|Report from Nicaragua (8/12/05)|
|Written by Nicaragua Network|
|Tuesday, 18 October 2005 16:37|
FSLN temporarily blocking CAFTA from reaching National Assembly
On Aug. 3 two committee reports on the Dominican Republic and Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) were submitted to the leadership of the National Assembly. The first, the majority report, was submitted by the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) in coalition with the Christian Way and Blue and White parties. The second, a minority report, was submitted by the Sandinista deputies. With the two reports in the hands of the leadership and a majority of votes in the Assembly in favor of the agreement it would seem no more than a matter of time until DR-CAFTA is passed in Nicaragua. Rene Nuñez, FSLN deputy and President of the National Assembly, however, is adamant about stopping DR-CAFTA from reaching the Assembly floor, at least for a month or more.
Members of the PLC as well as Azucena Castillo, Minister of Trade and Commerce, insist that it is urgent that the agreement be approved by the Assembly so as to avoid negative effects on the Nicaraguan economy. U.S. President George W. Bush, however, has said that DR-CAFTA will not be implemented until January 2006, which means the Nicaraguan Assembly has another five months to discuss the agreement. Nuñez says there is no hurry and has emphasized the need to approve the set of 11 laws, "the parallel agenda," currently being discussed by the leadership, before putting DR-CAFTA on the Assembly agenda. These 11 laws would supposedly protect vulnerable sectors like basic grain production, the environment and workers' rights against the impact of CAFTA. According to Nuñez, the laws "would be useless" if passed by the Assembly after CAFTA is passed. "The text of DR-CAFTA explicitly says that any law approved by participating countries after it has been passed by their legislature is invalid in regard to the implementation of the agreement."
Alba Palacios, FSLN Deputy and member of the National Assembly DR-CAFTA committee, told press last week that Nuñez had the power to prevent "any piece of legislation" from being put on the Assembly agenda and that he would use this power in the case of DR-CAFTA. Nuñez has confirmed that he is not going to allow DR-CAFTA to reach the Assembly until "September or October at the earliest." This position has angered members of the PLC who have threatened to use their influence to remove the President of the National Assembly if he goes ahead with plans to block DR-CAFTA.
The 91 Assembly deputies' three-week recess begins on Aug. 15 and will continue until Sep. 5. It now seems unlikely the PLC and Azucena Castillo will get their way and see DR-CAFTA approved before the recess. Nuñez cannot block DR-CAFTA from the Assembly agenda forever, though.
Ortega: Garza has decided 2006 presidential campaign ticket
According to Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, former US Ambassador to Nicaragua Oliver Garza has decided on his own preferred ticket for the 2006 general elections with the aim of avoiding a Sandinista victory. Ortega believes that Garza plans to persuade leaders of the right wing to start supporting and promoting Jose Rizo as the next Nicaraguan President and Eduardo Montealgre as the next Vice President. Jose Rizo is the current Vice President of the country and is implicated in the corruption scandal of Arnoldo Aleman's administration when Rizo was part of that government. Montealegre is implicated in Bolaños' presidential campaign funds scandal as he was the treasurer of the campaign.
According to Ortega, "Garza's ticket" is the result of several meetings he has held with President Bolaños and representatives of Arnoldo Aleman. "It's simple, Garza is directing the orchestra of the corrupt," commented the leader of the FSLN, who will run as Sandinista candidate in the presidential elections in 2006. Ortega went on to say that Garza's plan includes an amnesty for all elected government officials (accused and/or convicted of corruption or money laundering charges) and the breaking up of the libero-sandinista pact.
Rizo, Montealegre, Bolaños and several PLC leaders have denied Ortega's comments contain any truth at all. Wilfredo Navarro, Vice President of the PLC, went so far as to say the leader of the FSLN should visit a psychiatrist "to make sure everything is OK in his head." Since the arrival of Oliver Garza in the country on his 3 month mission to guarantee a victory for the "democratic forces" in the 2006 elections, the US Embassy has refrained from making public statements about his activities, although it is known that he has held several lengthy meetings with influential members of the different factions of the Nicaraguan right.
Political analysts have expressed their doubt as to how much influence the US authorities really have over the PLC anymore. "The US has little capacity to influence the PLC," said Luis Humberto Guzman, political analyst and member of the Convergence, the group of political parties that have formed a coalition with the FSLN. Guzman believes that the leaders of the PLC, and in particular Aleman, "no longer trust the gringos who did nothing to help Aleman during his court case in 2003."
It is clear that the key to victory in the 2006 election is the blessing of former president Arnoldo Aleman, currently serving a 20-year sentence under house arrest for charges of money laundering and corruption. Aleman still controls the PLC, the party with the largest representation in the National Assembly. While ideologically the PLC and the FSLN have nothing in common, at the moment it seems unlikely Aleman would break the pact with Ortega due to the fact that the FSLN controls the justice system with a majority of Sandinista-inclined judges in all the highest positions. While Aleman is the key to electoral victory, Ortega is Aleman's key to freedom. Unless, of course, Ortega is right and Garza is able to arrange for all those governmental officials accused of corruption to receive pardons.
The Nicaragua Network is following the already-advanced U.S. intervention in the up-coming elections of 2006 in Nicaragua and you will shortly begin to receive action alerts on the subject and be able to find information on our web page at www.nicanet.org.
Dialogue to begin again on Aug. 15 "with or without the Executive"
On Aug. 3 the leader of the Sandinista party, Daniel Ortega, informed the press that the National Dialogue, suspended since April when the Executive branch of government pulled out of the negotiations, would begin again on Aug. 15. Ortega made the announcement before a meeting with Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo who will act as a witness when the new negotiations begin. Ortega said that the aim of the negotiations would be to find solutions to the current problems facing the country such as the transportation crisis, the energy crisis and the way forward with DR-CAFTA. "The constitutional amendments [which took some powers from the executive branch and gave them to the legislature] stay as they are, that is not a negotiable matter," he added. As President Bolaños has repeatedly requested, the negotiations will include representatives of civil society and the meetings will not take place just in the Catholic University (UNICA) campus but also in the Presidential office and the National Assembly.
According to the Sandinista leader, Bolaños had agreed to all these conditions and had confirmed that he would be present on Aug. 15. Ernesto Leal, Presidential Secretary, told press on Aug. 4, however, that Bolaños was still considering whether or not he would take part. "August 15th is a possible date for the National Dialogue to be restarted. The Executive branch has certain conditions, however, for example, that the constitutional amendments be put on the agenda." Leal went on to say, "The dialogue is about benefiting the Nicaraguan people, not political parties. We want a serious dialogue, so please be serious, gentlemen."
On Aug. 4 members of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) confirmed that representatives of their party would be taking part in the first meeting of the dialogue on Aug. 15. The Vice President of the PLC and Vice President of the National Assembly Wilfredo Navarro said that the meeting would go ahead whether or not the Executive branch turned up.
National Assembly to discuss bill to protect Nicaragua against invasion of genetically modified orga
Before the end of the week the National Assembly should begin the process of consultations on a bill referring to bio-security and genetically modified (GM) organisms, submitted to the committees of health, social security and welfare. The proposed law was written by the Humboldt Center in Managua and is co-sponsored by the Sandinista/Convergence deputies Alba Palacios, Agustin Jarquin Anaya, and Irma Davila. Julio Sanchez of the Humboldt Center said that extensive consultations will take place with different sectors of civil society, environmental groups, municipal governments and agricultural workers.
Sanchez said that government environmental agencies will be consulted "once the consultation process within the National Assembly has begun." According to Sanchez the law is designed "to protect Nicaraguan biodiversity against the very real threat of GM contamination." Other non-governmental organizations and environmentalists have expressed their support for the document.
Currently in Nicaragua the only GM product that is authorized for importation is yellow corn, which is used as chicken feed and imported in bulk by the National Association of Chicken Farmers (APANA). Xavier Eslaquit Carraguilas, Director of Seed Importation and Usage at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAGFOR), stated that no farmer in Nicaragua has been given permission to grow GM crops, nor have then been any requests to do so. In recent years undeclared GM seeds have been detected in several samples of food aid sent to Nicaragua by the US aid agency USAID.
From bad to worse for Bolaños
It was very hard not to feel sorry for President Bolaños this week when news of his son Jorge Bolaños' death broke. Jorge Bolaños at age 56 years suffered a brain hemorrhage on July 23 and was rushed to Miami's Bautista Hospital where he died on July 27. The President and his family flew to Miami and did not return until July 31. Jorge Bolaños, an economist and an expert on corn, had openly criticized his father's administration late last year.
Back in Nicaragua advances were made by the National Assembly special committee investigating the President's alleged electoral crimes committed during his 2001 campaign. On July 28 representatives of the Comptroller General's Office and the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) as well as the Prosecutor Blanca Salgado were interviewed by the committee. Guillermo Arguello Poessy told the committee that the origins of US$8 million and 12 million cordobas used for Bolños' campaign were still not known while a Supreme Electoral Counsel Magistrate said that the PLC had declared four accounts used for the campaign but Bolaños had actually saved undeclared donations for his campaign in several personal accounts, something prohibited by the CSE.
Nathan Sevilla, Secretary of the Assembly committee investigating the alleged crimes, said that they now had enough evidence to prove the involvement of several government ministers in fraudulent crimes and would be drafting their final report in the coming days with a view to presenting it to the National Assembly by mid-August. Once the report has been presented to the Assembly the legislative power will debate the possibility of taking away the immunity enjoyed by all government functionaries during their elected periods. If the Assembly consequently voted in favor of such a proposal it would become possible to take Bolaños and the ministers to court during their time in office.