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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 182 | Septiembre 1996
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

HURRICANE CAESAR

On July 27, Hurricane Caesar crossed laterally over Nicaragua with winds of 130 150 kilometers per hour, entering at the Bluff and Kukra Hill in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region and leaving through the Padre Ramos Estuary in Chinandega. The hurricane caused flooding in a large part of the country and serious destruction in the Caribbean region of the country.

The first reports published by the government had many holes, but it appeared that about 10 people died and some 30 were missing, out of a total of a hundred thousand victims. The protestant aid organization CEPAD estimated material damages at about $25 million. The damage included nearly 24,000 acres of crops--mainly rice and beans--destroyed, as well as 475 kilometers of access roads in the coffee zones of Matagalpa and Jinotega washed out, which will affect 64% of the expected harvest. The worst problem in many areas was the total lack of institutional help for the population affected by the hurricane and its aftermath.

SUPREME COURT JUDGES "EXPIRED"

The term of office expired on July 18 for 4 of Nicaragua's 12 Supreme Court justices, including its president, Orlando Trejos. Meetings began four days later between the executive and legislative in the presence of Cardinal Obando to reach consensus on who will occupy the vacancy, as stipulated by the controversial Framework Law. The election of new judges is tangled up in an intricate web of personal, political and economic interests. Since the disagreements could not be surmounted, the cardinal finally suggested that the election of the new magistrates be postponed until the next government.

BECA BANKRUPT

On July 13, the offices of the Superintendent of Nicaraguan Banks intervened the Europe Bank of Central America (BECA), founded in 1994 by the controversial politician banker Alvaro Robelo. A week earlier Robelo had been disqualified by the Supreme Electoral Council as a presidential candidate, and a few days later as a legislative candidate, since he holds Italian citizenship.

By falling into total illiquidity, BECA was pronounced "technically bankrupt." In May, BECA, whose principal board members are Italian, was reported in the Italian media to be allegedly linked to a major international money laundering operation involving some $12 billion. The case is still under investigation.

The Attorney General's office of Aosta, Italy, had been requesting the Nicaraguan government's collaboration in clearing up the participation of Robelo and BECA in this operation since July 1. It also requested that BECA's start up capital be investigated.

SALE OF TELCOR TO WHOM?

After an announcement of the imminent sale of 40% of the shares of Nicaragua's telecommunications company, formerly known as TELCOR and now as ENITEL, to a foreign shareholder investor, information was released that 7 of the 11 companies that had qualified for the bidding process had withdrawn and that the process would be postponed until October.

Telefónica Española is the company with the greatest chance of winning the bid. In July, international media reported that SINTEL, which is part of Telefónica Española, was bought in April 1996 for $39 million. The purchaser was Mas Tec, a company owned by Jorge Mas Canosa, president of the Cuban American National Foundation. This foundation, which is financing Nicaraguan presidential candidate Arnoldo Alemán's campaign, is the leadership organization within the Cuban exile community with the most violent positions.

Rumors abound in Nicaragua that Mas Canosa's interest in Alemán's candidacy is to gain access to Nicaragua as a platform from which to launch another invasion of Cuba. Nicaragua already played that role once, under Somoza in 1961.

NEXT ROUND IN THE 6% UNIVERSITY FIGHT

By 56 votes to 17, the National Assembly rejected the presidential veto of the recently approved law clarifying that 6% of the national budget must be provided to the universities. The governmental mismanagement characterizing the end of the Chamorro administration, however, raises strong doubts that the 6% will handed over to the universities in 1996.

DOWNWARD SLIDE

According to the United Nations Development Program's Human Development Index, which locates the 174 nations of the planet on a scale based on three indicators--life expectancy, education level, and per capita income--Nicaragua occupies 117th place in 1996, 8 countries below its 1995 position. In the Americas, only Haiti, in 145th place, is lower.

JULY 19 TRAGEDY

The 17th anniversary celebration of the overthrow of Somoza was marred by a tragedy that widely affected public opinion: Magda Flores de Tobie (related to the owner of a well known hardware store in Managua), claiming that she was the Virgin Mary and had "orders to exterminate all Sandinistas," drove her truck into a caravan of Masayans on motorcycles and bicycles on their way to the celebration, killing 4 and hurting 17 others. On August 2, the judge, after three psychiatrists rejected her family's plea of insanity as an extenuating circumstance, ordered her arrest prior to her trial.

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