Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 214 | Mayo 1999




Nitlápan-Envío team


The reaction of Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Alemán to the IDESO-envío survey on corruption that appeared in last month's edition of envío—the third we have done—was prompt and huffy. He first vented it during his speech to inaugurate the widened Managua-Masaya highway on April 14, just hours after the team presented the poll results to the public in a meeting at the Central American University (UCA). That same afternoon, the President's office released a communiqué accusing our poll of "manipulation." Erroneously, and without later seeking any information to rectify the error, the presidency attributed the poll to the Dean of the UCA's Communications Department, which has nothing to do with the work done by the IDESO-envío team.


The institutional crisis triggered by President Alemán's initiatives against the Office of Comptroller General took a back seat to last month's violent social-political crisis, at least temporarily. Still, outgoing US Ambassador to Nicaragua Lino Gutiérrez praised the state auditing institution in front of various sectors of Nicaraguan society at a going-away event in mid-April. "In Nicaragua," he said, "a vibrant and professional institution has been established in the Comptroller's Office, which should remain firm in its role as a sentinel against corruption." Gutiérrez also noted that "a consensus against corruption has been developing in Nicaragua."


With the university violence in full swing in the streets, FSLN Secretary General Daniel Ortega visited Cardinal Obando on April 27, seeking his support on the grounds that the cardinal "can help resolve the problems because he runs things." The cardinal disagreed. "I think that Comandante Ortega is the one who is still running things," he said, adding that "the President of the Republic, elected by the people, commands and has power, but Comandante Ortega also commands and has power; he unquestionably has leadership." The cardinal stressed that Alemán and Ortega have "a shared power," and that they should dialogue. The zinger was his suggestion that Ortega is the only who can "stop the violence." President Alemán, irritated at the suggestion that he is not fully in charge of the country, opted to parlay the cardinal's other idea, retorting that the only thing Ortega commands "is the mobs." Hours later, Ortega publicly reiterated that only God can stop what is happening in the country, and exhorted all Nicaraguans to pray to God "to end the violence."


The streets of Managua were not the only stage for violence. On April 29, only hours before the start of the transport strike, a riot broke out among prisoners in the Model Prison in neighboring Tipitapa. It was the most serious in the history of the National Penitentiary System (SPN), created in 1979. The full-scale riot had been preceded by various outbreaks, which began a few months earlier when Liberal civilian William Frech was named director of the SPN. His inexperience and ignorance of penitentiary issues, together with the argument that civilian authority had to be imposed over the authority of experienced and veteran military officers who have worked in the prisons for many years, quickly led to a collapse of the disciplinary system in the jails. This was especially true in the Model Prison, where civilian management has favored impunity among some prisoners, their disobedience toward the officers and the violation of internal regulations. On May 5, over 170 SPN officials resigned in protest over Frech's administration. Their main complaints were the administration's lack of respect for SPN institutionality and its placing party ideology above professionalism. The same behavior has given rise to many of the conflicts in Nicaragua today, and the violence it generates sometimes gets out of control.


After a year without meeting even once, the Sandinista Assembly, supposedly the FSLN's maximum governing body, came together for two days on May 8 and 9 to discuss the FSLN's potential candidates for the municipal elections of October 2000 and how they would be elected. This topic, however, ended up taking a back seat to a debate about other heated issues: the erosion of Daniel Ortega's leadership, the highly controversial pact between the FSLN leadership and the government, the secretiveness about FSLN property holdings, the scant participation of Sandinista activists in calls made by the FSLN structures, the disagreements between the new FSLN currents, etc. Both before and after the meeting critical voices in the FSLN came down hard on the identification being made between Daniel Ortega, the party's secretary general, and the FSLN as a whole. "The FSLN is not the property of Daniel Ortega," seemed to be a motif that underlay nearly all the debates in the Assembly meeting.


The 27-member delegation that will represent Nicaragua at the meeting with the Consultative Group for Central America in Stockholm will be the most numerous of any of the five countries attending. With 35 members, the Nicaraguan delegation was also the largest in the previous Consultative Group meeting, held in Washington in December of last year, just after Hurricane Mitch hit. This time the Inter-American Development Bank, which is promoting the Stockholm meeting, recommended greater austerity on the part of the Nicaraguan government. Costa Rica's delegation includes 5 people and El Salvador's 7. Even the delegation of Honduras, the country hit far hardest by Mitch, is only 20.


The government of Nicaragua officially presented the results of its 1998 Demography and Health Survey on April 26. The survey, carried out with the support of various international organizations, interviewed more than 13,600 women and nearly 3,000 men around the country. Of the women interviewed 22% had received no formal education. While the results revealed among other things that 46% of the adolescent female population (up to 19 years old) is either pregnant or already a mother, the average number of children per woman has reportedly fallen to 3.9, compared to 5.8 in 1995.

The worst news is the stunningly high rate of domestic abuse. One of three women interviewed has suffered sexual abuse or physical mistreatment. Of these, 60% were abused in the presence of their children; 50% never received medical attention, even when they were seriously hurt; and over a third never told anyone what had happened to them. Violence against women is among the long-term problems that a visionary sector of the international community hopes to call attention to in Stockholm.

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