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  Number 317 | Diciembre 2007
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Nitlápan-Envío team

IBERO-AMERICAN SUMMIT
Although playing a seconding role, Nicaragua’s President took part in the incident between the King of Spain and the President of Venezuela during the closing session of the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile. Seeking a bit of the limelight, Daniel Ortega, with altered voice and gestures, stuck his speech between the King’s rudeness and Chávez’s diatribe to rave on extensively about Yankee imperialism, Nicaragua’s yes-boss Presidents, mafioso investors and a medley of his other favorite whipping boys. King Juan Carlos stood up and left the room during his speech.

Ortega’s style and tone can be glimpsed from this sample, which he directed at Spain’s President Rodríguez Zapatero, who Chávez had already lambasted: You represent the interests of the North, like it or not; you can’t wiggle out of that reality, José Luis. Are you or are you not from NATO? What kind of thing is NATO? Is it to give away candies, to build schools, to bring health and education? What’s NATO for? Billions are spent on NATO, billions and billions, but for what?” Both in this speech and during the sessions of the summit itself, Ortega proposed to create the Organization of Ibero-American and Caribbean States to replace the Organization of American States (OAS), in which the United States is also a member.

THERAPEUTIC ABORTION
The National Assembly finally approved the last article of Nicaragua’s new Penal Code on November 13. It will go into effect next year. Right up to the last moment, Liberal representative José Pallais and the three members of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) bench fought to include an exemption permiting doctors to attend “obstetric emergencies” without penalty to either them or the patient. This language effectively decriminalizes abortion when the pregnancy puts the mother’s life at risk. At the last minute, the Catholic hierarchy exerted public pressure against this possibility. Although 19 legislators supported the exemption motion, it wasn’t enough. Among the 19 were 5 FSLN representatives, 4 of them women. It was the only time any Sandinista bench membr voted this position as the FSLN has consistently backed outlawing therapeutic abortion over the past two years of debate due to its tight alliance with the Catholic hierarchy. The motion presented by the MRS said textually: “It will be understood that they may turn to these requisites when by medical indication it is determined that no other means possible exists to safeguard the life of the woman and the indication is endorsed by the Medical Council of the respective hospital. If the intervention has the consent of the woman, presentation of that endorsement will suffice for the public authorities to abstain from initiating criminal action in these circumstances.”

Days after the inhuman outlawing of therapeutic abortion was ratified, the Gynecology and Obstetrics Society met to warn its members that they are now between a rock and a hard place as the Health Ministry had in December 2006 drafted norms and protocols for immediate intervention in “obstetric complications,” even if this intervention would cause the death of the fetus. According to the new Penal Code, they could be tried and imprisoned for doing so. The government’s moral duality creates total uncertainty for health professionals. On the other hand, the new Penal Code finally eliminated the category and criminalization of sodomy, introduced into the code in 1990.

UNJUST ACCUSATION
In November the Nicaraguan Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (ANPDH), linked to the bishop of Estelí, filed an accusation with the Public Prosecutor’s Office against nine women, all of whom head different organizations that promote the rights of women and girls. The accusations are all related to the famous case of nine-year-old Rosa, which caused such commotion in Nicaragua in February 2003, and include cover-up, illicit association to commit the crime of covering up and illicit association to promote the crime of abortion. It should be stressed that therapeutic abortion wasn’t illegal then. Rosa’s second pregnancy two years ago, caused by the man assumed to be her father but who turned out to be her stepfather was discovered in August 2007. With no evidence whatever, ANPDH argued that these women knew everything for more than four years and covered it up to protect the rapist, who was finally sentenced to 30 years in prison this November in a Masaya courthouse. The accusation against the women is just one of the hostile actions by the Ortega-Murillo government in alliance with the Catholic hierarchy against autonomous civil organizations, and more specifically against women’s organizations for their unrelenting fight against sexual abuse and for the decriminalization of therapeutic abortion.

THE TOLA CASE IS CLOSED
The Tola case was closed on November 14 with the bizarre finding issued by the Public Prosecutor’s Office that there are no merits for investigating former FSLN legislator and mayor Gerardo Miranda for extortion, despite two reports by National Assembly commissions that did find cause and recommended an investigation. The Tola case first shook Nicaragua in May, when the weekly TV news magazine program “Esta Semana,” directed by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, documented in detail a case of extortion headed by Miranda, who allegedly in the name of the FSLN upper echelons asked European tourism investors and their Nicaraguan intermediary to pay US$4 million to solve a land ownership tangle that had in turn been encouraged by cooperates linked to the FSLN. The result of this charge—barely the tip of an iceberg of similar cases that revealed an already open secret about how property conflicts are resolved in courts dominated by FSLN judges. It was yet one more demonstration of the levels of corruption that have taken root in the structures of the governing party and state institutions. In closing the case, Miranda was left free and clean and all the plaintiffs were castigated.

COSTA RICA-NICARAGUA
President Daniel Ortega and his wife finally made their first official visit to Costa Rica in late November. Ortega failed to get Costa Rica to pull its suit against Nicaragua in the International Court at The Hague, claiming the right of Costa Rican officers to carry arms while navigating the Río San Juan, which forms the border between the two countries but belongs to Nicaragua. Ortega argues the costliness of the legal process and wants to reach a “friendly solution” with Costa Rica, but President Arias isn’t interested. Ortega also advocated a relaxation of the Costa Rican Migration and Alien Law, which severely affects the thousands of undocumented Nicaraguans working in the neighboring country. Nicaragua also has a US$630 million debt pending with Costa Rica since the eighties, which Ortega said that Nicaragua cannot pay. Arias had already warned Ortega before his visit that Costa Rican cannot write off the debt because it is also a “poor country.” Ortega offered to pay with Nicaraguan state properties, but did not detail which ones. Some 11,000 affiliates of the Sandinista Workers Confederation fought in November to get the government to arrange papers for construction workers to be able to work in Costa Rica, convinced that the “Zero Unemployment” policy touted by Ortega during his electoral campaign was only an empty promise.

OFFICIAL CATHOLICISM
As the presidential spokesperson, First Lady Rosario Murillo announced on November 28 that President Ortega had “instructed all government dependencies to celebrate Purísima [the Immaculate Conception], not just for the institution’s workers, as has been the usual practice, but opening each institution and delegation office in the departments to the public.” She presented this decision as “a new policy to ensure that the Nicaraguan people, to whom we as a government have a debt, are participants in all possibilities of celebration we have, and above all in these festivals so important for tradition and the devotion to the Virgin Mary.” The presidential instruction violates the constitutional principle that establishes the state as secular and ratifies the Catholic nature of the current government. This is creating conflicts with the Evangelical population, nearly a third of the total, which rejects the Catholic cult to Mary. In the inauguration of the CPCs on November 30, a gigantic image of the Virgin presided over the act with the motto “The Nation Belongs to Mary” placed between two immense placards with the words to the Purísima songs. On December 4, the National Assembly representatives drove up to the San Felipe church in León for the holding of a formal parliamentary session there in honor of the Virgin Mary on this the 150th anniversary of the initiation of the traditional Purísima celebrations by Franciscan monks.

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