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NICARAGUA
Right to land, only on paper
Carmen Herrera
11/19/2010
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Legislation still needed for program to promote land ownership among campesina women.

More than 80 percent of women in rural Nicaragua lack their own land, despite a new law to increase land ownership throughout the country.

In June, lawmakers passed a law to create a fund to help rural Nicaraguan women to buy land, but the law is still missing key legislation for its implementation.

The Rural Women´s Coordinating Group, an umbrella organization of 20,000 women from 12 organizations, is presenting the National Assembly with a bill that would allot 0.5 percent of the country´s budget so women could purchase land.

The percentage allotted has not yet been determined, but the June law states that it would depend on financial resources. And, the Finance Ministry has already sent a US$1.6 billion 2011 budget for lawmakers´ approval, a proposal that does not include the amount that women are seeking, which would total $8.2 million.

Filling the void
The land ownership law states that the funds would be used exclusively for the acquisition of large- and medium-sized plots, which would then be parceled off to women, who would receive housing loans. Women heads of household would receive priority treatment.

Even if the law is a victory for rural women, Ivania Paniagua, leader of the Coordinating Group, says there are too many holes in the law for it to be effective.

“After the approval of the 17 articles that comprise the law, there are issues that we are not satisfied with,” she said. “For example, we need the land to be in the village where the woman lives. The regulations must state that the land must be fertile, since cheap exhausted land serves no purpose for us. We also feel uncertainty, doubts, regarding credits. We fear that the bank won´t guarantee the credit. This is a fight we´re just starting.”

The recently-founded Production Development Bank was tapped to administrate the funds in a trust, separate from the other accounts, said the bank´s manager, Gustavo Largaespada.

Lawmaker Wálmaro Gutiérrez, president of the economic commission in the National Assembly, said the program would benefit 1.2 million women to buy land at a low cost, and that women need help to get over the fear of purchasing land with a loan and set interest rate, by information on how much the land could increase in value.

If effective, the law could change Nicaragua´s land-owning statistics dramatically. According to the National Statistics and Census Institute, in 2005, nine of every 10 farms had male heads of household. Close to a quarter of all farms in the country lacked any sort of title or ownership document, and for those with documents, they were held five times more by men than women.

No rural land ordering
After more than three decades, Nicaragua has still not had a successful and effective land reform, as lands are still held in the hands of a few.

During the 1980s, the Sandinista Popular Revolution confiscated lands from the Somoza family, which governed the country for 45 years until its regime was toppled in 1979, and after, hundreds of properties were expropriated. These lands became the base of the land reform by the Sandinista government, but land titles were not formalized by law and many of these parcels were turned over when President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro took office, since very few people had land titles.

During Chamorro´s 1990-96 government, she passed decrees and pushed for other legislation to liberalize the land market and pay for properties that were confiscated in the previous administration.

The 2006 government study “Land Policy Framework” found that weak laws and institutions are among the main problems hindering a solution to land issues in Nicaragua. It also found little coordination between government institutions and production sectors, red tape, including lengthy and expensive legal procedures and poor use of land.

In light of this situation, leaders of the Women´s Coordinating Group propose having their representatives sit on the municipal committees that will determine who will receive land.

“We have to see the history of the land that we want to buy, guarantee that they have not been sold over and over again,” said Paniagua. “We don´t want women to face that kind of problem. We propose that the women of the Coordinating group participate.”
—Latinamerica Press.


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María Teresa Fernández, president of the Women’s Coordinating Group. (Photo: Carmen Herrera)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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