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NICARAGUA: STALEMATE ENDS AS LEGISLATORS AGREE ON BUDGET.

The legislative stalemate over passage of the budget ended when the National Assembly rejected all budget motions proposed by the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN). During the crisis, rumors of a coup circulated, and the Assembly declined in public esteem. Following three weeks of chaos in which the Sandinistas protested the refusal of the majority Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC) to accede to increases for education, municipalities, and other sectors (see NotiCen, 1999-05-06), the two major parties struck a deal. The agreement between Liberals and Sandinistas was for Assembly president Ivan Escobar Fornos to accept for immediate debate only those resolutions sponsored by the Sandinistas--a move that infuriated the smaller parties and dissident Liberals, who were left out. Then on May 9, the Liberal majority voted to reject all Sandinista proposals for increased budget allocations. By a wide margin, the Assembly thus approved the budget, essentially as proposed by President Arnoldo Aleman, after four months of wrangling. Legislators approved a few changes in the budget such as eliminating some discretionary funds assigned to the president, increasing the university allocation that Aleman had offered to end the violent student demonstrations in April, and approving funds to give land titles to squatters. The budget crisis may be over, but the long-term effects of this and previous political crises have helped to discredit the Assembly, further divide the FSLN, and weaken Aleman's presidency. A CID-Gallup poll taken while the student protest was unfolding in late April showed that 41.3% of respondents rated the work of the Assembly "bad" or "very bad." Among the highest disapproval responses were those from FSLN supporters, 45.8% of whom gave the Assembly a low rating. Meanwhile, as the budget crisis drew to a close, Sandinistas prepared to hold a party congress to settle internal differences on such matters as the party's position on Nicaragua's foreign-aid request at the upcoming Stockholm meeting of donor countries and candidate selection before the next municipal elections. Sandinista Deputy Victor Tinoco said the party has been hurt by weak and disorganized internal components that include the Direccion Nacional, the Juventud Sandinista, and the Asamblea Sandinista. The party is a collection of factions with little in common, Tinoco said. However, several factions, such as the Refleccion por Nicaragua, Iniciativa Sandinista, and Sandinistas por la Dignidad, agree on the need to replace Daniel Ortega as the secretary general of the party and perpetual presidential candidate. Plot to oust Aleman rumored Ortega's ability to mobilize protests has repeatedly forced Aleman into concessions to various interest groups and into an ongoing direct dialogue with the Sandinista leader (see EcoCentral, 1997-04-24, 1997-07-10, NotiCen, 1999-02-18). During the April crisis, Aleman said the protests were part of a plan to force him out of office, and Ortega said frankly that an armed uprising was possible. Ortega made no secret of his belief that popular pressures might force Aleman to resign. But Ortega later explained that, while Sandinistas might support efforts to overthrow the president, his party would take power only as the result of elections. In a move that some observers said was an overreaction to the April disturbances and strike, Aleman called out the military and ordered increased protection for government officials. Rumors of a coup soon developed and were openly discussed in the Assembly. One version of the supposed conspiracy was that a three-person junta had already been set up to head a provisional government. The junta included Aleman's arch enemy Comptroller General Agustin Jarquin and Assembly Deputies Bayardo Arce of the FSLN and Noel Vidaurre of the Partido Conservador de Nicaragua (PCN). During the first week of May, Aleman went on television and gave interviews to the press denying he had ever feared being ousted. "I was never afraid nor will I be afraid," he said. "Nor will I take a plane to Miami." Jarquin said he was not part of any junta and called the whole story "absurd." Blaming Nicaragua's economic problems on the Sandinista government in the 1980s, Aleman said he would not give in to pressures, as did his predecessor, Violeta Chamorro (1990-1997), "who was always afraid of being deposed by acts of destabilization from the Sandinista opposition." [Sources: Spanish News Service EFE, 05/02/99, 05/06/99; La Prensa (Nicaragua), 05/06/99, 05/07/99, 05/08/99; Notimex, 05/05/99, 05/07/99, 05/09/99]
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Publication:NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs
Geographic Code:2NICA
Date:May 13, 1999
Words:729
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