brad brace

11/13/2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 6:52 am

In Nicaragua, a storm brews over aid handling

Filed under: General,global islands,government,human rights,nicaragua — admin @ 6:49 am

As the waters recede following more than 50 days of biblically proportioned rains that claimed more than 200 lives and caused an estimated $392 million in damage, a political storm is gathering over Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega’s handling of the disaster.

Allegations that the Sandinista Front is politicizing the distribution of humanitarian aid for Hurricane Felix has led to rumblings of rebellion on the coast and calls for an investigation by opposition lawmakers in Managua.

On Oct. 31, several hundred Miskito Indians from the northern Caribbean regional capital of Bilwi took over the airport’s storage warehouses in search of relief aid, which they claim is not getting to the communities that were devastated by the Category 5 storm two months ago.

Another group of angry citizens clashed with government sympathizers in front of city hall, while others threatened to ransack church storage facilities in search of food and relief supplies.

`TIME BOMB’

Osorno Coleman, a former anti-Sandinista rebel leader still known by the nom de guerre ”Blas,” told The Miami Herald that the situation on the Caribbean coast has become a “time bomb.”

”The government is politicizing the relief aid and the majority of the population is not receiving anything,” said Coleman, who leads an indigenous group called Yatama No Sandinista. “If the government continues this behavior, there could be more uprisings and it could start to get out of control.”

The relationship between Nicaragua’s Caribbean indigenous communities and the Sandinistas has been historically rocky. The Miskito communities suffered innumerable human rights abuses at the hands of the Sandinista government in the 1980s, some of which were outlined in a suit filed by the Miskitos with the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Some South Florida aid organizations said that they were aware that some of the aid sent to Nicaragua was not getting through for political reasons, though they added that political meddling with relief aid is common when disasters occur.

”Unfortunately, it’s part of the business. It’s the way governments work everywhere,” said one relief agency representative, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid straining the relationship between the organization and the Nicaraguan government.

The main South Florida organization helping Nicaragua, the American Nicaraguan Foundation, said that it was not facing any problems with distribution of its aid.

”Our aid is getting where it needs to go,” said Federico Cuadra, an ANF spokesman.

Government opponents claim the Sandinistas are using the controversial Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) — citizen partisan groups that the Sandinista government is creating all over the country — to control the distribution of government aid to party loyalists. Critics claim that the CPCs are using aid distribution to recruit others to join their organization, and thereby strengthen the Sandinista party base heading into next year’s municipal elections.

In the depressed inland region known as the mining triangle, frustration with the Sandinistas’ tactics is also reaching a boiling point, according to opposition party officials and community leaders.

POLITICAL MANEUVER

Víctor Manuel Duarte, a Liberal Party lawmaker from the mining town of Siuna, said the Sandinistas are attempting to use relief aid to undermine local government officials and win over voters.

Duarte said he fears the Sandinistas’ meddling and alleged harassment of local officials could lead to a resurgence of small groups of rearmed Contras in a region that was haunted by rearmed groups throughout the 1990s.

The situation is equally grim for the Miskito communities living in the nearby forests.

Nicanor Polanco, a former anti-Sandinista rebel leader who represents 340 demobilized Miskito combatants, says his community has received no government assistance since the hurricane destroyed their village and crops, and now his people are getting sick. Instead of helping, he says, the government is making recovery impossible by prohibiting the indigenous communities from harvesting and selling the fallen timber from trees leveled by the storm.

The government says the logging ban is to prevent uncontrolled cutting and timber trafficking, but indigenous communities like Polanco’s claim that if they can’t sell their wood, they won’t have money to buy seeds to replant basic food crops.

”It’s ugly and now it’s organized,” he said, referring to the growing opposition movement. “This could get violent and who knows where it will lead.”

Hurricane Felix ripped across the northeastern corner of Nicaragua on Sept. 4, leaving 244 people dead or missing and 22,000 homes damaged or destroyed, in addition to obliterating crops and leveling huge swaths of virgin forest. The region’s fishing and lobster industry — one of the main sources of economic livelihood in the region — has been all but wiped out.

Nicaragua is not the only region that suffered from recent natural disasters.

In Hispaniola, Tropical Storm Noel last month killed 142 people. At least 100 communities are still cut off by water two weeks after the storm.

In Cuba, Noel caused more than $500 million in damages to crops, homes and roads, the government reported last week.

Beyond Nicaragua’s northeastern region, six weeks of subsequent rains throughout the rest of the country resulted in thousand of people relocated to shelters, massive crop and cattle loss, and thousands of miles of roads washed out, prompting Ortega to declare a nationwide state of disaster Oct. 19.

GLOBAL HELP

The international community has provided millions in relief aid and funding to Nicaragua.

The United States has contributed more than $4.7 million in humanitarian relief, plus helicopter transportation to isolated communities and $7 million in funding for low-interest rate loans for reconstruction.

The World Food Program, which is helping to distribute international aid directly to the communities hit hardest by the storm, said the process is “going fairly well.”

”We have a distribution system that works and we’re confident with it,” said William Hart, resident representative of the World Food Program.

However, Hart said the aid his group is distributing is covering less than half of the 200,000 people affected by the storm.

”As in most emergencies, when people are severely affected and hungry, it’s never fast enough,” Hart said, “and it’s never enough for enough people.”

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