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Students protest budget cut while Aleman opens "national dialogue"
By Toby Mailman, Weekly News Update <email@example.com>, 1 July 1997
MANAGUA, July 1--Violent confrontations broke out here yesterday between university students and police, as students protested the National Assembly's vote upholding a presidential veto of the university budget.
Protests took place in a number of cities throughout the country. However, one of the most violent confrontations took place in front of the Central American University (UCA) in Managua, where students had built barricades to impede traffic. As police began to remove the barricades, students began to pelt them with rocks. The police responded by shooting tear-gas bombs and rubber bullets at the students. Television news videotape also showed police throwing rocks back at the students. The confrontation, which began in the afternoon, lasted into the evening, and resulted in some 50 wounded, among both police and students. A number of students were arrested.
There was also violence between students and police at the National Agricultural University (UNA) where students, a journalist and a photographer were among the wounded. According to a report in today's El Nuevo Diario, when police attempted to enter the UNA campus, students launched mortars and molotov cocktails against them. University campuses are supposed to be off limits to police.
In a television interview last night Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alvarado said the government had knowledge that many of the participants in the protests were not students but rather professional organizers, and accused the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) of being behind the protests and manipulating the students for its own political purposes.
Yesterday's protests follow earlier protests last week, resulting from the National Assembly's approval of President Arnoldo Aleman's veto of a university budget of six per cent of the national budget. According to the Nicaraguan constitution, the universities are to get six per cent of the national budget. However, it is ambiguous as to whether this means six per cent of ordinary income, or if it includes extraordinary income, such as donations made by international financial institutions. Aleman does not wish to give the six per cent to the universities, but has proposed using the funds in the form of scholarships, to be given directly to students, and allowing the students to choose where they want to study. This is seen by some as unfair to poor students who may only be able to study at the UCA, which is free, and also as a way to undermine the autonomous public universities and help promote the private ones.
Commenting on the events, FSLN Secretary General Daniel Ortega Saavedra said the only thing necessary to put an end to the protests was for the government to "say they acknowledge the six per cent and are going to give what the constitution establishes." He blamed President Aleman for the violence, saying it was Aleman who ordered the repression of the students.
At about six o'clock in the evening members of the Nicaraguan University Board (CNU) arrived on the scene and successfully negotiated a temporary truce. But tensions still run high, and further protests are expected until the question of the university budget is resolved.
The protests and violent confrontations took place on the same day that Aleman initiated what he described as a national dialogue. Participants in the opening ceremonies did not include the FSLN, which does not see the dialogue as a serious effort on Aleman's part to find solutions to the country's economic and social crises. "We are in favor of a true dialogue that leads to a national accord," commented Ortega. Several labor union leaders, university representatives and high-level military officials were also notable for their absence.
While police and students faced off, Aleman talked about "faith and optimism" in his opening speech. He said the national dialogue was an "open and pluralistic forum" and invited those who were not present to attend, "putting aside differences and contradictions."
However, one person who was present, Antonio Lacayo, former presidential candidate for the National Project (PRONAL), commented, "I did not hear in Mr. Arnoldo Aleman's speech any willingness to reach agreements. If this national dialogue is only to make proposals and not to make commitments, it would have been better if he had told us beforehand, to prepare a serious document and send it by fax. There would have been no need to come here."
The Civic Group for Ethics and Transparency, which moderated the meeting, had asked Aleman beforehand to consider the possibility that some agreements would be incorporated into the government's plans. However, Aleman responded by saying the government was simply one more member of the dialogue.
Referring to the absence from the dialogue of the FSLN, Minister Alvarado said, "The FSLN is a relevant political force, but it cannot hold the country hostage." FIN
ALEMAN SAYS SIX PER CENT WILL BE GIVEN TO UNIVERSITIES
by Toby Mailman
MANAGUA, July 2--Following student demonstrations that turned violent last Monday, President Arnoldo Aleman has verbally promised to comply with the requirements of the constitution which establish that six per cent of the government's budget is to be allocated to the universities.
Confrontations between students and police on June 30 were the most violent of a week of demonstrations provoked by the National Assembly's approval of a presidential veto of the six per cent. Although the university budget is included in the constitution, it is still debated every year as part of the process of approving the federal budget. Earlier this year the National Assembly approved the six per cent by one vote, but that decision was vetoed by President Aleman. His veto was upheld by the National Assembly last week, causing students to take to the streets.
At about six o'clock in the evening on Monday members of the National University Board negotiated a truce between police and students. And yesterday President Aleman verbally promised to fulfill the requirements of the constitution and allow the universities to receive the six per cent, as approved previously by the National Assembly. If Aleman keeps his word, some 282 million cordobas (approximately USD $29,841,270) will be given to ten autonomous state universities.
A letter sent by rectors of the universities to Aleman indicates that this amount is only five per cent of the national budget, but Aleman insisted that it corresponds to six per cent of ordinary income. The constitution does not make clear if the six per cent is only of the government's ordinary income - such as taxes - or whether it is six per cent of all income, including "extraordinary," such as donations by international financial institutions.
Meanwhile, in spite of the truce called on Monday, last night police attempted to stop a bus carrying students from the National Agrarian University, which was making its normal rounds, dropping students and university employees off to go home. The students shut the windows and doors of the bus to prevent the police from entering and arresting them, and residents of the neighborhood where the bus was stopped threw rocks at the police. After a while those inside the bus were forced to open the windows due to the heat and lack of air in the bus.
The police gave no explanation to either the university's lawyer or human rights representatives from the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) for why they stopped the bus.
In the end the bus was allowed to go. The driver was told by the police to return to the university instead of continuing its rounds, but instead he continued to drop people off, escorted by members of CENIDH. FIN
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