Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 280 | Noviembre 2004




On November 9, two days after the elections, local La Prensa correspondent María José Bravo was murdered in Santo Tomás, Chontales, in full view of onlookers. The 26-year-old journalist had just come out of the local election center and was reporting to the gathered population on the progress of the re-count in extremely close races in Santo Tomás and Cuapa when she was shot at point-blank range. The perpetrator of this apparent shoot-the-messenger rage crime was Eugenio Hernández, an ex-contra and former PLC mayor of neighboring El Ayote, where his family wields a lot of power with the largely ex-contra settlers.

The crime shocked the entire journalistic profession, and even made international news, putting a tragic and bloody end to what had been an unusually violence-free electoral process. Journalists called for reflection on the need to defend freedom of information and on the media’s role in depolarizing politics.

It was impossible not to recall the murder in February of former Radio Ya director Carlos Guadamuz, also shot at point-blank range, that time by a Sandinista hired gun who was captured by the victim’s adolescent son as he attempted to flee the scene. In publicly condemning the murder of María José Bravo, Daniel Ortega also recalled Guadamuz, but only to claim that his one-time political cellmate and close friend, later turned adversary, “wasn’t a journalist.”

In mid-October, with the executive-comptroller “crisis” in full swing, the National Assembly finally debated and approved the Judicial Career Law, which regulates appointments, promotions, transfers and the like for all judicial branch officials. To reach consensus on the text, the PLC and FSLN legislators and their political counterparts on the Supreme Court put their strong disagreements—expressed in judges’ strikes, fistfights on the Assembly floor and even at one point the paralyzing of the parliament—behind them. They also totally sidelined the executive from the negotiations and ignored President Bolaños’ proposals.

A week after the municipal elections, Bolaños partially vetoed the law, which had been a crucial point of dispute among the PLC, FSLN and executive branch for months, causing new friction with the Supreme Court. The law, which must go into effect in February 2006, still grants Supreme Court justices discretionary power to directly name a number of judges, including appellate judges, ensuring a continued measure of PLC and FSLN control over the judicial system to the economic and political benefit of the power groups currently heading both parties. The clause prohibiting anybody who had ever served in a state security apparatus (read Sandinista security apparatus only) from working in the judicial system was dropped.

Also in the midst of the national crisis over supposed acts of corruption by President Bolaños during his 2001 election campaign, Transparency International released its latest study of the perception of corruption and transparency in 146 countries. These figures rank Nicaragua in 97th place among the countries evaluated with a 2.7 rating on a scale of 10, barely over its 2.6 rating in the 2003 report. This places it among the countries “with a high level of public corruption.” Chile had the best rating in the Latin American and Caribbean region with 7.4 and Haiti the worst with 1.5.

Commenting on the report, Roberto Courtney, director of the Nicaraguan NGO Ethics and Transparency, noted that “Nicaragua seems to be stagnant…. No state branch came out unscathed…. The institutions have limited their actions against corruption to a single person. And they attack or defend only three people, from one band or the other… acting selectively, choosing which cases to speed up either to punish or to reward those bands according to different interests.”

The call for Bolaños’ removal further coincided with revelations of corruption against three former Costa Rican Presidents from both major parties—Rodríguez, Calderón and Figueres—and with the alleged linking of aid from Taiwan not only to those scandals but also to corruption cases in Panama and Nicaragua. The corrupting capacity of Taiwanese diplomacy is well known. Taiwan specializes in providing donations and loans to dozens of impoverished countries around the world that do not have official relations with China—the Central American ones among them—in return for voting for a UN seat for Taiwan. According to Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry data, Taiwan has made donations and granted loans to Nicaragua for over a billion dollars since 1990.

This situation sparked a rumor that Taiwan would freeze all aid to Central America until everything was cleared up, which Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Norman Caldera interpreted as an effective suspension. That in turn prompted President Bolaños to try to deflect some of the heat away from himself by announcing the alleged aid freeze and describing the increased poverty and chaos that he predicted would be another serious consequence of the “caudillos’ plot” against him. Taiwan’s ambassador in Managua denied the news that very same day, calling it a misunderstanding, but not before Bolaños had triggered alarm in the population.

On October 8, the day after the Comptroller General’s Office issued its resolution, President Bolaños traveled to Libya for a brief official visit in which he planned to ask Libya’s President Muammar al-Qaddafi, a known friend of Daniel Ortega, to write off Nicaragua’s US$232 million debt with his country since the eighties and supply Nicaragua with oil at special prices. On his return, with the comptroller-executive crisis still front-page news, the President released no details about his trip. Days later, however, Foreign Minister Caldera announced that the governments had declared themselves in “permanent session” to work out the debt pardon and that Nicaragua had decided to reestablish diplomatic and economic relations with Libya. He claimed there had been no time to discuss the issue of oil.

In Nicaragua’s November 7 elections, only 115 women were elected to the nearly 1,200 municipal posts and of those, only 13 as mayor and 17 as deputy mayor; all the rest are Municipal Council members. Of the women elected, eight of the mayors and 11 of the deputy mayors are from the FSLN-Convergence; 4 of each are from the PLC; the remaining mayor is from Yatama and the two other deputy mayors are from APRE.

On October 6, the Supreme Court upheld a sentence against Sandinista Comandante Henry Ruiz and the four other board members of the Augusto César Sandino Foundation (FACS), thus closing a case that began over a year ago when the five accused former FACS executive director Edwin Zablah of serious acts of corruption. Zablah counterattacked, seeking backing from Daniel Ortega, who exercises control over a large number of judicial branch officials at all levels and oriented those involved in the case to find in Zablah’s favor. With this final resolution, Zablah and his group will now regain control of the FACS.

Seven of the 15 Supreme Court magistrates, both Sandinista and Liberal, signed the resolution against the five, with a single dissenting vote by Justice Francisco Rosales. Ruiz publicly congratulated Rosales for withstanding Ortega’s pressures and maintaining his respect for justice.

While the original sentence was a year in prison, the justices decided to be more lenient. Ruiz and the others will not serve their time behind bars, but they will lose their political rights and are prohibited by law from being seen in public places.

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