Foreign Ministry levels serious accusations to justify their closure of the UNDP’s Managua office, while the UN remains silent
Carlos F. Chamorro (confidencial.com.ni)
HAVANA TIMES – The Nicaraguan government has issued an official explanation of the reasons behind their September 2015 decision to halt all projects of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), affecting twenty million dollars in project funds. The communiqué included serious political accusations leveled against this United Nations agency, which coordinates all UN activities in Nicaragua.
The official note from the foreign ministry was emitted last Friday, February 12, and sent to all of the embassies, international organizations and cooperation agencies accredited in the country.
The document, signed by Arlette Marenco, Assistant Minister of Foreign Cooperation, is unapologetic in its authoritarian language, confirming that the Nicaraguan government went to the extreme of demanding a “clean up” of the UNDP offices; however, it doesn’t offer any proof or evidence to back up the grave imputations made against the UNDP.
The diplomatic note makes reference to “the entire process of political intervention and misrepresentation that has been cultivated in the United Nations Development Programme, using their offices to meddle in our internal politics, financing political groups and misrepresenting the development statistics of the country, all of this carried out by functionaries under the UNDP umbrella, something we have been pointing out since 2007.”
“Clean up” demanded of the UNDP
For the first time, the government offered its version of the circumstances surrounding the abrupt early recall last October of UNPD representative Silvia Rucks.
According to the official note: “in September of 2015 a clear communication was issued indicating that the Nicaraguan government would no longer permit the offices of the UN Development Programme to be used to support a political party.” The party in reference isn’t identified in the text of the message, nor is it mentioned in any other part of the missive.
The government alleges that the UNDP authorities responded to these accusations by saying “they understood and respected the text and would realize the corresponding clean up in order to regain the government’s trust in their work accompanying the country’s development.”
In October 2015, Confidencial revealed that the suspension of all programs administered by the UNPD had been officially communicated to the diplomatic corps on September 22. At that time, the government argued that they had already advanced in their capacity to organize and execute projects and thus would no longer require the UNDP role as technical intermediary between the donors and those who carry out the projects. At that time, no allusion was made to the alleged “political meddling” that the government today attributes to the UNDP.
Rucks accused of “mounting a campaign”
In the diplomatic note from the foreign ministry that has been circulating this past week, the government accuses UNDP representative, Silvia Rucks, of having mounted a “campaign” by “communicating with the diplomatic corps and passing along a message damaging to our national decisions.”
Dr. Socorro Gross, representative of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO-WHO) in Nicaragua, replaced Rucks as in-country coordinator while Monica Merino remained as associate representative. Now both positions are vacant and the UNDP is without leadership. Gross left the organization to devote herself exclusively to her work at PAHO-WHO, while Merino left the country permanently, without making public her reasons.
The foreign ministry note indicates that a process for revamping the role of the UNDP has been profoundly examined during high-level visits to Nicaragua by Jessica Faieta, UN under secretary and director of the UNDP for Latin America, and Susan McDade, adjunct director for Latin America, among others. They also mention contacts with Helen Clark – UNDP general administrator – at the UN headquarters in New York City.
Nonetheless, the foreign ministry maintains its harsh criticism of the UNDP office in Managua, alleging “disrespect and permanent informal management of communications, and failure to follow through on the agreements from each meeting.”
In addition, they accuse the UNDP of maintaining a “hidden agenda” which impeded trust: “for example, when visits were made to Managua, we’d have to make our own inquiries to find out the sub-secretary’s agenda, even though they had arrived in our country on an official visit.”
Confidencial requested an interview with the UNDP representatives in Managua and New York to hear their version of the grave accusations leveled against them by the Nicaraguan government, but we received no reply.
Accusations of political meddling rejected
The new official version of the crisis with the UNPD as indicated in the foreign ministry’s note, caused little surprise among leaders of civil society.
The actions of Daniel Ortega’s government against the UNPD “are not an isolated incident; on the contrary they stem from a government policy of suppressing and hindering international cooperation with Nicaragua with the goal of controlling and centralizing all of this in their favor,” assures Violeta Granera, president of the Movement for Nicaragua (Movimiento por Nicaragua MpN).
Granera maintains that the government had no real reason to accuse the UNPD of political interference; on the contrary, the organization has abstained from working with political parties “to avoid problems with the government.”
Analyst Felix Maradiaga, candidate for Magistrate of the Supreme Electoral Council, believes that the attacks against the UNDP and their justification sends the “wrong message” to the rest of the organizations for international cooperation in the country.
According to Granera, Ortega’s government “is mistaken if they think that the donors are going to transfer their cooperation resources to them, much less with the lack of transparency that they’ve shown, the lack of solid institutions in the country, and on top of that during an election year in which any assigned resources could be used for Party purposes.”
In separate declarations, Graner and Maradiaga both noted that the last time the UNDP administered a project in Nicaragua involving political goals was just before 2007 when Daniel Ortega was returned to power. In addition, this project had been headed by Valdrack Jaentschke, currently Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations for the Caribbean.
The only initiative of a political nature promoted by the UNPD after 2007 was the creation of the Group for Strategic Reflection (Grupo de Reflexión Estratégica GRE) that functioned first under representative Pablo Mandeville and later under Silvia Rucks. However, the GRE wasn’t a party-oriented group, but rather a heterogeneous gathering of governmental, political, business and academic leaders plus former functionaries of different governments, to reflect on the challenges Nicaragua faced and to formulate a long-term vision for the country.
At least two members of this group, when consulted by Confidencial, agreed that it was “a unique space for dialogue and interchange of ideas and reflections for the future.” “The only really pluralistic space that existed in Nicaragua.”
UNDP stronger before 2007
Azahalea Solis, leader of the Autonomous Women’s Movement (Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres MAM,) said the allegations of “political meddling” on the part of the UNDP are absurd, since a fundamental part of their program involved the promotion of State and Society, including the organizations of Civil Society.
Gonzalo Carrión, legal director of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos CENIDH) recalled that in fact the UNDP programs – aimed at democratic governance, citizen participation, public administration, effective institutions, strengthening Civil Society, and mixed models of cooperation between the government and their counterparts in Civil Society – have been attacked by Ortega’s Sandinista government since their return to power in 2007.
Vice Minister Valdrack Jaentschke, a former functionary of the UNDP, was one of the government representatives mounting the strongest attacks on NGOs that were critical of authoritarianism, stated the human rights defender.
The MAM leader noted that since 2007, when the government became its only partner, the UNDPs work has weakened in the country.
In 2009, several organizations of Civil Society questioned the role of Alfredo Misair, UNDP in-country representative at that time, when he offered declarations following the 2008 municipal elections – elections that had been denounced as fraudulent. “You need to look ahead. What happened or didn’t happen last year is something that can’t be undone, but is a fact for good, for bad or however you see it,” Misair responded at that time.
Nicaraguan Civil Society organizations also complained directly to the UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon when he visited Nicaragua in 2014 and met only with Ortega. “You left out other national and social figures that have a different vision of the situation in Nicaragua but one that is also important, and which the representative of the highest international organization has an obligation to listen to,” read the letter that they sent him.
Despite the fact that the UNDP “took refuge in caution to avoid offending the government, that same government has now run the UNDP out, confirming its extremely authoritarian nature and its goal of centralizing all outside cooperation,” affirmed Gonzalo Carrion, legal director of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH).
With respect to the government’s claim that the UNDP misrepresented information and statistics to falsify human development, Carrion noted that the principal figures that the citizenry should know about are the official ones, but these are not disclosed.
“The greatest lack that this country has is in accountability, in data on education, health and the budget. What manipulation of what figures?” the CENIDH legal director questioned.
(with assistance from Arlen Cerda and Wilfredo Miranda)