Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 200 | Marzo 1998




Nitlápan-Envío team


After having boycotted the National Assembly for several weeks due to what it called the illegal election of Executive Board members on January 9, the FSLN took back up its legislative labor in the Assembly. This decision followed the Appeals Court's validation of the FSLN's lawsuit on the subject and several sessions of talks (and deals?) between FSLN bench leaders and the Liberal bench elite. The visible upshot of those talks was that the FSLN got more representation in various Assembly commissions, although still not proportional to its numerical strength.


With barely any discussion, the Liberal majority and its allies in the National Assembly approved on March 3 all vetoes President Alemán had made in the 1998 budget. Among other things, the vetoes affected the average salary increase for teachers and gave the President total discretion in the use of an unidentified "slush fund" budget line amounting to a third of the budget, the equivalent of $190 million.


Another of the President's budget vetoes limited the auditing prerogatives of the Comptroller General on the executive branch's execution of the budget to an audit at the end of the fiscal year. After the serious crisis this produced, the comptroller's office and the executive reached an agreement in mid-February. The veto remains, but the comptroller can audit the budget of any state dependency before, during or after its budget execution. In exchange each ministry may voluntarily present the comptroller's office with a quarterly report on its budget execution, although it is not formally obliged to do so.


After several sketchily defined and never concretized initiatives, Vice President Enrique Bolaños inaugurated a Civil Council Against Corruption on March 5. The stated function of this council, which Bolaños himself will head, will be to combat corruption and work to carry out a Plan of National Integrity with the support of all branches of the state—which are also represented on the council—and of civil society. Bolaños felt compelled to declare that this is not an attempt to create a parallel comptroller's office, as the executive branch had earlier attempted.


Undersecretary of State for Interamerican Affairs John Hamilton visited Nicaragua on February 26 to remind the government that it should speed up the resolution of the property conflicts involving about a thousand US citizens (primarily nationalized Nicaraguans). If this is not done, the United States will cut or freeze its international aid to Nicaragua. That was the iron fist. The velvet glove was that Hamilton described the Alemán government as "a partner" and praised it as "competent to solve the problem."
Since 1990, 1,754 confiscation cases of US citizens have been resolved. Ten million córdobas (US$1 million) are now needed to set up the Arbitration Courts (with 250 judges) established by the new Property Law, which went into effect on February 16. Hamilton announced that the US Agency for International Development (AID) might finance the installation of these tribunals.


World Bank president James Wolfensohn was in Nicaragua for a few hours on March 4 to visit various rural development projects that his bank is financing. Once he had gone, President Alemán announced that Wolfensohn had promised to include Nicaragua "soon" in the initiative to reduce the foreign debt of poor and highly indebted countries. The government immediately launched a publicity campaign praising the structural adjustment agreement known as ESAF as the nation's "solution," and implicitly let it be understood that the period established in the initiative will be reduced from three to two years.


On February 26, UNESCO officially declared Bosawás, a forested area in Nicaragua's northeastern mountains, as a Biosphere Reserve, ecological patrimony of all humanity, earmarked for observation and scientific research to preserve its rich biodiversity. Juan Bautista Arrien, the UNESCO representative in Nicaragua, told President Alemán that "UNESCO is letting the government of Nicaragua know about its responsibility for treating Bosawás as a temple of nature, protected from any national and international interests that aspires to convert it into a space for trade competition." The Korean plywood company Solcarsa has been accused over the past months of deforesting precious hardwood forests on the outskirts of Bosawás and in the reserve itself, with the complicity of high government functionaries.


Two Nicaraguans received international awards in February. Margarita, está linda la mar, former Vice President Sergio Ramírez's latest novel, won the first prize for novels of the Hispanic publishing house Alfaguara in Madrid. And "Cinema Alcázar," a documentary film by Nicaraguan-French movie director and actress Florence Jaugey, won the Silver Bear in the Berlin Film Festival.

The novel, whose title comes from the opening line of Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío's most famous poem, recreates the half-century between Darío's return to Nicaragua and the execution of Anastasio Somoza. The documentary reconstructs a day in the life of the extremely poor who live in the ruins of Managua's Alcázar Theater, reduced to a shell by the 1972 earthquake.


On December 9, the National Assembly gave its general approval to a Children's Code, and in March will begin to debate and approve it article by article. The code regulates the rights and duties of children and adolescents, and the protection and prevention measures that the state, families and society as a whole must observe toward them, especially if they are at risk. The code establishes that a "child" is understood to be anyone between 0 and 13 years while those between 13 and 18 considered "adolescents." According to Nicaragua's Constitution, citizenship and thus voting rights are acquired upon one's 16th birthday.


The National Police reported 277 suicides in 1997, an average of 24 a month and well over the 176 cases reported in 1996. Of the 1997 suicides, 201 were men, 126 of the cases studies were motivated by passion and 101 occurred in Managua. Another 37 were reported just in January of this year. It is generally believed that four unreported suicides occur for every one in which family members notify the police.

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