Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 94 | Mayo 1989




Envío team

In an unusual bipartisan move, President Bush reached an agreement with Congress to provide the contras with nonmilitary aid until after Nicaragua's elections take place on February 28, 1990. Administration and congressional sources portray this as a breakthrough for peace and a qualified support for Esquipulas IV. In fact it is a direct violation of the heart of the accords, which specified that by mid-May a plan to demobilize the contras should go into effect and explicitly forbids the use of foreign funding of them for any other purpose than demobilization, repatriation and resettlement. The implicit threat is that if the opposition loses—whether fairly or not—the armed struggle will take up right where it left off.

At the same time that the Bush Administration proposes to maintain the contras as an armed force at least another eight months, it is encouraging their leaders to return to the civic battle. One such message of encouragement was the slashing of their operating funds in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan opposition parties known as the Group of 14 sent representatives to Guatemala to meet with contras headed by Enrique Bermúdez, the hard-line ex-National Guard colonel. They tacitly agreed that the contras need not lay down their arms until after the elections and discussed forming a common front in the campaign, uniting behind one opposition candidate. Thus Nicaragua will be placed in a highly unorthodox and uncomfortable position: allowing candidates who belong to or are affiliated with a still-armed and funded military force dedicated to overthrowing the government to run in the elections with full guarantees.

(As an aside for any readers who, after hearing Ronald Reagan's constant characterization of the Sandinistas as communists, may have become confused by learning from the US media that "even Nicaragua's Communist Party opposes the Sandinistas," we offer this clarifying vignette: Upon the arrival in Guatemala of Elí Altamirano, secretary general of the Nicaraguan CP, he greeted Enrique Bermúdez with such effusive warmth that an EFE correspondent was moved to ask him about it. He had been inspired by "perestroika," explained Altamirano.)

Two factors weigh in on the side of peace. A US plan to reactivate the contras requires that 1) Nicaragua fail, or can be made to appear to fail, to carry out fair elections; and 2) the contras can stay together as a fighting force throughout this period. It is unlikely that the first condition will be met, and the second may not be either. President Ortega has already presented reforms of the electoral law to the National Assembly and announced elections in February 1990; he has also invited international monitoring of the entire electoral process. The contras, in the meantime, seem even more divided than ever. In the latest instance, Bermúdez's right-hand man, know as “Quiché,” resigned over growing internal disputes.

Despite all this, both houses of Congress passed Bush's contra aid request by wide margins in mid-April. On top of nearly $50 million to maintain the contras as a force for war, the package once again gives nearly $5 million to Nicaragua's Catholic church hierarchy to provide medical assistance to the civilian victims of that war.

"In the last three months," said a March 29 open letter from Catholic clergy and laity working in the Waslala area to President Bush and Congress, "your contras have kidnapped more civilians than in the final six months of 1988." According to Father Ubaldo Gerbasoni, one of the signers, the contras "maintain the law of the jungle with their constant robberies, assassinations, rape and blackmail." Kidnappings in the first three months of 1989 are estimated at some 300.

Witness for Peace directly confirmed the kidnapping of seven civilians in February and March, all in the northwestern part of the Atlantic Coast or in Jinotega, according to the organization's report, "Hotline." One victim was later found with his throat slit, and another strangled to death. WFP investigators are investigating reports of 18 other contra kidnappings in March. "Hotline" also reported that on March 1 contras stole building and food supplies from an unarmed brigade of 28 MIDINRA workers in the southern Atlantic Coast. The workers were taking the materials to Haulover, near the Río San Juan, to reopen a coconut cooperative abandoned in 1983 because of contra activity. Three weeks later contras robbed and murdered two young men in Chontales.

Oscar Pérez Arbizú, a member of a basic grains cooperative near Teotecacinte, a northern border town in Nueva Segovia, the Honduran military has shot 82mm mortars at the cooperative. A bulletin of the Ministry of Defense, released in late March, detailed several of the more recent harassments by the Honduran military. According to the bulletin, there have been 39 cross-border attacks so far this year. "Not a day goes by when they don't shoot off their weapons at us," said Pérez Arbizú. Barricada reported that on April 9 Honduran troops, using M-16s, heavy machine guns and M-79 grenade launchers, killed a young Nicaraguan soldier and wounded another who were carrying out routine border patrol four kilometers west of Somotillo.

Particularly given these activities, Nicaragua formally warned of the "serious implications" for the peace process of the March 19 approval of new protocols to the Bilateral Military Aid Agreement between the United States and Honduras. "By trying to legitimate the perpetuation of joint military exercises and maneuvers between the armed forces of the United States and Honduras," said an April 5 official presidential alert to international public opinion, "the Protocol represents new backing for US military presence in Central American territory and reaffirms Honduras' role as a base for threats and intervention against other countries of the region."

Meanwhile, in El Guabo, Region V, Barricada reported that the Nicaraguan army captured 13 members of a contra band carrying out armed operations in the area, among them two chiefs of the now defunct "Chontales" Task Force. And in Estelí, the Red Cross and the Catholic Church received six peasants who had given up their arms and received safe conduct passes from the Ministry of the Interior.

Nicaragua's Secretariat of Planning and Budget (SPP) announced that inflation for March fell to barely 20%, as a result of austerity measures applied this year. According to the SPP, this is the lowest monthly inflation registered in 15 months. Official monthly inflation figures for the past six months are:
October 60.9%
November 111.8%
December 126.6%
January 91.8%
February 46.0%
March 20.0%
As a result of this drop, interest rates for general agricultural credits were reduced from 45% to 22% and those for basic grains production from 36% to 17.6%. Interest rates on savings have also fallen by close to half.

On the monetary front, a mini-devaluation on April 13 raised the cost of a dollar on the official market from 6,300 córdobas to 6,500. That again brought the official rate to a par with the parallel (exchange house rate, which had gone up the week before, and meant a rise in the cost of a gallon of gas from 11,600 córdobas to 11,900. For at least the last month, official rates have risen weekly, from 5,100 córdobas on March 15.

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