Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 315 | Octubre 2007



Nicaragua Briefs

Envío team

While inaugurating a seminar on research techniques for financial crimes for officials of Nicaragua’s police department, attorney general’s office, public prosecutor’s office and financial system, US Ambassador Paul Trivelli warned that if Nicaragua doesn’t install a Financial Analysis Unit like the ones in the rest of the region before April next year, it will end up on a “black list” of countries at risk of money laundering by organized crime. A bill to create this intelligence unit has been sitting in the National Assembly ignored by legislators for three years now. Liberal judges and numerous businesspeople question this project because it affects banking privacy.

In the new Penal Code, the crime of money laundering has been separated from the crime of drug trafficking. As the new Code establishes that the sentence for public officials who launder money cannot exceed 10 years and may be reduced to 5 for good behavior, there is a strong probability that former President Arnoldo Alemán, sentenced in 2001 to 20 years in prison for money laundering, among other crimes, will walk in March 2008, when the new code goes into effect, with his other crimes, such as embezzlement of state funds, “politically” swept under the carpet.

In early September, the weekly bulletin Confidencial and the daily newspaper El Nuevo Diario reported that the government of Nicaragua was about to sign a contract with a Panamanian company called Kamusi to buy generators that would produce 120 megawatts of electricity. The news hook was that the price offered by Kamusi was almost twice that of similarly powerful plants in the market. The Comptroller General’s Office, dominated by the FSLN and the PLC, leaked the draft contract to the media exposing the government’s involvement in a murky deal worth millions. Top officials responded with such strong denials, evasions and contradictions that it suggested that a sector of the FSLN was involved in this deal as well. President Ortega did not comment. Investigating further, the media increased the scandal by revealing that Kamusi was a “briefcase” company, with no experience in the energy market and straw men in executive posts. After having denied that Kamusi even existed much less that there had been any government dealings with it, the person responsible for this kind of contract, Nicaraguan Energy Company President Ernesto Martínez Tiffer, had to admit before a special National Assembly commission on October 2 that the government had negotiated with the mysterious company “secretly” because its partners requested such treatment, but he repeatedly refused to give their names. He also reported that negotiations had been officially suspended.

On September 6, the 51 combined votes of the PLC, ALN and MRS benches of the National Assembly reformed Law 290, removing the definition of the controversial government-created Councils of Citizens’ Power (CPCs) as state bodies. These councils have been widely criticized for being run exclusively by leaders from local FSLN structures to mobilize support for government measures, thus openly confusing the governing party and the state. President Ortega vetoed the reform on September 24, and now the Assembly must decide whether or not to accept the veto. Despite the derogation, both President Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, who heads the CPCs nationally as the Communication and Citizenship Councilor of a Council in which she is the only member, continue to act as if the CPCs were an extension of the state. Their official inauguration, however, was not held as part of mid-September’s independence celebrations as announced, presumably due to the hurricane that had devastated part of the Caribbean Coast 11 days earlier.

President Ortega met with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York, during the UN General Assembly, to discuss Nicaragua’s entry into a Front of Struggle in Favor of Peace being promoted by the Iranian head of state. Political relations between Nicaragua and Iran have been growing closer since Ahmadinejad visited Managua and Ortega visited Teheran. The presence of three members of Iran’s Republican Guard in the new Iranian embassy in Managua is seen in Costa Rica and El Salvador as risky because the US government has classified this armed body as a “terrorist” group. Ortega did not meet with any US government official during his trip to New York, although Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos did hold a private meeting with US Undersecretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs Thomas Shannon, who has defined the Iranian government as a “theocratic oil dictatorship of fascist ideology.” Ortega announced that the Iranian government has promised to set up a hospital in the area devastated by Hurricane Felix.

Returning to Nicaragua on September 29, President Ortega inaugurated the Zero Usury program, which is providing a total of 2.5 million córdobas in micro-credits to 503 groups made up of 6 women each. These loans will be payable in a maximum of eight months at 4% interest. The beneficiaries, who will receive an average of roughly $45 each, are small farmers and Managua market venders . In his speech Ortega responded to the extensive criticisms of his bellicose speech in the UN four days earlier, claiming that he had only told the truth. “I was raised a Catholic and from my childhood they taught me to tell the truth, like Christ who died just for telling the truth! And if I have to die for telling the truth, then we’ll die telling the truth.” The previous day, Rosario Murillo had already introduced the religious simile speaking from New York on the official Nicaraguan station Radio YA: “I believe that Christ was the Great Prophet and Teacher, who taught us to base our acts on the Truth. We are doing no more than imitating the example of Christ’s life.”

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