Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 288 | Julio 2005




Envío team

The National Assembly finally approved the salary regulation law in June. This law, so unpopular with all the high-level state officials affected by it, seriously reduces their mega-salaries. For example, the President’s $9,000 monthly salary—highly questioned together with his simultaneously-collected retirement pension as former Vice President—was slashed to $5,000. When crafting the law, however, the legislators managed to increase their own salaries by $300 through a clever fiddling of gross vs. net salaries, and now earn $3,500.The minute the law was passed, several indignant officials, including the ministers of education and the treasury, the Central Bank president and others, filed suit claiming it was a “violation of their human rights.” Treasury Minister Mario Arana declared that he couldn’t possibly live on just $3,500. Within weeks, the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional, as well as a violation of the labor laws and prior contracts. Supreme Court justices earn $4,000.

For several days during June, Nicaragua’s development, industry and commerce minister, Azucena Castillo, flanked by legislators Delia Arellano of the Christian Way Party and Jamileth Bonilla, a PLC Liberal promoting Eduardo Montealegre’s presidential candidacy within the PLC structures, lobbied US congressional members in Washington to approve CAFTA. This free trade agreement between the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic was signed by the US and most Central American negotiators at the end of 2003: both Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic signed on later. Given the controversial nature of some of the treaty’s aspects, Congress shelved it until after the US presidential elections and it is still encountering resistance. The legislative bodies of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have already approved it, but it has stagnated in Nicaragua’s National Assembly since it was presented in October 2004. The FSLN has announced that it will not support it, while the PLC, which has enough votes to pass it without the FSLN, is rumored to be conditioning its backing on Arnoldo Alemán’s release. During his June trip through Costa Rica and El Salvador, Nobel Literature laureate José Saramago commented that he was surprised not to find any mass movements against CAFTA. “If this agreement enters into effect,” he said, “it will compromise the sovereignty of the countries involved. I believe that free trade agreements are the main instrument used by the United States to govern other peoples.”

On July 1, President Bolaños appointed Javier Eduardo Williams Slate, previously Nicaragua’s ambassador to Belize, his new vice foreign minister. It is the first time in history that a member of the Caribbean coast’s indigenous Miskito people has occupied such a high central government post. At his swearing-in ceremony, Williams Slate spoke first in Miskito, greeting all the indigenous peoples and ethnic communities from his side of the country.

In late May, after a long bureaucratic process laced with traps that the indigenous peoples of the coast succeeded in eluding, President Bolaños finally handed communal land title deeds to five indigenous communities (both Mayagna and Miskito) settled on autochthonous territories of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. “The titles accredit the communities as the only owners, not co-dominant with the state, as was maliciously intended,” said Miskito activist and lawyer Hazel Law. “They are a guarantee of legal security.”

At the G-8 summit held in Scotland in early July and following the initiative of Great Britain, this year’s chair, the world’s wealthiest countries decided to cancel 100% of the foreign debt contracted by the 18 poorest countries with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. All but four of the countries benefited are in Africa, the primary focus of Britain’s campaign to reduce poverty. The four exceptions are all in Latin America: Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia and Guyana. National and international critics of this measure argue that it only looks to the past, not to the future, and is utterly insufficient unless a different framework is produced for the current and future loans these dependent countries continue receiving from the international lending agencies, which will only indebt them again. This “generosity” continues to be conditioned on fulfillment of neoliberal measures, one of the most dramatic of which is the privatization of public services and natural resources. Many spokespeople for the benefited countries also argue that they need better trade opportunities rather than increased aid. In Nicaragua’s case, the pardon amounts to some $900 million, according to preliminary government calculations. Independent economists have not let up on their denunciation that over half of the foreign debt write-off that Nicaragua received in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative between 2000 and 2004 was earmarked not for social spending as agreed, but for payments on the domestic debt, which exceed the previous foreign debt service payment and only benefit the already privileged national bankers.

On June 30, the national jury for the initiative known as “A Thousand Women for the Nobel Peace Prize” named the women selected to fill the 6-person quota allocated to Nicaragua by the initiative’s organizing committee. The criteria were that women must cover the whole country, a wide age range and different levels of national or community recognition. Of the 20 proposals presented by different organizations, those chosen were CENIDH director Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, for her struggle to defend and promote human rights; Caribbean coast activist Hazel Law for her fight for the dignity of her region’s peoples; Violeta Delgado, who for years headed the Network of Women against Violence; Esperanza Cruz for her efforts to achieve reconciliation among mothers separated into opposing bands by the war of the eighties; Granada neighborhood leader Auxiliadora Talavera for her spirit of betterment and her life of service to others; and Eulalia González for her dedication to resolving conflicts between both families and communities in the Matagalpa mountains.

While PLC legislators continue their efforts to free their leader Arnoldo Alemán in the heat of the crisis between the executive and legislative branches of state, Special Prosecuting Attorney Iván Lara confirmed in June that Panama’s Public Prosecutor has now formally accused Alemán, his wife, his father-in-law and his former tax director Byron Jerez of money laundering. There is reported to be no shortage of evidence. At the request of the Attorney General’s Office in Nicaragua, the Panamanian Public Prosecutor’s Office investigated over 20 bank accounts of “ghost” companies that moved $74 million in public funds from Nicaragua between 1998 and 2000, always with the authorization of then-President Alemán and his three named relatives. According to the Panamanian public prosecutor, his country will pursue the case as an “autonomous crime” even if Alemán is absolved in the Nicaraguan cases that earned him a 20-year prison sentence. Panama’s sentence for money laundering is 5-12 years, although Nicaragua’s Constitution prohibits the extradition of its citizens to any country. Just as the process was getting underway in Panama, the US government denied entry visas to Alemán’s son and one of his small daughters and initiated a review of his wife’s residence status.

The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) again distanced itself from its alliance with the FSLN in the National Convergence when it declared in a June 15 statement that the underpinnings of democracy “are being demolished by those who currently occupy the main spaces of power in the country: President Enrique Bolaños and the National Assembly legislators who represent the interests of the upper echelons of the pacting PLC and FSLN.”

The MRS is demanding an “inclusive political concertation with the participation of all parties with municipal representation and of representative civil society organizations that are working with an agenda based on the principal problems battering the population.” It also proposes demanding that both Bolaños and the National Assembly be permitted to finish their elected terms and that elections be held as scheduled.

Given the unending international oil price rises that are playing havoc with the domestic economy, it was announced that a Canadian business group will invest $54 million in Nicaragua to produce energy through wind power in various eolic parks to be installed in Rivas, Ometepe, Boaco and Chontales. The investment will include an eolic turbine factory.

According to March 2005 data from the Ministry of Health, 1,692 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Nicaragua, of whom 1,327 are between 14 and 35 years old. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria relates this figure to the far higher number of cases of sexually transmitted infections, calculating that three quarters of the latter correspond to young people between 15 and 29 years old. The Fund stresses that there is an important link between these illnesses—which indicate behavior that exposes them to risk—and HIV/AIDS. It also links the prevalence of these diseases to the expansion of sexual abuse and exploitation in the country.

On July 3, 150 organized women from Ocotal culminated their mobilization in support of an adolescent girl who was sexually abused by an evangelical pastor with a march through the streets of their city. The pastor, who also abused another adolescent girl, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Women from Ocotal’s rural communities were the main protagonists of the march and could already be seen in the city’s central park demanding justice at 8:30 in the morning. The women remained there until the verdict was announced at 7:30 pm, sweltering under an inclement sun and reading pronouncements, while abuse survivors told their stories, inviting other women to denounce their own experiences and to organize. The mobilization, with support from the Office of Public Prosecutor and FUNDEMUNI, was decisive in achieving the conviction.

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