Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 277 | Agosto 2004
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Nitlápan-Envío team

Despite constant news reports of international drug trafficking in Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, neither the military, police nor judicial authorities have been able to crack the impunity with which it operates. According to the defense minister, drug traffickers average a flight a day over the coast, while every week two to three speedboats pass through its waters carrying drugs to the United States, where powerful local mafias control the largest consumer market in the world. In late July, General Javier Carrión, the current head of Nicaragua’s army, acknowledged that international drug trafficking has installed an intelligence network in the coast with state of the art technological infrastructure far superior to that of the army itself.

On July 29, the Army destroyed 333 SAM-7 missiles in response to US insistence, bringing the number so far destroyed to 666. Over a thousand remain in the army arsenals. Three days later, General Carrión traveled to the United States bearing a request for US$80 million in aid from the Pentagon for the purchase of planes, radar and coast guard equipment to battle the drug trafficking. The Pentagon rejected the proposal, arguing a lack of resources.
In mid-June, Liberal and Sandinista legislators presented a joint bill to the National Assembly to create a state Superintendence of Public Services (SISEP) to direct the three public utility regulatory agencies: TELCOR (tele-communications), INE (electricity) and INAA (water). The profit-making provision of two of these services has already been privatized and the third, water, is currently being sold off. The Assembly will be in charge of electing the new institution’s superintendent and deputy superintendent, which are six-year posts protected by immunity and autonomous of the ejective branch in three particularly sensitive areas. This generated inevitable suspicions in both public opinion and the executive branch of a new PLC-FSLN pact regarding the law’s scope and the additional quotas of power these new posts would represent. PLC and FSLN leaders argued that the bill seeks to make these severely criticized regulatory entities truly effective and to optimize their budgets so joint branch offices can be set up in the greatest number of municipalities possible to respond to the continuous consumer complaints. By the beginning of August, the FSLN and PLC began to propose names for the top SISEP posts.

The National Assembly was the scene of a tense debate on July 8 regarding the issue of therapeutic abortion, accepted in Nicaragua’s Penal Code for the past century and a half for cases in which the mother’s life is threatened. Both Catholic and Protestant sectors want it eliminated from the code. The pro-Alemán bench proposed a reform stipulating a 20-year prison sentence for both the woman and those who perform it. Non-therapeutic abortion currently carries a three-year prison sentence, which the FSLN bench wants to increase to eight years. Various women’s organizations propose that any minor pregnant as a result of rape should have the automatic right to a therapeutic abortion. The legislative debate was suspended without reaching any agreement.

Of the 191 member countries in the United Nations, only 17 do not permit therapeutic abortion. According to a pronouncement by the Nicaraguan Gynecology and Obstetrics Society, 95% of its 181 members oppose penalizing therapeutic abortion. The society stresses the value of providing a “legal, scientific and human response” to “conflictive situations” and the “ethical-medical dilemma” its members face on
a daily basis.

Nicaragua is among 22 countries selected by the University of California, Berkeley, to develop a research project that could result in the preparation of a child vaccination to prevent dengue, an unpleasant mosquito-transmitted disease with hemorrhagic strains that can be fatal. The initial phase of the investigation will get underway in August 2004 and will go on until 2007, studying the evolution of the health of 3,500 children. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is contributing US$52 million in financing.
On August 4, the United Nations issued a report by its Human Rights Sub-commission naming former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Alemán among the world’s ten most corrupt political leaders. He shares the list with the likes of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada, the Ukraine’s Pavlo Lazarenko, Haiti’s Jean Claude Duvalier, Indonesia’s Mohamed Suharto, Nigeria’s Sani Abacha and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), the last four of whom, together with Estrada, are now deceased. The list was based on Transparency International data. In Nicaragua, leaders of Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party declared they were not ashamed, but in fact even more stimulated to fight for their leader’s release and thus demonstrate the falsity of the corruption crimes for which he has been found guilty and sentenced—still on appeal—to 20 years in prison.

In mid-June the International Foundation for Global Economic Challenge (FIDEG) presented the results of two investigations carried out with a six-year interval, the first in 1997 and the second in 2003. “After years of research,” announced Sonia Agurto, the research team member who presented the data, “we have confirmed that hope always has a woman’s name and face.” According to the second investigation, single women head 35% of Nicaragua’s households, over a quarter of them grandmothers averaging 60 years old who assume the role largely due to the notable increase of women emigrating in search of work, especially to Costa Rica. Another phenomenon observed in the research is the union of various related families—those of in-laws, cousins, nephews and nieces, etc.—to share the household and living expenses. The trend toward such super-extended family solidarity is observed even more frequently when women head the household.

According to the Nicaraguan Women’s Institute, 51,343 women were attended at its 38 centers in 2003, which means that an average of 140 abused women sought help every day. In the same year, 49,266 charges of domestic violence were filed. According to United Nations data on Nicaragua, 90% of the cases of sexual abuse against women and girls occur in the home and the abusers are fathers and stepfathers in 78% of those cases. Meanwhile, a Health Ministry study of 766 men between the ages of 14 and 44 in Managua, Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas produced revealing information about their sex life. Some 40% demonstrated “lack of knowledge or erroneous information” about reproductive health issues (condom use, HIV/AIDS, female contraceptives, pregnancy and its risks), and 75% said they had never attended any sexual and reproductive health service. A full 34% openly admitted having physically attacked, threatened or humiliated their partner for what they considered to be punishable behavior: dressing in an unacceptable way, leaving the house without permission, visiting friends and not paying enough attention to the children...

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