Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 239 | Junio 2001




Envío team


A decision in mid-May by around 40 Managua bus cooperatives to raise the fare from two to three córdobas without any legal authorization has led to a regrettable social and political crisis. With most wages frozen, the majority of the urban population cannot afford this 50% rate hike, particularly since there is no transfer system and many people have to take two buses each way.

Every year the bus owners demand that the government provide a fuel subsidy that will allow them to maintain both the existing fare and their profit margin. The taxes the Alemán government imposed on petroleum products have put diesel prices at nearly $2 a gallon for the past five years, but the sliding devaluation of the córdoba means that the price in national currency rises weekly. Given the serious budget shortfall this year (see "This Month" for an explanation), the central government had no choice but to refuse, but for electoral reasons plus a mixture of intransigence and sloth, it alleged that the municipal government was responsible for fixing the prices. Managua’s mayor, who like most of the major urban mayors following last year’s elections is a Sandinista, shot back that he has the faculty neither to impose tariffs nor to sanction the bus companies.

Meanwhile passengers helplessly dug deeper into their pockets for another scarce córdoba, with only a few headstrong individuals angrily refusing to pay more on the grounds that the hike was unauthorized. At the beginning of June, Managua’s university students, fed up with such misgovernment and abdication of responsibility, took to the streets to force the fare back down and even torched a bus or two. A minor irony in this otherwise humorless situation is that many of the bus owners are macho Sandinistas who at the very least cheered those who burned municipal vehicles in the early nineties when Alemán was mayor of Managua. Be that as it may, they are now older and the buses are theirs, so on June 6, they responded by pulling all their buses off the streets. In a virtually total bus strike that had not ended by mid June when this issue went to press, they continued to insist on the subsidy and refuse to lower the tariff. It is a particularly eloquent expression of the deepening lack of governability in the country.


While Managua bus riders crowd dangerously onto scab pick-up trucks, walk to work or on rare occasions find the money to share a cab, President Alemán remains well padded against such financial pinch. On May 25, three dissident Liberal legislators—including Eddy Gómez, Alemán’s own brother-in-law—launched a campaign to collect 50,000 signatures requesting the Office of Comptroller General (CGR) to investigate the origin of the Alemán family’s fast-rising fortune. The petition requests an investigation that would extend from Alemán to the fourth level of blood relatives. Leonel Téller, another of the three, has presented documentary evidence of the wealth accumulated in some 56 properties belonging to Alemán through the installation of electricity, drinking water, access roads and the like, all allegedly paid for by taxpayers and international donations the President has diverted. The petition proposes that the comptroller’s office solicit the services of INTERPOL and the FBI in the investigation.

CGR president Guillermo Argüello Poessy rejected the initiative, alleging that the crime of "illicit enrichment" does not exist per se in Nicaragua and thus cannot be investigated. Two days before the campaign got underway, the National Assembly’s Anti-Corruption Commission similarly rejected a request by FSLN representative Víctor Hugo Tinoco that it officially look into the public denunciations regarding Alemán’s personal holdings. The commission alleged that the only basis for such an investigation would be the daily news reports on the issue, implying that they were hardly reliable.


Tensions cropped up in mid-May between the four Liberal and three Sandinista magistrates who head the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) when the Liberals demanded the restructuring of managerial positions. Last year’s municipal election results convinced them that the presence of experienced Sandinistas in strategic CSE posts put the PLC at a disadvantage in those elections and will do the same this November. The dispute was resolved on May 23 when the Sandinistas agreed to separate political decision-making from administration. It was established that the CSE general secretariat would oversee the administrative area (cartography, computer management, finances and human resources) while a technical secretariat would be created to deal with voter registration, political parties, civil registry and electoral issues. As a new expression of the Alemán-Ortega pact, Lino Hernández, long-term director of the rightwing Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH), was named to head the new secretariat, passing over officials with recognized experience and reputation. Hernández, who has no experience whatever in electoral issues but lots of experience denouncing Sandinista leaders, seems to have been appointed to perform the role of "political policeman" rather than provide any professional contribution or exercise any technical controls.


On May 21, a TV news station reported an FSLN leak that Zoilamérica Narváez had reached an extra-judicial arrangement with her stepfather Daniel Ortega to lift the charge of incest and sexual abuse she had filed against him in June 1998 and thus not jeopardize his presidential candidacy. In a terse statement sent immediately to all the national media, Zoilamérica denounced the information as "absolutely false" and stressed that "19 years of sexual abuse are not negotiable, least of all to protect the man who abused me since I was a little girl."
The electoral campaign has breathed new life into a case suffocated by a three-year complicit silence involving virtually the entire political class and the religious authorities in the country, during which her charge was either ignored or treated as a "private" problem. Now, however, Liberal politicians, journalists and clergy are suddenly using it to disqualify Daniel Ortega, while the Sandinistas are evidently trying to bury his debt with justice and with all of society by twisting Zoilamérica’s return to a responsible silence into an endorsement of Ortega.


On May 31, Arnoldo Alemán unveiled a beautiful three-meter-high bronze statue of General Augusto C. Sandino at the entrance to Niquinohomo, his birthplace. Government officials, diplomats and three of Sandino’s grandchildren attended the event. In his speech, Alemán recognized Sandino as "the paradigm of the purest Latin American nationalism," eulogizing him as a man "of unquestionably Liberal revolutionary ideas and militancy" and an "exceptional Nicaraguan who was never a Marxist much less a Communist." Although he did make reference to "those invaders who could never defeat him" and to "the ominous imposition of foreign military forces," Alemán never mentioned the United States by name.


Two jurists from the Observatory of Human Rights Defenders, an international organization based in Paris, visited Nicaragua on May 13-23. Francois Mathe from France and Alirio Uribe from Colombia were able to verify that NGOs and human rights organizations in Nicaragua are harassed and attacked. The mission was particularly interested in looking into the campaign against colleague Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), whom Alemán’s minister of government irresponsibly tried to link to the criminal activities of armed groups in Siuna.

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