Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 286 | Mayo 2005




Envío team

On April 16, as the protests against the bus fare hike began to peak, President Bolaños surprisingly ordered the retirement of National Police (PN) Deputy Commissioner Francisco Bautista, one of the country’s most experienced police officers and next on the ladder to become national police chief. Bautista, brother-in-law of Managua Mayor Dionisio Marenco, was replaced by Horacio Rocha, a man trusted by Alemán, Bolaños and the US government. Rocha, who had to be promoted before taking his new post, is now being groomed to be the new police chief. President Bolaños, Police Chief Edwin Cordero and other top-ranking PN officials all refused to comment on the decision. Given the arbitrary procedure employed, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center called the retirement a “dismissal,” and Bolaños’ decision a “criminal usurpation of functions.” Arguing that he deserved a “dignified retirement,” Bautista appealed the presidential decision, which has further affected the PN’s institutionality following tensions within the different command structures caused in large measure by US pressures and the corruption installed during previous governments.

The Spanish government invited thwarted Sandinista presidential aspirant Herty Lewites to the Ibero-American Encounter held in Seville at the end of April to prepare for the next Ibero-American Summit, which will take place in the Spanish city of Salamanca in October. He, La Prensa opinion page editor Luis Sánchez Sancho and celebrity Bianca Jagger were the only three Nicaraguans among 150 figures from the continent’s political, economic and cultural world who attended. This and a visit to Panamanian President Martín Torrijos formed part of Lewites’ strategy of international diplomatic pressure to get Daniel Ortega to back down and allow him to seek the FSLN’s presidential candidacy in Nicaragua’s November 2006 general elections.

Meanwhile, on April 17, José Antonio Alvarado, who held various ministerial portfolios during both the Alemán and Bolaños administration, threw his hat in the presidential ring at a rally in the city of Diriomo attended by some ten thousand people. He wants to run for the Alliance for the Republic (APRE), a political grouping whose core is the waning Conservative Party and whose honorary president is Bolaños himself. APRE was organized out of Bolaños’ own offices to participate in the 2004 municipal elections and buttress his domestic political support, but it did not even match the Conservative Party showing when it ran alone in the previous elections. Alvarado proposed what he called a Grand National Alliance and predicted it would beat the FSLN and the PLC. Two other APRE pre-candidates are legislator Miguel López Baldizón and former Attorney General Francisco Fiallos.

With the elections still a year and a half off, there are already a dozen declared contestants for the FSLN, the PLC and APRE. One of those, banker Eduardo Montealegre, until recently Bolaños’ treasury minister and now hoping to be the PLC candidate, has already visited 71 of the country’s 152 municipalities to meet with Liberal leaders and hold massive rallies and caravans to promote his candidacy with the slogan “Let’s go with Eduardo.” Legislator and former PLC organizational chief Jamileth Bonilla has been organizing Montealegre’s tours in defiance of the party’s pro-Alemán upper echelons, who openly reject Montealegre. “He thinks he’s the sun and he’s not even an aerolite,” commented pro-Alemán legislator Wilfredo Navarro, another PLC presidential aspirant. According to Bonilla, Alemán and his crowd “are handing the country over to the Sandinista Front and Alemán is handing five million Nicaraguans over to Daniel Ortega in exchange for his liberty.”

Following the FSLN’s lead, the PLC leadership has now officially rejected the idea of holding primary elections to decide on its presidential candidate, announcing that the candidate will be selected in April of next year. The FSLN leadership announced in February that Daniel Ortega would once again be the party’s candidate.

The director of the United Nation’s AIDS Office (UNAIDS) visited Nicaragua in mid-April to learn more about the epidemic’s effects in the country. The National Anti-AIDS Commission has warned that new cases are being diagnosed at the rate of one a day now, mainly heterosexual men and women between 15 and 29 years old. Four years ago, only 3-4 cases were officially diagnosed per month. Roughly 1,700 cases are currently recorded in the country, of which fewer than 100 are receiving retroviral treatment. But the commission calculates that you would have to double the figure by at least 5 to get a more representative idea of the real number of cases.

In March, Bishop of Granada Bernardo Hombach, diocesan directors of the Catholic NGO Caritas, pastoral agents and health technicians, among others, met to look at the situation and discuss the advance of AIDS from the Catholic perspective. Priest Freddy Rojas, director of Caritas Nicaragua, put the spread of AIDS down to “the lack of Christian values, infidelity, promiscuity and ignorance of the disease’s transcendence,” among other causes. The Catholic Church around the world rejects the use of condoms as a prevention measure, which it claims is ineffective in open contradiction to informational campaigns by the World Health Organization. Rojas encouraged people with AIDS to trust in God: “Despite your illness, the Lord awaits your sincere repentance.”

On April 11, Carlos Emilio López made public his resignation as the Special Defense Attorney for Children and Adolescents within the Human Rights Defense Attorney’s Office. His sober declarations hinted at the internal crisis that has been brewing since the appointment in 2004 of pro-Ortega Sandinista Omar Cabezas to head the institution and pro-Alemán Liberal Adolfo Jarquín as his deputy. “At this time,” said López, “it is not possible for me to exercise my work with all the potential and authority invested in me by the law.” He concluded that, given the dire situation faced by the majority of children and adolescents in Nicaragua, “our country needs a belligerent ombudsman.” That adjective well describes López’s work over the past five years, during which he received constant support from national NGOs and international cooperation. “The cooperation agencies have told me that they will give the Human Rights Defense Attorney’s Office six months to a year, and then evaluate it,” he reported. The office would collapse without foreign funding.

The hundreds of families, including small children, men, women and the elderly, who walked from Chinandega representing some eight thousand banana workers and their families whose health has been ruined by dibromocloropropane (DBCP) completed two months camped out in front of the government offices on May 1. The victims of this pesticide, which Dow Chemical, Shell, Standard Fruit, Dole and Chiquita Brands unscrupulously continued to sell and use in third world countries under the brand names Nemagon and Fumazone even after it was banned in the United States, are suing the above-mentioned companies for indemnification and asking the Nicaraguan government for social and health assistance.

For the past two months, they have lived off solidarity, sleeping in hammocks strung on polls under black plastic covers to shield themselves somewhat from the elements in a huge vacant lot across from the Presidential Offices and the National Assembly. While they have occasionally been accompanied by Christian groups and representatives of social organizations, not one legislator has walked across the street to visit them in those two months, much less the President of the Republic, although in a meeting over a month ago they were promised some assistance that has yet to materialize.

Meanwhile, however, five days into the third month of their camp-out, their cause got a boost from the Central American Council of Human Rights Ombudsmen. On May 6, after a two-day meeting in San José, Costa Rica, the council issued a resolution summarizing the pesticide’s history since its introduction in the fifties, including studies on its deleterious effects, the companies that used it and the countries in which it was used. According to the document, the US Environmental Protection Agency prohibited in-country use of DBCP as early as 1977 after it was proven to have caused sterility among workers in California. The US National Cancer Institute, the document adds, considers DBCP one of the most potent causes of breast, testicular, kidney, duodenal and uterine cancer. Despite all this, the two products mentioned above continued to be used in Central America until at least 1985.

The council urged the Central American states to fully support the demands of those affected and accompany them in their lawsuits in the US courts, as no company has yet been found guilty in the United States. It also called on them to grant DBPC victims an economic pension and to mediate in any extra-judicial agreements to ensure that the victims are adequately compensated. Finally, it exhorted the legislative branches of Central American countries whose citizens have been affected by the pesticide (all except El Salvador) to pass laws providing benefits for those who had to deal with such highly contaminated material. The council is sending this resolution to each country’s executive and legislative branches, the Central American Integration System and the relevant international bodies, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Breaking News: As envío was preparing to go to press, it was announced that the protesters were breaking camp after reaching agreement with the government on compensation, support in the US lawsuits, and, in what one journalist rightly called a “macabre” note, the provision of 300 coffins per month.

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