From email@example.com Tue Jan 11 12:07:59 2000
Political crisis on the horizon
By Laura Vargas, IPS, 4 January 2000
MANAGUA, Jan 4 (IPS) - Nicaragua is facing an uncertain future as it enters the new century, with a crisis looming due to the government's waning credibility, and the worsening of an already dire situation resulting from the partial suspension of economic aid aimed to help the country recover from hurricane Mitch.
Analysts say the country will feel the effects this year of a government that refuses to be held accountable for its actions - a government that imprisoned the comptroller-general who denounced corruption, and which refuses to respect the rules governing international coexistence.
The problems led donor countries to postpone the inclusion of Nicaragua in the category of Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), which could have led to the cancellation of as much as 80 percent of this impoverished Central American nation's foreign debt, estimated at 6.5 billion dollars.
Conservative President Arnoldo Alemann began to have problems with donor countries a little over a year ago, when it was reported that he planned to reward his political associates with housing financed by international donors.
But the decline in relations with donors took a turn for the worse on Nov 10, with the arrest of Comptroller-General Agustin Jarquin, who for several months had been accusing government officials - including Aleman himself - of corruption.
Although Jarquin was released Dec 24 and will be reinstated in his post this month, his stint in prison generated discontent within the country, and led Germany, Sweden and Switzerland to suspend aid earmarked for development projects.
"Nicaragua has no international credibility, offering the lamentable spectacle of a government that doesn't want controls of any kind, and which imprisons the main person in charge of overseeing the public administration," said Vilma Nuñez, president of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.
Nuñez added that the image projected by the country was of a lack of transparency, corruption and illicit enrichment by government officials and their families.
For the time being, it looks unlikely that Nicaraguans will receive the foreign aid they so badly need to repair the damages caused by hurricane Mitch in late October and early November of 1998.
Switzerland has already suspended six million dollars to go into a multilateral fund for Nicaragua and Honduras, the two countries hit hardest by one of the worst storms in the history of the Americas.
Swiss Ambassador to Managua Rodolphe Imhoof said in early December that although the decision was a tough one, given the difficult situation in which the Nicaraguan people find themselves, what won out in the end was concern over the allegations against the government.
"We are still extending special contributions of this kind to other countries in the region, but not to Nicaragua, because for the moment the country is not making good use of them," said the ambassador.
Germany and Sweden were the first to suspend deliveries of aid after Jarquin's arrest, although they clarified that like Switzerland, they would continue cooperating with projects that directly benefit the people.
Internally, the new year will be marked by the discontent triggered among a majority of the population by the so-called "governability accord" signed by President Aleman and the left-wing opposition Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which made possible the amendment of 17 articles of the constitution.
Political analysts say the reforms of the constitution passed in early December were aimed at consolidating a two-party system, as they set in place stiff requisites for the creation of a new political party.
The amendments also grant outgoing presidents an automatic seat in parliament, interpreted as a gift by the Sandinistas to Aleman, to grant him parliamentary immunity and keep him from being tried on corruption charges when his term ends in 2002.
The aspect of the constitutional reforms that has come under the heaviest fire, however, is an article that enabled the two parties to divvy up posts on the Supreme Electoral Court, the judiciary, legislature and comptroller-general's office.
Former president Daniel Ortega, the leader of the FSLN, defends the constitutional amendments, arguing that they will enable Nicaraguans to abandon, once and for all, the option of taking up arms.
(After overthrowing the de facto regime of Anastasio Somoza in the 1979 revolution, the FSLN governed this Central American nation until defeated by Violeta Chamorro in the 1990 elections. While in government, the Sandinistas were fought by the US-funded "contras".)
Jarquin, on the other hand, is unhappy with the constitutional reforms. "I have proposed a review of the changes to the constitution, which should be ratified by the people," he told the Costa Rican daily 'La Nacien' in an interview published in late December.
"There is nothing the comptroller-general's office can do if the political accord alters the fundamental nature of its functions," said Jarquin, who said he would leave his post if the office was put under the charge of a collegiate body.
Another question that has affected Nicaragua since late November is a dispute with Honduras over the confirmation of a treaty marking the maritime limits between Honduras and Colombia.
The international community fears the conflict is a bid to draw attention away from internal problems, international relations expert Rodolfo Cerdas told IPS.
The agreement ratified by Honduras on Nov 30 and by Colombia in mid-December establishes the maritime frontiers between the two countries in the Caribbean, and confirms Colombian sovereignty over the San Andrés y Providencia archipelago.
Nicaragua protested the treaty, alleging that the islands were in dispute, because Nicaraguan territory was occupied by US military forces at the time it signed an agreement ceding the archipelago to Colombia in 1928.
Managua complains that the Colombia-Honduras treaty deprives it of sovereignty over 130,000 square kilometres of maritime territory in the Caribbean sea.
Cerdas said the lack of credibility of the Aleman administration affected the country in the dispute, regardless of whether it was right or wrong, because border treaties should not be negotiated bilaterally when third party countries were involved.
"Every time Nicaraguan governments want to draw attention away from internal problems, they resort to conflicts of this kind," he asserted.
The government and the Sandinistas "are trying to cover up their 'piñata III', designed to establish a two-headed government," he said.
Piñata was the popular name given in Nicaragua to the FSLN's dividing up of housing, assets, companies and cooperatives in 1990, when the party handed over power to Chamorro, Cerdas explained.
Piñata II was the wave of privatisations carried out by the Chamorro administration, which benefited people associated with the government. (END/IPS/tra-so/mso/dm/sw/00)
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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