Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 260 | Marzo 2003




Envío team


In the February 19 UN debate on the Iraq issue, the Latin American countries did not present a united front. Nicaragua struck one of the most uncompromising postures against Iraq and on the side of the warmongering US position. Nicaraguan representative to the UN Eduardo Sevilla Somoza argued that “immobility and inaction could undermine confidence in our collective security” and that the last UN resolution is “clear and specific” and must not be applied flexibly or consider new interpretations or extensions of the inspection deadlines. He added that “Nicaragua believes the moment has come for the UN to provide evidence of its immediate response capability given Iraq’s lack of compliance with various Security Council resolutions.”
This obsequious position toward the US President’s war policy helps explains why Bush received President Bolaños so cordially in the While House the following week, despite his tight pro-war agenda and the fact that Bolaños was not even on an official visit. Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft also received Bolaños.

President Bush congratulated Bolaños on his anti-corruption fight, calling it a “heroic initiative.” Expressing total support for the Nicaraguan President, he pledged to increase US aid to Nicaragua and to urge the international financing institutions to do the same as well as to be more flexible in their conditions. In exchange, the US government expects Bolaños to head up Central America’s demilitarization, starting with strict arms control and limitations on Nicaragua’s Army, a project the Bolaños administration is already drafting.


On February 26, President Bolaños spoke at the US Center for Strategic and International Affairs in Washington, where he confirmed that he had “decided to head up Central American demilitarization within a reasonable regional balance.” He stressed that any steps taken by Nicaragua to destroy or limit its weapons arsenal “must be reciprocated by the other Central American countries.” In his speech, Bolaños said that after years of war, “Central America is now an oasis of peace in search of prosperity.”
On his return to Nicaragua, the President confirmed that the US government is aiming at “absolute” control over the weaponry of the Central American armies to prevent any of it finding its way to terrorist groups.

In a report made public around the same time, the US government claimed that Nicaragua is the target of international drug trafficking due to the weaknesses of its banking system, its endemic poverty and the number of weapons still in civilian hands. The United States calculates that 400 tons of cocaine pass through Central America annually, half of it through Guatemala.


During his February 21-28 visit to Washington, President Bolaños also delivered a speech at the Organization of American States. OAS Secretary General César Gaviria received the Nicaraguan President with flowery praise: “Those of us meeting under this roof admire your quality as a statesman, your determination, your firmness, your clarity, your courage. You are a great example of how the art of politics should be understood and exercised... Over the course of the 13 months that you have been at the helm of Nicaragua’s destiny, you have given an example of your commitment to transparency, honesty and the ongoing head-on struggle against any form of corruption. You are a great example to the sub-region and to the entire world.”
All in all it was a very successful trip for Bolaños, who also got the Inter-American Development Bank to release a previously frozen US$30 million loan for small and medium businesses and the World Bank to do the same with a US$15 million loan.


During his visit to the US, President Bolaños was interviewed live on CNN. He won no fans with his response to the journalist’s question about whether his $10,000 monthly salary as President and the additional $9,000 he receives as a pension from his vice presidential stint was coherent with his anti-corruption fight. First he lied, claiming his salary is only $5,000 a month, then he claimed that “there is nothing immoral in a person having the right to retire,” a right to which he clearly has not yet laid claim. Then he capped it by shrugging off the rain of criticism at home for accepting the mega-pension while still on his active presidential salary, calling such things “trivial compared to the enormous imbalances that exist.” In addition to irritating Nicaraguan public opinion, his declarations forced the presidential spokesperson to admit that the false salary figure was an “unintended error.” Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but there was no mistaking Bolaños’ attitude about it.


It was learned on February 26 that Alemán’s wife María Fernanda Flores had suffered a miscarriage after two months of pregnancy. Alemán’s children and his loyal followers in the National Assembly blamed the miscarriage on the stress to which Flores is subjected by seeing Bolaños “politically persecute” her husband.

That same day, Flores chaired the official debut of the Committee to Defend Arnoldo Alemán’s Human Rights, while in previous days PLC bench chief Enrique Quiñónez began to float the idea of her being the party’s next presidential candidate. Such a plan would suit her husband’s economic and political interests very well and could result in her election, given the stamp Alemán has left on the PLC structures. It was also suggested that one of Alemán’s two daughters, physiotherapist María Alejandra, who first appeared on the political scene to win sympathy away from the movement to strip her father’s immunity, could be a candidate for Managua’s municipal government next year.


A new survey conducted by the polling firm M&R between January 28 and February 7 showed a major drop in favorable public opinion toward President Bolaños’ administration. The sample was made up of 1,500 people between 16 and 65 years old around the country, except the Atlantic Coast. In an October 2002 M&R poll, 54% felt he was doing a good job; four months later that positive rating has dropped to 24.8%.

More surprising was that 84.6% of those polled thinks that religious leaders of both the Catholic Church and the various Protestant denominations and sects should stay out of politics. Of the 90.2% who said they were believers, 70.5% said they were Catholic and 16.5% identified with one of what are known as the “Evangelical religions.” Among the religious leaders listed in the poll were Cardinal Miguel Obando and Christian Way party legislator and leader Reverend Guillermo Osorno. The latter obtained the highest negative rating with 46.5% of those polled judging him unfavorably, while Cardinal Obando came in a close second with 42.5%. Obando also took fifth place in negative opinion among the country’s public figures in general, both religious and secular, a finding that M&R considered one of the survey’s greatest surprises.

The wave of popularity that the FSLN’s Daniel Ortega enjoyed for most of last year due to his handling of President Bolaños’ war on corruption seems to have petered out in the new year, with 9 out of 10 polled thinking he should withdraw from active political life. The same proportion of the overall sample thinks Arnoldo Alemán should do likewise, an opinion even shared by 8 out of every 10 who claimed to be Liberal sympathizers.


Thoraya Obaid, United Nations Adjunct Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Fund for Population Affairs (UNFPA), visited Nicaragua for several days at the beginning of March to evaluate fulfillment of the long-term goals the country assumed in the September 2000 Millennium Summit. The targets that the world’s 189 countries pledged to meet by the year 2015 were to reduce extreme poverty by 50%; reduce the population suffering hunger and malnutrition by the same percentage; extend primary education to the entire population; promote gender equity; reduce both infant and maternal mortality by two thirds; provide reproductive health coverage to the entire population; halt the propagation of HIV-AIDS as well as the incidence of malaria and other preventable illnesses; and reverse the loss of environmental resources. The countries also committed themselves to other goals of a political nature (transparency, good governance, etc.). According to the United Nations, it is “unlikely” that Nicaragua will meet these targets in the time set.


During her visit to Nicaragua, Obaid referred at length to birth control in countries such as Nicaragua, where the Catholic religion prohibits birth control methods. According to Obaid, it was left clear in the Cairo meeting on women’s situation in the world “that abortion should not be promoted as a population control method, and the international community agreed that the concept of population growth control is not applicable. Rather, we agreed to give women and men, but particularly women, the opportunity to choose how many children they want to have. In Cairo we said that women and men may exercise their right to determine their own fertility and that population growth will slow down once they have that right.” She added that “to be able to exercise it we must have accessible and financially available health services and that includes, among other things, reducing maternal mortality, providing pregnancy counseling and controlling sexually transmitted diseases, particularly AIDS.


After a working lunch in Granada with representatives of Nicaraguan civil society, Obaid made the following statement: “All of us want to live well, with health and in peace, to have an education and opportunities to improve ourselves. From Nicaragua, we advocate once again supporting women and freeing them from the lack of health care and education.”
Asked about the debate then raging about nine-year-old Rose, the UNFPA executive director said that the termination of her pregnancy respected the parents’ decision and the national judicial framework.

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