Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 145 | Agosto 1993




Aldo Díaz Lacayo


According to the foreign aid bill that President Clinton is sending to Congress, US aid to Nicaragua for FY 1994 will be $66 million, about three fifths of the $109 million finally provided for FY 1993. The total aid proposed for Latin America is only $1 billion. The only country still receiving exceptional treatment is El Salvador, for which Clinton is requesting $137.8 million.


After 27 sessions of the National Dialogue's multiple "roundtables" (on political themes, the current agricultural cycle, modernization of democratic institutions, etc.) in May and June, the differences between the government and the rightwing UNO opposition coalition, and between the government and the FSLN and kindred social sectors, remained as wide as they were at the beginning.

Preliminary meetings in May were dedicated to finding points of coincidence among the contending forces on each theme so that an agenda could be agreed on for the actual Dialogue itself, which includes representatives of all political parties and coalitions as well as labor and producer organizations.

The stumbling blocks are many and varied. With regard to political issues, for example, UNO has intransigently insisted that the government would have to come to terms with it bilaterally before including other parties in the dialogue. It even spurned a government offer in late May to set up a parallel bilateral commission to discuss its concerns unless President Chamorro was personally present in its sessions at all times. Together with COSEP, the big business umbrella organization, UNO announced on May 26 that it would boycott the larger political forum.

UNO's nine point agenda proposal includes constitutional and Supreme Court reforms, restoration of UNO control in the National Assembly, the ousting of General Humberto Ortega as head of the army, return of confiscated properties. COSEP's five point proposal is virtually identical, although it also presented a long list of economic policy changes for consideration. The two objectives underlying both proposals are to diminish the remaining power of Sandinista sectors and to increase the extreme right's power in the legislative and judicial branches relative to the executive branch.

The FSLN has positions on many of these same issues and is open to discussing them in the Dialogue, but its main concerns are economic and social. Though it shares the government's general goal of isolating the far right, the FSLN's strong opposition to the current economic policies and its inability to make any inroads in persuading the government to ease up on the poorer sectors makes for very fragile political cooperation.

The National Workers Front (FNT), the pro Sandinista labor umbrella, shares many of the FSLN's positions, but has its own particular squabbles with government decisions affecting labor. Not the least of them is a little publicized move to trim government spending by laying off 5,000 short term "contract" workers and freezing the wages and fringe benefits of the remaining public sector employees. At the end of May, FNT leader Roberto González had also threatened a possible withdrawal from the National Dialogue.

The UNO government impasse was finally broken on June 12, when the UNO political council met with a delegation of government ministers headed by Antonio Lacayo. One factor contributing to the thaw was a visit five days earlier by US Under Secretary of State Clifton Wharton, who publicly urged all sides to engage in a "renewed dialogue" and not squander a chance for "progress and reconciliation." Privately, he reportedly indicated that US willingness to continue aiding Nicaragua would be affected by the outcome of the dialogue. A second influence, curiously, was COSEP, which reportedly told UNO leaders that their intransigence was hurting their civic image, after which the political council is said to have voted 6 4 to attend. Among the opposing votes were Managua mayor Arnoldo Alemán and Vice President Virgilio Godoy. Neither they nor Alfredo César, the other member of the UNO "big three," attended the parley with the government, although Alemán and César sent representatives.

Ongoing government labor strife has led to increasingly strident worker actions in recent weeks, with strikes by customs workers, those on the banana plantations and sugar refineries, and a brief sit-down strike at the National Energy Institute (INE), which came to a peaceful but fruitless end when INE minister Emilio Rappaccioli sat down with union leaders to demonstrate with facts and figures that INE is operating deeply in the red. In contrast, police pulled their weapons against customs workers in the southern border post of Sapoá; two strikers and one policeman were wounded in the clash.


Roberto Moreno, trade union leader in the Permanent Workers Coordinator, National Assembly representative and president of the Assembly's Labor Affairs Commission, denounced that the World Bank and other multilateral lending institutions are pressuring the Nicaraguan government not to approve the new labor code currently being debated in the Assembly. According to Moreno, these institutions oppose the rights and advantages the reformed code will guarantee to Nicaraguan workers.


On July 1, the restrictive quota system that the European Community decided to apply on Latin American banana imports went into effect. The new import tariffs on imports exceeding the quota will be 170% of their value, which will make their sale impossible. The "trade war" affects nine countries in South America and all those in Central America except El Salvador. It is calculated that these countries, which produce 75% of the world banana supply, will lose more than $500 million annually due to the Europeans' protectionist measure, directly affecting 170,000 Latin Americans.


The Nicaraguan and Costa Rican governments signed an accord to "export" 30,000 Nicaraguan workers to Costa Rica's sugar, banana, coffee cotton and orange plantations between October and February of each year. The agreement will legalize and put order in an already existing and growing phenomenon. According to the Nicaraguan government, 182,000 Nicaraguans emigrated to either Costa or the United States just in 1992. In 1986, one of the roughest years of the war, the emigration to those countries was only greater by 3,000.


In a decision that unleashed an intense reaction from the FSLN, the Chamorro government negotiated a $21 million bond indemnification with the Rosario Mining Company as compensation for the Sandinista government's 1979 nationalization of its gold mines on the Atlantic Coast. With these bonds, Rosario will repurchase the mines.

Former high level officials of the Sandinista government argue that Nicaragua had charged this US mining company with tax fraud, ecological damage and harm to the workers amounting to a total of $168 million. According to them, the case has been pending international arbitration since 1986, but the current government denies that this is true. Another rankling issue is that the negotiation with Rosario was done without informing the National Assembly.

The mines in question are currently shut down and 95% of the miners are out of work. The as yet unexploited gold and other minerals in those mines are calculated at $5 billion.


In mid June the Chamorro government sent the National Assembly its new amnesty bill, aimed at encouraging and speeding up the demobilization of rearmed groups operating in the northern and central part of the country. UNO and other far right sectors firmly opposed making the amnesty law a general one like the other two offered by the current government in 1990 and 1991 that would cover the "Sandinistas" in the group calling itself the Punitive Forces of the Left. Cardinal Obando y Bravo, the international human rights organization Americas Watch, and the US Embassy all expressed their own disapproval of the bill, in their case on the grounds that granting impunity to those who violate human rights would undermine the work of the Tripartite Commission (made up of the government, CIAV and the Catholic Church) and set back the emphasis currently put on resolving human rights abuses.

With that the government began backing off, saying that it would submit a bill more limited in nature, causing both FSLN and army spokespeople to reiterate their strong initial opposition. General Humberto Ortega succinctly argued that "either there is amnesty for everybody or for nobody."
As the debate became more heated, the government finally backed off, shelving its initiative for an undetermined period. Meanwhile some rearmed groups had already heeded the government's call to concentrate in security zones, ostensibly safe from army or police pursuit, pending their "re disarmament" and "re amnesty."

According to UNICEF data, Nicaragua now heads Latin America in infant mortality (71 per 1,000 live births), infant malnutrition (23% of children under six years of age show some level of malnutrition) and illiteracy (860,000 children lack a primary school education). With the highest annual population growth rate in Latin America and the second highest in the world (3.7%), nearly half of Nicaragua's population (46%) is under 15 years of age. Nicaraguan women have an average of five children each.

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