By Chris Lang
The Nicaraguan government is in the process of applying for REDD funding from the Green Climate Fund. The project is titled, “Bio-CLIMA Nicaragua: Integrated climate action for reduced deforestation and strengthened resilience in the BOSAWÁS and Rio San Juan Biosphere Reserves.” The proposal could be presented to the Green Climate Fund board at its next meeting: 9 to 13 November 2020.
In March 2019, the Nicaraguan government submitted a Concept Note about the proposal, which explains that,
Within Nicaragua’s REDD+ Strategy Bio-CLIMA has been designed to be complementarily and act synergistically with the Emission Reduction Programme (ER-PD) that Nicaragua has prepared to be submitted to the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.
The FCPF’s Carbon Fund would buy the emissions reductions generated from the Bio-CLIMA project. The project would focus on the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve.
In December 2019, the Nicaraguan Alliance of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples (APIAN) wrote to the World Bank expressing its concern about the proposed REDD deal:
Government promotion of deforestation
Activists in Nicaragua speaking out against the government’s promotion of deforestation and illegal settlements in Indio Maíz and Bosawás are facing worsening repression and violence.
In January 2020, six Indigenous People were killed in the Bosawás Biosphere Resereve when 80 heavily armed settlers attacked the community of Alal. The government has taken little action to stop this sort of violence, which has been going on for years.
Following the attacks, Marta Hurtado, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, put out a press briefing that stated:
We are very concerned about repeated attacks against indigenous peoples in Nicaragua, the lack of protection of their rights and the impunity for crimes committed against them.
Most of the violence has been carried out by settlers as they seek to force indigenous people from their ancestral homes and use their lands for illegal logging and cattle farming.
Protests against the government
In April 2018, protests took place in Managua following the government’s initial failure to put out fires in Indio Maíz. The fire burned for nine days, burning 5,500 hectares of forest. The protests increased in size after the government announced social security changes – following a 2017 report by the International Monetary Fund.
President Daniel Ortega accused US-backed right-wing factions of being behind the protests. And here’s how Nicaragua-based journalist John Perry describes how he sees the protests as having started:
The first catalyst for action by US-funded groups was an out-of-control forest fire in a remote reserve, inaccessible by road. The tactics were clear: take an incident with potential to get young people onto the streets, blame the government for inaction (even though the fire was almost impossible to control), whip up people’s anger via social media, organize protests, generate critical stories in the local press, enlist support from neighboring allies (in this case, Costa Rica) and secure hostile coverage in the international media. All of these tactics worked, but before the next stage could be reached (protesters being repressed by the Ortega “regime”) the forest fire was extinguished by a rainstorm.
USAID-backed regime change in Nicaragua?
A recently released document from USAID gives a fair bit of backing to the US-supported coup theory. The document describes the creation of something called “Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua” (RAIN) with the aim of “enabling the environment for Nicaragua’s transition to democracy”.
In the document, USAID refers repeatedly to Nicaragua’s government as the “Ortega regime”. The aim of RAIN is clearly to remove the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) from government. As Ben Norton, writing in the Grayzone, points out, the word “transition” appears more than 100 times in the 14-page document.
Under a section titled “Risk Assumptions/Constraints”, USAID states that before a “democratic transition” takes place,
Human rights violations committed by the Ortega regime will continue as well as the repression of civil rights. Human and civil rights abuses include murder, kidnapping, disappearances and violent attacks on peaceful protesters; illegal detention, incarceration and torture of citizens in the opposition, government intimidation and harassment of journalists, independent media and human rights advocates; targeted persecution and assassination of campesinos; denial of freedom of speech, association, and assembly; abolition of opposition parties and revocation of CSOs’ legal status; restrictions in citizens’ right to vote, including interference in traditional elections of community leadership to impose parallel or pro-GON authorities, and confiscation of properties and territorial lands.
The US government makes no secret of its dislike of the Nicaraguan government. The US Department of State website includes a statement on “U.S. Supporty for a Return to Democracy in Nicaragua”. The US has imposed a series of more than 20 sanctions against Nicaraguan individuals, including most recently Paul Oquist, “for being an official of the Government of Nicaragua”. Oquist was the Secretary of the Presidency, and represented the Government of Nicaragua internationally in several roles, including at the UNFCCC, and as co-chair of the board of the Green Climate Fund in 2018.
According to the US Treasury statement about the sanctions,
[Oquist] plays a lead role in spreading disinformation to cover up the regime’s crimes and misdeeds of horrific human rights abuses. In numerous interviews with international English-language media and in meetings with foreign representatives, Oquist has spread the Ortega regime’s false narratives and propaganda. Additionally, Oquist has pled the Ortegas’ case internationally with an unrelenting flow of lies to conceal or justify the regime’s abuses.
After the US imposed the sanctions, Ortega’s government removed Oquist from the positions he held.
Foreign agents bill
In September 2020, government lawmakers introduced three new bills, including a “foreign agents” bill, that would require all organisations or individuals who work with or receive funds from organisations that are controlled by foreign governments to register as foreign agents with the Ministry of the Interior. Foreign agents cannot intervene in domestic political issues.
The Financial Times calls the bill the “Putin Law”, arguing that it is modelled on a 2012 Russian law. Human Rights Watch comments that it has “documented how other countries, such as Russia, have used similar “foreign agents” laws to silence civil society.
But, neither the Financial Times nor Human Rights Watch mentions that the US has an extremely strict Foreign Agent Registration Act. In June 2020, the National Wildlife Federation had to register as a foreign agent of Norway because it had received money from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). And in August 2019, Waxman Strategies registered as a foreign agent of Norway.
The REDD anti-politics machine
So, we have the anti-capitalist, socialist government of Nicaragua applying for funding from the Green Climate Fund and the World Bank for a distinctly neoliberal, capitalist REDD project. REDD-Monitor looks forward to watching the REDD anti-politics machine in action as the board of the Green Climate Fund skips daintily around the political minefield of this REDD project in Nicaragua.
On 16 October 2020, the German NGO Pro REGENWALD sent the following letter to Heike Henn, commissioner for climate policy and climate financing at the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Henn is Germany’s Green Climate Fund board member, and this is REDD-Monitor’s unofficial translation:
Dear Dr. Henn,
We address you in your capacity as a member of the GCF Board and in concern about the political and legal situation in Nicaragua.
Pro REGENWALD has been active in Central America for more than twenty years. In Costa Rica and Nicaragua – also with funding from BMZ – Pro REGENWALD supports organic farming, food sovereignty, forest protection and ecosystem restoration with rural and indigenous populations.
Since the beginning of the protests against the policies of the Ortega government in spring 2018 and the continuing violent reaction of the government and its security forces, we have seen how NGOs and their staff are harassed and threatened and how more and more people are fleeing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. Several thousand people have crossed the border to safety and found safe hiding places, also in our partner projects. Their accounts of the political arbitrariness in Nicaragua tell of unspeakable violence and injustice by the state apparatus.
We therefore noted with great concern that the Nicaraguan government has applied to the Green Climate Fund for financial support for the planned “Bio-CLIMA” project. We are certainly the last to reject forest and climate protection measures, the promotion of organic farming, and the strengthening of rural and indigenous communities, but not at the price of abandoning the rule of law, overlooking arbitrariness and violence against the population, and cultivating a thoroughly corrupt system.
The repression of civil society and the violation of human rights and freedom of expression have poisoned the mood in Nicaraguan society and fostered boundless mistrust and, as Michelle Bachelet (OHCHR) pointed out at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council, “there has been no progress on the human rights situation and no sign that the government is addressing tensions and structural problems in a constructive manner”. In this year, as last year, there have been repeated attacks on the indigenous population in Nicaragua. In February 2020, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed the lack of protection of their rights and impunity for crimes committed against them in the regions where the “Bio-CLIMA Project” is to be implemented. In addition, the OHCHR urged the Nicaraguan government in vain to take the necessary steps to prevent further violence and to protect the land, territories and resources of indigenous communities. This has not been done.
The fact that the envisaged project has now been approved by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA), the authority that has been responsible for over a decade of suspected inaction in the face of illegal settlements and illegal logging in the area of the REDD project is not without a certain amount of ridicule.
Especially since a fire in connection with the illegal settlement of the indigenous territory that makes up a large part of the Indio Maíz Reserve, triggered the national protests in April 2018. According to a media report, “the dispute over causes of the fire obscures a long history of government inaction in Indio Maíz, which made the fire practically inevitable, so much so that by 2016 a nature conservation biologist predicted the fire to the exact cause – a fire, laid by a settler who illegally grows rice in palm swamps”. The report further notes that “the presence of settlers is responsible for a much larger problem than the fire itself speaks: the rampant settlement of a protected indigenous territory”. The continued inaction of the Nicaraguan Government in relation to illegal settlement and timber extraction is well documented. Actually government officials even promoted these illegal settlements and illegal logging within the Rama-Kriol territory.
In view of the government’s failure to date – critics go further and call it a targeted attack – in upholding the rights of indigenous peoples and protected areas, and in view of the violence by the government for more than two years, a formulation from the Concept Note such as, “The Government of Nicaragua is well aware of the urgent need to strengthen its presence in the CR [Caribbean Region] to reduce deforestation and therefore plans to invest significant budgetary resources in governance, institutions and state-building measures through the Bio-CLIMA Project,” reads like a further threat to the indigenous population. This should not be promoted with international – and also German – funds.
The government’s completely out of the question proposal that FPIC should only be carried out after a funding commitment has been made would be the end for other internationally funded projects. It actually reveals that this project is not intended to stop deforestation, protect the climate, or strengthen the indigenous population according to accepted standards, but merely to keep the undemocratic, illegitimate government of President Ortega in office by means of a financial injection.
We would therefore ask you to make every effort to ensure that this proposal is not put on the Green Climate Fund agenda in the first place. Any serious discussion of the project presented in this way by this government would have a negative impact on the GCF itself, and this cannot be in anyone’s interest.
With best regards