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  Number 325 | Agosto 2008
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

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JULY 19 CELEBRATION OF THE SANDINISTA REVOLUTION
The government celebrated the 29th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution with at least 300,000 people filling the Plaza of the Revolution and the nearby Plaza of Faith in Managua. The cost of organizing and staging the event was more extravagant than ever: a 160-meter stage was built and cooled with 60 electrical generators; mega-billboards with Ortega’s face on the now-emblematic strawberry sherbet background were erected all over the city; kilos of flowers and beautiful fireworks were bought; gigantic screens and state-of-the-art sound systems were installed and hundreds of buses around the country were financed to transport FSLN sympathizers and employees of all the state institutions—who had been told they were “not obliged, but required” to attend the event.

Venezuelan President Chávez, Honduran President Zelaya, Cuban Vice President Lazo, Guatemalan Vice President Espada and Paraguayan President-elect Lugo were also present. In his speech, Chávez told his colleagues he considered the time was right “to re-launch the thesis of liberation theology” in all of Latin America. The only novelty in Ortega’s own speech, apart from the fact that he limited it to half an hour, was the figures he quoted on his social programs. He told the crowd that $205.5 million of Venezuelan cooperation had been invested, although this only served to increase confusion about the government’s social spending using Venezuelan funds, since only two months previously the President had talked about $520.5 million. These funds are managed outside of the national budget, and are thus unverifiable.

A NEW HIGH-WATER MARK IN STATE-PARTY CONFUSION
With the campaign for the November municipal elections not yet officially begun, government officials at all levels, from the President on down, are openly campaigning for FSLN candidates for municipal mayor and council members. The FSLN’s candidate for mayor of Managua, former boxer Alexis Argüello, justified this as business as usual for political parties, though he picked particularly sleazy ones to prove his point: “The Liberals did it, and what did the PRI in Mexico do? Any government promotes its party.” During the FSLN’s annual commemoration of its strategic retreat to Masaya on June 29, 1979, and again at its Managua July 19 celebration, the participation of state institutions was anything but subtle (government vehicles with the yellow stripe naming the institution and stating “for official use only” were everywhere). Other parties and civil organizations petitioned the Comptroller General’s Office to look into the state-party’s squandering of public funds in both events, but their request was rejected. National Assembly representatives from both Liberal benches and from the MRS also requested that the Comptroller General’s Office investigate the funding of the costly media propaganda campaigns run by the Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPCs) to be sure these party-run entities aren’t illegally using public resources. According to Roberto Courtney, director of the national watchdog NGO Ethics and Transparency, the Ortega government has exceeded previous governments in its violation of the legal prohibition against using state funds for the governing party’s political campaigns.

DANIEL ORTEGA: CHAMPION OF THE FARC
Speaking in Estelí on July 16, President Ortega read out a letter sent to him by the secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in late June thanking him for his “immovable solidarity” and expressing its desire to “speak personally” with him “about these issues of war and peace.” That same day, Ortega reiterated his desire to dialogue with the FARC. The following day the Colombian government issued a protest note discrediting “any initiative Mr. Ortega might initiate with a terrorist organization.” A week later, the Nicaraguan rightwing newspaper La Prensa reported that FARC leaders had been in Nicaragua and met with Ortega the day after he read their letter in Estelí. The President denied the story and ordered the Attorney General’s Office to accuse La Prensa of “betraying the homeland” for printing it. On July 25, the Organization of American States addressed the tension between Colombia and Nicaragua. The Colombian ambassador said, among other things, that “Colombia will do nothing to endanger the people of Nicaragua and will act against Mr. Ortega at the proper moment.” A week later, President Ortega announced that Nicaragua will not destroy its SAM 7 surface-to-air missiles, despite its oral commitment to the US government, because they will be needed to “defend us against a possible air attack launched by Colombia against Nicaragua.” In a number of his speeches, Ortega has mixed Nicaragua’s territorial dispute with Colombia with the conflict created by his close relationship with his FARC “brothers.”

DANIEL ORTEGA: CHAMPION OF THE FARC
Speaking in Estelí on July 16, President Ortega read out a letter sent to him by the secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in late June thanking him for his “immovable solidarity” and expressing its desire to “speak personally” with him “about these issues of war and peace.” That same day, Ortega reiterated his desire to dialogue with the FARC. The following day the Colombian government issued a protest note discrediting “any initiative Mr. Ortega might initiate with a terrorist organization.” A week later, the Nicaraguan rightwing newspaper La Prensa reported that FARC leaders had been in Nicaragua and met with Ortega the day after he read their letter in Estelí. The President denied the story and ordered the Attorney General’s Office to accuse La Prensa of “betraying the homeland” for printing it. On July 25, the Organization of American States addressed the tension between Colombia and Nicaragua. The Colombian ambassador said, among other things, that “Colombia will do nothing to endanger the people of Nicaragua and will act against Mr. Ortega at the proper moment.” A week later, President Ortega announced that Nicaragua will not destroy its SAM 7 surface-to-air missiles, despite its oral commitment to the US government, because they will be needed to “defend us against a possible air attack launched by Colombia against Nicaragua.” In a number of his speeches, Ortega has mixed Nicaragua’s territorial dispute with Colombia with the conflict created by his close relationship with his FARC “brothers.”

MASSIVE FIRE IN THE EASTERN MARKET
The night of July 31, a massive fire tore through Managua’s Eastern Market, the largest marketplace in Central America, devouring nearly seven acres and over 1,500 market stalls. The fire, caused by a short circuit in an illegal electrical connection in one of the market modules, took 14 hours to control due to lack of water and to the enormous difficulties some 400 firefighters from Managua and other cities faced in the narrow labyrinth merchants have created over the market’s 50 years of existence. Due to a lack of electricity in certain areas of the market, some stalls use gas generators, which made the fire even more devastating.

The General Tax Division announced that it will exonerate the debts of those affected and grant them a six-month grace period before they have to start paying taxes again. The blaze put a pall on the start of the annual procession that brings statue of Saint Dominic, patron saint of Managua, down from its home in a church in the outskirts of Managua to stay in another church near the Eastern Market for 10 days. For the first time in its history, the tiny image had to change its route, avoiding the market area. Managua Mayor Dionisio Marenco proposed completely reordering the market to avoid almost inevitable new disasters, but the central government is reportedly attempting to boycott Marenco’s plans due to the mayor’s recent criticisms of one-time close friend Daniel Ortega.

PLC CONVENTION: ALEMÁN ASKS FORGIVENESS
The Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) held its national convention on July 11, the 115th anniversary of the Liberal revolution of President José Santos Zelaya, amid arguments and even violent altercations between sympathizers of party strongman Arnoldo Alemán and of Enrique Quiñónez, who is running for deputy mayor of Managua. The former consider Quiñónez a “traitor” and an “ingrate” for his harsh criticism of Alemán’s pact with FSLN leader Daniel Ortega.

The main speech was delivered by the once-President and now-convict Alemán, who asked the conventioneers to forgive him for having helped divide the Liberal vote in the 2006 presidential elections from which Ortega emerged triumphant. “We committed the sin of splitting; pardon me brothers José [Rizo, who ran as the PLC presidential candidate] and Eduardo [Montealegre, who ran for the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance].” He also asked forgiveness for choosing Enrique Bolaños as the PLC candidate for the 2001 elections. “With my finger I selected that ingrate and traitor, who began to sow the seeds of division within liberalism.” In his vociferous speech, Alemán promised Montealegre, who was among the conventioneers, that the PLC legislative bench would not add its 25 votes to those of the FSLN and its National Assembly allies to strip him of immunity to stand trial in the case of the fraud-ridden bonds known as CENIs. “Eduardo, I want you to know that the PLC supports you one hundred percent.” Five days earlier, Montealegre had celebrated the Liberal revolution with leaders of his “Let’s Go with Eduardo” movement, but no member of the PLC leadership attended that event.

FIRST CIVIC ASSEMBLY
The first of the Civic Assemblies called for by Dora María Téllez when she ended her 13-day hunger strike in the first half of June was organized on July 13 in the indigenous neighborhood of Monimbó, in Masaya. The idea is to set up these assemblies to deal with the high cost of living and reestablish local-level democratic arenas. The assembly in Monimbó was made up of inhabitants from the city of Masaya, representatives of both the Sandinista Renovation Movement and the Conservative party and other social groups, including taxi drivers, teachers and shop owners.

TEEN MOTHERS
The director of Managua’s Women’s Hospital reported that 4 of every 10 deliveries there involve mothers under 15 years old, some already in their second pregnancy. According to data from the UN Population Fund, 24.4% of births in Nicaragua are to teenage mothers, and 1 in every 3 Nicaraguan female adolescents is already a mother before she reaches 19 years of age. This is the highest rate in Central America. On July 9, President Ortega signed a decree naming Rosario Murillo his representative to the National Council of Comprehensive Care and Protection for Children and Adolescents, adding a new post to the several important ones the First Lady already has.

THERAPEUTIC ABORTION
On July 15, the Strategic Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion filed a writ with the Supreme Court of Justice claiming partial unconstitutionality against the new Penal Code, which had gone into effect some days earlier. According to the suit, the criminalization of therapeutic abortion included in the Penal Code violates the rights to life, health and human dignity; to be free of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; to autonomy; to individual freedom; and to the free exercise of one’s profession—the latter referring to the severe penalties threatening any health professional who assists a therapeutic abortion. The suit explains clearly that violation of the right of life is particularly serious in cases when women cannot have an abortion in order to then initiate medical treatment. It also explains that criminalizing therapeutic abortion doesn’t protect the unborn, since if the woman dies from lack of treatment the fetus most frequently doesn’t survive. It further demonstrates that criminalizing abortion does not prevent its practice. The suit specifically charges National Assembly President René Núñez and President Daniel Ortega. If it is admitted, both authorities will have to issue a report on their actions that resulted in the penalization of therapeutic abortion.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
According to Deborah Grandison, Special Women’s Ombudsperson for the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, 60 women were murdered in Nicaragua in 2007, the majority by their partners or ex-partners. Another 48 have already been killed in the first seven months of this year. Nicaragua’s new Penal Code benefits women by eliminating juries of conscience from trials for grave crimes against women, including sexual violence. Nonetheless, it does not establish legal support from the Public Prosecutor’s Office for less serious crimes. Supreme Court Justice Alba Luz Ramos argues that the judicial branch must link up with women’s movement networks around the country to provide them that support. The Legal Aid Office publicly called on women not to be afraid or ashamed to ask for its help. The country’s growing unemployment is increasing the violence against women, which is so deeply rooted in the religious patriarchal and macho culture.

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