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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 160 | Noviembre 1994
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NICARAGUA BRIEFS

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FSLN CRISIS

On September 9, 76 of the Sandinista Assembly's 120 members voted to return FSLN general secretary Daniel Ortega to his seat in the National Assembly, filled since 1990 by his alternate, Sergio Ramírez. The decision carried with it Ramírez's removal as the party's legislative bench chief. This led his supporters to publicly present themselves the next day as the Sandinista Renovation Movement within the FSLN.

As the FSLN's top decision making body, the Sandinista Assembly was responding to a decision made four days earlier by Ramírez and 27 of the party's 39 bench members to override its vote to hold off immediate submission of the constitutional reform package they had been working on for months. In that time, argued the Sandinista Assembly, the bench had modified reforms the party had previously agreed to, had not sought consensus either from parliament as a whole or from society, and had let the FSLN property bill, which it considers even more crucial to the country's future, gather dust.

This chain of decisions and counter decisions seriously aggravated the FSLN's internal crisis. The day after the Sandinista Assembly voted to remove Ramírez as bench head, the bench members called a quick meeting, and the same 27 voted to elect Dora María Téllez, an increasingly strong proponent of Ramírez's views, to replace him. The implicit rejection of Ortega's possible leadership of the bench was lost on no one. Undaunted, Ortega has assured the bench of his desire to improve the tense relations between the FSLN leadership and its legislative representatives, and his decision to continue giving more attention to his role as party head than to legislative activity.

SLOW MOVING REFORMS

The justification the Sandinista bench gave for countermanding the party leadership and handing the constitutional reform bill in to the National Assembly was urgency. The constitutional findings committee, which had already been named, would only have 60 days to examine the bill and consult with other sectors, leaving less than a month for floor debate before the National Assembly closed the 1994 session and headed off for its Christmas recess.

Somewhere along the line, however, the urgency lost steam. The findings committee did not begin the consultation process until October 3. It planned to hear the views of all branches of the state, as well as of business organizations, unions, clerics, the army and police, and the general population.

Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo strongly opposes several of the key reforms and is considering ways to prevent approval of the package. One possibility is to present a recourse of unconstitutionality to the Supreme Court, where it can be expected to gather as much dust as the property bill. Another is to continue holding off the official publishing of a special reform passed at the end of last year that would make this package of reforms effective after passage in a single legislative session instead of two consecutive ones. Simply postponing the vote for another year would accomplish Lacayo's immediate objectives, since one reform he opposes would prevent the presidential candidacy of any close relative of the incumbent (Lacayo is President Chamorro's son in law). Another would eliminate the current Constitution's executive skew by transferring some prerogatives, particularly for fiscal decisions, to the legislature. Lacayo adamantly opposes submitting his agreements with the multilateral lending agencies to any meddling by the legislators, as is happening right now in both Costa Rica and Honduras (see "Honduras" in this section).

Alleging reasons of protocol, President Chamorro did not show up for the consultation appointment sent by the findings committee, and did not authorize the police and army chiefs to express their criteria. For the same reason the Supreme Court justices did not appear, all of which renewed old tensions between the executive and legislative branches and created new ones between the legislative and judicial branches.

STILL MORE TENSIONS

Not until October 12 was the public informed that the Supreme Court of Justice had, several weeks earlier, declared the National Assembly's reforms to the Budget Law unconstitutional. The recourse of unconstitutionality had been in the Court's hands for over two years.

The Court decision prevents the legislators from uncovering the destination of a large part of the foreign cooperation funds received by the executive branch. The decision raised the executive legislative tensions yet another notch, and caused Assembly president Humberto Luis Guzmán to remark wryly, "Seems the government isn't interested in transparency."
AND STILL MORE

Public outrage at a proposal by 58 of the 92 National Assembly members, including many on the FSLN bench, to raise their salaries a total of 112%, including perks, was swift. The parliamentarians argued that devaluation has eroded the value of their current basic monthly salary of 10,000 córdobas (about US$1,400), and that the basic salary of government ministers is $5,000. (The basic daily wage of an urban worker, on the other hand, is about 7 córdobas and that of a farmworker is 5.70.)
The media spent several days collecting quotes from people, which were uniformly critical and disrespectful. In the end, the proposal was withdrawn.

SALARY PROPOSAL OF A THIRD KIND

Some 6,000 teachers, members of the two largest federations of teachers' unions in the country the National Teachers Association (ANDEN) and the General Teachers Federation took to the streets on September 23 with various demands, the key one of which was for an 80% salary increase. The basic monthly salary of a primary school teacher is 345 córdobas and that of a secondary teacher 425 (about $50 and $60, respectively). The organizations have since warned that, if they do not get the increase, they will not show up in January to prepare for the start of the next school year.

POLITICS: LEFT, RIGHT AND CENTER

Left: The registration of FSLN militants and affiliates around the country finally concluded in September with the help of 10,000 activists. It is estimated that 25% of the 350,000 who registered to vote for local party authorities are youth. Managua obviously led the list, followed by Chinandega. In the ensuing elections, only 75% voted, and candidates identified with the "democratic left" are said to have gotten the vast majority of seats, although the notion of separate currents is now being downplayed by the winning side.

The whole process was carried out "with unquestionable democracy," according to Julián Corrales, president of the FSLN's electoral committee, and former member of Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council. The end of September and beginning of October was taken up with second tier elections of departmental leaders.

Right: Arnoldo Alemán's rightwing Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) has issued a proposal for a two year National Emergency Economic Plan. The proposal, published with great fanfare as a paid ad in all national newspapers, does not emphasize social aspects enough, in the view of PLC adversaries. Its macroeconomic nuances, on the other hand, will surely appeal to the private enterprise sectors that previously feared a victory by Alemán, a presidential hopeful, in the 1996 elections.

Center: Meanwhile, several parties who have legislative representatives in the National Assembly's "Center Group" the Socialists, Social Democrats, National Democratic Movement (also social democrat), and Social Christians (a Christian Democratic party only nominally represented in parliament by a member of the Miskito organization YATAMA who ran on the PSC ticket are moving quickly to create a pre electoral alliance that will put Antonio Lacayo forward as its 1996 presidential candidate.

On September 28, Pope John Paul II received Alemán in an audience at the Vatican, and three days later received Antonio Lacayo. While in Rome, Lacayo also visited the headquarters of Opus Dei and the Jesuit Curia General.

COSEP ELECTS ITS NEW PRESIDENT

Gilberto Cuadra was elected the new president of the Higher Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) on September 8. He substitutes Ramiro Gurdián, who had just announced his decision to run as a 1996 presidential candidate of one of the Conservative parties. Cuadra is a potential ally of Arnoldo Alemán.

THE RUSSIA DEBT

Russia promised to cancel 85% of Nicaragua's debt (US$2.4 billion) if, in exchange, Nicaragua pays the remaining 14% ($480 million) in the next three to five years. The contacts were made at several levels during the UN General Assembly in New York, including an encounter between President Chamorro and Boris Yeltsin. "I told don Boris," Chamorro said in her typically folksy way, "that I'd like to chat with him a bit about our debt and he told me not to worry, that it was being arranged. He's a very nice gentleman."
Shortly afterward, Nicaraguan officials said that Nicaragua is not in a position to pay the 15% under these conditions. The debt with Russia represents 35% of Nicaragua's total $11 billion debt, the highest per capita debt in the world.

ECOLOGICAL SUMMIT

Managua was the site of the First Central American Ecological Summit on October 12 and 13. Among the participants were the six Presidents of the isthmus, US Vice President Albert Gore, and OAS Secretary General César Gaviria. The summit's main objective was to sign a 12 goal Sustainable Development Alliance for Central America, which will be presented to the Hemispheric Summit in Miami in December, called by the United States.

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