MANAGUA – Nearly a month after trash pickers blocked the “La Chureca” garbage landfill over a protest with the municipal government of Managua, the capital city’s mayor, Nicho Marenco, stood his ground this week and refused to negotiate with the group of dump dwellers.
The city of Managua, in the meantime, has recently started trucking its garbage to neighboring landfills in Tipitapa and Nindirí. Using garbage trucks, dump trucks and land-excavating machinery, more than 1,000 municipal workers labored round the clock during Semana Santa (Easter Week) to clean up thousands of tons of garbage that had accumulated around the city over three weeks and truck it off to the dumps in neighboring municipalities – an operation that Marenco called “an enormous success.”
“The city is not any dirtier now than it normally is,”Marenco announced Monday. Health authorities had been warning about the outbreak of epidemics if the garbage continued to pile on the sidewalks, streets and riverbeds.
La Chureca, meanwhile, remains closed by the several hundred dump dwellers who live inside the landfill and make a living scavenging for recyclables. The so-called “Churequeros,” as they are known collectively, have threatened to burn any municipal garbage trucks that try to enter the site and have vowed to defend themselves if the police arrive to remove them.
At the center of the conflict is a Sandinista proposal to increase the municipal budget by some $736,000 to subsidize municipal garbage collectors in exchange for them promising not to separate out the recyclable garbage in the trucks, thereby leaving the more “valuable” trash for the Churequeros to salvage at the dump. Marenco, also a Sandinista but one who has had repeated power clashes with first lady Rosario Murillo, has scoffed at his party’s proposal, calling it “unworkable.”
“The subsidy proposal has the advantage of being imaginative, but the disadvantage of being inapplicable,” Marenco told the press Monday.
The mayor says that there is no way to enforce such an arrangement. What he predicts would happen under the subsidy scenario is that the municipal government would pay garbage collectors more but they would still continue to sort out the recyclables; the Churequeros would then accuse the municipality of stealing its garbage and not upholding its end of the deal, and tensions would rise.
Marenco claims that behind the scenes there are Sandinista interests opposed to his disobedience who are manipulating the Churequeros – a claim the dump dwellers deny, despite some evidence of outside financing, such as buses that were rented to bring the Churequeros to the protest outside the municipal offices last week.
Marenco has said several times that President Daniel Ortega could probably resolve the problem with one phone call, and has said he would be “happy” if the president did so. Ortega, meanwhile, has not commented on the matter.
Marenco said this week that he has asked the police to help clear the blocked entrance to the dump to reopen La Chureca. But until that happens, the municipality will continue to truck its 1,200 tons of garbage each day to neighboring landfills 15 to 20 kilometers away.
“The solution is what we are already doing,” the embattled mayor said. He added, “I will keep the city clean in the coming days and during my last 10 months in office – that I can assure you.”
While Marenco insists that there is nothing to negotiate with the people who are holding the dump hostage, Vice Mayor Nery Leiva Orochena took a slightly softer approach, telling The Nica Times this week that he is open to negotiating with the Churequeros and hopes to have a deal worked out with them by this week to end the situation peacefully.
The landfill squatters in past days have threatened to takeover other dumps as well, and burn any trucks that try to enter. The municipality this week reported that two garbage trucks were attacked last week in the city, but that the Tipitapa and Nindirí landfills remain open.
Marenco said that in the long term, the solution is to permanently close the oversaturated Churecha dump and build a new incinerator for Managua’s garbage. The mayor told The Nica Times this week that a $35 million Spanish-funded project is already in the works to close La Chureca and build proper housing for the 120 families that live inside the landfill. These chureceros would then be employed in a project to recycle the remaining garbage and turn the old dump into a park with a biomass electrical plant.