COSEP: “The Nicaraguan Government Must Assume its Responsibility”

Jose Adan Aguerri: This is the only country on the continent that has not taken even one of the six preventive measures that the rest of the world is taking

By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) called on the Government of President Daniel Ortega to assume its responsibility in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic, which until this Friday registered two positive cases in Nicaragua and an undetermined number of patients under observation.

“Given the indolence of the Government, which refuses to apply relevant preventive measures against COVID-19, we call on the public for all of us to act responsibly in the face of the pandemic, in accordance with the recommendations of the WHO/PAHO and international practice,” says the message from COSEP. Its action proposal emphasizes “prevention, supplies and transparency,” explained COSEP president, Jose Adan Aguerri, in an interview with Confidencial.

Until last Friday in Nicaragua two positive cases of coronavirus were officially recognized, we don’t know how many others are under observation, but that has not changed the government’s attitude at all. There is no effective prevention measure, massive activities such as “plan playa” (encouraging people to go to the beach), fairs and tourism continue to be promoted. How do the chambers of the private sector react to this situation?

JOSE ADAN AGUERRI: The world is telling you not to go out, unless it’s necessary, stay at home, while in Nicaragua the message is: “Let’s go to the beach.” The private sector, acting responsibly, has been working on two lines: prevention and supply. It is vital that people understand that by staying at home there’s not going to be a halt in getting basic supplies. The fact that there is a quarantine; because that reality is already happening in the Central American region. There are curfews in Panama, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, but the supply distribution is constant.

More than 50%, in the case of the formal economy, between 40 and 60%, of companies have made the decision to telework, work from a distance, seeking to reduce the number of people who are working on site.

The problem is that this is the only country in the Latin American continent that has not taken even one of the six measures that the rest of the world is taking.

The other measure COSEP demands in its statement is the promotion of transparency. But the Government maintains censorship on television and blocks access to public information; the Minister of Health Minister provides a report, but the independent press is forbidden to attend the press conference. How can there be transparency if there is no access to public information?

There is no transparency. We saw the problem on the first day, when the Government finally decided to enter this world, and say: “there is a case in Nicaragua.” The next day people surged to go to the supermarkets. Why? Because they have been under a narrative that tries to sell that this will not happen in Nicaragua. When people see that happening, then, all they have to do is go and do shopping in panic, which is what happened that day.

We have been telling people that there is enough inventory of food products, we have, pointed out the products that ran out of inventory, have already been ordered, that imports are under way. And, also, in the case of gel alcohol, we have said that the national industry also made the decision to start producing more.

The problem that the lack of transparency causes people in this situation uncertainty which makes it more complex. And look at what happened today, since there is no transparency, there were agglomerations at the doors of supermarkets, causing people to run more risks of getting infected.

The survey by CID Gallup of Costa Rica reveals that there is a leadership gap in the country. How can it be filled in the absence of the Government?

We, have (insisted) with the Government that this is their responsibility and that, therefore, they have to be consistent with the enormous risk that exists if this is not handled quickly and timely from the beginning.

We have urged companies that have non-essential commerce and that can somehow survive some time, to isolate themselves, to make that difficult decision. In the case of companies that need to continue working, to work with preventive measures, but also being consistent with the social distancing that must be in these processes. On the other hand, while the situation comes to us, because there are people who think that this can grow when the rains begin, continue working on the issue of supplies.

You said that teleworking is being promoted, but many people are going to their work centers. In other words, that means that in the country there is really no kind of quarantine as elsewhere.

No, at this moment there is no such decision, because in the end, what we can do is urge, in that reality of two economies. In the formal economy, large companies, with the possibility of directing, the decision was already taken that 60-year-olds, pregnant women, people with previous illnesses, are at home with full payment. This cannot be done by an informal company or an informal merchant.

What are you going to do? As long as the government does not make the decision to assume this with the responsibility that the other countries are doing, that will force them to make decisions, not only of prevention, but decisions that help this sector economically.

In El Salvador, for example, they are promoting a moratorium on the payment of public services for three months.

In the payment of water, electricity, and afterwards that will be paid in installments with a 12-month term. Those are decisions that the government must make.

The issue of suspension of classes. Private schools are already practically doing it. In public schools they are in classes. What’s the problem? In public schools, children have their main meal of the day at school. If the Government does not make the decision to give children that lunch at their homes at noon, then children will continue to go to school, and you will continue to expose them.

Is the government confronted with national pressure, from the private sector, from civil society, from political sectors, the churches, that really insists it assume its responsibility and take action in the face of this crisis?

Not only at the national level, I would say that at the international level. You see the case of Honduras, which has been the most extreme in the Central American region. Honduras closed, isolated itself, curfew, not even the supermarkets are open.

(If) it works for Honduras, hypothetically speaking, this situation, all of a sudden it can say: “There is no longer a case in Honduras.” And, in Nicaragua, within two months, an outbreak begins, how can you control that this does not happen again to Honduras? If Nicaragua does not do the same, the risk will once again be present in Honduras, despite all these harsh measures it has taken and the economic cost that this implies.

How can it be explained that the World Health Organization says that agglomerations should not be promoted, and the Government of Nicaragua does just that, risking the health of the people. And here is PAHO, the regional expression of the WHO, blessing the actions carried out by the Government. Isn’t that a contradiction?

Completely. Even PAHO has not reached out to the private sector and said, well, here we are, what can we do? In a country that they know is in this situation we are in, that there is no relationship between the Government and the private sector, because they should be looking for ways in which the private sector can contribute to this non-propagation improvement. They have not done it.

First is health and then the economy. We have to think that once we overcome this crisis, what comes next is a situation where we are going to experience a kind of second epidemic, a product of the coronavirus.

The private sector is asking a Government that is not democratic, an authoritarian government, to behave rationally, while the country is demanding that more pressure be put on it to straighten the course, so that it does not lead us, finally, to the cliff, that would be an epidemic, a mortality that can be unleashed in the country.

That’s right, and that is why as a private sector we have been grouped around, not only the (business) sector, but also civil society organizations, empowering civil society, and citizens so that this pressure can really be applied. In some way, also transferring this situation towards to the international arena, and especially to SICA (Central American Integration System).

We can carry out these prevention campaigns, making all educational efforts, taking the measures that protect our employees, ensuring that we have the supplies by the time that more drastic measures will have to be taken. We have urged companies, whose work is not essential, to stop.

How many companies have suspended activities?

We have seen about twenty companies, and in recent days they have been increasing. We have urged those that don’t close that they take all preventive measures. And the use of technology, in the case of those that have access to technology, the banks, we saw how the decision was made not to charge for wires between different banks. That is very important so that you don’t have to go do a line to the bank to be able to make a payment without costs to you. Hence, the fifteen dollars, twenty dollars, that the people prefer to go to the bank to do it, and not pay the fifteen or twenty dollars.

– The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) called on the Government of President Daniel Ortega to assume its responsibility in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic, which until this Friday registered two positive cases in Nicaragua and an undetermined number of patients under observation.

“Given the indolence of the Government, which refuses to apply relevant preventive measures against COVID-19, we call on the public for all of us to act responsibly in the face of the pandemic, in accordance with the recommendations of the WHO/PAHO and international practice,” says the message from COSEP. Its action proposal emphasizes “prevention, supplies and transparency,” explained COSEP president, Jose Adan Aguerri, in an interview with Confidencial.

Until last Friday in Nicaragua two positive cases of coronavirus were officially recognized, we don’t know how many others are under observation, but that has not changed the government’s attitude at all. There is no effective prevention measure, massive activities such as “plan playa” (encouraging people to go to the beach), fairs and tourism continue to be promoted. How do the chambers of the private sector react to this situation?

The world is telling you not to go out, unless it’s necessary, stay at home, while in Nicaragua the message is: “Let’s go to the beach.” The private sector, acting responsibly, has been working on two lines: prevention and supply. It is vital that people understand that by staying at home there’s not going to be a halt in getting basic supplies. The fact that there is a quarantine; because that reality is already happening in the Central American region. There are curfews in Panama, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, but the supply distribution is constant.

More than 50%, in the case of the formal economy, between 40 and 60%, of companies have made the decision to telework, work from a distance, seeking to reduce the number of people who are working on site.

The problem is that this is the only country in the Latin American continent that has not taken even one of the six measures that the rest of the world is taking.

The other measure COSEP demands in its statement is the promotion of transparency. But the Government maintains censorship on television and blocks access to public information; the Minister of Health Minister provides a report, but the independent press is forbidden to attend the press conference. How can there be transparency if there is no access to public information?

There is no transparency. We saw the problem on the first day, when the Government finally decided to enter this world, and say: “there is a case in Nicaragua.” The next day people surged to go to the supermarkets. Why? Because they have been under a narrative that tries to sell that this will not happen in Nicaragua. When people see that happening, then, all they have to do is go and do shopping in panic, which is what happened that day.

We have been telling people that there is enough inventory of food products, we have, pointed out the products that ran out of inventory, have already been ordered, that imports are under way. And, also, in the case of gel alcohol, we have said that the national industry also made the decision to start producing more.

The problem that the lack of transparency causes people in this situation uncertainty which makes it more complex. And look at what happened today, since there is no transparency, there were agglomerations at the doors of supermarkets, causing people to run more risks of getting infected.

The survey by CID Gallup of Costa Rica reveals that there is a leadership gap in the country. How can it be filled in the absence of the Government?

We, have (insisted) with the Government that this is their responsibility and that, therefore, they have to be consistent with the enormous risk that exists if this is not handled quickly and timely from the beginning.

We have urged companies that have non-essential commerce and that can somehow survive some time, to isolate themselves, to make that difficult decision. In the case of companies that need to continue working, to work with preventive measures, but also being consistent with the social distancing that must be in these processes. On the other hand, while the situation comes to us, because there are people who think that this can grow when the rains begin, continue working on the issue of supplies.

You said that teleworking is being promoted, but many people are going to their work centers. In other words, that means that in the country there is really no kind of quarantine as elsewhere.

No, at this moment there is no such decision, because in the end, what we can do is urge, in that reality of two economies. In the formal economy, large companies, with the possibility of directing, the decision was already taken that 60-year-olds, pregnant women, people with previous illnesses, are at home with full payment. This cannot be done by an informal company or an informal merchant.

What are you going to do? As long as the government does not make the decision to assume this with the responsibility that the other countries are doing, that will force them to make decisions, not only of prevention, but decisions that help this sector economically.

In El Salvador, for example, they are promoting a moratorium on the payment of public services for three months.

In the payment of water, electricity, and afterwards that will be paid in installments with a 12-month term. Those are decisions that the government must make.

The issue of suspension of classes. Private schools are already practically doing it. In public schools they are in classes. What’s the problem? In public schools, children have their main meal of the day at school. If the Government does not make the decision to give children that lunch at their homes at noon, then children will continue to go to school, and you will continue to expose them.

Is the government confronted with national pressure, from the private sector, from civil society, from political sectors, the churches, that really insists it assume its responsibility and take action in the face of this crisis?

Not only at the national level, I would say that at the international level. You see the case of Honduras, which has been the most extreme in the Central American region. Honduras closed, isolated itself, curfew, not even the supermarkets are open.

(If) it works for Honduras, hypothetically speaking, this situation, all of a sudden it can say: “There is no longer a case in Honduras.” And, in Nicaragua, within two months, an outbreak begins, how can you control that this does not happen again to Honduras? If Nicaragua does not do the same, the risk will once again be present in Honduras, despite all these harsh measures it has taken and the economic cost that this implies.

How can it be explained that the World Health Organization says that agglomerations should not be promoted, and the Government of Nicaragua does just that, risking the health of the people. And here is PAHO, the regional expression of the WHO, blessing the actions carried out by the Government. Isn’t that a contradiction?

Completely. Even PAHO has not reached out to the private sector and said, well, here we are, what can we do? In a country that they know is in this situation we are in, that there is no relationship between the Government and the private sector, because they should be looking for ways in which the private sector can contribute to this non-propagation improvement. They have not done it.

First is health and then the economy. We have to think that once we overcome this crisis, what comes next is a situation where we are going to experience a kind of second epidemic, a product of the coronavirus.

The private sector is asking a Government that is not democratic, an authoritarian government, to behave rationally, while the country is demanding that more pressure be put on it to straighten the course, so that it does not lead us, finally, to the cliff, that would be an epidemic, a mortality that can be unleashed in the country.

That’s right, and that is why as a private sector we have been grouped around, not only the (business) sector, but also civil society organizations, empowering civil society, and citizens so that this pressure can really be applied. In some way, also transferring this situation towards to the international arena, and especially to SICA (Central American Integration System).

We can carry out these prevention campaigns, making all educational efforts, taking the measures that protect our employees, ensuring that we have the supplies by the time that more drastic measures will have to be taken. We have urged companies, whose work is not essential, to stop.

How many companies have suspended activities?

We have seen about twenty companies, and in recent days they have been increasing. We have urged those that don’t close that they take all preventive measures. And the use of technology, in the case of those that have access to technology, the banks, we saw how the decision was made not to charge for wires between different banks. That is very important so that you don’t have to go do a line to the bank to be able to make a payment without costs to you. Hence, the fifteen dollars, twenty dollars, that the people prefer to go to the bank to do it, and not pay the fifteen or twenty dollars.



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