Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 124 | Noviembre 1991




Envío team

President Chamorro surprised the National Assembly on October 1 by sending a message from Paris to withdraw her veto of Law 133, the highly controversial rightwing property bill passed by the UNO bench in early September over strong presidential and opposition protest. While reports were at first contradictory and confused, it finally came to light that the President had only offered to withdraw the veto in return for an agreement from Assembly president Alfredo César, the bill's champion, to negotiate a compromise.

The announcement provoked an urgent meeting between César and the leaders of the 14 UNO bench parties to decide whether to accept or reject the President's proposal. La Prensa presented her offer as a defeat, but César, despite having promised his supporters that new negotiations were out of the question, accepted the veto's withdrawal and a negotiated solution the following day. Leftwing media had reported that the executive branch had rallied enough votes in the legislature to prevent a veto override.

Minister of the Presidency Antonio Lacayo told La Prensa that the compromise decision was made to avoid prolonging the property debate. "If the veto had been overridden," he said, "Law 133 would have gone into effect with all of its errors, not to mention unconstitutional elements. If the veto had been accepted, the law would have remained incomplete, containing only the few articles [that had not been vetoed]." He explained that the possibility of a compromise arose in meetings with César the previous weekend.

While the agreement appears to have been reached to avoid an even greater split between the executive and legislative branches, the leftwing radio station La Primerísima reports that old divisions within the UNO Assembly bench, overcome in recent months after César severed his alliance with Lacayo, have resurfaced. Hard-liners have once again turned to the leadership of Vice President Virgilio Godoy.

But new lines are still not clearly drawn. Both former president Daniel Ortega and Lacayo have called for a tripartite negotiation between the two branches of government and the opposition to formulate a new property law. César, however, told La Prensa that a mixed commission from the two branches will simply negotiate "mutually acceptable reforms" to Law 133.

Five Nicaraguan army officers and a Colombian citizen were arrested by Nicaraguan military counterintelligence and charged with trafficking 20 Sam-14 and Sam-7 surface-to-air missiles, 636 mortar shells and 39 rounds for RPG-7 rocket launchers to a Colombian guerrilla movement. Some of those detained said they did it for money while others claimed solidarity. The Colombian revolutionary movement M-19 denied involvement, saying it has abandoned armed struggle; it was apparently absolved from suspicion by local and Colombian authorities.

After a Colombian armed forces general came to Nicaragua to investigate, it was reported that the missiles may have been destined for drug runners or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement. Nicaraguan military investigators said that, according to their information, the officers who had commandeered the merchandise were still seeking the buyer who would make the highest bid.

While negotiations continue between the government and the recontras, truces do not appear to last very long. Dozens of small-scale attacks have occurred in recent weeks, and new groups have formed all over the country, even on the Atlantic Coast. In the most recent attack, recontras kidnapped then released some 34 members of the military and police in the Chontales region, robbing them of 29 AK-47 rifles, dozens of hand grenades and numerous other weapons. The Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) has promised to recover the arms, and La Prensa reported on October 7 that the army had occupied El Ayote, the town nearest to the conflict.

The recontras involved in the attack are calling for the immediate removal of the EPS and police from several northern towns and mediation by the Organization of American States' Verification Commission (CIAV) to prevent a military offensive to recover the weapons. Shortly after the incident, CIAV was further implicated in overstepping its mandate to protect demobilized contras when the police found one of its vehicles transporting wounded recontras, as well as a common criminal apparently wanted for a number of crimes including rape. FSLN leader Daniel Ortega met with CIAV head Santiago Murray to request the organization's mandate be expanded to include attention to all peasants affected by the war, instead of just demobilized contras.

Pro-Sandinista peasants and former EPS soldiers living in rural areas have supported the formation of their own military forces to defend them from the recontras. These forces, familiarly called "recompas"—a diminutive of the generic nickname compañero used for members of the Sandinista military—are made up primarily of former EPS soldiers. Like the recontras, recompa forces have also grown in recent weeks, mostly in the northern regions. The recompas, who claim not to pertain to any political movement, demand security and the government's fulfillment of agreements to provide demobilized EPS soldiers with land and credit. While some groups have threatened to attack recontras and certain rightwing political leaders who dare to enter "their" area, others say, "We are not going to fight with the recontras as in the past. The recontras are not at fault; they are just peasants, perhaps in worse shape than we are." They claim to be more likely to attack former landowners who try to take land away from agricultural cooperatives.

While groups of armed bandits and some recontras have set up road blocks to stop and rob vehicles on numerous highways throughout the country, recompas have stopped vehicles for propaganda purposes—to explain to civilians why they have taken up arms and ask for "voluntary" donations.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Government has launched a massive arms search, setting up dozens of roadblocks all over Nicaragua, especially near Managua, to search for weapons to curb crime as well as political violence. Regional Disarmament Brigades, made up of former contras and members of the police and EPS, are to begin disarming civilians in some northern regions. The FSLN in Matagalpa, however, has refused to participate, opposing the disarming of civilians prior to the disarming of the recontras.

Managua mayor Arnoldo Alemán has formed a special force of "municipal inspectors." Attorney Adrián Meza Castellanos calls the body unconstitutional and reported that a motion challenging it would be submitted to the Supreme Court. The Municipal Council accord establishing the force, says Meza, gives it faculties that are only the jurisdiction of the police, such as "providing immediate support and appropriate protection to those who solicit it or when they or their property is in danger."

Municipal inspectors who, for example, have the authority to fine citizens for dumping garbage illegally are not uncommon throughout the world. Alemán, however, is well-remembered for his work with Somoza's National Guard in León in the 1970s, denouncing student and political leaders affiliated with opposition to the dictatorship. Many are thus suspicious of his intentions now. Alemán does not hide his contempt for what he snidely calls the "frentista" police force, and it is not unlikely that he has ulterior motives in forming his own. The Communal Movement has denounced him as "obsessive, sick and vengeful." Alemán, self-appointed chief of the inspectors, has reportedly ordered his subordinates, including other council members, not to speak with journalists on the subject.

Women from very different political camps came together in an important seminar on "Women and Labor Reform" to join forces and lobby for the incorporation of women's concerns into the new Labor Code, currently under discussion in the National Assembly. The seminar, sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (AID) and INCAE, a Harvard-affiliated economics institute, drew a broad spectrum of participants that included Azucena Ferrey, former civilian contra director and current UNO legislator; Gladys Baez, director of the Sandinista Women's Association (AMNLAE) and Milú Vargas, FSLN legislator and active member of the growing grassroots women's movement.

A few days later, representatives from this seminar and other groups of women, including a delegation representing almost all the country's unions, presented their demands to the National Assembly's Committee on Labor and Union Affairs. They included an extension of pre- and post-natal maternity leave (to 45 and 120 days, respectively), the establishment of workplace childcare centers, greater protections for pregnant workers, equal pay for equal work and harsh regulations against sexual harassment.

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