Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 96 | Julio 1989




Envío team

Despite the signing of Central American accords in February stipulating the demobilization of the US-funded counterrevolutionary forces, the war is not winding down. Indeed, Witness for Peace, which closely monitors the war zones, notes a "significant increase" in kidnappings and killings of civilians by contra forces in recent months, with combats between contra and Nicaraguan army forces also on the rise. That human rights association has documented firsthand the killing of 22 civilians and the kidnapping of 121 more between January 1 and May 15. In addition, the contras attempted to sabotage a major economic target, a hydroelectric plant in Jinotega.

The Nicaraguan Defense Ministry reported that in May the contras engaged in 115 combats with the Nicaraguan army, bringing the year's total so far to 881 contra attacks and ambushes. The contras also continued attacks on the civilian population and on economic targets, including kidnappings, an ambush of civilian vehicles, an attack on a rural community and on an agricultural cooperative. A total of 6 dead, 5 wounded and 27 kidnapped is the toll of contra attacks on civilians for May; the total for the year is now 225 civilian victims, including 50 dead, according to President Daniel Ortega.

The President said the contras have suffered 638 casualties for the year, while the Nicaraguan army's total casualties were 334. While the bulk of the contra forces are in their Honduran encampments, Ortega said that some 1,500-2,000 continue to operate inside Nicaragua, in clear violation of both the recent peace accords and the US bipartisan contra aid package itself.

A Swiss geologist, Jan Ehrenbort, was kidnapped by a contra band led by a man known as "Colino" on May 31 near Cuapa, Region V, where Ehrenbort was working for the Nicaraguan mining agency INMINE. He was released 26 hours later. Atypically, a Nicaraguan colleague kidnapped with him was released after 14 hours. The director of the German-Nicaraguan High School, Wulhelm Heinrich, had been kidnapped two weeks earlier.

The previous day remnants of the same band had forced two brothers out of their house, then shot them in the back, killing them as they lay on the ground. They also kidnapped seven other men in the same area. On the day of Ehrenbort's kidnapping, they killed one of the seven and bayoneted two others in the neck, leaving them for dead. The two survived.

Witness for Peace volunteers were in the town of Waslala, on the western edge of the Atlantic Coast, on June 5, when an estimated 120 contras attacked the town from two sides. There to investigate reports of up to 300 kidnappings in the area in the first months of the year, the volunteers said they heard mortar fire in the distance and confirmed that the contras fired automatic weapons at civilian houses on the outskirts of town. An army battalion quickly repelled the attack.

The Honduran army conducted five attacks in May against Nicaraguan border areas as cover for contra forays into Nicaraguan territory, according to the Defense Ministry. The ministry also reported that US Air Force planes on reconnaissance missions violated Nicaraguan airspace 14 times during May. In addition, planes coming mainly from Honduras illegally flew over Nicaragua 27 times while carrying out reconnaissance flights and dropping supplies for contra forces.

Finally, at nearly midnight on June 8, contra forces attacked the Central America Hydroelectric Plant, located some three miles east of the city of Jinotega. Attacking from five points, and despite a hail of rockets fired from a RPG-7 rocket launcher, little damage was done to the installation. Experts said that if the supply line to the plant had been destroyed, the neighboring population would have been threatened by an overflow of the waters of Lake Apanás, which provides the energy source for the plant.

Inflation: 15% and rising
Inflation rose in May to a monthly rate of 15.5%, the Budget and Planning Secretariat (SPP) reported, up from the year's low of 12.6% in April.

The SPP warned that inflation could climb higher in June, since May and June are traditionally inflationary in the country's agricultural cycle. These are the months when credits are given out for the first planting cycle and producers are partially paid for last cycle's export harvests. These two factors increase the amount of córdobas in the economy. If these córdobas are used to buy dollars on the street instead of being reinvested in production, it could drive up the price of the dollar. Inflationary devaluations of the córdoba relative to the dollar have slowed in recent months precisely because the limited local currency in circulation has put a crimp in the demand for dollars. Given that the rains arrived too late for some areas of the country to plant and the loans went unused, banks have tried to forestall this tendency by urging producers who did not plant to turn their loans back in and avoid interest charges. They can reclaim the money for the second planting cycle.

A third factor that could push up the price of the dollar is that the impressive drop in inflation in recent months has led the banks to lower the 79% interest rates on fixed-term savings accounts offered at the beginning of the year to under 20%. Many of those with significant córdoba savings are now closing their accounts and seeking to buy dollars as a better earnings bet.

Rain, rain, come and stay
Nicaragua's rainy season, which old-timers say used to come like clockwork in mid-May, fooled basic grains growers in the Pacific coastal area this year. Rain came with one heavy May downpour, then stayed away until the second week of June. Those who had rushed to plant watched the sprouts wither and die; those who didn't used the time to prepare more land, but counted the days with mounting concern. Their fear was that the rains wouldn't come in time to allow two full planting seasons for the fast-maturing crops. They also worried that if they planted too late, the maturing crops could be out of phase with the brief let-up in rains that normally hits in late July.

Cattle ranchers surveying parched pastures added their voices to the general angst. "We'll need a financial injection from the bank to buy another kind of feed," complained Pedro Varela, a cattle rancher from the León area.

With the pardoning of last year's inflated debts, the lowering of interest rates for basic grains credits and guaranteed profitable prices for their product, peasants had rushed to take out new loans. Bank officials said in early May that over 90% of the funds programmed for agricultural loans had already been requested.

As the days ticked by, the northern coast dropped out of the grains game to wait for the second planting cycle, which is more predictable and thus always more profitable. Cotton, the main crop planted there, was not at risk, since it is normally planted in late June.

On Sunday, June 4, most of the flat coastal area got another drenching, encouraging peasants in Region IV, south of Managua, to hitch their oxen teams back up and make a last pass at the land. "If the rains continue, I'll plant on Wednesday," said Jorge Garay, a small producer from Tisme. "The ground was thirsty and drank everything, so I want to see three more rainfalls first." It was already too late for sesame in many regions, and most considered that the moment for planting sorghum had also passed. But Francisco Urbina, a member of the Bismark Martínez Cooperative, was confident about corn, "...even planting late, since this is 120-day corn, but this seed can withstand the variations [of the rainy season] because once it matures it just gets bigger. Sorghum, on the other hand, only sprouts with a lot of water." By Wednesday, it was not yet clear that the rainy season had come to stay. As the planting opportunity drew toward its close, peasants in many zones were still left guessing.

More communication, more autonomy
With drinks and specially invited guests, Aeronica inaugurated a new plane May 31 that will increase passenger and cargo service between Managua and the Atlantic Coast. Anthony Matthews, leader of the musical group Dimensión Costeña, called the improved service "another advance in autonomy for the Coast."

This second Soviet AN-32, which can carry 15,000 pounds of cargo and 45 passengers, will be the fifth plane servicing the coast. It allows Aeronica to provide six flights a week to Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas and five to Corn Island. Oscar Meléndez, Vice Minister of Construction and Transport, said the possibility of direct flights to the mining towns on the coast is under study and will depend on the condition of the Rosita airstrip.

The AN-32s and two older AN-26 planes are able to land on Corn Island's dirt airstrip, now back in operation after Hurricane Joan tore up the island last October. David McFields, noted coast poet and Nicaraguan ambassador to Ethiopia, made the inaugural flight to Bluefields with Matthews and others. It was his first trip home since the hurricane, and he was visibly moved to see the damage to the once-lush tropical forest out the plane's window.

Feast for a book-starved country
Father Ernesto Cardenal, president of the National Council of Culture, announced that some 150 book publishers from 32 countries would participate in the Second International Book Festival on July 20 to 25. The prestigious Mexican publishing house Siglo XXI alone plans to bring 10,000 copies of its various titles.

Cardenal also said that, thanks to assistance from the European Economic Community, the books will be available at reasonable prices for Nicaraguans in national currency. Among the titles sure to sell out fast in this book-starved country are El General en su Laberinto, Gabriel García Márquez' new book about 19th-century Latin American liberation leader Simón Bolívar, and two recently published reflections on Nicaragua's own liberation struggle—La Impaciente Paciencia by Tomás Borge and Canción de Amor para los Hombres by Omar Cabezas. The latter's first book, translated into English several years ago as Fire on the Mountain, sold 100,000 copies in Nicaragua and was a best seller in the United States.

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