Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 272 | Marzo 2004




Envío team

President Bolaños presented his judicial career bill on February 3. Its primary aim is to professionalize and eliminate party control of the judicial branch, which he has compared to Managua’s ultra-contaminated lake. Last November, Alemán supporters in the National Assembly presented their own bill on the same theme, which contained an article to eliminate all judicial officials who had belonged to “repressive bodies,” a term they wanted to be understood as the Sandinista government’s state security apparatus. This absurdly controversial article became a negotiating chip in the political crisis of the last two months of 2003.

While Bolaños’ draft does not include that article, its most controversial element is the proposed separation of administrative and judicial functions, creating a council whose responsibilities would include regulating everything concerning the appointment, duration and promotion of judicial branch personnel. Although technically under the Supreme Court,
its members would not be exclusively appointed by the highest judicial body and it would operate autonomously. According to Bolaños, this would ensure the gradual elimination of corruption in this branch of government. The President did not consult the Supreme Court justices before releasing his draft, which they have rejected as unconstitutional and politically motivated. PLC and FSLN legislators agreed to “up the ante” on Bolaños by jointly drafting institutional reforms, which they would direct, for the entire state, including the executive branch.

On February 26, the Civil Coordinator, an umbrella organization of hundreds of national nongovernmental organizations, announced a national and international campaign to force the government to provide a convincing and transparent explanation of why over a billion córdobas (some US$650 million) in projected tax income for 2004 are not reflected in the annual budget approved by the National Assembly, although they do appear in the International Monetary Fund commitments agreed to by the government.

Two prestigious independent economists, Adolfo Acevedo and Néstor Avendaño, have been denouncing this “budgetary dual accounting” ever since the draft budget was submitted to the National Assembly for passage late last year, and collaborated in a technical study that demonstrates the concealment of such a significant amount of resources. The Coordinator argues that the money could be used to respond to urgent social demands, while distinguished figures from civil society are proposing a national debate on the issue.

Meanwhile, Sandinista legislators requested that the Comptroller General’s Office investigate this and last year’s budget, suspecting that a similar amount was hidden in 2003 as well. The treasury minister pooh-poohed the charge, stating that differences between a budget and projections are commonplace, a response endorsed by the IMF representative in Nicaragua.

On March 1, 115 Nicaraguan soldiers, 22 of them women, returned home after six and a half months participating in military and humanitarian aid operations in Iraq. They formed part of the Plus Ultra Brigade of the US-led coalition that invaded and occupied that country. President Bolaños bestowed the highest honors on the contingent, decorating all of its members for having collaborated in an international humanitarian mission. US Ambassador Barbara Moore and Nicaragua’s Cardinal Obando were among the invited guests who lavished praise on the contingent and the Nicaraguan army as a whole. The cardinal summarized the task force’s work, underscoring the 9,973 medical examinations they provided and the 36,464 explosives dismantled by the sapper team.

In early February, Foreign Minister Norman Caldera announced that it would be impossible to send a second contingent because the government had been unable to raise the necessary $900,000, despite its request for donations from various countries. Caldera has repeatedly refused to inform public opinion which country or countries donated the $700,000 that it cost to send the first contingent to Iraq. He even snubbed a specific request from the Comptroller General’s Office to reveal the information, alleging that it is a “state secret.”

Some two thousand former workers from Chinandega’s banana plantations began a 140-kilometer march to Managua on January 31along with other family members. They are all suffering the effects of the outlawed pesticide Nemagon and are demanding moral and personal backing from President Bolaños and the government for a US$17 billion lawsuit filed previously against the Dow, Shell and Dole corporations by 10,000 of those affected. The transnational giants are not only refusing to indemnify the victims, but have countersued them, accusing them of being “a mafia” at the service of “organized crime.”

The multitude arrived in the capital on February 9, and set up a dismal camp in the vacant lot directly across the avenue from the National Assembly, stringing up hammocks under makeshift lean-tos of black plastic. These unemployable and debilitated workers, whose bodies bear numerous signs of the effects of Nemagon and the other harmful chemicals used on the plantations, are also demanding that their own government provide some 100 million córdobas for medical attention and a law awarding them a lifetime pension so they can at least purchase the basic market basket. A variety of social groups have organized acts in solidarity with these victims, including visits to their camp, a viacrusis symbolizing their plight, concerts and other fundraising events. During the first month of their camp-in, the President has neither visited nor received them.

In a surprising decision on February 4, an alternate judge reversed a December 19 judicial decision favoring the five directors of the Augusto C. Sandino Foundation (FACS) and “resentenced” them to a year in prison, also stripping them of their posts in the FACS. Among those convicted is the legendary Sandinista revolutionary commander Henry Ruiz. He and the other directors immediately pointed out the irregularities in the sentence.

Ruiz again charged that Daniel Ortega and Lenín Cerna were behind the move, this time not only so they could continue helping themselves to the FACS’ finances in complicity with its longtime former director Edwin Zablah, who the directors had accused of acts of corruption. According to Ruiz, it has now become a political decision as well: “They want to restrict our civil rights, to politically inhibit us because Daniel Ortega believes that someone could take away his leadership; he sees phantoms and attacks.”

Ruiz denied having any political project other than fighting for Nicaragua’s institutionality. “I’m not declaring myself in opposition to anybody in particular, just to all who are corrupt. And Daniel Ortega is on that list.” Cerna called Ruiz’s accusations against Ortega “below the belt” and declared that the FSLN would support “compañero” Zablah in his fight to recover the FACS leadership.

On February 29, journalist William Grigsby charged on Radio La Primerísima, which he directs, that he was being intimidated and threatened. On one occasion he had been pursued for 20 minutes on the streets of Managua by a vehicle carrying three people and on another unknown people had entered his house simulating a robbery. Grigsby implicitly accused a sector of the FSLN. “I know how the apparatus functions, how the party logic functions,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to know many Sandinista leaders quite well and believe I’m capable of discerning hidden messages.”

He added: “They asked me if I’d gone to the police. I hope my police friends will pardon me, but in this type of situation the police has demonstrated that it has no capacity to carry out an investigation or the political will to do so.” Grigsby linked what was happening to the climate of fear created by Carlos Guadaluz’ murder on February 10.

”We in the radio have decided how to address this,” he answered, “and we’ve been putting it into practice. We have been disciplined, and although we all want to speak more clearly, to tell what we know, we’ve chosen caution to avoid throwing more kindling on the fire and to try to accompany our audience in the painful process of assimilating the facts.”

Fundamentalist evangelicals from a group called “The Roar of Men,” which belongs to the World of Faith ministry, held an event in Managua on February 5-7. It was attended by some 7,000 Nicaraguan men who literally roared in accompaniment to the preachings of their tie-wearing pastors. President Bolaños attended on February 6, and was “blessed” and given a plaque of recognition by US citizen Mike Hayes, world president of World of Faith. This group seeks to help change men, stressing their responsibilities to family, society and nation. But there is a notable absence of any gender perspective in the ministers’ preaching: there was no allusion to gender violence, to the unjust relations between men and women or to the public policies that should be implemented to achieve gender equity and development. There were, however, innumerable allusions to the leading role that men have and should continue to have in social change. In his extensive speech, President Bolaños continued this perspective, referring only rarely to women, and then only in relation to their traditional roles as wife, mother and sister.

Costa Rica’s Ministry of Culture and Youth granted the 2003 Aquileo Echeverría award for best lead actor in theater to Nicaraguan-Costa Rican César Meléndez, for his one-man show “El Nica.” The award recognizes the play’s contribution to understanding the realities of migration. (See “Are We Costa Ricans Exceptional?,” in the January-February 2004 issue of envío for a discussion of this play and Echeverría’s work.)

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