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  Number 165 | Abril 1995
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NICARAGUA BRIEFS

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HUMBERTO RETIRED ON CUE

On February 21, as he had promised, General Humberto Ortega, head of the Sandinista Popular Army since 1979, went into retirement. He was replaced by General Joaquín Cuadra, who was named to the post by President Chamorro on December 21. Cuadra was a Sandinista guerrilla with a long trajectory in the struggle against Somoza, and co strategist of the counterrevolution's military defeat in the 1980s. He enjoys general support from the social and political sectors, and Ortega himself called him "my relief and my brother."
In his farewell speech, Ortega said that he was "satisfied" and "happy" with the kind of army he leaves behind. With regard to the national situation, he said, "We have leaders but we have not been able to forge the leadership that Nicaragua needs." He offered his experience for this task, from an independent political position, and without affiliation to any party.

After retiring from the army, Humberto Ortega immediately made political overtures to Cardinal Obando, National Assembly president Luis H. Guzmán and President Chamorro to promote a political agreement between the two branches and a negotiated way out of the crisis sparked by the constitutional reforms. "The problem is more political than legal," Ortega insisted.

A PROPERTY LAW AT LAST?

A special commission of the National Assembly was formed on February 28 to draft a bill that will put "the final period" on the property problem, which is so central to the country's reality. Five other property bills have already been presented to the legislature, of which the only one that respects the revolutionary transformations of the 1980s and 90s, not surprisingly, is the one submitted by the FSLN. It enjoys the support of both currents on the Sandinista bench.

According to sociologist Orlando Nüñez, an expert on the issue, the law that comes out of the National Assembly will have to deal with the rights of thousands individuals [those confiscated] against the rights of 300,000 families [the beneficiaries of the agrarian and urban reforms]." Nüñez ominously adds that "the democratic or oligarchic destiny of Nicaragua is at stake in this law."
THE PARIS CLUB

On March 20 21, Nicaragua will try to renegotiate its debt with the Paris Club countries, a meeting that was originally expected for December 1993. The Club countries are offering to pardon 67% of the debt, but Nicaragua is hoping for 80%.

With an overall $11 million debt, Nicaragua is the most heavily indebted country per capita in the world. Another 40 impoverished countries with heavy debts will also be trying to get a substantial cancellation with the Club during the same days.

TENSIONS WITH COSTA RICA

Tensions with Costa Rica have been mounting over the migration of many poor Nicaraguans to that country in search of work, even poorly paid jobs as agricultural laborers in the Costa Rican haciendas. Costa Rica has been responding with massive and often violent deportation of undocumented Nicaraguans. The Costa Rican government estimates that some 500,000 Nicaraguans, 300,000 of them undocumented, live in that neighboring country.

Between January and February 1995, the Costa Rican police deported 6,790 Nicas, many of whom were visibly irate. On January 30, Costa Rica's government agreed to provide 60,000 residences and work cards to temporary workers who entered the country legally. But the agreement was not acted on and the following month 30 40 people were being deported daily at just one point along the common border.

DANIEL WELCOMED HOME

Daniel Ortega returned from Cuba on February 18 after more than three months of treatment for a silent heart attack he had unknowingly suffered in September. The next day, 25,000 Sandinistas gathered in Managua's Plaza of the Revolution to welcome him back and to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the assassination of Augusto César Sandino (February 21). The size of the crowd surprised other political parties and groupings.

LIBERAL ALLIANCE NOT UNITY OFFICIAL

On January 30, Arnoldo Alemán's Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and the three mini Liberal parties (PLIUN, PALI and PLN) signed what they call a Liberal Alliance to go into the elections, but not their unification into a single party, as they had announced.

Vice President Virgilio Godoy's Independent Liberal Party (PLI) did not sign the agreement. PLI leaders question Managua mayor Alemán's personalist caudillismo, the way he is trying to impose his "prefabricated" presidential candidacy and the mayor party confusion he is encouraging to push through his hegemony.

MINIMAL CABINET CHANGES

Despite many speculations and expectations, only two Cabinet ministers were changed at the beginning of the new year. Alfredo Mendieta resigned as Minister of Government, saying that he was "politically persecuted" and threatening to go public with the corruption that he knows about in the executive branch. He was replaced by Sergio Narvaéz.

Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Roberto Rondón, openly denounced for his highly irregular and costly manipulations in the state bank, was replaced by Dionisio Cuadra. Inexplicably, Rondón was named executive president of the Rural Development Institute, a new government body that handles one of the country's largest international flows of funds.

ECOLOGICAL DISASTER

A blaze that began on January 19 and burned uncontrollably over a month destroyed 12,680 hectares of fine hardwood forest and pasture around the Cosigüina volcano. The zone is a reserve for exotic birds and native animals including ocelots, deer and armadillos; it is calculated that thousands of animals may have died. The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources estimates the losses at up to $7 million.

A DRY CANAL?

A project to build a "dry canal" through Nicaragua to link its Pacific and Caribbean coasts is being proposed to the country by a consortium of businesses from Belgium, Germany, England, Holland, China and Hong Kong. Having discarded the first route proposed, through the Río San Juan, due to its negative ecological impact, the investments are now planning to connect Bluefields with Montelimar. It is estimated that the canal could be built in three years, at a cost of approximately $1.3 billion.

THE END OF THE RUBBLE

With the demolition in January of the first dozen buildings that were left in ruins by the 1972 earthquake, the beginning of the end of the "escombros," or rubble of buildings that has characterized the Managua skyline for over 20 years, is underway. The nearly 100 poor families that have made their home on the open ground floor of these buildings will be relocated.

Half of the gutted buildings are slated to disappear in the first stage, between 1995 and 1996. When it is all over, the only structure that will be left standing is the shell of the old Managua cathedral, as historic testimony.

President Chamorro promised the nation she would rebuild the urban center of old Managua. The reconstruction project is in the hands of Managua mayor Arnold Alemán, who fought with the President for it for three years.

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