Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 291 | Octubre 2005




Envío team

Nicaragua and Costa Rica rekindled their long-time conflict over the Río San Juan, which marks the border between the two countries in the Caribbean region. Nicaragua has sovereign rights over the river, while Costa Rica has “perpetual rights of free navigation for commercial purposes” over a stretch of it. In late September, Costa Rica filed a suit in the International Court at The Hague requesting arbitration to update the interpretation of its rights, on the grounds that it needs to use the river to supply weapons to guards on its own shore and that tourism is now a form of “commerce” in the 21st century. In Nicaragua, the government, the PLC and the FLSN closed ranks, with Liberal and Sandinista legislators proposing a 35% “patriotic tax” on all goods and services coming from Costa Rica. The government decided to study other measures as this would affect Nicaragua more than its neighbor, and days later, on September 29, President Bolaños ordered the border militarized. The knee-jerk “patriotic” response by Nicaragua’s political class has ignored the consequences of a poor handling of the conflict for the hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica or the opinion of the Nicaraguan population along the border zone, abandoned by its own government and living in a traditionally harmonic relationship with Costa Rica.

During the fifth meeting of the Presidents of Central America and Taiwan, held in Managua on September 25-26, Taiwan agreed to a new five-year cooperation plan for the region valued at nearly US$500 million, half of which will be used to promote Taiwanese investment and the other half for social development projects. In exchange, the Central American countries will continue to back Taiwan’s attempts to be recognized as a UN member state and participate as such in international forums, an aim strongly opposed by the People’s Republic of China. Contrary
to the Nicaraguan government’s expectations and President Bolaños’ specific request, Taiwan did not use the occasion to pardon Nicaragua’s US$192 million debt. Taiwanese President Chen Shui Bian arrived in Managua with an entourage of 180 people, including the governmental delegation, businesspeople and journalists. Nicaragua already has 17 Taiwanese maquiladoras, or assembly plants for re-export, which employ some 28,000 Nicaraguans.

A recently released study commissioned by the World Bank and conducted by economist José Luis Medal reveals that 695 top officials in Nicaragua’s government consume no less than 0.86% of the country’s gross domestic product. Their monthly monetary salaries average US$3,500 and are complemented by other increasingly costly privileges including assigned vehicles, free gas, insurance, etc. Another 98,489 people working for the state at other levels have little chance of increasing their salaries as so much of the budget is eaten up by this privileged caste. The study shows that the salary structure of Nicaragua’s public administration is the most unjust in Central America. The greatest gap between the educational minister and the lowest-level ministerial employee is 10 to 1 in Costa Rica, and 11 to 1 in El Salvador. In Nicaragua it’s 100 to 1. The study also shows that the projects, advisory services and consultancies promoted by foreign cooperation distort the salary scale in the Nicaraguan state. Not surprisingly, it concludes that an “in-depth” reform is necessary.

Two months behind schedule, the Supreme Electoral Council finally set Sunday March 5, 2006, as the date for the election of new governments in the two autonomous Caribbean regions. Some 210,000 coast residents are eligible to vote for the 45 members of the Regional Council in each region. This will be the fifth new four-year term since the first autonomous elections were held in 1990, and the electorate’s disinterest has grown each time. In the last elections, abstention reached 60%. These elections will be very costly—approximately $35 per vote—given the region’s sparse population density, its expansive and unfriendly terrain, and that these are off-year elections. Five alliances and three parties have registered to run. The alliances are APRE, whose national leader is now presidential aspirant José Antonio Alvarado; the PLC, in coalition with small national parties and associations; the FSLN-National Convergence alliance; Eduardo Montealegre’s Liberal Alliance, which is running with the Conservative Party; and “Herty Alliance 2006,” the name under which Herty Lewites’ Movement to Rescue Sandinismo will test the electoral waters in alliance with the Christian Alternative, the Sandinista Renovation Movement and the Socialist Party. The parties are the national evangelical Christian Way, and two coast parties, YATAMA and PAMUC. The verification of eligible voters and updating of electoral rolls, together with the provision of new ID-voter cards to a fifth of the coast population are the first demands being made of the electoral branch by the parties to guarantee the fairness of these elections. The indigenous Council of Elders on the coast is demanding much more, and is threatening to call for abstention.

On September 28, 10 of the FSLN’s 14 Regional Council members in what is officially known as the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS) resigned their party membership to back Herty Lewites’ movement and formed a new bench in the Regional Council they are calling the Sandinista Caribbean Regional Movement. The 10 council members are long-time Sandinista militants from five of the RAAS’ six municipalities, represent five of the region’s ethnic groups and have been battling the unyielding control exercised by Daniel Ortega and Lenín Cerna in the RAAS since the current regional government was elected four years ago. The FSLN, already weaker in the RAAS than in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), has been steadily losing support in the former, at least in part because that control has shown little sensitivity to coast complexities.

Lewites announced that desertions from the FSLN can also be expected soon in the RAAN, and that his alliance’s method for selecting National Assembly candidates, scheduled for next year, will be similar to the one that allowed the FSLN-Convergence such optimal results in the 2004 municipal elections. The key to that process was that candidates were chosen for their local leadership rather than by political stripe or party loyalty. Lewites also announced that he plans to spend all of January in the Caribbean region to get a closer sense of the region’s problems, add them to his government program and organize a network in defense of the vote.

Adolfo Acevedo, an economist with the Civil Coordinator, proposed as a national priority for the remainder of the year the struggle to get the US$180 million freed from foreign debt service thanks to the HIPC initiative and half of the extra tax income collected for some years now invested in health and education rather than earmarked for payment on the domestic debt and transfers to the Central Bank. Acevedo’s urgency is that a bill has already been drafted to legalize and restructure the illegal domestic debt resulting from the Central Bank’s bond issue to cover the debts of banks that went under some five years ago. He also warned that the current unjust assignation of fiscal resources and those freed up by HIPC could be “tied up” for the next four years through the Medium-Term Budget Framework currently being negotiated with the International Monetary Fund, which would so reduce the public education and health care allocations that the government itself recognizes they will be below even today’s skimpy coverage. If this framework prevails for 2006-2009, it won’t matter who wins the presidential elections or what the new parliamentary configuration looks like; they will be forced to administer an unjust scheme that compromises the future of the nation and the vast majority of its population.

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