Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 195 | Octubre 1997




Envío team


A study by the research institute Nitlapán-UCA, published in mid-August, shows that only 18.3% of the Nicaraguan population has all its basic and non-basic needs satisfied. The other 82% was classified as follows by the study: 47.6% suffer chronic poverty (malnutrition, bad health, no education, etc.); 15.2% live in inertial poverty (salaries at the poverty level) and 18.7% have seen their standard of living go down palpably in the past few years.


Member organizations of the Civil Initiative for Central American Integration (ICIC) involved in agricultural production used the Central American Presidents' summit meeting in Managua on September 1 to criticize their governments' neglect of food security in their countries. No attempt has been made to forge a policy assuring that each country produce the basic foodstuffs its population needs. They also pointed out that, while the Presidents and their governments are busy creating commercial and business integration, the truly productive sectors are left to their own fate.

ICIC is made up of various regional umbrella organizations of civil society sectors, and its mandate is to develop an alternative regional integration "from below" and push the region's governments to comply with international agreements that address grassroots concerns. The member organizations that lobbied this presidential summit included ASOCODE (small producer organizations and peasant cooperatives), UPROCAFE (small and medium coffee growers); CICA (indigenous organizations), CCC-CA (cooperatives), and CODEHUCA (human rights organizations).


US Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Stuart Eizenstat visited Nicaragua on August 20 with the undeclared objective of egging Nicaragua's government on even more in its anti-Cuba campaign. When Eizenstat left for El Salvador to pursue the same task, President Alemán declared that he would promote motions to condemn the Cuban regime in the next Iberoamerican summit, to be held in Venezuela in November.

Six days later a mini-summit of the five mayors of the region's capital cities plus the mayor of Miami's Dade County was held in Managua. The purpose of the meeting, called "United Central America: a Window on America," was to coordinate joint actions. In his inaugural speech, Dade County mayor Alex Penelas, of Cuban origin, exhorted his colleagues to "openly reject the tyranny of Fidel Castro," and congratulated President Alemán and Managua mayor Roberto Cedeño for supporting "democracy in Cuba." Penelas pushed for inclusion of the Cuban issue in the Declaration of Managua, which concluded the meeting, but Hector Silva, the new mayor of San Salvador, who won on the FMLN ticket, persuaded the other mayors of the area to vote down Penelas' initiative.


Amid the scandal caused by the Managua Municipal Council's decision to raise Mayor Roberto Cedeño's salary to $10,000 a month, discussions got underway among the private sector, the unions and the Ministry of Labor regarding a readjustment of the minimum wage. The current minimum has been frozen at 234 córdobas (currently equivalent to about $25) for the past six years. The unions are demanding a 100% increase, the government proposes raising it to 300 córdobas and private enterprise wants to increase it only 16 córdobas (about $1.50) to 250.


The Interamerican Press Association (IAPA) sent a letter to President Alemán on June 11 expressing concern about his government's discrimination against some media based on political criteria in the distribution of state publicity. The IAPA exhorted Alemán to use only technical criteria and noted that the "improper granting of official publicity, in addition to being an attack on freedom of the press, constitutes an act of corruption, in that it uses state money contributed by the citizens to benefit the private interests of the administrators."
The harsh letter was prompted by a decision of the Alemán government to deny official publicity spots to Sandinista media. The Supreme Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the umbrella organization of large business chambers, publicly urged its member businesses to do the same, all of which has caused serious financial problems for Sandinista media and even the closure of a few Sandinista programs.

The theme of political discrimination in the media was taken up in the National Dialogue set up by the government, but no agreement or rectification grew out of the discussion even though such discrimination is a hard position for a government to defend that otherwise lauds free-market principles. Two of the Sandinista radio stations are among the few with national reach and a number of their programs on both TV and radio rank high in media polls. Even Barricada, which has a lower circulation than the three other dailies, is still a national newspaper and reaches readers that do not buy either of the two right-wing newspapers.


Incumbent COSEP president Gerardo Salinas was elected for a second term on September 7 by five of the organization's seven business chamber members. His rival, businesswoman Lucia Salvo, was not to President Alemán's liking, which he manifested by lobbying against her election. Named during the Chamorro government to head the National Lottery, Salvo was pushed out of that post a few months ago due to her disagreement with the political appointments the new President made in that state institution.


The splashy "arrival" of the Unification Church, headed by Korean right-wing pastor and entrepreneur Sun Myung Moon, has sparked public controversy for its activities and its anti- Christian nuances. While it finally caught public attention with the public mass wedding of close to a hundred couples in July, the "Moonies" actually began working in Nicaragua in 1993 and say that they have already "blessed" (married) 30,000 couples.

President Alemán, who received financial support for his electoral campaign from Moon's powerful economic empire, has provided migration facilities for his missionaries in exchange. While Cardinal Obando and other Catholic leaders have expressed public concern about the advances that the sect has made among diverse national sectors, Alemán justifies his opening to it as "religious freedom." Other top officials of his government also have ties to this religious- economic group.


Former President Daniel Ortega sent a message to the Missionaries of Charity in India expressing his sorrow at the death of their founder, Mother Theresa, on September 5. In his letter, Ortega said that "her death brings grief to those who struggle for a more just and human world. We fondly remember the presence of Mother Theresa of Calcutta in Nicaragua during the past decade. We took her two visits as a manifestation of solidarity with our people, who at that time were suffering the consequences of having dared to dream."


Despite promises, threats and other belligerent bluster, everything suggests that President Alemán will not succeed in his attempt to annul the 1993 privatization of the Cuban-built Victoria de Julio sugar complex, which he wants to re-privatize to political allies in Miami. Even though the Comptroller General had certified that the operation of passing the state property into private national and foreign ownership was free of any legal loopholes, Alemán overrode that statement and ordered through the courts that the refinery be intervened.

For political and economic reasons, the President has now been forced to back off. E.D. & F. MAN a British group which currently owns 30% of the shares in the refinery, has stood firm against the President's pretensions, together with the other investors in the country. MAN is the world's largest sugar merchant, and has been investing in Nicaragua since 1994.

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