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  Number 311 | Junio 2007
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

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OPPOSITION UNITY SEESAWS
During the May 19 celebration of Sandino’s birth, President Ortega disparaged the various proposals for organizing and consolidating a unified opposition to his government. He called those heading the effort “straw figures of the empire” and “conspirators” who receive “financing under the table from the Yankees and all the agencies they run.” The efforts to unify the Liberals of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, with their respective 25 and 22 votes in the National Assembly, have been fraught with pathetic seesawing over routine issues. This month, the PLC’s 2006 presidential candidate, José Rizo, joined with ALN leader and former presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre, a move promptly de-authorized by PLC strongman Arnoldo Alemán. The convicted former President—who was granted the novel concept of “country arrest” by Ortega several months ago—is still touring the country, visiting the Liberal grassroots.

The figure of Alemán continues to generate controversy. The opinions of both Liberal groups’ leaders constantly oscillate between whether Alemán must be excluded if there is to be unity or whether Montealegre and he should meet to talk out their differences. For Alemán and his supporters Montealegre is an “immature” politician defending a “personal” project whose leadership is largely media hype, while the Montealegre band blames Alemán for the power President Ortega currently enjoys and dismiss him as a hostage of Ortega, who controls his final sentence through his influence over the appeals court judges.

ANOTHER ROUND ON
THERAPEUTIC ABORTION
On May 28, in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision on writs of unconstitutionality filed in January against last year’s criminalizing of therapeutic abortion, the Feminist Movement, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), the Gynecology and Obstetrics Society, the National Autonomous University, medical associations and organizations working for children and women’s health marched in Managua to demand the de-criminalization of therapeutic abortion. They reported that 44 women died from complications during pregnancy between January and May as the result of poverty, malnutrition, poor attention in the health system and doctors’ fears of the legal repercussions of terminating their pregnancies. The demonstration was accompanied by a powerful sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiot of a pregnant woman dead on the cross. Galschiot presented his sculpture at the Nairobi World Social Form (January 2007) in homage to the “victims of religious fundamentalism” which “in God’s name” condemns women to give birth when their health and even their life is at risk. In an attempt to recover the initiative from the religious propaganda campaign against therapeutic abortion, a huge billboard erected along the highway between Managua and Masaya reads “Abortion Saves Lives.”

UNERASING THE
PLAZA OF THE REVOLUTION
On June 5, the “singing” fountain President Alemán built in 1999 at a cost of half a million dollars was demolished. In one of his acts of anti-Sandinista revanchism, Alemán ordered the fountain built right in the center of the square that changed its name from the Plaza of the Republic to the Plaza of the Revolution during the 1980s. His aim was to erase memories of the revolutionary triumph, celebrated by tens of thousands of people there on July 19, 1979, and subsequently commemorated in the same place almost every year until 1999.

The destruction was ordered by the presidency without informing Managua’s elected authorities and without the authorization of Managua’s Sandinista mayor, Dionisio Marenco. The fountain, its computerized system and mechanical mechanism were all ripped up, along with the benches, street lamps and the trees surrounding it. In its hey day, the fountain entertained people with water and light games to the rhythm of Nicaraguan melodies and was touted as a tourist attraction for the capital, but it hasn’t “sung” for several years now due to lack of maintenance. The new President wants to reestablish the pre-Alemán landscape in time to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the revolution there.

MIGUEL OBANDO’S COMMISSION
On May 9, President Ortega finally inaugurated the controversial “Miguel Obando y Bravo” Commission of Verification, Reconciliation, Peace and Justice, which will be chaired by its namesake, Cardinal Obando. The official act was as big as they get, in an open plaza hosting the entire government Cabinet, FSLN legislators and mayors, and veterans of both the Resistance (the contras) and the Sandinista Army. According to the presidential decree, the commission will address the demands of former fighters from both sides that have been awaiting fulfillment since 1990.

The cardinal held his first work session on May 15 in his new office—in the Presidential Palace Ortega chose not to occupy—accompanied by former FSLN legislator Nelson Artola. Currently executive president of the Emergency Social Investment Fund, Ortola will be the commission’s secretary and act as its representative to the government. Three days later, representatives of evangelical churches, the Anglican Church and Catholic laypeople close to the FSLN offered to collaborate with the cardinal’s commission. Then on June 4, Obando met with many of the country’s mayors to begin designing work strategies. It has not been announced where the resources for this project will come from, although Artola said that funds from Venezuela’s Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA) will be available to the commission.

MARCO DESSI SENTENCED
A court in Parma, Italy, sentenced Italian priest Marco Dessi to 12 years in prison on May 23 for sexually abusing Nicaraguan children some two decades ago. It also found him guilty for having 1,400 photos of child pornography in his personal computer. Dessi has lived in Nicaragua for 30 years and was highly regarded in the department of Chinandega, where he set up and directed numerous social works for poor children. Last year, six of his victims finally broke the silence. With support from the Italian organizations Solidando and Rock Not War, the six young survivors traveled to Italy and accused the priest. Dessi was arrested while trying to return to Nicaragua, probably confident that here the case would be protected by impunity. Although the Vatican investigated Dessi independently, none of Nicaragua’s Catholic hierarchy demonstrated any solidarity with the victims or saw fit to comment on events in Italy. When asked for his comment on June 4, Cardinal Obando only retorted curtly, “That happened in Chinandega.”

The reason Cardinal Obando was asked his opinion that particular day was that three of Dessi’s accusers had just called a press conference in Managua, accompanied by the group “Youth who believe in other youth,” which was born in the wake of this case, and representatives of other Nicaraguan organizations. The event was extremely significant given how difficult it is in Nicaragua’s macho culture for male adults to acknowledge publicly the sexual abuse they suffered as children. The young men read a statement that included the following: “We succeeded in demonstrating Father Marco’s guilt, but that isn’t the end of the matter. Now we face another, more violent reality than the sexual abuse itself: the reaction of our society, which has turned us into the victimizers of the father, insisting on his innocence because of religious beliefs or favors received from the father…. Friends, neighbors, work mates, other priests, our government, local media and in some cases even our own families have turned their back on us and accused us of being vandals, opportunists, liars and ingrates. They have turned their hatred on us for defending a cause that is just for our whole society. We want them to know that we haven’t created a problem; we’re offering a solution to a problem that is kept hidden behind images, beliefs, double standards and power.”

DRUG TRAFFICKING ON
THE CARIBBEAN COAST
Bluefields political science professor Miguel González presented his new book Etnicidad y Nación in Managua in late May. In an interview published in La Prensa on May 30, González referred to drug trafficking on the coast as a “critical issue” and urged the Caribbean Coast’s Regional Councils to design a plan highlighting the threat it posed to the Caribbean coast. “The greatest collective and institutional danger would be for drug trafficking to penetrate the coast’s autonomous institutions,” he warned. “We have seen how those networks have linked up and penetrated the institutions in Colombia and Guatemala and as a result they’re now ungovernable.”

“These are de facto forces,” he added, “because they have economic power. If they penetrate the autonomous institutions they could gain a degree of control that threatens the coast’s political institutions. If we can’t fight drug trafficking in the coast, which is very vulnerable, other powers will fill the institutional vacuum and Nicaragua will be lost as a country, with its viability as a state put in doubt. Autonomy could offer Nicaragua a solid fabric, but it is essential to resolve this challenge from drug traffickers right now.”

HIGH TURNOVER IN
STATE EMPLOYMENT
Hundreds of state workers from all levels have lost their jobs since the change of government, following the “clean sweep” modality traditionally employed by most Latin American governments. On June 1, in its second report on the new administration, the civic group Ethics and Transparency challenged the government to “immediately end the period of uncertainty associated with the elections and change of government.” Its main comments on the issue of unemployment were as follows: “Various estimates put the number of public servants dismissed from the state institutions since the new government took office at over two thousand, in numerous cases in flagrant violation of the law and civil rights, creating instability and anxiety in many homes, violating electoral promises and continuing a painfully evident vicious circle that strips the way in which the state operates of its capacity and experience.”

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