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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 207 | Octubre 1998
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Nitlápan-Envío team

WHITHER THE ZOILÁMERICA CASE?

On September 19, the National Assembly's executive board, dominated by the Liberals, announced that it would form a "very special" commission to study Zoilamérica Narváez's petition that her former stepfather Daniel Ortega be stripped of his immunity as a legislator so he can stand trial on her charge of incest and sexual harassment. Some interpreted that decision as a government maneuver to blackmail the Sandinista representatives into "punishing" the Comptroller's Office in the extra-budgetary funds case in exchange for Liberal votes against the petition. On October 5, the decision was surprisingly reversed. It was announced that the Assembly board itself, advised by a group of jurists, would decide this exceedingly controversial case.

EDÉN PASTORA ENDS HUNGER STRIKE

After over a month of fasting, Edén Pastora gave up the hunger strike he had started on August 22, the 20th anniversary of the spectacular seizure of Nicaragua's National Palace that triggered the ultimately successful Sandinista insurrection in 1978. Pastora began his 34-day fast to gain recognition for his claimed right to run for Nicaragua's presidential office. His candidacy was struck down in 1996 by the constitutional prohibition of any person holding high office who has ever renounced Nicaraguan nationality. Pastora took Costa Rican citizenship in the 1970s to facilitate the struggle against the Somocista dictatorship.

On September 24 the National Assembly agreed to review and interpret the Nationality Law and the Electoral Law in response to Pastora's demand. Politicians of all stripes backed his gesture, including Sandinistas, even though he left a high post in the Ministry of Defense in 1982 to lead a contra band based in Costa Rica. The Liberal government and the FSLN could use this review as the occasion to kick off their constitutional reform process. The Liberal Party has made no secret of the fact that it would like to see this prohibition overturned, since several of its own possible candidates suffer from the same problem.

INTRA-FAMILY VIOLENCE

The Nicaraguan Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) recently released the preliminary results of its study of demography and health among over 13,600 women from all over the country. The survey showed that 20% had suffered severe physical abuse— kicks, punches or threats with firearms or blades from their own partners in the past year. Of these, 36% were pregnant when they were beaten, and 67% of the cases occurred in the presence of their children. The survey reveals that the incidence of sexual and physical abuse is greater among women with low education levels and more children, although such abuse is present at all levels.

LAUNCHING OF NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENT

A new center-right political coalition called Homeland Movement (Movimiento Patria) was officially launched on September 20. It is made up of seven political organizations: the Conservative Party of Nicaragua, the Independent Liberal Party, Social Christian Unity, the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement, Convergent Popular Action, the Resistance Party and the New Alternative Movement. The movement announced that a priority of its work would be the struggle against corruption among public officials.

NICARAGUA IN126TH PLACE

The representative of the United Nations Development Program in Nicaragua (UNDP), Carmelo Angulo, presented his organization's 1998 Human Development Report in Managua in September. This annual report includes among other data an index ranking countries according to three indicators: the life expectancy, education level and health level of its inhabitants.

According to that index, Nicaragua occupies 126th place among 185 countries of the world, one up from its position in the 1997 report. Since the data processed by the UN always has a two-year lag, this report reflects the conditions in Nicaragua in 1996, the last year of the Chamorro government.

The report indicates that Nicaragua's per-capita income was the lowest in Central America at $380, that the wealthiest 20% of the population has an income 13 times greater than the poorest 20%, that 44% of all Nicaraguans survive on a dollar or less per day, that the illiteracy rate has climbed back up to 40% and that 40% of children do not reach fifth grade. According to the UNDP, Nicaragua's future development will depend on the country's appropriate use of its renewable natural resources, since it still has the great advantage that 46% of its territory is covered by forests.

ARMY CONTROVERSY

Army day, September 2, has in recent years been developing a tradition of using the celebration to drop some kind of controversial bomb—verbal, not the exploding kind. This year, during the celebration of the 19th anniversary of Nicaragua's Army, President Arnoldo Alemán reiterated his idea of transferring about a thousand Army personnel to strengthen the ranks of the National Police—particularly in rural areas—without having to expand the overall budget. With a roster of 14,000 members, the Army of Nicaragua is already the smallest in Central America.
Both the head of the Army, General Joaquín Cuadra, and First Police Commissioner Franco Montealegre, publicly expressed disagreement with the President's idea. According to Montealegre, there are essential differences between the two forces, since the Police is an armed body, but with a civilian nature, and has been prepared to deal with the citizenry, while the Army is prepared to deal with an enemy."
Vice President Enrique Bolaños got in a shot as well. He reiterated his proposal, first made during the 1996 election campaign, to dissolve the Army altogether. If he had his way, he would divide its members into four civilian units: to fight drug trafficking and terrorism, to fight crime, to defend the natural resources, and to support the Red Cross. Bolaños said that the Army is "unnecessary" because "no foreign military force is invading us."

CIVIL REGISTRY TO GET A BOOST

According to Supreme Electoral Council data, 35% of Nicaraguans have never been registered in Nicaragua's Civil Registry. The CSE hopes that before the year ends this figure will have dropped to at least 12%. To make that target possible, the CSE installed registry offices in three maternal-infant hospitals in Managua, one in León and one in Chinandega, to get mothers to register their newborns before leaving the hospital. This pilot project, financed by UNICEF, is being done in coordination with the municipal governments, and there are to install registry offices in all hospitals across the country in 1999.

HELP FOR THOSE WITH DISABILITIES

The government has recently created the National Rehabilitation council, made up of various ministries and other state agencies. In announcing its creation, the Ministry of Health reported that approximately 559,000 Nicaraguans suffer some sort of disability, the majority of them as a result of the war against the Somocista dictatorship or the war that the revolutionary plagued process in the 1980s. Only 3% of this half million population receives any kind of medical attention.

BISHOPS SPEAK OUT AGAINST CORRUPTION

On the occasion of Nicaragua's Independence Day celebrations, the eight bishops of the country's Catholic Church issued a Message to the nation. The prelates referred to the country's crisis—social injustice, crime, the rising cost of public services, drug trafficking and social insensitivity. With respect to corruption and honesty, they said, "Grave is the risk that democracy runs given the corruption in public life, the superfluous spending of those who have great wealth or exercise public power, the lack of an ethical sense in the fields of justice, politics, economy, culture. The vice of corruption undermines the social, economic and political development of any people.

"Those who are governing should respond with justice to the mission they have received from society. Honesty, veracity, thirst for justice, renunciation of personal or group interests, a search for the common good and concern for the weakest should be habitual attitudes that show people the value of public authority." Authorities need to have a real to totally eradicate desire corruption. And, in speaking of authority, we refer to all authority, whether it comes from popular election, is military or political, is judicial or ministerial of any kind. "We Nicaraguans should be ever vigilant that the limited resources destined for the public good do not end up not serving other interests, whether private, party or transnational."

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