|Central American University - UCA
Number 230 | Septiembre 2000
THE FATE OF NEW PARTIES
On August 14, former Liberal Minister of Government José Antonio Alvarado and retired army chief Joaquín Cuadra submitted to the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) all the documentation the electoral law required to legally register their respective new parties: Alvarado’s Democratic Liberal Party (PLD) and Cuadra’s National Unity Movement (MUN). Both had mobilized significant support to meet the legal requirements, reformed in January of this year, so that they would be assured participation in the November 2001 presidential elections. Days later, the CSE changed the already severe regulations regarding the formation of municipal boards for new parties, with the obvious goal of making it almost impossible to fulfill the requirements within the established calendar.
At the time the CSE committed this new arbitrary harassment, the MUN had already elected and sworn in 126 boards, so it only needed a total of 25 more. The PLD was further behind, since it only had 11 sworn in and still needed 140. Both Cuadra and Alvarado responded with indignation to the CSE’s decision, made within the context of the PLC-FSLN pact, but vowed that they will meet the new requirements in time.
THE FATE OF OLD SMALL PARTIES
Two weeks later, the CSE unanimously resolved to reject all challenges that various political parties and alliances presented regarding the signature verification process organized and implemented by the CSE as a way to eliminate them from the municipal electoral race. As non-participation in elections is cause for canceling a party’s legal status, the CSE resolved that same day to repeal the status of 26 parties.
Throughout the month, public employees at various levels anonymously leaked the information that President Alemán had ordered all officials with "positions of trust" in all government ministries and dependencies to submit one month of their salary to finance the electoral campaign of the incumbent Constitutionalist Liberal Party. Ana Quirós, liaison for the Civil Coordinator of Emergency and Reconstruction, pointed out that the money that international cooperation is earmarking to pay the fat salaries of many state functionaries is thus ending up as financial support for the PLC.
Abstention: According to a poll by the Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Social Development, 44% of the population either does not plan to vote in the municipal elections on November 5 or has not yet decided. Among the main reasons identified are distrust of the political parties, distrust of the Supreme Electoral Council and suspicion that municipal governments have no real power. In a national poll conducted by CID-Gallup in April, 26% of those consulted said they would not vote in the municipal elections while 21% said they still had not decided. In June, Ethics and Transparency polled 75,000 people in 124 of the country’s 151 municipalities; 56% said they were thinking of not voting in the November elections.
"Solórzano for President": One of the most important findings of the latest CID-Gallup poll, conducted on August 3-9, is the high percentage of people who would vote for Conservative Pedro Solórzano if he were to run for President of the Republic. On August 8, right in the midst of that poll, the CSE announced that Solórzano was prohibited from running for mayor of Managua through an arbitrary maneuver cooked up by the PLC-FSLN pact with the collusion of various state institutions. Between 15% and 17% of those polled indicated a preference for Solórzano in the Presidential elections; he was only topped only by Daniel Ortega’s 21% captive vote. Half of Solórzano’s favorable vote came from Managua and from 16-24 year olds. Former President Violeta Chamorro is still Nicaragua’s most popular public figure with a 73% rating, followed by Solórzano with 50%.
The Conservative Party has not yet designated its presidential candidate, but former party president Noel Vidaurre has publicly aspired to that slot for some time. Solórzano beat him out in the voter intention question by a long way, however. Upon learning the results, Solórzano, the party’s current president, quipped, "I don’t know if that is good news or bad news. If they uprooted me from Managua because I had a shot at winning the mayoral race, they might throw me out of the country if I have a chance at the Presidency!" The maneuver used to disqualify Solórzano in the mayoral elections was to gerrymander the borderline between Managua and the new municipality of El Cruzero, leaving Solórzano’s house on the far side.
"Down with politics and politicians": According to the CID-Gallup poll, President Alemán is at his lowest popularity level since he took office in 1997. Subtracting rejections from supports, Alemán comes out with a negative 12 points, only 1 better than FSLN secretary general Daniel Ortega, the public personality who pulled the most negative opinions in the whole country. The poll also revealed that only three in every ten people claimed to have "a lot of" or "some" interest in political events. This is in sharp contrast to the proliferation of political debate programs on radio and TV.
YATAMA WILL SIT THIS ONE OUT
The Supreme Electoral Council knocked the indigenous organization Yatama out of the municipal race in Nicaragua’s North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS) by not registering this grouping’s mayoral or municipal council candidates. The CSE argued that Yatama, which opposes the PLC-FSLN pact, did not meet the stipulated legal requirements, while Yatama sympathizers called the CSE decision "a declaration of war on indigenous peoples" and warned that they will they will disrupt the municipal elections in the Atlantic Coast.
Some independent Miskito observers think that the CSE may not be far from the mark in this case. They say that Yatama, which won just under the majority of seats in the first autonomous regional government in 1990, has been losing electoral ground ever since, rent by paralyzing internal struggles between its two historic leaders. One of those leaders, Stedman Fagoth, switched to the PLC in the 1996 elections, and is now its National Assembly representative for the RAAN. The analysis of these observers is that the remaining founding leader, Brooklyn Rivera, intentionally failed to meet the registration requirements because he fears that the electoral results would reveal Yatama’s erosion and preferred to let the organization sit this one out and take potshots from the sidelines instead.
QUESTIONING ALEMÁN’S MENTAL STATE
On August 28 Leonel Téller, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the European Union and currently a member of the National Liberal Party’s legislative bench, together with Sandinista legislator Miguel Ángel Casco, who resigned the FSLN a few months ago, requested that the National Assembly form a commission to evaluate President Alemán’s mental state. Aided by psychologists and psychiatrists, the commission would determine whether he is fit to continue governing or not. The text includes a detailed description of Alemán’s arbitrary, abusive, irresponsible, dangerous and uncontrolled conduct.
The original document, presented to the media a week earlier, contains two paragraphs that were eliminated from the final version submitted to the legislative body. One says: "It is no secret that the President of the Republic is addicted to alcohol and gets drunk far more than the four times a month signaled in article 387 of the Penal Code as constituting a crime of bad conduct." The other says: "The head of the Executive abuses ingestion. The excessive ingestion of food has produced serious health problems in President Alemán, which range from cardiac and hypertension problems, through serious gastric illnesses, to psychic obesity-related disorders, which have taken his weight up to 380 pounds in a person who measures just under 5’-6".
President Alemán’s turn to address the Millennium Summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York came on September 6. He described the current situation of the country he is governing with excess sobriety: "Nicaragua is making great efforts to consolidate democracy with social justice, reconstruct after the enormous damage caused by powerful recent natural phenomena, stanch the wounds of a painful and destructive civil war, fortunately behind us, and lay firm foundations for a development with profound transformations, stability and adequate governability levels." And he described the world situation with excess rhetoric: "During the recently concluded 20th century, humanity witnessed dazzling as well as fascinating changes and advances in multiple areas of science, technology, culture, communications and computer science. There were also substantial and even radical transformations in the fields of geopolitics, ideologies, trade, finance and so many other activities, without forgetting the incommensurable universe of concepts and perceptions, of the real and the virtual."
A HITCH IN RELATIONS WITH TAIWAN
Taiwan’s new President Chen Shui-bian paid a courtesy visit to Nicaragua on August 17, during a tour of his country’s Central American allies in its dispute with continental China. In return for financial support, the Central Americans always support Taiwan’s efforts to be admitted to the United Nations and other international bodies.
Shortly before Chen Shui-bian’s arrival, however, a diplomatic scandal blew up in Nicaragua when it was reported in Taiwan that Arnoldo Alemán’s government had pressured Taiwan by conditioning its support to the immediate provision of US$100 million. This "dollar diplomacy" writ large was widely criticized in the Taiwanese media, commented on with disbelief in the independent Nicaraguan media and flatly denied by government officials and the official media. The declarations, denials, clarifications and detailing went on for days. In the end, the visit took place smoothly, with sufficient diplomacy to defuse the conflict and prevent any rupture. To avoid new tensions, the Nicaraguan government presented no new requests whatever for cooperation. The Taiwanese government has donated Nicaragua US$36 million for different projects around the country and has so far granted it loans amounting to US$100 million.
HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT
On August 17, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) unveiled its Human Development Report on Nicaragua, which now joins over a hundred countries on which such detailed reports have been prepared. For a full year, 40 people prepared and systematized a huge volume of information on the country. The report describes the contradictions of the national economy and the terrible quality of life of the majority of its inhabitants. Despite President Alemán’s electoral pledge to make Nicaragua the "granary of Central America," the country lacks food security and depends on imports to cover the majority of its inhabitants: 33% of the rice consumed is imported, 18% of the beans, 59% of the cooking oil and 15% of the milk. Poverty affects half of the population, 17% of which survives in extreme poverty. The rural population is particularly affected by poverty, while 41% of the economically active urban population is under-employed. Meanwhile the income of working women is barely 40% of that received by men.
THE FIGHT OVER THERAPEUTIC ABORTION
On August 31, Cardinal Obando and President Alemán and his wife María Fernanda Flores headed up a march organized by the cardinal of some 10,000 people demanding that legislators eliminate from the new Penal Code bill abortion for therapeutic reasons even though it has been legal in Nicaragua for decades. The bulk of the marchers were students from public and religious high schools and public officials personally "invited" to participate by the First Lady "as an apostolic Roman Catholic." The National Feminist Committee criticized the march because the state is constitutionally laical and the criteria used to oppose therapeutic abortion were not only patriarchal and pseudoscientific but also referred specifically to Catholic dogma.
The memorandum the First Lady sent to public officials to pressure them to participate in the march reads as follows: "The march corresponds to the Holy Doctrine that recognizes the life of human beings from the first moment of conception… Everyone knows the wicked form in which the enemies of life have wanted to disguise the criminal act of terminating an innocent baby, hypocritically invoking concepts of humanism and solidarity with the mother, who in the midst of certain desperate situations chooses these siren songs that turn her into a passive assassin of the being in her womb."
President Alemán instructed the National Assembly’s Liberal bench to stop therapeutic abortion from being legalized. The National Assembly president—a Liberal, naturally—claimed that "socialist tendencies are pro-abortion and Liberal and Church tendencies are pro-life." Patricia Obregón, the Special Ombudsperson for Women within the new Office of Human Rights Ombudsperson, however, strongly questioned the march’s objectives. She stated that the Catholic Church and the political participants in the march should also concern themselves with "the boys and girls who have been aborted in life" due to the irresponsibility of the men who fathered them.
In its pronouncement on the march, the National Feminist Committee commented that "all Nicaraguan women and families, particularly the poorest ones" will be affected by the fundamentalist and anti-therapeutic abortion positions of the Catholic Church and the politicians supporting them. It recalled that "virtually the whole female population of Nicaragua lacks access to true, objective and scientific information about sexuality and birth control methods."
According to the latest CID-Gallup poll, 33% of the Nicaraguan population knows someone who has committed suicide. On average, one Nicaraguan takes his or her life every day for different reasons, with men between ages of 15 and 30 constituting the most affected group. Specialists point to the lack of solidarity in society and uncertainty about the future as factors that are influencing the notable increase in suicides.