Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 111 | Octubre 1990




Envío team

On the first of every month, bank lines extend for blocks as the elderly line up to receive their monthly pensions. In addition to people over 65, others who receive pensions include the war-injured, wives and mothers of those killed in the war and orphans. Of the 75,000 pensions provided by the Social Welfare Institute (INSSBI), 29,000 are war-related. In September, the war-injured received an unpleasant surprise with their check—expected increases equivalent to $20 monthly were nowhere to be found. Instead, a partially incapacitated veteran received $10 and a totally disabled person only $14. One woman, whose husband was killed by the contras in 1984, leaving her with three young sons, received $11—not enough for even one pair of shoes.

On the same day, the government announced that all demobilized contras would receive $50. Even though the money for former contras is a one-time deal and the war-injured pensions are monthly, the vast difference between the two amounts was a slap in the face to the many young men who lost arms and legs in the war against the contras.

The Organization of Disabled Revolutionaries (ORD) has been fighting with the UNO administration ever since May, when INSSBI did not give the customary inflation compensation in pensions. By law, pensions increase with state salaries, but a new executive decree, 4-90, annulled both that provision and the “13th month,” a traditional extra month's salary given in December. ORD has met several times with both INSSBI head Silviano Matamoros and Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo to demand that Decree 4-90 be annulled, pensions raised to two-thirds of the minimum wage and those already paid between June and August retroactively adjusted for inflation.

On August 31 ORD was informed that the maximum pension would be 22 million córdobas (equivalent then to US$20), still far less than the US$45 received in May, but a substantial increase over August. On the next Monday, however, the highest check was only 14 million córdobas.

With the fervor typical of them, ORD members, as well as many women who had received outrageously low pensions, met and decided to take prompt action, with support from ORD and the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs. Just hours after receiving the checks, the disabled, many of them in wheelchairs, propelled themselves the ten blocks to the central office of the television station (SNTV) and took it over. Their demands were clear—negotiate the low pensions to brng them within the internationally recognized level of at least two-thirds of the minimum wage. As families settled before their TVs to watch the evening’s first soap opera, they were greeted instead with the occupiers' explanation of their plight. Just as they began a call for a solidarity presence at the station, the screen turned to static.

Authorities waited almost 24 hours before agreeing to negotiate. The occupiers gave back the SNTV Master Control when it became clear that the talks would be serious. The negotiation stretched over three days, and involved both Matamoros and Lacayo. The final agreement was that the maximum pension would be two-thirds of the current minimum wage, equivalent to $50. Thus the pension comes to about $33 or 33 million córdobas. The semi-disabled and mothers of the deceased receive 16,660,000, and orphans 8,330,000.

ORD is still pushing for a readjustment of earlier pensions and the retraction of Decree 4-90. In addition, it will continue to watch pensions in the coming months. According to ORD spokesperson Fernando López, INSSBI has more than enough profits from the areas designated for pensions—50% of lottery benefits and 55% of other income.

This is not the first time the war veterans have been harassed by the new UNO government. In late August Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán sent bulldozers to tear down a new plaza being built as part of a privately funded housing project. The project, sponsored by Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua (APSNICA), includes houses that are wheelchair-accessible, the only one of its kind in the country. Alemán was upset that the plaza covered over a rarely-used side street, even though permission had been granted by his office on August 23. The men, in wheelchairs and not, refused to let the bulldozers pass, and Alemán was forced to retreat. The plaza remains.

The Sandinista army celebrated its eleventh anniversary on September 2 in a ceremony presided over by President Violeta Chamorro. Though the army was founded on July 20, 1979, the official anniversary is September 2, the day that Augusto César Sandino's Army in Defense of National Sovereignty was formed in 1927.

In the first military event under the UNO administration, army chief General Humberto Ortega stressed the army’s patriotic and national character, going back again and again to Sandino's example. “The Sandinista Popular Army,” Ortega said, “is, as spelled out in the Constitution, the people in arms and the direct heir to Sandino's army.” The army, he declared, will continue to “educate its members to defend the basic principles of our Constitution.… independence, sovereignty, self-determination; (and) the rejection of foreign intervention in the country's internal affairs.”

Speaking to government representatives and military officials assembled in the Olaf Palme Convention Center, Ortega pledged the army to continue reductions in troop strength as spelled out in the March 27th Transition Protocol. He said the army would do everything it could to offer economic assistance, job training, access to land and credit and other services to those laid off in the coming months.

Ortega, criticized in recent weeks by many Sandinistas to the left of the party for what they feel is too close a relationship to the new government, also spoke strongly against the formation of “armed extremist groups... such as the so-called National Salvation Commission and Brigades” under the direction of Vice President Virgilio Godoy. He declaried that the army would not permit these groups to function.

Since the shock of last February’s elections, radical changes have taken place inside the FSLN. The defeat has forced activists at all levels to step back and reassess every aspect of their party. To the FSLN’s credit, the first step in the analysis process has been to hold internal municipal and departmental elections to choose party members to lead each community in the coming months of self-examination. This new interim leadership will help the party and its members prepare for the February 1990 Congress, at which restructuring will take place and new policies will be hammered out.

The interim nature of the new councils was decided at a national FSLN assembly held in June to set the framework for next February's Congress. They decided to focus the next months on fostering debate that would lead to major new policies to be set at the Congress. While elections were held at municipal and departmental levels to choose interim leaders, the assembly decided not to hold interim elections for the National Directorate. The assembly “declared confidence” in the current National Directorate's ability to lead the party until next February. Critics suggested, however, that the eight on the Directorate are not yet prepared to put themselves up for scrutiny.

For many Sandinistas, the elections were the first chance they have had to directly choose their leaders, and in many cases they chose new faces over old. In the Matagalpa department, for instance, while three of the eight new Council members are also National Assembly representatives, only one of the eight was on the former party council. With the FSLN’s defeat in the national elections, long-held frustrations against the vertical work styles of old-guard leaders resulted in their being voted out of their positions. Some analysts see this as a sign that rank and file Sandinistas are fed up with the old structures and are interested in new blood and new ideas.

To many, the electoral process and the new faces emerging in leadership positions are signs of healthy changes in the party. The previous inability of dissident voices to gain a place in FSLN structures had left many militants frustrated. For them a crucial test of the next months is the degree to which real debate will take place in preparation for February's Congress.

Managua, with one third of the country’s population, held its elections in early September. The results encouraged those Sandinistas looking for a larger opening for debate. Eight of the ten elected were well-known Sandinistas who had held important party or government positions in the past. Dora Maria Tellez, known for her role as one of the youngest guerrilla commanders in the insurrection and widely respected for her honesty and commitment, won 98% of the vote at the convention attended by more than 2,000 delegates; she will now serve as coordinator of Managua’s council. The two others, Danilo Aguirre and Carlos Fonseca Terán, are considered outsiders, and would likely not have been included if the posts were still appointed. Aguirre, a National Assembly representative and editor of El Nuevo Diario, has openly criticized Daniel Ortega on a number of issues over the last few months. He has fostered debate on issues ranging from the FSLN’s proposed membership in the Socialist International to the army’s removal of Colonel Javier Pichardo as head of the Sandinista Air Force (see “The Month,” this issue). Fonseca, son of FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca, has moved into public light with his sharp criticisms of the FSLN’s Sandinista Youth. He is also running for president of the youth organization, calling for restructuring and a redefining of the organization's role in preparing youth to “receive the future of the revolution in their hands.”

The newly elected leaders’ primary task is to prepare for February’s Congress by listening to and receiving ideas from their constituents. They see their position differently than previous middle-level FSLN leaders—whereas before such leaders had to report to superiors and could lose their jobs if they did not measure up, they now feel directly responsible to those who voted them in. “I can be voted out just the way I was voted in,” commented the coordinator of one regional council. And indeed they can—February’s Congress will bring new elections, at which time all leaders and their actions will be put to the test.

Significant changes may take place within the UNO coalition in an attempt to formally improve relations within it and with the Presidency. The structural changes come on the heels of what appears to have been extensive, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two key factions, the more moderate one represented by President Chamorro and the more confrontational one by Vice President Virgilio Godoy.

Tensions between the two increased sharply during July's general strike, when Godoy announced the formation of a National Salvation Commission and called for repressive measures against the striking workers, criticizing the President’s handling of the crisis. Chamorro roundly rejected the Commission's help and promptly ended the strike through a negotiated settlement. Shortly after, Godoy began organizing his own "National Salvation Brigades,” which many consider forerunners to death squads, and stated that he would “be ready” for the next general strike. Rumors spread that the Vice President was organizing a coup.

Now, just a few weeks later, the atmosphere has changed substantially. Jaime Bonilla, representative of Godoy's Independent Liberal Party in the National Assembly, told Barricada in late August, “There's been a change in the correlation of forces [within UNO]. In the next few days, concrete things will be produced that will alleviate criticisms of the government....” In a complete change of tone, Bonilla said, “We feel this government is ours, UNO'S, and we want to participate,” and that relations between the presidency and the legislature "should be harmonious, even complementary.”

It appears that backroom negotiations have pulled some important allies away from the Godoy camp—or else the Godoy camp has simply been convinced to change its tactics. Several party leaders formerly aligned with the Vice President are now being considered for positions in the government. Agustín Jarquín, leader of the Democratic Party of National Confidence, confirmed that there appears to be some intention even of offering Godoy office space, resources and functions. Jarquín, who signed the statement issued by Godoy's National Salvation Commission during the July strike, now condemns the Vice President’s prior role saying, “Could you imagine if Dan Quayle went around criticizing Bush's policies?” Jarquín said that he is currently negotiating a government position for himself. Barricada charged that Jarquín had been considered during the transition period for five high-level government positions, but was rejected because of his close ties to Godoy.

While structural changes currently being considered appear to undermine Godoy's power, they may actually be part of a longer-term goal to increase it. The Godoy faction may have recognized that its confrontational tactics were actually doing its position more harm than good. A more effective tactical alliance with the Chamorro faction could give the far Right more time to organize and greater legitimacy.

Jarquín, one of the four members of the committee writing the proposal, states that the goals of the changes are to preserve the alliance and improve communication and relations in the National Assembly, with the executive branch and with the FSLN. If the proposal is accepted as it now stands, Godoy will no longer be the permanent president of the UNO Political Council; the presidency will rotate to each of the 14 parties and party factions. A quorum for a meeting will be 10 of the member parties, instead of 8 previously. The smaller number, said Jarquín, facilitated the formation of the two blocs—one never had to attend meetings with the other. The proposal will also create a new council, made up only of party leaders with parliamentary positions. Not all members of the current Political Council are represented in the legislature. The new group, said Jarquín, will allow for greater coordination on all Assembly votes related to the government program. He hopes that the Political Council will continue to exist, and pmprove communication with the Presidency.

The proposal apparently has majority support, but the 14 parties have yet to reach consensus. Negotiations continue. And while recent maneuvering appears to have taken some of the venom out of the Godoy faction, decreasing tensions within the coalition, it is unclear what kinds of promises have been made, or what this new UNO unity may mean for future relations with the FSLN. It can be surmised that US Ambassador Shlaudeman has had a hand in these significant rumblings of change, but to what end is also unclear so far.

The possibility of toxic waste dumping in Nicaragua has arisen once again, from another US company. Benjamin Thomas Corporation, through its Central American subsidiary Casa Philips, has apparently contracted former Costa Rican ambassador to Nicaragua Farid Ayales as its intermediary, due to his close ties to members of the UNO government. The proposal includes the donation of a gasogene plant and a thermoelectric generator that would bum 500,000 tons of toxic wastes annually—also donated, of course—to satisfy all the electric power needs of the Atlantic Coast.

The proposal came to public light when Dr. Alejandro Perez Arévalo, UNO National Assembly representative, revealed a letter he had received from Dr. Rosendo Argüello of the Central American Institute of Biotechnological Research. The letter warned that negotiations were taking place and named the corporations and individuals involved in making the offer. Dr. Perez called for the formation of a legislative committee to investigate and stop such negotiations from going forward.

It is unclear who has been approached or how far the proposal has gone in any formal process in Nicaragua. However, Ulises Aguilar, head of the Department on Environmental Regulation for the Natural Resources Institute (IRENA), confirmed that representatives of Benjamin Thomas Corporation held an informal meeting with IRENA on August 2 of this year. “We were not very receptive,” he said, but IRENA was awaiting the receipt of more official documents, which the intermediaries promised to send the following week, before issuing a formal response. IRENA’s policy, Aguilar said, is to reject all such offers, but the documents never arrived.

Aguilar stated that the wastes were apparently municipal, at least partly from New York City. Their combustion in the gasogene plant would reportedly produce radioactive toxic ash, which would then have to be “disposed of” elsewhere. Neither Aguilar nor Perez know where Benjamin Thomas Corporation is located in the US, but its representatives have approached other Central American countries with similar offers. IRENA has been in contact with the Costa Rican Ministry of Energy, which recently rejected such an offer.

Benjamin Thomas' intermediaries, however, have not yet given up on Nicaragua. They have consulted other organizations in Managua, including the Ministry of Economy and Development. And on the Atlantic Coast, there is suspicion that some coast leaders have been secretly negotiating on their own. FSLN representative from the Atlantic Coast Ray Hooker backed Perez Arévalo, warning the National Assembly firmly that “the people of the coast will never allow their region to be used as a garbage dump.”

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