Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 122 | Septiembre 1991




Envío team

Less than three years after Hurricane Joan devastated Bluefields and Rama, the population in Rama and nearby river communities awoke in late July to find themselves neck-deep in water as torrential rains caused flash flooding. Crops were devastated; livestock, furniture and, in many cases, all people's earthly possessions were once again carried away.

Rama, situated at the confluence of the Mico, Esperanza and Siquia rivers, is naturally vulnerable to flooding, even in the best of circumstances. But when Hurricane Joan plowed through, it downed extensive forested areas. That, combined with rapid and indiscriminate deforestation by people in search of firewood, means that there is virtually nothing left to lessen the impact of the area's heavy rains. Patricio Jérez of the Nicaraguan National Resources Institute (IRENA) says about 80% of the area in and around Rama is bare of trees, adding that the region's forests will be completely devastated within 15 years if the current rate of deforestation continues.

Flood damage was significant: 26,000 people were affected in Rama and the surrounding areas, some 166 houses were completely destroyed, and more than 270 were severely damaged. Over 2,400 acres of planted lands were washed away, while 50% of the cattle, 75% of the pigs and 100% of the poultry were killed. In addition, the Ministry of Health went on alert, alarmed by the discovery that more than 1,500 latrines had washed away, contaminating nearby water supplies and creating the perfect breeding ground for cholera.

The government responded quickly to the floods. A national emergency committee was formed, headed by Deputy Minister of the Presidency Antonio Ibarra and including the Red Cross, regional government authorities and the Civil Defense branch of the Sandinista Army. One army official, noting that it was the first time the army has worked this closely with the government since Chamorro's inauguration, praised the executive branch and characterized the relief operation as a success.

Even floods get politicized in Nicaragua, however, and on August 7, Rama's UNO mayor, Alejandro Balmaceda, called a press conference attacking the government and claiming that aid had not arrived. He was accompanied by three of UNO's most rightwing National Assembly representatives, Humberto Castilla, Myriam Argüello and Agustín Jarquín. Taking advantage of La Prensa president Cristiana Chamorro's 24-hour absence from the country that same day, the paper's extremists editors gave the story top billing. The following day, an angry Ibarra called his own press conference to document the types and quantities of assistance that had been distributed as part of the emergency response. He also attacked La Prensa for allowing what he called political concerns to prevail over accurate reporting.

There is no long-term plan to deal with the environmental problems that contribute to such severe flooding. Until a solution is reached, one ecologist has warned, Rama will have increasingly frequent and destructive floods to look forward to. At least next time they may not arrive so unexpectedly. One idea under discussion is to install an alarm system that would warn the town when the water level reaches a danger point.

Nicaraguans of all political stripes were elated when Granada native Denis Martínez pitched a perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 28 in Dodger Stadium, Martínez, a big-leaguer since 1976, currently plays for the Montreal Expos. He is the first Latin American in the major leagues to pitch a perfect game. Martínez dedicated the victory to Nicaragua and, after a personal invitation from President Violeta Chamorro, promised to visit the country as soon as his schedule allows.

If Nicaraguan sportswriters are any indication, Martínez is sure to receive a hero's welcome. "My God," gushed writer Edgard Tijerino in Barricada, "how beautiful... we never thought so much glory could come out of one arm." Martínez stressed the importance of Alcoholics Anonymous in helping him overcome a serious drinking problem that threatened to end his career in the early 1980s. When asked how he planned to celebrate, Martínez, who has been sober for seven years, grinned. "Not with a beer," he said.

Nicaragua's economic crisis has not left the police unscathed. Citizens calling in burglaries or other crimes are sometimes asked if they can pick up investigating officers at the station—there's no money for gasoline, so jeeps sit idle in station parking lots. Most police units are forced to operate on less than a shoestring budget, lacking the most basic administrative and technical supplies to effectively carry out their work.

Police salaries range from 200 to 500 córdobas monthly [$40-$100], far less than what the government's own economists say is necessary to buy a market basket of basic goods. With current salaries, says a police officer from Chinandega, "it's impossible to even feed one's family, much less deal with medical bills, utility costs or clothing expenses."

With strikes wracking many sectors of Nicaragua's economy, it was only a matter of time before they hit the police force. The police are prohibited from striking, but problems have been brewing since mid-1990. On August 2, the police in Region VI (Matagalpa-Jinotega) began a work stoppage arguing that for nearly a year they have been asking for salary increases and consistent distribution of a basic food package. They also are demanding increased financial resources to confront growing crime as well as the problem of contra groups who are rearming in the country's northern regions. Support for Region VI by other Ministry of Government (MINGO) workers was widespread throughout other regions and in the ministry's administrative offices in Managua. The police have agreed to go back to work, pending negotiations, but the underlying problem is far from resolved.

MINGO head Carlos Hurtado, though reportedly furious at the tiny budget he receives, has been unwilling to act on police demands. National Police Chief René Vivas denied that any sort of strike was underway, but emphasized the serious financial problems his forces face. He commented that police officers should not "assume attitudes more appropriate to a union." Vivas traced the crisis in Region VI to extremist demands that the police force in a number of towns be removed. The police are so far bearing the brunt of the so-called recontras; at least four officers have been killed in recent recontra attacks. Police officers from Region VI criticize Hurtado for dialoguing with recontra commander Indomable, instead of arresting him for the death of their colleagues.

Some political observers believe that with the army intact, at least in the short term, the right wing has decided that its best bet is to dismantle the police force, either through political and military pressure or through attrition, as it becomes increasingly difficult to work under existing internal conditions.

Many Nicaraguan feminists have been dismayed in the past year to see the rapid proliferation of women's bodies being used to sell everything from beer, cars and banking services to asbestos roofing. On the other hand, they laud the parallel increase in the discussion of sexuality from a feminist perspective, particularly in Barricada's weekly supplement, Gente.

UNO ideologues wasted little time in launching a frontal attack against what they call "pornography," casting their net so wide that it includes discussions of family planning and women's reproductive health. Pablo Antonio Cuadra of La Prensa criticized the Sandinista media for "denigrating women with their crude photos," clearly referring to La Semana Cómica, a weekly that puts nude women on the cover and El Nuevo Diario, which prints photos of scantily clad women almost daily.

Many women share Cuadra's disgust at La Semana Cómica and El Nuevo Diario. Rather than empowering women however, his underlying moral crusade is directed against attempts to break through sexual taboos in Nicaraguan society and open up a discussion that could lead to a serious analysis of the use of women's bodies in advertising. Cuadra is backed up by Education Minister Humberto Belli who charges that "sexuality is being considered merely in terms of pleasure, which in the end will damage relations among Nicaraguan couples. All these publications are part of a campaign aimed at the moral dismantling of society." Neither Cuadra nor Belli acknowledge that this sort of advertising is part and parcel of the very capitalist culture they have been struggling to reinstall in Nicaragua.

Gente has gone on the counterattack, characterizing Belli and Cuadra's comments as "a direct threat" against its weekly paper and declaring, "We are militants of daily life and we will defend our right to discuss issues of sexuality in our pages." Gente's commentary expressed the fear that, as part of a crusade against "pornography," Cuadra and Belli are seeking to cut off any discussions of sexuality or erotica.

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