Indefinition in Washington, Intransigence in Nicaragua
The Nicaraguan far right is not defeated, and its sponsors in the U.S. have not abandoned the struggle. The U.S. still maintains many contacts with the local far right groups.
Within hours after a car full of explosives--which happened to be parked over a huge buried arms cache in the middle of a Managua neighborhood--blew up in late May, it had become the most talked-about event of the month. But the talk was not anecdotal gossip. The supposedly accidental discovery of the veritable arsenal raised endless questions government, the Sandinista forces and the peace process in which the arsenal's owners are involve.
The explosion of the auto repair garage in which the vehicle was parked was heard throughout Managua a few hours after midnight on May 24. It left one person dead and several others slightly wounded and destroyed some 20 houses in the surrounding Santa Rosa neighborhood. Luckily, the well-protected weapons did not explode; if they had, the blast would have been heard much further away and the results would have been far more tragic.
Accusations and DenialsThe FSLN immediately denied any responsibility in the existence of the arsenal and condemned those who had hidden it in the middle of a city as "irresponsible." Just as immediately, the government accused the Popular Liberation Forces (FPL), one of the five organizations in El Salvador's FMLN, of being the owner of the weapons. It also identified "Miguel Larios," a Basque with past ties to the separatist organization ETA who has resided for some years in Nicaragua, as the owner of the garage under which the weapons had been buried. Nicaragua's extreme right also wasted no time in making its own typically groundless accusation. As is customary, it blamed the FSLN--or rather all of the Sandinista forces as a whole--and particularly the army.
Two days later, two top FPL leaders, Salvador Samayoa and Facundo Guardado, came to Managua to meet with government officials. Although they publicly denied any responsibility for the arsenal, they privately accepted that it was in fact their property. Through its ministry of government, the Chamorro administration accepted that position, saying it felt satisfied with the Salvadorans' public declarations and would continue its investigations.
The following day, General Humberto Ortega angrily distanced the army from any responsibility in the arsenal and claimed that it indeed belonged to the FPL, which he called "irresponsible and deceitful" and "traitors" to the solidarity between the Sandinista government and the Salvadoran guerrilla forces. His position was logical: the quantity and quality of the weapons found in the arsenal--19 surface to air missiles, numerous grenade launchers and an array of infantry weapons and explosives--indicated that if it was not the property of the Salvadoran guerrillas, it could only belong to the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS). Only two months earlier the army had turned over an inventory of all its armaments to the Organization of American States, and such a significant hidden arsenal--the most sizable of any found in Nicaragua since the war's end--put the EPS in a very bad light.
But Ortega's justifiable eagerness to defend his own military organization was also expressed imprudently, and had a very negative effect inside El Salvador. The Cristiani government used his declarations to challenge the FMLN's compliance with the peace accords, and went so far as to state that the purging of the Salvadoran army's highest officers could be delayed. Since Facundo Guardado, the second highest leader of the FPL, is a possible vice-presidential candidate in the March 1994 elections, his candidacy and even the continued existence of the FPL--as well as of the FMLN itself--as recognized political organizations was challenged, since legally they cannot be armed.
FMLN coordinator Shafick Handal in turn called General Ortega "irresponsible", while Joaquín Villalobos, leader of the Revolutionary Army of the Poor (ERP)--which has always challenged the FPL for hegemony within the FMLN--came to Managua to deny any responsibility by his organization in the affair, a position General Ortega publicly applauded.
Three Basque-Nicaraguans Pay the PriceGeneral Ortega's declarations and a second FSLN communiqué that "fraternally" called on the FPL to publicly recognize its responsibility finally pushed the FPL into admitting that the arsenal belonged to it. It declared that it had not used the arsenal since November 1991--before the signing of the peace accords--and that it suspected "a criminal hand with political aims" in the explosion of the vehicle through which the weapons cache was discovered. The FPL made its acknowledgement for reasons of basic solidarity with the FSLN, the EPS and the people of Nicaragua, but paid a political price that corresponded to such a questionable action in the first place. It may also be required to reimburse those living near the arsenal for the material damages they suffered.
But things did not end there. With no evidence, the Chamorro government detained one Swiss and several Salvadoran citizens in connection with the auto-shop/arsenal, which additionally contained great quantities of documents that mentioned an international kidnapping ring. The government also detained three Basques who had nothing more to do with the arms than their friendship with Larios, the auto shop's still missing owner. Even through rapid interrogations proved that the Basques, who had been given Nicaraguan nationality in 1990, knew nothing of the arsenal, they were held prisoner, thus violating Nicaragua's habeas corpus law as well as the decision of the executing judge, who ordered their liberty.
The Spanish intelligence services in Nicaragua-Spain has been advising the Nicaraguan Police for more than a year--stated that the three were old ETA militants. Without receiving any extradition request, the Nicaraguan government decided to turn the three over to Spain. The Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) used every legal measure possible to prevent their deportation, but the government simply ignored it all. Without benefit of a hearing or an executive decree or even the preparation of any corresponding legal paperwork, the ministry of government annulled the detainees' Nicaraguan nationality and turned them over to the Spanish police, who also did not bother with any migration papers before putting the Basque-Nicaraguans on a plane that Spain had quickly dispatched to Nicaragua. Everything was done bilaterally between Spain's ministry of government-where the three detainees had police records for their links to ETA activities--and Nicaragua's counterpart, which bent over backward to please the Spanish with no regard for the rule of law.
An Offense to SovereigntyThe end result was an incident that could be called a kidnapping by Spanish authorities, who acted extra-territorially, and collaboration by the Nicaraguan government, which captured, imprisoned ad illegally turned over three nationalized Nicaraguan citizens. Among the endless arguments defending the events offered by Minister of Government Alfredo Mendietta on behalf of the Chamorro government, the only logical pretext for annulling the Basques' Nicaraguan nationality was that two of them (Javier Aspiazu and Sebastián Echániz) had used false identities to obtain it. With the third, Javier Larretegui, there was no such excuse.
The speed with which Nicaragua turned the three Basque-Nicaraguans over to Spain also makes our nation look shameful to the world--particularly since the Spanish government then turned around and released Larretegui with equivalent speed. The Nicaraguan government's servility and the Spanish government's arrogance were an affront to national sovereignty and the dignity of all.
The Chamorro government's constant proclamation that respect for the rule of law is one of its priorities takes this incident out of the realm just another political anecdote. It is a serious symptom of institutional anarchy, in which breaks with legality are becoming more and more common. It is impossible to believe that Nicaragua's minister of government acted alone.
The events leave the Chamorro government in a morally and legally weak position to demand respect for legality and the rule of law from any citizen or political force. Through its precipitous actions and its desires to please the Spanish government--which provides significant economic aid to Nicaragua--it added one more new and serious delegitimating action to the many it has committed over the past three years. In so doing, it aggravated national instability even more, widening the chink the Nicaraguan and US ultra-right hopes use to propose an institutional break-which it could do through several means--so as to exclude the FSLN from the spaces of power guaranteed it by democracy in general and the Constitution in specific.
US ConditionsNicaragua’s ultra-right is not defeated in Nicaragua, nor are its US allies—or godfathers--defeated in the United States. And that is because the Clinton policy toward Nicaragua has yet to be defined and designed.
Independent of the political and economic image game the Chamorro government played with the economic aid it received at the Club of Paris meeting or of the very positive results it got out of both those images and reality, news of the demise of the ultra-right is greatly exaggerated. Relations between the Chamorro government and the US government are not yet stable, nor is there any stability in the relations between the Chamorro government and the leaders of Nicaragua's ultra-right UNO opposition.
It has been evident for some time that US economic aid will continue shrinking each year and will still be tied to clear political conditions. US officials recognize both publicly and privately that the government has scored macroeconomic successes: control over hyperinflation, the liberalization and privatization of the economy, the setting up of private banks with a restructured financial sector and faithful payments on its foreign debt. But also privately--and even publicly, as in Paris, for example--they have added that "critical" political problems must still be resolved before democracy can reign in Nicaragua.
All the problems mentioned by US officials and politicians curiously coincide with what the ultra-right has been bringing up since shortly after Chamorro took office. US officials identified three main political impediments to genuine "democracy": 1) the government-UNO conflict should be resolved so the National Assembly can effectively and "representatively" reform the Constitution and existing laws; 2) civilian control over the EPS and the police should be established; and 3) insecurity over the scheme of property ownership should be resolved by creating a "fair and open" legal system--that is, without judges linked to the previous government--to also help attract investment. As the new US government has expressed several times, aid for 1993 and 1994 will be conditioned by the Chamorro government's advances in these three points.
The US Far Right Knows What It WantsThis tune is not new to Nicaraguan ears; it has been repeated, with some variations, numerous times since Nicaragua's government changed in 1990. What is new is that Clinton administration officials took it up in its entirety in the April meeting of the Group of Donor Countries in Paris. Is this the awaited definition of the new Democratic government's policy toward Nicaragua? While one might think so, the definition does not really appear nailed down yet. In a May tour of the United States, Nicaraguan government leaders and UNO and Sandinista political figures found that there is still a lack of definition and that neither Republicans nor Democrats consider Nicaragua's economic and social problems important. They appeared surprised when the seriousness and the logic of the economic crisis was demonstrated to them with facts and figures.
Everything indicates that the Clinton administration is basically concerned that its far-right opponents could orchestrate Nicaragua's case to influence US domestic policy. Their expressions of concern and their demands on the Chamorro government to "institutionalize" Nicaragua's "democracy" are thus all based on co-opting what the US extreme right has been saying from the outset.
The far right in the US still has very precise objectives for Nicaragua and is not abandoning its offensive. Lacking such clarity, the Democrats simply take up what the extremists say, even though they never stop declaring that they aspire to neutrality regarding the existing political stripes in Nicaragua.
Only the Republicans still have a team--headed by ultra right Senator Jesse Helms--that stays on top of the Nicaragua case. While it continues churning out negative material, the Chamorro government's work inside the US has had very little impact.
Both President Chamorro and her presidential minister Antonio Lacayo have already made two trips to the United States since the Democrats took office and other important government officials have also traveled there, but they have not succeeded in changing the vision of post-Sandinista Nicaragua that official circles and public opinion have. For all these reasons, what we are seeing appears to be a simple continuation of the Bush policy. In fact, Bernard Aronson has yet to be replaced as Under-Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, and it is clear that the list of conditions presented Nicaragua in Paris by the United States was his work.
Nicaragua's Far Right: Hanging ToughThe fact that US officials are stressing the same points as Nicaragua's far right-albeit less stridently and for different motives--explains why UNO continues demanding more space in the current government so vehemently, despite the political reversal it suffered with the release of the foreign aid.
In the National Dialogue currently underway, UNO has, as always, maintained radical and intransigent positions. For starters, it refuses to attend unless President Chamorro is at all sessions. Nor is backing off from its absolute priority: an "understanding" between the government and UNO on the already cited structural political issues must precede discussion of any other economic or social accord, agreement or arrangement with other political or union forces, especially Sandinista ones. The points UNO took to the only round of the dialogue session it attended had more to do with US political interests than with national concerns, which at this point basically resolve around finding a solution to the exceeding serious economic problems.
Government Doing Little to De-claw UNOThe government is not doing much to politically de-claw Nicaragua's far right, even though it could clip a few of its sharpest talons with relative ease. For example, the Sandinista Popular Army announced in April that the reforms to its internal laws had been drafted and were in the President's hands. The reforms establish that the army commanders will be replaced every five years and circles close to the army say that they also include a transitory article specifying that the controversial head of the EPS, General Humberto Ortega, will retire from his post a t the end of 1995 or in early 1996. Since this has been one of the political issues that has most agitated the far right, why has President Chamorro not yet given that draft to the National Assembly for debate and passage so that the army commanders' term can be defined once and for all?
By the same token, the government now recognizes the partiality thus far in the work of the Tripartite Commission responsible for investigating rural violence. Why not define its role more clearly to avoid having its reports--which systematically blame only the army--further aggravate the polarization and resentments that still remain from the war?
With regard to the property issue, there is generalized clamor to have a definition soon--what the FSLN calls a "final period" law. On this issue, the government remains stuck basically at the level of words and broken promises. Why not act decisively and coherently?
Growers in Northwest United and Fighting MadThe insistence of most Nicaraguans that economic issues are the top priority is leveled at the essential structural aspect of the neoliberal plan imposed from outside and adhered to so slavishly by the government. But it also takes aim at a critical immediate problem--the 1993-94 agricultural cycle.
As the rainy season approached, demands by growers across the country and at all levels that the government respond to their problems became more numerous and louder. The growers in León-Chinandega and in Estelí have mobilized the most, and, although their two situations are different, they speak to the same concern: they want to produce but do not receive adequate incentives in the government's economic plan.
In April, the main political forces in León-Chinandega organized a Committee for the Defense and Development of the Northwest. It sent 25 leaders from the region's main associations to demand and emergency meeting with the government to hear its response to the area's specific economic problems. The region is one of those hardest hit by unemployment, the irreversible crisis of cotton--which was the heart of the region's economy--and a prolonged drought.
The committee asked the government to decree an agricultural emergency in the region, a three-year moratorium on the already structured agricultural debt, financing for 85,000 acres of cotton and a shift of emphasis in the government's economic program from monetary stability to promotion of national production. The committee also held the government responsible for the violence that could break out in the region if there is no response to these demands and announced that civic protests would be held--they in fact have been continuous since early April. All of the political, economic and social forces in that northwest region, Sandinista and non-Sandinistas a like, have now united in their concern about their region's future and are demanding that productive alternatives be sought.
The accent in the department of Estelí, where the army's inefficacy and the absence of the police turned the rearming of recontras and recompas into a vicious circle, is more on the guarantees to life and property that production requires. The activities of the rearmed groups directly affect production, the growers, vehicular transit and the civilian population in general.
Unfortunately, the security banner was first raised by a group of growers who politicized their demand, asking to be defended from the Sandinistas, thus putting all the blame for the insecurity squarely on the FSLN. But as in Leon-Chinandega, after significant efforts to dialogue and build bridges, the economic issues imposed themselves in Estelí and a common struggle was established between Sandinistas and non-Sandinistas.
The central focus of the FSLN's current Plan of Struggle is to challenge certain of the government's economic policies and seek consensus with all sectors, Sandinista of otherwise, to make this challenge effective in righting the economy's course in a more or less defined time period. The efficacy of this plan will depend on the FSLN's ability to attain this consensus in each territory.
In May, however, the FSLN switched its emphasis to the even more urgent ask of putting on the agenda of the National Dialogue all possible corrective measures, given the ever scarcer resources available in the country, to save this agricultural cycle. The first round of the dialogue was dedicated exclusively to that issue. The 15 accords that emerged from that round--which UNO opted not to attend--are not negative, but are quite probably too late. They were drafted and signed in mid-May, a full month after the planting lands were or should have been prepared. A good rainy season in 1993 would make such a delay even more serious than if the weather remains as it has been for the past several years.
The accords are also deficient, in that they contain no provision to guarantee the agreement that financing for the cycle will be greater than in 1992. But perhaps the worst deficiency, given the government's now notorious style, is that there is no guarantee that te accords will become more than just words on paper, that they will be fulfilled in the time and manner required.
How else can their fulfillment be guaranteed quickly enough to have real impact in the agricultural cycle? For the Sandinistas, the only way is for all affected growers to unite and mobilize in the streets, constantly and militantly, precisely as is happening in Leon-Chinandega.
The other struggle, the one that must be waged to modify the government's overall economic plan, is more long-term. It is also complex, because either the government must change or they will change it.
Dealing with Armed Bands In the NorthAbout 100,000 people live in the 14 municipalities in the north of the country where some 43 rearmed bands (with a total of between 1,000 and 1,500 men) are currently operating. Between December 22, 1992 and May 17, 1993, 83 combats took place between those groups and the EPS and National Police. In those confrontations, the government military forces were reported to have suffered 20 dead and 31 wounded, while 80 of the rearmed combatants were killed and 90 wounded.
On May 18, the government decreed exceptional measures in those municipalities, suspending some constitutional guarantees for an extendable 30-day period, among them the inviolability of the domicile and the 72-hour period in which the police must turn detainees over to a judge.
Baptizing its plan with the name "Guarantee to Life and Work," the government decided to try to meet the active armed bands in that area head on and respond to the ongoing instability and violence.
But although the majority of these groups claim to have rearmed for economic reasons, the emphasis of the response has been military: the EPS has drawn up a plan of action that complements the government's decision to urge the armed group's to concentrate into enclaves, followed by dialogue with them involving an offer of amnesty in exchange for their peaceful disarmament. There are neither clear nor precise signs of any plan to respond to the groups' economic demands. Thus, those who turn in their weapons now--like many of those who have already done so--will have no guarantees that they will be able to produce.
Some 590 rearmed fighters have already entered the enclave zones since the plan was announced, the majority of them former EPS or police--in other words, recompas. Overall, however, the rearmed groups are still active. In response to the army's new military plan, they stepped up their attacks on civilian targets, aggravating the zone's security concerns. They have recently burned Ministry of Construction trucks, destroyed an extremely important antenna for telephone communication with the rest of Central America, bombed electricity generating plants, etc.
Is this flare-up only temporary? It will depend on the consistency of the new plan prepared by the government and the army. A reduction in the number and size of the armed groups and the isolation of those that are merely criminal, or are political, would be a great success for the plan. But as things stand, it raises more questions than the results it seems to offer.
National Dialogue: The "Political" RoundAfter the conclusion of the National Dialogue round dedicated to the agricultural cycle, a political round began, it will continue with various sessions through June. The stated purpose is to discuss the political concerns of all the distinct national forces, but the round began hampered by the decision of both UNO and the big business umbrella organization COSEP to excuse themselves from attending. UNO argued ye again that prior to any accord among all there would have to be an essential accord between two: UNO and the government. Taking a novel tack, COSEP argued that the big capitalists it represents are a productive force, not a political one.
At issue now will be discussions of possible constitutional reforms and everything referring to the EPS, the police, the judicial branch, the electoral branch and the National Assembly. While this whole agenda coincides almost perfectly with the one laid our to Nicaragua by the US government, the results that come out of debating this agenda need not inevitably do so.
From any perspective, this political round of dialogue is necessary to stabilize a country that has not been stable since the change of government. The most positive outcome would be that the government seriously take up these affairs and achieve definitive results. The most preoccupying would be that it seek these definitions only to gain time, then turn around and make its decisions based on outside conditions instead of national needs. It truth, it is difficult to imagine how the results of this round could really stabilizing as long as there is no definition of official US policy toward Nicaragua and Clinton officials continue to simply go along with the local rightwing groups.