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  Number 109 | Agosto 1990
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

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FROM A NATION OF POETS TO BOOK-BURNERS
On July 4, in what may or may not have been intended as a back-handed celebration of US Independence Day, Fernando Jose Núñez, director of León's Santiago Argüello library, burned a number of books published during the Sandinista administration. The books included Ernesto Cardenal's latest volume of poetry, a best-selling novel about a young woman's revolutionary experiences penned by Gioconda Belli, the two books chronicling the guerrilla days of Omar Cabezas and Divine Punishment, a dramatized account by former Vice President Sergio Ramírez of an actual murder that took place in León in the 1930s. This last book was singled out, according to Núñez, for “denigrating the women of León,” and thus meriting “consumption by the flames.” He said the books to be burned in what he called a “symbolic” action were those “considered harmful to [a] normal conscience.” Each of these authors have had their books published in a number of languages and received literary acclaim for their efforts.

Contacted by Barricada six weeks after the book burning, Núñez said, “I burned some books in León ... yes, that's true. It was a cultural act unlike any carried out in this city to date.”

The Ministry of Education, under the guise of “promoting Christian values” even as it professes to sponsor lay education, has done its share of book-burning as well, sending to the incinerator hundreds of textbooks published during the Sandinista government. These books will be replaced by the “Blue and White Reader.”

NOT ONE STEP BACK
For anyone who questioned whether the Sandinista “mystique” still attracts Nicaraguans, the 70,000 plus who went to Managua's Plaza of the Revolution to celebrate the eleventh anniversary of the Sandinista triumph quelled all doubts. Despite pouring rain, television movie specials and government invitations to spend the day at the beach, the plaza was filled to overflowing as people listened to Daniel Ortega and union leaders fresh from their July strike victory and sang the sometimes haunting, sometimes rousing, songs of the Nicaraguan insurrection and revolution. The government did not announce until July 17 that the 19th would be a state holiday, as mandated in the Constitution. But this delay of the announcement and attempts to lure people away did not appear to affect attendance at the rally.

The celebration of the eleventh anniversary actually began nearly three weeks earlier with the “Repliegue,” the annual re-enactment of the tactical retreat from Managua to Masaya on June 29. In 1979, the FSLN forces fighting in Managua made the decision to retreat to their rearguard in Masaya, walking 20 miles all night through the hills between the two cities. They were joined by over 5,000 civilians who feared the inevitable National Guard “clean-up” operations in poor, pro-Sandinista neighborhoods after the FSLN combatants pulled out. The retreat, which could have been a significant blow to the FSLN, was instead a tremendous boost of morale as the march took place under the nose of the National Guard who, in spite of rocket attacks on the marchers, inflicted very few losses on the FSLN and their supporters. Within three weeks, the FSLN had returned to take Managua. This year, 25,000 made the trek. The town of Masaya met the marchers after the five-hour walk with a street party that lasted well into the morning.

At the July 19 rally, Ortega referred to the recently-concluded strike and the need for the workers to continue defending their rights. Both those who voted for UNO and those who voted for the FSLN, he stressed, must join forces against extremists from within the government who continue to push for illegal firings and extremists outside of the government who are arming illegal paramilitary groups. The workers must defend the democratic guarantees enshrined in the Constitution and the recent democratic elections.

Ortega also referred to the first FSLN Congress, scheduled for February 1991. He announced that it will be an “open” congress, not be limited to Sandinista party members. In the months leading up to the Congress, all patriotic Nicaraguans are invited to offer their opinions and ideas on the FSLN's future. Judging from the high attendance at the rally, there will be plenty of participation.


AIRWAVES AT RISK
With the country's television signals uncertain outside of Managua and much of the population only semi-literate and thus unable to rely on newspapers, Nicaraguan radio stations play a key role in informing, educating and entertaining the public. In recent months, many of the radio stations that were pro-government during the Sandinista administration have become the object of considerable conflict.

Radio Frente Sur in Rivas was taken over by UNO supporters in mid-August. Radio workers gathered together their own supporters and took back the station, only to find the microphones, tape recorders and much of the physical installations ruined. Radio Frente Sur has a contract with the Rivas mayor's office, which workers say is not being respected by the UNO mayor. La Prensa reported that the installations had been damaged by “Sandinista mobs.”

Several days later, commentators on Managua-based Radio La Primerisima reported that the 19th of July Radio in Chinandega was facing similar problems, as were stations in Pancasán in Jinotega and Diriangen in Granada.

Radio Segovia in Ocotal is also under attack, as Fabio Gadea Mantilla, head of the far-right Radio Corporacion, is trying to gain rights to the station's transmitter. Segovia belongs to the Sandinista mayor's office in Ocotal, and both the mayor and the radio workers have said they are not willing to hand over the transmitter. Segovia is the only Nicaraguan station that many people in the mountainous region receive, since the area's proximity to Honduras means the far stronger Honduran signals dominate the radio dials in the north.

The disputes center around the fact that many Somocista owned radio stations were taken over in 1979 by the revolutionary government, becoming part of a nationwide network known as CORADEP. After the recent elections, most of these stations were turned over to local mayors' offices. In many cases, pro-Sandinista staff then leased airtime to continue their programming.

Today these stations are the target of a rightwing effort to broaden its ideological network. The crux of the matter is nothing less than the ongoing struggle for the hearts and minds of the Nicaraguan population, a struggle that promises to heat up in the weeks and months to come.

RECONCILIATION AMONG PEASANTS
On July 21, Daniel Núñez, head of the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG), shocked many Nicaraguans by meeting with contra leaders in El Almendro to discuss the difficulties being faced by peasants demobilized from the contra army. In recent weeks, former contras have complained of government inaction on the development poles, as well as shortages of food, clothing, medicine and housing. There have been increasing reports of cattle and other theft and attacks on pro-Sandinista farmers in the areas where ex-contras are concentrated. A group of former counterrevolutionaries took over five cooperatives with 3,400 acres of land near El Coral in central Nicaragua, claiming they had not been given land.

Núñez, who spoke with both “Franklin” and “Ruben,” as well as eight other contra leaders, explained that “all peasants and cooperatives in the war zones have the same problems.” Though his own brother was killed by the contras, Núñez insisted that “in UNAG, we always maintained that there were no counterrevolutionary peasants, only confused, deceived and resentful ones.” The contras won support among peasants, many of whom resented abuses of authority by some Sandinista military leaders, as well as rigid government policies and a lack of understanding of farmers' problems, according to Núñez. “Today, the conflict is over and they are left without family, without land and without a concrete response,” he said.

The UNAG leader backed the demobilized contras' demands for land, credit and services from the government. He called on Cardinal Obando y Bravo to visit the zones and see their reality firsthand. An UNAG delegation also met with peasant leaders and mothers of revolutionary martyrs in Nueva Guinea. On behalf of the peasant leaders, UNAG called for guarantees for land reform beneficiaries now threatened by former owners seeking to regain their land under Decree 11-90 and asked for revision of tight credit policies toward small farmers in general. The organization supported the Committee of Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs in its demand for increased pensions for the families of those killed on both sides and the some 4,000 orphans in the Nueva Guinea region alone.

PRICES AND WAGES
Prices Market Basket: Workers' salary demands are based on a 53-product market basket including basic grains, sugar, oil and salt; beef, chicken, pork and fish; milk and its derivatives: perishables; various household items and occasional clothing and shoes for adults and children. This market basket rose 68% in June over May. The most basic products—rice, beans, sugar, oil and salt—went up 54% in June and another 28% in the first 11 days of July. In addition, bus fares doubled, electricity rates nearly doubled, medicine price subsidies were removed, and free bus fares for students were abolished (reinstated after student demonstrations in early July).

Wages Since the national state salary scale was eliminated last year, permitting workers to negotiate in their workplace according to the company’s profitability, wages have lost all uniformity, even for the same skill. The lowest wage earners tend to he textile workers, who received 6,000,000 córdobas a month before the July strike and 8,000,000 afterward. An experienced mason in a state construction company earned 11,000,000 before the strike and 13,000,000 afterward. Primary school teachers now earn 30,000,000.

With a month’s supply of rice, beans, sugar, oil and salt for a family of six valued at 10,058,000 córdobas on June 30 and at 15,300,000 on July 20, a textile worker only earned enough, after the strike, to purchase a half a month’s supply of these six items and absolutely nothing else. Some workers still receive a reduced version of the fully-subsidized “AFA packet”—which stands for arroz, frijoles y azúcar, or rice, beans and sugar—and was instituted by the Sandinista government to offset the loss of salary purchasing power due to adjustment policies instituted in 1988. A school teacher could afford the 11 out of 53 products listed above, with just enough left over to buy one tortilla and take two bus rides a day and pay the household utility bills.

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