Rebellion in the Ranks: Challenge from the Right
This month's analysis focuses on the conflict between two major sectors in the country: those interested in concertation and those who reject it. As the analysis points out, the political crisis in Region V (Boaco and Chontales) in the first two weeks of November was the focal point for the energies of the ultra-right UNO forces that oppose the concertation process sponsored by the moderates in the central government. In the following article, envío offers a detailed look at the Region V uprising—the events, the players and the short- and long-term implications.
In last June's envío we reviewed contra demobilization and highlighted some of the problems to be confronted in the coming months. Many issues touched on in June have indeed remained unresolved and contributed to the crisis in November. Among these are the distribution of land, the integration of the rural police in the national police force, the role of the army, and the lack of organized development projects for the demobilized. Some unique aspects of Region V, particularly the rabid anti-Sandinista sentiment found there, also played a role in the crisis. But events both during and after the protest suggest that, while the initial crisis had its base in Region V and in unfulfilled promises to the former contras, the conflict between central government moderates and reactionaries at the local level exists nationwide. The local right wing is part of a more concerted national plan to depose the moderates and replace them with the appropriate reactionary figures.
Region V: Cattle and conservatismRegion V is the only region in the country in which the UNO alliance won every municipality, with 70% of the presidential vote going to Violeta Chamorro, illustrating a broad anti-Sandinista and pro-contra sentiment that in the war years made the region a support base for the contras. Region V has always been a relatively prosperous area, and when the Sandinistas challenged the existing hierarchy with what were viewed as arbitrary land confiscations, opposition grew quickly. Trying to enforce price and trade controls further alienated the population, and military service did so even more. In addition to the young men who joined the contra forces, many other people became part of the civilian support network.
In many cases medium and large cattle farmers, adamant anti-Sandinistas, encouraged their sons and workers to join the contra forces. Many of the civilians who ran for and won public office in the recent elections thus had close contact with the contras. After demobilization, they became natural allies.
The alliances, however, are perhaps not that natural, and may not be permanent. While most sectors united in the recent protests, the potential exists for tensions and divisions. The cattle-ranching population ranges from the very wealthy who farm tens of thousands of acres, to large landowners with 2-10,000 acres, to those who have very little land and those who have none at all. Most of the demobilized contras are from the landless sector and work as laborers on the large farms. While the chief concerns of the demobilized are land, credit and security, the mayors who claimed to represent them demanded only one—security. How long the former contras will believe that the mayors represent their interests remains to be seen.
The playersThe complexity of events in Region V can be better understood by looking at the principal sectors involved in the conflict. The list is far from exhaustive, and includes neither the FSLN nor the vast numbers of civilians who were directly affected by the protest without taking part in it.
Demobilized. There are two main groups of demobilized contras in Region V, the Southern Front and the Northern Front, otherwise known as the Nicaraguan Democratic Front (FDN). Most of the roughly 1,500 Southern Front members have received land in the Yolaina area (many of them are from this isolated area of Nicaragua so their reintegration into the community has been easier). The Northern Front, on the other hand, with 5,000 members, has spread throughout the region, with 3,000 having received land, mostly near El Almendro, and the rest still landless. The Southern Front initiated the protests in Yolaina, but both groups were active by the end.
Despite their legitimate demands, the demobilized contras did not manage to become an integral part of the negotiating process, illustrating what one Nicaraguan sociologist has called the "historic vacuum of regional peasant leadership." The concessions they eventually received had more to do with the central government's refusal to give in to the mayors' political demands than to the former contras' actions.
UNO mayors. Some mayors are professional politicians, while others are wealthy farmers. The great majority had close relations with the armed contras under the Sandinista government. Isaac Deleo, mayor of Juigalpa, told the pro-Sandinista daily Barricada that "as opposed to those on top, those who surround the President, we are the direct contact with the people." While they claim to represent the desires of their regional constituency, their demands to the central government focused more on national than on regional issues. They have now formed a national mayors' organization, the Save Democracy Movement.
Not all the mayors sympathize with the far Right, however. Just a week before the crisis, the Rama mayor commented that the reintegration of the demobilized was proceeding well and their needs were being responded to. Camoapa’s mayor, Jorge Duarte, has actually been accused of being pro-Sandinista because of his moderate views.
Producers. The small and medium producers were the most affected by the protest. They produce primarily milk and cheese, neither of which could get through the barricades, and they sustained significant financial losses. The large producers, meanwhile, concentrate on beef sales, which do not depend so much on daily transport, so they were less affected. Both sectors initially supported the protest, but after losing money for two weeks, the small and medium producers also started losing patience.
Bishop Pablo Antonio Vega. As bishop of Juigalpa, Vega served in an official role as mediator between the government negotiating team and the mayors from November 13 to 16. Before that, he served as an unofficial adviser to the mayors. He traveled with them to Managua when they first spoke with President Chamorro on November 10, and was seen at the barricades around Juigalpa. According to Barricada, Bishop Vega coordinated the protest and gave or withheld permission for vehicles to pass through the barricades. In an interview with envío at his home in Juigalpa, Vega commented that "to me [the mayors' movement] is the new hope that these events have awakened."
Ministry of Government. Under the UNO administration, the former Ministry of the Interior was renamed the Ministry of Government. As before, it is in charge of the police, among other responsibilities. In each region of the country, the civilian delegate named by the minister is the highest authority. Region V's civilian delegate, Joaquín Lovo, has a particularly challenging task. He runs the FDN and Southern Front rural police forces as well as the national police force (still known as the Sandinista police). The Sandinista police maintain order throughout the region, except in areas where the demobilized contras are concentrated—the FDN in El Almendro and the Southern Front in Yolaina. Relations between the FDN rural police and the Sandinista police have been good, but problems with the Southern Front rural police instigated the Region V crisis.
Vice President Virgilio Godoy. Godoy, with no official functions in the government, has had plenty of time on his hands to build support in the countryside. His presence has been well documented at La Concha, a small town near Masaya that has been the focus of two major anti-Sandinista protests since April and, according to pro-Sandinista newspapers, he has often been spotted in the fifth region. During the crisis, he attended the mayors' meetings in Managua, and was quoted by Lacayo as calling the mayors' movement "a beautiful popular protest."
The fact that one of the mayors' demands was to give Godoy the powers vested in him in the Constitution lends credence to accusations of his direct involvement both with the mayors and in the national destabilization campaign. Region V National Assembly member and protest backer Nardo Sequeira told Barricada, "I agree that Dr. Godoy should actively share government responsibilities." But he also admitted, "The Constitution doesn't say it explicitly, it says he should play the role the President assigns him." The President has put Godoy in charge of forming the Central American Parliament, full stop.
National Political Leaders. When Aristides Sánchez, adviser to the demobilized contras, was arrested and charged with promoting national destabilization, Minister of Government Carlos Hurtado announced in a press conference that other national leaders were also being investigated, including Managua mayor Arnoldo Alemán, advocate of a broad range of reactionary policies from putting out the eternal flame at Carlos Fonseca's tomb to trying to evict squatters from state property; Agustín Jarquín, member of Managua's Municipal Council and leader of a faction of the Social Christian party also implicated in the plot; Azucena Ferrey, a National Assembly representative, former civilian leader of the contras and a member of Jarquín's party; Humberto Castilla, a National Assembly member from Region V, member of Jarquín's party and sometimes seen in the company of US Embassy officials; Nardo Sequeira, also a National Assembly member from Region V; and Frank Lanzas, Matagalpa’s mayor and a strong Godoyista.
Promises in June, reality in NovemberThe June accords signed between the contra leaders and the UNO government outlined two broad areas from which land would be chosen for a number of development poles. Special funding—$30 million from the US government to the Organization of American States' International Support and Verification Commission (CIAV-OAS)—and additional Nicaraguan government money was to provide the demobilized with credit, housing, roads, health care, education, running water and electricity. The biggest target area was in Region V, where the majority of the contras were expected to settle. Despite the fact that the infrastructure promised was far more than exists in any Region V town, the government made the promises and the contras believed them. Some analysts question the whole concept of giving the demobilized land for cattle farming. Initial investment is high, and many who have spent years fighting in the mountains rather than farming may find it more expedient to sell their land. Large landowners will be only too willing to buy up the land and employ the seller. (The great majority of the land in Region V is being taken from state farms, which make up 5% of the land, with 70% already in private hands.)
None of the promises were kept. The Agrarian Reform Ministry (INRA) distributed small amounts of land, but quickly clarified that the 35 hectares promised to each contra was not feasible. Many contra veterans traveled home to visit their families, commenting that they would return when they saw the poles operating successfully. They did not plan to stay with their families, claiming that they would suffer persecution from Sandinistas in their communities.
According to Roberto Ferrey of the Repatriation Institute, when the veterans realized that they would not in fact be persecuted, they chose to stay in their own communities. This created a problem, because all CIAV and government resources were focused on the development poles, while the ex-contras were dispersed throughout Nicaragua, demanding services in each community. Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo stated in a November 14 press conference that "because the veterans' security problem is resolved, they abandoned the development pole idea. Instead of concentrating in two or three poles, they dispersed throughout the country and are pressuring for land in every region."
By September, all government ministries involved had discarded the development pole plan, but no clear reintegration plan replaced it. In addition, the government never explicitly stated that the poles were no longer tenable, and former contra leaders both locally and nationally continued to demand resources for them.
Rubén (Oscar Sobalvarro), the leader of the increasingly anti-government faction of the demobilized, continues to advocate for the development poles. He points out that the government signed an accord promising the veterans not only land but also infrastructure, and says he will continue to push for fulfillment of those commitments. He told envío, "The government tries to lay the blame on the Resistance [official name of the former contra movement] for having gone to their families. But they were forced to go precisely because the government abandoned them." He added that although many contras have dispersed, 5,000 are waiting for poles in Region V and 4,000 in Region VI (Matagalpa and Jinotega).
Even those former contras who have received land—and in Region V the number is as high as 7,500—have received little else. Some got roofing material to build houses, but there is no agricultural credit and no sign at all of the other infrastructure that was promised—roads, electricity, etc. The central government appears to have underestimated both the financial burden of the commitments made and the determination of the recipients to push for compliance. Agrarian Reform Minister Gustavo Tablada told envío in June that it was not important to get the demobilized land and credit in time for the first planting.
Reality has proved otherwise. Those who received land but nothing else continue to face financial crisis, and they are quite willing to spend two weeks at the barricades. The government's continued reluctance or inability to aid them to begin even the second planting may well open the door to more violence.
The mayors and other politicians involved knew that the economic situation was critical and took advantage of it to push for their own political ends. The 12 demands do not even address unfulfilled commitments to the contras, even though they are the movement’s strongest base. Whether this illustrates political shortsightedness on their part or simply an overwhelming drive to achieve national political ends is not clear. At any rate, after two weeks of exacerbated economic crisis brought on by the barricades, the mayors had to back down. The possibility loomed that the very base that joined in part because of the economic crisis would abandon them for the same reason.
Not everyone is home on the farmWhile many veterans returned to their homes and either joined family farms or waited to receive land, others continued to look for a political and/or military role for themselves. Franklin (Israel Galeano) and Rubén (Oscar Sobalvarro) split on how closely to ally with moderate UNO forces and the FSLN. During the July strikes, when armed reactionary UNO forces took over one Managua neighborhood, former contras—among them Rubén—were spotted defending the area in support of Godoyista forces and in open defiance of the UNO government.
While the July strike was resolved and Godoy's challenge to Chamorro sidelined, divisions within the contras’ now civilian National Resistance Civic Association deepened. Rubén and Franklin have separate offices in Managua (the Southern Front has its own office as well), and contra veterans in the countryside clearly align themselves with one faction or the other. The division is fairly straightforward. Franklin admits that the contras had to accept compromises (particularly the continued presence of the FSLN as a political force and respect for the army as an institution) to bring stability to the country and he publicly supported the concertation process, while Rubén continues to push to rid the government of any remaining Sandinistas, particularly claiming that the army is still Sandinista and must be changed. Soon after the Region V crisis was resolved, a fourth contra group emerged: the Organization to Support the Demobilized and Displaced of the National Resistance. The group distances itself both from Rubén for being too political and the government Repatriation Institute for being ineffective. Franklin, for his part, claims he does not even know its leader.
Shortly after Sandinista unions and the UNO government signed the concertation accord, COSEP gave a press conference explaining that it refused to sign because the document did not guarantee Confiscation Review Decree 11-90. Interestingly enough, Rubén and other demobilized leaders also participated in the press conference. Rubén emphasized that while concertation is the correct way to reach national reconciliation, "Israel Galeano's manipulation to support a specific government policy is immoral and unjust. He speaks in the name of the demobilized, contradicting the ideological and moral principles that led to the bloody war against a totalitarian system. Respect for private property, democracy and freedom was our rallying cry."
In an interview with envío, Rubén emphasized the importance of Decree 11-90 to those contras whose land was confiscated by the Sandinistas and who want it back. His dedication to this COSEP cause clarifies his alliances. The emerging anti-concertation alliance between Rubén and COSEP found its echo just days later in Region V.
Leading up to the crisisThe UNO government's first months in office have been characterized by its inability to address more than one sector's interests at a time. Economic stability issues centered in the capital took all the government's energy from July through September, culminating in the concertation agreement signed on October 26. During these months, the demobilized were virtually ignored. The Repatriation Institute had no budget; CIAV was in charge of the only substantial funding available; and, once the development pole idea fell apart, no one took the time to draw up a new policy.
Obviously, while the central government may have been ignoring the plight of the demobilized and the rural situation in general, politicians and demobilized alike were very active in their own communities. Issues varied from region to region—in Waslala, Matagalpa, violence broke out when former contras took over cooperatives to demand land and cooperative members took over public buildings.
In Yolaina, however, land was not an issue. Yolaina was chosen to be the center of the development pole for the Southern Front. In separate negotiations with the UNO government, the Southern Front obtained guarantees similar to those of the FDN—a development pole, funding and its own rural police force. Because many of the Southern Front fighters are originally from this sparsely populated area east of Nueva Guinea, their reintegration into the community was smooth and by September the majority had received land.
The Southern Front police force is under the mandate of the Ministry of Government, headed by UNO-appointed civilian delegate Joaquín Lovo in Region V. While in almost every other area of the country the rural police have received praises from UNO and Sandinistas alike, the Yolaina rural police force was another story. The police chief, "Oscar Bravo," was given permission to arm 45 men to maintain order within the development pole. However, he armed over 75 men, detained people out of his jurisdiction, and was accused of cattle rustling. On October 24, Lovo called Oscar to Juigalpa, detained him and three of his men, and ordered that all the rural police be disarmed. When the combined EPS (Sandinista Popular Army), Sandinista and FDN rural police conducted a house-to-house search in Yolaina to recover arms, they earned the wrath of the whole community. They also found more than 250 illegally held weapons. In addition, the Ministry of Government replaced the now-disarmed rural police with a mixed group of FDN rural police, EPS and Sandinista police to maintain order in Yolaina.
The pressure increasesThe people of Yolaina, both civilians and demobilized contras, reacted quickly to what they saw as an illegal infringement on their development pole. Over the following days, they held marches in town, and on October 29, they confronted a police barricade on the road to Nueva Guinea, leading to violence that left one civilian dead and five wounded. This death was the spark that led to the first barricades on the Rama highway.
The Rama road is the only land link to the Southern Atlantic and Bluefields. Extending east from Juigalpa to the town of Rama, it stretches across the heart of Chontales, the nation's cattle and dairy center. Blocking the highway means cutting off a significant portion of national production as well as the main supply route to the Atlantic coast. One of the goals the armed contras never accomplished during the 1980s was controlling that road.
While the Southern Front demobilized were the ones involved in the Yolaina incident, it was the mayors of Muelle de los Bueyes and La Batea, both along the Rama road, who initiated the barricades. (One of the accusations against Oscar Bravo in Yolaina was that he was transporting arms to Muelle de los Bueyes.) They claimed to be acting in solidarity with the demobilized, but as even Rubén, a supporter of the mayors' movement, notes, "What happened in Muelle de los Bueyes for all intents and purposes is that the movement was formed, forgetting all about what happened in Yolaina and Nueva Guinea. At that point the movement took on a political character."
When the Muelle mayor claimed that the Sandinista police chief had threatened to kill him, the other mayors flocked to his side and the full blockade of the highway began. What was supposedly a protest in support of the demobilized in Yolaina quickly became a national political campaign to oust the moderate forces in the central government, especially Antonio Lacayo, Carlos Hurtado and Humberto Ortega.
The people of Yolaina, meanwhile, continued their protest as well, this time in Nueva Guinea. They took over the park, and Oscar Bravo, released from jail in Juigalpa, took over the Nueva Guinea Catholic church and began a hunger strike along with twelve other men. On November 8, a week after the disturbance began, the police tried to take down the barricades around the park, but armed demonstrators shot at them, and the police shot back. The final tally: 4 civilians dead and 29 wounded, plus 9 police officers wounded. The park protest ended, but more barricades went up along the Rama road.
Once the first barricade was put up, the rest followed in a snowball effect. Every day the news reported a new barricade, each one closer to Juigalpa. During this first week the absence of a central government response was glaringly apparent. Government inaction allowed the various sectors in the region to consolidate forces and eventually present Chamorro with the real possibility of a civil war.
Demonstrators at the barricades in Rama told international workers of their general frustration with the Chamorro administration's failure to fulfill campaign promises. When pressed for specifics, the only ones offered were withdrawal of the army and the police from town. However, even this demand appears to be based on a misunderstanding. In June's agreement between the Nicaraguan Resistance and the government, an area for development poles was outlined and 23 towns were mentioned as forming the border of the land area from which the poles would be selected. Many believe that their town is a development pole because it is on the list. In addition to expecting an improvement in services, residents believe that no army or police unit should be within 12 miles of the "pole," as the accord does indeed stipulate. However, since the poles will not actually be in the towns and not all of the land will be selected, their understanding of the accord is mistaken.
Negotiation and subterfugeIn the first days of protest, neither the demobilized contras nor the mayors presented a clear list of grievances. It was not even clear if the mayors were actually interested in negotiating. They continued to insist that they would only negotiate with President Chamorro, and only if she traveled to Muelle de los Bueyes, in the heart of Region V. During the week of November 6-10, the government sent three different delegations to the region to invite the mayors to a direct dialogue with President Chamorro, who countered with the invitation for her to come to Muelle. When the mayors finally agreed to travel to Managua, they did so with the express purpose of again inviting Chamorro to Muelle, and did not plan to negotiate at all. Fifty-four people, including mayors, municipal council members, demobilized and others crowded into President Chamorro's private residence on Saturday, November 10, and spent ten hours in conversations with her.
The content and results of that negotiation continue to be disputed, even by those who attended. According to the mayors, President Chamorro promised to visit Muelle de los Bueyes the following day without conditions. Antonio Lacayo, on the other hand, claims that most of the meeting was spent convincing the mayors to clear the barricades off the roads because they were "a deliberate violation of the Constitution and the rule of law we are promoting in Nicaragua." The mayors refused, claiming that they in fact could not control the barricades. They added that the protesters would open the barricades to allow President Chamorro to pass as a show of their commitment to her administration. She refused to travel, saying she would not legitimate the protest by traveling on the road.
The meeting ended in the early hours of Sunday with the mayors finally delivering a list of 12 demands. Amidst that day's confusion and pro-Sandinista newspaper accusations that Chamorro refused to travel because she feared she would be kidnapped, the mayors returned to Juigalpa and Chamorro stayed in Managua. The demands were:
- Dismiss Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo, Minister of Government Carlos Hurtado, and head of the army General Humberto Ortega. Dismiss regional heads of EPS and Sandinista Police.
- Pull the EPS and Sandinista Police out of Region V and disarm civilians.
- Review the arbitrary actions of UNO-appointed Region V Ministry of Government delegate Joaquín Lovo.
- Within 15 days, form a "real" Agrarian Commission to review all land tenure since 1979.
- Form a commission to address the needs of contra widows, orphans and war wounded.
- Convert the Juigalpa prison into a center for contra war wounded.
- Return to the mayors' offices everything stolen by departing FSLN leaders.
- Name two new Supreme Court justices, one of them being Róger Guevara Mena.
- Guarantee that Ministers Sofonias Cisneros, Francisco Rosales and Jaime Icabalceta stay in the government.
- Annul Decrees 85 and 86.
- Give Godoy the powers accorded to him as Vice President.
- Guarantee the safety of all demonstrators.
Response to demands variesFrom the moment the demands were made public, moderate UNO government officials made clear that they distinguished between what they termed the just demands of the demobilized and the solely political demands of the mayors. Dr. Santiago Rivas, president of INIFOM (Nicaraguan Institute of Municipal Promotion) and one of the chief government negotiators from the beginning of the protests, pointed out to envío that "there are some very fair demands that the government can't fulfill due to the circumstances. The government is trying to be a centrist, democratic government and is caught between two forces: the ultra-Right, which does not want to allow the FSLN in the country; and the ultra-Left, which does not want capitalists to return and invest." Even President Chamorro, in a televised statement in the midst of the crisis, acknowledged that the government had not delivered on its promises to the demobilized, but that it remained committed to them.
Those making the demands, on the other hand, emphasized precisely those demands that the government dismissed as solely political. Armando Incer, the mayor of Boaco, told journalists that "the arm of the Sandinistas that remains in the government is the biggest barricade." And a municipal council member from Teustepe was even less discreet in a conversation with envío. He said that "[General Humberto] Ortega must go. He must hand over his institution." At the barricades in Rama, however, no one had specific complaints about recent army conduct. Most people interviewed emphasized two points—that they do not like the presence of any guns at all and that the army is seen as no more than the armed branch of the FSLN.
While Vice Minister Jose Pallais acknowledged that "the population is justly demanding the disarmament of civilians," Antonio Lacayo responded harshly to the mayors' demands to get rid of Ortega. "In Nicaragua there was no armed victory; the counterrevolution did not triumph," he said on November 14. "There was an electoral process, a victory that obliges us to choose democracy, reconciliation and concertation."
To what degree reconciliation should give political space to the Sandinistas remains a point of contention. Bishop Vega told envío that he believes a secret pact that gives the Sandinistas political power was signed between some members of Chamorro's government and General Ortega during the transition talks. "Violeta is still too dependent on the military cadre and the Sandinista police and even the Sandinista mobs... and is not depending precisely on the civic cadre." He added that "those who are currently in the government don't have a commitment to the people."
Leaders of the demobilized also disagreed as to the legitimacy of the mayors' demands. While Rubén says that "the mayors are working for democracy and peace," Franklin argues that they are more interested in consolidating power than in representing the people. He added that, in a democracy, "there are both rights and duties. Some people think that democracy means they can do whatever they want, but that isn't so."
The government, however, had the final word. It decided which points it would address and which it would not. The dismissal of government ministers never even came up for discussion.
The government looks for solutionsDr. Rivas told envío that the Monday following the failed meeting in Managua he noticed a distinct change in the barricades. In addition to new barricades between Managua and Boaco and Juigalpa (the two main cities closest to Managua), "There were forces that wanted to take political advantage of the situation. Though I can't say who [supplied them], I saw more megaphones, things that hadn't been there three days before—organized transport and food distribution, etc. Some mayors pointed out that they could now communicate among the barricades, that there were radios. The civic protest was losing some of its civic character, and we began to see that the just demands could explode into a civil war." In a televised broadcast, President Chamorro called the protest "quasi-subversive," adding that "what at first seemed a logical demand for fulfillment of commitments to the ex-members of the Resistance has been diverted toward strange and hidden political interests."
Dr. Rivas' negotiating commission, which included Minister of Education Sofonias Cisneros and Transport Minister Jaime Icabalceta (both considered pro-Godoy) and Vice-Minister of the Presidency José Adán Guerra, traveled to Juigalpa on November 14. They met with the mayors in the home of Bishop Pablo Antonio Vega, who served as mediator. Three days of negotiations, both in Juigalpa and Managua, produced no results. According to Dr. Rivas, his commission emphasized to the mayors that the government would only be able to respond to 5 of their 12 demands. The commission tried to reach a compromise whereby the mayors would dismantle a number of barricades during the negotiation, but the mayors refused. By Saturday evening, the unsuccessful negotiations were put on hold and there was no hope for resolution in sight.
The government: A calculated responseMore than a week earlier, President Chamorro had announced that she would hold a working session of her full Cabinet in Juigalpa on November 21, to which the mayors would be invited. After the negotiations broke down, however, the mayors announced that they had planned a meeting in Managua for the same day, directly challenging the governmental gesture for dialogue.
On Thursday, November 15, the Ministry of Government arrested Aristides Sánchez, formerly a civilian leader of the contras and currently their adviser on relations with the government. Sánchez was charged with promoting the country’s destabilization. The following day the police searched the Managua office of demobilized leader Rubén. While they found only a small weapons cache, they did find radio communications equipment, and according to Barricada they also found codes used to communicate around the country. On Sunday, the 18 Region V mayors invited UNO mayors from all over the country to meet in Managua and form an association. At the meeting, 37 of the 147 mayors joined the newly formed organization dubbed the Save Democracy Movement. Those who joined include Arnoldo Alemán of Managua and Frank Lanzas of Matagalpa. Vice President Virgilio Godoy also attended the meeting. The mayors publicly declared their support for all 12 demands from Region V and formed a national support commission.
On Monday morning, an EPS convoy traveled down the Rama highway dismantling all the barricades as it went. According to one witness in Rama, by the time the EPS got to the barricades all the principal leaders had left, as had many of the supporters. After two weeks of barricaded roads, many residents were tired of the protest and its economic results—less produce went to Managua to be sold, and fewer goods came into town for consumption. Towards the end of the crisis, some of the strike organizers tried to enforce a rationing system for basic grains—which, ironically, was a solution much like the hated system the Sandinistas had implemented in response to the war. While no one rose up in open revolt, the weariness was clear in the dwindling numbers of people at each barricade.
The Region V mayors found themselves in a difficult situation that Monday. The government claimed that their movement was part of a national plot to destabilize the Chamorro government, headed by Aristides Sánchez but with the active support of Arnoldo Alemán, Azucena Ferrey, Agustín Jarquín, Humberto Castilla and Nardo Sequeira. The Ministry of Government charged that there had been suspicious movements of large numbers of people in many towns near Managua, leading them to believe that barricades similar to those in Region V would be set up near the capital.
In addition to their alleged leaders being accused of a national destabilization plot, the mayors found that the massive support they had expected from Region V was waning. Much as in the Sandinista-sponsored strike in July, the financial losses and economic hardship brought on by two weeks of barricades cost the organizers support, and it became clear that not even the overwhelmingly rightwing population of Region V is interested in taking their frustrations to the point of war.
When Sánchez left Nicaragua for Miami "due to medical reasons," and Minister of Government Carlos Hurtado held a press conference outlining all the accusations against him, a subtle shift occurred in the mayors' positions. In an unannounced meeting, President Chamorro met with Alemán, Lanzas and Boaco mayor Armando Incer. After four hours of negotiations, the mayors made a public statement that they had changed their minds and would be in Juigalpa the following day for the scheduled Cabinet meeting.
What happened at that meeting? What did the central government tell Alemán that led him to his sudden moderation? One of the key people Hurtado accused of coordinating the national destabilization plan, he went into a private meeting with Chamorro and came out singing the government's praises. Some speculate that the government told him nothing more than that they planned to announce the closing of 18 military bases in Region V. Others claim that they in fact showed Alemán serious evidence of corruption against him, and he chose to collaborate rather than have it made public and possibly lose his powerful position as mayor of Managua.
The Cabinet goes to the countryOn Wednesday, the mayors found themselves facing a new dilemma. Among their demands was a call to kick out Antonio Lacayo and Carlos Hurtado, but both men showed up to take part in the Cabinet meeting. Some expressed confusion that what they expected to be a dialogue about all the demands appeared to be a government show. Indeed, when the mayors initially refused to enter because they also wanted representatives of the demobilized to participate, Alemán tried to change their minds, telling them, "You really need to hear what the President has to say. I was in a meeting with her yesterday, and some important decisions have already been made. Don't destroy this chance." The mayors grudgingly agreed, but Alemán's comments made clear that the meeting was to inform them about already-made decisions, not to debate issues.
What the mayors heard was in fact a carefully calculated concession. All of the points focused on complaints that relate directly to the demobilized contras, and ignored the political demands. The guarantees include:
- 77,000 more acres will be given to the demobilized in Region V, raising the total to 350,000 and benefiting 4,800 contras, leaving no more than 2,000 in the region without land.
- Of the 34 military bases in Region V, 18 will be converted into schools, health centers and vocational centers by December 31.
- 40% of the almost 1,200 military officers in Region V will be laid off by December 31. This means that of the 5,000 officers to be retired nationwide, 500 will come from Region V.
- A National Disarmament Commission will be formed, and former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias will be invited to serve as an honorary member.
- The rural police will be reinstated in the development poles, and changes will be made at the regional level in the Sandinista Police force.
- All those in police custody in Region V and Sébaco because of incidents related to the protests will be released.
- A special law will be sent to the National Assembly to give pensions to war wounded, widows and orphans.
- Municipal Agrarian Commissions, with the mayors as members, will be formed, and will work with Regional Agrarian Commissions.
- President Chamorro signed into effect a Social Emergency Fund, which begins with $10 million from AID.
The government held its press conference announcing its concessions unaccompanied by the mayors. They left as soon as the four-hour meeting ended, telling journalists waiting outside that they had little to say and were generally frustrated. The mayors have returned to their home communities saying that they will keep a vigilant watch on the government to be sure it fulfills its promises.
Dr. Rivas told envío after the meeting that the municipal leaders had little to complain about because, for instance, "the Rama mayor told me in private that he wanted just one military base eliminated, and we are pulling out three." Their 12 demands were no more than a "letter to Santa," he concluded.
The political demands—including getting rid of Lacayo, Hurtado and General Humberto Ortega, annulling decrees 85 and 86, giving more power to Godoy and adding two justices to the Supreme Court—were never even up for debate, as Rivas and all other government officials have made clear.
While the veterans have returned to their communities to continue waiting for the fulfillment of government commitments, and the EPS is closing down 18 military bases, the mayors have continued to meet to discuss their next move. On December 2, the now national Save Democracy Movement of mayors met in Managua. While Godoy did not attend this time, Azucena Ferrey and Agustín Jarquín did. So did Alemán, still in his role as moderate. The current power struggle appears to be between those mayors who want to emphasize the national nature of the Save Democracy Movement (led by Alemán, who would be the likely leader), and those who want to keep the emphasis on local, municipal actions. Their goals continue to be to purge the central government of the moderates who compromise with the Sandinistas.
The shift to a national movement opens the next chapter in the conflict between moderate and reactionary UNO forces. One participant, Alberto Saborio, commented that "while it is true that we were born out of the demands of the Resistance, we now represent a broader call on the government to unfreeze the democratic process and stop abusing its powers."
The public role of the demobilized contras has been seriously curtailed, and the politicians appear to have taken over the movement for now. Whether the latter advocate for the contras’ "just demands" or focus solely on their own national agenda may determine to what degree the demobilized continue supporting them.
Without a doubt, the far Right has been strengthened, and the emerging national mayors' movement, though currently debating its internal structure, may present a serious threat to moderate UNO elements. Godoy's work in the countryside over the last months has had its first payoff, though he faces a challenge in keeping the disparate forces together in his struggle to eliminate all moderates from the government.
Regional Support Leads to Four Deaths
Various UNO sympathizers throughout the country carried out actions in support of the Region V demonstrators. In La Concha, a small town near Masaya that was also the scene of land takeovers by UNO supporters in July and a known center of support for Godoy, about 100 former contras and UNO sympathizers took over the town on November 9. They took seven hostages and occupied the public communications office (TELCOR), the police station, the Catholic church, the market and the bank. In addition to supporting the Region V protest, they demanded the replacement of the local police chief.
La Concha protesters and a government commission reached an agreement on November 14. In addition to agreeing to replace the local police chief, the commission agreed to name a local civilian delegate to the Ministry of Government, form a municipal agrarian commission and work to disarm the region. In return, the protesters took down the barricades and turned over the public offices (the hostages had been released earlier).
Two churches in Managua were taken over by former Southern Front members. In Las Sierritas, the church where Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo officiates, 12 Southern Front members took over after Obando celebrated Sunday Mass on November 3. They posted “Fire Hurtado” signs on the door and began a hunger strike to highlight the events in Yolaina.
On November 9, other Southern Front members and some merchant women took over the El Calvario church near the Eastern Market. They made the same demands as the Las Sierritas group. Pro-FSLN radio announcers warned civilians to stay away from El Calvario because of fears the demonstrators were armed.
The two church takeovers were virtually ignored in the press until it was announced that an agreement had been reached on November 20, the day before Chamorro traveled to Juigalpa to meet with the mayors. The government agreed to form a commission to investigate the Yolaina incident, review government fulfillment of existing accords, reinstate the Southern Front rural police and release those detained in the Yolaina incident.
In Region I, demobilized contras in Quilalí and San Juan del Río Coco took over public buildings as a “solidarity measure” between November 14 and 16. And on November 14, demobilized contras tried to block the Sébaco bridge, a key link both to the northern departments of Matagalpa and Jinotega and the Pan-American highway to Honduras. The government took immediate action and sent riot police to break up the demonstration. The police negotiated for four hours, but according to an El Nuevo Diario report, the group at the bridge had no clear leader and even if one person negotiated, the others might not agree. After four hours, Hurtado gave orders to remove the protesters from the bridge. The police threw 3 teargas canisters, and the protesters responded with a shower of stones and 2 hand grenades, killing 4 police officers and injuring 22.
Within hours, rumors were flying in Sébaco that the grenade had actually dropped from a police officer’s hands, causing it to go off. This immediate denial of responsibility illustrated the depth of anti-police and anti-army sentiment among the demonstrators. Six people were held on suspicion of the violent attack. All but one were later released under a government agreement signed on November 21, but the Ministry of Government claims to be continuing the investigation.