Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 210 | Enero 1999




Nitlápan-Envío team


The first 380 members of a total US Army contingent of 1,700 arrived in Nicaragua on December 9. They make up a Joint Task Force called "Building Hope," the first US military force to come openly to the country since "the Marines" fought Sandino nearly seventy years ago. This time, however, they didn't come to fight. They are experts in rehabilitating roads, highways and bridges and purifying water. The contingent also includes medical personnel, who will work for two months in parts of Ocotal, Nueva Segovia, Matagalpa, Jinotega and Chinandega. They brought along 1,500 vehicles and machinery of all kinds for the reconstruction work, but the lack of consistency in the Alemán government's plans meant that the time they spent in Nicaragua could not be used to the fullest.

In another move to improve relations between the armies of the United States and Nicaragua, the chief of the US Army Southern Command, Charles Wilhelm, visited Nicaragua in early February. In a formal protocol ceremony in the Nicaraguan Army's General Headquarters, he surprised many of the officers present by opening his speech with these words: "Augusto Sandino wrote in July 1927 that `the man who asks nothing more of his homeland than a little plot of land for his grave, deserves not only to be heard but also to be believed.'"


On various occasions in January, President Alemán announced that a monument to General Augusto C. Sandino will be erected on the edge of Managua. The monument is to include a statue of Sandino that will look toward the Segovias because, as Alemán explained, that was where Sandino defended national sovereignty. Alemán declared himself "Sandinista" in his respect for Sandino, whom he said he admires for his "nationalism." Not a single FSLN leader has made any comment about this project or Alemán's declarations.
The Sandinista government raised several statues of Sandino as well, shortly before leaving office. The most prominent is a black metal cutout of his famous profile, designed by Ernesto Cardenal, that stands atop the Tiscapa hill in the center of town, on the grounds of what was once Somoza's notorious "bunker." It can be seen there, watching over the city, from many parts of town.


On November 20, the 50th anniversary of the founding of Managua's national baseball stadium, President Alemán issued a decree changing the stadium's name. Since 1979, it had carried the name of Rigoberto López Pérez, the young member of the Independent Liberal party who assassinated Anastasio Somoza García, the first of the three Somoza family dictators, in León in 1956. The stadium will now be officially named for the famous Nicaraguan-US Major Leagues pitcher, Denis Martínez.

The name change was rejected by a segment of the citizenry that considers López Pérez a "national hero." Many also argue that Martínez, though part of the nation's sports pride, is still alive and, as a nationalized US citizen, has made the United States his true homeland.


A huge scandal erupted at the end of December when the National Police discovered over 150 acres "officially" planted with cáñamo—hemp—but actually planted with cannabis sativa—marijuana—on a farm in Sabana Grande, near Managua. The farm's owner, a Canadian company with a Nicaraguan partner, had all the authorization and endorsements required from the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry (MAG-FOR) for what they described as a pilot project to grow hemp for industrial purposes. The plantation was the largest marijuana crop ever discovered in the country. One MAG-FOR official was removed, two others resigned and one got off with a warning, while out of the eight owners of the farm, one Canadian is currently in jail while six other Canadians and a Nicaraguan are at large. This confusing case, in which other sectors of national political life seem to have been involved, is now in the hands of the courts.


Meanwhile, First Police Commissioner Franco Montealegre, summing up the year's activities for the National Police (PN), reported that, even though the PN is working with extremely limited resources, it managed to keep the increase in the country's crime rate, which has been sharp in recent years, down to a relatively modest 13-15%. Drug-related crimes have been the most worrying: they grew 70% in 1998. The PN broke drug-confiscation records last year when it discovered 4,749 kilos of cocaine, 128,000 marijuana plants and 21,000 stones of crack at various points around the country.
Montealegre stressed that, despite all attempts, "international organized crime has been unable to consolidate in Nicaragua." On February 4, the PN detained former Honduran Army colonel Wilfredo Leva Cabrera, now an organized crime and drug trafficking boss in his country. He was turned over to Honduran authorities.


After "several weeks of meditation," Minister of the Family Humberto Belli resigned his new post on January 9. Noticeably annoyed, Belli gave two reasons for his decision: the skimpy budget for his new super-ministry, created late last year by combining the Institute of the Family and the Nicaraguan Women's Institute, and his profound disagreements with José Antonio Alvarado, the man who replaced him as Minister of Education.
Belli headed the Ministry of Education from 1990 until last year, the only minister appointed during the Chamorro government who was ratified in his post when Arnoldo Alemán took office in 1997. In the last five of those years he promoted his school autonomy project, which he accuses Alvarado, whom President Alemán is grooming as his successor, of dismantling. He strongly criticized Alvarado for using his post at the head of the other new super-ministry, which includes education, sports and culture, to push a "political agenda" in the PLC's favor and position himself to run for the presidency. This, Belli suggested, explains the changes and new appointments that Alvarado has been making in the ministry.


On January 19, Inversiones Iberoamericanas, a corporation of the US-headquartered Hamilton Bank, acquired 51% of the stock of the state-owned Banco Nicaragüense de Industria y Comercio (BANIC). To the surprise of many, it paid more than US$11.5 million for the 36,000 shares, well above the base price of just over $6 million. Five private banks participated in the bidding: three of them foreign (Banco Cuscatlán of El Salvador and Banco del Istmo of Panama, in addition to the winner) and two national (BANPRO and BANEXPO). The state, which promoted this "capitalization" of BANIC, is thinking of also selling the 49% of the stock that it still holds.

A few days after the sale was announced, Conservative Party leader and National Assembly representative Noel Vidaurre, a self-styled corruption watchdog, claimed that there had been irregularities in the sale of the shares. He says that a group of high-level government officials used Hamilton as a front to gain ownership control of BANIC.


Using the emergency provoked by Hurricane Mitch as its justification, the executive branch began the new year without having gotten legislative approval for its general budget before December 15, as required by the Constitution. On December 7 a group of FSLN legislators joined the Liberal bench to approve a provisional budget bill prepared by the executive, which opposition representatives from the Conservative Party viewed as tantamount to giving President Alemán a "blank check." And he used it. Even without a budget, Alemán decreed a $1,000 raise for the National Assembly representatives and almost double that for the ministers. The President also raised his own $10,000 salary base by $3,000, even though it was already 174 times higher than that of a primary school teacher. The increases sparked criticism from all sectors of society.


While central government officials enjoy their windfall, the Association of Municipalities of Nicaragua (AMUNIC) announced yet again at the end of January that it is worried because the central government "is stripping the municipal governments little by little of their only source of income, which is taxes." AMUNIC warned that the municipalities' financial autonomy is in danger, and that this autonomy is the local base of democracy and thus of the country's governability.


President Alemán announced that what has been named the "John Paul II Plaza of Faith" will begin construction imminently at the edge of the lake on the east side of Managua's Rubén Darío National Theater. It will be the largest plaza in Central America, covering 27,000 square meters, with a 40-meter-high obelisk on a marble base standing in its center.

The plaza, at an estimated cost of US$4 million, will be jointly financed by the central government, Managua's municipal government and some 50,000 individuals who will get their names etched in the bricks of the plaza in exchange for their economic contributions. Protestant sectors challenged the Catholic character of a plaza built by a constitutionally lay state, but the President made light of the criticism. The new presidential palace is being built nearby, also in the rubble of old pre- earthquake Managua. It will cost some $7 million, which is being donated by the Republic of Taiwan.


Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina visited Nicaragua between December 20 and 22, to formalize Cuba's cancellation of Nicaragua's $50.1 million bilateral debt with his country. He also visited the 18 Cuban doctors who are treating Nicaraguan peasants in El Viejo, Condega, San Juan de Limay, Estelí and Jalapa, all areas devastated by Hurricane Mitch. In addition to meeting with President Alemán and former Presidents Daniel Ortega and Violeta Chamorro, he also met with Cardinal Obando, who got from him a pledge to send 40 doctors more. Cuba also sent Honduras another 123 doctors and Guatemala 136 at the end of December.

In January, Minister of Health Marta McCoy praised the Cuban doctors' effectiveness in controlling dengue, malaria and leptospirosis, and announced that she would ask Cuba to extend their stay for another full year. During his visit, Robaina declared that "at moments such as these, when our Latin American family is being put to the test, we should all grow up and move beyond ideologies, differences of opinion and even the very cold diplomatic rituals." This year, a thousand Central American students, including 300 Nicaraguans, will go to Cuba to study medicine on scholarships provided by the Cuban government.


Representatives of the 38 countries and 12 international organizations that have come together in the campaign called Jubilee 2000 to fight for cancellation of the third world debt in the year 2000 met in Rome on November 15-27, 1998, in their First International Conference. On that occasion, the delegations of Honduras and Nicaragua made the following declaration:
"We express our appreciation to France, Spain, Canada, Austria, Cuba, Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Great Britain and Denmark for pardoning a small part of our countries' bilateral debts in light of the devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch. The joint debts of Honduras and Nicaragua total $10.6 billion and we annually pay over 40% of our national budgets in debt service. In the current catastrophic conditions we cannot continue to earmark so much money to pay the debt. For these reasons, we call on creditor nations and international financial institutions to ask of them the following:
1) Total cancellation of the bilateral debts of Honduras and Nicaragua.

2) Establishment of a broad and definitive pardoning process for the multilateral debts of Honduras and Nicaragua.

3) Creation of a fund for the reconstruction and human development of our countries with the widespread, open and effective participation of the civil societies of Honduras and Nicaragua to assure that these funds get to the neediest.

4)Non-reimbursable aid for the recovery of our populations."


At the end of December 1998, Nicaragua's Comptroller General's Office (CGR) published the results of a study done between March and November among the government institutions of the two Atlantic Autonomous Regions. According to the CGR, the lack of skilled personnel and even of basic personnel, among other problems, has created an "institutional feudalism" that affects the transparent and effective management of state resources. None of the institutions of either the South or North Atlantic Autonomous Regions do any internal controls or audits and almost none keep accounting records or financial statements or have manuals with procedures for any administrative functions, from managing petty cash to preparing budgets.

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