Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 97 | Agosto 1989




Envío team

Contra activity in the Nicaraguan countryside mounted as the Sandinista revolution celebrated its tenth anniversary. In June, the Ministry of Defense reported 11 civilian deaths, 7 wounded and 55 kidnapped. They put contra casualties at 134, including 57 dead, and reported 15 Nicaraguan army troops killed.

In what was to be a spectacular victory for their forces, a group of 100 contras attacked the recently inaugurated Central American hydroelectric plant, eight miles northwest of Jinotega, on June 8. The plant provides 25% of Nicaragua's electricity. A 60-member militia unit at the plant repelled the attack. Damage was minimal, affecting only the plant’s outer walls.

Nicaraguan military sources estimate that approximately 3,000 contras are currently operating inside Nicaraguan territory. Much of their activity is concentrated in Region 5 (Boaco-Chontales.) Though contras are camped and continue to be active in Regions 1 (the Segovias) and 6 (Matagalpa-Jinotega), they are using those zones primarily as corridors on their way through to Region 5. The violation of Nicaraguan airspace, a key logistical element in the ongoing contra war, also continues. The Ministry of Defense noted 20 violations by US planes, along with 17 violations by Honduran planes.

Witness for Peace long-term volunteers working in the countryside report that the contr forces are newly equipped, sporting new uniforms, arms and radio equipment.

As the election period begins, the contra forces are intent on carrying out their own particular form of campaigning. In some of the small rural communities near Río Blanco in the region east of Matagalpa, the contras are warning people to vote against the FSLN. They add that they'll let them know which opposition candidate to vote for. In other areas around the country, they are telling people that voting for the Sandinistas means voting for more war.

Witness for Peace volunteers describe a renewed climate of fear in many areas of the countryside, noting that recent health campaigns in remote areas were only partially successful, as many people were afraid to travel to the health posts on the assigned day.

Eight inspectors from INAA, the Nicaraguan water utility, start work at the break of dawn. Their assignment: catch people in the act of watering their lawns with hoses—in other words, with good drinking water. The catch one day in June: over 100 sinners, among them Nicaragua's Central Bank. The fine: 200% of the user's last water bill, which in the case of the bank, flanked by a vast and lavishly watered lawn, amounted to two hundred million córdobas.

INAA Minister Otoniel Argüello turned a deaf ear when the Central Bank appealed the fine, arguing that official government rulings aimed at protecting increasingly scarce sources of good water in the country cannot be ignored, least of all by government institutions themselves. INAA recommends that gardens be watered with buckets of used water or with regulated sprinklers.

Comandante Bayardo Arce, Vice Coordinator of the FSLN's Executive Commission, strengthened ties with the Socialist International in two major meetings in June. The FSLN has had permanent observer status in the SI since 1978.

Arce opened the month in Kingston, Jamaica, at a two-day meeting of the SI's Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean. Regional meetings such as this were convened in different continents to prepare for the Social Democrats' 18th Congress, held at the end of June in Stockholm, Sweden.

While in Jamaica, Arce and Comandante Lumberto Campbell, FSLN coordinator in Nicaragua's South Atlantic Autonomous Region, met with Jamaica's recently reelected Prime Minister Michael Manley, to explore the possibility of opening an embassy for the Caribbean in Kingston and reinitiating trade between Jamaica and Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast.

In its final declaration, the regional SI committee expressed its satisfaction with the progress demonstrated in Nicaragua, praised Nicaragua's efforts in the search for a negotiated political solution to the region's crisis, and called on "regional and extra-regional forces" to support the peace accords signed by the Central American Presidents.

The June 20-22 Stockholm Congress, which brought together 600 participants from 100 countries, reelected 76-year-old Willy Brandt as president of the SI, a position the ex-chancellor of West Germany has held since 1976. It also approved a new declaration of principles for the first time in over 30 years, incorporating positions on technological advance, international peace efforts, the foreign debt crisis and the role of women, among others.

In his speech to the plenary, Bayardo Arce invited the SI to send permanent observers to Nicaragua's upcoming electoral process. The widow of assassinated Swedish prime minister Olof Palme timed her arrival to coincide with Arce's speech, a move considered by many to be a "special gesture" in recognition of Palme's close relations with Nicaragua.

Ex-contra leader Alfredo César arrived with leaders of Nicaragua's rightwing Social Democrat Party (PSD), a member of the Coordinadora, but they were blocked at the lobby. Although the Venezuelans had invited the PSD delegation, a majority at the Congress reportedly considered that the PSD did not fulfill the requisites for membership and that the procedure had been improperly handled in any case.

June was also a big month for third world diplomacy. The Hague, Netherlands, was the site of the International Nonaligned Conference on Peace and International Rights held on June 26-30. The meeting, proposed by Nicaragua to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the first such event, took up one of Nicaragua's major themes (stressed by Foreign Ministry Political Secretary Alejandro Bendaña in an interview in this envío issue): that international law must defend the rights of small nations against larger ones accustomed to using muscle instead.

Meanwhile Nicaragua's Foreign Minister, Father Miguel D'Escoto, headed a delegation attending the 25th anniversary of the Group of 77, held in Caracas, Venezuela, on June 19-23. Unlike the slightly smaller and more progressive Movement of Nonaligned Nations, the Group of 77, which has now grown to 127 countries, deals almost exclusively with economic issues. They analyzed the North-South Dialogue, the promotion of economic cooperation among developing countries and international cooperation to aid development. The most pressing theme was the foreign debt crisis, which has reached $420 billion dollars for these countries as a whole.

Colonel James Hallums, the new commander of US troops in the Joint Command Force "Bravo" in Honduras, took over from outgoing Colonel Ward Miller on July 11. He will oversee some 1,200 US troops currently stationed at Honduras' Palmerola military base, who are rotated every three or four months. It is estimated that over 100,000 US troops have been trained in infantry, artillery, naval and air exercises in the past seven years.

The United States and Honduras initiated a series of joint military maneuvers in 1982, mainly designed to prepare for and emulate a direct invasion of Nicaragua. Honduran military sources report that the US troops could remain in Honduras at least through 1992. In June, two joint US-Honduran maneuvers were underway in Honduran territory and US, Honduran and Salvadoran troops were carrying out naval maneuvers in the Golf of Fonseca.

The Fourth of July was celebrated in Managua without fireworks but with hot dogs, beer, folk music and the revolutionary writings of Tom Paine. Over 200 US citizens gathered at the Casa Ben Linder in an alternative to the official celebration sponsored by the US Embassy. The Casa Ben Linder, founded in January 1989, is a center providing a focus for US citizens' solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and opposition to Washington's interventionist policies. It bears the name of the US engineer killed by the contras in 1987 as he worked on a hydroelectric project in northern Nicaragua.

Nicaragua's former Ambassador to the US, Carlos Tunnermann, and seven other Nicaraguan Embassy officials who, like Tunnermann, were declared persona non grata by the United States last year, were honored guests at the event. In a speech to the crowd, Dr. Tunnermann commented that the principles of liberty, independence, justice and dignity that inspired the US revolution 200 years ago also underlie the Nicaraguan revolution. "Unfortunately," he added, "ever since Nicaragua decided to enforce those principles, we have suffered a cruel war that has already caused...more than 25,000 deaths."

A new forum for integrating popular participation into government decision-making is getting underway in Managua. Neighborhoods from each of the capital’s six districts are holding assemblies to form "district councils" and elect a representative to the government structure in their district. Local government counterparts see them as means of "co-initiating" projects of communal interest regarding schools, streets, draining systems, public lighting and other such topics. Each district council will meet monthly with its government counterpart for consultation and debate on community development plans and projects.

The first council was inaugurated in June in District VI, which encompasses 200,000 inhabitants of 43 southeastern neighborhoods around the state-run open marketplace named for Sandinista martyr Iván Montenegro. The market itself also has a representative on the council, who will help analyze problems of supply, distribution and prices, and the participation of market sellers in grassroots
organizations. The inauguration was presided over by Managua's Mayor, Carlos Carrión. At the festive event, ground was broken for a basketball court and children's park.

Based on such discussions, Javier Alvarez, head of the District VI government council, assured that "we will make more just decisions about communal projects or neighborhood problems." While the popular councils are not officially linked to the neighborhood organizations called Sandinista Defense Committees, many CDS leaders are being elected to them. The CDS supports the creation of these supra-neighborhood organizations, but only insofar as they are truly grassroots bodies that represent the population’s concerns to the government rather than vice versa.

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