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Aid Row Reaches Boiling Point

MANAGUA – Liberal politicians and indigenous community leaders from the storm-ravaged Caribbean coast are warning that a violent uprising could occur if the Sandinista government doesn’t change its handling of humanitarian-aid distribution.

Critics of the government’s relief efforts argue that local Sandinista party leaders are politicizing the humanitarian aid by distributing it through the controversial Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) – party organizations that are allegedly obliging others to join in order to receive aid.

The perception that aid is going only to Sandinista party members has led to an increasingly tense situation in the regional capital of Bilwi and in the depressed interior region known as the mining triangle.

The desperation exploded into violent protest last week when hundreds of mostly indigenous Miskitos stormed and occupied the Bilwi airport, ransacking the storage warehouses for food and supplies. Other groups of anti-Sandinista protestors clashed with members of the local government, headed by a Yatama faction that has allied with the Sandinista Front.

Another Miskito group, calling itself “Yatama No Sandinista,” is warning that the situation could get out of control if the government doesn’t change its policies soon.

Yatama No Sandinista is planning a march on Bilwi Nov. 11, according to group leader Osorno Coleman.

Coleman says there is lots of confusion and rumor over relief aid; the population hears reports on the radio that aid has arrived, but then it seems to disappear and the government officials don’t offer any explanation about what’s going on, he said.

“If the government continues this behavior, there could be more uprisings and it could start to get out of control,” Coleman said.

Victor Manuel Duarte, a Liberal lawmaker from the mining town of Siuna, said he is asking the National Assembly to form a special commission to investigate complaints that the Sandinistas are politicizing relief aid through the CPCs. Duarte claims that local party organizers are forcing people to join the CPCs in order to receive aid.

The lawmaker alleges that the Sandinistas are using the aid as bait to win votes in traditionally Liberal towns before the 2008 municipal elections. If the situation continues, Duarte said, he fears rearmed Contra groups could again appear in the mining triangle.

“But there is still sufficient time to calm the situation,” he added.

International Aid Continues

Despite apparent problems with the government’s distribution of aid, international relief from the World Food Program, the Red Cross, religious organizations and others seems to be getting to communities with fewer problems.

William Hart, country representative of the World Food Program, says his group has been working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAGFOR) to personally deliver food supplies to 88,000 people who are considered to be “food insecure” in 65 rural communities along the Río Coco, which borders Honduras.

The World Food Program delivers the food directly to community leaders to be redistributed to the villages – a process he says that is going “fairly well.”

Hart notes that the World Food Program already has experience in these communities because of previous missions to distribute rations there for the school lunch program.

“We have a distribution system that has been going on for a while and it works and we are confident with it,”Hart told The Nica Times.

The problem, he said, is that the communities are so isolated and the need is so great, that there hasn’t been enough aid getting through quickly enough to satisfy the population.

A major chunk of the World Food Program’s humanitarian aid is coming from the United States, which last week donated an additional $2.9 million in food rations to meet the basic needs of 83,000 residents for the next month.

Since Hurricane Felix tore through Nicaragua as a Category 5 storm Sept. 5, the United States has provided $4.7 million in humanitarian-relief aid, $1.5 million in helicopter transportation to inaccessible communities, and $7 million in funding for new housing loans.

Venezuela has also come to Nicaragua’s aid, sending a ship that docked last week in Bilwi with 14,000 sheets of zinc and other relief aid to help rebuild.

France, too, joined the international community of donors this week by by donating more than $400,000 in hurricane-relief aid. U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli notes that the Millennium Challenge Account, which has $92 million earmarked for road repair and construction in northwestern departments of León and Chinandega, will help rebuild another region of the country that has recently been washed out by heavy rains.

Trivelli told The Nica Times that many of those highway contracts are being finalized now, and he expects “dirt to start moving by 2008.”



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