Fire in Nicaragua’s Indio Maiz Biological Reserve could spread to its western border


Environmentalist Jaime Incer Barquero urges government action to avoid “devastating damages.”

Scientists and environmentalists demand more interest on the part of the government in the management of natural resources and control of squatters’ invasions.

By Franklin Villavencio / Maynor Salazar  (Confidencial)

THe Costa Rican firefighters on the border with Nicaragua, which the Ortega government would no allow to enter the country. Photo: Coutesy Amelia Rueda

HAVANA TIMES – The fire in the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve that has devoured over 12,355 acres (5,116 hectares) of forestland marked seven days of destruction on Tuesday April 10.  Although the blaze has attracted international media attention, Nicaraguan scientists and environmentalists feel there has been too little concern shown on the part of Daniel Ortega’s government.

If this continues, the fire “could spread to the western border of the reserve and reach the African Palm plantations.” Combustion of these flammable plants would generate “devastating damage” and “would affect the surrounding communities,” according to environmentalist Jaime Incer Barquero.

“I wish I didn’t feel so pessimistic, but given the dimensions of the fire and the lack of concrete action, this possibility is on the horizon, I believe, and it should be taken into careful consideration,” commented Dr. Barquero in an interview on the nightly television program “Esta Noche.

Another of the possible scenarios that could be unleashed if the flames are not brought under control is the displacement of the communities near the reserve and the destruction of the wild species that inhabit the zone., About 70% of Nicaragua’s biodiversity is concentrated In the area of Indio Maiz.

Incer Barquero highlighted that with this blaze, climate change could “intensify, provoking years of intense droughts or floods and also “new options for people to continue penetrating into the heart of the jungle to steal the lumber.” Some specialists feel that these latter activities have been the cause of the fire.

“We’re entering the seven years of thin cows, because the deterioration has reached the point where production has to drop off,” the environmentalist added.

“Poor calculations” on the part of the Ortega government

The wildfire in the Indio Maiz reserve began on Tuesday, April 3, and was noted by the Rama-Kriol Territorial Government Authorities, as well as by skilled workers with the NGO “River Foundation” [Fundacion del Rio]. Its expansion was documented throughout the week by satellite monitoring systems.

The regional authorities wanted to stop the advance of the blaze during the first days, but the zone’s ecosystem “has promoted the fire’s growth,” affirmed Amaru Ruiz, director of the Fundacion del Rio. The affected area now covers some 12,642 acres, according to calculations of the environmental organization.

General Rogelio Flores Ortiz, head of the Civil Defense Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated at a press conference that preliminary data indicated that the wildfire has destroyed approximately 8,859 acres, and that the epicenter is concentrated in the reserve’s buffer zone and not in the nucleus.

“The fire continues to be concentrated nearly exclusively in the reserve’s buffer zone without affecting the center. It hasn’t rained recently in this zone,” declared the Civil Defense head.

General Flores’ declarations are in contradiction with information given out by the Territorial Rama-Kriol Government and the River Foundation. The latest compilation of data assembled by these groups indicated that the fire has indeed been burning in the biological reserve’s central core.

Amaru Ruiz stated that the declarations made by Civil Defense “are minimizing the impact” of the fire in the reserve, and that the data they present in this “preliminary” study doesn’t coincide with the ones that they and other organizations have brought to light.

“Superimposing the fire data over the map of the zones within the Protected Areas, we have two things to say to Civil Defense: yes, the blaze is in the core area of the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, and the extension is of approximately 12,642 acres. This is all using the same MODIS, VIIRS and NASA satellite systems that they themselves use,” Ruiz clarified.

Ruiz affirmed that the thermal data that the Civil Defense is using reveals the vast extent of the wildfire.

“Therefore they have made a poor calculation that isn’t in agreement with the data we have.  To us, this is either an act of omission or an attempt to minimize the disaster’s impact,” Ruiz continued.

The River Foundation’s director stated that the problem of the wildfires and the invasions of squatters into the reserve didn’t just arise a few months ago, but that there’ve been years of  well-supported complaints and warnings.

“Over these five years and more, the quantity of people who have invaded the reserve, the cattle raising, the land trafficking and countless other actions are nothing more that a consequence of the lack of protection from the Nicaraguan government, Ruiz affirmed.

In terms of the official discourse and the statistics proportioned by the Nicaraguan authorities, Jaime Incer Barquero stated: “It’s difficult to deceive people with false informational campaigns when right in front of them we have evidence of what the neglect and the mismanagement and the lack of respect for nature have meant.”

 Offer of help from Costa Rica refused

In one of her midday discourses, Vice President Rosario Murillo mentioned that since Friday, April 6 they’ve been working with “the air forces of the whole region,” in search of “the most necessary and effective cooperation for controlling this type of wildfire.” However, the Nicaraguan government refused the help of 40 forest firefighters plus hand tools, pumps, drones and a special radiocommunications system, all from Costa Rica.

The Costa Rican Fire Department informed via a press communique that Vice Minister Luis Canas “thanked” Costa Ricans for their offer of collaboration, but stated that it wouldn’t be necessary since the work of the Nicaragua Army would be enough.

According to General Rogelio Flores of the Civil Defense Bureau, some 800 troops, 5 airplanes, 10 ships and an MI17 helicopter from Mexico have been mobilized to the scene of the blaze.

Environmentalists demand “more interest on the part of the government”

Dr. Jaime Incer Barquero, who in 1990 served as Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, demanded of the Nicaraguan authorities “more interest in the management of natural resources.” He asked for “better control of all those illegal and unpunished activities that are being carried out in the country.”

“This is the beginning of a period in which these effects will increase because climate change is a reality.  This will put us to the test, since we’re one of the most vulnerable countries and one of the countries that isn’t doing anything in the way of prevention. This country hasn’t even learned to conserve the little that is left to it,” the scientist accused.