|Central American University - UCA
Number 123 | Octubre 1991
ENERGY CRISIS HITS HARDA prolonged drought in northern Nicaragua, coupled with increasing demands for energy, have forced INE, Nicaragua's state-run energy utility, to begin rationing electricity throughout the country. The measures began on September 2, and officials warned that they could last well into 1992.
Apanas and Asturias are two artificial lakes in rural Jinotega that, in normal times, allow two large hydroelectric plants to provide the country with 35% of its energy needs. But precipitation rates for August were a quarter of an inch, rendering both lakes unable to maintain the levels needed to keep the plants going. Normal precipitation rates for August average around eight inches. Worsening matters is the fact that two electrical plants in the Managua area are currently being overhauled, and will not go on line again for nearly six months. In addition, other countries in Central America are experiencing similar problems and cannot sell Nicaragua any energy in the near future.
INE has five incremental phases of rationing planned, each more drastic. By mid-September, it had already implemented phase three, and announced sizeable increases in electricity rates, including more than 30% for household consumers. Most areas of the country will have their lights cut for between three and five hours daily. Some ministries have already adjusted their working hours to the cut-offs. Long-term rationing could seriously affect Nicaragua's already weakened industrial sector, and a greater downturn in productive and commercial activity is expected if the cut-offs continue.
INE has other concerns to juggle as well. There was an immediate uproar on the part of Nicaragua's considerable audience for "telenovelas"—the daily soap operas imported from Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela that keep people glued to their television sets for hours at a time. One housewife moaned, "How will I know what's happening in 'War Between the Sexes' if I don't have any lights?"
SCAM TARGETS NICARAGUAThree UNO politicians, including two National Assembly representatives, were on the verge in late August of signing an agreement to hand over nearly $400 million of government money in exchange for a promise to lend the government some $2 billion.
The near-scam was thwarted in Italy, when con artist Roberto Coppola was finalizing an offer to the Nicaraguans from his fraudulent charity organization, Sovereign and Military Order of San Juan de Jerusalem (allegedly tied to the Knights of Malta, which was reported to have played a key role in Oliver North's "secret" contra funding network), to loan $2 billion in return for an up-front, one-time 19.5% fee. The Nicaraguans were identified as Jaime Bonilla of the Independent Liberal Party, Adolfo Jarquín of the Social Democratic Party, both members of the National Assembly, and Alvin Guthrie, coordinator of the Southern Atlantic autonomous regional government. Guthrie said Coppola's organization had made contact with him some six months earlier promising donations for projects in his region.
Presidential Minister Antonio Lacayo said that a representative of Coppola's identified as René Ibarz had come to Nicaragua in late June offering Nicaragua $2 billion with 10 years to pay, interest free. Lacayo commented that "obviously an offer of that nature sounded strange," so he had consulted with the World Bank, which advised him that Ibarz was using a false name and was not linked to the Knights of Malta. Lacayo said he later found out that Guthrie had made independent contact with Ibarz and warned him that it was all a lie, which Guthrie denies.
Coppola, now in custody in Italy after police made a surprise raid on his headquarters just as the Nicaraguans were to sign the contract with him, was close to pulling a similar scam on Argentine officials and reportedly had tried to make contact with Russian President Boris Yeltsin as well.
UN PEQUEÑO EJERCITOChilean writer Gabriela Mistral affectionately baptized Sandino's peasant army of the late 1920s and early 1930s a "pequeno ejercito loco" (a crazy little army). In the wake of recent personnel cuts, the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS), which celebrated its twelfth anniversary on September 2, the day Sandino's army was founded more than 60 years ago, could well be called at least "un pequeno ejercito."
According to army head General Humberto Ortega, the EPS, after a second round of layoffs in August, has now dropped to 21,000—down from 90,000 at the time of the 1990 elections. During the September 2 ceremony, Ortega stressed the army's strict allegiance to the Nicaraguan Constitution. He also emphasized the importance of recent projects directed towards assisting the civilian population, including the construction of a road between Bocay and Ayapal, emergency assistance to Costa Rica after the earthquake in Puerto Limón and disaster relief efforts after the floods in Rama this past August. Over the last year, the army has also deactivated and destroyed more than 10,000 mines originally placed to protect key economic installations from contra attacks.
REVENGE RUNS ROUGHSHODMany Nicaraguan buildings, streets and parks were baptized with the names of " revolution’s heroes and martyrs"—those who fell in the long struggle against the Somoza dictatorship. In the March 1990 Transition Protocol, the incoming and outgoing administrations agreed to respect the memory of these heroes and martyrs and leave their names on buildings and other public facilities. One example is the Ministry of Government central offices, which carry the name "Silvio Mayorga"—one of the founding members of the FSLN in 1961.
In flagrant violation of the Transition Protocol, as well as of any attempt at genuine reconciliation in the "country, four UNO representatives in the National Assembly introduced legislation to wipe out the memory of these liberation fighters by striking their names from all public facilities. The UNO majority approved the draft measure, over the strenuous objection of the Sandinista bench.
In the debate preceding the vote, Sandinista National Assembly representative Herty Lewites, whose brother Israel was killed by the National Guard and is commemorated in the name of a Managua open-air marketplace, declared, "The National Assembly could contribute to peace, but it could also throw fuel on the fire already burning. We shouldn't get mixed up this way with what is most sacred, our dead."
LAND TAKEOVER SQUASHEDOn August 30, the Chamorro government ordered the police to dislodge some 650 families from a large plot of land in Managua that they had dubbed the "Promised Land" when they took it over the previous week. Asleep in the dozens of dwellings that had already been thrown up in a few short days—mostly hovels made of wood, cardboard, tin, plastic and cloth—the inhabitants were surprised by the police at 1:00 am and forcibly removed. Some 600 police took part in the unprecedented operation.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) reports that 40% of the evicted are unemployed, 30% work in the informal sector and a small minority has secure jobs. They say they took the land because of the desperately overcrowded situation in which they were previously living. Many have continued living and sleeping in a nearby commercial center, hoping to be permitted to return to the settlement or otherwise resolve their housing problem through negotiations with the government, aided by the Communal Movement. The police have maintained a presence at the site to prevent people from returning.
CENIDH blames the government for the eviction’s health consequences for the families—20 children were treated and several even hospitalized for bad colds and/or pneumonia; one woman who was six months pregnant miscarried; two adults were hospitalized for vomiting, diarrhea and fever.
The day after their eviction, the squatters were sent to Minister of Construction and Transport Jaime Icabalceta, supposedly to negotiate. Instead of offering a solution, the minister issued an order prohibiting any commercial vehicle carrying construction materials from using the road passing by the settlement. In later negotiations, this time with Vice-Minister of the Presidency Antonio Ibarra, the government made a few vague promises. The only concrete pledge was that the National Housing Commission would turn over the first 50 lots at an alternative site within 48 hours. Several days later, no land had yet been provided. And as this issue of envío goes to press, the squatters have begun to move back into their "Promised Land" dwellings in protest.
MINIMUM WAGE "RIDICULOUS"The government unilaterally announced on August 29 that the minimum wage would be set at $30/month (150 córdobas) in the countryside and $46/month in the city. The previous week, 10 union federations had jointly proposed a basic wage of $130, the approximate cost of a "market basket" of basic goods according to official statistics. Only the business association COSEP and the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG) supported the government decision.
Minister of Labor Francisco Rosales said that the unions' proposal would mean doubling and even tripling the salaries of some 281,000 workers; Deputy Economy Minister Noel Vidaurre warned that 97% of state enterprises would go bankrupt and the country would return to the vicious hyperinflationary cycle. Even Cardinal Obando y Bravo, however, called the government's decision "starvation salaries."
Because of union opposition, negotiations have continued. Rosales affirmed, though, that the wage that has been set cannot be revised, according to the law, for six months, except under extraordinary circumstances (such as a devaluation) and that the state has no obligation to continue negotiating just because the unions do not agree.
Meanwhile, the unprecedented union unity seems to be disintegrating. Rightwing unionists from the Permanent Workers' Confederation (CPT) did not show up at the last scheduled meeting with the Sandinista National Workers' Front (FNT). The FNT has announced that it will begin partial work stoppages in hospitals and health centers to protest the minimum wage approved by the government. La Prensa reports that the other unions do not support this move.
TROPICAL FOREST CONSERVATIONA plan to conserve Nicaragua's tropical forests was announced recently by Jaime Incer, minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Institute (IRENA). Nicaragua still has vast expanses of virgin forests, which IRENA is studying in order to establish the largest national biological reserve in Central America. That reserve, covering 750,000 hectares, will be called Bosawás, and includes the area along part of the Bocay and Coco rivers. The Bosawás project was initiated in the early 1980s, but targeted counterrevolutionary attacks on forestry installations and personnel in that isolated region forced the Sandinista government to abandon the project.
According to Incer, the Bosawás Reserve will be managed by the Sumu communities living in the area, which will be trained in patrolling and management according to an agreement with IRENA. Swedish funding has already been approved to begin training. International organizations, including the US Agency for International Development, have earmarked $2,800,000 for the project's implementation. Bosawás could become part of the regional reserve discussed at several meetings of international banking institutions, such as the World Bank and International Development Bank. These institutions are interested in arranging debt-for-nature swaps to payoff Central America's foreign debt.
COSEP ELECTIONSRamiro Gurdián was elected the new president of COSEP, replacing Gilberto Cuadra. Gurdián, representing a younger generation of business interests, is reportedly less hard-line than Cuadra. Some FSLN analysts were optimistic that the extremist COSEP faction represented by Enrique Bolaños (who vied with Violeta Chamorro and Virgilio Godoy for the UNO presidential ticket in 1990) has been defeated. La Prensa reported that COSEP's future behavior would be "more pragmatic and less politicized." Gurdián said that COSEP would help the government promote investment, production and exports.
The new COSEP president told Barricada that he recognized the Sandinistas as a political force but emphasized that "we can't let them be abusive. They are changing, I can judge by their actions. I have seen the Sandinista party in the National Assembly approve laws for a private bank, foreign investment and international trade—all contrary to what they did as a government. The Sandinista Front has to understand that the private sector doesn't have a plan for confrontation with them. This has been overcome."
While he measured his words to Barricada, Gurdián's speech at the COSEP meeting in which he was elected was far more radical. He asked the government "not to give in to the Sandinistas' blackmail," and added that it "should not be afraid to use force if necessary." He added that COSEP supports reconciliation and "this is why we have not requested that [the government] jail the nine comandantes [the FSLN National Directorate], though perhaps it should."
NATIONAL INDUSTRY NOSEDIVESEconomists warn that recent drastic reductions on import tariffs will destroy national industry and are part of a government strategy to turn Nicaragua into an almost exclusively service-oriented economy. As part of the economic accords signed by the Central American Presidents, Nicaragua was given until 1994 to lift the protective tariffs that shield national production from the onslaught of less expensive imports. But as part of its economic measures, the government has chosen to do it sooner.
The business sector generally agrees that the policy will destroy what is left of national industry since it would need at least two years' protection to be able to catch up technologically and compete on the international market. Nabisco manager Aaron Guerrero said, "National industry is like a sick athlete. While he is convalescing, he cannot participate in the Olympics. He needs time to recuperate."
Not only does national industry no longer have protections, it is also now operating at a disadvantage due to high taxes on imported inputs. Raul Solórzano, member of COSEP and manager of Polymer, a plastic bag factory, told Barricada, "It seems [the government] is using the tariffs as a source of income and not as an instrument for development. So one can import finished products with a low or tariff or none at all, while national industry has to pay a higher tariff to import raw materials."
The National Chamber of Small Industry (CONAPI) announced that the government's economic measures have caused massive unemployment in the industrial sector with the loss of some 20,000 jobs. CONAPI Vice President Gustavo Hernández said that it is still waiting for $5 million in financing promised by the government in March.