Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 103 | Febrero 1990




The threat of invasion following the US intervention in Panama struck hard at the Nicaraguans living in the populous Pacific coast of Nicaragua. But for those in Matagalpa and Jinotega, traditional areas of contra attacks, the invasion was only one of many threats from US or US-sponsored sources—contra attacks have continued, and even worsened in the new year. Contra violence in 1989 left 572 civilians dead or wounded and 700 kidnapped, according to Defense Ministry statistics. On January 1, contras ambushed a Catholic parish truck on its way to Puerto Cabezas, killing two nuns, one of them Maureen Courtney, a US citizen, and the other Teresa Rosales, a Nicaraguan. Two other passengers were injured, including Paul Schmitz, the auxiliary bishop for the Atlantic Coast and Juana Francisca Colomer, a Nicaraguan nun.

As could be expected, the contras flatly denied the ambush of the church vehicle. Press reports in the United States obliged the contras by publishing their statements and casting doubt on Nicaraguan government allegations. Only a few journalists pointed out the marked difference between US treatment of a murdered soldier in Panama and that of Maureen Courtney.

In addition to the fact that the ambush followed the well-known pattern of other contra ambushes—according to the Defense Ministry the contras set a Claymore mine and followed with gunfire—two campesinos who had been kidnapped by the contras and escaped during the attack came forward to confirm that it was the contras who had killed Courtney and Rosales. Witness for Peace volunteers who traveled to the area of the ambush also interviewed the brother of one of the
kidnapped men, who confirmed both the kidnapping and their escape the night of the ambush.

Despite these independent confirmations of the contras' culpability, US officials have continued their silence, and UNO candidates Violeta Chamorro and Virgilio Godoy have become the chief defenders of the contras. Both condemned the action, but Chamorro noted, "it's difficult for me to imagine who could have committed such a crime." Godoy went so far as to say, "The circumstances surrounding the case indicate that it was the Sandinistas who killed the two nuns." La Prensa insinuated that the Sandinistas might have ambushed the vehicle as a warning to UNO activists—though it did not indicate what relation there might be between the religious workers and UNO activists.

Accusing the Sandinistas of having committed the other recent ambushes would demand even greater distorting, however, because the targets have been Sandinista activists. Just days after the ambush of the church vehicle, contras killed Sandinista activist Tomas Salgado on the outskirts of Jinotega City, and two trucks carrying Sandinista activists in northern Jinotega were ambushed, leaving two dead and five injured. Kidnappings and other isolated incidents continue as well. Witness for Peace documented the kidnapping or killing of ten Sandinista activists in the two-week period following Christmas.

The recent attacks have occurred despite continuing Nicaraguan pressure for contra demobilization, and despite the fact that US Congressional funding is based on no "offensive actions" by the contras. In addition, recent election-related violence has led all political parties to call for a cessation of violence of any kind. Indeed, even the contras, in a little-publicized meeting with the Center for Democracy observer team on December 30 in Miami, agreed to "cooperate fully with the four [sic] international observer groups in providing information needed to investigate thoroughly any and all incidents of violence alleged to have been perpetrated by any of the parties in the Nicaraguan conflict including their own fighters."

The document however, contains no pledge by the contras to refrain from violence, even violence related to the electoral process. The murder of Salgado in Jinotega highlights the danger that the contras now pose to the electoral process. Salgado had just left a meeting of various Sandinista activists when he was attacked and killed. For other Sandinistas in the area, the message is clear. As Witness for Peace recently stated, "the only party in this [electoral] campaign who has activists or supporters either killed,
wounded or kidnapped almost weekly is the FSLN."

Bayardo Arce, vice-coordinator of the FSLN Executive Committee, filed a complaint with the three international observer groups, asserting that the contra attacks are distorting the electoral process and that "the primary form of electoral violence is the military actions of the counterrevolution which intimidate the campesinos, sowing the terror that if they vote for the FSLN they will be dead men and women."

"I think we can say that we have gone beyond the survival stage, and are entering a more stable period which could provide the necessary conditions to begin to think about development." So said Alejandro
Martínez Cuenca, Nicaragua's Planning Minister, in a summary of 1989 economic activity. After 33,000% inflation in 1988 which left Nicaraguans reeling, last year's 1,689% inflation fell within the framework of an acceptable rate, though still above the targeted 500% and still leaving Nicaraguans suffering its effects.

This relatively spectacular achievement was due to three significant actions on the part of the government—tightening credit, limiting the money in circulation and drastically cutting the budget. In a year-end summary analysis of the economic achievements in Barricada, Martínez pointed out that tightening credit paradoxically served to stimulate production. While in 1988 agricultural credit was quite generous, production dropped 8%; a 48% reduction of credit in 1989 resulted in only a 3% drop in production, far less than the 8% predicted. The anti-inflation measures also encourage greater

One of the realities that Nicaraguans continue to face is that inflation for the "basic market basket," those goods most common in the Nicaraguan home, continued to rise at a faster rate than the overall 1,689%. This left most salaried workers with less buying power, despite the more stable overall economy.

Raising salaries within a productive economy is one of the goals for 1990, but this can only be possible if production continues to increase. Many economists estimate that salaries will not see any real recovery until the end of 1990 at the earliest. And even that recovery is not guaranteed. Some areas of the economy suffered significant drops in production due to the anti-inflationary measures, among them the dairy, poultry and pork industries. The measures resulted in a 25% drop in dairy consumption. Government hopes for a 3.3% economic growth rate in 1990 would both improve the dairy industry and increase crucial national food consumption.

One of the biggest obstacles to economic stability has been the US-sponsored contra war; eight years of it has left many structural problems. And although the contras are no longer a viable force, they continue to disrupt the agricultural cycle, especially in the coffee-rich area of Jinotega. Between contra harassment and the severe drop in international coffee prices, coffee, normally responsible for half of Nicaragua's export earnings, may suffer a loss despite greater efficiency.

Those hopes are based on two conditions: increased foreign funding and defense cuts. Foreign funding is expected to increase after the elections based on international confirmation of their legitimacy, and defense cuts are planned in accord with the contra demobilization and subsequent diminished war.
President Daniel Ortega declared 1990 the year of Peace and Reconstruction in his New Year's address. Given the austerity measures taken in 1989 and the controlling of hyperinflation, 1990 could indeed mark the beginnings, if minimal, of an economic reconstruction.

The International Commission of Support and Verification (CIAV), whose task within the Tela Accords was to coordinate contra demobilization by December 5, saw the date come and go without even one contra unit demobilizing. In mid-December, at an emergency summit meeting, the five Central American presidents issued a call to channel all funds for the contras to the CIAV, made up of UN and OAS representatives, for demobilization. The US, as expected, did not comply.

The new year, however, has rung in some good news for the CIAV. On January 5 the State Department announced that $3 million of contra funding would go to the CIAV for its work. While the amount is only a small percentage of what the US should give if it complied with the Central American presidents' demands, and may be no more than a consolation prize, it at least indicates an acknowledgement of the CIAV's existence and potential role in the region.

The second important event for CIAV was the return to Nicaragua of a contra commander with eight other contras. Luís Adán Fley González, alias "Johnson," arrived in Nicaragua on January 8 through the demobilization process of the CIAV. Fley had fought for eight years with the contras and is the first contra leader to participate in CIAV's demobilization process. He himself stated that the CIAV was instrumental
in orchestrating and guaranteeing his return.

In a press conference given soon after his arrival, Fley made clear that he believes his eight years as a contra were worth it. He chose to return now in order to test Sandinista promises of free elections. Given what the Sandinistas have committed themselves to, he said, "the armed struggle should disappear." He added, however, that the contras in Honduras are still waiting for a better "climate of confidence." When asked whether any more guarantees were needed than those Fley himself received from the government, he said no, but that contras in Honduras continue to be skeptical, and that their chief demand is a general amnesty to release all prisoners.

Fley's choice to return to Nicaragua did not result from a change in his political views. He says he supports the rightwing UNO coalition, and continues to spout contra policy—that there are no kidnapped Nicaraguans in Honduras, that there is no corruption in the contra ranks, and that there are 5,000 political prisoners in Nicaragua (a number discounted by international human rights organizations). How he chooses to exercise his political rights in Nicaragua remains to be seen. Under accords signed at las December's summit, any contras returning via CIAV by February 5 may register to vote.

Fley called himself and the eight contras who accompanied him an "exploration patrol." Other contra leaders are watching, he said, and they too will return to Nicaragua via CIAV if the initial process goes well. CIAV, up to now frustrated in its task as coordinator of contra demobilization, may find its work load increasing.

On February 25, Nicaraguan voters will not only choose a president, vice-president and National Assembly representatives, but for the first time will directly elect autonomous municipal governments. Until now, mayors have been appointed by the central government, which also held the purse strings. The July 1988 Municipalities Law provides for the election of town councils which vary in size (Managua: 20; towns of over 20,000: 10; others: 5) to govern for 6-year terms. These councils have responsibility for establishing policy for municipal government and for choosing a mayor from within their own ranks, whom they also have the power to remove.

With the goal of avoiding conflicts among parties which could immobilize local government, the law favors the leading party. In towns of over 20,000, for example, the party with the most votes will automatically receive 5 seats. The other 5 will be divided proportionally among the contending parties, including the largest vote-getter. To assign seats, each party's votes will be divided by the "electoral quotient" (the total
number of voters divided by the number of seats being assigned, 5 in this example). Parties with less than this amount will not receive a seat unless a position remains unassigned, in which case it will go to the party with the next largest number of votes.

Number of voters: 25,000
Electoral quotient (EQ): 5,000: (25,000 divided by 5 seats)
Seats assigned:
Party A: 15,000 votes;
5 seats (for having plurality)
3 seats (15,000 divided by EQ)
Party B: 5,000 votes;
1 seat (5,000 divided by EQ)
Party C: 3,000 votes;
1 seat (for having the next greatest number of votes)
Party D: 1,000 votes; none
Party E: 1,000 votes; none

Opposition candidates for town councils continue to withdraw from the race in increasing numbers. As of January 4, 79 candidates for the US-backed UNO coalition had withdrawn, 14 of whom were substituted before the deadline. In contrast, the FSLN had only five dropouts and all five were replaced. The Social Christian alliance had 35 dropouts, with approximately 20 replaced. On December 1, the other 7 parties combined had 26 dropouts with 12 replaced.

Parties had the option of replacing candidates who resigned before December 1, but since that date resignations have left holes in party election slates. CSE officials have explained to those who have withdrawn since January 4 that their names will still appear on the ballots which have already been printed. Since January 4, over 20 more UNO nominees have declared their unwillingness to serve, bringing the coalition's total to over 100.

CSE president Mariano Fiallos clarified that some of those included in these figures were technically not resigning, but had declined the invitation to run which they had received after lists were sent to the CSE and published. Still, at least some seem to have changed their minds in response to recent events and to a successful FSLN campaign.

In the case of the UNO, a number of those resigning cite the organization's Somocista and contra connections, which have been well-publicized by FSLN media, as their reason for withdrawal. Ronaldo Cruz Báez, a campesino candidate for councilor from Nueva Guinea, resigned on January 11. "I live in the mountains and there I've come to realize that what the contras say is the same thing the UNO candidates say in their speeches and I don't like their politics," he said. Several who withdrew their names in recent days mentioned UNO's failure to condemn the contra ambush which killed two nuns and wounded a priest and another nun. Yet others say they were turned off by corruption, infighting and disorganization within the coalition.

UNO spokespeople dismiss these explanations, claiming candidates have quit because of FSLN threats and intimidation. In Corinto, for example, members of the local UNO political commission claimed Juan Pablo Ruíz resigned under Sandinista pressure. When consulted by envío, Ruíz emphatically denied this, explaining that he quit when his party, the PPSC, withdrew from the UNO coalition in October, in part over the issue of US funding and influence in the campaign.

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