Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 209 | Diciembre 1998




Envío team


Posoltega: An Immodest Proposal
On November 30, following the one-month outdoor mass held for the nearly two thousand people killed in the Posoltega mudslide, President Alemán announced that his government would transport the homeless from that zone to farms in Jinotega and Matagalpa so they could "earn some money" picking coffee there. Posoltega's mayor, Felícita Zeledón, who has become a national hero and symbol of dignity, considers the initiative a mistake, given the traumatized state of the survivors and thousands of other hurricane victims from her municipality as well as the heightened uprootedness they would feel leaving the area, even if only temporarily. Zeledón requested government help to buy new land near the disaster zone for the residents and demanded that the food for people still in the refuge shelters be provided more quickly.


As expected, various epidemics began to spread through the disaster zones a few weeks after Mitch, among them cholera, leptospirosis and various strains of dengue. A National Epidemiological Alert was declared on November 20, and a campaign launched in the mass media to prevent or at least treat these and other gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases that have proliferated in those areas and other parts of the country. That same day the Nicaraguan government requested the government of Cuba to send six medical brigades to deal with the epidemics. The first of them, made up of 18 specialists, arrived in the country the very next day, and dispersed in groups of three through various zones devastated by Mitch. In the first days of the emergency, President Alemán had rejected Cuba's immediate offer to send doctors, alleging that Nicaragua had more than enough of its own. The government later fired over a hundred public sector doctors, falsely claiming that it was because they resisted being sent to work in the disaster zones. Alemán used this same excuse to justify backing down and requesting assistance from Cuba. On their arrival the Cubans announced, "We didn't come to compete, but to serve."


The Army of Nicaragua estimates that the torrential rains dislocated some 75,000 active mines from the known strategic locations where they had been planted during the war in the 1980s: points along the border, under bridges and around electrical or communications towers and posts. On December 4 the Nicaraguan government, with backing from the Organization of American States, created a National De-mining Commission to try to detect these mines and deactivate them over what it is calculated will be an eight-year period. A crew of sappers from the army began this task five years ago, and has so far deactivated 40,000 mines. Now the work and movement in general will be more dangerous for sappers and civilians alike.


Officials of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources alerted that Hurricane Mitch had done still more damage: it redistributed the contamination from chemical substances across the country. Surface and underground currents pulled the toxins— agrochemicals, pesticides, industrial waste—from the highly contaminated Lake Xolotlán, passed them to Lake Cocibolca and from there to the Río San Juan. There is no evaluation of this situation, or of any of the various other ecological disasters resulting from the hurricane's visit.


Hurricane Mitch's fury did not spare Nicaragua's cultural heritage. In Old León, 40% of the walls that had been preserved among the ruins of Nicaragua's first capital, founded in 1524, crumbled under the incessant rains. The rains opened huge ditches that endanger the rest of this treasure but, to the joy of archeologists, they also unearthed a previously unknown wall that had once protected the old city. Managua's Acahualinca Footprints suffered a dangerous infiltration of water, and in Ciudad Darío the home in which world famous poet Rubén Darío was born was severely damaged. In all, the archeological and paleontological sites in the path of the disaster were swept away or totally altered by landslides, raging currents and drastic modifications of the landscape. One of the most valuable and best-known paleontological sites in the country, El Bosque, in Pueblo Nuevo, Estelí, which contained fossils from the Pleistocene age, completely disappeared from the nation's cultural map.


November 25, honored around the world as the International Day Against Violence toward Women and Girls, the Nicaraguan Women's Network Against Violence published a message announcing "with sadness" that acts of violence and sexual abuse against women and children— both girls and boys—had multiplied "alarmingly" in the period after Mitch's destructive passage through the country. The organizations belonging to the network, which have a presence throughout the country, received far more denunciations than usual during November. The network reiterated in its message that "living without violence is a basic and urgent need," and that the "reconstruction of Nicaragua will not be possible if violence goes unpunished."


Reacting to the disaster caused by Mitch, the Costa Rican government decreed a total amnesty for 300,00-350,000 undocumented Nicaraguan emigrants residing in that country; they will no longer be deported and can legalize their migrant status. The decree, which does not cover those who crossed into Costa Rica after November 9, once Mitch was gone, aims to determine exactly how many Nicaraguans are living there illegally. Lest anyone get the idea that Costa Rica could be a haven for impoverished emigrants in the post-Mitch period, the government also froze the issuance of temporary work permits for any new Nicaraguan workers.


Taking advantage of the new situation caused by Mitch, President Alemán worked to assure that the 1999 General Budget would not be approved in the National Assembly by the legally determined date, but be postponed until March 1999. He had presented the budget bill to the legislators in mid-October, but at that time was in no rush to see it debated. Now he used the justification of the Washington meeting with the Consultative Group for Central America to delay the budget's passage. In any case, the country has been in an "illegal situation" regarding the budget since September, in the opinion of the Comptroller General's Office. Its reasoning is that the executive branch was restructured and new ministries created without any of these changes being adequately reflected in the budget lines. According to opposition legislators, these and similar attitudes by the government reflect a determination to run the economy unencumbered by any legal framework.


The Executive Office's war against the Office of Comptroller General and especially against its chief, Agustín Jarquín, continued even while that institution was busy supervising and auditing the international donations coming into the country in a response of solidarity to the damage caused by Mitch. Halfway through November, President Alemán issued a decree hiring a firm of foreign auditors to guarantee "greater control and independent auditing" of the international aid. The Comptroller's General's Office sent a letter to the National Emergency Committee warning that this contract could only be issued by the Comptroller's Office itself, but that it had not even been consulted.

On November 23, the Supreme Court, under pressure from the President, issued decisions annulling the audits the Comptroller's Office had done on three important corruption cases and its resolutions based on them: that of Alfredo Mendieta, former Minister of Government under the Chamorro government; that of Marcelino Guido, former head of the Penitentiary System; and that of José Marenco Cardenal, former ENABAS director. Comptroller Jarquín requested an urgent meeting with the justices, considering that the three sentences "profoundly affect the country's institutionality, the rule of law and judicial security."
Finally, on November 30, José Marenco, a relative of President Alemán, accused Jarquín of "insults and calumnies" for having held him responsible for the illegal importation of 6,000 tons of rice in April, which Marenco was responsible for as director of ENABAS. Marenco never accepted the Comptroller's resolution and the President publicly backed his insubordination.


After five weeks in which neither the media nor the National Assembly made any reference to the Zoilamérica Narváez case, Daniel Ortega prepared a TV interview on November 11, prior to returning to the dialogue with President Alemán, to discuss his adopted stepdaughter's accusation last March of prolonged sexual abuse. "What she has been stating is totally false," said Ortega. "She knows all the affection I felt for her and demonstrated to her. There was a lot of warmth, a lot of love and her attitude is inexplicable."
That same day, it was already known though barely reported that three questions on this topic had been included in an extensive poll done by the firm Borge & Assoc. in September. It was the first time Nicaraguan public opinion had been consulted on such a controversial and delicate issue. To the question, "Is Zoilamérica telling the truth?" 29.5% said Yes, 36.5% said No and 34% said they did not know or did not answer. To the question, "Is this a plot mounted against Ortega?" 44% said Yes, 28.7% said No and 27.3% did not know or did not respond. And to the question "Should the Assembly lift immunity?" 44.3% said yes, 28.7% said No and 27.3% did not know or did not respond.

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