After very specific criticisms of the government’s laxity in dealing with corruption, US Ambassador Oliver Garza held a private breakfast meeting with President Alemán on April 13. No information was released about the contents of that meeting, but the following day, this time in a public meeting, the US government offered Nicaragua $750,000 to equip and train six state institutions in the fight against corruption. The six are the Supreme Court; the Economic Crimes Unit and the Inspector General’s Office, both of the National police; the Offices of Comptroller General and Attorney General; and the Civil Inspection Unit of the Ministry of Government. Other meetings followed, in which Garza continued urging the government to deal with the major corruption cases exposed in the media in recent months.
…AND STICK ON PROPERTY
Nearly 100 arbitrators and 50 surveyors assigned to the new Property Tribunals were sworn in on May 4 and will now begin to tackle the 6,979 pending confiscation cases. These courts were established in a property law passed several years ago following an agreement between FSLN negotiators and the new Alemán government, but are only now being set up, according to the government, due to budget problems. The government’s sudden announcement following expressions of frustration from the US embassy, however, suggests that the Alemán administration may have been lacking will rather than money. In mid-April, Ambassador Garza warned that his government’s patience "has limits" and conditioned further aid to Nicaragua on a solution—by June—to the 829 property claims by US citizens (most of them nationalized Nicaraguans) that have remained untouched since the property law has been on the books.
SOMOZA FAMILY PROPERTIES
Clearly not by coincidence, the Sevilla Somoza family reactivated claims filed over seven years ago on over 300 properties confiscated by the revolutionary government in 1979. Among the claims is the nearly 30 acres of land on which Managua’s new Cathedral is located and that they have promised to donate to the Catholic Church once the claim is settled in their favor. While the Sevilla branch of the Somoza family will only be satisfied by the return of its properties or indemnification, another branch has publicly renounced all claims. The Office of Attorney General insists that the only confiscated properties in Nicaragua that will never be given back are those belonging to the direct family of the deposed dictator, but there is documentary proof that even some of those are silently being returned.
NEW PENAL CODE CLOSE TO APPROVAL
On May 3, the National Assembly approved the general findings of a commission formed to study the new Penal Code. The former code has been in effect for 121 years, with some reforms in 1974. For the first time, the Code will establish crimes against the socioeconomic order, against nature and the environment and against national patrimony. It also defines previously unspecified crimes such as influence peddling, illicit enrichment, bribery and crimes involving computer science. Another novelty lies in the expanded selection of sentences available to a judge; the deprivation of certain rights and community work are now added to fines and imprisonment. The most hotly debated issues have been abortion and freedom of expression. An intense campaign by Catholic and Evangelist groups has urged penalization of any kind of abortion, including therapeutic abortion, which even the old code permitted. The findings on the new code did not annul therapeutic abortion, but did establish greater controls on its definition, and permitted no other legal grounds. With respect to freedom of expression, the new code establishes fines and prison sentences for journalists who violate individual privacy and use unauthorized information. In the current context, this could be used to silence the journalists in Nicaragua who are so successfully uncovering and denouncing corruption.
A STRATEGY TO UNFETTER THE REGIONAL INTEGRATION PROCESS
Given the crisis affecting the Central American integration process due to old Honduras-Nicaragua border hostilities stirred up by Colombian expansionism in the Caribbean Sea, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua decided on a joint strategy to unfetter the process, or at least push ahead with it tri-nationally. The Presidents of the three countries—Francisco Flores, Alfonso Portillo and Arnoldo Alemán, respectively—met in Managua on May 2 then in San Salvador and Guatemala City to announce their strategy, which involves infrastructure works and economic, political and migratory agreements favoring integration. Costa Rica and Honduras were invited to join the initiative, but they did not attend. The three Presidents also announced that the doors will be permanently open to Panama and Belize should they decide to join the regional strategy.
PEDRO SOLÓRZANO: CAN HE RUN FOR MAYOR OR NOT?
The Conservative Party officially submitted 180,000 signatures petitioning the registration of Pedro Solórzano, patron of the "Ben Hur" draft horse cart races, as its candidate for municipal mayor of Managua. For months now, all polls have shown this popular businessman in the lead, supported by up to 35% of the potential voters. President Alemán, enjoying the collaboration of the FSLN leadership and several state institutions, cut Solórzano out of the race by ensuring that Managua’s new municipal boundaries were gerrymandered to exclude his official residence. Solórzano toured the country for weeks on an image-building campaign to collect the signatures he hopes will force the President to lift this decision, and the Conservative Party has announced an international offensive to the same end.
AN HISTORIC FIND
The tomb and remains of Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, the first Spanish conqueror to come to Nicaragua almost 500 years ago, were discovered in the ruins of Old León in early May. Hernández de Córdoba founded León, Nicaragua’s first capital, as well as Granada, Nicaragua’s other great colonial city. He was later publicly beheaded following a power struggle with Pedrarias Dávila over who would become Nicaragua’s first colonial governor.