and all 36 of them showed up.

Sounds pretty nefarious. The article also notes that all the talk about deep-water ports and hydroelectric dams has gone nowhere, which pretty much makes sense if you’ve heard anything about the fiscal responsibility and project management prowess of Nicaraguan heads of state.

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The Fat Man is back

Boo.

Corrupt, sleazy Latin American politicians are like the proverbial horror movie monster that, no matter how many times you shoot it or set it on fire or run it over with a car, always come back for one more scare. No surprise then that in Nicaragua, eminent ex-presidential scumbag Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2002) has thrown his hat in the ring for 2011.

This is the same Alemán who was convicted of corruption in 2003 for stealing something like US$100 million from a country whose entire government budget amounts to  only about US$1.4 billion annually. The Fat Man (as he’s known) got sentenced to 20 years in prison. He only served about two. The rest of the time he spent under “house arrest” on his sprawling estate, when he wasn’t actively traveling around the country campaigning.

Thanks to a “pact” he had made with Daniel Ortega in 1999, Ortega got control of the government and Alemán got a Get Out of Jail Free card. Alemán was released in 2009 after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction for corruption.

Not content with escaping prison, however, Alemán is running for office again. As this kind of breaks the power-sharing pact, the government is going after him again with new charges of corruption. He’s undeterred. Here’s a video of the old charlatan that does a lot to blur the distinction between Alemán The Presidential Candidate and Alemán The Guy Selling You a Used Refrigerator:

Who knows if Alemán will win, but faced with a choice between Alemán and Ortega, the Nicaraguans are definitely the losers. And you wonder why Denmark is pulling its aid money out of Nicaragua.

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Nicaragua has chosen its first African-American Miss Nicaragua in 18-year-old Scharllette Allen, a Caribbean beauty from Blue Fields. [link]

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The gringo speaks

Eric Volz, the American who in 2007 was convicted and later acquitted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend in Nicaragua, is publishing a book about his ordeal. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Volz case. On the one hand, he was almost certainly railroaded. It’s pretty hard to fabricate phone and chat records, and he had many eyewitnesses that placed him in Managua at the time the murder took place.

On the other hand, I found the U.S. media’s handling of the whole thing to be distasteful. I’ve been to San Juan del Sur, several times. It’s a scummy, weird place full of scummy, weird people. Volz sold real estate there, which in my book makes him one of the thousands of opportunistic foreigners who profit from the very fact that Central America’s legal systems and regulatory bodies are vulnerable to extra-legal influence.

That doesn’t mean he deserved to be convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. But it does significantly muddy the narrative that 60 Minutes, CNN, the Today Show, and others put forth, of a wholesome blond gringo cruelly set upon by a culture of lawless savages, as if this kind of thing never happens in America.

Now  he’s drafting off that narrative with a book called Gringo Nightmare. It’s good business, but it doesn’t seem right.

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Insulza is not the issue

With its typically retrograde, myopic, Inside-the-Beltway perspective on Latin America, The Washington Post lobbed a grenade a couple weeks ago when it strenuously objected to a second six-year term for José Miguel Insulza as secretary general of the Organization of American States, implying that the U.S. should “press for change,” whatever that means.

Others much smarter and better-looking than myself have since weighed in to challenge the piece’s logic. Increasingly, it’s looking to be a moot point. So far, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, and probably a few countries I’ve missed have already come out in support of Insulza’s reelection next month, and anyway, he’s thus far running unopposed.

That doesn’t change how lots of Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and perhaps Bolivians on the wrong end of certain political winds feel about an Insulza-led OAS:

I think they have a legitimate complaint. Democracy isn’t only about the vote. It’s also about having autonomous ombudsmen, due process, freedom of expression, and an independent judiciary, all of which have been weakened or eliminated in many of the ALBA countries. Meantime, the OAS has been busy carefully avoiding eye contact.

But OAS critics are wrong when they assume ideology is to blame. As far as I’ve seen, the OAS is an equal-opportunity ignorer of outrageousness when the outrageousness is perpetrated by larger countries like Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia. This is just politics, folks, and it’s the way international organizations will always deal with their most powerful members.

That’s definitely not desirable, but it certainly won’t change if you replace the executive secretary.

Also posted in Human Rights, Politics, Venezuela | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Stronghold crumbling

Click for gallery.

Vandals are destroying the Fortín de Acosasco. The fort was the last stronghold of Somoza’s forces outside Leon, Nicaragua, during the 1979 fighting. For many years, it was also used as a prison, torture chamber, and place of execution for thousands who opposed the Somoza dictatorship.

Now a national monument and one of clearest remaining reminders of the brutality of the Somoza dictatorship, the fort has been neglected. According to El Nuevo Diario, 15 meters of concrete wall and a large portion of the roof have been busted up by vandals looking for scrap metal. Below, a video tour of the fort that also details some of its history.

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Job growth

Apply within. (Via Wikimedia Commons.)

If you’re looking to suckle at the teat of government largess, I hear Nicaragua is hiring. La Prensa reports that since Ortega took office in 2006, the government has added 7,506 employees to its payrolls. If you think that sounds bad, it gets worse.

The number does not include new teachers, and only 710 of the new hires were health care personnel. And in 2006, the government only had about 39,000 people on the payroll. That is to say, in four years, the government of one of the poorest countries in the world increased its administrative personnel by almost 20%.

I would never argue that a state should take the Washington Consensus route and gut the bureaucracy reflexively, as a matter of policy. But as the Prensa article points out, every additional córdoba spent on a paper-pusher’s salary is a córdoba that’s not spent on infrastructure. It also begins to smack of political patronage.

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A little help from Ortega’s friends

Venezuela just became the proud owner of a Nicaraguan television channel, Telenica (Canal 8 ). The Venezuelans themselves confirmed to El Nuevo Diario that the money for the purchase of the channel came from ALBA de Nicaragua S.A., a corporation founded to manage incoming Venezuelan petrodollar handouts that is, in point of fact, 51% owned by Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA).

The purchase is just the latest addition to the swelling business holdings of President Daniel Ortega, according to an excellent round-up on the whole affair published in The Nica Times. The purchase also appears to be another step in the silencing of independent media outlets by ALBA countries. From the El Nuevo Diario article:

The change in the news and information profile of Channel 8 was evident just one week after orteguismo took control of the media. Now it broadcasts international reports from the Telesur network, of which the son of the presidential couple – Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo – is part owner. Government spokesman William Grisgby appeared with his program “Without Borders,” replacing “Tonight” with Carlos Fernando Chamorro. Several vignettes of Daniel Ortega talking during various activities appear during the commercials.

The article also points out that Nicaraguan law bans corporations majority owned by foreigners to own major media outlets, although that doesn’t appear to have made much of a difference.

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  • DAILY LINKS

    • The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

    • Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas ended his hunger strike yesterday after 134 days. Farinas decided to end his strike after the Cuban government said it would release political prisoners rounded up in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003. Get well soon. [link]

    • The Uruguayan selection, which has made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, just received a shipment of half a ton of fine cuts of beef for the mother of all asados in preparation for a contest against Ghana on Friday: "450 kilos of lomo, 200 of entrecot, 75 of vacío, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaña." [link]

    • Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre Cantú. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

    • From the days when coups were something of a regional sport, new documents detail a famous British ballerina's role in a plot to topple the government of Panama. The plan was to use her yacht to gather men and arms, then "land somewhere and collect in the hills." It didn't work. [link]

    • Mexico's Attorney General's Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

    • Two Brazilian ranchers were sentenced to 30 years in prison apiece for ordering the killing of an environmentalist nun: "Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old [Dorothy] Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers." [link]


    • This video of a kidnapping and car chase in Mexico is notable mainly for the bad-assitude of the TV journalists who were on this like white on rice. Well done, gentlemen.

    • The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: "His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor... He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts." [link]

    • Some cruise lines will cease traveling to Antarctica after this cruise season, as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil goes into effect next year. The ban came after a 2007 incident when a Gap Adventures ship got punctured by ice and sank, causing a mess. [link]