Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 92 | Marzo 1989




Envío team

The Nicaraguan government announced officially on February 10 that it was in communication with a group of Japanese businessmen and scientists to examine the viability of constructing an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaraguan territory. A national commission of scientific and foreign policy experts has been created to study the construction possibilities, as well as possible ecological effects.

While it was revealed that a Japanese mission would visit Nicaragua during the first week of March, Nicaraguan Minister of Finances William Hüpper, who heads the national commission, said that no agreement has been made with any country yet. The official government announcement states that Nicaragua is "open to any governments, institutions, businesses or scientists who are interested in the canal route through our country."

If the canal is eventually constructed, it will be the third cross-isthmus route in Central America. In addition to the Panama Canal, built in 1906 and now inadequate for some large tankers, the Costa Ricans are completing a "dry canal," a highway and oil pipeline that will run from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

The idea of an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua's rivers and lakes dates back to the Spanish colonial period, although North Americans may be more familiar with the later interest of the United States, and particularly of steamship magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, through the 1987 movie, "Walker." Some 55 years after the period that movie treats, and three years after the Panama Canal was built, Nicaraguan President Jose" Santos Zelaya was removed from power by the US in 1909 for daring to negotiate the construction of a canal with German and Japanese collaboration. Emiliano Chamorro, ambassador to the United States from the puppet government installed in Zelaya's place, signed a treaty with US Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan that still rankles Nicaraguans. In the treaty, finally abrogated in I960 as a gesture of mutual good faith between the US and Somoza governments, Nicaragua conceded to the United States the "perpetual option" to build a canal through Nicaragua.

In a press conference offered just before leaving to attend the Central American summit meeting in El Salvador, President Ortega said, "Now, for the first time, we Nicaraguans have the opportunity to decide the use of our territory."

Another of Nicaragua’s revolutionary leaders has demonstrated the literary talent that characterizes this “country of poets.” Comandante Tomás Borge, sole surviving founder of the FSLN and one of its nine top leaders, has just been awarded Cuba’s internationally–respected Casa de las Américas prize for his first-person testimony, La Paciente Impaciencia (The Impatient Patient).

“It’s written in very poetic prose,” said Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, one of the judges. A man of very poetic prose himself, Galeano is best known internationally for his book, The Open Veins of Latin America. Revealing only part of the content of Borge’s 600-page opus, Galeano says it “sheds new light on the personality of Carlos Fonseca [another FSLN founder and its main ideologue until his death in 1976], and on the liberation struggle of the Nicaraguan people.”

Borge describes his book as something “that was growing inside me that I had to get out once and for all.” Demonstrating his capacity for imagery, he added that “when I paused to look, I discovered I was in labor between pleasure and pain, giving birth to 40 chapters that are like 40 children: some happy, others possessed by nostalgia and some very sad.”

Due to paper shortages, a limited edition of the book will be available in Nicaragua in March, but publishers from various countries, including the United States, have already expressed interest.

The just-released report of the Sanford Commission, named for its creator, US Senator Terry Sanford (D-NC), concludes that the Central American countries need $2.5 billion over the next three years to aid the more than one-third of the region's 27 million people who live in conditions of dire poverty, particularly those who are "biologically at risk"—children, pregnant women, etc. Another $10 billion will be required within a five-year period to reactivate the Central American Common Market, increase and diversify the five countries' exports and promote the region's economic development.

The commission, formally known as the International Commission for the Recuperation and Development of Central America, is made up of 17 political and economic experts from 20 countries, including the United States, Europe, Japan and the Central American countries themselves. The politically diverse group has spent the past two years making a detailed study of the region's economic needs, with the goal of giving economic substance to the Esquipulas II peace plan. The report was readied in time for discussion at the regional summit meeting held on February 13-14 in San Salvador. Senator Sanford himself delivered the report to the region's Presidents on the eve of the summit.

According to the commission, it is "necessary to prepare an overall long-term development plan that satisfies the basic social and economic requirements of the population and promotes the economic self-sufficiency of the zone, freeing it from its dependence on major flows of foreign aid.” If that is the long-term ideal, the shorter-term premise is that the European Economic Community, Japan, the United States and the Latin American nations—"those countries that respect the commitments of Esquipulas"—provide the $12.5 billion needed for the initial phase to guarantee stability and democracy. Sweden was the first to announce its participation in the plan, offering $11 million in immediate aid to the region's refugees and war displaced.

Economist Xabier Gorostiaga, a member of the Nicaraguan team, said that the most significant aspect of the plan was that such a wide diversity of coauthors reached what he called "absolute" consensus. Lawrence Eagleburger, recently named as Assistant Secretary of State, is one of the authors of the plan.

José Dolores Triguero Ruiz, 35-year-old chief of the "First Region of the Southern Front," and Walter Maradiaga Ortiz, 20-year-old head of a smaller contra grouping also in the southeastern area of Nicaragua, opted for amnesty in February, after five years of fighting. The latter was accompanied by his bodyguard, a 15-year-old who was kidnapped into the contras three years ago.

Triguero, who used the pseudonym “Cachita” (litte crumb), left after becoming convinced that “la contra” has no future, it’s defeated, and we were up to here with the war.” He analyzed that to carry out such a war, three basic elements are needed: supplies, support of the civilian population and the proper social make-up of the troops, none of which the contras now have. “The gringos have now cut our aid,” he said, “and the peasants don’t want more war. What they’re doing now is fleeing into the bush to avoid problem.” As for the composition of the Southern Front, which until 1985 was led by Edén Pastora, “they are peasants for the most part who don’t want to continue fighting anymore. Many ask permission to go to their houses and don’t return, beginning with the chiefs. All those guys are in Costa Rica, or are directing the war from there.” Maradiaga, who used the name “Culebra” (snake), said that at one time he was the leader of 90 men, but that the group had shrunk considerably due to causalities and desertions. The three will return to civilian life in Nueva Guinea.

Three men and a woman were presented to the press by Nicaraguan security authorities on February 11, accused of involvement in an eight-member internal contra cell operating in Region V (Boaco-Chontales). One of the men, a farmer from the town of Camoapa, is the secretary and president of a faction of the Social Christian Party in his municipality, as well as of the rightwing umbrella grouping known as the Coordinadora, to which the PSC belongs.

Subcomandante Oscar Loza, Chief of Operations for State Security, also displayed 150 pounds of C-4 plastic explosives and other armaments said to belong to the group for destroying economic targets. The PSC leader, Juan José Rodriguez López, admitted receiving a packet of explosives from another member of the contras’ clandestine operation, and acknowledged that after serving 10 months in prison for contra activities he had been recruited in mid-1988 by a contra known as “Zona Franca.” He also admitted that several PSC members in Managua knew of his counterrevolutionary activities.

Rafael Avilés Fernández, who at the time of his arrest reportedly had an M-79 rifle and several grenades under his bed, said Rodríguez had recruited him.

Juana María Blandón Díaz, a teacher and a member of the Augustín Jarquín faction of the PSC, said that just before being captured, national leaders of the PSC had advised her to go to La Prensa and the rightwing radio station, “Radio Corporación,” to make it appear that PSC members were being subjected to political repression. All four argued that they had been pressured by fear of “Zona Franca” into joining the cell.
In their final document of the First Episcopal Mission Encounter for Peace, 40 Methodist bishops from North and South America called on the governments of their countries and on their religious congregations to accompany Nicaragua and Central America in solidarity.

Bishop Federico Pagura of Argentina said, "We have recognized, like the CIVS [International Commission on Verification and Follow Up], that Nicaragua is the country that has done the most to comply with Esquipulas." Bishop Melvin Talbert, secretary of the Council of Methodist Bishops of the United States, assured that his church would try to influence the new US administration, adding that "the only time I heard any mention of communists here was by the opposition to the government and by the officials of our Embassy."

The five-day encounter, which began on January 23, included representatives from 14 Latin American countries, as well as the United States, the Philippines and East Germany. A delegation of the bishops, which was twice turned down in its request to meet with Cardinal Obando y Bravo, only spoke briefly with the Auxiliary to the Archdiocesan chancery. They had hoped to get an overall vision of the Nicaraguan situation from the Cardinal, they explained.

Meanwhile the American Baptist Churches of the United States sent a letter to President Bush in December asking his support for the Sapoá accords and for the ongoing negotiations among the leaders of the Central American countries. Secretary General of the Baptist Churches Daniel E. Weiss also forwarded to the new President the views of Tomás Téllez, executive secretary of the Baptist Convention of Nicaragua, who underscored that the "most urgent needs of Nicaragua are, without doubt, those of changing the US government’s policy towards our country," because it "promotes and finances the war."

A number of the opposition parties in the National Assembly are deciding whether to submit a list of candidates to the President for the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), in accord with the electoral law passed last year. The CSE, which like the executive and legislative branches, is reelected every six years, is the ultimate authority over electoral procedures and is responsible for ensuring the fairness of elections and judging claims of irregularities.

According to the Constitution, each incoming President nominates five slates of three candidates for the CSE seats, from each of which the National Assembly elects one. During last year's National Assembly debate on the new Electoral Law, a Sandinista representative proposed a concession to the opposition: that for two of the slates the President consider lists proposed by representatives of the opposition parties in the National Assembly, giving preference to those proffered by the parties that received the highest votes in the previous election. While a large majority passed that motion, four of the six parliamentary opposition parties signed a document immediately after the law was passed, criticizing its essence.
The critique of most of these parties resides primarily in the fact that they are neither the incumbent party nor one of the larger opposition parties—and, apparently, do not see that changing in the future election periods. Marxist-Leninist Party representative Carlos Cuadra summed it up succinctly: "It is already established in the law that [this time] the Supreme Electoral Council will be made up of three Sandinistas, one Conservative [the party with the second highest votes in the last election] and the other will be raffled off between the Popular Social Christian Party and the Independent Liberals." Cuadra's party, however, opposes the law for a more ideological reason, namely that "it is just one more concession to the bourgeoisie." It is the only party so far to definitely decline to submit candidates.

Meanwhile, for the first time since Nicaragua's National Assembly came into being in 1984, that body debated the major allocations of the national budget proposal for the coming year. The State of Emergency, lifted last year, permitted the executive branch to implement the budget without legislative approval in past years.

President Daniel Ortega, who will have the final word on the budget, had said in his year-end speech that it had been reduced from 285.5 billion córdobas to 117 billion, but the proposal submitted for parliamentary discussion contained the original amount. This, it was explained by Nathan Sevilla, president of the National Assembly's Commission of Economy, Finances and Budget, was because the original was based on November prices, when the official exchange rate for the dollar was 550:1. By the time of the debate, it had risen to 2,000:1.
In two days of often acrid but seldom useful debate (for example, Communist Party representative Ariel Bravo questioned the defense budget allotment because the army "doesn't produce anything, it only spends"), the key change was an increase of 1.17 million córdobas for the Supreme Court of Justice. The proposal nearly doubled the 1.3 million proposed for the court—less than that assigned to the Nicaraguan Institute of Sports, as Dr. Rodrigo Reyes, president of the Supreme Court, icily pointed out. Smaller increases were also proposed for the Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER) and the Supreme Electoral Council, bringing the final proposed budget to 301.3 billion córdobas.

In the weeks since the allotments for each government agency were published, Dr. Reyes and other high-level members of the judiciary had warned that the original budget proposal was grossly inadequate and that, if not increased, would have dire consequences on the administration of justice. Even the first secretary of the National Assembly, Dr. Rafael Solís, went on record as saying that “the Supreme Court has reason to request the readjustment, above all when the National Assembly has planned for the Fifth Legislature to propose reforms to the Penal Procedure Code, the application of which necessarily involves more personnel and technical resources.” (See “Just the Facts” in this issue for a break down of the main line allotments.)

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