With their massive closure of NGOs, the regime of Daniel Ortega has shuttered nearly all of Nicaragua’s independent environmental protection organizations,” declares activist Amaru Ruiz, director of the cancelled Fundacion del Rio [River Foundation].
“There are no independent environmental organizations left in the country. The ones still operating are national and international organizations that the regime has coopted, like the case of “Flora and Fauna International,” Amaru accuses.
According to his explanation, the international organizations that do continue working in Nicaragua have had to accept government intervention. “They changed almost their whole staff and aligned themselves with the regime’s policies. That’s why, when we recently saw the death of countless numbers of marine turtles, Flora and Fauna International said nothing, although one of their main activities is supposed to be the protection of these turtles. That demonstrates the silence that prevails in the new intervention procedures of the international environmental protection organizations that remain.”
Meanwhile, the few national organizations left have opted not to issue opinions on the environmental deterioration, for fear of the persecution that’s directed against organizations which question the regime,” states Ruiz.
In the first eight months of 2022, the Ortega-Murillo regime cancelled the legal status of 60 non-profit foundations and associations working in favor of the environment. That number could rise to 70 in the near future, according to projections Ruiz has made. The closure of these spaces runs parallel to the government’s signing of agreements and accords on environmental matters that help Ortega gain access to “green funds”.
Ortega “gets even” with environmental organizations
According to a data analysis Confidencial has done, between November 29, 2018, and September 7, 2022, the regime of Daniel Ortega eliminated the legal status and permission to operate of 1,881 civic organizations.
In the first nine months of 2022 alone, 60 environmental organizations were closed. Of this number, 39 had been working on projects in Nicaragua for 21-30 years; another 17 had been in existence for 11–20 years; and three were less than a decade old. Two of the unilaterally shuttered organizations had been working in the country for 31–40 years.
These organizations drafted suggestions for environmental policies, worked on the preservation of natural reserves, carried out water treatment, reforestation, sustainable agriculture and agroforestry programs, and labored for forest renewal and the preservation of animal life in different parts of the country.
Amaru Ruiz believes that the regime seeks to silence the environmental voices that denounced the government’s poor management of resources and opposed projects such as the Inter-oceanic canal. “They’re punishing the environmental and academic organizations, like the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences, that also opposed the megaprojects and pointed out the deterioration of the country’s environmental and natural resources,” Ruiz maintains.
June 2022 was the month when the greatest number of environmental NGOs were closed: that month, 21 organizations lost their legal status. Organizations shuttered included: the Foundation for the Development of Private Wilderness Reserves in Nicaragua [Fundación para el Desarrollo de las Reservas Silvestres Privadas de Nicaragua], a group with 20 years of trajectory; the Cordillera Verde Foundation, which had been in operation for 19 years; and the 26-year-old Foundation for the Defense of Water [Fundacion para la Defensa del Agua], among others.
August 2022 saw the second largest wave of cancellations of environmental organizations, with 16 NGOs of this nature eliminated. Among this group were the Movement for the Defense of the Environment [Movimiento Pro Defensa del Medioambiente], founded in 1996; the Association of Community Park Rangers for Mahogany [Asociación de Guardaparques Comunales de Mahogany], which dated from 2001; the Nicaraguan Environmentalist Movement [Movimiento Ambientalista Nicaragüense] from 1990; the Nicaraguan Foundation for Responsible Environmental Development [Fundación Nicaragüense para el Desarrollo Ambiental Responsible], in existence since 1997; the Association of Forestry Rangers of Nicaragua [Asociación de Forestales de Nicaragua]; and the United Association of Forestry Producers of San Jose de Cusmapa, formed in 1993.
Other closed in August included the Fundación Civil Vivero Comunal in Puerto Cabezas, the Fundación Amigos para la Protección Ecológica serving Laguna de Apoyo, the Masaya community of La Poma’s Asociación Comunal para el Desarrollo de Proyectos de Agua Potable, and in San Ramon, the Asociación para el Desarrollo de la Reserva Esperanza Verde.
Thirteen environmental organizations were eliminated in July, nine in May and one in March. These organizations included two involving the biosphere reserve in Bosawas: the Asociación de Campesinos Protectores de Bosawas [Association of Farmers for the Protection of Bosawas]; and Asociación de Amigos de la Vida del Lago de Apanás y Bosawas [Friends of the Lake Life of Apanas and Bosawas]. Others included the Foundation for Forest Restoration in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region; the Cosiguina Foundation; Foundation for the Defense of Water, and Foundation for Environmental Restoration and Sustainability, among others.
One of the shuttered environmental organizations that had the greatest impact over the years was the Humboldt Center, an NGO that would have celebrated 32 years of existence in April. During its 32 years of activities, the Center worked in conjunction with 190 communities. In 13 of these alone, their projects benefited 3,581 people, with the drilling of six wells and the rehabilitation of another seven, according to the Center’s 2020 Annual Report.
Nicaragua could become another Haiti
Given the context of silence and repression imposed by the regime, Amaru Ruiz fears that Nicaragua could be left stripped of its forests, as occurred in Haiti, given the increased poverty and the accelerated destruction of the natural resources.
“When people are left with no other alternative, when over 1,800 organizations have been cancelled that formerly generated a process of community development, served vulnerable groups and offered some response to the impoverished conditions people live in, the outcome is increased destruction of the natural resources, like we’ve already seen in Haiti, where there are no forests left,” he warns.
Such destruction of resources causes a chain reaction – the destruction of the resources then affects other ecology-based services, such as access to potable water.
“If you’re constantly depleting your forestry reserves, you’re going to see greater levels of hydric stress. This is already present, in the northern area of Nueva Segovia, as well as in the Pacific region of the country. Hence, there are substantial repercussions to the means of making a living that these services produce,” Ruiz explains.
The regime is the “great environmental predator”
A report published last July by the River Foundation revealed that the Ortega government has been the greatest environmental predator. Over the past 16 years that it’s been in government, it has ceded nearly 1,934,000 acres of land to mining interests, equivalent to 6.5% of the national territory.
Nicaragua is already the Central American country with the greatest quantity of mining concessions on land properly belonging to the indigenous and afro-descendant communities.
A journalism investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed how, in 2021, the corrupt government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo fed deforestation in the country by awarding forestry permits to politically connected companies, while marginalizing the indigenous communities.
Despite this, the Ortega regime continues signing agreements and accords which give them access to millions in resources held in the so-called “green funds”, earmarked for emerging nations without the capacity to finance environmentally-friendly policies.