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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 157 | Agosto 1994
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

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CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS SNAGGED

Contrary to expectations, the National Assembly went the entire month of June without receiving the package of constitutional reforms for debate. The delay stems not from problems in the multi-partisan legislative committee working on them the committee has reached consensus on the reforms but from the executive branch.

One of the two main issues causing the snag is that the executive adamantly refuses to relinquish to the Assembly its control over tax legislation. The other is that Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo, who has his eye on the presidency for 1996, is feverishly trying to garner enough votes to defeat a reform that would prohibit any candidate related directly or by marriage to the incumbent President. Lacayo is married to President Chamorro's daughter Cristina. (In the "greater love hath no woman" department, Lacayo announced just as envío went to press that Cristina had offered to divorce him. ...Or was the announcement just their tongue in cheek attempt to show up the reform as silly?)
ORPHANED EX CONTRAS BID FOR ATTENTION

On June 28, six unarmed former Nicaraguan Resistance combatants took over the Colombian Embassy in Managua and requested political asylum. The same day, another 15 occupied the Managua headquarters of CIAV, the OAS' International Verification and Support Commission. CIAV was set up four years ago to oversee the demobilization and reinsertion into civilian life of Nicaraguan Resistance members and provide them with human rights protection.

The groups' leaders said that the actions were motivated by the government's non compliance with its promises to those demobilizing. They also demanded that the government dialogue with "Charro," recalling that 385 former RN members have been killed in the past four years.

The action provoked strong splits among RN factions, with some claiming that those heading the action were not genuine leaders. The occupiers abandoned both buildings five days later; if any new deals were negotiated, they were not made public.

According to CIAV director Sergio Caramagna, 40,000 of the 150,000 RN fighters and family members who came back at the war's end in 1990 are still not installed back in civilian life. One reason Caramagna gave for this is a lack of organization and representative leadership among them. "The fact is," he said, "that the Resistance is an orphan."
DEBATE ON THE MILITARY CODE

Public debate about the draft Military Organization Code, sent to the National Assembly in late May after months of difficult negotiations between the army and the executive branch, showed no sign of let up by the end of June. Sectors of UNO, the code's main detractors, argue that the law will create a "privileged caste" and "a state within a state," by not fully subordinating the military to civilian power and by permitting the army to own businesses. Defenders of the code deny this assessment and stress that this is the first time in Nicaraguan history that the military institution will be regulated.

The Civilist Movement and the UNO sectors opposed to the Military Code want the bill totally rejected. They are also using the occasion to demand, yet again, that the army be dissolved completely. On July 5, they held a march against the code in Managua, predicting a turn out of some 40,000 people. Only 1,000 showed up, however, most of them from Arnoldo Alemán's Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC). A week earlier, the PLC alone had pulled together 3,000 demonstrators against the bill in León.

Their position was supported by former Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias, in Managua for an international conference on new and restored democracies. In his speech, Arias harshly criticized the code, and advocated the army's disappearance within the next decade.

For its part, the FSLN leadership issued a communiqué suggesting various reforms to the bill. Among the proposals were that the following be made explicit: that there never again be obligatory conscription; that the army not participate in putting down internal uprisings or take part in issues of public order; that no officer must obey orders that violate laws or human rights; that military personnel accused of common crimes by tried in civilian courts; and that the President can reject the army's proposal for a new chief as many times as necessary until the nominated officer has the President's total confidence.

The intense debate in the media and in consultations with different social and political sectors continued for over a month before the National Assembly took up its own floor debate. On July 6, the legislators approved the overall law "in general terms" by a vote of 49 to 37. In the coming days they will debate the law article by article. It is expected that the bill will undergo at least 40 important reforms before gaining final approval.

MARCH FOR LIFE

Some 5,000 people, with Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo in the lead, marched to the National Assembly on July 23 to protest a possible decriminalization of abortion, the use of any form of birth control, including condoms, and, while they were at it, the practice of euthanasia, nonexistent in Nicaragua. The marchers, many of them high school students obliged to attend by their school authorities, also pushed that public schools constitutionally secular be permitted to teach classes in religion outside of school hours.

Cardinal Obando presented the National Assembly with a petition containing 70,000 signatures of Catholics. The petition supports these ideas and attributes Nicaragua's "moral crisis" to the "atheizing education" of the 1980s. The project to decriminalize abortion is promoted by Assembly representatives from Alemán's PLC and Vice President Godoy's Independent Liberal Party. They have shied away from the issue of religious teachings in schools, however, since one of the roots of the Liberal movement in the last century was the separation of church and state.

Meanwhile, the US Agency for International Development (AID) is using the PROFAMILIA centers to promote its massive worldwide family planning campaign in Nicaragua. This campaign, which uses artificial family planning methods offered at very low prices, is condemned by the universal Catholic Church, and, of course, by Nicaragua's. AID has earmarked $5 million for its campaign in Nicaragua, the country with the highest birth rate in Latin America and the second highest in the world. US Ambassador John Maisto personally inaugurated the most recent PROFAMILIA center in Rivas in June.

Nicaraguan feminist health activists have raised concerns that USAID dollars will support forced Norplant implementation on poor peasant women in Nicaragua's rural areas.

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