Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 246 | Enero 2002





The campaign for the elections in the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions kicked off on January 17 and will culminate on Sunday, March 4, with the selection of the 45-member Autonomous Regional Councils in each of the two Caribbean regions. The contenders will be the PLC in alliance with Christian Way, the FSLN and the two regional parties YATAMA and PAMUC. The Conservative Party is not running because the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), ignoring strong opposition from influential national and international actors, decided on January 17 to cancel its legal status because it did not get the required 4% of votes on last year’s presidential ballot, although it did achieve this on the legislative ballot. Similarly arbitrary action against YATAMA and PAMUC by the CSE is one of several factors that make high voter abstention in the upcoming elections predictable.

A study presented by the civic group Ethics and Transparency in January concludes that last year’s electoral process was exclusionary and extremely costly. According to ET, Nicaragua’s elections are the most expensive in Latin America, and the third most costly in the rest of the world after those of Angola and Cambodia. Nicaragua spends $19 per voter, compared to $1 in the United States and Germany, $1.70 in Costa Rica, $1.80 in Guatemala, $4 in El Salvador and Haiti and $6.20 in Panama.

Ethics and Transparency also proposed a complete revamping of the electoral law hammered out by the FSLN and PLC in their pact to impose a two-party system.


A plague of bark-stripping weevils has wiped out 30,000 hectares of pines in Nueva Segovia, which amounts to 15 million trees destroyed, a full half of the pine trees found in this extensive northern zone. The material losses caused by the insect, which went about its business unmolested for months due to government indolence, is calculated at US$60 million. The plan to contain the plague, which did not get underway until the end of last year, has left millions of contaminated pines drying on the ground, representing a risk of potentially uncontrollable forest fires. A new outbreak of the weevil is still attacking pine stands in the northwestern part of the country.

At the beginning of this year, signs were detected that a plague that kills coconut palms has now reached Nicaragua. And if all that were not enough, an infectious epidemic that causes miscarriages and death in cattle is continuing to spread through various regions of the country. The new agricultural minister, Augusto Navarro, declared that his ministry would earmark resources to deal with all these ecological, economic and productive disasters.


On January 8, two days before leaving office, outgoing President Arnoldo Alemán sent his declaration of probity to the Office of Comptroller General (CGR). According to his declaration, he began his term as mayor of Managua with goods worth $26,000 and ended it with $309,000. After approximately a year out of office to conduct his successful presidential campaign, Alemán had tripled that to $993,000, in round figures. He now claims to be worth over $1.36 billion, which would suggest, on the face of it, that campaigning is significantly more profitable than ruling.
Journalistic investigation—which has already put Alemán’s current patrimony far closer to $250 million—immediately noticed that a number of possessions belonging to Alemán, his wife and children, including land and shares in various corporations and companies in both Nicaragua and Miami, were not declared. Omission of information on goods acquired during the exercise of government is a violation of the Law of Moral Integrity of Public Officials. On February 5, based on this violation, three dissident Liberal ex-legislators plus Rafael Córdova, the former CGR probity director who first investigated Byron Jerez’s check scam, requested that the Attorney General remove Alemán from his post as National Assembly representative and, it goes without saying, as president of that legislative body. In late January, they had already charged Alemán with acts of corruption and illicit enrichment, accompanying their denunciation before the Attorney General’s Office with the signatures of over 60,000 citizens requesting an investigation of the goods belonging to Alemán and his family.


The school year in all public primary and secondary schools began on January 28, with over a million and a half students entering the classrooms. Nonetheless, it is calculated that nearly half that number, some 700,000 children, remained outside the system, mainly due to their families’ poverty. Silvio de Franco, now education minister, declared that extending school coverage would be one of his priorities.

Inaugurating the school year at a high school in Masaya, President Enrique Bolaños announced that his government will implement a strategy to make education the "medium to increase the autonomy of the poor and improve their quality of life." He added that his strategy would include "moral literacy," explaining that he referred to "teaching behaviors such as honesty, compassion, duty and perseverance."


On February 1, Nicaragua’s Migration Department director announced that Dorothy Granada is free to return to Nicaragua whenever she wants, claiming that "no judicial record impedes her entry into the country." The retired US nurse, who was forced to leave Nicaragua last year following trumped-up political charges, had worked for over 10 years in the northern municipality of Mulukukú, where she founded a clinic that focuses on treating local peasant women. In November 2000, Granada found herself the target of defamatory remarks and threats by the minister of government on Alemán’s orders after a neighboring Liberal mayor, during a public event in Mulukukú attended by the President, falsely accused her of pro-Sandinista political proselytism and the performance of abortions. On December 8, while Granada was visiting Managua, the police made a pre-dawn raid on her home under orders to expel her from the country. This action forced her into hiding for weeks and turned her case into an international cause celèbre that even forced the US Embassy to take a stand. (See "Solidarity in Times of Internet" in the April 2001 issue of envío for further details.) Several months later, the Alemán government opted for the more benign administrative maneuver of refusing to renew Granada’s expired residency permit, forcing her to leave Nicaragua. She has spent much of the intervening time on a US speaking tour. The Bolaños government’s measure, which sent the message that Nicaragua is ruled by law and not the arbitrary capriciousness of its predecessor, was welcomed both domestically and abroad.


In an international tourism fair held in Madrid between January 30 and February 4 that attracts businesspeople from all over the world, Central America unveiled the trade name and slogan with which it seeks to sell itself as a region in the international tourist market from here on out. The trade name is "Centroamérica" and the slogan is "So small…so great."
The tourism ministers of the Central American countries, including Panama and Belize, selected the name and slogan in August 2001 and gave them their final seal of approval during a regional meeting held in December 2001.


A new sky-blue glass mini-skyscraper known as the BAC Center was inaugurated on December 20 in an event that concluded with the most beautiful fireworks display ever seen in Nicaragua. The 12-story building and its two flanking structures belong to the Pellas Group, which is Nicaragua’s only corporate capital and its most influential economic power. Involving 50,000 square meters of construction, the building is the most costly architectural investment in the country’s history (US$36 million). The BAC Center will house the headquarters of all the businesses owned by the Pellas Group (starting with the San Antonio Sugar Refinery and the manufacturing and distributing of Flor de Caña rums) or represents (including the monopoly on Toyota distribution).


Pablo Antonio Cuadra, poet, teacher of generations of poets, founder and leading representative of the vanguard movement in Nicaraguan literature, died in Managua on January 2. A persistent thinker and interpreter as a poet, journalist and essayist for 70 years, the 89-year-old Cuadra was also director of Nicaragua’s Academy of Languages. From the boardroom of the newspaper La Prensa, Cuadra, together with martyred journalist Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, was a standard bearer of freedom of expression. All of the country’s cultural, social and political sectors lamented his death and expressed national pride in his unquestionable glory and strong international recognition.

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