By Gabriela Selser (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — After protests broke out 17 days ago, Nicaragua’s political crisis has hit sensitive economic sectors such as tourism and exports, warned private businessmen who are urging the Government to establish a process of national dialogue as soon as possible.
Desolate hotels, empty restaurants and canceled trips are the visible results of the conflict this country is facing, which had hoped to receive over 1.5 million foreign visitors and earn a billion USD in revenue from that industry this year.
“We were full until two weeks ago, but the “cheles” (light-skinned ones) left in a stampede. I think they went to Costa Rica,” said a concerned hostel owner in San Juan del Sur, one of the busiest resorts in Nicaragua’s Pacific region.
The National Tourism Board (CANATUR) believes that the crisis, which began with university student protests and became a social movement against president Daniel Ortega, will leave them with at least 100 million USD in financial losses.
Using a campaign to promote a “unique and original Nicaragua”, the government was pleased with the dynamism of its tourism sector. According to the Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism (INTUR), approximately 200,000 foreign visitors traveled to Nicaragua in April 2017 alone, double the 102,577 figure recorded in April 2016.
“Groups (of tourists) who were going to come now have been canceled (as well as) groups over the next three months,” Lucy Valenti of CANATUR, revealed. The investment sector is also reported to have been hit, according to national business people.
The private sector has said it’s ready to take part in an “effective, broad, inclusive and reliable” national dialogue process, mediated by the Catholic Church, the start date of which has yet to be set.
According to business sector, “rebuilding the Rule of Law” with institutional reforms is urgent, so that powers are independent, corruption can be tackled and the current electoral body can be replaced “so as to ensure free and transparent elections”.
They are also asking that the dozens of fatalities in these protests be investigated and that those responsible are held accountable for their actions, the statement said, signed by Nicaragua’s Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) among others.
According to the state-run Center of Exports (CETREX), the volume of sales to 67 countries fell by 10.72% in the past two weeks, when compared to data from the same period last year.
Mario Arana, manager of Nicaragua’s Association of Producers and Exporters (APEN), told La Prensa newspaper that there had been a partial or complete paralization of some activities during the first few days of protests, which caused a delay in paperwork or sending merchandise out.
In spite of average prices of its exports improving, Nicaragua has put products worth 129.8 million USD on the foreign market over the past two weeks, 4.13 million less compared to the same time period last year in 2017, according to CETREX.
Even though he didn’t consider this blow to exports that serious yet, Arana warned that it will get worse “if this is drawn out”.
In 2017, Nicaragua generated almost 2.6 billion USD in revenue from exporting traditional products. This sum doesn’t include sales made in duty free zones, which average approximately 2.5 billion USD per year, according to statistics from Nicaragua’s Central Bank.
Protests began on April 17th in response to the government’s Social Security reforms, which increased workers and business’ contributions and cut pensions. Even though Ortega revoked the reforms, protests multiplied after the Riot Police and the government’s paramilitary squads violently repressed a university protest leaving dozens of dead and wounded.
Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) has accused Ortega of promoting repression and uncertainty.
“Daniel Ortega isn’t creating favorable conditions for a national dialogue (…) he continues to repress protests and is maintaining a climate of anxiety and uncertainty,” Vilma Nunez, CENIDH’s president, said.
The lawyer presented CENIDH’s draft report, confirming 45 fatalities and over 400 people injured from April 19th until May 3rd. Plus, there are still injured people in hospitals, she pointed out.
Fatality figures don’t match up. The Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPHD) has recorded 54 deaths and the Nicaraguan Pro Human Rights Association (APDH) 63, while the Government is only reporting 10.
Nunez has said that Nicaragua is experiencing “a very difficult situation” and that the dialogue set to begin with the Catholic Church’s mediation “won’t be enough” to resolve this crisis, the solution of which is still uncertain.
She believed that calling for early elections isn’t the right thing to do, as opposition leaders still haven’t been put forward. “We don’t have a reliable Supreme Electoral Council” and the elections might be rigged in the government’s favor, she maintained.
She also said that a Truth Commission needs to be created immediately, with honest figures of international prestige, and she rejected the body created by Parliament, which is dominated by pro-government legisslators. “The first thing on the agenda is to seek justice (but) no change can be brought about while blood is still spilling,” Nunez said.
Parliament president, Gustavo Porras, announced that members of the Truth Commission will be revealed on Sunday.
According to Nunez, this “isn’t a guarantee that justice will be sought because Nicaragua’s Legislative and Judicial Powers are subjected to Ortega.”