Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 278 | Septiembre 2004




Nitlápan-Envío team

September 6 completed the 20-day deadline set by Islamic groups supposedly linked to the Al Qaeda network for the government of El Salvador to withdraw all of its troops from Iraq. These groups had used the Internet on several occasions to threaten to “spill the blood of Salvadorans” in reprisal for the government having sent troops to participate in the US invasion. President Francisco Flores sent the first military contingent, which coincided with the Nicaraguan contingent in Najaf, but Al Qaeda’s threats did not begin until the new government of Antonio Saca announced plans to send yet another contingent. Shrugging off the threats, Saca sent the troops in August.
General Javier Carrión, the head of Nicaragua’s army, announced that at least two of the threats have been confirmed as indeed coming from Al Qaeda, causing security forces in El Salvador and the rest of Central America to go on alert. El Salvador is the only Latin American country that still has military forces participating in the bloody and illegal US war in Iraq, although Nicaragua’s President Bolaños declared on August 24 that “we, too, wanted to send more troops to Iraq, but we didn’t have the money. We looked for funds but one thing that scared off possible donors was the insistence of some sectors in the country on knowing who the donor was. But if they give me the money, I’ll send more soldiers.”

Participating in an August 17 talk on “Caudillismo in Nicaraguan political culture,” analyst and Conservative politician Emilio Álvarez Montalván referred to three people who he said currently form a “Bermuda triangle.” He described the three as controlling the country’s politics and attempting to perpetuate themselves in power, impeding the functioning of government institutions, which they are holding “hostage.” He didn’t name names, but nobody doubted for a minute that he was talking about Daniel Ortega, Arnoldo Alemán and Cardinal Miguel Obando.

On August 21, the bishops issued a statement in which they referred to “certain local newspapers that manifestly grant space to people with a grudge against the Church, among them some intellectuals of renowned religious intolerance.” Again without naming names, this was a clear reference to Álvarez Montalván. They also censured the political cartoons of Manuel Guillén and Pedro Molina, respectively in La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario, for offensively and persistently “ridiculing and satirizing the archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, certain bishops and religious symbols.” Some interpreted the bishops’ position as a threat to freedom of expression, but Daniel Ortega immediately expressed his “solidarity” with the cardinal and backed the bishops’ statement.

The Managua municipal government has contracted the services of a special barge that will work 24 hours a day for three months to decontaminate Managua’s small crater lake known as Laguna Tiscapa, on its biological deathbed. The “Scavenger 2000,” which decontaminated the Miami River, reportedly uses unique technology to perform two tasks. It sucks up the solid waste lying on the bottom and recycles 35,000 liters of water per second, injecting it with ozone, which kills off any bacteria and other organic filth. Once this three-month process is over, a fixed machine from the same company will remain in Tiscapa permanently, repeating the process periodically to prevent any new contamination of the water. Managua Mayor Herty Lewites, who still insists he wants to run for Vice President or even President on the FSLN ticket in 2006 despite Ortega’s rejection of the idea, announced he would swim in Laguna Tiscapa on December 7, confident that by then its water will again be crystalline and safe rather than the green sludge it is today.

The regional government decreed a six-day State of Emergency in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) at the end of August and issued a series of demands to the central government. The most urgent demands were the immediate repair of the decrepit port in the region’s capital, Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas), and attention to the destroyed road network. In an unprecedented ratcheting up of civic protests, the region’s public officials, private business leaders, sailors, divers and educational centers all supported the decree, closing the airport, gas stations, warehouses, stores, public offices and the school system from primary schools right up to the university level, effectively cutting the region off from the rest of the country.
A series of commitments by the transport minister, acting in the government’s name, ended the emergency on the night of September 4. All of the commitments related to infrastructure, however, ignoring the demands regarding health care, education and the autonomous exploitation of the region’s valuable natural resources. President Bolaños minimized what had happened, claiming that the protests had lasted so long because “that’s the food on which Sandinismo dines: disorder and uproar, damaging the country’s prevailing peace and tranquility.”

The Army of Nicaragua—née Sandinista Popular Army during its first 13 years—celebrated its 25th anniversary on September 2. This was followed by the 25th anniversary of the National Police—originally the Sandinista Police—two days later. During the second celebration, President Bolaños reiterated that Nicaragua is the safest country in the region. He called it “an enviable security, which is beginning to be legendary in Latin America.” In addition to reporting on his organization’s activity over the past two-and-a-half decades, First Police Commissioner Edwin Cordero provided figures on the joint operations with other Central American forces that have begun to be developed systematically just this year, which included the recovery so far of 2,600 stolen vehicles, 4,200 unregistered firearms and drugs valued at US$55 million. Cordero also referred to the expanded coverage of the Police Stations for Women and Children around the country. “The challenge now,” he said, “is to have no more women police officers who suffer domestic violence and don’t speak up about it or male police officers who cause domestic violence.”

A poll conducted between May and June by the Cid Gallup firm in Central America and the Dominican Republic revealed that the majority of both males and females in five of those six countries believe that women should dedicate themselves to household chores and men to work outside of the house. That opinion was offered by 67% of those polled in Honduras, 66% in Guatemala, 59% in Nicaragua, 54% in the Dominican Republic and 51% in El Salvador. Only Costa Rica fell below the halfway mark, with 46% of those polled. These opinions reflect the huge gap between the cultural mentality of most Central Americans and the “economic growth” (as distinguished from economic development) model being imposed on us regionally. This model consists of attracting the greatest possible number of sweatshop assembly plants for re-export of the finished product (maquilas), in which women are preferentially hired for 95% of the tasks. This contradiction between culture and economy is not being analyzed at any depth and is already translating into expressions of greater violence by men against women and greater economic independence and new identities among women.

The 2004 report on Educational Progress prepared by the United Nations program for the Promotion of Educational Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean (PREAL) again revealed worrying data about Nicaragua’s educational situation. It notes the poor quality of the education provided, insufficient school coverage, a high rate of dropouts and repeated grades, and teachers with the lowest salaries on the continent. According to the report, these deficiences are at least showing improvement, but the educational inequity is worsening. Thus, while the lliteracy level among non-poor 10-year-olds and up is high (31%), it shoots up to 60.2% and 83.9%, respectively, among the poor and extremely poor.

Nicaragua has the lowest percentage of children in school in all of Latin America (80%), due to economic reasons, lack of access, child labor or lack of motivation. The level of public investment in education put Nicaragua on a par with the most miserably poor countries of Africa: US$83 per primary school student, which would of course be even lower if more children were actually attending primary school than currently do. By comparison, Costa Rica invests $700 per primary student, the Latin American average is $403 and the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa invest an average $40.

On numerous occasions recently, most visibly during his speech commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, FSLN secretary general Daniel Ortega has insisted that a law should be passed to reduce the salaries of government officials by half. As a populist demand, It is a sure-fire winner, given the continuing disgruntlement of much of the population with Bolaños’ steadfast opposition to reducing the salaries of his top officials, much less his own, which is reported to be the highest presidential salary in all of Central America and at least part of South America. On top of that, he is drawing a full pension for his former post as Vice President under Alemán.
In his July 19 speech, Ortega went even further, claiming that all Sandinista mayors, deputy manors and Municipal Council members elected in the upcoming race will reduce their salaries by this percentage. Minister of Government Julio Vega was neither impressed nor convinced by the grandiosity of this gesture. “I´d like to see Daniel Ortega return the pension check he receives [as former President] tomorrow so it could be parceled out to all the poor.”

US Ambassador to Nicargua Barbara Moore announced in early August that the United States was preparing to return to Nicaragua some US$3.4 million laundered by Arnoldo Alemán’s cohort in embezzling of government funds, Byron Jerez. A condominium Jerez bought in Miami was reportedly auctioned off by the US government in May for around $3 million, but the government will only return $2.7 million, keeping the rest as taxes, commissions and the like.

A $1.4 million Bell 407 helicopter bought with Nicarguan government funds was used by former President Alemán then later sold to a Guatemalan company for $600,000. The US government has frozen the account in Oklahoma in which the money was deposited because it is reportedly is in the name of Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party.

Ambassar Moore said the money is ready to be repatriated and all that remains is to reach “minimum agreement” with the Bolaños government about where it will be used.

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