Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 95 | Junio 1989




Envío team

April 28 marked the official opening of an "alternative US Embassy" in Managua, the Casa Benjamin Linder. The project is a joint effort by 19 US solidarity, religious and development organizations including the Committee of US Citizens Living in Nicaragua, the Nicaragua Network and others that "support the Nicaraguan people in their revolutionary process." The house, located in a working class neighborhood near the official US Embassy, provides office and meeting space for a number of groups and serves as a center for information, educational and cultural events and discussions of strategy.

The house is a memorial to US engineer Ben Linder and its inauguration was held on the second anniversary of his death at the hands of the contras. Some 300 Nicaraguans, US citizens and representatives from European and Latin American internationalist groups spread out on the grass on a warm evening to watch cultural presentations ranging from chamber music to Nicaraguan folkloric dance. Vice President Sergio Ramírez spoke and clowns performed as a figure wearing Ben Linder's clown costume hovered in the background, whispering ideas to the others and laughing gleefully as they were carried out.

The Casa Benjamin Linder represents a people to people diplomacy that counters the interventionist policies of the US government. The founders of the house hope that, in the spirit of Ben Linder, it "will focus the US voices speaking for peace in Nicaragua."

To the surprise of few, George Bush has decided to continue Reagan's policy of economic containment against Nicaragua by indefinitely extending the US embargo. In a letter to House Speaker Jim Wright on April 21, Bush claims that Nicaragua still presents "an unusual and extraordinary threat" to the security of the United States. This opinion is contested by, among others, the International Court of Justice, which has ruled that the United States must compensate Nicaragua for damages estimated at $315.5 million, the UN General Assembly and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. For their part, US citizens living in Nicaragua registered their disapproval of Bush Administration policy by holding a protest vigil at the US Embassy in Managua on April 27.

This decision has also met with disagreement from some unlikely quarters in Nicaragua. Producers and industrialists, such as the cattle ranchers association and members of the private enterprise organization COSEP, as well as the Cardenal Obando y Bravo have all asked the US to reconsider the commercial embargo imposed during May 1985 by then President Reagan. Obando stated that the embargo hurts the people more than the government by forcing them to buy US products through third countries at almost double the cost. It has also forced sugar producers to find alternate markets for some 52,000 tons of Nicaragua's largest export. Secretary of State Baker has hinted that the embargo may be lifted if Nicaragua holds free elections, but not too many people are holding their breath.

During its April 6-9 meeting in Managua, the board of directors of the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America (CODEHUCA) stated its recognition of the "priority given in Nicaragua to the defense of human rights" and noted "the unflagging work of the National Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights" (CNPPDH). The commission is composed of independent human rights commissions from each of the five Central American countries. CODEHUCA also noted that the CNPPDH has opened up new areas of human rights work, including education of the police force and prison personnel and periodic inspection of prisons.

In other human rights news, the United Nation's Commission on Human Rights issued a lengthy statement in March dealing with the activities of the contras and other mercenary forces, declaring, among other things, that "the activities of mercenaries are contrary to fundamental principles of international law," and condemning "the increased recruitment, financing, training, assembly, transit and uses of mercenaries" in Africa, Central America and other areas.

Of special relevance to the recently approved US support for the contras, the commission "considers it inadmissible to use channels of humanitarian and other assistance to finance, train and arm mercenaries." The commission, in a statement directly pertinent to Honduras, also denounced "any state that...provides facilities to (mercenaries) for launching armed aggression against other states."

Cecil B. DeMille dreamed of making a film about his life, reports filed by the journalist Carleton Beals made him famous in the United States, Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral affectionately christened his troops "that crazy little army," thousands of young Nicaraguan men have marched off to defend their country with his words on their lips and more than one Nicaraguan three-year old knows him as "the man in the hat." That man, of course, is Augusto César Sandino, and though DeMille's film never made it past the dreaming stage, his life is finally being dramatized for the silver screen.

Shooting for "Sandino" began on May 2 in Niquinohomo, the small town south of Masaya where Sandino was born 94 years ago. After months of rumors that the leading part was to be played by a
well-known US actor, many Nicaraguans breathed a sigh of relief when the part went to Portuguese actor Joaquín D'Almeida instead. "A gringo," as one Nicaraguan commented, "would have been the last straw." Victoria Avril has been cast as Blanca Aráuz, the telegraph operator from San Rafael del Norte who aided Sandino's troops, eventually marrying Sandino and serving as his special envoy in a series of peace negotiations.

Miguel Littin, a Chilean artist who has a long and friendly relationship with INCINE, the Nicaraguan Film Institute, is directing the film. The Nixtayalero and Cihuatlampa theater groups, based in Matagalpa, will assume most of the supporting roles, and "chele" (Nicaraguan slang for blond, light-skinned people) extras have been solicited in the newspapers to play the parts of the invading US Marines who unsuccessfully fought Sandino's army for six years in the mountains of northern Nicaragua.

As "Sandino" began production, an INCINE-produced film, "El Espectro de la Guerra" opened in Managua. The film is the story of a young man from Bluefields (played by Elmer McField, currently finishing his degree in sociology) who moves to Managua with the hope of becoming a professional dancer. Instead, he is drafted and the film follows his experiences as his unit leaves Managua and comes face to face with the reality of the war in the Nicaraguan countryside. The film deals with the realities of war facing Nicaraguan youth today, and manages to do so in a straightforward manner, without falling into romanticism or sloganeering.

In revolutionary Nicaragua, much rhetoric has been spent on the importance of constructing "the new man and new woman." Sometimes the new woman doesn't look so very new at all. Beginning last year, a rash of beauty contests has taken place in Nicaragua, some co-sponsored by the Sandinista Army and the Sandinista Youth, with others promoted by hotels and various private interests.

The contests seemed to be enthusiastically received by most young people (most participants were about 16 years old) and the glitz and glamour is no doubt a pleasant alternative to the harsh economic realities of daily life. However, not surprisingly, this sudden proliferation came as something of a shock to many women long active around women's issues. Activists said the contests could endanger the gains made in women's status to date and pointed to the FSLN proclamation of 1987 pledging to fight "against any type of discrimination" against women. They see beauty contests as blatant objectification of women's bodies. El Nuevo Diario, a Nicaraguan daily that lets barely a day go by without a swimsuit-clad young woman gracing its front page, carried out something of a campaign to defend the beauty contests as bringing out important "cultural values" and the like. The CONAPRO professionals' association sponsored a heated debate on the subject.

At the same time as beauty contests seem to be building up steam, feminist graffiti has begun to appear on the streets of Managua. Painted women's symbols and slogans including "no more abuse," and "make abortion legal" suggest that the new Nicaraguan woman might not be the smiling young lady in the spotlights.

In two front-page articles published in separate April editions, Nicaragua's opposition newspaper La Prensa continued its campaign against the upcoming 1990 elections, with an attack on what they claimed was fraud in the November 1984 elections. According to La Prensa, the resounding victory claimed by the FSLN in El Zapote, a rural area west of Managua, was completely fabricated and evidence of thorough-going fraud. They claimed to have spoken with residents of El Zapote who charged that the real victors in El Zapote were members of the Conservative Democratic Party. They also charged that there was no voting table in El Zapote.

Following the accusation, Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council issued a clarification which ran in all three daily papers (La Prensa, noted El Nuevo Diario, "unscrupulously" ran it as a paid ad, and on the second, rather than first, page.) According to Mariano Fiallos, president of the Council, the problem was fairly straightforward. One polling place, named El Zapote, included the area known as El Zapote del Mar. The FSLN won the elections there. Some 15 kilometers away, another polling place, named La Ceiba, included several communities, among them El Zapote de los Indios. At the La Ceiba polling place, which corresponded to the people interviewed by La Prensa, the Conservative Democratic Party is listed by the Supreme Electoral Council as winning. Thus, there was no voting table in El Zapote de los Indios, where the complaints came from, because residents from that area were part of the La Ceiba district for voting purposes.
To date, La Prensa has not published either a retraction or an apology.

With the April 15 opening of the Patricio Argüello Ryan Geothermal Plant, or Mombotombo II, Nicaragua moved one step closer to eliminating its dependence on petroleum by exploiting its own natural resources for energy production. This plant completes the Mombotombo Project which aims to harness the geothermal power from the country's largest volcano, northwest of Managua. Along with its companion plant at the foot of the volcano, which has been in operation since September 1983, the project will generate 70 megawatts per hour and contribute about 40% to the nation's energy production. The Argüello plant cost $38.5 million, bringing the total for the Mombotombo Project to $99.5 million, and was financed by the governments of Canada, Italy, France and Nicaragua. These costs will be more that offset by annual savings of one million barrels of bunker fuel oil representing some $50 million.

The government has also embarked on the development of hydroelectric power. On April 8, the Asturias Hydroelectric Project opened as the third phase of the 11 stage Tuma-Viejo Hydroelectric System. Asturias will generate 84 million kilowatts per hour, saving the country 200,000 barrels of bunker fuel oil annually.

It was the Argüello Geothermal Plant, however, that received the spotlight. Two years in the making, it was completed two and a half months ahead of schedule, despite the national economic crisis, precisely as a means towards alleviating this crisis. Daniel Ortega, Sergio Ramírez, and representatives from Canada, Italy and France attended the inaugural. Ramírez stated that "the utilization of geothermal energy [has been] one of the revolution's dreams," and noted that progress has been slow due to the war.

In an act aimed at demonstrating Nicaragua's intention to improve relations with the United States and foster a spirit of cooperation in the war on drugs, Nicaraguan Immigration and Foreign Ministry officials handed over drug-runner Arthur Henry Burton to US Embassy authorities in Managua on April 17.

Burton, a US citizen from Charleston, North Carolina, and Avimael Castillo Canur, from Belize, were forced to make an emergency landing in Puerto Cabezas on March 25, when their Aerocommander aircraft developed a damaged fuel tank. They were detained upon the discovery that they carried no identification, flight documents, flight plan or registration for the plane. Although no drugs were found, they released a statement admitting that they were members of an international drug ring and were on the first leg of a roundtrip flight from New Orleans to Capurganá, Colombia to pick up over 200 kilos of cocaine. Burton was sent to the US, where he is wanted in connection with a criminal investigation, under terms of an existing extradition treaty between the US and Nicaragua. Castillo was deported to Belize a week earlier.

One day after the announcement of the drug traffickers' detention, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto unveiled his plan for a Regional Cooperation Accord to fight drug trafficking at a meeting of Central American Foreign Ministers in Costa Rica. Under the proposed plan, each country would establish a centralized drug enforcement agency to coordinate efforts between countries and with US State Department and Drug Enforcement Agency officials at monthly meetings. In addition, the US would be asked to host an annual meeting of the agencies.

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