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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 183 | Octubre 1996
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

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VOTER CONFUSION

This year Nicaraguan voters are bewildered not only by the six ballots they must grapple with, but also by three different kinds of voter registration documents, depending on the individual case. Only about half of the over 2.4 millon voters who applied for their new photo ID card will have it in time for the elections, while the other half will be issued a substitute document good for both rounds of the 1996 election. The third acceptable document is the traditional voter booklet, also good only for this year's election, which was issued in June to just over 350,000 people who registered in the 26 conflictive rural municipalities in which the ID process had been postponed.

The delay in processing the ID card requests was due to the deplorably incomplete state of the Civil Registry, which required endless checking and cross checking, as well as the hiring of numerous district judges and lawyers to provide legal certification. Only six of every ten applicants had been given their ID by mid-August cards. To get the cards that had been printed up by the legal cut off date before the elections into people's hands, Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) workers went house to house throughout August, only to find that many people were either at work or had moved without reporting their change of address, which of course led to more delays as well as changes in the electoral rolls.

The CSE planned a massive campaign in early September to get the ID cards and just printed substitute documents distributed, which involved opening all the polling places in the 119 municipalities for five days.

The CSE also reported that only 758 Nicaraguans living abroad registered to vote this year in the 50 consulates the CSE set up in various countries for that purpose.

ELECTION REFORMS: TO BE OR NOT TO BE?

Throughout August and the first days of September, a group of "centrist" legislators struggled for the votes to pass a package of new reforms to the Electoral Law. The most "political" of these reforms establishes that the third place presidential candidate, independent of the number of votes he or she may have received, could run in place of one of the first two in a second round should the legally eligible candidate die or resign. This proposal is based in part on speculations about the health of Daniel Ortega, who is in close second place for the first round in all polls.

The most controversial reform proposed would have changed the election date from October 20 to November 3. It emerged in response to the delay in issuing state funds to the parties for their campaigns.
Big guns were immediately trained on the latter idea to shoot it down. Cardinal Obando called it "dangerous", CSE president Rosa Marina Zelaya termed it "imprudent," Arnoldo Alemán dubbed it "disastrous," Daniel Ortega lamented that it "would prolong the agony," and President Chamorro, in her inimitable fashion, declared that "the elections are not a toy."

PRESIDENT CHAMORRO

On August 24, President Violeta Chamorro flew to the United States for a delicate operation on her spinal column. When she left, it was rumored that, depending on the results, she may resign her post.

Two days before her departure, Chamorro called a meeting of all branches of state, an unprecedented event during her administration. A Message to the Nation came out of this meeting, the centerpiece of which was to express her commitment to the electoral process. "It is important in this final stage of my mission of government," the message adds," that economic measures that compromise the stability of the nation are avoided." Chamorro returned to the country on September 7, and appears prepared to see her term through to the end.

ELECTIONS IN COSEP

On September 4, the country's major business interests in the umbrella grouping called the Supreme Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) reelected Gerardo Salinas as the organization's president for the coming year. His rival was José Argüello, who shortly before the election had publicly expressed his support for Arnoldo Alemán's candidacy and the support that COSEP should give the Liberal Alliance. This swayed the vote of eight of the ten business chambers in COSEP in favor of Salinas.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

National Police Chief Fernando Caldera turned over his command to his successor Franco Montealegre on September 6. Along with the change of faces came a change of title: the post is now called First Commissioner. The heads of all Central American police forces were present for the act, and also for an extraordinary session of the Association of Central American Police. Rodrigo Avila, General Director of El Salvador's Civil National Police, who presides over this Association, declared that the objective of the meeting was to join forces to deal with crimes that do not respect borders: drug, arms and vehicle trafficking, kidnappings and the like. "Integration," explained Avila, "is the only mechanism for disintegrating organized crime."

IMF VISIT

Claudio Luser, the International Monetary Fund's director for the Western Hemisphere, visited Nicaragua for 24 hours on August 14 to evaluate the progress of the economic plan. In a press conference Luser expressed the IMF's desire that the government elected in October continue with the current economic policy and monetary stability.

"The new government can define a new program with other priorities and we will respect it as long as it is viable," said Luser, who had met with several government authorities and with FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega, the latter because, according to Luser, "he has a real possibility of becoming President."

INTEROCEANIC CANAL

On August 27, after months of contacts, the Nicaraguan government authorized the Consortium for an Interoceanic Canal in Nicaragua to do the financial, economic, technical and environmental feasibility studies for the construction of a "dry canal" that would cross the southen patt of Nicaragua between Monkey Point on the Caribbean coast and Rivas on the Pacific coast. These studies will take a year and cost some $15 20 million. The total cost to the consortium of 15 European, Asian and US companies for building the canal is estimated at $1.5 billion.

NEW LABOR CODE

The controversy between business and labor over the text of a new labor code, the subject of conflict since 1994, was revived in August and September. Business claimed that the "excessive" indemnifications and other benefits to labor, as well as the broadening of unions jurisdiction would scare off investors and bankrupt businesses. The unions charged that private enterprise was "trying to convert Nicaragua into a huge free zone." After long and tense negotiations, both sides reached enough agreement that the Labor Code was passed.

A NEW MESSAGE FROM THE BISHOPS

Nicaragua's bishops published a Message on the Family on August 15 that energetically condemns abortion and divorce. The bishops charged that "Nicaragua is suffering from a certain anti conceptive colonialism that is not exempt from a certain racism, which consists of wanting to impose on our people all kinds of contraception, sterilization and abortion that are considered effective, without respecting our culture and religious faith."

RISE IN SUICIDE RATE

The National Police released data reporting 100 suicide cases between January 1 and August 16, which represents an average 13 a month, almost 1 every 2 days. Data from other independent organization double the figure to 200. In all of 1995, the Police reported 132 suicide cases.

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