Nicaragua creates Ministry of Extraterrestrial Space Affairs

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA (AP) – Nicaragua has created a new National Ministry for Extraterrestrial Space Affairs, The Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, which is drawing amused reactions on social media in a nation that has been struggling since anti-government protests three years ago.

The agency was approved by 76 legislators on Wednesday in the country’s congress, which is dominated by President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Party. Fifteen opposition legislators abstained.

In a country that has a hard time supplying its people with food, fuel and coronavirus vaccines, it is not clear exactly what the ministry is supposed to do. It will be under the control of the Nicaraguan army, which has no space programme. The law says the ministry “will promote the development of space activities, with the aim of broadening the country’s capacities in the fields of education, industry, science and technology”.

President of Nicaragua’s Academy of Geography and History, Dan Woodfin told CNN: “Nicaragua does not have a scientific capacity or tradition, does not have a serious (space) observatory. We are not scientifically able as a country to undertake this type of research.”

Social media users were quick to create memes of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, dressed as astronauts, and of Nicaraguan police expropriating the moon, as Ortega has done with some buildings in Nicaragua that belonged to media outlets and civic groups he disagreed with.

Critics said the country does not have the money to spare for dreams of space exploration. It has yet to acquire any coronavirus vaccines and has been in a deep social and economic crisis since the government quashed mass protests in 2018.

The space agency is not the  first time Ortega has endorsed quixotic proposals. In 2014 he authorised a Chinese company to build a USD50 billion canal across Nicaragua. The project has made little headway.

Ortega is expected to run for his fourth consecutive term as president since 2007, and his fifth in total, combined with his stint in power in 1979-1990, Nicaragua has already spent almost a quarter-century under Ortega’s rule.

In recent months, Ortega’s government has proposed, passed and implemented a number of laws making it more difficult for non-governmental organisations to operate.