Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 107 | Junio 1990




Envío team

One of the early marks of the Sandinista revolution was the successful distribution of vaccines throughout the country and to all sectors of society. The first post-Sandinista vaccination drive held on Sunday, May 13, in contrast, lacked advertising, volunteers and ultimately, success.

The Sandinista government carried out the vaccination campaigns by encouraging all parents to vaccinate their young children on certain weekends. Huge publicity preceded each campaign, so that everyone knew the day and location of the vaccinations. Each neighborhood set up a health post where volunteer nurses stood ready to vaccinate, and neighborhood youths went from house to house looking for young children and explaining the importance of this health measure. The weekend often became a social event, with neighbors donating money and food for the volunteer health workers.

The initial results of the nationwide vaccination in the early 1980's were impressive: polio was virtually eradicated and measles, diphtheria and other childhood diseases were dramatically reduced. The US-sponsored war frustrated the vaccination program, however; contras killed vaccination volunteers in the mountains, told peasants that the vaccines would inject “communism" in their children and eventually succeeded in cutting off whole areas from vaccination. Measles, which had been controlled for three years, reappeared in epidemic levels in the isolated Waslala area in 1986.

In many Managua neighborhoods, vaccination days had been implemented over the years primarily by Sandinista supporters involved in local neighborhood organizations. In Managua's Centroamerica neighborhood, traditionally pro-Sandinista, the neighborhood committee continued working with the vaccination drive this year, contributing to its success there.

In addition, the mayor's office and many government ministries not directly related to health, such as the Agrarian Reform Institute, helped out with vehicles and other aid in the past. This year, Managua's mayor, Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo, claimed that the departing Sandinistas had absconded with all the vehicles and none would be available for the campaign. The army, however, offered both volunteers and vehicles, covering 63% of the vehicle needs.

A bright spot in the midst of the poor participation rate of new government officials was the active participation of UNO Health Minister Dr. Ernesto Salmerón and a number of his deputy ministers. According to Barricada , the pro-Sandinista paper, Dr. Salmerón spent all day Sunday going from clinic to clinic in Managua to observe the vaccinations. Indeed, in an impassioned speech at a press conference the week before the vaccination drive, Dr. Salmerón implored participation, stating, “Don't forget that it's not only rich UNO kids who get these diseases. It's the poor children too."

Nonetheless, between slim propaganda and the unwilllingness of other government organizations to help in the campaign, many health posts did not even open, and in those that did, attendance was distressingly low. The low attendance was due to the lack of volunteers going door to door to remind parents about the vaccinations. This grassroots education method has always been a crucial part of the campaign to teach parents the importance of vaccinations. Sandinista vaccination drives also suffered when volunteers did not turn out.

Despite Dr. Salmerón’s public comments, initial data from the drive in Managua suggests that in some of the poorer neighborhoods less than 50% of the children were vaccinated. Rural data is not yet available. The implications for the future health of Nicaragua's children is more than worrisome: the return of polio and an increase of measles and other presentable diseases which, given low nutritional levels, are often fatal to Nicaraguan children.

Just days after May's vaccination drive, newspapers reported an alarming increase in measles cases in the highly populated Managua area. The Health Ministry is now urging parents to vaccinate their children, especially since the measles vaccine is effective as soon as 24 hours after being administered. Many of the children currently suffering from measles have never been vaccinated, either under the Sandinistas or under the new administration.

Interestingly, The New York Times of May 22 pointed out that in 1989 there were 17,000 cases of measles in the US, compared to 2,000 in 1983. According to the Times , “the US is failing a basic test of civilized societies, the provision of adequate health care for all its citizens.” As the editorial points out, with public health funds cut, many poor parents can't afford to pay $50 for the vaccine.

Before February's elections, Nicaragua's Parents of Disabled Children Association (Los Pipitos) was facing the daunting project of raising $25,000 to buy the building they have rented and remodeled over the last three years. After the elections, the building’s owner, Carlos José Estrada Solórzano, informed them the price had risen to $90,000. "There is no way we can afford even $25,000,” director Roberto Leal told Barricada .

Los Pipitos was founded three years ago by CDS head and Sandinista leader Omar Cabezas, the father of Downs' Syndrome twins, to address the problem of the estimated 200,000 mentally and physically disabled children in Nicaragua. To date, 2,400 families participate in Pipito programs, which include medical and psychological treatment as well as parent training in areas such as nutrition. In addition, the Pipitos have been a central force in increasing Nicaraguans' awareness of the plight of disabled children and the possibilities for rehabilitation and improved lives.

Opposition to Estrada's hard-line position, which will almost surely force Los Pipitos to abandon the building, ranges from medical students to La Prensa . La Prensa generally supports attempts by former owners to regain their confiscated homes or land, but in this situation, where Los Pipitos have paid rent for three years and now are faced with such an outrageous sale price, even La Prensa has joined the wave of social consciousness.

Los Pipitos wants to stay in its current location given the extensive remodeling it has done, so is calling on all Nicaraguans to give what they can in an attempt to raise the necessary $90,000. Their normal operational expenses come from international solidarity and fund raisers.

Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo has not wasted any time in making clear that he plans to be a mayor in the best Somoza form. At his inauguration, which took place at a local restaurant much frequented by UNO types, he blasted former Sandinista mayor Carlos Carrión, accusing him of mismanagement and sacking of the offices. Carrión, who now serves on the Managua Municipal Council, has filed a libel charge against Alemán.

One of Aleman's first actions after taking office was to announce an inauguration party—to be held at the Intercontinental Hotel pool, at a cost of $8,000, with rightwing Cuban Americans as the special guests. The gala was all it was advertised to be—a gathering of UNO’s most extreme right wing, including contra leaders Aristides Sánchez and Adolfo Calero as well as most of UNO's Political Council. Vice President Virgilio Godoy showed up, but Violeta Chamorro and her Cabinet were noticeably absent.

Over 100 Cuban-Americans flew in from Miami for Alemán's party, under the auspices of the Nicaragua-Cuba Committee to Support Nicaragua. Among them were Miami mayor Javier Suárez and two other Florida mayors. The Cubans were ebullient in their praise of the “New Nicaragua” and promised economic aid and sister city relationships. The Ccmmittee brought ten tons of medical supplies to Managua as well as one ton for the contras—remembering their friends.

Barricada showed the vivid contrast between the new lushness of Managua's mayor and the situation of its citizens in the Monday edition, with a picture of the party juxtaposing that of a homeless man sleeping against the wall of the hotel.

The Cuban-Americans' visit and offer of medical and economic aid have been echoed by other rightwing groups, among them Friends of the Americas, which has brought a mobile health unit for one month to dispense medicine in poor neighborhoods. While all economic aid is welcome, voices have begun to be heard asking what the cost of the Cuban-Americans’ support will be and what aims the Friends of the Americas have. Indeed, one of the Cuban visitors was quoted as saying that he looked forward to using Nicaragua as a “trampoline” to help bring down Fidel Castro.

US President Bush has named Harry Schlaudeman, former special envoy to Central America, to be his new ambassador to Nicaragua. He was chosen over Melissa Wells, current ambassador to Mozambique, who had been mentioned in part because, as a woman, she might relate well to Violeta Chamorro. Schlaudeman's choice over Wells indicates that the Bush Administration may be more concerned about the US Embassy’s ability to control the new Chamorro government than to work with it.

Schlaudeman served as special envoy to Nicaragua during the transition period after the February elections, and also traveled to Honduras to speak with the contra leadership during that time. Named in 1984 as Special Envoy to Central America, Schlaudeman made numerous trips over the next four years to all Central American countries except Nicaragua. In 1984 he was the US representative at the bilateral talks between the US and Sandinista government in Manzanillo, Mexico, which ended when the US broke off negotiations. Schlaudeman is former ambassador to Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Venezuela. He also served in the Political Section in the Dominican Republic in 1963 when democratically-elected Juan Bosch was ousted by the military. During the Ford administration, Schlaudeman served as an adviser to the Kissinger Commission and advocated military victory against, rather than negotiated settlement with, leftist insurgents. In his dealings with Central America over the last ten years, Schlaudeman has consistently represented Reagan’s hard line.

The Chamorro government has received a proposal from Nicaraguan salesmen in Miami to dispose of 230,000 metric tons of toxic ash monthly from Philadelphia's city garbage incinerators. In return, the Miami-based intermediaries, who claimed they were interested in helping their country, said that the six-year project would include $14.4 million annually plus all the heavy machinery and equipment necessary to transport the ash and use it to build a highway between Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas. The ash, which according to EPA studies carried out in the US does "not present a health risk," would be used as landfill material upon which the asphalt would be poured. The new jobs created by the project, says the proposal, would be of great benefit to Nicaragua. Only 5% of the $14.4 million would actually go to Nicaragua, however; the rest would be taken almost entirely by the US intermediaries and lawyers.

The toxic ash is produced by the incineration of Philadelphia's solid waste at temperatures between 1,400 and 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The end product contains dioxin and heavy metals such as aluminum, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc. Laboratory tests from Villanova University and Lancaster Laboratories, among others included with the proposal, show levels of toxicity to be "acceptable,” but Kamilo Lara from Nicaragua's Association of Biologists and Ecologists (ABEN) says contradictory studies show that even trace quantities, especially of the carcinogenic chemical dioxin, can bring disaster. A US Center for Disease Control study states, “Given the values [presented from the studies], ...we do not feel that a significant health threat will be posed by the dioxin.” But the concluding, qualifying sentence takes on additional significance in a third world country with little practice in sanitary landfills, let alone toxic waste disposal: “This assumes that the usual compaction and cover practices at the sanitary landfill are maintained.”

Lara reports that neither dioxin nor heavy metals degrade over time. On the contrary, in aquatic ecosystems, they accumulate in the water and are, therefore, increasingly concentrated at each successive level of the food chain. One plankton, for example, may contain only trace quantities of mercury. But a fish that eats thousands of plankton will accumulate all that mercury in its system, and so on. At the highest rung of the food chain, of course, are humans. (It seems almost seditious that the intermediaries' proposal includes the suggestion that this toxic waste may be used in the future—after being “mixed with other substances”—as agricultural fertilizer.)

While the Miami-based Nicaraguans chose the Atlantic Coast for the convenience of its port at Puerto Cabezas, there could not be a better location for disaster. The Coast's annual rainfall rate, between 2,000 and 4,000 mm, would cause rapid disintegration of the ash, washing it into the rivers and, eventually, the entire water system, contaminating the region's flora and fauna.

Lara gave the following rundown of just some of the health risks for humans. Aluminum causes gastrointestinal problems and rickets. Arsenic, at very low doses, causes delirium, coma and death, chromium causes dermatitis, ulcers in the hands and inflammation of the liver while copper, ingested, causes hardening of the arteries and hemolytic anemia. Excessive and prolonged lead exposure causes renal failure, weakness of the extensor muscles and alteration of the central nervous system; in children, it can cause learning disabilities and chromosomal transformations; in men, it can cause the formation of abnormal sperm and, therefore, genetic damage. Mercury is neurotoxic and can cause loss of hearing and smell and mental deterioration. Zinc can cause stomach spasms, diarrhea, fever and vomiting.

Toxic waste dumping in the Third World has become a common US practice as citizens have become more conscious of environmental health risks to themselves and refuse to allow toxic waste dumps in their own backyards. US companies and government agencies rightly expect less protest from friendly third world governments desperate for dollars. Outcry from citizens of those countries, if they ever even hear about the deal, is less common and less of a problem for the US. Greenpeace international, which helped ABEN find the information necessary to closely examine this Nicaraguan proposal, is at the forefront of the international campaign to stop toxic waste dumping in the Third World.

The new government has not set a toxic waste policy and has not yet responded to this proposal. ABEN recently met with presidential representatives and strongly recommended that it be rejected, as a similar proposal was last year by the Sandinista government. If it is not, UNO can expect an all-out attack by both the professional association, ABEN, and the grassroots environmental movement, MAN.

The rightwing Washington Times (April 25) cites Bush Administration officials in reporting that Israel's intelligence service, Mossad, has been asked to reorganize one foreign, two military and two domestic Nicaraguan security and intelligence agencies. Mossad, which the Times calls “one of the most professional foreign intelligence services in the world,” is known for its role in advising death squads in Central and South America. According to the Times, Mossad's job will be to purge Nicaragua's intelligence agencies of Sandinistas.

Though the charge was categorically denied by Vice Minister of Government José Pallais, this would not be Israel's first involvement in Nicaragua. According to Barricada (May 13), Israel first sent arms to Somoza in 1974; in 1975, it sent Sherman tanks, submachine guns, grenade launchers and assault rifles; and in spite of worldwide condemnation of Somoza in the last nine months of the dictatorship, Israel faithfully continued to provide arms amounting to 98% of the weapons acquired by the National Guard at that time. The only two foreign debts contracted by Somoza that the Sandinistas refused to assume were for weapons from Israel and Argentina.

The coordinator of Somoza's arms supplies, reports Barricada, was David Marcus Katz, a leader of Mossad, who went on to work in Guatemala after the revolutionary triumph and later participated in organizing, training and arming the contras and the Atlantic Coast counterrevolutionary group Misura. Through Mossad, Israel armed the FDN in Honduras and Edén Pastora's ARDE in Costa Rica, working closely with the CIA. Contra leaders openly recognized and expressed gratitude for Israel's aid. Mossad was also implicated in the Iran-contra-drug trafficking scandal.

The Times reports that most CIA officials were happy with Israel's future role in the UNO government's intelligence apparatus "because of the close ties between the US agency and Mossad." But others were concerned that Mossad might employ Mike Harari, who is the agency's "top expert on Latin America" but had close ties to Noriega in Panama. The article does not mention that Harari was also one of the key organizers of the contra arms network.

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