Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 154 | Mayo 1994




Envío team


The reforms to the Constitution, which the new majority in Nicaragua's National Assembly announced would be ready for debate and passage by mid 1994, are suffering delays thanks to the executive branch. President Chamorro has not wanted to countersign the changes to two constitutional articles that were already passed at the end of the 1993 session. These changes would waive, on a one time only basis, the provision that reforms must be voted on and approved in two consecutive legislative years. She has also dragged her feet on sending her own reform project over to the Assembly to be included in the debate.

The executive is resisting the reforms, because the main ones around which consensus now exists would oblige it to share important economic and fiscal policy decisions with the legislative branch. For the past four years the presidential office has made all such decisions unilaterally and hermetically. It has not even shared information with the Assembly, or consulted its views.

The President requested "calm and love" from the Assembly until these contradictions can be resolved, but the tensions have continued. For example, the parliament decided to promulgate its recently passed fishing license law, overriding the President's veto (see last month's envío for details). The two branches agreed to try to negotiate some consensus regarding this new law to avoid a greater crisis. But no sooner had they come to an understanding than the President refused to countersign another law, also passed in January, exempting basic medicines and school supplies from taxes. Adding insult to injury, she published a decree at the end of March which has a similar content, but makes clear that she is the only one empowered to make decisions on fiscal issues. While she was at it, she issued three other new decrees, increasing taxes on drivers licenses, traffic ticket fines and all migration transactions.

The President's decision offended and angered the legislators. "It is a crass provocation," declared Social Christian Luis Humberto Guzmán, the Assembly's new president.

General Humberto Ortega agreed to testify in the legal inquiry into the death of teenager Jean Paul Genie in October 1990. The youth was found in his car riddled with bullets on a highway near both his home and Ortega's compound. The army chief's bodyguards are the main suspects in the shooting and Ortega is accused of covering up for them the past three years.

On March 21, Gen. Ortega appeared in court, where he absolved his bodyguards of all responsibility and declared himself innocent. The FSLN National Directorate expressed its "full moral support" for the general.

In an open letter, Ortega noted that the case has been "politicized" to attack the military institution. And, in fact, Genie's father has turned the death of his son into a cause celebre in the US State Department. Nicaragua's right wing, which has championed Genie's case, claims that Ortega agreed to testify only to whitewash his image in Washington.

Since there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, the investigation has dragged on for three years in an attempt to buttress the circumstantial evidence implicating Ortega's security team.


March brought with it a tidal wave of evictions of families living in or on properties confiscated during the revolution because their owners had links to the Somoza family or had fled the country for some other reason. The properties included homes, rooming houses and lots.

The increase in evictions over such actions last year was already noticeable in the first two months of 1994, but in March it was a front page issue almost daily. An estimated 1,200 cases occurred around the country in that month alone.

These evictions were accompanied by judicial orders allegedly "bought" from judges by the former owners and by police ready to carry them out. Even families who could show their settlement document from the Office of Territorial Ordering (OOT) set up precisely to legalize the claims of dwellers who had rightful possession of the property but no documentation were not spared. With no prior warning, and no governmental effort to find them any alternative solution, families found themselves suddenly in the street surrounded by their few meager belongings, sometimes even in the middle of the night.

The Communal Movement has been working overtime to defend the victims of this brutal treatment, and some neighborhoods even organized spontaneously. Committees of neighbors sometimes ringed the house to prevent the eviction, and other times simply picked up the family's belongings and carried them back into the house as the police were carting them out. Both currents of the FSLN backed such grassroots struggles.

At fault is the lack of clear, flexible and straightforward dispositions that could finally resolve the controversial property issue. Up to 100,000 families, beneficiaries of laws 85 and 86 (housing and lots, respectively) promulgated by the lame duck Sandinista government in April 1990, could be in danger. The current government finally agreed to a modified version of those laws, but has still not backed that recognition with the definitive paperwork.

On March 28, as the evictions continued to pile up, the National Assembly passed a law suspending any judicial decision or action that would result in the eviction of a family from the property in its possession for six months. This bill, which is really nothing more than a temporary truce, was an initiative of the 39 member Sandinista bench and got the backing of 11 other legislators. The 23 remaining UNO representatives voted against it, claiming that the legislative branch was meddling with the attributes of the judiciary.


Another 200 members of the Northern Front 3 80 turned in their weapons in March, as part of the accord signed at the end of January. It was the second of three disarmament phases, the last one of which is scheduled for April 8.

On the eve of the date for this second phase, FN 3 80 leader "Chacal" threatened to delay the process because the government was doing nothing about the acre or two of land it had reportedly agreed to provide each of his fighters. The government promised to resolve the problem so as not to derail the demobilization process, even though it warned that it did not know where the land would come from.

Such a derailment would have a psychological effect on the population, given that Chacal's group has come to symbolize the ongoing violence. But the fact is that the violence has not ceased, despite the accord. Several local commanders of recontra groups that had allied with FN 3 80 when it served their own interests, have disclaimed any allegiance to the peace agreement. For the most part, these commanders are not fighting "for" anything; they are military strongmen unable to cross the emotional line back into civilian life, particularly since it has little to offer them. These groups have committed atrocious killings over the years in the north, mainly of peasants linked to the FSLN.

On March 22, one such recontra group kidnapped, tortured and then killed Javier Barahona, vice mayor of Wiwilí and FSLN political secretary in that same municipality. The grey haired, 60 year old Barahona was well liked and respected in the area, of which he was a native. Three days later, the army, which immediately went after the group believed responsible for the assassination, caught up with them. In the ensuing combat, five recontras were killed and seven wounded.

The victim's family understandably accused Chacal of being the intellectual author of the crime, since Barahona, like most other Sandinistas, was seen as a target by those calling themselves FN 3 80 prior to the disarmament agreement. But while Chacal's visceral anti Sandinista discourse opens him up to this charge, it is also true that he never had more than very limited control over some of these local commanders.

In any event, Barahona's murder reopened the debate about the advisability of allowing former FN 3 80 members to join and even direct the police department in several northern municipalities, as the Chamorro government agreed to do.


After three months of investigations into charges of fraud with municipal funds filed against over a dozen officials in Managua's municipal government, the judge assigned to the suit decided to preventively jail two of the accused until the case comes to court. He also issued an order to embargo their holdings until a sentence is reached. One of the two is Managua vice mayor Roberto Cedeño and the other is Victor Guerrero, formerly in charge of municipal works.

Mayor Arnoldo Alemán, the chief defendant in the suit filed by Sandinista municipal councilor Mónica Baltodano, has ably managed to avoid testifying in the court hearings and has prevented a similar disposition being issued against him. Alemán even audaciously announced that he would keep Cedeño in his position despite the judge's decision against him.


A fire that raged out of control for several days destroyed more than 12,000 hectares of pine forests and pastureland for horses in the Dipilto mountain range near the Honduran border. A war zone during the 1980s, the fire area still has perhaps thousands of buried landmines, which hampered the fight against the flames.

Losses are calculated at nearly $2 million, and both the fauna and water resources were seriously affected. Half a century will pass before the scorched forest is completely regenerated.


According to the latest report of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, Nicaragua is in 14th place among the 45 countries in the world with the poorest fed populations. Thirty of these countries are in Africa. Between 1991 and 1993, the only three Latin American countries on this list, which measures the level of the population's nutrition deficiency, were Haiti, Nicaragua and Peru.


José Coronel Urtecho, the patriarch of Nicaraguan poetry, died on March 19. He was 87. In Nicaragua, known as the country of poets, he was eulogized extensively by the best, from both ends of the political spectrum.

"After that of [Rubén] Darío, this is the death that most affects Nicaraguan literature," commented the also elderly poet Pablo Antonio Cuadra, who still directs the rightwing daily newspaper La Prensa.

"He was the most intelligent man Nicaragua has given us and the best conversationalist I have known in the world," declared internationally respected poet Ernesto Cardenal, minister of culture during the Sandinista government.

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