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  Number 216 | Julio 1999
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Nitlápan-Envío team

COSTA RICAN-NICARAGUAN ENMITY MOUNTS

Early on the morning of June 30, Costa Rican armed forces violently evicted 150 Nicaraguan families (1,500 people, many of them children) from their homes in a squalid settlement south of San José, then pulled down the shacks themselves. The dwellers had supposedly bought the property from a Costa Rican, but he had swindled them, and the resulting property conflict provided the official justification for the eviction.

Two days later, 33 of the Nicaraguans were unjustly deported, having suffered even further degrading treatment. Most members of the group had been living in the country for years and were in the process of obtaining legal residence, a possibility opened by the migratory amnesty the Costa Rican government had offered to undocumented residents who had been in the country for a certain period of time.

The Costa Rican government is using the eviction and the wave of deportations announced immediately afterwards to pressure its Nicaraguan counterpart, which it has also publicly deprecated, to gain advantages in its pretensions to the Nicaraguan-owned Río San Juan, which defines the eastern border between the countries.

The incident provoked a new crisis in the longstanding debate over the river. This time, Costa Rica raised the stakes by announcing that it would submit the issue to international arbitration, while Nicaragua countered by warning that it would take Costa Rica to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for violating the rights of Nicaraguans in that neighbor country, especially the people most recently deported. It is estimated that half a million Nicaraguans work either permanently or seasonally in Costa Rica, legally or illegally. Paradoxically these “poorest of the poor” explain more than any other factor the “stability” of the Alemán government's inequitable economic project, in that they exert no pressure on Nicaragua's high unemployment rates and even send money back to their relatives.

ECONOMIC BLOOPERS

President Alemán made a big deal of announcing that, as of July 11, the Liberal anniversary, the controlled slide of the córdoba-dollar exchange rate would slow from 12% to 9% annually. Caught up in the formality, Alemán lost the thread of his economic explanation. First he confused two quite distinct economic concepts—inflation and devaluation.

To make matters worse, he claimed that reducing the exchange rate “slide”—a nice-sounding euphemism to candy-coat the fact that the movement is almost inevitably downward—would increase Nicaraguans' real salary by nothing less than 25%! He would have trouble even claiming he missed a decimal point and that it should have read 2.5%, since it is hard to see how any córdoba devaluation could increase the buying power of people paid in córdobas.

FINANCIAL SCANDAL FELLS NICARAGUAN BANK

In the middle of June, the Superintendency of Banks intervened the Guatemalan-run BANCOSUR, one of 13 banks in the national private financial system, after accusing it of fraudulent operations to a total of $8 million. The bank had deceitfully been diverting funds to the personal businesses of two of its board members in Guatemala. Both men turned themselves in to the police after spending several days on the run. The judicial unfolding of the case began to reveal a murky and complex interweaving of interests which, given the climate of impunity prevailing in both countries, may never be satisfactorily unraveled.

More Land to the President

It was also revealed at the end of June that GENINSA, President Alemán's family consortium, had bought over 125 acres of land in December from a cooperative in Tola, Rivas. That deal brings the family's total holdings to 3,170 acres in that area alone, which flanks the route of the proposed dry canal. The land was purchased from the cooperative, which was deeply in debt to a state bank, at less than $120 an acre, but its value is expected to skyrocket with the construction of that mega-project. The indictment against Arnoldo Alemán for failing to account to the Office of Comptroller General (CGR) for his continually increasing holdings is still pending, but no date has yet been set for the hearing.

SEXUAL ABUSE AND INCEST

A national forum on sexual abuse and incest, two expressions of intra-family violence that have all the characteristics of an epidemic in Nicaragua, was held in Managua on June 23-4. The forum, which was promoted by the Network of Women against Violence and the coordinating body of NGOs that work with children and adolescents, was preceded by six regional forums around the country. These forums demonstrated the need to provide psychological, legal, scientific and technical information to effectively deal with and prevent the crime of incest and especially to accompany its survivors.

Giaconda Batres, a Costa Rican with 20 years of experience treating survivors and perpetrators, and thus Latin America's top expert on the issue, participated in the forum. Numerous participants, including both Batres and Vilma Núñez Escorcia, director of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), explicitly referred to the emblematic case of Zoilamérica Narváez, who filed suit against her stepfather Daniel Ortega for incest in June 1998. That charge is also still pending, and in the view of many analysts is one factor behind the FSLN's willingness to negotiate a “pact of immunity-impunity” with the PLC.

WAY OF THE CROSS AGAINST POVERTY

On July 2, 1,500 residents of Jalapa and nearby towns, supported by sympathetic sectors from around the country, made a two-day pilgrimage to the city of Ocotal, to call public attention to the misery in which Jalapa's population of some 50,000, 60% of them peasants, now lives. The rich Jalapa valley once enjoyed a flourishing agricultural economy, but times have grown harder since then. The municipality was even a major contra target during the 1980s' war in which they tried to take and hold an exposed triangle of territory that juts up into Honduras. Despite numerous attacks on the town the contras were always repelled, and thus were never able to claim it as “liberated” territory.

The Jalapans, who had recently formed the multi-sectored Movement of Unity against Poverty in Jalapa that sponsored the 76-kilometer pilgrimage, took turns carrying a three-meter-long wooden cross all the way to Ocotal. The movement's main demand to solve the local crisis is financing for rural production.

SHRINKING THE ARMY MORE

As a result of direct negotiations between President Alemán and army chief General Joaquín Cuadra, it was announced at the end of June that the Army of Nicaragua will recruit no more soldiers as of the year 2000 and will not replace those who leave. By so doing, the army calculates that it will reduce its current ranks of 14,000 by 1,500 soldiers.

It was also announced that the army's small naval force will virtually disappear and that the Nicaraguan government will ask the US Southern Command currently based in Panama to assume its tasks, a decision that clearly goes against national sovereignty. According to Defense Minister Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, Jr., the army accounts for 17.5% of all state workers, but its budget only represents 4.4% of public spending. “These figures clearly reveal that soldiers are the worst paid public sector employees,” said Chamorro.

A PLAGUE OF RATS

Routed from their normal habitat and food supply by the copious rains of Hurricane Mitch in October of last year, a plague of huge rats has ravaged various rural regions of Nicaragua, including the Río San Juan in the south, zones of Granada, various areas of central Nicaragua and Waslala and Matagalpa in the north. They have devastated crops and begun bearing down on towns. In one area of Río San Juan alone, some seventy-five thousand rodents were eliminated in a single day.

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