Nicanet - The Nicaragua Network

Nicaragua Network Hotlines for June 6, 2006

News topics covered in this Hotline include:

Topic 1: Alemán Admits PLC Is in Crisis

The leader of the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) former president and convicted felon, Arnoldo Alemán, admitted that his party is going through a period of crisis as a result of disagreements over the list of National Assembly and Central American Parliament candidates for the upcoming general election. Alemán confirmed rumors that the presidential and vice presidential candidates José Rizo and José Alvarado had threatened to resign should their candidates not be included in the final list.

In the original list of candidates, read out and ratified by the party’s National Executive Committee at a PLC conference on May 28 without the consensus of all those present, all the top positions were given to individuals who had demonstrated their political loyalty to Alemán. Those who had criticized or questioned the former president’s grip over the party were placed in losing positions further down on the slate. This caused anger among many PLC members some of whom expressed despair at the continuing lack of democracy within the political party. During the week leading up to May 31 nine important party representatives announced their decision to abandon the ranks and join Eduardo Montealegre’s National Liberal Alliance (ALN).

On May 31 the executive committee met at the residence of Alemán’s parents-in-law and late in the day released a final version of the list, which was officially registered before the Supreme Electoral Counsel (CSE) late on the evening. In the final version, almost all of those PLC representatives who had their US visas revoked in the last year or so were taken off the list of candidates to the National Assembly and placed on the list of candidates for the Central American Parliament. Alemán’s daughter María Dolores Alemán was moved from 2nd to 4th position on the list of national deputies. The committee did not give in to all of Rizo and Alvarado’s demands but the fact that it accepted some of them prompted journalists to announce the beginning of the end of Alemán’s reign over the PLC.

Alemán himself said the crisis brought both “danger and opportunities” but that the danger had now been “overcome.” PLC dissidents, however, believe the party will be badly affected by the internal crisis which may dramatically reduce their chances of electoral victory

On June 1 US Ambassador Paul Trivelli recognized his mission to unite the parties of the right for the upcoming general elections had failed. While some political analysts had predicted a last minute unification of the ALN and the PLC, no such move came about.

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Topic 2: Consumers Plan Massive Protest While Authorities Fail to Provide Solution to Energy Crisis

The electrical energy situation reached a new low on May 31 when a total of approximately 130,000 homes and businesses in 16 departments were affected by power cuts which in some cases lasted up to twelve hours and had disastrous effects on industrial and commercial sectors as well as small businesses and ordinary citizens. The national water company ENACAL’s pumps which are located in the areas affected by power cuts were unable to function during the week which meant that a large number of those homes and businesses affected by the cuts had neither water nor electricity.

The Spanish electrical distribution company Union Fenosa had announced on May 30 that the national electrical deficit was of 99 megawatts and, as a result, power cuts may last up to six hours in some areas. This proved to be a huge underestimate which served to deepen the resentment harbored by the population against the company.

Economists and representatives of Nicaraguan industry agreed that the cuts, which began over three weeks ago, have caused million dollar losses for the Nicaraguan economy. Carlos Castro, president of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Industry (CADIN), said companies in the affected areas were experiencing serious problems in the areas of production, sale and exportation. He explained that international buyers are not interested in clients who cannot meet the expected levels of efficiency for whatever reasons and the power cuts are threatening the viability of a number of Nicaraguan companies. Economist Nestor Avendaño, said it would be much more economically viable for the country to import electricity from Costa Rica or Panama than to continue suffering such immense losses in industrial sectors.

On May 31 a number of consumer defense organizations met to discuss plans for national protests against the Spanish company and the government, which have failed to come up with a solution to the ongoing crisis. Coordinator of the National Consumer Defense Network Ruth Herrera said that a protest march is being organized for June 9. She said an enormous number of people support the organizations’ plans and expects a very large number of people to take part in the march. There are “whole neighborhoods where you can’t get any milk,... cheese or meat,” said Herrera, “and the people are dying of heat.”

The cuts continued on June 3, 4, and 5 although they did not last as long.

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Topic 3: Violent Protests Against Bus Fares Continue After Short Ceasefire

Negotiations between student leaders and transportation cooperative representatives on May 26 and 27 resulted in an agreement to call an end to the violent student protests against the increase in the bus fares from US$0.15 to US$0.18, with just one condition; that the fare return to its former price. This ceasefire was never going to last, however, because transport cooperatives made it clear that they were not willing to lower the price without a government subsidy saying they could not break even charging US$0.15 for a bus ride in the capital.

While there was no violence for a few days the protests began again with a vengeance on May 31 when a group of students wearing balaclavas blocked the road outside the Nicaraguan Engineering University (UNI). When police attempted to break up the road block, the students used mortar bombs and stones to which the police responded with tear gas. Nine students were arrested during the protest by plain-clothed police officers who entered the university grounds to carry out the arrests. The students were angered by this move and took one police officer, Jorge Lazo, hostage. The hostage takers demanded their nine classmates be released in return for Lazo’s freedom. After four hours, though, and with the mediation of representatives of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), he was released with the guarantee that the conditions for the nine arrested students be improved.

On June 2, UNI legal representative Isaid Zeledon announced that the university is planning to take legal action against the National Police for violating the institution’s autonomy by entering the grounds dressed as civilians in order to arrest students. Five of the nine students arrested at the UNI on May 31 were released without charge on June 2 while the other four have been charged with possession of illegal weapons.

Meanwhile, on June 1, the president of the National Workers Front and Sandinista deputy Gustavo Porras announced at a press conference that a protest march against the illegal bus fare increase would take place on June 6. According to Porras, members of the National Nicaraguan Student Union (UNEN), the Federation of Secondary School Students (FES) and the FNT as well as representatives of civil society would be taking part in the march. The main demand they will be making, he said, is for a million dollar subsidy to be awarded to the public transportation cooperatives for the next eight months.

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Topic 4: Megaproject to Clean up Lake Managua Begins

Fifty years after the first studies were carried out about the possibility of a project to clean up the water of Lake Xolotlán (Lake Managua) President Bolaños laid the first brick in the construction of the sewage plant which should be ready to start treating the sewage of the capital in August 2008. The project has a total cost of US$80 million, US$30 million of which is a donation from Germany. The rest of the money comes from the Nordic Development Fund and loans from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

According to Bolaños, “eventually the lake will be clean enough for bathing and aquatic sports... I know this project will change the lives of the Managua population.” Once the plant is completed it will be the largest sewage treatment plant in Central America. The plant will have the capacity to clean 180,000 cubic meters of sewage everyday. The first results of the project to clean the lake should be observable in 2010.

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Topic 5: Environmental Emergency Decree “Does Not Exist”

On May 29 First Secretary of the National Assembly Maria Auxiliadora Alemán said the state of economic emergency decried by Bolaños on May 3 does not exist, nor had it ever existed because it was never ratified by the legislative branch. The state of emergency issued by President Enrique Bolaños outlawed all timber logging activities in both the Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS), Nueva Segovia and Río San Juan. As established in the Law of Emergencies any such decree must be ratified, modified or rejected by the National Assembly within 72 hours of being issued, otherwise it ceases to carry any weight.

The executive branch said the decree was sent on several occasions to the president of the National Assembly. Alemán said, however, that such legislation must be sent to the first secretary and not the president. She went on to encourage all those individuals and companies affected by the consequences of the decree (logging companies have had timber confiscated and been banned from exportation or sale) to take legal action against President Bolaños.

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Topic 6: Venezuelan Deputies Visit Nicaragua; Oil Deal at Risk For Lack of Storage Space

Three Venezuelan deputies, Pedro Carrillo, Rosario Pacheco and Alfredo Burga, visited Nicaragua this week and met with representatives of the Sandinista party (FSLN) to discuss the recently signed agreement between the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and the Association of Municipalities (AMUNIC). The three deputies also used the trip to make preparations for another 240 poor Nicaraguans to travel to Venezuela to receive free eye operations as part of “mission miracle.”

Before the oil, which will be sold to AMUNIC under preferential conditions, is shipped to Nicaragua, AMUNIC must secure adequate storing facilities. The Nicaraguan government oil distribution company PETRONIC would be able to provide such facilities but the executive branch has expressed its unwillingness to permit PETRONIC’s collaboration in the deal.

Edwin Castro said that if the government collaborated in the deal then the oil could be imported to Nicaragua very soon. “If the government ... attempts to disrupt the deal, like [President Enrique] Bolaños has been doing,” then it will prove more difficult. The FSLN deputy admitted that the task of finding suitable storing facilities is proving difficult but says he feels confident that such facilities will be found.

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This hotline is prepared from the Nicaragua News Service and other sources. To receive a more extensive weekly summary of the news from Nicaragua by e-mail or postal service, send a check for $60.00 to Nicaragua Network, 1247 E St., SE, Washington, DC 20003. We can be reached by phone at 202-544-9355.