Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 236 | Marzo 2001




Envío team


The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) pressured President Alemán into issuing an order that would stop his Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) from deducting "voluntary contributions" to the governing party’s coffers from the paychecks of public employees. The IDB put on the screws after discovering in November 2000, despite repeated denials by PLC directors, that the government had been automatically deducting funds for the party’s municipal election campaign from workers in IDB-financed Emergency Social Investment Fund projects.


During the debate in the Minimum Wage Commission, National Workers Front coordinator Gustavo Porras reopened the issue of what the media refer to as the "mega-salaries" of a select group of top public officials. Porras pointed out that 400 such officials earn monthly salaries averaging $10,000. The highest salary, $23,000, goes to Luis Durán, who heads the Technical Secretariat of the Presidency and, in an example of supreme insensitivity, coordinates the Poverty Reduction Strategy. Meanwhile, the average official wage of the 85,000 people working in Nicaragua’s public sector is 550 córdobas a month, which works out to just over $41. Porras proposed a $2,000 ceiling for the top salaries as a way to increase the wages of the 21,000 public health and 27,000 public education employees by 1,000 córdobas (under $76).

Days later, in a meeting of some 3,000 bankrupted coffee producers at risk of seeing their properties embargoed, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Augusto Navarro proposed the same $2,000 ceiling on top salaries—his presumably included—for the purpose of creating a development fund for national coffee growing. President Alemán termed the criticism of the high salaries "small-minded."


On February 13, police agents made a surprise arrest of economist Francisco Mayorga, head of the Central Bank during the first year of the Chamorro government and most recently CEO of the Banco del Café (Bancafé), which went bankrupt in November last year. The police, who reportedly lacked a court order, nabbed Mayorga right on the street. Although only he and one other Bancafé board member were picked up, all seven were sentenced to prison ten days later for illicit profit at the cost of the bank’s minority stockholders. From jail, Mayorga charged that his defense had been torpedoed and attributed his arrest and sentencing to pressure from the International Monetary Fund. An IMF technical mission in the country during those same days had urged that the government punish at least some of those responsible for the successive crises of the national financial system that began in August 2000 when Interbank went under. Mayorga was apparently the sacrificial lamb.

It did not go unperceived that no one in the Interbank case was arrested, jailed or punished, despite its having been much more serious and its bailout far more damaging to the state. But Interbank was based on Sandinista capital, and therefore protected by the PLC-FSLN pact.

Continuing the chain of disasters, the closure of Banco Mercantil was announced on March 3 following a serious liquidity crisis largely due to the fall in international coffee prices. It was quickly taken over by the Banco Centroamericano (Bancentro).


On different occasions over the course of February, President Alemán, the chief of the Nicaraguan army and the foreign minister all expressed their concern about the arms build-up in Honduras. They warned that it is triggering a dangerous "military imbalance" in the Central American region. According to Nicaraguan sources, the Honduran army began reactivating its heavy artillery and re-equipping its F-5 fighter planes after the conflict with Nicaragua over maritime limits began in December 1999. Since that time, Honduras has engaged in military maneuvers on the border, increased its military border posts and set up military bases on the Caribbean coast. The charges sparked an exchange of letters and declarations in which Honduras denied Nicaragua’s claims. On February 20, the government of Nicaragua formalized its charges against Honduras in the Organization of American States, demanding that the neighboring country comply with the bi-national military distention agreement signed in March 2000.


Leading up to International Women’s Day, national radio stations broadcast extensive debates about the rights of women and children, the machista culture that predominates in the country, and the deep-rooted domestic violence against women. On March 8 itself, hundreds of women workers affiliated to the National Workers Front demanded a fair wage increase, respect for labor laws and reduction of the "mega-salaries" of top public officials. Dozens of other women spent the day in a sit-in in the center of Managua, where they sang, handed out fliers, presented reports and held informal gatherings. One banner, held for hours by a succession of women, stood out among the rest. Signed by Feminists for Dignity, it read: "We women do not deserve a President who rapes little girls." It was an unmistakable reference to Daniel Ortega, whose own party, the FSLN, has been incapable of questioning his presidential candidacy given the charge of sexual abuse and incest made against him by his adopted stepdaughter three years ago. Ortega has sidestepped all legal proceedings by hiding behind his parliamentary immunity.


In February, an English couple named Anita and Gordon Roddick visited Nicaragua. Their company, "The Body Shop," is known internationally as a world business community leader for its decent treatment, good salaries, social benefits and ecological initiatives over the past 25 years in the 49 countries on 5 continents where it has stores and/or manufacturing plants. The Roddicks came to investigate the labor situation of Nicaraguan maquila workers—those who work in the foreign plants that assemble imported goods and re-export them with phenomenal tax breaks. Upon leaving the country, the couple sent the Taiwanese ambassador in Nicaragua an open letter in which they informed him that in their long years of experience, they have "rarely heard the kind of testimonies offered by dozens of workers from Chentex," a Taiwanese assembly plant in Managua. They called it "a devastating record of physical and verbal abuse, starvation wages and the denial of internationally recognized labor rights." They pointed out to the diplomat that "this kind of corporate behavior would not be tolerated" in his own country and that "the practices of a single company threaten to damage the reputation of all Taiwanese companies operating in Nicaragua and other countries."


The remains of Dominican friar Antonio Valdivieso were definitively identified in mid-February. Latin America’s first martyred bishop, Valdivieso was assassinated on February 26, 1550, by a powerful landowning group led by the Contreras brothers in the original colonial city of León, Nicaragua. His bones were found following careful excavation in the ruins of Old León, together with those of Diego Álvarez de Osorio and Francisco Mendavia, Nicaragua’s first bishops when it was part of a more extensive ecclesiastical province that included Honduras and Costa Rica. The remains of all three men were transferred to Managua and placed in beautiful sarcophagi before receiving homage. They will rest in a mausoleum to be built in the main plaza of Old León’s ruins. Catholic Church spokespeople announced that there is interest in requesting that Rome initiate the process to beatify Valdivieso.

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