Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 196 | Noviembre 1997





Negotiations over the new structural adjustment agreement between the Nicaraguan government and the International Monetary Fund mission that arrived in mid-September are taking place with utmost secrecy. On October 2, when members of the National Assembly's Economic Commission requested information from Central Bank president Noel Ramírez, they were told that "we can only talk when the negotiations have concluded."


The first stage of the National Dialogue, called by the government and financed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), ended on October 1, after 60 days of sessions that began in mid July and included the participation of government officials and representatives of political parties and social organizations, mainly those close to the government.

Over the course of the talks, a number of participants abandoned the Dialogue: four parties (the Sandinista Renovation Movement, Independent Liberal Party, National Liberal Party and Central American Unionist Party), the ecumenical development organization CEPAD, the Communal Movement, the Women's Movement and the Union of Nicaraguan Journalists. Those who never participated, despite having been invited, included the FSLN, the Farmworkers Association (ATC), the Sandinista Union Confederation (CST) and the Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG).

After debating the current national crisis, the Dialogue produced 112 "accords" or recommendations that the participants agreed to present to the government on diverse issues, and that the government has vaguely pledged to fulfill. Whether it does or not, challenged Roberto Calderón, from the civic group Ethics and Transparency, which coordinated and chaired the event, "will be the most severe test of the Dialogue. If the accords are not fulfilled, this will give us the perfect right to consider that we were all invited as a group of incompetents, a species of fools' union."
The second stage of the Dialogue, which will debate the future of Nicaragua, does not yet have a fixed date, and will have a different organizational structure and methodology.


After two months of negotiations, the government, the private sector and the unions reached agreement on September 30 to raise the monthly minimum wage, frozen for the past seven years. The wage hike, which will go into effect on November 1, was agreed to by sector. Those most favored are fishing and mine workers, who respectively had increases of 194% and 145%. These increases, justified by the efficiency of the economic sectors, translate into a minimum wage of 500 córdobas (just under $50) a month in fishing, and 600 córdobas in the mines. The smallest increase went to the state sector, where the minimum wage for government workers went from 234 córdobas to only 350.

None of these increases permit a worker from any sector to cover the cost of the family market basket of basic products, which is well over a thousand córdobas a month. It is assumed that various members of the family work to bring in some additional income, including children.


An office of the Drug Enforcement Agency will begin to function out of the US Embassy in October. It will be run by Joe Petrauskas, an expert pilot who has had important missions in El Salvador and Colombia. Up to now, the Nicaraguan police have coordinated their activities with the DEA office in Costa Rica.


On September 18, the governments of Nicaragua and Mexico, meeting in Mexico City, concluded negotiations begun by the Chamorro government in 1991 to enter into a free trade agreement by stages beginning in January 1998. The conditions have still not been made sufficiently explicit to the public, but it is known that Nicaragua will export some $12 million worth of products, particularly agricultural ones, to Mexico and will import some $52 million in petroleum, its derivatives and other products. In Central America, only Costa Rica has a free trade agreement with Mexico, which it signed in 1994.


In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September, President Arnoldo Alemán ardently advocated the incorporation of Taiwan into that body. Days before, the government of Taiwan had promised the Central American Presidents $240 million for development projects during a meeting in San Salvador.

The government of China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory and is seeking reunification under the "one country, two systems" formula that it applied to Hong Kong, immediately criticized the Nicaraguan President for "interfering" in internal Chinese affairs. Alemán responded that Nicaragua is "sovereign" in its policy and that with the causes it considers just it will do "as John the Baptist, who preached in the desert."


In mid-September the executive unexpectedly sent an "urgent" initiative to the National Assembly to modify the 1997 budget, which is already about to close, by "moving" 359 million córdobas from one line to another. In essence, the President was proposing to transfer budgets from about 80 social and infrastructure projects to the current spending lines of the presidency and several ministries and institutions requiring more money for salary increases, employee severance benefits, debt payments, vehicle and fuel purchases, etc. The news triggered significant dismay among the international community that cooperates with the government in social projects.

On October 2, after a controversy covered extensively by the media, the Liberal majority and its allies in the parliament approved the modification, although not before announcing that the social projects would not be affected. According to them, the money would come from the "mysterious" 910 million córdobas that the government has held in reserve from the beginning of its administration.

This inexplicably urgent modification to the budget and all the reasons that got jumbled together for it revealed yet again the excess spending into which the government has fallen, and the notable inefficiency of the ministerial work, particularly in the social area. In the case of the Ministry of Health, as of September it had only executed 8% of its budget for the entire year.


In early September, 60 veterans of the Army, the Police and the National Resistance, meeting in the Bosawás Reserve, announced that they were forming what they named an Armed Ecological Front (FEA), dedicated to fighting "against the unscrupulous lumber merchants" who are deforesting the reserve and other parts of the mountains in the north of the country illegally or with government complicity. "Before we fought for a political cause and now we are prepared to give our lives for nature," said the leaders of the new armed group.

At the end of September, the FEA seized 25 chain saws and burned them in the plaza of Puerto Viejo, Waslala, warning that they would burn the lumber trucks that move through those zones and "will use weapons" on those they catch cutting down the forests.

During Earth Summit II, celebrated in June in Washington, the Bosawás Reserve, which is the "lung" of Nicaragua and the rest of the Central America, was declared a "biosphere reserve" for its extremely valuable biodiversity, patrimony of all humanity.


In September the government reduced the price of gasoline by 4 córdobas (almost $.40) a gallon and increased the price of diesel by 3 córdobas, presenting it as the fulfillment of a campaign promise. As gas prices have steadily risen over the past few years, many private vehicles have converted over to diesel use, such that 80% of Nicaragua's vehicles are now diesel burners.

The measure was harshly criticized by all of private enterprise and by fuel users, not only because of the direct increase in cost, but also because it will drive up the price of almost all goods since most are moved by diesel trucks. It was also criticized both because it reflects a lack of overall fuel policy and because the reformed Constitution gives the National Assembly, not the President, the faculty to reduce or increase taxes.


A mass was celebrated in the Catholic church of San Rafael del Sur on September 29 for Anastasio Somoza García, the "first" Somoza, who was shot by Rigoberto López Pérez on September 21, 1956, and died in a US mililtary hospital in the Panama Canal eight days later. (Memorial masses for Somoza have always been held in Miami.)
Two grandchildren of Somoza García and other members of the Somoza family, former National Guard members and their families, plus neighbors from the area who sympathized with Somocismo, participated in the mass. Inside the church, people shouted Long Live Somoza! and at the end of the mass Luis Sevilla Somoza went to the pulpit to thank "the valiant people of Nicaragua for the support shown to his family in the just struggle to recover what belongs to us."


On September 22, after an investigation that lasted a month, the Comptroller General of the Republic fined Managua's mayor Roberto Cedeño, for having hidden information about his goods when filing his probity declaration. In 1990 Cedeño declared his personal worth at some $6,000; in 1997 he declared that he had over $1 million. Cedeño was fined 6 months salary, some $27,000. He announced that he would find some legal protection to avoid paying it.

This is the first time in the country's history that a high public official has been fined. Public opinion followed the case detail by detail, and the Comptroller General's resolution set an exemplary and encouraging precedent.

The Comptroller General's office, and its titular head, Agustín Jarquín have played an increasingly important role in the struggle to investigate official corruption and eliminate discretionality and lack of transparency in government administration. In September, the Comptroller felt new pressures, when an attempt was made to disqualify his actions so as to replace him or get him to resign.

Jarquín had to publicly acknowledge that he was under "insistent and persistent" pressures coming from "important personalities linked to the government party, and, although President Alemán feigns disagreement with these pressures, it sometimes appears that there at least exists a tacit complacency."


Among the many scandals about government squandering of resources that the media make public every day, one stands out in particular. It was reported that the President has maintained a rented suite in the Hotel Intercontinental since the beginning of the year, which is said to cost $700 a day. Alemán justified the expense because he lodges "personalities" there. The director of his press secretariat, on the other hand, said that he needed to maintain this suite because sometimes "after lunch the President likes to take a little siesta..."

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