Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 114 | Enero 1991




Envío team

During ten years of revolution, Managua's bleak landscape was graced with colorful murals on walls and buildings. Latin American artists painted one of the best known ones in 1983 in honor of Simón Bolívar on a wall that stretches along the Avenida Bolívar leading down to the lake. Recently, passers-by were outraged to see a crew of city workers methodically painting over the mural. Members of the arts community immediately appeared at the scene to protest, blaming Managua mayor Arnoldo Alemán who was reported to have given the order to blot out the revolutionary art.

Barricada carried a front-page opinion piece commenting on the destruction by author and former FSLN vice president Sergio Ramírez. "When power is used to burn novels and poetry books, to turn thousands of textbooks into pulp and to impose the broad brush of ignorance on mural paintings, those of us who believe in the creative potential of human beings and the unrestricted right to express it cannot be silent without becoming accomplices to such atrocities," wrote Ramírez.

Despite the protest, a painting by Nicaraguan artist Alejandro Canales on a building in Luis Alfonso Velásquez park met a similar fate the next day. The central government denied responsibility, but avoided making a strong condemnation of the act. Alemán asserted that he had only ordered crews to paint over walls with political graffiti, but the municipal workers' union disputed that claim.

Artists held an event to honor Canales, who died earlier this year, in front of the destroyed mural and asserted that the municipal government's vandalism violated the law protecting Nicaraguan heritage. They announced plans to file suit against Alemán for damages and said that a group of some 100 artists would restore the Canales mural.

Under pressure, Alemán agreed several weeks later to repair all damages to the murals, claiming he was an art lover himself. The Nicaraguan Artists' Union said they would maintain their suit until some kind of definitive agreement was reached. They rejected Alemán's plan to fire the crew that actually painted over the artwork, saying that it was not fair to scapegoat the workers.

On November 6, the Nicaraguan government signed an agreement establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The following day, the People's Republic of China (PRC) broke official ties, saying that Nicaragua had violated a 1985 joint communiqué signed by the Sandinistas with Beijing that recognized the PRC as China's only legal representative.

Of 140 United Nations members, only 28 have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Many of these are poor third world countries like Grenada, Lesotho, Liberia and Guinea Bissau and, like Nicaragua, have recently recognized Taiwan in hopes of economic aid. The US, meanwhile, maintains commercial, but not diplomatic, relations with the island.

The decision came as a shock to National Assembly president Miriam Argüello, who had just returned from an official 10-day visit to the PRC bringing home offers of Chinese investments and an invitation for Nicaraguan President Chamorro to visit Beijing. Argüello registered an energetic protest about the new policy, calling it a "mockery" of the legislative branch and saying that it made Nicaragua "look ridiculous in the eyes of a friendly country."

While the Foreign Ministry claimed that the decision represented Nicaragua's "sovereign right to have relations with all the countries of the world," there was evidence that crasser motives were at stake. The Foreign Ministry of the People's Republic accused Taiwan of using "fraudulent means" to win official recognition and the former Nicaraguan ambassador to China said that Taipei typically offered money in exchange for official recognition. Taiwanese Foreign Ministry officials denied that any financial commitments were made.

Whether or not the accusations are true, Nicaragua is clearly interested in aid and expanded commercial relations. Taiwanese Foreign Minister Frederick Chien said, "The business community has played an important role in reestablishing relations." According to the state-owned Taiwan Sugar Corporation, Nicaragua has offered to sell five of its sugar refineries to the corporation. Meanwhile, two Taiwanese delegations are scheduled to visit Nicaragua soon to discuss the possibility of establishing plants in a Free Trade Zone as well as other plans.

International AIDS Day was observed in Nicaragua with training sessions for health professionals and young people, mass distribution of brochures and condoms and a cultural festival in Managua's open-air concert hall, La Piñata. The activities were sponsored by a coalition of 16 organizations, including the Sandinista Youth, the political and erotic humor magazine Semana Cómica, the anti-AIDS group Nimehuatzín and nongovernmental organizations such as the Center for Health Information and Consulting Services (CISAS), all of which work on health and women's issues.

According to Ana Quirós of CISAS, the objective of the activities was "to spread the message on a mass basis that AIDS is a potential problem in Nicaragua, despite the small number of cases registered so far, and to provoke a reaction from the Ministry of Health which until now has maintained that AIDS is not an issue here."

As AIDS Day approached, local newspapers reported seven new cases of the disease, three of them in the region along the Honduran border where many ex-contras and their families who recently returned from Honduras are located. To date, ten people have died of AIDS in Nicaragua, one is near death and there are 31 carriers. Of these, 84% are men between 20 and 40 years old; over 80% are heterosexuals.

Quirós says there was widespread receptivity to the information made available, particularly among young people. After attending workshops, some students offered seminars at their high schools. The festival at La Piñata was attended by some 2,000 people, most of them under 25, who watched theater and musical presentations about AIDS by community groups and danced to the music of local salsa and reggae performers.

The only negative reactions came from the right wing of the Church. In his Sunday sermon, Cardinal Obando y Bravo criticized the use of minors to distribute condoms at stoplights. "I ask myself what their parents are doing. They are directing these children of a tender age toward illicit pleasure outside of matrimony, in the innocence of childhood. Better to put a millstone around their necks than to corrupt those children."

On International AIDS Day, Minister of Health Ernesto Salmerón announced that MINSA is planning an anti-AIDS campaign. Event organizers consider this one of their victories, in addition to establishing contact with new sectors of the population. "The topic of AIDS has been put on the table," said Quirós. "It's only a beginning, but it is a beginning."

A new semi-private TV channel hit the Nicaraguan airwaves in mid-November. Channel 2, which was until recently part of the state-owned television network SNTV, now offers "canned" US sitcoms, Mexican and Venezuelan soap operas and Univision and CNN news. With its flashy programming, the newly revamped station promises to give the government station, Channel 6, stiff competition in the battle to conquer the country's one million TV viewers. Local programs on Channel 6, such as the evening news and "Democracy on the March" (referred to by one commentator as "Boredom on the March") may have to revise their format or lose their audience.

Channel 2 was leased to Octavio Sacasa, one of the station's former owners who fled the country in 1979. Though the Sandinista government had compensated him for the 30% of the shares that he owned, the new government returned all 30% to him. In addition, according to the lease Sacasa signed with the state, he will keep 75% of the profits and will be reimbursed for his initial investments by a state-owned corporation headed by government press director Danilo Lacayo.

The television workers' union at SNTV protested the decision to turn the station over to Sacasa and filed suit to demand that Channel 2 be given to the workers instead. According to the union claim, the former owners dismantled and decapitalized the station before they left the country. The Sandinista government then invested some $300,000 in equipment and $1 million in physical improvements and the workers took on the burden of reviving the station.

Meanwhile, other TV stations are still in the works. SNTV director Carlos Briceño plans to launch one within a year or two, while Sandinista entrepreneur Herty Lewites says his station will be on the air in February. There are rumors of projects being planned by Chamorro's son Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Jr. and the pro-revolutionary newspaper El Nuevo Diario. But questions remain: Will all these stations survive the competition for the viewing audience and will any of them offer a real alternative to the US-style programming now being touted by Channel 2?

In mid-November, Minister of Finance Emilio Pereira delivered the government's 1991 budget proposal to the National Assembly for debate. The $499 million budget has a projected deficit of $152 million, which the government hopes to raise from foreign donors. For the first time, education (20%) and health (16%) surpass defense (15%) in the proposed budget.

The army has dropped from 79,000 troops in May to 28,000 by the end of the year, making it the smallest military force in Central America, except for Costa Rica's Civil Guard. (Honduras has 30,000 troops and El Salvador and Guatemala each maintain an armed force of 60,000.) Still, projected expenses are only slightly below last year's because the Soviet Union covered half of the previous military budget with credits.

The government hoped to have a budget approved in time for the early December meeting of donor countries and international lending organizations, but the date came and went with the proposal still in committee. Sandinista sources accused the far Right of sabotaging debate by pressing for drastic cuts in the defense budget. While the FSLN and Chamorro supporters in UNO proposed minor changes, the radical UNO faction demanded that the military budget be cut by $60 million, from $78.6 to $18 million. FSLN representative Sergio Ramírez said this would mean the army’s effective elimination, which, he said, "would cause not one but a number of armies to arise since everyone would have to find a way to defend himself on his own."

Banner headlines on December 4 announced the discovery that mysterious contra-backer John Hull had been living in Juigalpa, 80 miles southeast of Managua, since the beginning of October. Sources name Hull as a key CIA collaborator and say a landing strip on his ranch near the Nicaraguan border was used to unload arms for the contras and load drugs bound for the US. He has also been linked to the 1984 La Penca, Costa Rica,bombing of an Edén Pastora press conference, an attempt to rid the CIA of a troublesome ally.

US-born Hull became a naturalized Costa Rican citizen in 1984, reportedly to dodge the Boland Amendment, which prohibited the US government or US citizens from aiding the contras. In 1988, the Costa Rican government arrested him on charges of drug trafficking and violating national sovereignty. He later skipped bail and fled to Indiana. The New York Times reports that the Costa Rican government—having dropped the drug charge but adding a murder indictment for the three journalists killed at La Penca—was preparing an extradition request for the US when Hull turned up in Juigalpa, a region that is home to some 7,000 ex-contras.

In Juigalpa, Hull had been living with his daughter in a modest home. He was reported to have paid visits to the rightwing bishop, Pablo Antonio Vega, as well as to local politicians, businessmen and former contra leaders. When asked about Hull, ex-contra chief "Franklin" said, "He is continuing to help us." Barricada reported that Hull was interested in financing an agricultural project for 100 contra families in El Almendro. Juigalpa mayor Isaac Deleo claims that the elusive rancher recently donated medical equipment to the Juigalpa hospital.

"I have been the means for Mr. Hull to establish contacts with large ranchers like Rafael Martinez," boasted Deleo, who also said there were plans to introduce him to Minister of Agriculture Roberto Rondón to discuss plans for a cattle breeding venture.

The Nicaraguan government said it had no information on Hull's activities and that setting himself up in business would be illegal since he had entered the country on a tourist visa. The Costa Rican government began the process of requesting Hull's extradition to face charges. Meanwhile, shortly after he was sighted in Juigalpa, Hull once again disappeared from view.

On October 28, a teenager was killed by machinegun fire while driving home at night along the Masaya Highway. Since that time, a number of witnesses have offered conflicting explanations and the murder has become a cause célèbre for the pro-government press.

One early version depicted a drug-related killing in which the victim, 16-year-old Jean Paul Genie, died as a result of mistaken identity. Though no one had a clear view of the shooting, which occurred along a sparsely inhabited section of the road, other testimony claimed the involvement of a caravan of jeeps of a model typically used by Daniel and Humberto Ortega and their military escorts. La Prensa championed this latter version from the beginning, complete with diagrams of the supposed path taken by the different vehicles involved, based on what was said to be eyewitness testimony. According to the story, escorts in the jeeps shot Genie as he sped up and tried to pass the military caravan.

La Prensa coverage implied that the authorities were dragging their feet and on November 24 printed a partial list of 700 people, including FSLN leader Bayardo Arce, who had signed a letter criticizing the slow pace of investigations. Several days later, the paper linked the recent death of Mauricio Águilar, a high-ranking police investigator, to the case, calling into question the official explanations for his death and insinuating that Águilar was killed because he knew too much about the Genie murder.

National Police Chief René Vivas denied that Águilar was working on the Genie case and commented that relating the two incidents was "a gross lie on the part of La Prensa." Meanwhile, a Colombian journalist, said by La Prensa to have witnessed the whole incident, sent a letter of protest to the paper, denying that he had seen Genie passing a caravan or shots being fired.

Despite the lack of conclusive evidence, a Ministry of Government spokesperson recently announced that the military caravan theory is the only one currently being pursued. On December 6, the victim's father appeared before a National Assembly commission investigating the case. He testified that he believes that bodyguards of either General Humberto Ortega or Daniel Ortega shot his son and accused the police of working too slowly.

Given the politicized environment surrounding the case, it will be difficult to arrive at objective conclusions. A November 28 Barricada editorial commented, "It is the obligation of the authorities to exhaust investigations until they discard [this version] or find the authors of the crime. And above all, even above the polarized political climate in which some seek to entrap the investigation, the sense of justice must prevail."

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