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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 213 | Abril 1999
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Nitlápan-Envío team

1999 BUDGET APPROVED WITH GLITCHES

The approval of the 1999 General Budget of the Republic was for months a centerpiece of the institutional conflict wracking the country. The legal limit established by the Constitution for the budget's approval was March 31, but this date, already an extension of the normal year-end date, was not met. Among other criticisms made by the Comptroller General's office in mid-March was the warning that the expanding of the budget made to incorporate spending related to the Mitch tragedy does not put a priority on attending to the victims or reconstructing the damaged infrastructure. Rather, it establishes major investments in places that suffered little or no damage. Nonetheless, the National Assembly approved the budget in "general terms" on April 7, shortly before the Ministry of Finances, which is responsible for drawing up the budget, acknowledged an "errata" in it of over a billion córdobas (some $90 million). The rather significant and unusual error unleashed an angry parliamentary controversy, which delayed the final, more detailed approval even further. Finally, a full week later, in a session full of anomalies that degenerated into a tumult, the executive branch managed to get its budget fully approved with very few changes.

THE NARCOJET CASE

In a surprise move, the Penal Bench of the Appeals Court of Managua unconditionally freed on March 26 eight of the nine people indicted in connection with the scandalous "narcojet case." The case centered on a plan stolen in Florida in December 1997, which mysteriously appeared in Nicaragua four months later as a "presidential plane." When the plane was initially inspected, it was found to be significantly contaminated with cocaine particles. A Salvadoran police expert who participated in that inspection was subsequently killed. Seven people were initially accused and jailed, while President Alemán defended and protected the high-level government officials involved in having cleared the bureaucratic path for the plane's entry and semi-clandestine stay in the country. The defense lawyers for those accused succeeded in showing that none of the crimes for which they were accused could be proven under the country's obsolete laws. Upon learning of the judicial decision, President Alemán commented, "This confirms that the accusations of corruption against my government aren't true."

ARMY RETIREMENTS

On March 15, Nicaragua's National Army (EN) announced the retirement of some 200 officers, among them eight top-level commanders, former guerrilla fighters and founders in 1979 of the Sandinista Popular Army. One of those who went into retirement is Colonel Lenín Cerna, former State Security chief in the 1980s and EN Defense and Security Adviser in the 1990s. The EN justified Cerna's retirement in the "imperative of continuing to advance in the professionalization process" of the institution.
The rightwing Permanent Human Rights Commission immediately announced that it would accuse Cerna of hundreds of human rights violations that it has documented in its files. Daniel Ortega reacted by declaring that those who would accuse him "were playing with fire," adding that he would respond for any charge against Cerna. "What they charge him with, they are charging me with," he said.

On April 11, Lenín Cerna announced that he was rejoining the FSLN, which he had resigned from as part of the separation of the Army from political affiliation, explaining that part of his motive was "to help it win the elections in the year 2000 and 2001." Meanwhile, various other retiring top-ranking officers will work in the campaign of current Army chief Joaquín Cuadra, who is expected to run for President in the 2001 elections.

PRESIDENTIAL VETO APPROVED

The National Assembly on March 11 barely upheld President Alemán's veto of the Anti-Drug Law several months earlier. In particular he had vetoed within the law the creation of a commission to investigate the origin of bank account funds that could be related to drug trafficking and money laundering. The commission would have been subjected to the norms of the Superintendency of Banks and its members would be named by the Assembly, all of which the Presidency said would violate banking secrecy. With the veto upheld, it will be the President who directly names the members of commission that will have this same task, but will be located in the Ministry of Government. In the opinion of a number of the 45 legislators who voted to overturn the presidential veto, Nicaragua will thus become a privileged corridor for money laundering.

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