Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 326 | Septiembre 2008




Envío team

Although President Ortega was among those invited to the ceremony at which former Catholic Bishop Fernando Lugo was sworn in as the new President of Paraguay on August 15, he didn’t attend. According to the official version, the private plane in which he was to travel to Asunción had a technical problem that couldn’t be repaired in time, but the real reason appears to have been concern about the consequences of a communiqué published a couple of days earlier. Issued by a number of women’s organizations, led by feminist Gloria Rubin, head of Lugo’s Women’s Secretariat, the communiqué repudiated “the presence as an official invitee of rapist Daniel Ortega Saavedra, who for 20 years sexually enslaved his wife’s daughter.” Rubin was obviously referring to the Zoilamérica Narváez case, virtually forgotten in Nicaragua since 2004, when she publicly reconciled with her mother, Rosario Murillo.

Narváez publicly declared in March 1998, at the age of 30, that she had been sexually abused by her adoptive stepfather since she was 11. She then petitioned the National Assembly to strip Ortega of his parliamentary immunity so he could stand trial, which the Assembly refused to put on the agenda. With that avenue blocked, she and Vilma Núñez, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, jointly filed suit against the Nicaraguan state for obstruction and denial of justice with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which declared the case admissible in October 2001. Two months later Ortega agreed to stand trial in Managua regarding Narváez’s accusations, but the Sandinista judge, without airing the case, declared that the statute of limitations had been exceeded and ruled the case closed. In March 2002, two months after Enrique Bolaños took office as President of Nicaragua, the IACHR took its customary step of suggesting the plaintiff and the state seek a “friendly solution,” which both parties accepted. Although discussions between Narváez and Bolaños went well at first, Narváez decided to abandon the process in February 2003.

That was not the only time in recent months that the issue has been revived. The collective continental memory was first reawakened by Peruvian writer-politician Mario Vargas Llosa, whose text, “For the History of Infamy,” was published in Spain’s El País on July 27 and reproduced in newspapers all over Latin America. A week after canceling his trip to Paraguay, Ortega was scheduled to visit Tegucigalpa to participate in the signing of Honduras’ entry into Venezuela’s Latin American Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA). Honduran feminist organizations were quick to follow the example of their Paraguayan sisters, declaring Nicaragua’s President “non grata” because of the Narváez case. This time he underestimated the possible conflict and went to Tegucigalpa, where he was met by street demonstrations. Selma Estrada, minister of Honduras’ Institute of Women, resigned her post in rejection of the official welcome Ortega was given in her country.
While feminist organizations in Honduras, Paraguay and other countries backed Zoilamérica Narváez during this period, she remained silent in Nicaragua. To fill the gap, Nicaragua’s rightwing newspaper La Prensa published exerpts from an interview that appeared in El Salvador’s El Diario de Hoy back in July 2003, presenting them as “recent declarations.”

On August 8 Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo celebrated his 50th year in the priesthood with a banquet, music and dance performances. The gala was attended by top state officials and well-known political figures, including former President and now convicted embezzler and money launder Arnoldo Alemán and his then partner in crime, Byron Jerez. Daniel Ortega was represented by his adopted son Rafael Ortega, Zoilamérica’s brother. In the days leading up to the event it was rumored that the Bishops’ Conference had given Obando three months to resign as head of the government’s Reconciliation Commission. The day after the party, during a celebration in his honor in Managua’s Cathedral, Obando said he would remain in the commission “as long as God chooses” and denied any ultimatum from the other bishops. Ortega and his entire family attended that celebration. Referring to the conflictive relations between the FSLN government and the Catholic hierarchy in the eighties, Ortega publicly asked for Obando’s “forgiveness for the offenses and those attitudes because we didn’t know how to comprehend the historic moment that our people were living through.” Ortega paid homage to the cardinal yet again in what is now called the Casa de los Pueblos—presidential headquarters during the Bolaños government—where the celebrations continued. In M&R’s mid-August opinion poll, 55% of those surveyed considered Cardinal Obando’s work in the commission “bad” or “very bad.”

Arnoldo Alemán announced in late August that his Constitutionalist Liberal Party is willing to discuss any issue with the Ortega government, including successive presidential re-election, a topic that will almost certainly be at the very top of Daniel Ortega’s political agenda as soon as the municipal elections are over. “It’s not some taboo that can’t be discussed,” Alemán told foreign journalists. This change can only come about if two-thirds of the National Assembly vote in favor of reforming the Constitution in two consecutive legislative sessions. Alone the FSLN has 40% of the vote.

Although sentenced to 20 years in prison for various crimes of corruption while President, Arnoldo Alemán was later granted by a pro-Ortega court the right to circulate freely throughout the country, attend and even chair political meetings and make unrestricted public declarations on any national issue. While his appearance as the President’s special invited guest in an outrageous array of official events has become commonplace, the treatment he was given at the 29th anniversary of the Army of Nicaragua was particularly scandalous. On that occasion he strode into the event flanked by the presidents of the legislative, judicial and electoral branches of government and was greeted effusively by President Ortega on two separate occasions. He was even applauded by the troops when his name was mentioned among the guests of honor.

Nicaragua was the second country in the world after Russia to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. In August the separatist intentions of those two areas, once provinces of the Soviet Union and until recently territories of Georgia, led to a cruel five-day war between Georgia and Russia. The scale of the attack by Russia earned it the repudiation of the European Union and the United States, although Georgia apparently triggered the conflict by trying to invade South Ossetia. Venezuela and Cuba accused the United States of encouraging the conflict in Georgia. Nicaragua’s official recognition came in the form of two presidential decrees dated September 1, which established diplomatic relations with the two “sister republics.”

US Ambassador Robert J. Callahan, who is replacing Paul Trivelli, presented his credentials to President Ortega on August 28, a week after arriving in the country. On that occasion, Callahan stressed that the two countries would not always agree on everything, but that he hoped “our differences can be discussed in a respectful manner.” Ortega, who referred to the new ambassador as “brother,” reminded him that from the first moment of the revolutionary triumph in 1979, the new government had tried to make it clear that it wanted “respectful relations with the US governments.”

He also let it be known that he expects the Embassy not to interfere in Nicaragua’s upcoming municipal elections. When someone in the room shouted out the name of US presidential candidate Barack Obama, Ortega said, “Look, we don’t get involved in the elections in the United States because we don’t like it when anyone meddles in our elections.” The Ortega government has taken a lot of heat from the diplomatic corps over the Supreme Electoral Council’s removal from the municipal elections of two opposition parties, the Conservatives and the Sandinista Renovation Movement,
According to La Prensa, US cooperation with Nicaragua exceeds $500 million a year.

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