Letters from Nicaragua and Colombia

Tertulia, vol. 18

Hola y muy buenas. This is Barbara with news about Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez, more sad statistics from Colombia, and an exciting project to repair the coral reefs that shield the Colombian island of San Andrés.

Sergio RamĂ­rez at the Madrid Book Fair

Nicaraguan writer and former vice-president of his country Sergio Ramírez came to Madrid to do what writers do at a book fair. First of all, he came to promote his new book Tongolele no sabía bailar (Tongolele did not know how to dance), showcasing the political turbulences in his home country. He participated in book signings, readings, tertulias, and some other official acts. For example, as part of his legacy he left two original letters of the poet Rubén Darío and the revolutionary Augusto César Sandino at the Caja de las Letras (Letter box) of the Cervantes Institute. This is a place where important contributors to the culture symbolically leave a legacy as part of the collective memory of the Hispanic cultures. So far, 60 people have left something in these deposit boxes.

During one of the book signings terrible news reached him. He learned that Nicaraguan state prosecutors had issued a warrant for his arrest. They accuse him of spreading hatred and conspiracy, laundering money, and de-stabilising Nicaragua. Ramírez has been very critical of president Daniel Ortega under whom he served as vice-president to Nicaragua from 1985-1990. The new novel was just the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

RamĂ­rez distanced himself from the Sandinista Party as early as 1995 when Ortega showed first signs of autocratic tendencies (in 1996, however, Ortega lost the presidential election and only got back into power in 2006). RamĂ­rez dedicated the Cervantes prize, which he won in 2017, to "the Nicaraguans murdered these days for demanding justice". Protests against the corrupt political system established by Daniel Ortega had started in 2014.

Many other critics of Ortega and his family entourage were detained in the last months to ensure Ortega’s re-election in November. At 79, Sergio Ramírez sees himself confronted with exile again, an experience that he thought had become a faint memory of the past. During the Somoza regime he was forced to live abroad, too. He was one of my very early heroes when he as a writer took political responsibility and helped establish democracy in his country in 1979.

The world’s most dangerous country for environmentalists

For a second consecutive year, Colombia saw the highest number of killings of environmental defenders, with 65 murdered, according to the NGO Global Witness. Many more activists live under continuous threats. Indigenous peoples were particularly impacted, and the COVID pandemic only served to worsen the situation. Official lockdowns led to defenders being targeted in their homes, and government protection measures were cut, says the NGO in their report. It is especially tragic to see these numbers when we consider that just 5 years ago the country signed a peace accord hoping to end more than 50 years of violence. The current administration has been helpless to prevent this violence. 95 percent of all murders do not result in prosecution. When FARC dissolved as a consequence of the peace accord, they left a power gap in many areas. It seems that paramilitary groups and armed gangs have taken complete control of some rural and remote areas. They need the money from illegal mining, coca farms and drug trafficking to sponsor their fights. In other words: They need to destroy more and more pristine land and threaten those who wish to protect it. Laura Furones, Global Witness's senior adviser for its land and environmental defenders campaign, concludes that the increase in activist killings is due to "the lack of state action in terms of implementing the peace accord."

The first 3D pilot reef is reality

To end this newsletter on a positive note, I’d like to share with you some exciting news about ecological repair activities on the seabed of the Colombian San AndrĂ©s Island. San AndrĂ©s is also a place that brings Colombia and Nicaragua as close together as possible. It’s really, really complicated. If you look up San AndrĂ©s on a map, you will quickly understand why the two countries have a big dispute over the area. Yet, that’s not our topic today.

Coral reefs are suffering from climate change. "If the world's oceans continue to warm unchecked, over 90 per cent of all coral reefs are in danger of dying by 2050,” says marine biologist Ulrike Pfreundt. Together with Marie Griesmar and Hanna Kuhfuss she wants to use ecologically sound structures from the 3D printer to enable artificial reefs that provide new habitats for more resilient corals. On September 19th the team put the last finishing touches on their very first 3D-printed clay reef. If you wish to know more about the project and how you may contribute to the ecological repair of this important ecosystem, you can follow their activities on their website or sign up to their newsletter. Very exciting!

This is all for today. Let me know what you think about my selection of topics. I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

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