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  Number 90 | Enero 1989
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Envío team

SUCCESSES IN SPUDS
If one goal of this year's economic measures was to make production more efficient and cut down on costly imports, peasant potato producers from San Ramón, Matagalpa, have met the challenge.
Intrigued by a project underway in two government experimental stations, this group of potato growers returned home determined that they, too, could recover the tiny tomato-like seeds from the upper part of the plant and grow potatoes from them.
And they did. It is estimated that an average first harvest will give up to double the yield resulting from Nicaragua's traditional method of planting the tuber itself.

"The main advantage of using botanic seed," explained Fidel Torres, a Peruvian plant physiologist working in the Jinotega experimental center, "is that the potato is absolutely free of infestations." Bacteria and viruses tend to concentrate only in the tuber and the lower part of the plant.

"We always threw the plant away and just bemoaned all the diseased production," said Demetrio Chavarría Machado, who has produced potatoes for over 40 years. Recovering the seeds "was as unknown as hearing the noise of a plane and not knowing where it was going."

Once put in practice on a large scale, the use of local seeds will save four-fifths of the current import and storage costs (potatoes for planting are brought in from Guatemala, Canada and other countries) as well as allow for improved selection. The cost of purchasing seeds from abroad is high—up to 63.9% of overall production costs, compared to 7.6% for corn at the lower end and 49.3% for garlic, at the higher.

Through their Union for Small Farmers and Cattle Ranchers (UNAG), the peasants requested follow-up from the government so that Nicaragua can become self-sufficient in seed production. After their successful experience, MIDINRA technicians moved all the equipment from their experimental station in Jinotega to San Ramón.


OPEN TRAVEL TO COAST
“There’s no longer war in the Atlantic Coast,” explained Minister of the Interior Borge, by way of announcing his ministry’s decision that prior permission from the Migration Division will no longer be required for citizens or foreigners travelling to the coast.


NICARAGUA HOSTS PARLACEN SEMINAR
Pending the formation of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) agreed to in the 1987 peace accords, more than 40 of the region's legislators gathered in Managua on November 11-12 to hear what has been done so far and to learn more about other such experiences. Among the presenters at the "Central American Parliament, Political Parties and National Parliaments Seminar" was Humberto Peláez, president of both the Andean and Latin American Parliaments, and Francisco Olivas Garcia, Secretary General of the Spanish Socialist delegation to the European Economic Community, who discussed the European Parliament.

Nicaragua was the first country to ratify the decision to form a Central American parliament. The only country that has not yet done so is Costa Rica, although Costa Rica's delegation assured the meeting that it would be approved.
The five Central American delegations expressed strong support for the search for Central American unity "forged through dialogue, negotiations, democratization and pluralism." Ramiro de Leon Carpio, head of the Guatemalan delegation, stressed the need to move forward on the common problems of their foreign debts and underdevelopment. Humberto Posada, a Christian Democrat speaking for El Salvador, noted that "we have found the space where we Central Americans can live in close brotherhood." The head of the Honduras delegation, Arturo Echenique Santos, called PARLACEN "our historical and future challenge." Comandante Carlos Núñez, speaking for Nicaragua, recalled that the first steps in this direction were taken in 1823-25, just after independence from Spain, when a Central American Congress approved a federal Constitution "capable of giving new life to the then-united provinces of Central America."

In the opening speech of the seminar, President Daniel Ortega exhorted the audience to "work together to make the Esquipulas II Accords a reality, taking into account the characteristics of each one of the nations." Nicaragua invited not only representatives of the seven parties participating in its National Assembly, but also of the five other legally registered parties.

“WE’RE GOING TO MAKE IT”
An ad-hoc committee called “Song to the Victims of Joan,” spawned by two foreign correspondents, has finished a video clip that will accompany the song “We’re Going to Make it.”

David Gollob, correspondent for CBC’s Radio Canada and author of the song, explained Belgian correspondent Jan Van Bilsen. The clip includes footage taken by the two in Bluefields and El Rama both before and after the hurricane, as well as archive images of the war. Members of four Atlantic Coast bands participated in cutting a record of the song. Van Bilsen said they are contacting Nicaraguan actress Bianca Jagger and other personalities to ask for their collaboration, mechanisms are not yet defined.

STATE SUCCESS AT SAN ANTONIO
"It was like a car running at full speed toward a cliff that was saved by government intervention." That's how Minister of the Agriculture Jaime Wheelock recently explained the nationalization of the San Antonio Sugar Refinery on July 13.
Formerly owned by the Pellas family, the refinery and surrounding plantation near the northwestern city of Chichigalpa are the largest in Nicaragua. The Pellas' gamut of other business ventures and ties to a private contra fund in Miami aroused government suspicions that a precipitous drop in production in recent years was due more to decapitalization than the economic crisis.
In addition, unionized workers at the plant had complained to the government that the Pellas family was driving the refinery into the ground by malign neglect—not repairing equipment, leaving the country during key harvest periods and the like.

San Antonio has the capacity to produce three million quintals (hundredweight) of sugar cane each season. Last year, the facility produced scarcely 1.1 million. Nicaragua's other sugar producers had a combined output of 2.5 million, yet 60% of all government financing for the sugar industry went to San Antonio. In 1982, the average yield per acre was just over 57 quintals. Last season, the figure had dropped to below 32. Of 7,000 acres designated for new planting this season, only 500 had been sown before the government stepped in.

"In only four months, the plant has been restored to producing half a million quintals more than last year without spending one single dollar," reported Wheelock. The machinery was fixed without importing new parts, and the production goal has been set at 1,664,000 quintals.

THE MIXED ECONOMY IS ALIVE AND WELL
AND MOVING INTO THE TOURIST INDUSTRY
People who expect the Sandinista government to be ideologically pure can only expect to be confused. When in July they nationalized the country’s biggest sugar refinery because the owners were decapitalizing it, some political pundits saw clear evidence of a move toward more state involvement in the economy, less room for the private sector. This month, the government announced it was selling off parts of the state’s tourist facilities to private enterprise.

Minister of Tourism Herty Lewites pointed out that “we don’t have the money to put in the big investments that would significantly broaden the existing services” in the state’s hotels, restaurants and tourist centers, so the decision was made to invite private participation. After a series of meetings with business people in the tourism industry, they’re beginning by selling off 15% of the Mirador Tiscapa restaurant to the owners of other Managua restaurants “to take advantage of their restaurant management experience” said the Sandinista daily paper Barricada. "We've also put proposals out to other restaurant owners, proposing that they acquire part of China Palace and other restaurants that the government now runs, always in areas where they can offer more dynamism" Lewites said. The private investors have also expressed interest in several of the tourist beach complexes, such as Montelimar, Hotel Barlovento in San Juan del Sur, Hotel Bajamar at Pochomil, plus the Hotel Alhambra in Granada. Hurricane Joan has left less money than ever for investment, of course. As Lewites put it, "Beginning Nicaragua's reconstruction is a task where there's a place for private enterprise, within the framework of a clear definition of our mixed economy."

While there was no audible reaction from the country's opposition parties, the union that covers hotel workers was less than pleased. "The Minister of Tourism should know that there is a union that covers all restaurant workers...and he should take us very much into account to make arrangements for selling restaurants," said Armando Ruiz, Secretary General of the Edgard Lang Union, which covers restaurant workers in Managua. He also reminded the government that "the state enterprises are the property of the people and can't be sold. High-level leaders in the FSLN have told us that the confiscated businesses wouldn't be returned. But the Mirador Tiscapa...belonged to Somoza and his pals."

There is nothing simple about trying to run a mixed economy. Ask the Sandinistas. Their consistency is their pragmatism: both the decision to nationalize the sugar mill and to sell a stake in the tourist industry are pragmatic economic decisions.

THE WINNER REALLY TAKES THE CAKE
It was a close contest. The competition was tough, the judges' job extremely difficult, but their decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into regarding the La Prensa Story of the Year Contest. Here they are, great moments in another year of the paper one US State Department official recently called "courageous and widely admired." First, the unsuccessful entrants: The early front-runner was February's finest—the paper's shock, horror and revelation on February 13 that accountants, secretaries, bank tellers and even the cleaners at the Chinandega branch of the National Development Bank were being mobilized into army reserve battalions "for military instruction."

The 7th Chinandega Moneychangers and Note Counters were, in fact, mobilized but only to take part in the national changeover to the new banknotes, carried out between February 15 and 17. This was classic La Prensa: the paper had part of the story but completely missed the point because of its fixedly anti-Sandinista view. In the days preceding the money changeover La Prensa ran a series of stories about the number of people being mobilized to some unspecified destination or to defend Managua and, in particular, the number of bank and finance workers involved. Despite its own repeated references to the large number of bank staff being called up, the paper stuck to the line that civil staff were being mobilized for a secret military project and missed the real point—that an enormous economic change was on the way.

For months this story was the clear leader but then there came a plethora of idiocy and intrigue in July, including managing to call the black market in dollars "another victim of the economic recession" when government economic measures were successful in causing a fall in the black market exchange rate for dollars. But, first and foremost for the month was the July 7 page one lead: "Soviet Submarines in Corinto" screamed the full page headline complete with a photo of the Soviet Union's largest nuclear submarine spread across two thirds of the page. The photo caption said that, according to the Pentagon, the sub was in the Pacific port of Corinto and that this had provoked an alert in Washington.

The alertness had not extended to the offices of La Prensa. Vice President Jaime Chamorro said afterwards that the man who wrote the headline misinterpreted the story. The story originally from The Miami Herald, was based on a Pentagon report that said that Nicaragua had ports and airports big enough to accommodate Soviet craft but that none of these ships or planes had visited Nicaragua. "We didn't see [the headline] until afterwards," said Chamorro. "It was a big mistake. There should have been a question mark." It has been said that if you want freedom of the press then you have to own one. But this is no guarantee of accuracy. On August 18 La Prensa reported that Sandinista mobs had stoned the house of La Prensa owner Violeta Chamorro, breaking some windows and "destroying" the windscreen of her car.

Not quite, Violeta Chamorro was forced to admit the following day. Barricada quoted her as telling foreign journalists there had been "a small error" made by her paper. No window in her house had been broken, no "rain of stones" had been heard or seen and the windscreen of the car had not been destroyed but it did have a small chip out of it. On the front page of its next edition, La Prensa ran three separate photographs of a cluster of five rocks, a rock on Violeta Chamorro's driveway, and the chip out of the car windscreen.

One contest contender had to come from La Prensa’s third quarter series on murders that could, with a stretch of the imagination, be political. The series’ low point was the Quezalquaque killings, where La Prensa reported suggestions by leaders of the opposition trade union CUS that the murder victims were their members and that they had been subject to previous death threats by government officials. There bereaved widows denied CUS claims that their partners had been CUS unionists and refused offers of money from the union to say they had been members. Two of the men had served in the Sandinista army. They were the big stories. But sometimes small is beautiful, or at least the everyday is more revealing. This one little story has it all: absolute improbability, boldly written, with the vaguest of references to sources, and a stinging condemnation of the government. Here it is, the 1988 La Prensa Story of the Year, in its entirety. 29 September 1988:

Visit of Military Recruiters Causes Death of Humble Young Woman

DIRIA—Sonia de Espinosa, a poor resident of this town, died as a result of indigestion, provoked by an unpleasant visit from recruitment officers of the Military Service who arrived looking for her husband, Luis Espinosa. The soldiers arrived at midnight last Tuesday on a patrol demanding that Sonia open the door of her house so they could take Luis away, but he was in the United States. Neighbors stated that Sonia had dined on tripe soup. They said the fright she received from the soldiers made her sick and she had to be taken to Granada where she was treated but passed away on Wednesday the 21st.

Her funeral was carried out the following day with a gathering of all her friends. The death leaves her two little children all alone while the military continues smugly wreaking havoc among the civilian population.


THE 119 STEALS THE SHOW
The final Managua performance of the Georgian State Dance Company’s Nicaraguan benefit tour for victims of Hurricane Joan was a three-country bash. The Nicaraguans and the Soviet Georgians sang and danced and a Bulgarian couple gave their best interpretations of western pop; they lip-synched and boogied their way around the western hemisphere, from Madonna's Isla Bonita to Jose Martf's Guantanamera to "I like to live in Central America."

The Nicaraguan audience loved the Bulgarians, politely applauded the Soviet dancers and goggled at the troupe's contortionist. He turned himself inside out, sucked his stomach up into his rib cage, popped out his shoulder blades, crossed his feet behind his head, lay on nails and swords and then on broken glass with his assistant sitting folded up on his chest. The crowd stood in amazement and then roared when the Nicaraguan emcee said, referring to the daily crush on Managua's busiest bus route, "That's nothing, we do that every day on the 119."

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