Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 112 | Noviembre 1990




Envío team

On the night of September 30, the two transmitters of one of Nicaragua's most popular radio stations were burned to the ground in an attempt to silence criticism from the left. Radio La Primerísima is a worker-owned non-profit radio station that describes itself as "the principal bastion, in radio, of the people's ideological struggle to preserve their revolutionary project intact."

The station's director and primary commentator, William Grigsby, has been highly critical not only of the UNO government and the right wing, but also of some Sandinista policies and party members that he sees as going against "the principles and methods that inspired the founding of the FSLN." His two popular news and commentary programs, Sin Fronteras and Somos Noticias, make him the most listened-to leftwing critic of the government and the Sandinista party—an essential voice in Nicaragua since the electoral defeat.

The transmitters were burned when four armed masked men forced the caretaker out of the installation, then poured gasoline on and set fire to the equipment. Some speculate that the attack—on the eve of a workers' campaign of civic protest against the economic situation—was timed to generate a violent response at a moment when such violence might diminish popular support for the Left.

Grigsby reports that the station had received threatening phone calls for months and that, since July, during the national workers' strike, strange power surges had occasioned over $30,000 in damages. He told La Prensa that these hostilities are the result of "the station's support for the National Workers' Federation (FNT)," the Sandinista union umbrella behind the anti-government strikes in May and July and the civic protest that began October 1. The cost of replacing the transmitters and accompanying equipment is estimated at $187,000.

La Primerísima was the flagship station of the state-owned radio network CORADEP, made up of several Somocista stations throughout the country that were confiscated in 1979. It became a worker-owned and run station after the Sandinista electoral defeat on February 25. The workers formed the non-profit Association of Nicaraguan Radio Professionals and officially solicited the donation of the radio equipment and station from the outgoing government. The radio had been functioning without state aid since early 1989 after the Sandinista government implemented a structural adjustment plan to reduce the national budget. Numerous workers were laid off, and those who remained took substantial salary cuts. Their commitment alone has kept the station going since then.

Grigsby points out that Radio La Primerísima is one of the very few stations in all of Latin America that is not owned by private interests. He and the workers are determined to keep it that way, if at all possible, despite several tempting offers of $50,000 or more received since the transmitters were destroyed.

Demonstrations of support for the station have been impressive. Radio Universidad has given Grigsby air time for Sin Fronteras; US radio stations like KPFA in Berkeley have interviewed members of the collective and called for international solidarity aid; the FNT, which recognizes the station as the voice of the workers, has formed a National Committee for the Reconstruction of La Primerísima and is raising money nationally. These and dozens of other local and international groups are trying to raise the $100,000 needed as soon as possible just to get the station back on the air.

More than $5,000 was raised in just a week after the arson. But if La Primerísima is not using its authorized airwaves within six months, the state can revoke the radio's license. (Anyone interested in helping can send a contribution to La Primerísima, APRANIC, Apartado Postal 4003, Managua. Checks can also be sent to La Primerísima Foundations, 880 Bergen Avenue, Suite 702, Jersey City, New Jersey 07306, telephone 201-963-4200.)

For the first time in its history, the Sandinista Youth Organization (JS-19), which recruits FSLN party militants from 16 to 30 years of age, recently held national elections for its leadership. The new directorate will include two former executive committee members, Henry Petrie and Rafael Henríquez, as president and vice president, respectively, and Carlos Fonseca Terán, son of FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca, as secretary. Before this year, the FSLN appointed the directorate, which in turn appointed the regional delegates. This year's elections are yet another step toward democratization of the FSLN and the end of vertical decision-making structures.

The new leaders were chosen in a three-day Assembly of 700 elected delegates from throughout the country, where the organization's party program, previously discussed in base level meetings, was debated, amended and formally adopted. The new program recognizes the FSLN as the vanguard of the people and promotes greater participation of the JS-19 in the FSLN National Directorate and Sandinista Assembly. But, at the same time, delegates agreed that the JS-19 needed to change its top-down work styles and be more independent from the FSLN. The program addresses issues close to the country's youth—the right to a job and fair salary, health care, education, university autonomy, sex education, the fight against drugs, alcohol and delinquency—and promises to struggle for the respect of constitutional and individual rights under the UNO government. The program gives full support to the workers' struggle in the National Workers' Federation (FNT).

Since the FSLN's defeat in the national elections, many Sandinista supporters have criticized bureaucracy, lack of room for criticism and lack of democracy within the FSLN's party structures. Carlos Fonseca Terán has been one of the harshest critics of the JS-19 leadership—condemning opportunism and vertical decision-making, while at the same time proposing constructive alternatives for the future. It is significant that the organization’s members elected him to the directorate. While Petrie claims that there are "no major ideological contradictions" between Fonseca, Henríquez and himself, the road ahead may not be a smooth transition to new work styles. Petrie, for example, disregards all criticism that comes from people who are not currently actively involved in the organization. According to him, Fonseca has only recently returned to the JS-19 and "is still learning about the reality of the organization," suggesting that he will "come around" in his thinking.

Heavy criticism of Petrie himself arose just two days before the JS-19 Assembly at a candidates' debate at the Central American University (UCA). All the candidates were present except Petrie, who was berated both for his absence—being the top candidate and main organizer of the elections—and for not sending an explanation or apology. Members of the audience complained of campaign irregularities, insufficient discussion of the program at the base and insufficient participation of JS-19 members in electing delegates to the Assembly. Some felt the election should be postponed.

Petrie claimed that such criticism arose only in the UCA, not in any previous meetings, and blamed their perspective on disorganization within the JS-19 at the UCA. "They thought that because things were bad at the UCA they were bad everywhere," he said. But even if that is true, the UCA represents an important part of the Youth Organization's base that should not be disregarded.

Petrie says he rejects criticism from those who are not currently active not because he is unreceptive, but because "criticism without participation" is "irresponsible." The new president's attitude may be an obstacle to those young people who left the JS-19 in protest of the very same vertical work styles that silenced criticism from the base in the past.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS) has accepted an invitation by the Nicaraguan government to investigate three common graves discovered in rural Nicaragua. In a highly polarized political climate, the Commission will bring a scientific team to try to identify approximately 15 bodies and those responsible for the crimes.

After the exhuming of seven femurs and eight skulls from the first site, Mokorón, in Jinotega, the right wing began slinging vicious accusations at the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS), the Sandinista's state security apparatus and the former government as a whole. Based on what appears to be unreliable and contradictory evidence, they claimed that they had identified the bodies of several civilians "disappeared" by the EPS in 1982. The government TV news ran a highly sensationalized special report showing very humble peasant women supposedly recognizing the image of their sons in skulls buried some eight years earlier.

While it would be no real surprise to find graves in the many combat zones of this war-torn country, the political climate makes rational scientific investigation secondary to mud-slinging and accusations of genocide. The EPS reports that it sometimes buried the bodies of contras killed in combat, and it is likely that, at times, it was also forced to leave behind the bodies of Sandinista soldiers. The Mothers and Families of the Disappeared still name hundreds of sons and brothers who were kidnapped by the contras and whose whereabouts are unknown. Contra atrocities have been well-documented by numerous human rights organizations, as have some human rights violations by members of the EPS and State Security, especially in the early years of the war. A common grave could represent any of the above.

The Nicaraguan Human Rights Center for (CENIDH), headed by the former director of the government's human rights commission, Dr. Wilma Núñez, carried out an exhaustive investigation of the Mokorón grave. CENIDH interviewed everyone from Mokorón who had made a previous declaration and the pro-UNO forensic specialist, who had backed up the rightwing accusations. The forensic "expert's" lack of professionalism prompted CENIDH to request an official review of his report by the internationally acclaimed Argentine Forensic Team that reviewed human rights violations after the military dictatorship ended in Argentina. Their report, says Núñez, finds numerous contradictions, explains why certain conclusions made by the Nicaraguan specialist are impossible and points out missing pieces from the investigation.

CENIDH's own investigation concluded: 1) without a more rigorous scientific investigation, the bodies cannot be identified; 2) of a list published in La Prensa of people captured in 1982 whose bodies, it claimed, were those found at Mokorón, one is alive and well, two were killed in combat and the whereabouts of the remaining six are unknown; 3) if while pro-UNO reports claimed that the Mokorón grave was near a former Sandinista military base and not in a combat zone, CENIDH determined that there was never a permanent military installation there—just an artillery post—and that it had been taken on three occasions by the contras—meaning there was combat in the zone.

Núñez's Center refused to investigate either of the two grave sites uncovered later, at Murra and San Juan de Limay, even when a representative of the Mothers of the Disappeared requested CENIDH's support in identifying, at the Limay site, what she claimed were two Sandinista relatives killed by the contras. Dr. Núñez stressed that it is unfair to lead family members to believe that a positive identification can be made without the appropriate technical equipment and expertise. She criticizes the other human rights commissions for doing so.

A military team is currently investigating Murra, where some of the victims were apparently carrying identification, but envío was unable to reach them for comment.

The far Right, like Lino Hernández of the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH), claims the findings prove genocide, and a La Prensa editorial compares the situation to the holocaust. The EPS official position is that the general amnesty that released Somocistas, contras and, at the end, Sandinistas who had committed war crimes also applies to those who killed the people found in the three graves, if, in fact, a crime was committed. Dr. Núñez disagrees with both. The former, she says, would have to prove genocide according to the relevant international conventions; but the latter is also too extreme. CENIDH supports the participation of the OAS Human Rights Commission in carrying out a rigorous scientific investigation.

The Communal Movement in Managua has formed a housing committee called the Committee for the Defense of the Poor. It was set up to organize renters, homeless people and property owners who do not have legal title, all of whom are threatened in some form by UNO government policies, returning Somocistas and, especially, Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán's penchant for revenge.

While Alemán recently declared publicly that he has "threatened no one" with eviction from their land or home, Managua residents say otherwise. In a September meeting of representatives from some 78 neighborhoods, over 22 reported threats of eviction by either the mayor's office or people returning from Miami to reclaim confiscated land or houses. A community leader from San Judas told El Nuevo Diario that Alemán is not evicting people without land titles there, but wants them to pay exorbitant prices to purchase the land they are living on.

Some renters are facing eviction but have nowhere to go; a few have been subject to extreme measures by former owners trying to force them out by cutting off light and water services. In addition, most poor renters and homeowners complain of outrageous electricity and water bills they are unable to pay.

Each sector represented in the housing committee, headed by Sandinista National Assembly representative Domingo Sánchez, is organizing around its specific concerns—the homeless for an affordable home, renters for a fair renters law and protection from eviction, residents without titles for a legal title.

One problem the committee has faced is getting UNO and FSLN supporters in these neighborhoods to work together. Omar Cabezas, head of the Communal Movement and also FSLN Assembly representative, describes his conversations with local residents: "We say, 'Look, you guys are poor and miserable, and they want to take your houses and lots away. Stop fighting among yourselves because one's with the FSLN and one's with UNO. Alemán is going to run all of you out. They'll come with their trucks, take away all your lowly possessions to God knows where, and you'll be here without your houses, without your things, still fighting among yourselves about the FSLN and UNO. Think about it.'"

Cabezas and other leaders are aware that most people in these poor neighborhoods voted for UNO, while the Communal Movement is clearly run by Sandinistas. But the committee claims to have organized and united—at least on the issue of their homes—thousands of people throughout the city.

The central government's unilateral creation of the Cabinet-level Institute for Atlantic Coast Development (INDERA), based in Managua, created a point of common struggle on the coast, but hardly forged a firm alliance between the FSLN and the other parties in the autonomous Regional Councils. Particularly in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), the Miskito organization Yatama, which won 23 seats in the RAAN's Regional Council to the FSLN's 22 and UNO's 3, is moving beyond the law to extend its own control of the area.

The first signs were encouraging: the FSLN and Yatama successfully negotiated the election of representatives to the regional government's seven-member executive board. But Leonel Pantin, the new Regional Coordinator, promptly surprised FSLN Council members by unilaterally appointing new delegates to the 16 regional offices of ministries and other government agencies. The appointments, which exceed the authority granted him in the Autonomy Law, were not consulted with Managua either and countered decisions by some ministers to keep Sandinistas temporarily in their positions. After Pantin flew to Managua several times, trying—and failing—to see the different ministers, the Sandinista delegates just gracefully resigned.

They also made concessions to keep the peace on the conflictive and legally confusing issue of municipal mayors. The autonomy law gave the new regional government the responsibility to redesign municipal boundaries, which traditionally served the needs of transnational companies more than the populations living there. For that reason the coast did not hold municipal elections in February when the rest of the country did. Article 70 of the Municipal Law determines that in such cases, existing authorities will remain until municipal elections occur.

But even before the new Regional Council was inaugurated, Yatama activists confiscated the municipal offices of both Puerto Cabezas and Waspam, the main town on the Río Coco. In the first Regional Council meeting, FSLN council members pointed out that this was illegal. The issue was resolved, Sandinistas thought, when they agreed to leave these two mainly Miskito municipalities under Yatama control, since it had won 19 of their 24 Regional Council seats, in exchange for those of the three mining towns in the interior, where the FSLN won 16 of the 21 Council seats. The problem was that this broke with the Municipal Law, rendering it useless as an argument when Yatama later tried to take over the mining municipalities as well.

If the issue were only ethnic and ideological representation, the deal that was cut might have held until municipal elections could take place. But it is also economic. Foreign investors are circling the coast like vultures, and the municipalities have an important role to play in controlling, or benefiting from, the exploitation of the coast's natural resources—lumber, seafood and, in the case of the mining towns, gold.

Yatama and UNO supporters called an assembly in Siuna on August 10 to read a unilateral order from Pantin naming a new mayor. On the 29th, INDERA director and Yatama leader Brooklyn Rivera visited Siuna to inform the furious, mainly mestizo population that this decision had President Chamorro's support. Two days later Pantin's delegates repeated the performance in Rosita.

Since the central government has yet to release administrative funding for the coast municipalities, the mayors' offices and the towns themselves had been paralyzed for the previous four months. The two Sandinista mayors, rather than ceding to the illegal action, locked up the offices and held on to the keys. The latest reported move is that Pantin has tried an end run by naming Regional Council delegates to control the towns.

There is no legal basis for either move in the Constitution, the Autonomy Law or the Municipal Law. Ex-Yatama military leader and current Communal Affairs director Wycliffe Diego, in Managua in early October in yet another failed attempt to get funding for the RAAN out of the central government, was asked by envío what legal justification the Regional Council had for its takeover of the mining towns. "The Council was elected by the people," was his answer. "It has the authority to do whatever it wants."

Mario Rizo, a legal researcher for the Center for Research and Documentation on the Atlantic Coast, says the situation in the mining towns is extremely tense. He has called on the executive and electoral branches of the central government and all parties in the regional government to prepare municipal elections as quickly as possible to prevent a renewed outbreak of military confrontations and protect the rule of law from further abuse. He also urges the prompt release of administrative funding for the mining towns, several of which are without electricity and other social services.

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