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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 178 | Mayo 1996
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

ANOTHER STAND OFF

Yet another month has gone by in which executive legislative tensions and the relatively murky political interests of the legislators prevented the election of a new Supreme Electoral Council magistrate and president to replace Mariano Fiallos as well as a new Comptroller and Deputy Comptroller of the Republic. They also prevented reform of the new Electoral Law.

Such suspicious delays gave rise to no end of speculations about an imminent crisis between these two branches of the state which could end up in a postponement of the October elections.

FIRST CONTACT WITH "CHARRO"

A first meeting took place in the Matagalpa mountains on March 14 between army officers and Ciriaco Palacios, alias "Charro," who heads several armed bands in the northern zone. The meeting was arranged and attended by the bishop of Matagalpa, Leopoldo Brenes, after he secured Charro's acceptance that the Church mediate the negotiations for his demobilization. In declarations following the meeting, however, Charro announced that he wants to negotiate a peace agreement without handing in his weapons.

Charro has been held responsible for at least 45 savage murders carried out in 1995 96, following the demobilization of the major armed group headed by "Chacal," to which Charro's group was affiliated. Charro has also been linked to the cultivation and traffic of marijuana in vast zones in which he is the only authority.

The criminal activity of armed bands could make it impossible for the October elections to take place in some 26 municipalities of the northern zone. If this situation continues, between 250,000 and 450,000 Nicaraguans will not be able to vote. Registering these citizens to vote, which requires their free movement, must start on June 1. Lack of clarity about the census in these zones is another cause for worry in the Supreme Electoral Council.

NOTABLES' GROUP

The five USAID sponsored official election observer groups from the United States have been busy the past months putting together a local "Group of Notables" that will supposedly function as a nonpartisan domestic election oversight body. The group is jointly headed by Cardinal Obando and poet Pablo Antonio Cuadra, who was briefly promoted by big Nicaraguan capital as a presidential candidate "of consensus."
The group published a document on March 28 titled "Invitation to a Commitment" and called on all candidates to sign it. The 11 point document, according to the notables, is only an assessment of the national situation, and the solution to the problems identified will correspond to the politicians. The 11 problems are: property, the rearmed groups, corruption, the tax system, foreign aid, the rule of law, contraband/drug trafficking, natural resources, the ethics of government officials, the judicial system, and primary education.

EDUCATION?

Mario Quintana, secretary general of the teachers' union ANDEN, warned that Nicaragua's illiteracy rate will be 45% by the year 2000 if current trends continue. "We must all be clear," he said, that if the educational situation is not radically improved, Nicaragua will become untenable. Or it will become what only a few dream of: a great hacienda, with a few bosses who have studied abroad, some foremen and four million peons who only need to know the four arithmetic operations."
In March, Minister of Education Humberto Belli promoted a fundraising campaign for notebooks and pencils for 200,000 "poor children" from first to fourth grade who are studying in the public schools and whose parents do not have the wherewithal to buy any materials whatsoever. The Ministry estimated that the cost of the 12 pencils and 12 notebooks these children need for the whole school year would total 11 córdobas, just under US$1.50.

AGRICULTURAL ECONOMY

With the new agricultural cycle awaiting the first rains, Daniel Núñez, president of the Farmers and Ranchers Union (UNAG), charged that 80% of national agricultural production lacks financing, that there are no longer any cattle on over 300,000 acres of pastureland, that more than 15,000 acres of coffee trees are affected by different pests, that those who manage export production are "international pirates," that interest rates are up to 40% for short term credits and that the environmental deterioration in the rural zones is "alarming."

FOREIGN DEBT

The government has announced that Nicaragua is now on a list of six countries almost all the others African drawn up by the World Bank and IMF to study the total pardon of their debt with these two international financial institutions. The measure is novel, since they never pardon the debts of any country. Nicaragua's debt with the IMF and World Bank is in the billions, and the annual service on it alone is US$70 million.

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

On March 27, the National Assembly passed the new Environmental Law, introduced three years ago. This transcendental law should be regulated in 60 days and an Environmental Solicitor's Office should be created in 6 months.

The indolent fashion in which a good number of legislators have been working of late casts doubt on whether these deadlines will be met.

THE NATION'S FUTURE

According to figures from international studies provided by the International Foundation for Global Economic Development (FIDEG), 7 of every 10 Nicaraguan children under 5 years of age live in extreme poverty and are chronically underfed. The degree of poverty and hunger that they suffer makes it likely that they will show serious cerebral deficiencies when they are older.

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