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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 217 | Agosto 1999
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Nitlápan-Envío team

ALEMÁN FIDDLES WHILE VOLCANOS BURN

A string of some 200 tremors, the strongest reaching 4.7 degrees on the Richter Scale, was recorded in northwest Nicaragua starting on August 4. The alarm this created in the country was further heightened the next day, when the hyperactive Cerro Negro volcano near León erupted yet again, opening two new craters in its base. In the ensuing days the Telica Volcano also erupted and tremors in the vicinity of the Momotombo Volcano tumbled several of the flimsy houses that had been thrown up for Mitch victims nearby. This activity along Nicaragua's volcanic chain forced the evacuation of hundreds of people to various refugee centers. The destruction of their crops from volcanic ash and gas also augured the need for more food aid in the coming months.

On October 6, in the very midst of this crisis, President Alemán flew off to Miami to formally ask for the hand of María Fernanda Flores, a 30-year-old Nicaraguan teacher who has lived there since the early 1980s. The couple will be wed at the end of October. Virtually all his Cabinet ministers and other top officials also flew up to celebrate the betrothal. Among the 350 guests at the engagement party at a luxurious Miami hotel the next night was Jorge Mas, son and heir of Jorge Mas Canosa, the deceased millionaire businessmen and founder of the anti-Castro National Cuban-American Foundation. In stark contrast to the plight of the volcano evacuees, local newspapers reported that guests at the party were treated to such delicacies as shrimps sautéed in brandy and salmon in a champagne sauce.

Cristiana Chamorro, a La Prensa editorialist and daughter of former President Violeta Chamorro, pegged the dilemma facing the new First Lady perfectly. “María Fernanda has two alternatives,” she said, “either subordinate herself to an excessively machista style of government, of sprees, family-state-party confusion, disorder, flowing liquor, servility, business deals and excesses…or she can stamp a personal seal on her position.” Chamorro linked the latter option to “bringing an air of renovation, youth, seriousness and order” into a government that reflects a “political system run into the ground, in part, by excessive masculinity.”

LET THEM EAT DUST

It was learned in mid-July that President Alemán had entangled himself in a conflict with the directors of an $11 million European Union housing project. The project was designed to build 800 new houses in two sections of Managua and repair another 500, which will then be assigned to teachers, health workers and police officers at modest monthly payments. President Alemán triggered the opposition of the European project directors by claiming the first 14 houses for a group of his buddies, thus violating the project's terms of reference.

Waving a banner of national sovereignty, the President personally ordered the project cancelled. He bombastically claimed that the Nicaraguan people would rather “eat dust” than see their sovereignty trampled. The European Union's ambassadors in Managua at first referred to the incident as a “sad episode” caused by the attempt to violate the project's “operational autonomy.” In a communiqué at the end of July, after repeated government declarations reeking of nationalist rhetoric, the diplomats termed the episode “very serious” and registered their “collective disappointment” with the official attitude. In mid- August, however, the decision was taken to reinstate the project, following diplomatic juggling by the European representatives in bilateral talks with the government.

”VOLUNTARY” REJECTION OF COSTA RICA?

The ongoing Nicaragua-Costa Rica crisis worsened over the course of July, following the eviction in late June of 33 Nicaraguans who lived in a miserable squatter settlement in San José and their expulsion from the country a few days later. The Costa Rican government next announced that the migratory amnesty it had granted to Central Americans as a result of the Hurricane Mitch tragedy would end on July 30. From then on all undocumented immigrants would be deported. The government's declarations were accompanied by official pressure on Nicaragua to pay up its $445 million debt with the neighboring country.

Some 800,000 Nicaraguans, nearly a fifth of the country's total population, work legally or illegally in Costa Rica, and it was calculated that about 150,000 of them, virtually one family member in every four Nicaraguan households, would be deported following the deadline for not having their papers in order. Nonetheless, only some 1,800 Nicaraguans returned from Costa Rica in the first days of August, and not officially as deportees. They were termed self-deportees, a judicial category calculatedly invented by the Costa Rican government to indicate “voluntary rejection.” This “rejection” begins with persecution and capture, and is followed by an act in which the detained immigrants fill out and sign a form stating that no one is expelling them and they are leaving the country of their own free will.

NEW HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) presented its new Human Development Report in Managua in the first days of August. Nicaragua, which ranked 126th out of the 174 countries analyzed last year, moved up a few notches to 121st place in 1999. This indicates a slight improvement in some of the UNDP's living condition indicators, but they remain drastic. Nicaragua is still classified as the poorest nation of Central America and the second poorest in all of the Americas. According to the annual report, which the UNDP has been publishing for the past decade, 12.4% of Nicaraguans will not make it beyond 40 years of age, 46% of the nation's children will not get past the fourth grade, and 43% of the population is limited to an income of a dollar a day. This year's report offers an in-depth and very critical analysis of the globalization phenomenon, in sum because “the way in which it has been manifested has excluded the developing countries, and has brought marginalization, opulence, uncontrollable capital, aggressive markets and consumption patterns that are alien to their cultures.”

ABORTION CONTROVERSY ERUPTING

Nicaragua is feeling the first tremors of what promises to be an intense controversy over abortion. It is being triggered by proposals to liberalize the country's extremely rigid abortion legislation in the context of a new Penal Code reform bill. In an effort to forestall this, Archbishop of Managua Cardinal Obando y Bravo stated in no uncertain terms that the Catholic Church is opposed to abortion, “even if the pregnancy is a product of rape or the fetus has congenital defects.” He insisted that “we do not distinguish whether the woman has been raped or not. Abortion is not permitted under any circumstance.”
For its part, the Nicaraguan Women's Movement, made up of the Network of Women Against Violence, the Women's Health Network and the National Feminist Committee, launched a campaign to lift the sanctions on therapeutic abortions and post-rape abortion. So far the Penal Code reform draft only proposes permitting abortion in the first 12 weeks of gestation if the woman has been raped and can prove that the abuse was filed judicially. The Women's Movement will also propose that the Penal Code recognize rape, incest and intra-family violence as crimes.

CASE CLOSED ON NARCOJET SCANDAL

On August 4, the Office of Attorney General, which answers directly to the executive office, closed the controversial and embarrassing narcojet case. The scandal, which broke in April 1998, involved a group of top government officials, President Alemán among them, in a series of illegal activities including drug trafficking. The attorney general ordered that the luxury executive jet be returned to the US company from which it had been stolen before being brought illegally into Nicaragua. In the end no one will be convicted for any of the long list of crimes associated with this unprecedented case. The most visible unresolved crimes include plane theft; falsification of documents to register the jet, which was used for official presidential flights; customs and tax fraud; illegal and unregistered flights out of the country; and even drug trafficking. A Salvadoran specialist who claimed to have found trace evidence of cocaine throughout the cabin was later mysteriously killed. A subsequent examination of the plane by US experts predictably revealed nothing amiss.

THE ZOILAMÉRICA CASE “REMAINS OPEN”

On the 20th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, and in an atmosphere charged with the FSLN-PLC pact, Daniel Ortega's former stepdaughter Zoilamérica Narváez released a written statement titled “With or Without the Pact, the Case Remains Open.” The statement reaffirms the determination of this 31-year-old woman who rocked the nation in March last year by accusing Ortega of having sexually abused her for nearly 20 years. “Although many believe that the pact means the burial of my case, I want to tell them that my struggle for justice and to reveal the truth will not go away. Though there may be unavowable reasons for closing the case now, there is no judicial reason for not reopening it when the time and conditions are ripe. The case will remain, accompanying Daniel Ortega's political dossier.”
She also linked her case politically to the pact itself. “I think that if many of those who today are concerned about the pact had earlier concerned themselves, with the same intensity, with clearing up the facts I spoke of, which would have proven Daniel Ortega's responsibility for a crime of prolonged sexual abuse and abuse of power, perhaps the FSLN would not have ended up where it is now, betraying the principles of the revolution, violating Sandinismo, deceiving the public and becoming an accomplice of the most corrupt government in our country's history.”

SNIFFING GLUE OUTLAWED

A Ministry of Health resolution issued in mid-July prohibits the import, export, distribution, sale and handling of Toluene, a solvent used to fabricate a glue employed in shoemaking and other small-scale manufacturing. The health ministry pledged to exercise control over the buying and selling of the substance. The concentration of Toluene in the human body cases severe damage to the nervous system and can prove fatal.
In addition to the dangers for those who work with the solvent, the glue itself is intentionally inhaled by some 5,000 Nicaraguan children, many of whom start at a very early age. Because it is cheap and easy to acquire, “glue” is the most popular and widespread drug among Nicaragua's poor, particularly the young.

In the view of many analysts, the prohibition is unlikely to curtail its distribution. It may in fact do little more than create an uncontrollable black market for this substance, which would drive up both the price and economic street crime.

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