So What Does the Nicaraguan Opposition Propose on Covid-19?

Massive testing, food voucher, adjustments to the workday: some of the Civic Alliance’s 43 proposals for the health crisis

“Save lives and fight Covid-19 is today’s priority. Those who are in power should act.” Taken from the Facebook page of the Civic Alliance.

By Lucia Navas (La Prensa)

HAVANA TIMES – The opposition umbrella group Civic Alliance has put forth a plan involving 43 emergency measures to give a “breather” to the workers and companies during the country’s economic crisis from the drastic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Alliance hopes that Nicaraguan ruler Daniel Ortega will be receptive to their proposals, out of interest in avoiding Nicaragua’s total collapse, asserted their national coordinator, Carlos Tunnermann.

Some of the proposals that, according to the Alliance, should be put into practice immediately in the area of health are: carrying out massive testing to detect the foci of contagion – for example, within companies with large groupings of workers; massively testing health personnel; and making sure there are backups of protective equipment and supplies for the hospitals so they can respond to the emergency.

In addition, they asked the regime to establish “in the short term” a fund for in-kind transferences of food and provisions to those at risk, such as older adults, so they can avoid leaving their homes to avoid contagion from Covid-19.

“There’s a high percentage of people who must go out because they’re part of the informal sector. Therefore, the government should provide them with food and provisions packages so those people can stay at home and not expose themselves. Older adults would be included there,” stated Tunnermann.

The coordination between the authorities and the private sector is imperative to agree on changes in the work schedules, so that the majority of workers implement telecommuting or work a shortened schedule, among other measures to reduce exposure to contagion from Covid-19.

Additional aid to the retired

Another of the measures specified is to allocate resources for giving “an additional sum” to the 280,000 retired, to augment the pensions they receive from the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute.

Tunnermann explained that those on pensions need that additional money so that they can cover the cost of the basic food supplies. Currently, a month’s worth of basic goods is valued at over 14 thousand cordobas. [US $405]. The source of these resources would be the emergency funds that organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank have made available so that countries can implement assistance programs for their population, and programs to prop up businesses in this crisis.

 “The pensions cover a reduced portion of the basic food supplies, so that we propose that those pensioners be helped,” Tunnermann said.

The opposition leader made reference to the fact that the Ortega regime could access financing from the multilateral organizations if they would begin to implement the measures recommended by the Pan-American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, with the seriousness that the pandemic deserves.

Although they called for a suspension of in-person classes and recommended that a method of online classes, or some other modality be adopted, the Civic Alliance considered it essential that the Ministry of Education maintain the school lunch program, which could be picked up by parents while maintaining the needed precautionary measures. In that way, families would be helped to have food during this crisis.

Suspend payments for basic services

A three-month suspension in fees for water and electricity, “as well as prohibiting cutting off these services to the population [for non-payment],” form part of the plan of assistance for families. A three-month payment deferral was also requested for mortgages, and a reduction in the price of cooking gas cylinders for the same period. In the case of fuel, the proposal asked that the prices begin to reflect the drop that is being seen in the world market. “The first priority is to defend lives,” said Tunnermann.

“These are measures that can be carried out if there’s a will on the part of the government, of Mr. Ortega. If they’re implemented, they’d pave the way for the regime to have access to the extraordinary funds that up until now they’ve been denied by the International Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,” he emphasized.

Proposals across eight areas

The Civic Alliance proposals include the social, fiscal, commercial, labor, monetary, financial, and economic areas, although there are also political demands. The latter include the immediate liberation of the more than 70 political prisoners and having the Ortega regime ask the Costa Rican government not to ignore the needs of Nicaraguans exiled in that country. In addition, the Alliance asks that a part of the funds human rights organizations will facilitate be used to set up specific assistance programs for the exiled, estimated to number around a hundred thousand in the southern neighbor.

To date, the regime has minimized the Covid-19 pandemic and has refused to assist companies or the most vulnerable populations, despite the fact that the economic recession is taking the country to the edge of a cliff, with an accelerated closure of businesses, especially in the tourist and commercial sector. This, in turn, is increasing the rates of unemployment. Nicaragua had already faced two years of economic recession brought on by the socio-political crisis that stemmed from the government’s repression of civic demonstrations that began in April 2018.

“This package of measures has the objective of giving a breather to Nicaraguan workers and companies, while the worst part of the economic crisis persists,” the Alliance declared.

At the same time, they reiterated that the solution to the economic, social and humanitarian crisis that Nicaragua has been suffering for two years will come only by solving the political problems, “like the liberation of the prisoners, the restitution of the public freedoms and the celebration of early elections with previously enacted electoral reforms,” the opposition organization stated.

The plan noted the urgency of reforming the 2020 General Budget to reflect needed changes. Funds to the health system must be increased to supply it with ventilators, protective equipment personnel and the medical supplies needed to attend to the patients. This aid would complement the economic aid to the vulnerable population and affected companies.

The Civic Alliance feels that the pandemic crisis in Nicaragua can be handled in a similar way to that of the other Central American countries, where they’ve reacted in a way that corresponds to the urgency of the situation, as opposed to the regime of Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

Speed up imports of medical supplies and food

One of the great problems is the scarcity of masks and other protective health equipment, due to the fact that Customs maintains barriers for imports. The Civic Alliance urged the regime to speed up the process of importing medicines, test kits, ventilators and protective materials.

Similarly, they urge them to give preferential treatment to food imports, accompanied by the suspension of customs duties on such import companies for a three-month period. Those payments would be made once the crisis was overcome.

One of the urgent matters, according to Tunnermannn, is to have the regime establish a rapid system for granting a Sanitary Certificate to products essential to combatting the pandemic, such as laboratory equipment, reagents, and other products. “We recommend that the Ministry of Health establish as system for rapid registration of essential medical products, so they can enter the market,” he stated.

Change their attitude of negation

Tunnermann hopes that Ortega will change his attitude of negating the crisis and finally act.  “He has a great opportunity, and when better than in the context of the May 1st International Workers’ Day to decide on measures to benefit the working class. It would be a convenient moment for Ortega to make a serious announcement. I hope he doesn’t return to his old worn-out discourse, but that he concentrates on seriously combatting the pandemic,” said Tunnermann.