Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 121 | Agosto 1991




Envío team

Contrary to rightwing hopes, university students across Nicaragua handed a decisive victory to the Sandinista Youth (JS) in elections for president of the university association UNEN. Three pro-government student parties had even united during the campaign to increase their chances of ending Sandinista control of the student organization. For over 20 years, FSLN-affiliated student groups have won every university election they entered.

The final vote count was 11,350 for the Sandinista slate and 5,444 for the pro-government coalition. This was even more votes for the JS than in the last UNEN elections, two years ago, when María Ramírez, daughter of former Vice President Sergio Ramírez and a dynamic politician in her own right, won the UNEN presidency.

The new UNEN president is Rafael Henríquez, a leading member of the Sandinista Youth. Henríquez has garnered some fame in recent months for his open discussion of past FSLN and JS errors. Henríquez himself is particularly critical of a "generation gap" that has been created by the party's inattention to the specific concerns of the youth sector; he faults the youth organization itself for dedicating too much of its own time to support for general issues at the expense of those of its constituency. He has also taken public positions emphasizing the need to integrate more women into the JS by better responding to their concrete needs. The universities face tough economic times, Henríquez acknowledged, stating that one of his first priorities is more student participation to increase UNEN's effectiveness as a democratic, participatory organization.

The FSLN anthem declares that "the people own their history." Some extremists within UNO will not rest until that history has been rewritten to their liking. UNO National Assembly representative Alejandro Solórzano and three of his colleagues received the approval of Assembly President Alfredo César to introduce a bill that would repeal Law 91. That law states that the names of Nicaraguan heroes and martyrs who died fighting against Somoza or, in later cases, the US-backed contra forces, will continue to grace the many schools, streets, parks, plazas and public buildings named or renamed during the revolutionary period.

The FSLN bench in the legislature termed the proposal "political vengeance, which violates the spirit of national reconciliation." The Transition Protocol signed in March 1990 promised to respect Nicaragua's heroes and martyrs, including the many cases where their names were given to public buildings. Five months after the Protocol was signed, UNO representative Allan Zambrana introduced a bill similar to Solórzano's and said in the ensuing debate that "the only thing the Sandinistas forgot to do was put names on the country's toilets."

Yelba Castro, a Managua resident asked her opinion in a Barricada survey, responded by wondering what names UNO would use if its new bill is successful. "If they get rid of Sandino, Carlos Fonseca, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, what names will they use instead? Roosevelt, Reagan, Bermúdez, Somoza?"

News reports circulating in Managua in June claimed that Minister of Education and key UNO ideologue Humberto Belli has a close US adviser working in his ministry (known as the MED) who is also a CIA informant.

The adviser in question is one Dino John Pantoni, an Italian-American from Ohio (where Belli spent most of the late 1980s). Pantoni has been denounced as playing an "interventionist" role in the MED; teachers say his main task is to help Belli impose a US education model, all the time keeping tabs on teachers and other MED personnel opposed to such an end. Pantoni played a key and highly visible role in the organization of several recent events, including a three-day conference on "democratic education." All events were distinguished by their vitriolic anti-Sandinista tone as well as their sharp opposition to the "ineffective" Chamorro government.

The anniversary of the Stonewall riots in the US has become a rallying point for gay and lesbian groups all over that country and is punctuated by parades combining pride in lesbian and gay culture and outrage over continuing discrimination and government indifference on key issues such as AIDS research. What has become tradition in the US was a first-time experience in Nicaragua this year as Managua's gay and lesbian community and some of its supporters came together for a night of celebration and debate.

People shared experiences and discussed the problems they face every day in a culture that often openly represses such issues. Marcos, from a gay men's collective, said, "We have daily challenges, first in learning to accept ourselves, second in dealing with our families and finally in learning to cope with society." A man identifying himself as the father of a lesbian said, "This room should be full of the parents and families of lesbians and gay men. My message to them is not to be afraid."

For some in Managua, homophobic tradition dies hard. Commentators on Radio Católica, a reactionary radio station run by the Catholic Church, and Radio Ya, funded by the FSLN, crossed the vast political divide usually separating them to join forces in ignorance, attacking homosexuality and misrepresenting the event in the days preceding it.

President Violeta Chamorro issued a decree on June 21 that threw a wrench into Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán's much-publicized plans to rebuild Managua's downtown, destroyed in the 1972 earthquake. Alemán claims the right to decide Managua's fate, citing the Sandinistas' municipal autonomy law as his legal basis. Chamorro holds that, because Managua is the nation's capital, decisions regarding its future correspond to the President. The communiqué accompanying Chamorro's decree stated that "Nicaragua is a unitary and indivisible state," arguing that "one of Madam President's constitutional attributes is to promote the comprehensive and harmonic development of the diverse parts of national territory." With her decree, President Chamorro announced the creation of a National Environment and Land-Use Planning Commission, which envisions a project "with major social, ecological and economic content, which will redound to the benefit of all Nicaraguans."

After the decree was issued, Alemán called several demonstrations in which he led city employees in a parade of municipal vehicles, including garbage trucks, from his office to the presidential building. He is even rumored to have written US Ambassador Shlaudemann denouncing the "arbitrary act of executive power, as in the worst dictatorial times" and asking him to persuade President Chamorro to annul the new decree giving her control over the reconstruction project.

Columnist Roberto Larios charged in Barricada that Alemán's enthusiasm to rebuild the city comes from the fact that he has made contacts with a number of Cuban-Americans in Miami who would fill the downtown area with commercial establishments, including all sorts of sex-related enterprises.

The plan to rebuild Managua envisioned by the Presidency includes measures to recover the seriously polluted Lake Managua, an undertaking presidential minister Antonio Lacayo says is beyond the scope of the Managua municipality. Lacayo said the ministers of natural resources and of construction and transportation will take part in the plans for and implementation of the project, as will Mayor Alemán.

Political observers note that it is the first time in many months that Chamorro has clashed so publicly with Alemán, and some cite his clear presidential ambitions as contributing to her decisive action. The high profile of such a project, to say nothing of its tremendous allocation of funds, would constitute a real plum for any presidential contender up against an incumbent.

At the end of June, Nicaraguan Minister of the Economy Silvio de Franco quietly signed a "Framework Agreement for Free Trade" with the United States in Washington. Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo had announced the imminent signing on his June 15 return from there, a trip made explicitly to "further probe" the free trade issue.

With this agreement, all trade barriers between the two countries will fall over the next five to six years. The US has already reinstated its quota of Nicaraguan sugar imports at favorable prices. While the new agreement will make other agricultural exports also more competitive in the US market, the expected flood of US manufactured imports could be the death knell for already faltering urban industry. (See Father Xabier Gorostiaga's analysis of the motivations behind President Bush's new free-trade initiative in the hemisphere in "Latin America in the 'New World Order'" in this issue).

Vice Minister of the Economy Noel Vidaurre explained at the time of the signing that a council made up of representatives from his ministry and the US Commerce Department had been formed. "We will talk category by category, and in the negotiations to come we will try not to give the United States the same freedom of trade in the sense that its products enter freely."

The agreement was partly a sort of US "recompense" to Nicaragua's government for repealing Law 92 a month earlier. That law, bequeathed by the outgoing Sandinistas, had obliged the new government to fight for US reparations based on the World Court's ruling against the United States regarding the contra war. Shortly before Lacayo's trip, Nicaraguan Vice Foreign Minister Ernesto Leal said that the government hoped to reach an "extra-judicial agreement" with Washington, adding that possible subjects for negotiation included a free-trade agreement "to help Nicaragua strengthen its economy."

On June 27, dubbed the "Day of Peace," the government celebrated the first anniversary of the definitive demobilization and disarming of the contras. During the event, held in Managua and replete with self-congratulatory speeches about the end of war, Oscar Sobalvarro (former Comandante Rubén) solemnly bestowed a "Cross of the Combatant" on President Chamorro and Cardinal Obando y Bravo.

At dawn that very same day, however, some 40 so-called recontras attacked police headquarters in Quilalí. The seven policemen still on night duty successfully defended their post, killing one attacker and wounding two others without suffering any casualties themselves. A week later, Minister of Government Carlos Hurtado blamed this attack and another several days later in Pantasma on "El Indomable" (Indomitable), who heads a group of some 150 recontras in that northern region. Hurtado said there did not appear to be any political motive for the attacks.

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