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  Number 93 | Abril 1989
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Nitlápan-Envío team

Nicaragua Briefs

YOUR FILL OF FACTS
With the new economic measures in effect, many things in Nicaragua are in increasingly short supply—including people's patience. The one thing that Nicaraguans do seem to be getting more of in the wake of the drastic budget cuts is information about the economy. Both Barricada and El Nuevo Diario run a fair amount of economic information daily, the nightly television news has added a similar economic data feature, and most radio stations have complemented their regular news programming with nitty-gritty economic statistics.

Barricada now includes charts tracking the inflation rate, official and parallel exchange rates for the dollar and Central American currencies, prices of Nicaragua's export products as well as the changing costs of basic food and household items. Given that prices of basic market-basket items vary widely from market to market, listing all basic prices helps consumers shop more effectively and challenge price gougers. These daily statistics are supplemented by weekly and monthly digests of economic trends, such as the steadily decreasing rate of inflation. The editorial page is occasionally devoted to a socioeconomic forum, where experts from state and private institutions can debate their views on the economic situation.

Besides cold, hard facts, an effort has been made to provide accessible information to the average citizen. The Energy Ministry (INE) recently published a full-page cartoon in El Nuevo Diario which extols the virtues of conserving electricity in order to offset rising energy costs to the consumer, and explains that the government can no longer subsidize the use of energy due to budget cuts.

The change in the quality and quantity of economic information is due to a widely-shared belief that the most serious problem facing the nation today is not the war, but the economic crisis. The economic information seeks to help producers and consumers calculate costs and strategies, as well as to explain to the Nicaraguan population the harsh realities both of the economic crisis itself and of the austerity measures taken to combat it.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY IN NICARAGUA
"Women here are getting stronger all the time. We're learning to stand up for ourselves." That was the comment of a young Nicaraguan woman as International Women's Day was celebrated March 8 with a number of events, including an extended "De Cara al Pueblo" meeting with President Daniel Ortega and other government leaders.

In the second such session he has held with women since 1979, Ortega heard complaints about rising milk prices as well as demands that the FSLN put forward more women as municipal and national candidates in the elections scheduled for February 1990. Earlier in the day, the women present called for a code of basic rights, including, among other things, an overhaul of Nicaragua's labor legislation, decriminalization of abortion and stiffer penalties for men guilty of rape and domestic violence.

A number of women charged that some employers were taking advantage of the country's economic crisis and process of "concertation" by laying off more women than men, including pregnant women. Cristina Rodríguez, who works with the Farm Workers' Association, ATC, in the León-Chinandega region, commented that "If we're talking about concertation we have to also make sure to talk about the rights of women agricultural workers. Many times men are given preference simply because they don't get pregnant." A national meeting of women agricultural workers in late February also touched on this point, while women who work in peasant cooperatives charged that the agrarian reform law is being applied in a way discriminatory to women. Rodríguez said layoffs had been particularly severe among women who work in the banana plantations of Chinandega. One worker from the Chinandega region said that men should take more of a role in childcare, and "then they'd find out how hard it is to do both things."

President Ortega denounced managers for using the crisis to discriminate against women and pointed out the key role played by rural women, not only in the last 10 years, but in the long struggle against Somoza when, "if it hadn't been for the involvement and solidarity of peasant women...it would have been impossible to overthrow the dictatorship."

He also pledged that the government would ensure one glass of milk for every child in pre-school and primary school.

One AMNLAE activist commented that many of the issues raised by women at the De Cara al Pueblo meeting were even more hard-hitting than those brought up in the first such meeting held two years ago. But she laughed aloud when asked what Nicaragua's opposition parties had to offer women. "Nothing," she said, then quickly corrected herself. "Well, maybe a return to the past...but we won't let that happen. As women, we are the FSLN, and bit by bit, we're fighting for our rights, as women, and as Nicaraguans. We're not alone anymore, and that's a great thing."

SANDINO LIVES
Following on the heels of the drastic austerity measures the government was forced to implement early this year, it would have come as no real surprise if the demonstration called for February 21, the 55th anniversary of Augusto César Sandino's assassination at the hands of the National Guard, had been poorly attended and perhaps even a virtual failure.

Instead, it was an emotional event, with people flooding in to Managua's Plaza of the Revolution, many coming with their entire families in tow, in an almost palpable expression of the country's yearning for peace, and people's ongoing support for the Sandinista leadership. Well over 100,000 people attended, a marked contrast to several recent demonstrations held by the opposition—one drawing around 5,000 and the other some 2,500. Even some people who have been personally affected by this year's economic measures took part, for "patriotic" reasons, as one young man who was recently laid off recently put it.

President Daniel Ortega addressed the crowd, speaking at some length about the recent Central American presidential summit in El Salvador and the accords reached there. People met Ortega's explanation of the pardon of nearly 2,000 ex-National Guardsmen with stony silence.

Nicaragua will never see any riotous celebration when the war ends here, partly because it will undoubtedly continue to drag on in so many ways and the "end" is something that will be nearly impossible to pin down. Nevertheless, there was a different sense in the air at the Plaza on February 21. One US citizen who has lived and worked in Nicaragua for several years said, "I realized how important it is to people here that Reagan is finally gone: there's a sense that people have survived. It's easy for us to forget that survival wasn't a given here several years ago, and that it's been achieved only at a tremendously shattering cost."

THE RUSHDIE AFFAIR COMES TO NICARAGUA
Joining in the world-wide debate over the publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, a group of Nicaraguan writers and artists have come out in support of the author's right to freedom of expression. This ad hoc group, including such well-known Nicaraguan writers as Gioconda Belli, Daysi Zamora and Omar Cabezas, signed a letter of appeal published in the government newspaper Barricada. While they lamented the violence spawned by the book's release, they sharply criticized the Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence imposed on Mr. Rushdie, who is of Indian Muslim origin, calling it a regression to the times of the Inquisition.

For its part, the Iranian embassy in Nicaragua issued a response some ten days later asking for the understanding of the Nicaraguan writers and denouncing the blasphemy committed against a billion Muslims by the "known slanderer" Rushdie. They questioned whether Nicaraguans would tolerate the identification of their revolutionary heroes with devils. Declaring Rushdie an "imperialist mercenary," they called on fellow revolutionaries in Nicaragua to recognize the release of his book as an imperialist, Zionist conspiracy. Finally, they invited the writers to become familiar with Islamic Law, presumably the Shiite laws prescribing the death penalty in cases of blasphemy.

The Nicaraguan media has been closely following the Rushdie affair, from the publication of The Satanic Verses to demonstrations and book burnings, as well as the diplomatic war this issue has generated between Iran and Britain. This interest stems partly from an earlier book Rushdie wrote describing his 1986 travels in Nicaragua called The Jaguar Smile. In this short, humorous travelogue, he expressed praise for the achievements of the Nicaraguan revolution, and dismay at the conduct of the United States, a view that does not jibe with his "imperialist mercenary" label. Rushdie characterized Barricada as the most boring paper he had ever, and included a snide description of La Prensa publisher Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in the book. Nevertheless, many Nicaraguan writers and the country's media continue to express concern over the loss of freedom of movement and the threat of death that hangs over the man they refer to as the "Indian poet."

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