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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 218 | Septiembre 1999
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Nitlápan-Envío team

LEGISLATOR MURDERED BY A MINOR

Rancher José Cuadra, the Conservative Party of Nicaragua's representative in the National Assembly, was shot to death in a vehicle near his farm in Rancho Grande, Matagalpa, on August 18. His driver and a PCN youth leader were with him at the time. A young worker on Cuadra's farm coldly confessed to having shot him, and four other youths were later detained as accessories in the murder. The victim was not robbed, and the motive behind the killing was not made clear.
Cuadra was recognized as an honest legislator and was a strong opponent of both the National Assembly's Liberal politics and the PLC-FSLN pact. His alternate in the Assembly, originally a Conservative, began siding with Alemán's Liberals some months ago. Among other political results of the crime, then, was one vote more for the Liberal side and one less for the opposition. The crime unleashed intense controversy over Nicaragua's new Code on Children and Adolescents, which stipulates a maximum sentence of 6 years for minors, even in the case of murder. (The maximum sentence for adults is 30 years, established when the revolutionary government, in one of its first judicial actions in 1979, abolished the death penalty; it has never been reinstated despite occasional clamor to do so following particularly heinous crimes). Legislators, social sectors and the media immediately proposed reforming the code on the grounds of the notable increase in citizen's insecurity, especially in rural areas, where many youths use weapons as a vestige of the war of the 1980s, or, worse yet, are hired by adults to use them. They also argued that juvenile crime is on the rise and that the code's laxity, especially regarding the classification of certain crimes, the minimum age for imprisonment, and sentences calling for severe penalties, is generating impunity among adolescents under 18 years old.

Those who defend the code oppose any reform, claiming it is “an easy way out of a complex problem.” They propose instead full and judicious application of the code in its current form. They cite the lack of job opportunities for young people—who make up 52% of Nicaragua's total population—and note that, according to police records, minors commit only 17% of all crimes. President Alemán joined in the controversy, coming out in favor of the reforms. He said the code was not in tune with Nicaragua's reality and had been “imposed” by international nongovernmental organizations.

FIRST LADY LAUDED

The Liberal legislators on the National Assembly board decided to decorate María Dolores Alemán, the President's eldest daughter, with the maximum level of the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Order. She will step down from her role as First Lady on October 20, the date of her father's upcoming marriage. The Liberals justified the decoration as an “incentive” for the young woman's “great social sentiment,” since she has promoted various beneficial works of charity. The order was instituted as the “maximum distinction that the National Assembly can bestow on Heads of State and Government and on personalities who have distinguished themselves for their struggle in defense of democracy and public freedoms or who have provided relevant services to the country and to humanity.” Various sectors criticized the award as one more sign of Somocista-style servility.

PASTORAL LETTER: SAME OLD SAME-OLD

Nicaragua's eight Catholic bishops published a pastoral letter on August 15 in which they make another extensive and crude assessment of the ills the country is suffering, similar to previous writings. The bishops made the following allusion to the PLC-FSLN pact: “The dialogue should be sincere and frank, free of hidden agendas and self- serving covenants. Dialogue in the political camp must seek to protect the nation's interests and guarantee democracy. It should never be conducted behind the backs of the people or with populist motivations that only create false expectations that can cause frustrations in the future.”
The letter makes no reference to the corruption charges besieging the current government. It only speaks of the “sins” of “the corrupt” of “past decades,” which have yet to be “confessed or redeemed.”

NEW COSEP PRESIDENT

Roberto Terán, holder of the Kodak franchise in Nicaragua among other business interests, was elected the new president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) on September 6. It is a one-year term, with the right to reelection. As a candidate, Terán declared that his goal is to help the business chambers that make up COSEP gain more “independence” and greater political influence. In his first declarations, he avoided mention of the PLC-FSLN pact, though he did chart a political course for the umbrella organization: “Although we may be an apolitical association, we need to take positions on policies that affect the nation. Rice and fuel prices cannot keep going up day after day. Our operating costs get more expensive every day. We aren't even competitive with Honduras. These rising costs must stop. We have to define clear rules. There's no compassion for the nation and part of my work will be to see that the government becomes more compassionate toward the nation and its people.” Upon taking office, Terán underscored that he is “here to give the private sector a change at the helm,” and pledged to do it “as quickly as possible.”

GOVERNMENT-ESAF-FSLN: WHAT CONSENSUS?

In late August the Alemán government published its Memorandum of Financial and Economic policies in all the country's newspapers. The document analyzes the results of the new structural adjustment agreement (ESAF) after one year (from March 1998 to March 1999) and describes the policies to be implementing over the next two years. In an accompanying letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government refers to the PLC-FSLN pact as follows:
“Implementation of the government program will require broad domestic political support. To this end, the government has been promoting dialogue among leaders of the governing Liberal Party and the opposition Sandinista party, together with their parliamentary allies, aimed at reaching consensus to resolve important political and institutional problems. This consensus will be a tool to facilitate the approval of laws related to components of the program's structural and macroeconomic reforms.”
In his own letter to IMF director Michel Camdessus following the publication, FSLN Secretary General Daniel Ortega contradicted the President's supposition. Ortega declared that the FSLN “cannot endorse” the structural adjustment program and expressed “surprise” at the government's allusion to the pact. “It is true that a negotiation process on institutional political aspects mainly aimed at improving the electoral processes culminated in recent days,” he granted, “but it in no way included laws pertaining to the program's structural and macroeconomic reforms, whose content we are only learning about with publication of the aforementioned Memorandum.”

OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATES

Some eight thousand people marched through the streets of Managua on September 9 in opposition to the government's economic policies, which are responsible for continual price hikes for public utilities and bus fares and a constant rise in the general cost of living. During the march, Managua's residents were urged to join an organized civil disobedience movement aimed at refusing to pay for the services.

The demonstration was called by the Communal Movement, a national organization with its own leaders and social projects throughout the country. Originally an FSLN offshoot, the Communal Movement is today striving to be a broad-based, autonomous grassroots movement. Non- Sandinista parties and particularly Sandinista sectors critical of the FSLN began joining the call, and adding other demands: NO to government corruption and NO to the FSLN pact with the PLC. Even the FSLN National Directorate joined the call in a last-minute effort to capitalize on the march, which failed. Daniel Ortega was out of the country at the time, and was thus spared having to join—or boycott—the demonstration. The march showed, for the third time this year, that the FSLN structures and leadership no longer have the capacity to either call or impede grassroots demonstrations. Only Sandinistas independent of the party have been able to help mobilize people to struggle for their own interests.

MUSICAL FOUNTAIN FOR THE PRESIDENT

A giant illuminated fountain, 25 meters in diameter, is currently being constructed in front of the old Cathedral of Managua in the Plaza of the Republic (formerly of the Revolution) at an initial cost of $120,000. The fountain will have three levels. With the aid of a sophisticated computerized system, various spouts will send surges of water to varying heights in coordination with musical melodies. The fountain will complement the luxurious presidential palace being built along the north side of the plaza, at a cost of several million dollars donated by the government of Taiwan. Both the palace and the fountain will be inaugurated on December 31, 1999.

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