Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 11 | Abril 1982



The State of National Emergency in Nicaragua: Background, Causes And Implementation

Envío team

1- Background.In September of 1981, the Government of National Reconstruction enacted the Measures of Economic and Social Emergency. This was done in response to the economic crisis in the country at that time, which had deteriorated during the previous months.

At that time the external political threats and pressures were not as evident. On the other hand, the gravity of the economic problems, which could damage the reconstruction and the programmed recuperation, were viewed with great concern.

The Measures of Economic and Social Emergency decided upon by the Sandinista Government attempted to resolve the deficits in production and productivity which were becoming chronic: e.g. the reluctance of the private sector to reinvest their earnings in the country, the speculative attitudes on the part of businesses, and the alarming increase in decapitalization. Another of its purposes was to prevent from being used detrimentally certain damaging factors, such as labor strikes or work stoppages (which during the ‘79’-81 period had caused the loss of one billion 500 million córdobas), absenteeism, state bureaucracy, low output, etc.

The measures of economic and social emergency attempted to consolidate national unity and were directed at different groups and social sectors in order to strengthen the mixed economy and achieve a collective and multisector resolution of the crisis.

In retrospect, these measures were a partial answer to a situation of a limited nature. The State of National Emergency decreed this past 15th of March incorporates and goes beyond the limits of the September decisions. It was enacted in response to a different situation because the country is now facing a host of other problems.

While it is true that since January of 1981, with the victory of the Reagan administration in the U.S. elections, the tone toward Nicaragua has become more harsh, until September of ’81 this “hard-line policy” had been manifested principally in the cut-offs of credit for development projects and the purchase of basic foods.

In March of 1981, Commander Bayardo Arce publicly explained the policies of the Reagan administration and the dangerous consequences of the Santa Fe Document, which had been written by several of Reagan’s advisors and was indicative of an interventionist policy in Latin American affairs. But this strategy of interference, whose actions were still being prepared, was not yet evident in the political-military arena. In October of 1981, with the joint U.S.-Honduran maneuvers (Eagle’s View) in territorial waters of Honduras, very close to Nicaragua, a new concern began to show itself, and this acquired considerable dimensions in December of ’81 and January of ’82 with the first information of the plots against Nicaragua.

It is within that framework that the National Government named 1982 the year of “Unity in the Face of Aggression”. From that time, political and military events have begun to happen so rapidly that they demand a careful treatment in order to understand the National Emergency.

2- The Causes Behind the National Emergency.Without trying to mention all the events which led up to the State of National Emergency, we would like to give some specific examples which will demonstrate the existence of a global plan to destabilize the Nicaraguan process, by whatever means, methods or instruments necessary.

a- Terrorist Acts within Nicaragua.
1- A plot which tried to destroy the Cement Factory and the Oil Refinery (discovered: Dec. ’81);
2- The “Red Christmas” conspiracy on the Atlantic Coast in November and December of ’81;
3- A plot to destroy bridges and other infrastructures in Chinandega (discovered by the State Security, Feb. ’82);
4- The explosion in the A.C. Sandino Airport of Managua which caused the death of four workers (20 Feb 82);
5- The explosion of two bridges, one over the river Coco and the other over the river Negro (13 March 82).

b- Raids by Bands from the Border and the Training Camps.
1- The existence of training camps of Somocistas within the U.S., in Florida and California, as well as in Honduras, which have been amply reported by the international press for several months now. In one camp alone, in El Paraiso, a department of Honduras, there are approximately 700 Somocistas.
2- The continuing penetration of these bands into Nicaraguan territory, destroying towns and killing both campesinos and militia (over 70 have died in the last few months). These raids were one of the chief reasons for the movement of the Miskitu communities from the River Coco on the Atlantic Coast. These penetrations from Honduras include repeated attacks on border posts, custom installations, etc.

c- Regional Events and the Support of Latin American Governments.
1- The increasing actions on the part of the Honduran Navy in the Gulf of Fonseca, and now the presence of the U.S. Navy destroyer CARON carrying out espionage activities;
2- The joint participation of the Salvadoran and U.S. governments in the transfer of the Nicaragua citizen, Orlando Tardencilla, from prison in El Salvador to the U.S., in order to force him to make accusations against his government, thus converting his declarations into a proof to justify open intervention in Nicaragua;
3- The training of three companies of ex-National Guard in the Panama Canal with the purpose of invading Nicaragua;
4- The presence of American troops in Costa Rica;
5- The open participation of officers of Latin American dictatorships, principally Argentina, in the training of ex-National Guards; the financial support for the counter revolutionary bands and the maintenance of an air-bridge between Argentina, Panama and El Salvador in order to intervene in Central America. This support of the Somocista bands by Latin America dictators, as well as the support of the governments of Honduras and El Salvador, is one of the most important proofs that the Reagan administration wants to regionalize the conflict in Central America.
6- The bombing of the Aeronica plane, by Somocistas, in the airport in Mexico.

d- Direct U.S. Interventionist Activities in Nicaragua.
1- The electronic circle planned by the Southern Command from the Canal Zone, which was completed in November of ’81, and which permits the control and interference of all internal communications in Nicaragua;
2- The 40 violations of Nicaraguan air space by U.S.military planes between July ’81 and the 11th of March ’82;
3- The aerial photographs taken by American planes of strategic Nicaraguan places (which were shown publicly in press conferences given in the U.S. to accuse Nicaragua); etc.

3- U.S.Press ReportsAlso significant is the form in which some U.S.newspapers have analyzed the situation in Nicaragua.

On the 10th of March, 1982, the Washington Post published an article (based on one from February) confirming the approval of a $19 million CIA fund for use, among other things, for the training of 500 persons (which could be later increased to 1500) who would work for the destabilization of Nicaragua. This article mentions: “…as a part of this plan the commandos would eventually attempt to destroy essential Nicaraguan targets like electrical plants and bridges in an effort in an effort to affect the economy and deviate the attention and the resources of the Government.” (Emphasis is ours).

Three days after the publication of this article, on the 13th of March, an explosion occurred which destroyed the bridges over the River Coco and the River Negro (one partially, the other totally).
The same article from the Washington Post reports other points contemplated in the same plan:

• The attempt to develop an opposition force to the Nicaragua government which would be nationalistic, anti-Somocista, and anti-Cuban;
• The formation of action teams to collect intelligence information and to carry out military and paramilitary actions both inside and outside of Nicaragua;
• The use of non-U.S. citizens to realize these actions without discarding the possibility that the CIA could “carry out unilateral paramilitary actions using U.S. personnel”.

On the 11th of March, the New York Times published an article which said: “The Reagan administration is giving millions of dollars in covert financial assistance to individuals and private organizations in Nicaragua…” A little further on, it contradicts what had been published the day before by the Washington Post concerning the creation of a paramilitary force which would act against Nicaragua.

Nevertheless, a few days later, Time magazine confirmed what had been published in the Washington Post and quoted a conservative Republican Senator and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Barry Goldwater: “Everything said in the Washington Post article is true. It doesn’t say everything that happens, but everything it says is true”.

Completing these commentaries of the U.S.press is the issue of Newsweek, the 1st of March. In one article a congressperson was quoted who had just participated in a closed and confidential meeting with the CIA. In that meeting, the CIA had denied that it was trying to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. On leaving, the Congressperson said: “We don’t believe them.”

The causes, then, which provoked the State of National Emergency, are concrete and impressive and give proof of the alarming increase of the military activity against the Nicaraguan process. Neither do the commentaries of the U.S. newspapers leave any doubt about the responsibility of the CIA in the destabilization plan against this country.

Another factor is the increasing regional tension in the Central American area, caused as much by popular rebellion as by the strengthening of the U.S. military support of the dictatorships of Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as of the governments of Honduras and Costa Rica. There is also the historical experience of American interventions which Latin America, and principally this region, has suffered: Guatemala 1954, Cuba 1961, Nicaragua on many occasions, the Dominican Republic in 1965, etc. After taking into account all these facts, the government of Nicaragua decided it was necessary to declare the Law of National Emergency, as a response to a grave situation which would get worse.

4- The Decree of National Emergency and its Juridical Significance.There are two basic laws in Nicaragua: The Fundamental Statute of the Republic, decreed the 20th of July, 1979, which is the legal instrument by which the Political Constitution, the Constitutional Laws, and the other structure in force during the Somocista dictatorship were eradicated. It is a very basic and general statute which has only three articles of fundamental principles (human rights, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion). It also structures the State Powers (the Junta of the Government, the Council of State, etc.). The Statute on the Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguans (decree number 52 of the Government Junta) published the 15th of August, 1979, is a specific law on the rights of Nicaraguans.

The law of National Emergency suspends the Statute on the Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguans with the exception of article 49, clause 2. Article 49 legislates exceptional or emergency situations which might place the stability of the nation in danger. Even clause 2 does not authorize the suspension of some basic rights and guarantees expressed in articles 5, 6 and 7 (which refer to servitude), article 12 (paragraph 1), article 14, article 17 (paragraph 1), article 19, and article 26. The articles which remain in force establish: respect for life and the physical, psychic and moral integrity of the person; repeal of torture and cruel treatment, such as the death penalty; that crimes committed before the law was enforced cannot be judged under the new law; that one cannot be imprisoned because of the impossibility to pay economic debts; the recognition of personhood and the juridical capacity of each person; liberty of thought, conscience and religion, and the right of all persons to have a nationality.

The State of National Emergency suspends almost 45 articles (in its juridical application); in practice its implementation is highly flexible and these suspensions are relative. In effect, the State of National Emergency does not mean the radical suspension of these articles but rather it gives the government the authority to regulate the rights and guarantees according to the gravity of the threat of a military intervention.

In Nicaragua, there is no gradual classification of exceptional laws as, for example: State of Alarm, State of Alert, State of Emergency, State of Siege, State of War. Therefore, the situation brought about by the decree of the Law of National Emergency is the only one that exists at this level and the application on the part of the government is flexible according to the circumstances.

Thus, in practice, the great majority of rights and guarantees of Nicaraguans are still in force: e.g., freedom of expression, freedom to hold meetings, freedom of movement, etc.

Three important elements of this law should be singled out:

• The State of National Emergency cancels the Measures of Economic and Social Emergency of September 9, 1981:
• The State of National Emergency does not establish a curfew or martial law;
• The State of National Emergency is of a transitory nature. In principle it is for 30 days. According to the law: “The suspension can be put into practice for a limited time which is renewable according to the prevailing circumstances in the country.”

5- Life in Nicaragua under the State of National Emergency during the First 15 Days.An account of some of the aspects of life in Nicaragua these last two weeks should bring about a better understanding of the practical implications of the National Emergency.

Trade Unions. The functioning of unions as well as the central offices of the unions, union freedoms and rights are still in force. In these days, an increase in union work and the participation of the unions in the productive activities has been noted. On the 17th of March, a meeting of representatives of all the unions was held to analyze the new situation.

On the 28th of March, the Minister of Justice, Ernesto Castillo, said: “Labor laws and relations between workers and employers are still in force, even though decisions which affect the State of National Emergency cannot be taken. Trade agreements, work demands, and union meetings are still in effect; nevertheless, these could be affected in the event that the Junta of the Government of National Reconstruction should call for a massive integration of business workers to the national defense”.

The Minister of Justice has the autonomy to decide which demands or requests affect the National Emergency and which do not.

Political Life. The activity of the political parties has been maintained. Party positions have appeared in the newspapers in these days, not only from the Patriotic Front of the Revolution (allied to the FSLN), but also from the opposition. On the 25th of March, Barricada (the official newspaper of the FSLN) published a Communiqué from the Ramiro Sacasa Coordinating Committee which is a nucleus of political and trade union organizations of the opposition.

Religious Life. Religious practices and public religious acts have functioned normally. The activities in preparation for Holy Week, which have large repercussions in the Christian community, are going on with the same interest and level of participation as in previous years.

In the last fifteen days, many organizations and religious sectors have made public statements on the current situation in Nicaragua.

On the 24th of March, a Mass was concelebrated by more than 20 priests to commemorate the third anniversary of the assassination of Msgr. Romero.

There was one incident which affected the religious life of some sectors of the country. On the 20th of March, the Ministry of the Interior publicly reported that 10 members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (all foreigners) were expelled from the country. According to the report, these persons were accused of publishing propaganda against the revolutionary process, thus violating the law of National Emergency.

Another public communiqué announced the suspension of visits to prisoners in two prisons, Tipitapa and the Zona Franca. With the issuance of that communiqué, the Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights became responsible for bringing extra food and clothing to the prisoners from their families. The suspension of visitations is temporary and based on the State of Emergency.

On the part of the Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches, united in CEPAD (the Evangelical Committee for Development, which includes more than 60 different Protestant groups), there has been no problem noted since the announcement of the State of National Emergency.

Cultural Life. Cultural activities (theaters, movies, etc.) are continuing as usual. On the 18th of March, a recital was presented by the poet Carlos Martínez Rivas in the Edgard Munguía Theater. The 20th of March, an important assembly of cultural workers decreed a “Cultural Emergency”, meaning the permanent mobilization of this sector. The following day a recital of the Poetry Workshops was held in the Tiscapa Amphitheater. The Latin American Day of Artisans was celebrated, and an event was organized by the Association of Sandinista Children, in which they rolled 2,000 white barrels through the street to demonstrate the desires of peace of the Nicaraguan children.

Military Life. An increase of troop mobilization has been noted these days on the highways heading to the north of the country. There has also been a larger mobilization of the popular militia. In this second case, however, the reason was the formation of a new group of militia, which had already been programmed.

There are no special controls on the highways nor are there searches of private houses. Neither has a curfew been imposed.

On the 19th of March, the Secretary of Migration and Foreigners stated that no restrictions exist for entering or leaving the country. This applies as much for Nicaraguan citizens as for foreigners. All the measures to obtain passports and visas are still in effect.

Information. In this area modifications have occurred. There is only one news station functioning on the radio (four times a day), and all the other stations in the country must transmit it. This radio news program presents all the national and international information. Some programs must be authorized by the Communications Media Secretary. The newspapers are subject to the same control. Their publications must be presented beforehand so that they are controlled by this same Secretary. All the newspapers and weeklies are open: Barricada, La Prensa, Nuevo Diario, Tayacan, La Semana Cómica, etc. Since the Law of National Emergency was decreed, the Nuevo Diario was sanctioned with a one-day closure for its edition of the 16th of March, which called the State of National Emergency a State of Siege. The opposition newspaper La Prensa has appeared regularly except on two occasions (the 24th and the 28th of March), when it was not published by decision of the Director, who said that there had not been sufficient time to print it after it had been returned from the Communications Media Control.

Possibly, the office most affected by the Law of National Emergency is that of the Communications Media Control.

The government’s objective is to avoid distortions of the media which could act against the process of reconstruction and the interests and defense of the nation.

Production. In the country and the city, activity has gone on normally. Production plans are under way, and new measures to help the economy have even been introduced. On the 19th of March, Commander Jaime Wheelock announced a credit of 600 million córdobas for cattle farmers, a subsidy of 40 million córdobas for dairy farmers and better prices for the producers of basic grains.

In Health. In spite of the State of National Emergency, public health attention has not suffered any modification. On the 20th and 21st of March, an important massive vaccination campaign was held for all children under five years of age. Thousands of persona made up the popular volunteer brigades. In Managua alone, there were approximately 9,100 persons. After being prepared in workshops, these volunteers vaccinated all the children against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles. The response of the population was massive.

In Education. Educational activities, on all three levels, have continued normally. The last details for the enrollment in the next course of Basic Popular Education is scheduled for the 15th of April. For the last 15 days, the workshops for Promoters and Coordinators (popular teachers) have been carried out.

On the 16th of March, one day after the Law of National Emergency was decreed, four schools were inaugurated in the campesino communities of Incedio, Tecolostote, El Tule and El Paraiso. In the Department of Rivas, a Teachers’ College was inaugurated (the first in 15 years), and in the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios a pre-school was opened which will care for about 50 children.

The Grassroots Organizations. All the organizations (block, women, youth, children, etc.) not only are functioning normally but have experienced an increase in participation. In the various barrios, along with the Civil Defense, they are implementing the distribution of sugar by means of the Sandinista Block Committees.

A very large demonstration for peace was held on the 27th of March in Managua, organized by the Nicaragua Committee for Peace and called together by the grassroots organizations.

On the 24 to 26th of March, an important Continental Encounter of Women was held, organized by the Association of Nicaraguan Women “Louisa Amanda Espinoza”. The encounter was called “For National Independence and Peace” and had representatives from more than 70 countries.

In that same week in Managua, a seminar was held to seek measures to save the Lake of Managua, which is in danger of being permanently contaminated.

6- Internal Reactions to the State of National Emergency.Numerous public demonstrations by the different sectors and organizations of the country with respect to the Emergency indicate that this government decision was well accepted.

The grassroots organizations had been asking for a long time for stricter measures from the government to confront internal provocations; thus they have willingly accepted the law.

Numerous religious groups and organizations have also made statements in favor of the measure: e.g. the Association of Nicaraguan Clergy, the Conference of Religious, the Evangelical Committee for Development, the Basic Christian Communities (adults as well as youth groups), Christians in the Revolution, and the Campesino Base Communities.

Other institutions like the Central American University and the Investigation and Social Action Center of the Jesuits also come out for the measure.

The declaration of Alfonso Robelo has been very significant. He is the leader of an opposition group, the Democratic Coordinating Committee. He said that if he had been in the Government Junta be would have done the same.

7- Conclusions

The U.S. representative on the Security Council of the United Nations, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, said in a session on the 25 of March, that the State of National Emergency in Nicaragua was part of the paranoia of the Sandinistas and an instrument to guarantee the repression of the democratic sectors of the opposition.

The Reagan administration and some multinational news media have tried to demonstrate that the decision of the Nicaraguan government expresses a “totalitarian” tendency and is a violation of human rights.

If we analyze the actual situation of Nicaragua, we can’t find any manifestations of totalitarianism. The people, and even sectors clearly opposed to the government, find that the Law of National Emergency is a justified and necessary response. In other words the opinions of the different sectors of the country ratified the decision of the government and the validity of the law. It is not, therefore, a measure that was taken behind the backs of the people in the country or that goes against the interest of the majority.

It is also important to differentiate the State of National Emergency decreed in Nicaragua with the emergencies and states of siege which have existed on the Latin American continent in many countries for years (9 years in Chile, 8 years in Argentina, more than 25 years in Paraguay, and even higher figures in Columbia), and which are, without doubt, a show of totalitarianism and terrorism imposed by those governments. While in those Latin American countries, the exceptional laws have arisen from internal causes in order to quiet protest or popular rebellion, in Nicaragua the State of National Emergency arose as a response to external causes expressed in the threats and interventions of the Reagan administration and their allies on the continent. In the case of Nicaragua, unlike the other countries, it is to defend the national integrity and the basic rights of the people.

This difference in causes underlies the great difference in its implementation. The Latin American dictatorial regimes have converted the “exception” into the essential elements of their governments. And to do that they have institutionalized repression, torture, curfews, marital law, death squads, etc.

The government of Nicaragua has used the Law of National Emergency as a transitory means to respond to an extremely grave situation created from outside, as well as to control the action of the counter-revolutionary bands of the ex-Somocista National Guard. They are the conscious actors in the global political campaign of destabilization which has been launched by the United States.

The paranoia to which Jeanne Kirkpatrick alludes is not a collective psychological phenomenon, but is the real fear which arises from the historic experience of Latin America and Nicaragua.

After more than four centuries of dependence on foreign powers and experience of constant interventions by these same powers, it is logical that when one of these countries moves to develop its national independence the superpower is not disposed to accept it. Nicaragua has had repeated military interventions from the U.S., and the collective memory is incorporated in the actual national reconstruction, which will permit no vacillations. The Law of National Emergency is not the result of “Sandinista paranoia” but rather the product of valid reasons and the collective memory of the Nicaraguan people.

It is to be hoped that this situation of National Emergency is transitory. A good sign is that it has only been decreed for 30 days. But it is necessary to understand that the transitory nature of the emergency depends more on the evolution of the aggressive policy of the Reagan administration than on the political will of the Sandinista leaders. Is it right to ask the Government of National Reconstruction not to call for a National Emergency when, in spite of the repeated requests, the Reagan administration has never publicly denied its threats of intervention against Nicaragua?

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