Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 237 | Abril 2001




Envío team


In mid-March, the Office of Comptroller General (CGR) issued a resolution establishing that a 1979 decree prohibiting government officials from receiving extra pay or fees is still in effect. A select group of top government officials—precisely the best paid ones—are also board members of some thirty state institutions, public companies and autonomous entities and receive between $500 and $1,000 for each board meeting they attend—whether during working hours or not. A number of ministers are on various boards, some of which meet weekly. The CGR calculates that the equivalent of some US$5 million a year is spent on these "fattening diets" (the Spanish term for the payments is dieta), and the media have been denouncing them as immoral for over a year now. A clearly unchastened President Alemán announced that he was thinking of revoking the 1979 decree and heatedly defended the dietas as legitimate retribution for those who work extra hours. In addition, as has been his custom any time one of his top officials is cited for irregular or illegal activity, he publicly recommended that all of those in his government benefited by the allowances resort to a protective legal recourse that would render the CGR’s resolution ineffectual.

Days after the resolution was released, the Liberal majority in the National Assembly approved President Alemán’s partial veto of the CGR’s organizational legislation, sent down in October 2000. The veto significantly reduces the auditing institution’s faculties to gather information on state institutions or to request a judicial writ for officials who refuse to supply the information on grounds of banking privacy or other excuses. This seriously hobbles the CGR’s ability to investigate cases of corruption within the state. CGR president Argüello Poessy, a Liberal appointed when the CGR was changed to a five-person collegial leadership structure through the FSLN-PLC pact, reacted to the legislative vote by declaring himself powerless and resigned. "The bill that we presented and that was vetoed would have made our work easier and more expeditious while the approved law limits our faculties," he lamented. "I never expected it would be vetoed, because it had the consensus of all sides, including the executive, but never mind, what can we do? The only choice is submission and obedience."


The Presidents of Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador met for five hours in Nicaragua on March 30 in a mini-summit to analyze the Honduras-Nicaragua conflict, which intensified following Nicaragua’s charges that Honduras was breaking the region’s military balance. According to the resulting Declaration of Pochomil, the three countries pledged to present their military budgets and the inventories of their naval, air, land and public security means by mid-April. In reality, the commitment only applies to Honduras, because the two other countries have already submitted theirs to the Central American Security Commission, while Honduras had refused to share this information. Nicaragua’s denunciations against Honduras came on top of the conflict triggered in December 1999, when Honduras signed a treaty with Colombia that did not recognize 130,000 kilometers of Nicaragua’s maritime platform, in turn leading Nicaragua to open proceedings against Honduras before the International Court at The Hague. In March of this year, President Alemán tried for the second time to negotiate a "cheaper" alternative to the $5 million trial in The Hague: that Honduras and Nicaragua share the exploitation of the resources in the disputed strip of ocean. All national sectors severely questioned Alemán’s proposal, which he later dropped.


Another meeting of the Regional Consultative Group for Central America, organized by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the government of Spain, was finally held in Madrid on March 8-9. Government and civil society delegations from all the region’s countries participated, together with some 50 delegations from donor countries, United Nations agencies and multilateral institutions. Only medium- and long-term regional projects–none from single countries—were considered in the meeting, which involved the shuffling of some 30 projects prepared by the governments and weak regional integration entities. The two most important projects are the Central American Biological Corridor and the Central American Logistical Corridor, a network of regional transport infrastructure related to the ambitious Puebla-Panama Plan launched by Mexico’s President Vicente Fox.

Two groups represented civil society: Solidary Central America and the Consultative Committee of Central American Integration, both of which called for participation in the orientation of the projects. The meeting produced no official document, which reflects the major contradictions that exist between the donors and the region’s governments due to the latter’s corruption levels and the fragility of the region’s democratic institutions and social organizations.


The National Education Plan that will govern the country’s entire education system between 2001 and 2015 was officially unveiled on March 20 before representatives of the state, the diplomatic corps and education officials from all levels. The ambitious plan is the result of a long process of participatory and pluralist negotiation, consultation and analysis launched after the passage of Hurricane Mitch, which sparked so much talk of "transforming" the country. The plan already enjoys unarguable technical and social legitimacy, but still needs the stamp of political legitimacy. This will only be attained if it is embraced as a plan of the nation and not of a single government, and if every effort is made to turn its goals and requirements into reality, with sustained political will, national technical capacity and the necessary human and financial resources. Among the plan’s most strategic requirements is that of creating a pluralistic, participatory and truly workable National Council on Education. The plan’s greatest weakness is that, given the country’s difficulties and unstable conditions, it may not be possible to implement such a well-designed proposal in reality.


On April 4, FSLN presidential candidate Daniel Ortega and his running mate Agustín Jarquín went to a Pentecostal church in Managua to participate in fasting and prayer with some 200 of the church faithful, presided over by Rev. Omar Duarte, political leader of the Christian Unity Movement party. Duarte, who has allied with the FSLN, asked his congregation to vote for it, and during the act, a pastor blessed the FSLN candidates and prayed for them. Ortega denied that he went to the church with political intentions, but in his address to those fasting, he swathed his political project in religious garb, claiming "faith in the people, in God, in Christ, who are going to give us an opportunity to govern this country."

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