The Nicaraguan government has been widely criticized for its lack of transparency concerning the impact of the COVID epidemic in the country. Unlike other countries, it has not revealed the amount of testing it has done, nor made tests widely available, nor given clear figures of test results. Numerous family members of those who have died report that the result of their relatives´ tests were frequently classified as “indeterminate”. The Social Security Administration (INSS) has said they will not state that sick leave is for COVID-19, and medical staff report that they have been indicated to give diagnoses of “atypical pneumonia” instead of COVID-19.
In light of this situation, a Citizen Observatory of COVID-19 was established. It is a “collaborative effort of an interdisciplinary team with information provided by organizations, networks, and the general citizenry who want to contribute to filling the vacuum of information on the COVID-19 situation in Nicaragua…We report on suspected cases of COVID-19 and irregularities that violate human rights, especially the right to health care. The Citizen Observatory receives numerous reports, nevertheless we only publish information that has been verified by our sources. We reflect the perception of the citizenry about the development of the epidemic in their territories, contributing in this way to filling the existing information gap. We only consider information verified if we confirm the authenticity of the report with the same or other sources. The network of informants are recognized community leaders in their territory, which allows them to verify the information.
… A person reported as a suspected COVID-19 case has to fulfill one or more of these requirements:
Presents symptoms associated or presumptive of COVID-19; or
In addition to symptoms, the person has a history of travel; or
In addition to symptoms, the person has been in contact with a case confirmed by MINSA
The Observatory does not do laboratory tests nor clinic diagnoses to determine whether a case is suspect.
The translation of their report for the week of June 18-26, 2020 follows. Note that the report also includes the official government count for the same week.
In this stage where the number of people with the disease continues to rise, it is the moment for increasing individual, family and community protection. We exhort the population to continue taking all the preventive measures like physical distancing, hand washing and the use of masks.
Yes you can, stay at home and let´s save lives!
On June 24th a cumulative total is reported of 6,775 suspicious cases, verified by the Citizen Observatory in all the provinces and autonomous regions, in 134 municipalities (87% of the municipalities of the country). 694 new cases were recorded this week, which represents an 11% increase in the period.
Managua (2,918), Matagalpa (687), Masaya (552), León (399), Estelí (325), Chinandega (272), Jinotega (208), Madriz (184), Granada (180), Carazo (169) and RACCS (153) are the provinces or regions that report the largest number of suspected cases.
Up until June 23 MINSA reported 2,170 confirmed cases, 607 active cases, 1,489 recovered and 74 deaths (death rate of 3.4%). This mortality rate reaffirms the urgent need that the government take measures to prevent infection, and that it have more detailed information that would allow directing decision making to deal with the situation.
Of the 70 irregularities [i.e. violations of human right to health care] reported this week, 22 refer to the exposure of people in activities or crowds, 17 to inadequate responses of MINSA and 10 to threats and reprisals.
Up until June 24th 1,878 deaths have been reported and verified, of which 129 (7%) are categorized as deaths due to pneumonia, and 1,749 (93%) as suspected deaths of COVID-19. These deaths have taken place in all of the 17 provinces and autonomous regions of the country. Managua (772), Masaya (224), León (140), and Matagalpa (118) report the largest number of deaths. In this week we have verified information of 189 new deaths, which represents an 11% increase in the number of deaths from the previous week.
These deaths are reported from 17 provinces and autonomous regions, 110 municipalities (72% of the total number of municipalities in the country). The province of Managua records 39% of all the deaths, Masaya 12%, León 7%, Chinandega and Matagalpa 6% respectively; Granada, Estelí and RACCN 4% respectively.
Of those 1,878 deaths, 212 (11%) took place in their homes and 18 (1%) during their transfer to a health unit.
Up to June 24th the Observatory received reports of 652 health workers with symptoms associated with or presumptive of COVID-19. This week ALL the provinces or autonomous regions reported cases (principally Managua, León and Matagalpa) and 67 municipalities.
On June 24th 78 suspected deaths of COVID were reported of health care personnel. 34 doctors, 21 nurses, 11 administrative staff, 3 medical visitors, 2 laboratory staff, and 7 categorized as “other” (technical or ETV staff, for example).
From 7 provinces or autonomous regions reports were received of inadequate response in different health units, the reports indicate:
Lack of supply of potable water
Scarcity of ventilators
Rejection of donations in health units where a need for these inputs exist
Lack of communication on the health status of the patients with their families
Lack of electric generators needed for the functioning of essential medical apparatus for patients in a critical status during the ongoing cuts of electric energy.
Little or no medical attention to hospitalized patients.
Diagnosis of pneumonia for patients who present symptoms of COVID-19
Use of neonatal ventilators for COVID-19 patients, which puts at risk babies who present respiratory difficulties.
Lack of follow up on the part of MINSA of contacts of people who present COVID-19 symptoms. Nor have the homes of the relatives of these patients been sanitized.
Sending home the majority of suspected patients of COVID-19 with treatment. A report was received of a patient who died hours after having been released from the hospital
Yes, you can, stay at home and let´s save lives!
Attached you can find the report for June 18-24, 2020 generated by the Observatory:
Suspected cases by the Observatory*: 6775
Deaths by pneumonia and suspected COVID-19 deaths reported by Observatory: 1878
Cases confirmed by MINSA: 2170
Deaths reported by MINSA: 74
*People reported as suspected cases by the Observatory, deaths by pneumonia and suspected COVID-19 deaths have been verified by the local source of information.
On Thursday June 18, 2020 writers and intellectuals from around the world published in La Prensa this following open letter to the President of Nicaragua and his Vice President wife, criticizing the government´s recent actions dismissing several key doctors in hospitals around the country for their criticisms of the government´s management of the pandemic. The signatures include many intellectuals known for their historic support for the Sandinista revolution.
Writers and Intellectuals of the world demand the Government reinstate the doctors fired and respect for the freedom of expression
With real bewilderment and concern we have heard about the decision of your government to fire doctors and hospital workers, just for expressing their critical opinion about the management of the COVID 19 pandemic in your country.
More than fifteen doctors, all first line professionals, with ample experience and years of service in your public hospitals, have been fired in recent weeks without explanation and in an unjustified manner, after signing with many other doctors the request to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Panamerican Health Organization for the management of the pandemic, recommendations that your government has ignored. We think that politicizing medicine and science is a crime. Scientific knowledge should prevail over politics.
While throughout the world doctors have been recognized for their heroic work and the risks they have taken in their courageous treatment of the sick with COVID 19, in Nicaragua your government has put your health care personnel at risk by not providing adequate protective equipment and even rejecting donations of that equipment.
Your country, with forty deaths, has the highest record of deaths of doctors and nurses in Central America. Even with this high risk, the health care personnel continue providing service in spite of the inadequate conditions. The fact that, instead of thanks, they receive unjustified letters of dismissal, obliges us to raise our voice to be in solidarity with them and the people of Nicaragua.
As the rulers and public servants that you are, we ask that you support, respect and protect your health care personnel, that you join the worldwide recognition for the praiseworthy work that these brave and valuable professionals are performing.
We who sign here condemn the dismissals of doctors and any other act that might weaken even more the precarious health care system of Nicaragua. We categorically reject your government´s way of proceeding, which constitutes a dark legacy for the respect and freedom of expression of the medical profession.
We demand that the persecution end, and that the doctors be reinstated to their posts. Politicizing medicine is a crime, even more in the midst of this terrible pandemic. The Nicaraguan people should not continue getting sick and dying because of the infection of a virus which, following the appropriate measures, can be prevented. In the midst of this pandemic, saving the lives of your people should be more important than any other interest and consideration.
Since October 2018 three key officials in the mayor´s office in Wiwilí, Jinotega have been murdered – Legal Advisor, Director of Municipal Services, and Director of Acquisitions. In spite of these unresolved crimes, the mayor, a woman – one of the few Liberal mayors left in the country – has strongly denounced these crimes as an attack against her administration. This article updates her situation and provides another example of the manipulation of the justice system for political purposes. In violation of municipal law, the Treasury did not transfer her assignment of funds from the Central Government, forcing her to lay off municipal workers, most of whom were Sandinistas. They then sued her government for an impossible amount of compensation. In spite of the fact that she worked out a payment arrangement, the local judge called her to a contempt of court hearing for not paying the total amount. When her lawyer showed up for the hearing, he was told the hearing was cancelled, and then the judge ordered her arrest.
Ortega judge orders the suspension of the Mayor of Wiwilí from her post
By Martha Vásquez Larios in La Prensa, June 13, 2020
The request for contempt of court charges and an arrest warrant was made by the Prosecutor Marlon Rolando Leiva Flores, the same person who requested the suspension from the office of mayor without any legal argument.
The Ortega judge Diana Isabel Jarquín Valle, from the Local Penal Court of Jinotega, this Friday ordered that Reyna Hernández Mairena be suspended from performing her post as mayor of the municipality of Wiwilí, as an interim measure, which is why she is left inhibited from exercising her functions as such. This is a sign of how the Orteguista regime through legal pretexts attempts to snatch away another municipal government that it lost in popular elections.
This arbitrary blow to the law and penal process the judge did after the fact that this past Wednesday June 10, she declared the mayor in contempt because she did not appear for a hearing where they illegally accused her of alleged disobedience or disregard for authority and detrimental to the administration of justice.
The request for contempt of court charges and arrest warrant was made by the prosecutor Marlon Rolando Leiva Flores, the same judge who requested the suspension of the mayor from her post without any legal argument. That request was presented by the Public Ministry at 1:20pm on Friday June 12, and the judge issued her ruling the same day at 2:15pm, in other words within 55 minutes.
Nevertheless, the defense attorney presented a motion for dismissal on June 9, 2020 at 3:02pm, and the judge still has not ruled on that motion.
The operator is from the Sandinista Front
“The speed and way in which the judge has acted in the case show that she is an operator of the Sandinista Front to obtain the mayorship of Wiwilí-Jinotega in an illegal way,” said the defense lawyer of the mayor, Maynor Curtis.
The mayor Hernández Mairena was known for her steadfastness and courage in denouncing incidents of extrajudicial executions in the zone against opponents of the dictatorship, which are ignored and not investigated by the Orteguista Police
Repressive and non-interim measures
The judge clothed the stripping of the mayor from her post with ostensible legality, arguing the application of interim measures, when she already ordered her arrest, which is contradictory. “In effect, with the purpose of the interim measures being to ensure the effectiveness of the process, ensuring the presence of the accused and regulating the acquisition of the sources of evidence as articles 166 and 167, number 1, subsection j, 169 of the Penal Processing Code, and based on the principles of proportionality, appropriateness, and need, in addition the interim suspension of the accused is ruled in the performance of the post as Mayor of the municipality of Wiwilí, jurisdiction of the province of Jinotega: Reyna Esmeralda Hernández Mairena, likewise the accused is left inhibited from exercising functions, attributions and competencies unique to the post, conferred by Law 40 of the Municipal Law—” reads the official notification.
“Article 166 of the Penal Processing Code concerning the purpose of interim measures says that the purpose of the measures is to ensure the effectiveness of the process, ensuring the presence of the accused and the normal acquisition of the sources of evidence. While determining the interim measures the judge will take into account the appropriateness of each one of them in relation to the punishment that could end up being imposed, the nature of the crime, and magnitude of the damage caused, and the danger of evasion or obstruction of justice. In no case can the interim measures be used as a means to obtain the confession of the accused or as a plea bargain, and this is what the judge is doing,” explained Curtis.
For the mayor, Reyna Esmeralda Hernández Mairena, this has always been a matter of political persecution, because since she was inaugurated they have killed three of her officials, reduced the budget assigned to the municipal government transferred from the Ministry of the Treasury and Public Credit to just 800,000 córdobas, which is why they are practically operating with their own funds.
Then 43 Sandinista former municipal workers sued for compensation of millions of córdobas with unpayable and unbelievable salaries for such a small municipal government, but the Ministry of Labor and Orteguista judges have ruled in their favor, establishing a payment of nearly 16 million córdobas.
“That amount is unpayable for the municipal government with the paltry budget that they assigned it, nevertheless the Municipal Council ruled in February 2020 to pay 800,000 córdobas annually until it is paid, but the workers directed by the Party accused the mayor through the penal process in May 2020. The only reason I see is that they want to remove her from the mayor´s office through legal artifices. If they find her guilty, put her In jail, a Sandinista from the Council would assume the administration, maintains Curtis.
This trial is the one that would have begun on June 10th, but staff from the judicial complex took on the task of telling the lawyers that there was no hearing in that court, and then the judge ruled illegal absence and contempt of court against mayor Hernández. Before that the judge should have ruled on a motion promoted by Curtis for the rescheduling of the hearing of the trial, which the lawyer argues the judge did not address.
The demonstrations in hundreds of cities in the US over the police killing of George Floyd have been followed by Nicaraguans, and have resulted in discussions about race in Nicaragua. This interview appeared in Sunday supplement of La Prensa.
Juliet Hooker: “The closer you are to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in the racial hierarchy”
Juliet Hooker, professor at Brown University, analyzes and explains the ways in which “racial hierarchy” is reflected, which, in her judgement, exists in Nicaragua.
Juliet Hooker is a Nicaraguan academic who works at Brown University in Rhode Island, and has dedicated many years to the study of race and racism, issues that are on the minds of the world since a violent white policeman killed George Floyd, an Afro-American, in the United States.
Hooker was born in Bluefield 47 years ago and maintains that we live in a racist country. For her, phrases like “the race has to be improved” are not innocent, nor can the word “chele” [common nickname for a white skinned person in Nicaragua] be compared to the words “black” or “Indian”, in spite of the fact that the three are used as nicknames.
In this interview she analyzes and explains the ways in which “racial hierarchy” is reflected, which exists in Nicaragua, according to her. Are you racist?
Are we racist in Nicaragua? Many say we are not.
That is very common in Latin America, that people think that racism is something that happens in the United States, that it occurred in South Africa, that it does not happen in Latin America. But a common pattern throughout the region is that they are societies ordered according to pigmentocracy. In Nicaragua, specifically, there are two ways in which racism happens. One is social hierarchy. If you look at who are the people represented in the upper class, those who are in political positions, those who appear in television dramas, those who have the most visible posts and most of the economic, political and social power, they are the people who are the whitest. And the closer you get to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in this racial hierarchy, in terms of access to economic power, political power, to representation. Another way in which racism is manifested in that we think there are no blacks in Nicaragua, or that they are only in the Atlantic Coast, or that the indigenous were something that happened in the colonial times, but that they no longer exist. It is the racialization of space, of the geography of the country.
That which you are mentioning, about the white elite, does it have to do with historical reasons?
Of course! Who were the big families that dominated Nicaraguan politics in the XIX century? They are the families that identified as descendants of the Spanish conquistadores. There is an entire Nicaraguan nationalism that recognizes that there is an indigenous presence, but the legacy that is emphasized is the Spanish. In the XIX century there was a change in the sense that other people began to be part of those political elites, and maybe did not come from those families, but there is a historical legacy of who has had economic and political power in the country, and that is being reproduced.
If it were reversed, if the brown and short people or the Afro-descendants made up that elite, would it be thought that it was better to be brown or black than white?
We do not live in an isolated society, we live in a society inserted in global processes, and on a global level we have the fact that the colonizers have been Europeans and that has an impact. It is possible that in countries like Haiti there might be less racism, but that does not mean that it disappears. These processes and these ideas even have an impact on us Afro-descendent and indigenous peoples ourselves. At times they also value people of their group who have finer features, who have straighter hair. All this is part of that question of colorism that at times is internalized even by the groups who suffer due to racial hierarchies.
Is there a “Europeanized” idea of beauty?
Definitely. I believe that this is clear. Think about Miss Nicaragua. What is the pattern of the women who supposedly are the most beautiful in Nicaragua? It is a person with very European features who, to a certain extent, does not look very much like the typical Nicaraguan woman. The inverse of this is that maybe, for example, black women are appreciated; but in a very exotic way, as a person who is seen as hyper-sexualized, but not valued as someone who can be the ideal of beauty in the country.
But personal preferences also exist, what is the difference between racism and having a personal preference?
Obviously as individuals we make decisions like with whom we want to marry, with whom we want to relate, and so it is true that on an individual level one looks at these matters as if they were simply your personal preferences. But personal preferences are, partly, a reflection of the ideas that exist in society. Your surroundings have an impact on you. One has to think about why I have that preference, is it because I simply like cheles or whatever it is, or because I have internalized that idea about what is more beautiful or desirable. It is also important to look at what impact this has on interpersonal relationships. For example, if your personal preference are cheles and then you get married and have children, are you going to make a preference for the one that is the whitest, because that is simply what you see as more beautiful? This is something that I think many people have seen in their own families, these patterns that are reproduced in who is valued and who is not.
So we should not have preferences?
(Laughs). I do not know what we should do in our personal relationships, what I do think that we can do is think about why we have those preferences. And ask ourselves: “If I do not want to reproduce these racist patterns, how can I do things differently?”
But if, for example, someone likes a Chinese person, they have that right, no?
Well of course! (laughs). The problem is not the fact that you like a Chinese person, it is that you like them for being Chinese, because you have that idea that it is exotic and you might not be able to see them as a person in their totality, beyond the fact that they are Chinese.
Is there racism in phrases like “you are black, and you do not know how to dance?”
I would say that that type of phrases what they reflect are our racial stereotypes. They reflect the way in which we attribute to certain groups certain characteristics, like as if all the members of that group would have them. This is part of racism. Under those phrases is this idea: “Blacks are good in sports, music and dance”, but part of the problem with this is that we do not see them as capable of doing other things, like we are reducing them: “In this yes you are good, but don´t get involved in trying to be a businessman.”
Is racism calling a black person black?
There are a lot of people in Latin America and in Nicaragua who tell you that “black” is used in a supposedly affectionate way. In general people see it as an affectionate term, without a racist intention; but what has to be seen is what is it that you are trying to say. There are many Afro-descendants who do not want to use the work “black” because they perceive it as having a negative connotation, like saying to someone “black” is trying to belittle them. Now people are using the word more and say, “Yes, I am black.” What one has to see is how the word is used in society, what is the intention. The worst thing that can be done is simply say, “No, this word means this for me, and I am going to use it.” If you call a black person black and they tell you that they do not like it, do not use it again and offer an apology. There could be another person who it does not bother who might say, “that word is not an insult, I use it with pride.” The problem is when people who are in a dominant position decide that they can use the word because they “know what it means.”
In Nicaragua it is customary to call your friends “chele” and “black”, why is one thing fine and the other bad? Thinking that the word black has a pejorative meaning is assuming that being black is bad.
This is the difficulty. Because it is not equivalent. Saying to someone “chele” does not have a negative connotation, it can be that people might say, what is bad about being chele? While if you say “Indian” to someone, if you say “black” to someone, there is a history behind that, the fact that those terms were used in a derogatory manner. Maybe what has to be done is to ask, but it is very difficult because it can be uncomfortable and a burden for the person who always has to be explaining what racism is.
A little while ago a white, mestiza woman, told me that once she received insults referring to the color of her skin. Can you talk about racism when whites are discriminated against because of their color?
There are people that perceive this, but we cannot talk about inverse racism when racial hierarchies exist in society where white mestizos are above. You cannot see any country in Latin America where this issue of pigmentocracy does not exist, where these racial inequalities do not exist. It is a mistake to think that we are in societies where there are white, mestizo people who are being oppressed. In none of our societies are these people the ones who have less access to education. In general, they are the most privileged, even though there are always exceptions and differences within these dominant groups. And there are also people from the discriminated groups who have gotten to very high posts, but they are an exception. To talk about inverse racism is to ignore all the historical and contemporaneous inequalities that continue to be reproduced.
But if an insult directed at a white person because of the color of their skin is not racism, then what would it be?
What I can tell you is that there are interpersonal situations where people are going to say things to other people that maybe hurts them. But I am looking at it on the level of society. Who are the groups who have these experiences on a daily basis, routinely? And not only do they have these experiences, but they have material effects on their lives.
Have you suffered personally some form of racism?
How has that racism been manifested?
Look… I have suffered racism, but I have also been very lucky, in the sense that I had access to education. But I am going to give you an example. Once returning to Managua, there were other Nicas in that flight, and I do not know whether they knew that I was a Nica or not, but they began to talk, and one of them said that they were going to the Coast, and the others said to him, “Why do you want to go there if it is full of drug traffickers and AIDS?” And what I thought at that moment was, “Well, welcome back to Nicaragua.” Another experience I had was when at the beginning of my career (in the United States) professors and colleagues would tell me that issues of race and racism were not central in the study of political science or the history of Nicaragua or Central America. Obviously, there have been changes in that way of thinking, especially in moments like this one, but it is still true that issues like racism or Afro and Indigenous studies continue being seen as marginal in many academic spaces.
Have you experienced more racism in the United States or in Nicaragua?
(Laughs). I would say that the racism is different, but it exists in both places and I have experienced it in both places.
So, can it be said that we are racist in Nicaragua, even though we deny it?
Unfortunately, yes. It is not something that one wants to say about one´s country, but it simply is a fact.
This global discussion after the death of George Floyd, could it make a change in Nicaragua?
I hope that it also has an effect in Nicaragua. The fact that we are doing this interview suggests that people are thinking about these topics. This is important.
What do you think of the phrase “you have to improve the race?”
That is a way in which racism is manifested, it is the idea that you should marry a whiter person than you are, so that you don´t have brown children, in order to have whiter children. It is one of the most daily ways in which we reproduce racism, within the family.
In the end, is not this a way of disparaging who we are?
Of course. It is a way in which we internalize racism and reproduce it, that racial hierarchy that says that white is better, more attractive, what we have to aspire to. Instead of saying, “most of us Nicaraguans are not white, why don´t we accept ourselves and love ourselves as we are?” There are many white, mestizo Latinos, who do not know that racism exists until they go to the United States and realize that they are not seen as white here. For the first time they experience being seen as a racialized person. That is when they face themselves as being seen as inferior people, especially now that there is a lot of racism against Latinos and immigrants in the United States.
Is it racism to say that you are “proud” of belonging to a race?
I think that it is something positive, because it has always been seen as something negative. It is a revindication. To say, “I am not ashamed” is not racism, because what you are doing is trying to respond to historic racism, saying “I am not going to feel less for being this.” It is an affirmation of an anti-racist feeling. To say I feel proud of being black or Miskito does not mean that I see people who are not as less. It is saying “I am not going to accept that negative concept that they have tried to impose on me.”
Do you feel proud of being Afro-descendent?
Yes, of course. Being a Creole woman has been fundamental for me. A lot of what I have learned, of what is important for me, comes from being part of that community, having that history, those values that have been preserved with a lot of struggle and effort, in spite of everything that we have had to deal with.
Juliet Hooker is originally from Bluefield and is 47 years old. Currently she works in the Political Science department of Brown University in Rhode Island, United States, as a professor and researcher.
She is the author of Race the Politics of Solidarity (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Theorizing Race in the Americas (Oxford University Press, 2017), works where she juxtaposes stories about race formulated by outstanding academics in the United States in the XIX and XX centuries, and Afro American and Latin American thinkers. This year she is working on a third book.
She likes to cook as a way of reducing stress, and because it is an activity that takes her away from what she normally does as an academic. She also likes to dance reggae, soca and salsa, and above all when she goes out with her friends. She enjoys series and movies about crimes and detectives. But she saw Uncorked not too long ago, about a boy who wants to be a wine expert, and she liked it a lot.
Another of her pastimes is reading. She consumes academic material for her research and then, for balance, reads poetry.
She lives with her partner in Rhode Island and among the two of them are raising a little girl. Her favorite color is red, she has no pets, and misses eating vigorón.
This call for a National Quarantine by 34 Medical Associations in Nicaragua is in response to the exponential growth of infections, and increasing national and international criticism of the Nicaraguan government for its response. It was published as nearly a half page ad in La Prensa June 2, 2020. The same day the announcement was released COSEP announced their full support for this call.
In the face of the unstoppable advance of the Coronavirus pandemic in Nicaragua, we the different Medical Associations of the Country, address today the Nicaraguan people and the International Community, to once again warn about the dramatic situation that our country is going through, and that threatens to worsen in the next days and weeks with terrible and fatal consequences for Nicaraguan homes.
As had been warned by International Centers for disease control and different National Medical and Epidemiological Specialists, the exponential increase in COVID-19 cases has caused a collapse in the public and private health care system of Nicaragua: saturated hospitals, lack of beds, lack of medicine and such essential products like oxygen are added to the fact that dozens of doctors and health care workers are infected by COVID-19, with the result of an important number of deceased Doctors, nurses and technicians. Which is reducing the number of medical and paramedical resources in different institutions, causing overtime workloads, physical and emotional exhaustion on the part of health workers.
Nicaragua finds itself currently in the phase of accelerated expansion and community transmission, which will continue worsening with greater loss of life, if the corresponding authorities continue denying the situation, and anti-epidemic measures are not taken urgently and at a large scale to try to contain the advance of the pandemic.
With the moral, academic and workforce authority that the fact of being in the front lines in treating this dramatic health crisis confers on us as doctors, we the Medical Associations of Nicaragua call on the people to urgently begin a voluntary NATIONAL QUARANTINE, that might help reduce the impact of this disease with the reduction of Contagion, transmission and death among the population. This NATIONAL QUARANTINE consists in staying at home for at least 3-4 weeks, doing food purchasing once a week, ensuring distancing of at least 1.5 meters between people, using face masks or protective screens outside of the home, and constant hand washing.
We demand that the private sector take strong measures in the face of the propagation of the virus and protect life, instituting actions that might reduce the risk of exposure and transmission, not just with personal hygiene measures, but with actions like the temporary closing of non-essential businesses until the growing number of those infected be reduced.
As of today, all of us are potential sources of contagion and transmission of the disease; which is why we reiterate the call to the Nicaraguan population, private enterprise and public institutions to stay at home. We are capable of controlling the pandemic with your decisive support and the power that you have to avoid the spread of the virus. This is the only way that has demonstrated the control of the disease based on the experiences of other countries who have mitigated and diminished the transmission, obtaining the flattening of the curve and control of the Pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic came to the world without anyone expecting it, even more, without anyone being prepared to confront it.
Also, the pandemic came to our beloved Nicaragua, an impoverished country with the aggravating circumstance of a social and political crisis.
We note that all of our faithful people are aware of the fragility and vulnerability in which the health care system finds itself, the speed at which the infection is spreading, the truth about the number of those infected and deaths caused by the virus. With our people we are suffering their uncertainty, grief and death. The grief and impotence lead to desperation, families who are mourning their dead without saying good-by, the fear and insecurity that the population is suffering in light of the silence of the State, and the disinformation about the progress of the epidemic, the fear or impossibility of visiting hospitals, suffering diseases in the silence of their homes, the manipulation of consciences, coercion and political opportunism in the management of the pandemic.
We reiterate our prayers for all the sick, those who have passed away and the families affected by the virus.
We are happy and grateful for the effort of the doctors and nurses of our country, and we encourage them to be faithful to their vocation and mission.
The contagion of COVID-19 in Nicaragua coincides with the liturgical seasons: Lent and Easter, privileged times of grace and blessing, that for the common good of our faithful and the entire country we have celebrated in empty churches, masses without the presence of faithful but – we give thanks to God – strengthening the faith of many Catholic families as domestic churches, celebrating in the intimacy of the home the passion of the Lord and his glorious resurrection.
Let us take care of life.
In the face of this global, national and family tragedy that threatens our lives, what is our response? What can we do? We are afraid of losing our own lives and the lives of those we love, but, life is a gift of God, it is in his hands, like we also are also in his hands, as all of humanity is in the hands of their Creator.
Nothing is more important than life, “life is above all else”, the problems that come after the pandemic are many, the challenges very big, and just remaining alive and united will we be able to face them; many of us have maintained social distancing, and we have done it out of responsibility and love; we should continue doing so, when contamination is local and the risk of contagion is greater; the most important thing now is protecting life, and that each one does what is necessary and possible to preserve and protect the lives of others, those who are stronger, generous and compassionate carrying those who are weaker; those who have wealth, may they multiply their works of mercy to share with those who do not have anything, may they take diligent care to protect men and women who are working in enterprises of production and institutions of administration and services; that all of us without exception prioritize the care of life, life above the economy, life above ideological and political interests, we repeat, life above all else. This implies the urgency of strengthening citizen solidarity. Taking care of one another and caring for others, following all the measures of precaution, prevention and mitigation.
We exhort the rulers and all sectors of the country to open themselves to alliances and consensus to seek and find alternatives and joint solutions that would prevent us from a larger human catastrophe.
During the storm, the beating of the waves threatened to sink the boat, Jesus was asleep in the stern which is the first part to go under in a shipwreck, sleeping in the most dangerous place and the storm did not disturb his sleep, because Jesus slept trusting in the hands of his Father. His disciples were afraid and shouted to him, in addition to their fear they had doubts, were men of little faith (cf Mt 8: 23-27). For us the time has come to shout, Lord, save us because we are going to drown! And of recognizing our little faith. We implore the Holy Spirit to give us the strength of faith, Christ has power, but do we have faith? More than once Jesus said to those who were tormented that “let it be done according to your faith” (Mt 9:29); “your faith has saved you” (Mt 15:28) “I did not find as much faith even in Israel” (Lk 7:1-10); let us be strong in faith and let us not doubt the love of God for us and, given that we are weak, let us implore the Lord to increase our faith (Mk 9:24).
Jesus loves us, “the greatest value of life is love.” In the face of this situation, we turn our eyes again to Jesus, we Christians should have present a response motivated by our faith. Faith implies hope. Faith without hope turns lukewarm and dies, it will not be any more than a sterile knowledge. We human beings, we are such fragile people that crises undermine our emotions and thoughts, that is why faith and hope must take their place in the face of threats, in this way we also are careful about our actions.
In this crisis and throughout our lives Jesus comes to encounter us, He, conqueror of death, leaves the empty tomb and comes to the encounter with his disciples, “let us open the doors of our hearts wide open” (St John Paul II) so that Jesus might enter, live in us and we live in Him (cf Jn 14:20).
St Paul encourages us with these words: “Because in hope we were saved; but the hope that is seen is not hope; because who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we cannot see, with patience we await it. And, likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; because we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:24-26). Do not give in to the night: remember that the first enemy to defeat is not outside of you: it is within. Therefore, do not give way to bitter, dark thoughts. “Trust in God and trust also in me” (Jn 14:1) – Jesus says – God does not disappoint: if he has placed hope in our hearts, he does not want to destroy it with ongoing frustrations. Everything is born to flower in an eternal spring. God also made us to bloom” (Pope Francis).
“Do not listen to the voice of the person who spreads hate and division. Do not listen to those voices. Human beings, as different as they may be from one another, have been created to live together. Love people, Jesus gave us a light that shines in the darkness: defend it, protect it. This light is the greatest wealth entrusted to your life. And above all, dream! Do not be afraid to dream. Dream! Dream about a world that cannot yet be seen, but that certainly will come. Live, love, dream, believe. And, with the grace of God, never lose hope” (Pope Francis).
Follow the path of love.
The pandemic will end, “because everything has its time under the sun.” Once the crisis is overcome, it will be up to us to ask ourselves, what lessons have we learned? What meaning will God continue to have for my life? What will be my attitudes toward others from now on?
We are called to have an attitude of conversion about our way of thinking, living, and acting, in accordance with the Good News of Jesus Christ, being docile to his teachings under the action of the Holy Spirit who was bestowed on us from our baptism. “Love one another” that commandment of the path of salvation, expressing that love in works, in actions of social and labor justice, in larger investments to strengthen health care systems, in the construction of an economy where the common good of humanity prevails above all else.
Certainly poverty is increasing, unemployment is worsening the economy of families, we need to take on this challenge as a society, the needed changes must happen, and technical, economic, scientific etc. solutions are not enough. Political speeches empty of responsibility and content do not work to solve the problem, it is important to recover the direction of human life, give it back its dignity, its sanctity, from its conception to its natural extinction; it is necessary to follow the path of love.
Life of prayer
“When the sadness and bitterness of life try to crush our gratitude and praise to God, the contemplation of the marvels of his creation ignite, again, in the heart the gift of prayer, which is the principal force of hope. And hope is what shows us that life, even with its trials and difficulties, is full of a grace that makes it worthy of being lived, protected and defended” (Pope Francis).
This crisis strains all of us, demands of us more effort, the task may seem overwhelming, nevertheless, “nothing is impossible for God” (Lk 1:37). Stress causes fatigue, anxiety and irritability, even anger, it reduces the time for rest and drains energy, “the flesh is weak”, and let us strengthen the spirit persevering in prayer (cf Mt 26:41). The humble and trusting prayer: “My God have mercy on me” (cf. Lk 18:9-14), will give us back the joy of salvation” (cf. Psalm 50), and our voices will proclaim his praises, prayer will give us peace and strength to turn the stress into the energy that we need to resolve this situation.
We implore Mary Help of Christians, that “Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, crowned with twelve stars on her head” (Rev 12:1), she is “the one that appears as the dawn, fair as the full moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession” (SS 10:6), Mary Help of the Christians will crush the head of the serpent, and will cover us with light “like a mantle, stretching out the heavens like a curtain” (Psalm 104:2).
Issued in the Office of the Episcopal Conference on the 24th day of May 2020, the feast of Mary Help of Christians.
[Signature] [SEAL of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua]
This is the Executive Summary of a White Paper the Nicaraguan Government released May 25, 2020 in response to international criticisms of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Costa Rican government, and other nations to what they describe as a lack of adequate response of the Nicaraguan government to the health crisis caused by COVID-19. In addition there has been widespread national criticism of the government´s response, including six former Ministers of Health of Nicaragua, the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, COSEP and over 700 Nicaraguan doctors and health care professionals.
We present to the Nicaraguan people and the international community the “NICARAGUA WHITE PAPER IN THE FACE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: A UNIQUE STRATEGY”, which has an analysis of the public policies, presenting a vision of the health care model of Nicaragua as a unique model in the world, based on the reality and conditions of the country, which responds to a preventive approach to people, families and communities with proactive actions. Within this model we have a strategy of balance between the Pandemic and the Economy, vigorously fighting Coronavirus and COVID-19 without closing down our economy. The policy is based on the fact that 40% of the population lives in the countryside, and 80% of the workers in the urban area belong to the informal sector and earn their daily sustenance. At the same time, we are defending the economic recovery of an economy weakened by the coup attempt of April 2018, that continues under attack by false news (“fake news”) campaigns and disinformation, as well as illegal coercive measures.
The country has been well prepared for this fight against COVID-19, due to:
1) The strengthening of the health care system (2007-2020);
2) Preparation since January 2020, two months prior to the appearance of the first case;
3) The entirety of the actions undertaken.
Strengthening health care 2007-2020
It presents how Nicaragua is in a better position today, compared to the sixteen years of the neoliberal period, to face the pandemic, with more modernized health care infrastructure (18 new hospitals), more trained personnel (36,649 health workers in 2020 compared to 22,083 in 2006; 6,045 doctors in 2020 compared to 2,715 in 2006) and flagship and solidarity programs that make manifest the sacred commitment of the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity (GRUN) to restore the rights of the population (Everyone with voice, Love for the smallest, Operation Miracle), since the organization of the Family and Community Health Care Model (MOSAFC), working jointly with the community network and a larger budget investment (US$ 468. 6 million dollars in 2020 compared to US$111.9 million in 2006.
Preparation for COVID-19
When the COVID-19 outbreak happened in Wuhan, China on January 21, the Ministry of Health (MINSA) held a press conference to warn the population about the risk, and to communicate prevention measures. This was almost two months before the presentation of the first case in Nicaragua on March 18.
Since the declaration of the World Health Organization on COVID-19 as a Public Health Emergency of International Importance on January 30, 2020, Nicaragua established an Inter-institutional Commission to ensure a comprehensive approach.
On February 9 MINSA released a “Preparation and Response Protocol in the face of the Risk of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nicaragua” to ensure the monitoring and early detection of suspicious and confirmed cases. Preventive measures were established to reduce the transmission of the virus, and an ongoing communication plan was implemented, directed to the population, and educational and border control actions have been carried out, always based on the Protocols of the WHO/PAHO.
The Protocol also designated 19 Hospitals to be specialized in COVID-19, one of them, the Nicaraguan German Hospital, exclusively for respiratory diseases; it included more preparation for the primary treatment units to address the respiratory symptoms on the national level, the training of public and private personnel, and the acquisition of protection equipment. Nicaragua also had established a capacity for contact tracing. In this way Nicaragua was prepared before the appearance of the first case of COVID-19 in the country on March 18.
Actions in the face of COVID-19
As part of the Protocol designed by MINSA in response to the Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, in Nicaragua 470 people suspected or who have had contact with confirmed cases in the country, have been treated and provided responsible and careful follow up.
Likewise, more than 42,000 international travelers were the object of monitoring for 21 days to detect possible cases of COVID-19.
This follow up provided to travelers, suspicious cases and contacts of positive cases, includes doing daily control by the closest Health Post or Health Center to their homes, based on which the medical staff daily decide about the pertinent actions: continuation of the monitoring, hospitalization, or release, depending on the case.
More than 4.6 million multiple educational house-to-house visits were carried out in a country of 6.2 million people, by 98,224 volunteers to promote family and community health.
In addition to an intensive informational campaign in the media about the prevention measures, the publication of the symptoms and behavior in the face of the disease, a National Information Center has been created that has a free telephone line where prepared staff and doctors clarify any questions that the population may have and appropriately direct them about how to act in the face of the pandemic.
In addition, there is a program for the disinfection of public transportation units, collective (buses) as well as selective (taxis); popular markets, governmental buildings and schools at all levels, preschool, primary, secondary and public universities.
The Ministry of Education and the National University Council, in coordination with the Ministry of Health, in addition have adapted their physical installations, designed prevention protocols, and have adapted their study programs to include talks on preventive health and reinforcement of healthy habits for all their students.
In synthesis, Nicaragua, the second poorest country of Latin America and the Caribbean, has been prepared to face the COVID-19 pandemic and any other similar one, as well as it has been prepared to face natural disasters due to the climate, like hurricanes and droughts, or to geological phenomena, like earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, principally for reasons of its own health response model, which is a highly preventive nature based on the active participation of the family and the community, but also because it has invested a fundamental part of its scarce resources in the construction of new health units and the modernization of existing ones, as well as in the numerical growth and ongoing improvement of its medical, nursing and technical staff, in addition to their more equitable distribution throughout the national territory.
In addition, in the face of the appearance itself of COVID-19, the responses provided by the Government of Nicaragua have been carried out in coordination with the regional entities of SICA and in addition with the cooperation of sister nations like Taiwan, Cuba and South Korea.
Nicaragua ratifies, then, its confidence in the success of its policies based on the defense of the health and lives of families and communities, with their active participation in the prevention of epidemic and non-epidemic diseases, but also in the protection of the family, community, local and national economy, which has allowed for and will continue allowing for new accomplishments in the fight against poverty and for the human development of the country, even in the adverse times of economic crisis and climate change, even in times of COVID-19.
The Nicaraguan government has been harshly criticized internationally for its lack of response to COVID-19, including not implementing social distancing measures. Keeping schools open is one example of them. On May 25 the Government released a White Paper associating criticism of its COVID-19 response to attempts of “coup supporters” to destabilize the economy. This article gives a glimpse into the impact of the virus on the educational system, and the decisions that parents are facing in light of the virus and government policy.
“If the school year is going to be lost, then lose it”, the reality of thousands of Nica children in the face of COVID-19
Losing the right to education or taking the risk that your children be infected with COVID-19. This is the dilemma that parents face in light of the decision of the Ministry of Education to continue classes in spite of the fact that the pandemic is in the phase of exponential expansion.
For some people the home has been turned into a school, while others are already resigned to repeating the school year, because the Ministry of Education decided not to suspend classes for public schools, which is why many students had to quit attending classes to avoid being infected with COVID-19.
He is just a five year old boy, and he was beginning to get used to getting up early, doing homework, having a teacher and classmates, but now he asks, why am I not going to school? Tania Muñoz, former political prisoner from Masaya and an opponent to the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, told La Prensa that for more than a month one of her grandsons, “the youngest”, had to quit school to ensure his health.
Muñoz explained that, after the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Nicaragua in March 2020, she began to talk to her daughters and sons that were still going to class, so that they would quit going or quit sending her grandchildren.
One of the youngest grandchildren of Muñoz quit going to class in the Benito Juárez Public School, where he was in third level of preschool, because his relatives said that “they were not giving us options there to continue classes from home.”
The former political prisoner stated that, when she spoke with her daughter, she told her that she did not want “to be bitterly crying over the death of one of her grandkids just so he wouldn´t lose a year of school. I told her that if the boy was going to lose the year, let him lose it, but we are not going to expose him to being infected” with COVID-19.
Now, in the afternoon and sometimes into the evening, the Muñoz home is turned into “the school”, because her grandchildren and children work on studying the guides that they receive from the private schools where they go, while the youngest who was pulled out of the public school works on coloring and getting to know numbers and letters, until he can safely return to school.
The situation of Muñoz´s grandson is not unique in Nicaragua. According to statistics offered by the Vice President of the Ortega regime, Rosario Murillo, at the beginning of the school year there were a total of 1,800,000 students in different schools in the country.
According to Murillo, in preschool the registration was 280,558 children. In primary school, 890,932 children, including distance primary school in the countryside, while there were 390,569 students registered in secondary school, including distance secondary school in the countryside.
The presidential advisor on educational issues, Salvador Vanegas, in an interview on Channel 10 at the end of April 2020, after more than 3 weeks of the announcement of the first COVID-19 case in the country, recognized that 50% of the students in “the more urban” public schools quit going to school.
“The fall in attendance varies from one municipality to another. In more urban municipalities like Managua, absenteeism was larger. The farther the schools are from the urban areas the more they are operating practically with normal attendance of between 88-92%. In the more urban schools, it has dropped to approximately 50%”, said Vanegas.
Juana Palacios, who had one of her sons studying in a public school in the capital, recognized that certainly part of that percentage of absenteeism was due to the absences of her son, because she says that since the report of the first case of COVID-19 in the country, she began to send him in a staggered way, and protected with a mask.
The son of Palacios is 14 years-old and was in the third year of high school in a school in the capital. His mother states that she sent him in a staggered way at least for a week and a half with the hope that the Ministry of Education “would do something.” The mother was hoping, at least, that they would allow her son to receive guides from his teachers once a week, but that they would not make him be exposed. Nevertheless, that did not happen, and she decided to quit sending him.
The third-year students in addition informed his mother that, during those days that he had to attend in a staggered way, he noticed that only between 8-10 of his classmates were showing up, when in his section there are more than 20 students.
Palacios recognized that even though classes were not suspended, they decided to put a sink for hand washing at the principal entrance to the school, but she thinks that this “was not enough.”
The mother tried to talk with the teachers and reach an agreement, so that her son would not quit exercising his right to education, but it was not possible because the order was clear, they had to keep attending classes.
“I spoke with the teachers, I told him that I was going to quit sending him because of the situation, and he said to me that I should do what I thought was helpful”, commented the mother of the secondary student.
Now the adolescent passes the time closed up at home and from time to time – on learning about the topics that are being taught in the school – works on reviewing them with the help of his older sister, but not always, because the teachers are not providing guides to the children who withdrew out of fear of infection from COVID-19.
“I cannot expose him. If he has to lose the school year, let him lose it, because here we are only in the hands of God,” said the mother of the student.
The family of Palacios survives on a minimum salary, and the contribution that now her older daughter provides, who is now working, nevertheless, this is not enough to put the adolescent in a private school, which is why they have the hope that – once the pandemic passes or they can control it – the student can return to classes in a public school and with all the assurances of safety for his health.
Up to now according to the government in Nicaragua a total of 279 positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported, 17 have died, 199 have recovered and the rest are active cases.
They violate the right to education
The high number of absences in public schools, according to experts on educational issues, could have been avoided if the Ministry of Education would have complied with its task of providing options to the student community to continue safely exercising their right to education.
Ernesto Medina, the president of the Eduquemos Forum, stated that the first thing that the authorities of the country had to have was the “political will to help the poorest find a solution, and unfortunately so far we have not seen this, because they have not suspended classes and are not providing an alternative to those who report that they are going to quit sending their children to protect them from COVID-19.”
The expert stated that it is critical that the authorities “seek out a humane solution, because the solution cannot be to expose some children to the danger or threaten them with losing the school year for defending the right to life.”
On his part, Jorge Mendoza, the Director of the Forum on Education and Human Development, recalled that in times of emergencies “the creation of alternative programs is justifiable, they should even be already prepared,” which is why he states that for all those children who have not gone to school because their parents want to protect their right to life, it is critical that MINED ensure they have safe access, with options that would reassure their parents and not allow that the younger ones lose the school year.
In addition, he recommended that the Ministry of Education “suspend classes immediately” and adopt measures that would be adapted to the economic reality of the students and the capacities of the teachers.
The experts agree that MINED, in the case that it would decide to suspend in person classes, should consider the use of means like television, radio or cell phones themselves to teach “essential content”, and in this way the students might be able to continue learning from home and exposing themselves to less risk of contracting COVID-19.