Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 261 | Abril 2003





The judicial branch has been in an upheaval since February, with dismissals, removals and controversial declarations following the revelation of a chain of scandalous cases involving various judges. On March 18, the Supreme Court fired two of Managua’s criminal judges, Flavia Solís and Vanessa Chévez, for having illegally released Juan Carlos Ospina on bail. Ospina, who is an important Guatemalan drug trafficker, immediately fled the country. Several lower-level officials lost their jobs over the same case, which involved falsifying a forensic report. According to Supreme Court president Alba Luz Ramos, 92 other drug-related corruption cases allegedly involving judges and judicial officials are also being investigated. Meanwhile, Judge Sabino Hernández was “banished” to a local courthouse in the remote, underdeveloped department of Río San Juan as punishment for his misdemeanors in the case against the Centeno brothers, heavily implicated in the fraudulent bankruptcy of Interbank.

The Supreme Court’s housecleaning has all the earmarks of a massive intimidation tactic with selective punitive actions. It must be remembered that the majority of the 16 justices the Court has been burned with since the PLC-FSLN pact were put there precisely to ensure the interests of the caudillosof those two parties.

In response to the firing of the two judges involved in the Ospina case, the daily newspaper La Prensa investigated the now customary judicial proceedings that leave many major drug dealers unpunished. It showed a year-by-year increase in the number of cases resolved in favor of the accused, many of them kingpins in the business, with the National Police’s efforts to uncover major drug smuggling operations often cast aside in the courts. There are increasing rumors of “a network” of judges in the country’s criminal and appeals courts who allege “humanitarian” or procedural reasons to avoid sentencing these criminals, overturn the first sentence, or declare them absolved, pardoned, stayed or free on bail.

According to the National Police, there are 1,289 known drug sale outlets in the country. Most of these (409) are located in the department of Managua, followed by the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (248) and Carazo (146).


Commenting on these latest scandals, Attorney General Francisco Fiallos described the moral state of the judicial branch as “hair-raising” and announced that he will assume the mission of cleaning it up. Making good on that promise, his office immediately accused three civil court judges and called on all Nicaraguans affected by unjust or corrupt decisions or arbitrary actions by judicial branch officials of any rank to bring these cases to its attention. Fiallos also referred to acts of corruption by Supreme Court justices, some of whom, Justice Rafael Solís in the lead, responded with threats that included fining Fiallos, admonishing him, suspending him from practicing law, and even dismissing him from office. Justices loyal to both Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Alemán have had Fiallos in their sights for some time, the former due to his anti-Sandinista record in the eighties and the latter to the massive fraud case that resulted in Alemán’s imprisonment.


Nicaragua’s National Assembly again failed to approve an equal opportunities law aimed at reducing the levels of inequity between men and women. The proposed legal mechanisms range from obliging public institutions to disaggregate their statistics by sex and use non-sexist language to instituting reproductive and sexual health programs and special benefits for households headed by women—which account for about a third of the country’s total households. Catholic bishops and Evangelical pastors joined up with other powerful and belligerent opinion-makers to oppose the bill, claiming that its articles concealed “dark aims.” Among the covert goals they attribute to the bill is the promotion of both abortion and homosexual matrimony. The formulation of this bill started in 1999, and several versions have since been drafted and rejected. The Liberal legislators, who still hold a majority in the National Assembly, again rejected this latest version, which its sponsors had hoped to see approved on March 8, International Women’s Day.


Arnoldo Alemán sent President Bolaños a letter on March 17 authorizing the transfer to the Nicaraguan state of some US$5 million that the US government had detected in accounts and real estate linked to the former President in that country that eventually will be embargoed. In response, the Nicaraguan Attorney General’s Office urged Alemán to authorize similar transfers of additional overseas accounts in the names of his straw men, providing a list of such accounts and properties amounting to over US$4 million.

Alemán also sent a message to his political colleagues during an extraordinary convention of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) on March 23. In the letter, read by his wife María Fernanda Flores, Alemán called on his faithful to display “patience and prudence,” letting it be understood that he would return to politics. Thanks to Judge Juana Méndez, who answers to Daniel Ortega, Alemán remains “imprisoned” in his comfortable hacienda, receiving visitors and communicating daily with the PLC legislators loyal to him. This mockery has helped disenchant the majority of the population with the scope and results of Bolaños’ “fight against corruption.” At the end of March, the Attorney General’s Office again tried unsuccessfully to get Judge Méndez to order Alemán’s transfer to prison, documenting that he had received 2,276 unauthorized visits.


A group of extremely poor peasant men and women from the department of Chinandega camped out in Managua for a month demanding that the government legalize the “El Ensayo” hacienda in their name. Ownership of the hacienda, situated between Chinandega and Corinto, is currently being disputed by the powerful landowning Mántica family, personal friends of President Bolaños. After failing to get their rights respected, they announced that they would march nude to the National Assembly in a desperate attempt to attract the attention of the authorities. When they made good on their threat on March 21, some were beaten and arrested by police officers, who also tried to wrap them all in sheets in the name of “public morality.” It was the first march by totally nude protesters in the country’s history. Some elderly peasant participants cried in front of the TV cameras, ashamed by what the government’s lack of “public morality” had forced them to do. The sight of their hardened bodies, worn out by years of field work “denuded a clear case of administrative corruption in a property conflict,” declared Gonzalo Carrión, a lawyer for the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), which intervened to free those jailed. The conflict has not yet been resolved.


Carlos Emilio López, Special Defense Attorney for Children in the governmental Human Rights Attorney’s Office, appeared before the National Assembly’s Justice Commission on March 12 to request those studying the new Penal Code to clearly classify sex crimes against children, especially those related to sex tourism, trafficking in children for sexual ends and child pornography. More and more cases of sexual abuse against street children by Nicaraguan men and foreign tourists are coming to light, but the country lacks the specific legislation and judicial practices to punish them. The most publicized case hit the news in March, when it was revealed that a 75-year-old US citizen had abused poor girls in a house in Granada, painting them nude and lodging them in exchange for food and a bit of money.

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