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  Number 102 | Enero 1990
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

CAMPAIGNING FOR UNO CONTRA-STYLE
President Daniel Ortega caused an international stir when he announced in October that the government would not continue the unilateral cease-fire in place since March 1988. In Nicaragua, the end of the cease-fire was welcomed with the hope it could prevent actions such as the October 17 ambush in which contras killed 19 reservists. The army made clear that it had no plans of carrying out a huge offensive—rather, ending the cease-fire would simply allow it to control the military situation.

As the furor abroad over Ortega's announcement calms down and the domestic election campaign heats up, information on the ongoing war has not reached beyond Nicaragua's borders. The reality is that contra attacks have continued, however, and are increasingly related to electoral activity. Witness for Peace reported 14 incidents of contra attacks on civilians from November 5 through December 7. Those reports include a November 15 incident in which 40 contras entered a small town in Jinotega and shot a Sandinista poll watcher. In another incident, contras held and threatened a man whom they accused of working for State Security and harassing the UNO coalition.

Both the contra leadership and the US State Department have admitted that up to 2,500 contras, in addition to the 2,000 already here, have infiltrated into Nicaragua from Honduras since September. The information fits with Defense Ministry reports of increased contra presence in Regions V and VI. Contra leaders deny, however, that contras are carrying out military actions in Nicaragua. Contra spokesperson Bosco Matamoros told The Miami Herald in December that "the only activity carried on by our forces is to encourage civilians to support UNO and to avoid any form of contact with Sandinista forces."

Matamoros' claim has been a source of problems for the UNO alliance. Just as in the political sphere UNO has to deal with its reputation as a contra ally—primarily resulting from the presence in UNO of former contra leaders Alfredo César, Azucena Ferrey and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro—so in the countryside UNO and the contras are often seen as the same political entity. Matamoros himself admitted that the contras are campaigning for UNO—the same contras who have been killing civilians for their political views for seven years. Eight Sandinista activists have been killed in the Pantasma area of Jinotega since August, sending a clear message to the electorate that if they participate in Sandinista activities their lives are in danger. The contras, by verbally supporting UNO while continuing to attack political targets, make it hard for Nicaraguans to separate UNO from them.

The contras are not a military threat, nor have they developed the political organization to wield genuine political influence in areas in which they operate. They do, however, continue to sow terror, and their attacks on Sandinista activists and sympathizers are sure to limit the political activity of many people in those areas, putting in danger the process of free and fair elections in Nicaragua.

A NON-DEBATE ON THE ATLANTIC COAST
It promised to be one of Cafe Amatl's livelier debates in a season that does not want for lively debate. Cafe Amatl is a patio coffee house open to the sky, run by the Nicaraguan Institute of Socioeconomic Research (INIES), which mixes occasional election forums with its usual format of cultural events and research updates. In late November Sandinista candidates for the new Regional Council in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region were invited to debate Brooklyn Rivera and Stedman Fagoth representing the former Miskito fighting group Yatama.

Rivera and Fagoth had returned to the country on September 29, and quickly made what seems to be a one-way alliance with the Social Christian Party to run Yatama candidates from the coast to the National Assembly. (Rivera has reportedly said he does not intend to promote PSC presidential candidate Erick Ramírez on the coast.) The two men then quickly put together two slates of 45 Yatama candidates for the Regional Councils to be elected in the north and the south of the Atlantic Coast.

Since neither Rivera nor Fagoth showed up for the evening's debate, the Miskito candidates on the FSLN slate had the floor for most of the evening. César País explained that several parties had endorsed candidates for the Regional Council in the North, including the Central American Unionist Party, the Revolutionary Unity Movement, UNO and FSLN. Only the latter two had a full complement of 45 candidates as of that date, but the UNO has been losing candidates since them. Pais stressed that the candidates represented various currents of ethnic interests more than strictly party interests. Underscoring this, Myrna Cunningham, presidential delegate in the north for the past five years, said that up to half of the candidates invited to join the Sandinista slate are not FSLN members.

Armando Rojas, a Miskito lawyer from Puerto Cabezas, is one such candidate. A founder of Alpromisu, the indigenous organization created on the coast in 1973, Rojas had already registered as an independent candidate by the time of Rivera's return. When Rivera moved to take over the group of independent candidates, Rojas balked at the line he was imposing, and opted to move to the Sandinista slate.

Myrna Cunningham explained that the vision has changed from the one predominating in 1980, of autonomy only for the Miskitos. She characterized the FSLN slate of 18 Miskitos, 5 Creoles, 3 Sumus and 19 mestizos as a slate of multiethnic unity.

The two strongest slates appear to be those of the FSLN and Yatama. As Myrna Cunningham pointed out, almost all the ex-leaders of the armed Miskito groups are back in the coast, and this election "will determine who has more people." According to César Pais, Yatama is promoting what amounts to territorial or "reservation" autonomy for each of the indigenous groups, in opposition to the autonomy law, which is based on regional autonomy with equal rights for all living there.

Asked what problems remain between the national government and the coast, Cunningham emphasized the continuing ignorance of the coast by government ministry officials. She said none have bothered to learn to speak Miskito, and that they tend to allocate resources on the basis of population statistics alone, without appreciating the enormous gulf between the development of the Pacific and that of the Atlantic. She added that when they do discuss development ideas, they lean toward large investment projects that do not take into account people's skills rather than smaller projects that would recover the basic subsistence levels of the communities following the war.

ECONOMY
Nicaragua's economic stabilization plan continues to be successful at holding inflation less than a percentage point over the Sandinista's one digit goal. November closed with an official inflation rate of 10.5%, a slight increase over October's 10.2% rate. But inflation for the most basic 29 products hit consumers harder, at 19.2%; these prices rose at almost twice the overall inflation rate.

In mid-November, the government began a new policy of pegging the value of the dollar to daily fluctuations in supply and demand. Many feared a new inflationary spiral when the córdoba rate for dollars at the exchange bureau jumped from 25,000, where it had remained for several months, to 42,000. But it has remained stable on or near that rate for a month to date. The official exchange rate, which affects prices on imported goods, moved in smaller increments, currently up to 32,950 to one, and will continue to do so through December in order to stimulate the export sector.

The Nicaraguan government recently announced its preliminary budget for 1990, proposing continued cuts in defense and a small increase in social spending. With a total budget of almost 10.6 trillion córdobas at December 1989 prices (US$252 million), defense and national security will drop from 50% of government spending in 1989 to 35.1%, down from a high of 62% in 1988. The primary benefits will go to the social service sector, which will rise to 31.8% of the total budget. After last year's severe cuts in social services under the economic stabilization plan, this year's modest increase will only just begin to recuperate the losses sustained in health and education.

The proposed budget and 1990 Economic Plan closely coincide with the policies and goals contained in the FSLN's campaign platform. A decisive end to the war, clearly assumed by the proposal, allows for the shift of resources from defense toward the partial recuperation of social programs and services. The budget also includes a projected 5% increase in production, and a 25% increase in exports over 1989. Current income, which includes taxes, tariffs and other fees, is expected to finance 80% of domestic spending, with the remaining 20% coming from foreign financing. In 1989, the goal was 70%, but by September, say government representatives, current income had actually financed 90% of the budget. The government reports that no money was printed that was not backed by new financial resources and promises the same for 1990.

The 1990 Economic Plan will continue the stabilization policies already in effect, such as correcting price distortions and reducing inflation, but this year with the goal of improving the nation's standard of living for the first time since the start of the contra war. The Sandinistas hope to hold inflation between 70% and 80%, after cutting it from 36,000% in 1988 to an estimated 1,500% in 1989. In addition, the plan projects social and economic investments equal to 13.7% of the Gross Domestic Product.

With respect to the export-import sector, foreign funding is key to financing the trade deficit and keeping the austerity plan alive. Optimistic estimates calculate 1989 export income at barely $300 million, while imports still run about $700 million annually. The government is hoping for some $200 million in new financial resources next year. The Second International Conference on Nicaragua's Economic Situation, promoted by the Swedish government and postponed from October, will take place early next year in Europe, most likely after the elections. The first Conference, last May, brought in an immediate $50 million and the official approval of another $50 million. Hopes are high that a post-election conference will bring in even more.

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