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  Number 194 | Septiembre 1997
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Nicaragua

Today in Nicaragua there does not exist any military, political, social or economic force capable of imposing control on other forces. What the July crisis made more than clear is that the government cannot hope to have either the first or the last word.

Nitlápan-Envío team

The Nicaraguan saying, "between two steel prods, no bull is brave," pretty well sums up the Liberal government's first seven months in office. The two Fs, the Fund (International Monetary Fund) and the Front (FSLN), have functioned like two such prods, and the dual goading from their respective sides has begun to edge the government toward agreements that it had resisted for months. The first signs of this change appeared at the beginning of August.

The FSLN and the government move closer on property issue

The first sign of a thawing of relations between the government and the FSLN after the "work tables" were suspended in May was the recognition by both sides that talks on the property issue should resume, but with no publicity. This has been the most conflictive theme in the relations between the executive and the FSLN, as well as one of the major sources of political instability in the country.

These talks are taking place between two commissions of jurists created in February when the property discussions first began, then quite acrimoniously. The discretion surrounding them ended on July 29, when the fact that they were continuing was revealed on the front page of the daily newspaper La Tribuna.

Despite the apparent government-FSLN rupture, neither the FSLN nor the Alemán administration denied the story or the official backing the talks were reported to have. Leaders on both sides declared that the alleged secrecy was false and tried to downplay the idea that any accords to come out of the talks would be definitive, insisting that they will only be legally-based proposals that must be submitted to other bodies for approval.

The government and the FSLN acknowledged that the commissions had come to an important level of consensus. President Alemán went so far as to throw out a figure of 85% as his estimate of the agreement level reached regarding legal solutions to the property problems.

One thing that seems to have cleared the way for this meeting of minds between the two teams was a decision to exclude discussion of the privatization of over 350 state companies by the Chamorro government. That means that the agreements will deal mainly with the urban and rural lands and houses distributed by the revolution during the 1980s.

The government seems uninterested in politically negotiating the issue of these companies right now; it thinks it has a better chance of winning the privatization battle by getting each case annulled in the courts one by one (see "Nicaragua Briefs," this issue, for the case of the Victoria de Julio sugar complex). But that is a risky strategy. First, privatization of the companies was encouraged by the multilateral financial institutions, which the government cannot afford to flout given Nicaragua's huge dependence on outside aid. Second, overturning the privatizations sows serious uncertainty among both national and international investors, whom the government also cannot afford to upset.

In sum, the Alemán government has begun to back off the property issue. It doesn't want a repeat of the crisis in July, when, amid street disturbances between university demonstrators and anti-riot police, Sandinista and other opposition party leaders openly began to float the possibility of bringing down the Alemán government by the same means used to remove Ecuador's Abdalá Bucaram from power.

BANADES caves in to the IMF

The July crisis also finally nudged the government into deciding to negotiate a new Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) agreement with the IMF as quickly as possible. The street chaos in July, which so undermined the confidence of national and international business investors regarding the viability of their interests in Nicaragua, forced the government to give in on several points that its economic Cabinet had considered unacceptable.

In the midst of that crisis, a government commission headed by Central Bank president Noel Ramírez traveled to Washington to meet with IMF directors. On his return, he declared that the government had agreed to try to sign a new agreement with the IMF before December. ESAF I, which is now expired, assured international financing for a three-year period. ESAF II would guarantee the Liberal government's macroeconomic stability until the year 2000.

The government gave the first signal that the signing of ESAF II was seriously in the offing only a few days later: Ramírez announced that the government would immediately proceed to "redimension" the National Development Bank (BANADES). That $50 million process, financed by the Interamerican Development Bank and the World Bank, will culminate in 1998.

As part of his compliance with his electoral promises, Alemán had cancelled the program known as "the Cobra," an IMF condition established during the Chamorro government to collect producers' back debts with BANADES. In April the Liberal government had also announced a more generous credit program for the 1997 planting cycle than had been provided the previous year. All this created tensions with the IMF, which was energetically urging the closure of BANADES, since the IMF does not consider it viable in either the short or long run.

After a tense internal controversy between Liberal politicians and technocrats, the government decided to considerably downsize BANADES. It argued that doing so would save the state $50 million a year—the amount that BANADES has reported in annual losses since 1991. The operation will involve selling 42 of its 57 branches to private banks and laying off about a thousand employees. Following that, BANADES will limit itself exclusively to offering financing to small and medium agricultural producers.

In the end, the most orthodox neoliberal position in the government lost out. That radical technocratic conception, represented by Vice President Enrique Bolaños among others, favored closing down BANADES altogether. The more middle-ground conception that was adopted is based on concern that the disappearance of BANADES would lose Alemán's Liberals an important sector of their social base in the rural zones.

The government will create a peasant development institute with what remains of BANADES, to subsidize those too poor to meet traditional credit eligibility requirements. The creation of this institute, which will seek to compete with the many NGOs providing nontraditional agricultural credits, has the IMF's seal of approval and will answer to the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG).

The "pinolillo effect"

Various elements explain the government's shifting posture toward both the IMF and the FSLN. One important one is that it wants to avoid an economic collapse in Nicaragua resulting from the state's inability to pull in the hard currency from ESAF and other sources that are needed to honor its financial commitments with investors. National economists are calling this potential collapse the "pinolillo* effect," jokingly comparing it to the much-discussed "tequila effect" when the Mexican economy collapsed in December 1994. (* Pinolillo is a sweet cornmeal and cacao-based drink that is very popular in Nicaragua).

One of Nicaragua's financial commitments that could trigger the pinolillo effect if not met has to do with payment of the investment certificates issued by the Central Bank of Nicaragua. These certificates were offered on the market with attractive interest rates as a way to attract capital to the country. And it was successful: by May the government had already sold some $200 million worth.
Upon maturity of these certificates, which will be before the end of 1997, their holders can cash them in at the Central Bank for their original investment value, plus interest, of course. If all holders decide to ask for the return of their money at that time, just a few months from now, the Central Bank will have to use part of its international dollar reserves to respond to the demand.

Should this happen—and it could if the country's instability increases investor uncertainty—the Central Bank would face a serious shortage of hard currency, and the country's fragile economic stability would plummet overnight. The government would have to devalue the currency and raise interest rates to deal with the crisis. Though with its own twists, this is similar to what happened in Mexico in 1994, when foreign, mainly US, investors holding short-term government bonds massively cashed them in on the Mexican financial market.

To conjure away a possible pinolillo effect, the government announced that it was reducing the interest rate on the investment certificates and has made efforts to get liquid currency at all costs. It managed to do the latter, at least briefly, by including a mysterious 900 million córdoba debt in the 1997 national budget. The Central Bank president has never clearly explained the origin of this debt, among other reasons to avoid sparking investor panic.

To back the inclusion of the 900 million córdobas in the budget, the Central Bank had to find $100 million (its hard currency equivalent) to increase its international reserves. It requested a $100 million loan from the Hamilton Bank, which was granted thanks to the intermediation of two groups: one led by powerful US-Cuban businessman Jorge Mas Canosa and the other by US-Nicaraguan Fernández Hollman. Both groups came away from the transaction with juicy earnings. For its part, the government had to accept a one-year loan from Hamilton at 15% interest.

The Central Bank acted knowing that it was violating the laws of Nicaragua, as the Comptroller General's office made public later. It also knew that the operation went against IMF dispositions not to request such short-term, high-interest private bank loans, since they are always more onerous for the country's finances. But it probably had no other way out.

The government's grave hard currency shortage has made it extremely vulnerable to the FSLN's street pressures and to the IMF's macroeconomic conditioning. It has been obliged to make important concessions to both, and in lesser degree to other political and economic sectors of Nicaraguan society (political parties, the rearmed groups, some business leaders, etc.). In this landscape, the signing of a "stabilizing" ESAF II appears as one of the administration's most urgent priorities.

More income = more spending

It is not yet known how much fiscal income the government has collected since it began applying its controversial new tax law in June, as its first step toward improving relations with the IMF. According to the government's highly optimistic estimates, this law should fatten the state's tax income by 25%, a figure the IMF has viewed rather skeptically.
Even though the effects of this law will not be felt until later in the year, official statistics indicate that fiscal income grew 17% in the first half of 1997, apparently just through more efficient tax collection. But this accomplishment has been undermined by a similar increase in public spending. From January to July of this year, the government spent nearly half a billion córdobas more than the just under 2.8 billion spent in the same period of 1996. The government's slogan would thus appear to be "we collect more so we can spend more."

Austerity is the big condition

This overspending is evidence that the government has not complied with the Austerity Plan that President Alemán himself announced to the media with great fanfare in January. At the end of July the media published an alleged Finance Ministry document with data showing that the Presidency had exceeded its spending projection by hundreds of thousands of dollars in the first half of the year. True, false or exaggerated, the figures of the controversial document were not convincingly denied by the finance minister.

The news made the President appear as a prime squanderer of public funds at a time when negotiations with the IMF were going badly and the country was facing severe hunger problems due to an ongoing drought. Alemán got so infuriated that he threatened to take the journalist who had first publicized the document to court. In the end, the President was obliged to withdraw his angry threats, and ended up looking silly.

The state spending increase has obviously increased the fiscal deficit, which concerns not only the IMF but also those who designed the government's economic policy. The Fund wants a severe austerity plan applied to reduce the gap between income and spending. This implies more state sector layoffs, more cuts in health and education, etc. But the government's spending has been anything but austere, which has weakened its chance to try to persuade the IMF to lower the targets of its austerity plan.

Partial privatization of the public utilities was also foreseen within this controversial austerity plan. The IMF has long thought that the inefficiency of these enterprises (rates that do not reflect the real costs of the services provided, huge back user debts, losses due to obsolete equipment, etc.) imply high costs for the state. Eliminating these costs, argues the IMF, is one way to reduce the fiscal deficit.

Continued drought predicted

As if Alemán's government didn't have enough problems with the IMF and the FSLN, it also has to deal with the complications from the current known as El Niño. The delayed arrival of the rainy season brought about by this periodic natural phenomenon has already begun to seriously affect many rural zones and add to the climate of uncertainty all over the country, especially among agricultural producers. The lack of rain has combined with the lack of credit to producers this year and with the insecurity they have suffered for years due to armed bands. As a result, 87.4% of the country's cultivable lands have not been planted, according to the Central Bank's May report.

Some low-level MAG functionaries rushed to publicize their first production estimates in July, to counteract what they claim are alarmist reports of the losses caused by the drought. According to them, many producers apparently decided to plant in June and July, increasing the acreage sown in May. But these are very preliminary estimates, and cannot be confirmed until the MAG or the Central Bank publish their official data on the harvest, not just the area sown. The reality is that the now confirmed bad rainy season has been of serious concern to the government.

The unbearable foreign debt

Starting in 1996, the IMF presented the international community with an initiative to reduce the foreign debt of extremely impoverished and highly indebted countries by up to 90%. Nicaragua, as one of the most seriously indebted countries on the planet, was included in that category. But to get its debt reduced, our country must again submit to the structural adjustment program that was in effect until the Chamorro government failed to comply with it in 1995. To get back in the program, Nicaragua must sign and enforce the ESAF II.

Nicaragua's foreign debt is over US$6.4 billion, or $1,430 per capita. Service payments on it have become an unbearable burden on Nicaragua. In the first seven months of 1997, largely because it did not sign a new ESAF agreement with the IMF, the Liberal government has had to pay $730 million in interest, double the $330 million that the Chamorro government paid in 1996. This means that these payments are absorbing almost a third of the 1997 fiscal income, while they consumed under a tenth in 1996.

Alemán's resistance to ESAF II

Why has Alemán's government put up such resistance to the IMF requirements for signing the ESAF II, knowing that this agreement means access to soft loans and reduction of the foreign debt? One of the main reasons is that it fears that some of the IMF's requirements will force it to renege on promises made to the social sectors that gave it the bulk of its vote.
Hoping to postpone some of its requirements or spread them out over time, the government has tried to resolve this contradiction with the IMF by offering it alternative proposals. But the IMF, bound to the criteria it is applying everywhere else, believes that putting off adjustment decisions or actions will only raise the economic costs of implementing them.

It is obvious, for example, that increasing electricity, water and telephone rates, as the IMF wanted, affects both those who back Alemán and those who oppose him. It is also obvious that Alemán backers felt betrayed by him when they got their first bills with the rate hike. "This is why we voted for Alemán?," grumbled many users.

100,000 jobs or 10,000 layoffs?

The same thing happened with the cuts in the state employment rolls. The IMF had proposed that the government fire 10,000 public workers, but that figure is so high it would affect more than just the Sandinistas still working for the state. It would also hit many who voted for Alemán because they trusted his most publicized promise: to create 100,000 jobs during the first year of his administration. The IMF disliked this promise, since it assumed an important effort by the state to generate jobs through public infrastructure investments, which would palpably increase public spending.

To reduce the unfavorable political impact of firing thousands of state workers, the government proposed to the IMF a reduction in the number of layoffs to 3,000, in the hope that it could comply by only firing Sandinistas. But the IMF held its ground, since many more than 3,000 would have to be let go in order to reduce the fiscal deficit. With no other choice, Alemán will have to swallow the bitter pill of sending many of his voters, sympathizers and even Liberal militants into the already swollen ranks of the unemployed.

Alemán is trying to make at least one IMF condition compatible with his own political desire to benefit private investors such as Mas Canosa, who provided so much financial support to his campaign. The government has used various subterfuges to tie up the sale of stock from the state companies that are supposed to be privatized—telecommunications (ENITEL), electricity (ENEL), water and sewage (INAA), petroleum (PETRONIC)—and the sale of the two state banks (BANADES and BANIC) before they are put out to public bid, or at least to make other potential purchasers lose interest.

All these maneuvers have displeased the IMF, which has expressed interest in seeing a public and transparent bidding process. It wants the stocks sold to the highest bidder and to investors who present the most rational and efficient program for managing the companies.

What does the IMF really want?

Alemán's discretionary management of state resources is another point of contention between the Liberals' political interests and the IMF's fiscal austerity requirements. This latitude in increasing the fiscal deficit goes against the simple budget discipline the IMF is demanding—spend only what was budgeted.

The IMF and the Alemán government have serious conflicts of interest on all sides, despite the presumed Liberal or neoliberal ideology that the two share. Various IMF requirements represent major obstacles to holding and expanding the social base that the Liberals won in the elections and that they will need to guarantee future election victories. Losing any of that base and those potential votes concerns Alemán greatly, particularly since all recent polls indicate that he has lost the support of 20% of his electors and that his popularity could continue tumbling down.

None of these internal political considerations of the Liberal Alliance—which fused into a new party called the Grand Liberal Party on July 11—matter a whit to the IMF. The only thing of importance to it is that the government pledge to achieve certain macroeconomic goals (deficit reduction, increased tax collection, etc.), and then do it, whatever the political cost.

National Dialogue: Both birds got away

The National Dialogue, billed as trying to find a way out of the country's crisis, was officially called to order by President Alemán and the president of the moderating group, Ethics and Transparency, on July 21.

The government originally had two goals for this dialogue. One was to neutralize the pressure from its most important opposition, the FSLN, by forcing it to sit at a negotiation table in which its proposals would be diluted by the other social and political sectors present. The second was a desperate attempt to give the IMF the image of political stability, that it has been demanding as a condition to proceed with the negotiation and signing of ESAF II. The IMF firmly believes that without political stability there can be no economic stability. And without economic stability, giving financial support is like tossing money into a windstorm. The IMF is not at all inclined to sign accords with governments that cannot assure the minimum social and political stability to guarantee that the agreements can be implemented.

Forecast to last up to 60 days, which is quite a long time when one thinks how urgent the country's need for a national agreement is, the dialogue seemed nothing more than a stalling tactic to allow the government to get to the day of signing the ESAF II with it still going on. A tactic to try to kill two birds with one stone: make no concession to the opposition, particularly the FSLN, before signing the ESAF II, and give the IMF the image of being a government determined to lay the groundwork for political stability.

But both birds got away. The FSLN steadfastly refused to attend the dialogue, and without losing legitimacy; in fact it gained more space to pressure the government. Proof of this is that all participants in the dialogue, including the Ethics and Transparency moderators, and even Cardinal Obando, asked that either the FSLN join the National Dialogue or Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán return to the bilateral talks they had engaged in both in January and in April. All political and business sectors, whether participating in the dialogue or not, have said basically the same thing. It is evident to them, as well as to the IMF, that a national agreement without the FSLN offers no real guarantee of political stability.

Is the government really interested?

Even before the dialogue got underway, the government showed no evidence of seeing it as other than a political stratagem to buy time. Pressured by Ethics and Transparency and by some of the opposition participants, the government reluctantly and ambiguously promised to put the agreements reached in the dialogue into practice. But afterward, it imposed various mechanisms to prevent any accords affecting its interests from being approved. For example, instead of requiring consensus, the "accords" would be approved by a simple majority.

This is a pretty gross manipulation for a government supposedly interested in a genuine dialogue that ends in a true national accord, particularly since the majority of the organizations the government invited to the dialogue are loyal or at least like-minded. Most of those that are not, such as the FSLN and the pro-Sandinista social organizations, either never attended or, as in the case of the Sandinista Renovation Movement, quickly pulled out.

For the National Dialogue to come to an honorable end, the government needs the FSLN's participation, especially since the government-FSLN talks regarding the property issue and the 6% of the budget for the universities have taken place outside the dialogue, with the government's blessings. Will the FSLN end up joining the National Dialogue, and what conditions, either old or new, will it demand in exchange?

A strengthened FSLN

The events of July and early August showed that the FSLN knows how to take advantage of the government's weakness and the growing popular discontent, despite its lack of a strategy and its continual tactical lurches from side to side. On the one hand, the FSLN is trying to pull concessions out of the government that could benefit the interests of both Sandinista leaders and the base. On the other, it is trying to keep the government from governing as long as it insists on annuling the benefits that the same Sandinista leaders and base—conservatively 30% of those who responded to recent polls—obtained during the revolution and the Chamorro administration that followed.

If the Alemán government was weakened by the July crisis centered around the university conflict, the FSLN came out of it strengthened. First, it won a battle, and not a small one at that, by getting the government to begin backing down on important points: the ownership of land and houses in the hands of Sandinistas and a new suspension of evictions of those dwelling in disputed properties. Second, the confrontation with the government allowed it to sidestep still unresolved internal disputes and support Daniel Ortega's leadership with greater cohesion. What pulls grassroots Sandinistas together today more than anything else is their rejection of the visceral anti-Sandinista sentiment that Alemán is having such a hard time shaking off, in the context of the growing impoverishment of people's living standards and of any opportunity to better them.

Sandinismo, in all its various expressions, used the July celebrations of the 18th anniversary of the revolution to the utmost. Throughout the month activities went on without interruption to exert the greatest possible pressure on the government. While students protested in the streets of Managua, combatants in the Andrés Castro United Front (FUAC) and other rearmed groups of a Sandinista bent mobilized again, various pro-Sandinista social organizations participated in both the National Dialogue and the parallel National Forum, and Daniel Ortega himself made diplomatic contacts with ambassadors accredited in Managua and with the current and former Presidents of Central American countries. Working ably on all fronts, these activities demonstrated once again that it is not possible to govern Nicaragua without the FSLN's support, as Arnoldo Alemán would like to do.

On the eve of the July 19th event itself, the FSLN called a press conference to make a proposal to the nation for a Patriotic National Accord. The document assesses the grave national crisis, enumerates a list of President Alemán's violations of the country's laws and offers concrete proposals in five areas: law, democratic institutionality, property, employment and investment, and public security. "Nicaragua is demanding a Program of National Government," says the FSLN statement. "The profound crisis riddling the country leaves no room for any attempt, alleging favorable electoral results, to impose one party's program over national interests."
In his July 19 speech in Managua, FSLN general secretary Daniel Ortega exhorted Sandinistas not to confront their "brothers" of the National Police and the Army. While he argued that Alemán governs the country "as if it were his personal farm, like Somoza," he stressed that the FSLN will not make the government fall. In response to a question on a TV interview program several weeks earlier, Ortega had acknowledged that there was some talk in Sandinista circles of bringing down the government. Reiterating a statement in Estelí on July 16, Ortega told the roughly 70,000 people gathered in Managua that "it's another thing when a fruit begins to rot because there's no need to make it fall; it falls by itself." In that same speech, Ortega proposed a plebiscite so the people can decide if they want Alemán to continue governing or want him to leave.

As former President of Nicaragua, Ortega also sent a letter to the XIX Summit of Presidents of Central America, which met in Panama on July 12-13, alerting them to the national crisis. "Nicaragua's incipient institutionality is deteriorating while hunger and unemployment grow by the day, creating a conflictive picture of unpredictable consequences," said the letter. "It is in the face of these circumstances that the FSLN reiterates its call to the government to suspend the repression and uphold the law. In this way, conditions will be established for a genuine national dialogue that will culminate in a National Accord."
It is likely that the possibility of pressure from the symbolic political force of the mini-summit of former and current Central American Presidents held at the beginning of August also pushed Alemán to seek some agreement with the FSLN. On that point, too, luck was with the FSLN. Though Alemán has more than once expressed his "nationalist" opposition to participation by foreign observers or mediators in the National Dialogue or any bilateral dialogue with the FSLN, he has also started backing down on this point, too. Though still drawing the line at foreign guarantors, he is now saying perhaps yes to "advisers."
In the mini-summit, some participants fell into the temptation to try to use their "good offices" to try to bring Alemán and Ortega closer together, since the conflict is naturally affecting any integrationist efforts in Central America. In fact, two former Presidents—Oscar Arias of Costa Rica and Vinicio Cerezo of Guatemala—expressed their willingness to mediate between the Alemán government and the FSLN.

What will it be: Confrontation or negotiation?

Alemán's July crisis was the worst he has had to deal with since the national protest in April, when producers and other sectors placed barriers across the major highways to stall national and regional commerce. It was that protest that led to the negotiation tables with the Sandinistas, then later to the National Dialogue as a way of diluting Sandinista pressure at those tables.

Both crises have clearly demonstrated that confrontation—verbal included—is more damaging to the group in power than to the one in opposition, particularly when the governing group is at the head of a poor country and has no option other than to impose structural adjustment programs. In such circumstances, the government must go not only against the opposition, but against itself as well, since it is hostage to a program of economic measures that stir up social discontent among everyone, including its own sympathizers.

An ideologically populist and anti-Sandinista government like Alemán's has three options in such a situation. The first is to adopt confrontation as its invariable mechanism for resolving the conflicts that will unquestionably be coming up again and again. This will wear it down more and more, with two possible outcomes: the government is brought down by a civic movement, as happened to Bucaram in Ecuador, or it finishes out its term, but is so unpopular that its party cannot hope to be reelected.

The second option is to adopt ongoing negotiation as its conflict resolution mechanism. This one offers the least political cost to a government, like today's Liberal one, that does not totally control the police and army. But for this option to be genuinely viable for the government, a major dose of pragmatism is in order, which means setting aside any thought of pushing its objectives through to the maximum.

The third option is a combination of the first two, depending on the particular situation. Given the government's lack of control over the military institutions, this option will also probably involve political costs for the government, but invariably less so than the option of constant confrontation. Those costs can be reduced by both pragmatism and skilled discernment about when the correlation of forces most favors confrontation and when negotiation.

The July crisis showed once again the need for negotiated solutions to the country's problems. No political, military, social or economic force exists in Nicaragua today that can impose its hegemony over the others. The July crisis also made clearer than ever that no government of this impoverished country can expect to have the last word on anything. _________________________________________
OFFICIAL AND PARALLEL DIALOGUES... AND OTHER VOICES

Two representatives each from the political, social and economic groupings that accepted the government's invitation are participating in the National Dialogue. The government itself has five high-level representatives in it, headed by Minister of Government José Antonio Alvarado.

Ethics and Transparency director Roberto Calderón, who is moderating the dialogue, annoyed President Alemán and his representatives in his inaugural speech. Calderón said openly, "The convocation, objectives and aims of this National Dialogue do not have a clear and transparent origin and seem to have the inconsistency of having emerged as a product of the failure of the bilateral dialogue between the government and the FSLN." He hit the nail squarely on the head.

Since the majority of the participants are sympathetic to the government, they decided that any accords regarding the four major thematic areas they elected to discuss (rule of law, property, unemployment, and public security) would be reached by simple vote.
This led to the withdrawal of a number of participants, headed by the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). "The Liberals have neither the experience nor the desire to negotiate," said MRS leader Dora María Téllez.

Meanwhile, 27 political, social and economic groupings, only a minority of which were invited to the National Dialogue, called their own parallel meetings to debate themes of national concern. They will draft, by consensus, a list of very concrete proposals for solving them.

On August 5, this National Forum--also called the "Little Dialogue"--released a document with its proposals and solutions for achieving peaceful coexistence, a national strategy for sustainable development, a gender focus in public policies, and a national population and food security policy. The forum also made proposals for resolving the property problem, environmental and natural resource protection, institutional consolidation, the creation of a solidarity network with the extremely poor and the design of an emergency plan for public security and a youth program.

The Forum will continue as a permanent body and its coordinator will be Conservative leader Miriam Argüello. Meanwhile other collective voices were also heard in July. On July 10, 17 Catholic orders (4 of them of men and 13 of women) which do pastoral work throughout the country released a lucid communique about the national crisis titled "Evangelically Angry." In it they state that "democracy in Nicaragua is in a state of coma" and express their anger that "the political, economic, social and even cultural practices implemented by this government have nothing to do with the ideals of the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth."
For its part, the women's movement issued a similarly lucid statement in the same days, criticizing the violence in the country, holding the government responsible for most of it through its policies, attitudes and actions, and putting forward the "Minimum Women's Agenda" hammered out prior to last year's elections as its basic position in any forum on the problems women face in Nicaragua.

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