Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 242 | Septiembre 2001




Envío team


On August 30, after several failed tries, the government finally closed a deal to sell off 40% of the shares of Nicaragua’s telecommunications company (ENITEL) to a Swedish company with links in Honduras. The shares, valued at almost US$200 million, were sold for $83 million, of which the state will only receive $33 million now, with the remainder payable over the next five years. The transparency of both the operation and its outcome was tarnished by its disadvantageous nature and the way it was adopted—involving sudden inexplicable haste, disrespect for a legal disposition to stop the process, tricks to keep the press away from the formal sale event, and the delayed announcement of who the business partners are.

The next day, Managua’s Appeals Court ratified a lower court decision annulling the sale because Herty Lewites, Managua’s mayor, had embargoed ENITEL days earlier for an outstanding $40 million debt to the municipal government. Powerful Cuban-American telecommunications magnate Ricardo Mas Canosa, who was among those who tried to buy the ENITEL shares, offered some surprising data about the murky business deals involving ENITEL during the Alemán years. Mas Canosa, whose late brother was a major contributor to Alemán’s 1996 presidential campaign, claimed that all these activities personally benefited the President, his relatives and top public officials. He went so far as to charge that Alemán and his close cronies personally "sold and bought ENITEL."


Around a thousand coffee workers from the department of Matagalpa, including men, women and even newborns, set up camp in a Managua park close to the National Assembly to pressure for a solution to their poverty, malnutrition and desperation. They had been laid off from the coffee plantations where they had worked and lived and are now victims of unemployment, homelessness and hunger due to the crisis in coffee prices. According to Liberal politicians, the demonstrators had been "brought" to Managua by FSLN activists as an electoral ploy. After they had been in the park 48 hours, during which time various political leaders came by offering them food and taking photos, they left the capital again after the government pledged to provide them state land.

Meanwhile, the non-organized hungry continue to camp alongside various points of the main highways in the north of the country. Partly to deal with their hunger and partly to publicize their plight, teenage members of these families string ropes across the highway, forcing vehicles to slow enough to ask for handouts. In mid-August, the national press reported that a message scribbled on a cardboard placard at one of these points read, "Help us think." It is a poignant reminder of the damage that infant malnutrition, chronic in rural areas and now acute due to repeated years of climatic disasters followed by the coffee crisis, is inflicting on Nicaragua’s population.

The crisis triggered by the fall of coffee prices in the international market has no immediate solution, and may never be solved in Nicaragua. No candidate seems to be thinking about this raw and rough reality, or at least is not mentioning it in any speech.

Army vs. FUAC

Seven members of the armed remnant of the Andrés Castro United Front (FUAC) were killed in mid-August in the mountains of the country’s eastern Mining Triangle in an infiltration operation code-named "Trojan Horse" and jointly carried out by Nicaragua’s army and police. Among those killed was the most popular leader remaining, José Luis Marenco. When recounting the operation, the army spokesperson stated that "everything is valid in war." The operation, planned for months, had limited success, since its aim was to kill the other three leaders of the armed group as well. Following the operation, the declarations of various military chiefs suggested how the army may have killed three other historic FUAC leaders—known by the pseudonyms "Tito Fuentes," "Camilo Turcios" and "Damián"—some months ago. Despite having laid down their arms following a negotiated settlement with the government, all three were victims of "extra-judicial assassinations" that were decided on, designed and executed by the army.


At the beginning of August, a former official of the penitentiary system during the Sandinista government charged that cadavers of political prisoners killed between 1980 and 1983 can be found in underground cells of a prison that was temporarily set up in the Free Trade Zone during those years. He made his denunciation to the International Society for Human Rights, a strictly Nicaraguan institution, despite its name, that is directed by a former Sandinista state security official. Despite lacking the competent authority, the organization began to excavate an extensive area, work that was taken over by the National Policy on August 13.

After three weeks of digging, a single male skeleton was found. National forensic experts, using the rudimentary methods available in the country, were only able to calculate that he had been dead for at least 50 years. Geological evidence, however, led to the deduction that it could possibly have been a Pre-Colombian indigenous person. The issue of murdered political prisoners and disappeared people was at the center of electoral propaganda and counter-propaganda while the digging lasted, reopening wounds never allowed to heal fully through an authentic reconciliation process and the clarification of hidden truths from the Somocista and Sandinista governments.


The first stage of the long-announced Environmental Clean-Up Program of Lake Xolotlán (the indigenous name for Lake Managua) began in July. The lake has been effectively a gigantic latrine for over 60 years due to the dumping of unprocessed sewage from the capital as well as huge amounts of chemicals and metals, particularly from the now-closed Pennwalt caustic soda plant on its shores. The ambitious project has a US$72 million price tag, which will be financed by the German government, the Inter-American Development Bank, and Nordic Development Funds, and will take five years to complete. This first stage will replace kilometers of sewage pipes, and the second will involve construction of a system to reroute and collect sewage in a treatment plant.

Lake Xolotlán is one of the world’s most contaminated lakes, thick with both bacteria and mercury. Thanks to its depth, the winds that keep its waters stirred up and the large degree of oxygen that this produces, however, it is still alive and can even be rescued. Paradoxically, the passage of Hurricane Mitch, which caused the lake to rise to 42 meters above sea level, gave it a new lease on life. Although the clean-up will only be relative, a cleaned-up lake with crystal-looking water will be a beautiful symbol of hope and faith in Nicaragua’s future.

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