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  Number 113 | Diciembre 1990
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Envío team

REGION V CHALLENGES VIOLETA
As we go to press, former contras and UNO mayors in Region V (Boaco-Chontales) have taken over the road from Juigalpa to Rama. Among their demands are that ex-contras be given land, the police force be removed from the region and Vice President Virgilio Godoy be given "his official functions."

Next month's envío will include an in-depth analysis of the current situation in Region V—a recent history, the players and the issues involved. This month we offer just a brief summary of some of the events leading up to the current crisis.

Land takeovers and rural violence began almost the same day President Chamorro took office, but intensified in September when former contras stormed the town of Waslala in Matagalpa and kicked out the police, the army and well-known Sandinistas (see last month's envío). Since then, demobilized contras in Río Blanco, Matagalpa, threatened to take over that town, but timely negotiations averted a more serious crisis. Former Southern Front (ARDE) contras in Yolaina marched to nearby Nueva Guinea on October 26 to protest the removal of the ARDE rural police head for insubordination. Shooting broke out at a police barricade and one person was killed.

Hearing of this death, other ex-contras took over the road to Rama. They have moved their barricades gradually closer to Managua, and over the November 9-11 weekend effectively blocked off Juigalpa, the departmental capital. Cutting off the Rama road not only isolates the 14 towns along the way, but also cuts off the only land route to Bluefields and the Southern Caribbean region.

In all of these conflictive areas, observers have noted that at least two groups are involved: former contras and hard-line local UNO politicians. In general, the ex-contras are demanding that the land and benefits promised them be delivered, while the politicians have more complex political demands, including the resignation of such key ministers as Carlos Hurtado and Antonio Lacayo. UNO politicians are taking advantage of legitimate contra frustrations over lack of land and manipulating them to their own ends.

Recognizing that the UNO mayors in Region V were the real instigators of the crisis (not one town in Region V voted FSLN), Chamorro invited them to Managua on November 10 for a meeting. They came, but with the demand that she travel to Muelle de los Bueyes, near Rama, to hear their demands and begin serious negotiations. The UNO mayors did not remove the barricades as promised, and amid rumors that she would be kidnapped, Chamorro refused to travel the illegally blockaded road to Muelle on November 11 as planned.

The UNO mayors' demand that Virgilio Godoy be given real powers leads many to think that these conflicts have been brewing for a long time, and are part of a more coordinated plan to oust Chamorro and put Godoy in power. UNO hardliners are using the former contras to make political demands, and their legitimate concerns for land and development aid may get lost in the divisions between UNO factions. In Río Blanco, for example, the negotiations that averted a serious crisis did not even address the demands of the demobilized, dealing only with UNO's political demands to remove Sandinista police and disarm civilians.

WHAT CURFEW?
On Saturday, October 20, Nicaragua awoke to the news that a curfew had been imposed due to rioting in Puerto Cabezas, the isolated capital of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). In ten years of war, the Sandinista government never applied a curfew—a measure denoting chaos and strict militarization—anywhere in the country, so the news was met with some alarm.

For days, the national media pumped out contradictory versions of what had happened. Even The Miami Herald, which has reported little on Nicaragua in recent months, picked up the story.

The only two common elements in the reports were that several hundred people had broken into warehouses, stealing food, clothes and agricultural supplies; and that the city was under an 11:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew. The main differences centered on who had instigated the looting. To be expected, La Prensa blamed the Sandinistas, citing Miskito leader Brooklyn Rivera, who heads the new Managua-based Institute for Autonomous Region Development. Both Barricada and El Nuevo Diario claimed the looters were former fighters from the Miskito organization Yatama, frustrated by the lack of central government attention to their demands. The main source for these articles was Leonel Pantin, coordinator of the newly-elected autonomous government, in Managua to meet with the central government.

envío has since learned that even one of the agreed-on facts—the curfew itself—was untrue. Uriel Vanegas, the 26-year-old president of the autonomous government's executive board, insisted that "no one has decreed a state of siege and there is no curfew in the region." Independent sources confirm Vanegas' statement. All media had cited presidential press secretary Danilo Lacayo as their source regarding the curfew, but Lacayo's source remains a mystery.

Vanegas' version of events squares largely with Pantin's. He told envío that CIAV, the Organization of American States' structure set up to assist former contras, was minimally providing for the Miskito fighters who demobilized following the elections, but that some 1,400 others who signed peace accords with the Sandinista government between 1985 and 1988 had fallen through the cracks. In those earlier accords, the ex-fighters had been permitted to form indigenous militias, coordinated and subsidized by the army. After the Chamorro government took office, the agreements—and the coast in general—were virtually ignored. Only in July, when the RAAN was hit with heavy flooding and in need of emergency assistance, did the new government begin to attend to the region's critical needs. Among other accords, the Chamorro government agreed to provide the older ex-fighters—some 400 of whom had been under Vanegas' own command—the same assistance CIAV was providing the current ones.

Vanegas said that assistance stopped again in September, when the government turned all its attention to the concertation process. "This created tensions," Vanegas explained, "in which [the ex-fighters] began to loot warehouses, robberies increased, part of the population began to disrespect the police authorities, and in the middle of all this are drugs—cocaine coming from Colombia." A November 19 communiqué from the Regional Council lists break-ins to warehouses of the Moravian Church's social action agency, the regional government and CIAV. A representative from a theological research center in Puerto Cabezas said that while demobilized fighters began the looting, civilians who see no evidence of the local autonomous government and have no faith in the central government joined it.

The economic situation in the already-impoverished coast is critical. The war paralyzed resource extraction; over 40,000 refugees have returned in the past four years, 11,000 just since May; and the central government is providing virtually no administrative funding to the new autonomous government. While Vanegas attributes the government's lack of support to its inexperience with the coast reality and the general economic crisis, some analysts fear it may have a deeper motive—to create such desperate conditions that the local population will welcome foreign investors without imposing any harsher conditions on their ravaging of the resources that existed before the revolution.

The region has long depended on charity, originally from the churches and the Alliance for Progress and later from the Sandinista and Cuban governments. Despite the worsening economic hardship, this is not the first time Puerto Cabezas residents have taken the distribution of such donated goods into their own hands. The difference this time is that it made the news. Whether that happened due to an uninitiated central government's overreaction or to a publicity gambit by a beleaguered new autonomous government trying to draw attention in Managua to its plight, no one is saying.

AIDS IN NICARAGUA
In declarations reminiscent of Labor Minister Francisco Rosales' insistence that the July strike was "illegal, illicit and non-existent," Health Minister Ernesto Salmerón told the weekly newspaper El Seminario that "there is no AIDS in Nicaragua." While Ministry of Health data indicates 10 cases between 1988-90, Salmerón explains them by saying "all those cases are of Nicaraguans who returned to the country after living abroad for many years, principally in the United States."

Salmerón's statement is inaccurate and his attitude disturbing, given that the Nicaraguan Health Ministry has sponsored anti-AIDS efforts in recent years, emphasizing education and prevention. Dismissing the risk of AIDS as linked solely to foreigners could lull Nicaraguans into not taking the virus seriously. If AIDS develops into a full-blown epidemic, as it has in other countries, Nicaragua's current health care system will be overwhelmed.

Salmerón's position notwithstanding, anti-AIDS work continues under the auspices of the Nimehuatzin Foundation, a nongovernmental organization offering educational services to the population at large and treatment to people with AIDS. Dr. José René Ramírez, who works with Nimehuatzin, says that 48 HIV-positive cases were identified in Nicaragua between 1987 and 1990. This number includes 21 foreigners, who have since left the country. The rest are Nicaraguans, including five women.

Nimehuatzin will conduct extensive prevention campaign in 1991, and as part of that effort plans to do 10,000 blood tests in Managua's District 4, the area in and around the Eastern Market where there is a high level of prostitution and some drug use as well. The foundation is working with assistance from the Ministry of Health and the Pan-American Health Organization.

WORKERS FIGHT BACK
Decree 11-90, the Confiscation Review Decree, gave former property owners in Nicaragua six months to apply for return of their property. As of November 6, the final day, over 3,000 requests had been received. Given that more people said they still wanted to file with the Confiscation Review Commission, Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo gave in to the pressure and extended the deadline to December 31.

Even before any properties were returned to their former owners, state workers organized protests to oppose privatization. In August, unions from 7 factories sent two letters to the government, the first protesting Decree 11-90 and the second demanding privatization in favor of the workers. The government responded on September 25 by privatizing 16 factories, including 6 of the 7 that had sent the letters.

Workers from the 6 factories promptly took them over and refused to allow the former owners to enter. They declared that given all the free working hours they had invested in the factories to re-activate them after the former owners had decapitalized them, they should be privatized in the workers' names. These events took place in late September. Since then, 2 of the factories, CERSA (cereals) and Camas Lunas (beds), have negotiated with the owners, arriving at what the workers feel are acceptable contracts. The agreements include job stability, respect for collective bargaining and bonuses of 30% of gross profits, and are similar to what workers from the other 10 privatized factories negotiated.

"These are just crumbs for the working class," says Leonides Pulido, a Sandinista union organizer who works with various unions in state factories. He added that he doubts that any capitalist owner will hold to an agreement to distribute 30% of gross profits among the workers.

Each union decided how it would respond to the privatization, and three—those in Intercasa, Prego (soap) and El Caracol (cereals and coffee)—have resorted to a judicial writ that suspends privatization until the Supreme Court reviews the case. Of the three, Prego and El Caracol have had to confront the former owners directly. In El Caracol, the workers refused to let the former owner enter. They continue to maintain production and sales even though their bank account has been frozen, their telephones have been cut off and some workers have been offered money to stop their protest. "The workers have not taken over the factories," commented Pulido. "They are taking care of them." The workers continue to call for direct negotiation with the government to privatize the industries in favor of the workers.

The Supreme Court decision on the cases is expected soon. "If the Court decides in favor of the owners," said Pulido, "they will find the factories just as they left them—with nothing."

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