Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 104 | Marzo 1990




Envío team

While the FSLN and UNO transition teams are negotiating the crucial national issues of the Defense Ministry and armed forces, Interior Ministry and contra demobilization, other Nicaraguans are preparing for the transition to a non-revolutionary government with intense legal activity.

Various UNO officials have announced the new government's intention to reform the Constitution (see section on the Constitution at the end of “The Month,” in this issue) and to abolish some laws and pass new ones. UNO’s legal commission is considering overturning the Military Service Law, and revising various laws relating to the economy, the Penal and Civil Codes, the Rent Law and even the Unilateral Divorce Law.

Meanwhile, since the elections, the Sandinista-controlled National Assembly has passed the Law of General Amnesty and National Reconciliation, revised the Civil Service Law and overturned the Media Law. Before April 25, the Assembly will have also passed laws on immunity of elected officials, university autonomy, cooperatives, a revised Labor Code and a Law of Transfer of Homes and Lots.

The most controversial law passed during the transition period is the Law of General Amnesty and National Reconciliation. It grants "full and unconditional amnesty" to both military personnel and civilians who have committed crimes against the public order and internal or external security of the state." The new law also covers "public officials and employees” who, in the course of their “civil or administrative responsibilities,” may have stolen from the state but have not yet been prosecuted.

The amnesty extends from July 19, 1979 to March 13, 1990, the day it was passed by the National Assembly 72 to 6, with two abstentions. While President-elect Chamorro announced that one of her first acts would be to proclaim an amnesty (see her speech in this issue), the UNO coalition has vociferously opposed the new law. UNO was proposing amnesty only for the contras, whereas this law also covers the Sandinista Army and Interior Ministry forces.

FSLN leaders explained the necessity for granting a broader amnesty. "We must avoid political reprisals and block the 'hot heads’” in the UNO political council and the media, stated Assembly president Carlos Núñez. These forces are waging a campaign against public employees, “to discredit the institutions they will take over after April 25, and mask the serious economic, social and political problems they are going to face,” charged Núñez.

Some FSLN members have criticized the aspect of the law that covers employees who may have stolen state property. “I find it offensive as a Sandinista militant and as someone who has honestly administered the city government,” Managua mayor Carlos Carrión Cruz stated. The intention of the law, however, is not to protect delinquent public employees, according to Rafael Solís, who headed the special parliamentary commission that presents the law. “I believe it is fundamental for the revolution, to prevent reprisals, and to prevent Somocistas from accusing those who for ten years have defended this revolution.”

The Law of Civil Service and Administrative Careers, originally approved by the National Assembly in December 1989, was revised following a presidential veto. Citing the need to expand the workers covered and strengthen the rights and guarantees of public employees, President Ortega resubmitted the bill, which was revised and passed by 69 votes and one abstention on March 13.

The revised law covers all state workers, including officials and employees of central and local government administrations, state enterprises, the national education and health care systems and civilian employees of the armed forces. Elected officials, political appointees (e.g., ministers) and active duty military are exempt from protection.

Of particular concern to the thousands of state employees is the possibility of firings based on political affiliation under the new UNO government. The law specifies strict guidelines for dismissal: loss of Nicaraguan nationality, resignation, retirement and disability, conviction of a crime or violations of the disciplinary code. A disciplinary process established by the law protects workers' rights by requiring employee and union representatives on the various committees that process such actions.

The law establishes workers' rights to include job stability, training, promotion, just and respectful treatment, retirement, access to housing programs, union membership, collective bargaining and strikes, indemnification for just cause, loans and social benefits.

At the opening ceremony of the Inter-American Press Society (IPS) on March 6, President Ortega announced that he would present a proposal to the National Assembly to abolish the Media and Social Communication Law passed in April 1989. The announcement was welcomed by the IPS, which has criticized several aspects of Nicaragua’s media laws.

When the media law was passed last year as part of Nicaragua's commitment to reform laws relating to the electoral process, it was well received because it outlawed censorship and limited the penalty for breaking the law to a maximum three-day closure. Critics of the law pointed out two issues: that television remained controlled by the state and that the Interior Ministry, a military body, administered the law. In addition, opposition journalists argued that there should be no media law at all, but only civil laws regarding libel and slander.

During the electoral campaign period, the media law came under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). The CSE used it only once, when it criticized El Nuevo Diario, an independent pro-government newspaper, for consistently identifying UNO with the former Somoza National Guard. El Nuevo Diario argued that the paper was simply stating facts. The CSE sent the paper a letter expressing disapproval and requesting that it stop the practice, but chose not to move beyond the first step in the penalty process of having the paper print the CSE letter. El Nuevo Diario limited (but did not eliminate) its use of “GN-1” (National Guard-UNO).

By abolishing the law, Nicaragua will have the most liberal media regulations of any Central American country. In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the military continues to administer the media law. Punishments for infractions in Guatemala include imprisonment, and Honduras, Costa Rica and El Salvador allow confiscation of materials and offices—none of which were allowed as penalties under the Nicaraguan law.

Abolishing the law also eliminates legislation that promoted, among others, public access, public participation, ethnic rights and women's rights. The law stated that, “Women cannot be used as commercial or sexual objects.” According to El Nuevo Diario, Ortega commented that, “the level of maturity in the media reached over the last ten years of revolution allows us to abolish this legislation.”

Many private radio stations, including Radio Sandino, are owned by the FSLN, but the media law restricted television to state ownership. Private organizations and individuals are now free to solicit their own television stations. It is assumed that the FSLN will file an application for a channel, and Carlos Briceño, producer of UNO television campaign advertising, has reportedly already requested Channel 4. As reported in the January envío, early last year Briceño, in partnership with Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, was seeking funding to the tune of $10 million for start-up costs of a television station.

A rush to legalize housing and land titles and the spontaneous seizures of vacant lots are a sign of uncertainty following the UNO election victory. Over the past ten years, the Sandinista government has distributed vacant or confiscated houses to thousands of families and transformed others into childcare centers and clinics. In many cases, only the right of occupancy was awarded, and in others, ownership titles were never transferred. The government also awarded plots of land to thousands of families who hold titles to their houses but do not officially own the land they are on.

Now, with UNO members making statements about “retrieving” confiscated and abandoned property, families seeking to legalize their property are swamping municipal deed offices. The National Assembly is discussing a Law of Transfer of Housing and Lots that would protect the rights of persons living in state-owned housing or on state-owned land.

Despite the Sandinistas’ efforts to make available affordable housing, there remains a critical shortage of homes, especially in Managua. Thousands of city residents, living in overcrowded conditions with relatives, are taking over vacant land. On March 1, a thousand families staked out claims in a large vacant area of municipal land in eastern Managua, near the Iván Montenegro market. The mayor's office had planned to build a youth recreation center on the site, and informed the families that this new settlement should be considered temporary. A city official suggested that these families may be relocated to other land, but he assured them that “no one will be removed until we, together, decide differently.” The families have formed a commission to perform a census to facilitate equitable division of the land.

In western Managua, 60 families seized a plot near the US Embassy, formed a commission and divided the land into plots of 15 x 3O meters. Following a third takeover on March 13, in central Managua, the mayor's office urged citizens not to seize more land. Meanwhile, each day new stakes, scraps of wood, metal and cinder blocks appear, as occupants piece together their homes. As one woman explained, “We’re going to have a new government that does not represent the interests of the poor, so we're looking for a way to secure a little bit of land now.”

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A Vote for Peace—Will It Come?

Election Data

Atlantic Coast: What Fate Autonomy?

Grassroots Power: Defending the Revolution


After the Poll Wars—Explaining the Upset

“Strengthening the Revolutionary Process”

National Reconciliation of the Nicaraguan Family

Governing From Below

The University is Shaped by the Revolution
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