Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 371 | Junio 2012



Trembles, shudders, waivers and narcs

In his “Ode to Roosevelt” Rubén Darío wrote: “The United States is grand and powerful. Whenever it trembles a profound shudder runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.” Nicaragua’s relationship with the US is trembling in the North causing shudders down our backs here.

Envío team

On May 11, during the American-Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce lunch to welcome her, Phyllis Powers, the new US ambassador to Nicaragua warned that it will be “very difficult” for her government to once again grant the fiscal transparency and property waivers Nicaragua has received from the US in recent years. Their suspension could mean important losses for the fragile national economy and would be a very bad omen for Daniel Ortega’s government. It caused an unanticipated shudder.

“Imperial abuse”

Ambassador Powers brought up the subject of the waivers right at the end of her brief but diplomatically worded speech, with its conventional observations on democracy, economic growth, investments, social inclusion and cooperation. She said that each waiver would be evaluated on its own merits: “The question in each case is whether granting the waiver will advance US interests in Nicaragua and the region. We look carefully at the whole range of US interests, including whether the granting of waivers will enhance citizen security, help stem the flow of illegal narcotics, contribute to greater regional prosperity and support democracy. In this regard, I must be honest with you. The continuing lack of fiscal transparency, the failure by the Nicaraguan government to make adequate progress in regards to resolving new takings and invasions of American citizen property, and especially the significant irregu¬larities in the elections process of last year and the absence of indications of improvement for this year’s elections, make the decisions on waivers for this year especially difficult.”

The warning hit like a bucket of cold water, causing concern and uncertainty in all sectors of national life. A month after her speech, there has still been no public reaction by President Ortega, although he is presumably worried and busy doing something to avoid a major national tremor.

The President’s economic adviser, Bayardo Arce, finally broke the official silence after two weeks, and did so with a veiled threat. He called the waiver “an expression of the imperial abuse of the United States, which sets itself up as the supreme judge who goes around deciding who in the world is transparent, who is fighting drug trafficking adequately or who is respecting people’s property…. If they don’t give it to us, Nicaragua won’t be able to keep spending as much on the fight against drug trafficking to keep the drugs they consume from getting to them, while our people’s education, health care and food are being affected.” This imprudent rhetoric was relevant as Arce is a key link in the alliance between Ortega and big capital, the sector most worried about the waivers’ possible suspension.

One waiver is linked to
Venezuelan cooperation…

The annually-granted fiscal transparency waiver is the result of US legislation passed in 2008 that prohibits the US State Department and USAID from providing bilateral cooperation to any government that doesn’t publish its national budget, including income, spending, the public debt level and other data, with total trans¬parency, open to scrutiny and accountability. The Ortega government has finally responded to pressures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to publish at least minimal data on the amounts of Venezuelan cooperation it receives and the social programs financed by it, but has done so reluctantly and slowly.

Nonetheless, Nicaragua has received the waiver each year, with Washington recognizing that granting it to the Ortega government contributed to its own national interests. This year, however, that political criterion and the employment of a somewhat flexible technical analysis seem to have bowed to a new bipartisan consensus about Nicaragua in the US. Both Democrats and Republicans consider the November 2011 elections that gave Ortega a new term as President to be flawed by “serious irregularities,” a stance they did not take in the elections Ortega won in 2006, even though a suspicious 8% of the vote count was never published.

Failure to grant this waiver this time around would lead to the cancelling of the US bilateral cooperation approved for this fiscal year, already down to some $20 million after an average $225 million at the beginning of the nineties. That money, however, could be transferred to the civil society organizations it supports in Nicaragua, a slap on the government’s wrist that Washington may opt for, as it would send Ortega a negative message and further deteriorate his international image without seriously damaging the country’s economy.

…and the other to
confiscated properties

The property waiver responds to older US legislation, known as the Helms-Burton Law, passed in 1996. Originally aimed at Cuba, it prohibits the US government from cooperating with any country that has confiscated properties from any US citizen or business without either returning them or providing financial compensation It also obliges the US government to veto any loan by the international financing institutions to the country in question.

An earlier incarnation of this legislation, the 1992 Torricelli Law, began to be applied to Nicaragua in 1994. Since then, four Nicaraguan governments have uninterruptedly received the property waiver. In exchange, the Nicaraguan State has had to pay out hundreds of millions in compensation. According to a 2009 article by political scientist Jamie Way titled “US Continues Punishing Land Reform in Nicaragua,” published by the on-line magazine Upside Down World, Nicaragua gave out over US$1 billion in government bonds to US claimants in the early nineties, a debt it paid service on each year as well as racking up huge payments as the bonds came due.

Ortega’s original payment record was good. During his 2007-2011 term, the Attorney General’s office resolved 271 property cases, more than during President Bolaños’ term. The goal for 2012 was another 64. Way’s article says the Ortega government paid US$132.3 million to bondholders in 2008, equal to 56% of its total expenditures on health care or 39% of its total expenditures on education. It adds said that the government revoked 270 claims on the grounds that the properties were owned by Somoza or close associates and challenged the US State Department on 52 others for not presenting adequate documentation of ownership. Of the 274 claimants she said continue to jeopardize the waiver each year, the Ortega government argues that only 17 were actually born in the United States, while the remaining 257 took out US citizenship at or after the time their property was expropriated. Contradictory indications in the Helms-Burton Law, specifically with respect to Cuba, have resulted in controversy over the validity of applying retroactive citizenship.

What means more to the US,
resolved cases or new ones?

In any event, the situation has changed, not so much because of the unresolved old cases from the eighties, but because Ortega’s new term opened with new confiscations of valuable properties owned by foreigners, three of which we reported on last month. While none belonged to US citizens, this drastic shift in Ortega’s dynamic of strict respect for private property is what has threatened this year’s waiver. To this must be added the report issued in Managua in April by Gonzalo Gallegos, US State Dept. director for Central America. It states that in the past 12 months the government has executed “10 de facto confiscations” from US citizens. While there are no public details about them, they were presumably what Ambassador Powers was referring to when she spoke of “new takings and invasions of properties of US citizens.”

If this waiver isn’t reissued, the economic consequences will be much more dramatic for the country, given that IDB loans totaling $234.5 million for 2012 are at stake, plus another $171.2 million per year for the next five years currently in the negotiation stage. The World Bank’s disbursement of $65 million for 2012 and $45 million for 2013 is also at risk, as is the five-year program the Ortega government is negotiating with the IMF.

Nicaragua has already lost some US$300 million with the suspension of the US Millennium Challenge Account and the European Union’s budgetary support due to the alleged fraud in the November 2008 municipal elections, and because eight European countries have either cut their cooperation funds or left the country, in some cases partly for the same reason. Venezuelan cooperation has compen¬sated for the loss ever since.

The sequence started in 2008

Ambassador Powers’ warning is only the latest of the following sequence of “tremors.” After the opposition presented documents to back up their allegations of fraud in 2008, the US reacted by freezing and ultimately canceling the undisbursed $65 million corresponding to the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), a three-year program to benefit producers and infrastructure in Nicaragua’s northwestern departments of León and Chinandega. At the time, Ortega declared himself unphazed by the tremor, said the MCA had been “a sham” and assured that Caracas would replace Washington in that area of the country, which never happened.

In October 2009 then-US Ambassador in Nicaragua Robert Callahan criticized a Nicaraguan Supreme Court resolution allowing Ortega to run for reelection despite a double constitutional prohibition. “In our view,” he said, “the Nicaraguan Supreme Court acted in undue and uncharacteristic haste, in secret, with the participation of judges from a single political movement, and without public debate or discussion. We think that an issue this momentous, that concerns the future of Nicaragua’s democracy, deserves due deliberation and diligence. We hope that all Nicaraguans have an opportunity to express themselves, either directly or through their elected representatives, on amending the Constitution to allow the re-election of the President.” Within hours, governing party activists led by an FSLN National Assembly representative shot mortars at the US Embassy, spray-painted its walls and demanded that Callahan be declared “persona non grata.” Since then, Ortega’s unconstitutional election has been a recurring theme in US Congress debates about Nicaragua.

In December 2011, less than a month after new “grave electoral irregularities” gave Ortega a second term in office, the US House of Representatives held a hearing titled “Democracy Held Hostage in Nicaragua, Part I.” Its concluding resolutions amounted to a chain of “tremors.” Point 4 urged “President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take immediate and meaningful measures to encourage the restoration of constitutional rule in Nicaragua, including opposing loans by international financial institution to Nicaragua,” while Point 6 urged “the United States Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) to lead an effort to use the full power of the organization in support of meaningful steps to restore democracy and the rule of law in Nicaragua in accordance to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, including formally suspending the Nicaraguan Government under Articles 20 and 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

Ortega ignored that shot over the bow as well, trusting that any sanction would depend on the Republicans winning the US elections this November. But the following month Clinton issued a declaration in which her government assumed the criticisms of Nicaragua’s 2011 elections made in the OAS and European Union electoral mission reports. She announced that as a result of these irregularities the United States would exercise a “severe scrutiny” of the project funds provided to Nicaragua by the IDB and World Bank. The pressure had been ratcheted up a notch. The Foreign Ministry’s extremely cautious response suggests that this time the Ortega government got the message.

Electoral emphasis

The epicenters of this sequence of tremors have been electoral: the alleged 2008 fraud, perfected in the 2011 elections, which were all the more relevant for being presidential, plus Ortega’s unconstitutional reelection. The view in Washington is that democ¬racy in Nicaragua has taken a “backward step.”

The electoral emphasis of Ortega’s Washington detractors is shored up by the negative OAS and EU observation mission evaluations of last year’s elections. In April, conscious that these tremors could grow into a major earthquake, Ortega sent the National Assembly a proposal to reform the much criticized Electoral Law, hoping to reap some international legitimacy and benevolence with respect to the upcoming municipal races.

The national electoral observation organizations view the reforms as barely scratching the surface of the changes they consider fundamental and don’t even see them as substantial enough to return any credibility to the collapsed electoral system. They only recognized two genuinely important aspects: a mechanism to clear the electoral list of deceased and emigrated voters and the delivery of credentials to party election monitors in their own municipalities rather than only in Managua.

The Group to Promote Electoral Reforms and other national organizations have insistently reiterated that the problem isn’t the law as much as those who’ve been administering it since 2008 with limited transparency and biased criteria consistently in favor of the FSLN.

This was again demonstrated when, even before the reforms were approved, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) agreed to none of the inclusions, clarifications or changes to the electoral calendar proposed by the PLI Alliance. Then, after the reforms were passed, the CSE improperly favored the FSLN yet again by failing to respect the formula for distributing the departmental authorities who will oversee the municipal elections. While the distribution should be proportional to the votes the two front-running parties received in the previous elections, the CSE didn’t even respect the percentage of votes it had adjudicated to the alliance much less what the alliance claimed it had received. It’s still not clear whether the alliance will participate in the elections or not given the current conditions. The FSLN, which allegedly got 40 of the 119 municipalities it governs today through fraudulent electoral practices, announced that this time it has “real possibilities” of winning 130 of the 153 municipalities.

A “lightning” consultation

Some EU diplomats saw the electoral reforms in a more positive light, expressing confidence that they would be the “start of a process” of more profound reforms. But a lightning consultation by the National Assembly findings commission included virtually nothing of what those consulted suggested, and the reforms were passed with very few changes by all 63 FSLN representatives and 23 of the PLI Alliance’s 26 representatives. The latter, all of them from Montealegre’s group, justified their vote on the grounds of needing to be “intelligent” and seeing the reforms as an “opportunity to deepen democracy.”

The almost unanimous vote for Ortega’s reforms allowed the government to boast of having opposition “consensus,” while earning Montealegre’s followers strong criticism from the non-party opposition. Days later, the PLI Alliance showed greater cohesion by unanimously opposing the Municipalities Law reforms drafted by Ortega, quadrupling the country’s Municipal Council members, although they couldn’t prevent its passage.

All alone in ALBA with his fraud

If Ortega made these small and essentially cosmetic changes to legiti¬mize himself internationally and nationally, nothing indicates that he succeeded. Only a change of the electoral branch magistrates could send out a more persuasive and convincing signal. While most sectors of Nicaraguan public opinion are demand-ing that all the CSE magistrates be changed, the Montealegre group would be satisfied with another first step: just change two or three. Some suggest that Ortega’s stubbornness about offering any greater changes in the electoral branch reflects internecine struggles currently affecting the FSLN.

By warning of the “absence of indications of improvements for this year’s elections” in her Chamber of Commerce speech even after Ortega’s reforms had been presented and virtually approved, Ambassador Powers implied that Washington expects more. While the notion that the US has any business threatening Nicaragua about its internal affairs is galling, so is Ortega’s utter unresponsiveness to the disapproval of the magistrates’ abusive, biased behavior being expressed by a large part of Nicaragua’s own society.

The Ortega government’s good relations with the United States have been increasingly tarnished by the repeated electoral problems. If Washington has issues with all nine member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) for one reason or another, Nicaragua is the only one it has criticized for “electoral irregularities.” In fact Nicaragua is the only country in all of Latin America repeatedly accused of fraudulent elections in recent times.

Three control tasks

Ever since taking office in 2007, President Ortega has emphasized establishing harmonious relations with his three major adversaries in the eighties: big national capital, the Catholic Church hierarchy and the US government.

Although his public speeches still rail against US foreign policy, its “savage capitalism” and even President Obama personally, Ortega has based his good relations with the powerful neighbor to the North on an economy faithful to free market laws and on policies that ensure US security: control of emigrants from the South passing through Nicaragua hoping to make it to the States, control of international terrorism and control of drug trafficking.

Controlling emigrants in search of the “American dream” is relatively easy in Nicaragua. Managua has a detention center for illegal emigrants captured on their way north. While it contains people from Asia, Africa and Latin America, they are few compared to Mexico, for example. Those captured are almost always deported, so the government is doing its bit.

Control of international terrorism is linked to control of emigrants as well as other aspects. While Ortega has gotten into trouble over this task due to his open or discovered relations with Colombia’s FARC guerrilla movement, his support for Iran’s nuclear program and his long-standing friendship with Libya’s Khadafy, all of which have generated rumblings in the US at different moments, they have yet to significantly affect relations with Washington.

Drug trafficking
is the stellar issue

Ortega’s stellar effort to maintain good relations with the United States has been in the fight against drug trafficking. In August 2007, former legislator and Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) leader Dora María Téllez said in the pages of envío: “An anti-drug policy is something new for today’s FSLN, particularly if we recall that FSLN judges have freed many traffickers of hard drugs in recent years and that FSLN Supreme Court justices were involved in the disappearance of over half a million dollars in seized drug revenues. It’s thus clear that while containing drug trafficking is a policy of Daniel Ortega as President, it wasn’t his policy before taking office.”

Political, trade and criminal relations always leave a mark and consolidate links and experience. During the Sandinista government in the eighties, several FSLN leaders flirted with and allegedly reached commitments with the then-powerful Medellín cartel and its now-deceased ringleader, Pablo Escobar.

Escobar’s son has spoken publicly about the periods of his childhood when he lived in Nicaragua. And in a 2008 interview, the recently deceased Tomás Borge, one of the FSLN founders and minister of the interior in the eighties, admitted having received an offer from Escobar to make Nicaragua an “intermediate site for drug trafficking” in exchange for $50 million.

Although Borge said he refused the offer “on principle,” various reports and books in the United States claim that Borge not only authorized those operations but coordinated them. Some of his subordinates in the Ministry of the Interior were even caught “white-handed” in photographs.

In 1992, the Chamorro government signed a bilateral cooperation agreement allowing the United States to intercept drugs in Nicaraguan waters. Nicaragua was the first Central American country to accept that agreement and US Coast Guard frigates have been patrolling the Caribbean together with a DEA helicopter ever since then, mainly in Nicaraguan waters. That’s one of the reasons more cocaine is seized in Nicaragua than in other countries of the region.

Ever more trafficking

In December 2010, security expert Roberto Orozco, who works with the Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP), informed envío of interesting data on the increase in drug trafficking activity in Nicaragua. While 7,311 kilos of cocaine were seized in 2005, it was over twice that (15,352) in 2008, and the growth trend has continued.

The official explanation is that the National Police is ever more effective and that drugs are only smuggled through Nicaragua on their way elsewhere. But other data challenge that: 3,695 people were captured for drug trafficking in 2008, only half of whom (1,887) were involved in international trade; even more importantly 97.4% of the latter were nationals. Within a year the total number captured had increased by nearly 1,000, and all but 88 of the 2,179 involved in international trafficking were Nicaraguans.

Orozco explained that the increase in drug seizures is because by 2006-2007, “the Central American countries, Nicaragua included, ceased being just a transit route and started offering concrete support to international organizations in all aspects of their drug trafficking: intelligence information, security, logistics (fuel and food) and warehousing.”

This is particularly evident in areas of the North and South Carib¬bean Coast, where international drug traffickers have already created a broad and well-known social base. Furthermore, the increasing participation of Nicaraguans in both domestic and international trafficking “means there are geographical areas of our country with a growing inter¬national drug trafficking presence and more and more Nicaraguan cities with people working in the internal drug market.”

“A primary level of
institutional penetration”

According to Orozco, the sizeable and growing domestic market that now exists in the Caribbean region and other parts of Nicaragua, including the capital itself (he calculated weekly earnings of $170,000 from retail drug dealing in Managua alone), can’t function without organized crime structures in at least several municipalities of the country. This highlights a certain level of penetration of the institutions, with a greater presence of local organized crime, more intense drug-trafficking activity and the circulation of considerable amounts of money coming from the drug trade. It is in these places that the National Police has had to deal with cases of internal corruption in recent years.

These cases have appeared in the media based on Police reports, and are officially interpreted as isolated cases, loose jigsaw pieces that make it very hard for society to put together the complete puzzle, particularly when the official discourse constantly stresses that Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America and is dealing international drug trafficking the most resounding blows. While that’s relatively true, it’s increasingly less substantive to compare Nicaragua with what’s happening in Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador. What we should be looking at is how Nicaragua today compares with the situation in the country itself only five years ago.

Orozco discussed the penetration of international drug-trafficking in the police and judicial structures in four areas of the country—Rivas, Bluefields, Bilwi and Chinandega—and questioned whether they indeed are isolated cases, as the National Police says. “They may be,” he admits, “but again we can see a pattern that tells us otherwise. It shows geographical areas that already have local organized crime structures immersed in activities supporting transnational organized crime…. What we’re seeing now is that we’re jumping from the low-level phenomenon of drug dealing and use to a primary institu¬tional level. And that’s very worrying because this is how the expansion of drug trafficking started in Mexico.”

The killing of Facundo Cabral

The latest of the corruption scandals we’ve been seeing in Nicaragua, the one related to the death of Argentine singer-songwriter Facundo Cabral, needs to be placed in this context of increasing US pressure, the chain of tremors in Ortega’s relations with Washington, the official silences and Bayardo Arce’s threat to reduce the government’s efforts to fight drug trafficking.

In July 2011, a vehicle carrying Cabral, driven by a Nicaraguan named Henry Fariñas who was living in Guatemala at the time, was shot up in Guatemala City on its way to the airport. Cabral was killed and Fariñas seriously wounded. The main reason the news came as such a shock to Nicaraguans was that the beloved singer had performed only hours earlier in Managua, and no one could imagine why anyone would want to shoot him.

Nobody seemed to know who Fariñas was, but the authorities soon identified him as a nightclub entre-preneur, owner of the Élite chain. Guatemala quickly caught and jailed those who had fired at the vehicle, concluding that Fariñas was the real target of the attack and that the hired gunmen worked for Alejandro Jiménez, a.k.a. “Palidejo” (Paleface), a 38-year-old Costa Rican gangster who was running a regional drug trafficking network. Once he had recovered, Fariñas remained in Guatemala in its witness protection program. He testified that Jiménez wanted to kill him to take over the Élite Club in Managua and that it was also a settling of scores between drug traffickers.

Jiménez was picked up in Colombia this past March 12, eight months later, on his way back from Panama, traveling with a Nicaraguan passport and ID card. Colombia’s police director declared that he was a liaison between a Colombian cartel and Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, which operates in Central America. Costa Rica wanted him for money laundering, but Guatemala asked for his extradition in connection with the Fariñas case and is trying him there. The Nicaraguan authorities’ hermetic silence about the case for months, even though Nicaragua was implicated from day one, did not go unnoticed.

Henry Fariñas was detained in the Managua airport on March 29. Three days later the Public Prosecutor’s Office arraigned him, his brother and other Élite Club partners on accusations of organized crime, money laundering and international drug trafficking. Fariñas was reported in international cables to be working for Jiménez, and specifically for the Michoacan Family cartel, which had never before been mentioned in Nicaragua. Fariñas’ arrest coincided with a move against the Family by Nicaraguan, Costa Rican and Panamanian police. The action, dubbed Operation Domino, captured 55 people and seized over 2,000 kilos of cocaine and 20 vehicles.

These developments completely changed our original understanding of the case as just another of those loose jigsaw puzzle pieces involving a couple of drug traffickers, who were important only because of their relationship to Cabral’s death.

“A parallel structure”

In the arraignment hearings, Fariñas gave the case an unanticipated twist when he declared that there’s a “parallel structure” in Nicaragua’s National Police that works with Jiménez and has told him that if he talks he’s a dead man. Right around the same time, several older commissioners were retired, among them Carlos Palacios, the institution’s deputy director, who for years headed up its anti-drugs division. Police Director Aminta Granera denied any connection between his retirement and Fariñas’ case.

Two of Fariñas’ sisters told the media and the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) that they would blow the lid off what they called the “putrid pot of stew” in the Police, warning that a number of older commissioners had frequented the Élite Club, hanging out with Jiménez. They claimed to have photos and videos to prove it.

An electoral magistrate
is hauled in as well

The case continued to go deeper and take more unexpected turns. On May 27, police arrested Julio César Osuna, an alternate CSE magistrate, as well as his brother and ten other people, among them one of the Fariñas sisters who had spoken of the videos. They and eleven others who are still at large were accused of working for “Los Charros,” a Michoacan Family band linked to Jiménez’s structures.

Osuna was accused of working with a group that calls itself “Fresa” (strawberry), using CSE equipment to make and sell false Nicaraguan ID cards to Jiménez’s people. As a result of the CA-4 Agreement between Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, an ID card from one country allows free movement through all four of them.

Osuna fabricated the Nicaraguan ID card Jiménez was using in 2008. The Public Prosecutor’s office accused Osuna of “ideological falsehood” and his group of organized crime and international drug transport, since the various criminal activities attributed to them included the monthly ship¬ment of millions of dollars to Costa Rica in a CSE vehicle. Osuna is a brother of María Haydée Osuna, recently elected president of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), and was hand-picked for his magistrate job by party strongman and former President Arnoldo Alemán, who himself was convicted in 2002 of embezzling state funds and laundering money, then absolved some five years later by a judge allegedly loyal to President Ortega.

Another isolated case?

Given that Police Director Granera said within days of Cabral’s death that she had “fully identified” Jiménez, she has to have known at least by then that he was living in Nicaragua and using false Nicaraguan citizenship to get around. Despite that and the fact that police agents had discovered Nicaraguan ID cards in the hands of Colombian drug traffickers and other criminals as far back as 2008, why did they only start acting in response to this case, and why did Granera call what Osuna did yet another “isolated case”?

Electoral magistrates in any other country would have immediately resigned as a matter of honor, but those in the CSE declared they knew nothing about what Osuna was doing right there under their noses. “We have no reason to get involved in a problem that isn’t ours,” said CSE President Roberto Rivas, a protégé of Cardinal Obando. Nicaragua’s new Vice President, retired General Omár Halleslevens, called it “an individual sin because institutions don’t sin.”

Magistrate Benavides argued that resigning made no sense because “only Jehovah knows” when it’s the right time to leave the electoral branch. IEEPP researcher Roberto Orozco was categorical: “the Osuna case shows us that the institutional penetration of organized crime had already overflowed the primary level and moved into the national institutions.”

Public opinion, from big capital to the social organizations, largely agreed that the Osuna case gives President Ortega a perfect excuse to clean out the CSE, finally replacing the electoral magistrates, most of whose terms have long since ended in any case, including Roberto Rivas, alleged to have committed serious counts of malfeasance with CSE resources, an accusation no government institution has wanted to investigate.

More questions than answers

Two things are clear in this complex puzzle. First: if Facundo Cabral hadn’t been the fatal victim of that shooting, we would have learned little or nothing about how far international drug trafficking has reached in Nicaragua. Second: the little we have learned seems more the result of political decision-making at the highest level than of independent police investigation. Surely the DEA is perfectly aware of all the things the government isn’t saying in the Cabral case…

Is Osuna being used as a scapegoat in an attempt to smooth over relations with the United States at this sensitive political moment on the issue most important to Washington? If so, is the objective to have all the blame fall on the PLC to shift attention away from the Police and onto the CSE? Will the case turn out to be the government’s chosen moment to make more substantive changes in the electoral branch, thus sending a more positive signal to the United States? Dare we hope for a CSE with neutral, impartial authorities free of party biases?

Ambassador Powers admitted that they had entered into negotiations. Will this be what we’ll ultimately see behind the Osuna case? Or will Ortega stand firm, believing that in the end the Unites States will grant the waivers because Nicaragua’s economy is doing very well according to US criteria and punishing Nicaragua could both damage the growing US investments in Nicaragua and destabilize the region even more. Is he counting on the fact that he ensures Washington the double stability of a firm fight against drug trafficking and a strong obstacle to the cartels fighting from below in Nicara¬gua because he controls them from above?

Maybe, just maybe, some of these questions will be cleared up in the coming months, which will be crucial for Nicaragua given the new tremors augured by the international economic situation, Venezuelan President Chávez’ grave health and the US presidential elections.

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