Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 240 | Julio 2001




Envío team

Amid all the tension in Managua in mid- June generated by a two-week-long bus strike and two weeks of paralysis in the Supreme Electoral Council due to the lack of a quorum, President Alemán disappeared for a week. He officially communicated that he was tending to “affairs of state,” but after a few days Nicaragua’s homegrown “paparazzi” found him vacationing in his beach house. Days after the revelation of that scandal, it was learned that an image expert hired by the President had counseled Alemán to behave as “a statesman and not as a candidate or just another political activist.” Alemán was advised not to issue any opinions unless they are on “important issues,” and effectively to keep his mouth shut from here on until the elections, since his habitually uncontrolled rhetoric could jeopardize his party’s presidential candidate. Even more to the point, it could hinder his return to power in 2006.

“You have to leave in order to be able to make a comeback,” was reportedly the expert’s central argument. Thus, on July 14, the President, his family and close cohorts left Managua on their last pleasure trip on the tab of Nicaragua’s executive branch. After an official trip to Taiwan, Alemán and his entourage of some thirty people will visit India, Indonesia and the Arab Emirates.

Following his formal registration in May as the Constitutionalist Liberal Party’s presidential candidate, Enrique Bolaños has made working tours of Taiwan and the United States in search of campaign support. Although his anti-Sandinista line is somewhat more rational than Alemán’s, Bolaños is not above peddling his candidacy by fear mongering, presenting himself as the only bulwark against an FSLN electoral victory. The argument he brandished during talks with the Taiwanese government was that the FSLN would reopen diplomatic relations with mainland China if it wins. In the United States, he warned the Nicaraguan community that they could not send dollar remittances to relatives in Nicaraguawith the FSLN in power . He explained the pact as originating in the need to dialogue with Daniel Ortega “to stop the Sandinistas from creating violence, which they are quite capable of doing.” Using the opportunity to put some distance between himself and Alemán as well, he explained that it then “went further and they came to a ‘half-and-half’ arrangement that has hurt the whole country.” His solution to this problem is that the electorate vote in an absolute Liberal parliamentary majority so that no more pacting will be necessary and to “free democracy from the chains that currently bind it.” The problem Bolaños seems not to have grappled with is that any PLC candidate who makes it to the National Assembly is prepared to back Alemán on anything he wants, including a continuation of his pact with Ortega if it serves his interests.

In the vacuum of power created by the transport strike and the CSE’s paralysis with the elections only a few months off, and with President Alemán enjoying the salt air at the beach, FSLN presidential candidate Daniel Ortega proposed the creation of a “transition commission.” He suggested that it be made up of representatives from the government and the three parties running in the elections to discuss various national problems, thus ensuring minimum stability until the November 4 elections and from there until the change of government in January of next year. A government spokesperson shrugged it off as being based on “very personal and politicized considerations that constitute an unheard-of abuse.” Given the concept of “transition” it contained, public opinion generally interpreted it as a kind of “technical coup,” which led Ortega a few days later to suggest calling it an “ad hoc commission,” but there it died, not to be resurrected.

At the end of the month, the FSLN announced that it already has thirty thousand intensively trained “electoral commandos” working full time for the party. It claims that by August it will have just short of a hundred thousand, who will work as campaign committee activists (51,300), official members of the polling tables (17,100) and party monitors around the country (22,500).

Transparency International released its latest report in France on June 27, revealing that Nicaragua is perceived as the third most corrupt country in Latin America, only beat out for this dubious distinction by Bolivia and Ecuador. Those two countries rank 79th and 84th, respectively, out of the 91 countries evaluated in the world. Nicaragua occupies 77th place, with 2.4 on a 10-point scale in which higher is morally better. The other Central American countries appeared in the following positions on the international scale: Honduras (71), Guatemala (65), El Salvador (54) and Costa Rica (40).

In May the Costa Rican government began constructing a wall one kilometer long and two meters high in Peñas Blancas, on the border with Nicaragua. The wall is part of the expansion of Costa Rica’s frontier customhouse control and security system, and is obviously not aimed at stopping the thousands of Nicaraguans who illegally enter that country through forest paths. Nicaraguans immediately dubbed it the “Berlin wall” and much of the political class and public opinion unanimously interpreted it as a depressing symbol of Costa Rica’s traditional disinterest in regional integration.

Since October 1999, a devastating plague of bark-stripping weevils
(Dendroctonus frontalis) has been spreading through the north and west of Nicaragua, destroying thousands of pine groves in its path. After two years of negligence, Nicaragua’s Forestry Institute finally declared a phyto-sanitary alert and launched a plan to contain and stop the insect. The plague, encouraged by recent droughts and the irrational exploitation of the forests, has already done in 8,000 hectares of pine trees in 23 municipalities, with damages calculated at some US$30 million.

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