food crisis
Some of the Pacific Ocean is warmer than usual – a seemingly innocuous fact, but it actually explains the devastating drought afflicting one of the world’s poorest countries. Because of El Niño, the name for the sporadic increase in temperature in this band of ocean water near the Pacific coast of South America, some regions in Nicaragua have seen little rain during the past several months and the May harvest has failed, resulting in a food crisis. The citizenry is now calling on President Daniel Ortega to implement policies to compensate for rising food prices.

As El Niño develops from June to August and the waters of the equatorial Pacific warm, the Nicaraguan climate becomes warm and dry. This year, the country’s western and central areas have been extremely dry. According to the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies, rainfall in some of these areas has been as much as 88 percent lower than average. One farmer described the amount of rain he has seen over the past few months as “not enough to really even wet the earth.”

As a result, both the bean and maize crops failed in May. Approximately eight out of every ten rural inhabitants depend on these crops for their livelihoods, according to New Agriculturist. Many are asking how Nicaragua, where roughly 1.2 million people were undernourished in 2012, will find a way to feed the second poorest population in Latin America, especially with food prices on the rise.

Dairy and beef producers have warned the government that their production could fall by 50 percent if the drought continues into September. Livestock owners have adjusted by purchasing expensive feed and medicine that they hope will save as many cattle as possible. They pass their increased costs of production on to consumers. And despite these measures, cattle are still dying in droves. More than one thousand cattle have starved to death, according to one agricultural union.

Nicaraguans facing this food crisis are demanding President Ortega act to mitigate it. Thus far, his administration has met with farmers to discuss their options, has expanded a government program that provides meals to thousands of families and has ordered the importation of millions of kilograms of beans and white maize, which will hopefully keep food prices from skyrocketing until the September harvest. In addition, millions of schoolchildren receive free meals consisting of “rice, beans, fortified cereals, wheat flour and vegetable oil” from the U.N. World Food Programme.

However, if the September harvest also fails, the country could face a famine. Farmers used their profits from last year to buy seed for May’s harvest, but now they must borrow money to buy the seed for September’s. If Nicaragua’s drought continues past September, many farmers fear they will have nothing left.

In June, the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) reported that there would be a 90 percent chance of El Niño occurring this summer. However, the Nicaraguan government could do little with that information because the ECMWF lacks the means to predict the phenomenon’s intensity.

It is also worth noting that El Niño’s effects have varied from country to country. Some farmers in other countries, such as mango farmers in Brazil, expect to benefit from the rains that El Niño brings to those regions. This one weather phenomenon brings prosperity to some and destitution to others.

– Ryan Yanke

Sources: New Agriculturist, IPS, World Food Programme, NOAA 1, NOAA 2, World Bank, Time, Fresh Fruit Portal
Photo: OrganicConsumers

sandinista revolution
On July 19, Nicaragua’s ruling FSLN party, led by President Daniel Ortega, gathered at Plaza La Fe in the capital city of Managua to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the successful Sandinista Revolution and the fall of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.

The Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front), or FSLN, is today the leading social democratic party in Nicaragua. The political body, however, has its roots in a military movement that surfaced in 1962 to overthrow U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza DeBayle.

The Sandinistas took their name from General Augusto C. Sandino, a national hero who led an army of farmers and workers against an armed U.S. intervention in the late 1920s and early 30s. Sandino’s forces were able to outlast the U.S. Marines, but the general was betrayed and killed soon after in what he hoped would be a peace negotiation with Anastacio Somoza García, the military strongman left in charge by the Marines and the father of Anastasio Somoza DeBayle.

The Sandinistas and the FSLN are part of the leftist, anti-imperialist front in Latin America, which includes the likes of Fidel and Raul Castro in Cuba and Venezuela’s recently deceased Hugo Chavez. The Castro brothers sent their greetings to the Nicaraguan people on the revolution’s anniversary and lauded the country as “an irreversible stronghold of the anti-imperialist fight.”

Cuban Vice President Ramiro Valdes was present at the celebration in Managua, in the company of President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador and President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras. The Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu also attended the ceremony.

In a dramatic turn of events, the celebrations on July 19 ended in bloodshed as armed gangs claiming to be “contras,” the U.S. supported counterrevolutionary forces that took up arms against the Sandinista government after the 1979 revolution, ambushed bus caravans carrying party supporters home from the anniversary celebration.

Five people were killed and 25 wounded in two separate but seemingly coordinated attacks. FSLN officials have called the attacks “a terrorist act.” These troubling developments surrounding the Nicaraguan Revolution’s 35th anniversary reveal the heated political climate and rampant violence that still causes so much suffering in Nicaragua and throughout the Central American region.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, ViaNica, La Prensa, Escambray
Photo: Counter PsyOps

Education in Nicaragua

Many children in Nicaragua attend school for a few hours in the morning or evening, and work during the remainder of the day. Children must attend school in shifts in order to accommodate other students and to contribute financially to their families according to The Tico Times article, “Is Nicaragua’s education system failing?”

Abbreviated school days combined with student and teacher poverty has resulted in poor education in Nicaragua. UNICEF estimates that only 55 percent of children complete primary school and enter into secondary school. During secondary school the rate of completion continues to drop. While attendance rates have increased in the past ten years, university entrance exams demonstrate a continuous pattern of poor education quality in schools.

At the center of the quality issue, Nicaraguan teachers have very low salaries, earning an average of only $266 per month. The teachers also have a limited amount of supplies and facilities for students, forcing them to limit their curriculum. In The Tico Times article, José Treminio, Nicaragua’s education vice minister, exhibited concern about teacher’s salaries, stating, “We are determined to solve educational problems. We have a commitment to make a leap in the quality of education.” As a result, government has promised a small salary increase for teachers in 2014.

However, in a Nicaragua Dispatch article, “Impoverished teachers, poor schools”, Tim Rogers describes the financial struggles and government promises involved in Nicaragua’s education system. He states, “Nicaragua’s cash-strapped school system is delivering a poor quality of education.” Rogers maintains that the Nicaraguan government has not produce promised education results.

Rogers explains that the government, under the leadership of President Daniel Ortega, expresses a strong interest in improving national education. The government, however, only allots a small amount of the budget towards education, sending the public mixed messages about their endeavors. The amount does not provide enough money for adequate teachers’ salaries, student supplies, or school facilities.

The International Development Association (IDA), a division of the World Bank, offers aid to impoverished countries, providing loans or grants to promote economic growth. In 1995, the IDA partnered with the Nicaraguan government through the First Basic Education program. From 1994 to 2004, this program increased enrollment in primary schools in Nicaragua.

The IDA reported that, “The project contributed to an increase in the enrollment coverage of pre-schools and primary schools, particularly in targeted poor and indigenous communities.”

Even though Nicaragua now has a high primary school enrollment rate, school exams still show low student performance. In response, the IDA acknowledged that the quality of education still remained very low and initiated a similar program to strengthen the education system overall. IDA’s programs combined with an increase in government funding suggests that a sustainable system of education in Nicaragua is possible.

– Jaclyn Ambrecht

Sources: Tico Times, NICA, Nicaragua Dispatch, Child Info, World Bank
Photo: Compassion Internation

As changing climate patterns and rising global temperatures cause increased environmental disturbances, certain regions of the globe become more vulnerable to natural disasters, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. One such community devastated by the effects of climate change is the Salale village in western Nicaragua.

Macario Lopez Melendez and his wife, Nellys Lanuza, live in the small village of Salale, located alongside the Rio Grande. As smallholder farmers, Macario and Nellys depend on the land and natural resources for subsistence. However, with the increasing threats of climate change, they have struggled to maintain their livelihoods as rain, hurricane winds, droughts, and soil erosion cause long dry seasons and significant food and water shortages.

According to the 2013 Global Climate Risk Index published by German Watch, Nicaragua ranks as the third most vulnerable country to climate change. The report found that over the 20-year period between 1992 and 2011, Nicaragua has suffered 44 registered “extreme weather events.” Catastrophic hurricanes have killed thousands of people, caused billions of dollars in damage, and devastated Nicaragua’s agricultural-based economy.

The report also concluded, “the loss and damage from anthropogenic climate change is expected to further increase, potentially with large scale dangerous impacts.” Unfortunately, the countries enduring the worst impacts and facing the most risks in the future tend to be developing countries. The Salale village is a testament of this devastating reality.

These struggling regions do not go unnoticed by the global community.

In its most recent project, the United Nations Development Programme partnered with the Ministry of Environment (UNDP) and Natural Resources (MARENA) to develop a five-year long initiative in western Nicaragua expected to end in 2015. The $5 million project, funded by the Adaption Fund of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC,) already helps 1,100 people in the region. It supports irrigation in nearby farms through the instillation of an outlet, subversive valve, and pipe providing water from the Salto dam.

Macario and his wife share their excitement about the UNDP initiative as they see increased crop yields and a return of food security in their community. In addition to water access, the Salale community receives help with water conservation practices, agroecology techniques, and technical assistance for plot restoration.

The UNDP, the UNFCC and other international organizations play a critical role in helping to reduce the vulnerability of communities in high-risk regions of the world. Because the people enduring the most serious environmental devastation are also those experiencing high levels of poverty, it is crucial that aid and support continues to reach them as the global community finds sustainable solutions to the climate change crisis.

– Gloria Kostadinova

Sources: Nicaragua Dispatch, UNDP, German Watch
Photo: Nicargua At Your Service

poverty in nicaragua
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, second only to Haiti. Most of the poverty in Nicaragua exists rurally (more than 80 percent,) but there are also very impoverished neighborhoods in the capital of Managua.  In fact, 43 percent of the Nicaraguan population lives in rural areas and 68 percent of them are trying to survive off just over $1 per day. Overall, 46.2 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.


Implications of Poverty in Nicaragua


The poverty in Nicaragua has caused extremely poor health conditions. HIV and AIDS have been a big issue; there have also been frequent reports of violence against women. Many organizations have been working to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS and provide support for those with it, to empower women in their fight for freedom from violence and to empower the youth to encourage them to change their society.

Over the last 40 years, there has been extreme inequality and the country has had to overcome a cruel dictatorship, a gruesome civil war and multiple natural disasters. Another big problem is that the central government has historically marginalized the areas with large populations of indigenous people. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has decreased to only one-third of what it was in 1977 because of the combined impact of continued civil strife, trade embargos, unsuitable macroeconomic policies and institutional changes that are leading toward an even and more centrally-controlled economy.

Unemployment across the entire country is at 12 percent, but among the poor rural families, it is over 20 percent, so many rural families are migrating to other countries or urban areas within Nicaragua to find work. Remittances are vital sources of income for one in every five families and account for 20 percent of the country’s GDP.

Fortunately, the Nicaraguan economy has been growing substantially and has recently received lots of attention, having grown 30 percent since 2006, when the Sandinistas came back into power. Also, the GDP per capita has increased from $1,239 to $1,582 in the past year alone. Also, the Nicaraguan government has signed a lucrative memorandum of understanding with a telecommunications company from China to fund and build an inter-oceanic canal that is said to rival the Panama Canal.

Nicaragua is presently importing oil from Venezuela at solidarity rates, so Nicaragua pays extremely low prices up front for the first half of the oil and then pays low-interest loans over time for the rest. The Central Bank has said that macro-business development and social programs are funded by 62 percent of the Nicaraguan oil revenue.

Because of all of this news in the last five years,  extreme poverty (measured by a familial income of less than $1.25 per day) in Nicaragua has fallen from 11.2 percent to 5.5 percent. In 2011, Nicaragua was reported to have an economic growth of 5.1 percent, which was the highest in Central America.  Despite all of this good news, a considerable amount of work still needs to be done before it can fully eradicate poverty.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: World Bank, Rural Poverty Portal, Health Poverty Action, The Tico Times
Photo: Pacific Lots

Nicaragua has reaped recent success in reducing poverty and stimulating economic growth as of late. With one of the highest growth rates in all of Central America, Nicaragua has seen its economy grow by 30% since the Sandinistas returned to power in 2006. Such news is encouraging, as the 2013 Human Development Index ranks Nicaragua 129 out of 187 countries. Currently, 12% of all children under five suffer from undernourishment in Latin America and the Caribbean forcing the nation to refocus its goal.

Recently, the World Food Programme announced that they will do their part to help break this threatening pattern by implementing programs for prevention, reduction, and treatment of nutrient deficiencies in children under five as well as other vulnerable populations. At a recent Regional Nutritional Meeting, an updated strategy for the New Year was introduced to help maximize nutritional value in meals delivered through social programs. In 2014, WFP will aid efforts in Nicaragua by implementing five initial activities:

1. With the assistance of the Nicaraguan government, WFP will utilize locally produced products high in nutrients.

2. Supporting country models, WFP will address chronic malnourishment by conducting applicable evidence surveys.

3. Piloting a national review of current social protection programs.

4. Preparing regional studies for the financial costs of solving chronic malnourishment.

5. Conducting another review of national monitoring and evaluation systems concerning nutritional challenges.

WFP Deputy Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Alzira Ferreira, spoke about the ongoing war on child undernourishment. “If young girls and boys do not receive adequate nutrition to properly develop, the damage to their bodies and minds could be irreversible. Later in life those children may develop health problems and perform poorly in school, consequently limiting their capacity to contribute to the well-being of their families, communities, and countries. We can avoid that by making nutrition central to all our interventions.”

This new Regional Nutrition Strategy will help allow Nicaragua and other governments suffering from a similar plight to focus on child nutrition from the womb to two years of age, where receiving sufficient nutrients and calories can be critical. This comes on the heels of a lucrative memorandum of understanding between Nicaragua and a major Chinese telecommunications company, which will fund a build an interoceanic canal and freight railroad across the country rivaling the Panama Canal. Recent optimism and support has allowed Nicaragua a chance at achieving stability and a new healthy nutrition standard.

Jeffrey Scott Haley
Feature Writer

Sources: World Food Program, Tico Times, The World Bank
Photo: Bastyr University

Nicaragua Law 779 Women Protesters Face Attackers
Thousands of Nicaraguan women have taken to the streets and protested against the recent reforms made to the Comprehensive Law Against Violence Toward Women (Law 779), which could make women who have been victims of sexual crimes participate in face-to-face mediation with their abusers.

Implemented in June 2012, Law 779 criminalizes violence towards women and has been criticized since its implementation by opponents such as conservative and religious organizations, as well as men’s groups, and has been accused of promoting discrimination toward men. These groups also strongly prohibited the law’s initial stance against mediation between victims and abusers, claiming that it represented radical feminist opinions and eliminated the presumption of innocence in a trial. The opponents to the law presented it to the Nicaraguan Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional and demanded reforms, which were approved by the Nicaraguan parliament on September 20.

Violence against women in Nicaragua is a widespread problem considering the 19 percent increase in domestic abuse cases reported from January to August 2012 than in the same period in 2011. Many women’s groups associate this increase with the incorrect implementation of the law, but no clear indication has been found proving these claims. Nonetheless, Law 779 was a success for women’s groups in the Central American nation, as it was the first in the country’s history to criminalize violent behavior towards women including femicide, as well as guaranteeing emotional, physical, and sexual integrity of women. The law additionally demands that more state resources are used to tackle the problem of violence towards women and implementing violence prevention programs.

When the mediation reforms were approved, the major step in equality backfired on women’s groups who had spent decades lobbying for Law 779 to pass in the first place. More specifically, with the new reforms, it is now legal for there to be mediation for crimes with the abusers’ sentences being less than five years. These sorts of sentences are given for domestic cases such as physical injuries, psychological violence, sexual assault at home or at work. Crimes that result in sentences longer than five years and could not be considered for mediation would be ones where the victim suffered from serious physical wounds or femicide.

Nicaragua’s society is extremely patriarchal, with most women relying economically on their husbands or boyfriends; women are given the responsibility of holding the family unit together. This pressure on Nicaraguan women often leads them to agree to mediation even though it puts their lives at risk. However, according to the head of the Supreme Court, mediation will be voluntary when reforms are implemented, and it can be requested or denied by either party. Women will not be obligated to participate in the mediation process. Despite this however, the newly approved reforms are still a setback to progress for Nicaragua’s women and put them in a vulnerable and emotional position wherein they could face their attackers, leading to shame and terror.

Despite women’s groups’ protests over the reforms, the rest of the population believes that it is more effective that the government strengthens the existing processes in place and implements Law 779 in a just way to protect women from domestic violence.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: The Guardian, IPS, AJWS

In a decision that has sparked heated debate throughout Central America, the Nicaraguan National Assembly, led by President Daniel Ortega and his leftist Sandinista Front, recently approved a massive canal project that hopes to achieve “Panama-style prosperity.”

The plan proposes to link Nicaragua’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts to a Chinese company who will “transform one of the region’s poorest countries” by bringing many jobs to the country and fueling a sure economic boom to mimic nearby Panama. The Nicaraguan government seems to view this project as a panacea for its troubles, as recently its slow economic growth rates have landed it in the position of the hemisphere’s second-poorest country after Haiti.

The Hong Kong-based company plans to start evaluating the project’s feasibility soon, and forecasts a total cost of over $40 billion, a hefty cost that will require foreign investors. Despite the costs, Sandinista congressmen Jacinto Suarez is optimistic about the project, claiming “global trade demands that this canal is built because it is necessary.”

Not everyone is as optimistic as Suarez, however, about the sure success of the project. Though the idea to build a canal through Nicaragua to boost its economic viability has been around for a long time; former proponents of the project have now become hesitant and even a bit skeptical. Particularly, shipping experts and environmentalist are concerned that the canal project proposal passed in what critics are calling a “lightning-fast approval process,” despite the fact that the legislation contained no specific route for the canal or any details about its financing. While environmentalists worry that the canal will surely cross and deplete Lake Nicaragua, the country’s primary source of fresh water, shipping experts question whether Nicaragua is truly slated to achieve prosperity of Panama’s proportions.

The situation may require a deeper look at the true economic and political relations between the U.S. and Panama, both at the opening of the canal and today.

Further, Nicaraguan nationalists argue that Nicaragua “is not for sale” and fears how such a tremendous Chinese influence will affect the country’s sense of patriotism and national sentiment. These nationalists dismiss the potential economic advantages the canal could allow their country, claiming that the canal would benefit the Chinese tradesmen more than the native Nicaraguans.

What the argument comes down to, essentially, is a question of winners and losers. The Nicaraguan canal will bring economic prosperity and facilitate trade in the region and thus is a step in the right direction…but for whom? If the answer is the Chinese, one must evaluate what Nicaragua stands to gain—and perhaps to lose—from passing this proposal without a second thought.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: Eye Witness 9, Yahoo! News
Photo: Tierra


What does a word leader look like? Presidents, executives, members of Congress, and those with major publicity are probably the first people that come to mind.

Yet there are some leaders that don’t get this same attention. These leaders are in the background, changing communities one step at a time and building life long bonds to international cultures that can’t be diminished.

These leaders are the young students of the Amigos de Las Americas organization. Founded in 1965, Amigos stresses the importance of leaders and advocates out in the communities today. Developing leadership and cultural skills, Amigos sends high school and college students out into international communities, where developed skills are used to implement change in health and education practices.

The community service projects that Amigos have been involved in have a profound impact on the people of Latin America. In just 48 years of operation, Amigos has administered nearly 8 million immunizations, given 63,904 medical screenings and planted nearly 300,000 trees in numerous communities of Latin America. They have constructed health facilities, homes and community centers, as well as nearly 38,000 restrooms.

The influence this organization has on Latin America can’t be overstated, and students have had an overwhelming response. Over two dozen chapters have opened up in America, including a large chapter in Austin. Eighteen states in America host these chapters and are involved in the Amigos organization.

Amigos have already begun planning ahead to the summer projects of 2014. Some of the places where students will participate include Peru, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. The organization accepts donations on their website to help fund these trips and other projects. For more information on how to apply for one of these trips, visit

There are no limits to becoming a leader. Make a difference now.

– William Norris

Sources: Amigos de las Americas, Austin Amigos
Photo: Amigos de las Americas

USAID Helps Nicaraguan Students Graduate
Universidad Centroamericana celebrated as 125 students graduated on April 5th. Many of these students had received scholarships from the USAID’s Enterprise and Employment program to study business and technical studies. Nicaragua’s Victoria Fountain, an organization that encourages young people to pursue technical degrees, also supported the students.

These graduates completed courses in “strategic planning, human resources, negotiation techniques, human relations and customer service” for business majors and technical majors took “mechanical drawing, electricity, mechanics, hydraulics and pneumatics.”

USAID and the Victoria Foundation each contributed $107,000 to the University. This money went towards providing books, uniforms, meals, and teachers’ salaries. The two organizations hope to team up to create a food technology degree. Students graduating with this degree would greatly contribute to Nicaragua’s effort to improve its food security. U.S. Ambassador Phyllis Powers, the head of USAID’s Enterprise and Employment Program, and several representatives from the Victoria Foundation attended the graduation celebration. These organization members were thrilled to see their financial contributions utilized to benefit these hard working students and the country of Nicaragua.

As more young people receive a higher education, Nicaragua’s economy and standards of living will begin to improve. Many of these students would not have had the financial means to attend Universidad Centroamericana without the help of USAID and the Victoria Foundation. Now, they have the opportunity to change their lives for the better.

– Mary Penn

Source: TND