Issue 3-2023-200dpi

4 August 1999 Edition

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Nicaragua and Uganda - Unhappy anniversaries

What is left of the spirit of the revolution in Nicaragua? Little or nothing, we can say. Twenty years after the Sandinistas overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza in a moment that captured the imagination of the world, Nicaragua has regressed to being a small, forgotten and very poor country. Ronald Reagan's legacy is one of victory - the revolution he struggled so hard to destroy is now a fading moment of hope. Twenty years on, his wasted mind and body is reflected in the economic and political travails of contemporary Nicaragua.

On 20 July, 50,000 followers of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) met in the Republica Square in the capital city, Managua, to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the revolution. Meanwhile, at the gates of the Centroamerican University, dissident Sandinistas, grouped under the name Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), attracted only a few hundred followers. They are disappointed by what they describe as the very strict leadership of Daniel Ortega in the FSLN. Some of them are very well known faces within the Sandinista rank and files, such as the writer and former Culture minister Ernesto Cardenal and the former deputy prime minister, Sergio Ramirez.

For the Frente Sandinista, the celebration was a sort of starting point for the electoral campaign to the presidential election in the year 2002. Party leader Daniel Ortega said during his speech that in the local elections, which will take place next year, the FSLN will win back the vote it lost in previous elections ``because those who voted against us in 1990 and 1996 are disappointed with neo-Somosismo and have realised that the FSLN is the only party that does not forget or abandon the poor and the campesino in this country''.

Nicaragua has now become the second-poorest country in America, second only to Haiti. Corruption and social inequality are the norm. However, the state's economic problems have not affected the current president, Arnoldo Aleman, who has become one of the biggest landowners in Nicaragua.

Nowadays, 75% of Nicaragua's population lives in poverty, with 43.6% living in extreme poverty conditions. One of the main problems is the lack of sources that create stable employment with proper wages. The Nicaraguans have not many expectations anymore. The unemployment and black economy affect 70% of the population. The country suffered a fast process of impoverishment between 1980 and 1990, during which salaries dropped, agricultural production fell, the external debt increased and exports dropped by 40%.

More than one million people have immigrated to Costa Rica and the United Statws. The neighbouring Central American country is threatening to deport the illegal `ticos', who make up nearly half of the 500,000 immigrants established in Costa Rica. A recent poll found that 75% of young Nicaraguans want to emigrate.

Poverty has brought back diseases that were thought eradicated, which has affected live expectancy. Patients are asked to bring their own medicines and sheets to hospital, as these do not have funds to deal with the most basic needs. Undernourishment is one of the main causes of infant mortality, with 23% of all children under five years of age affected by it.

Illiteracy levels are double those during the Sandinista government. Around 150,000 children under 12 are not attending primary school. If this situation persists, more than 20,000 children will be still illiterate by the age of ten every single year.

For the Sandinistas, the desperate situation of Nicaragua has been caused by the neo-liberalism imposed by the new government. It seems possible, however, that there may in the future be an alliance between the FSLN, the second-strongest political force in Nicaragua, and President Aleman's Liberal Party (PL). If agreement is reached between the two parties, who have a combined 78 of the 93 seats in the country's parliament, there will be changes in the electoral law and the Constitution, seeing the abolition of the second round of the elections. The change would also mean that 90% of the electoral budget would be on the hands of the PL and FSLN to fund their electoral campaigns. This threatens the existence at least 30 small parties.

Other proposed changes would involve former presidents of Nicaragua holding lifelong seats in the Parliament, allowing Aleman to secure a seat in the Central-America Parliament and, to Ortega the immunity he needs not to confront the sexual abuse and rape charges put forward by his step-daughter Zoilamarica.

Uganda, Idi Amin's legacy

Twenty years ago, in 1979, the population of Uganda celebrated the end of the Amin era. Little did they know it would mean the return of Amin's predecessor, Milton Obote, who was also known for the brutality of his regimen. The departure of Idi Amin Dada opened up a period of hope for Uganda's population. It was the end of the reign of terror and the beginning of a self-styled `democracy', including electoral fraud, repression, corruption and death.

Idi Amin was a former British colonial army sergeant who seized power in a coup to overthrow Obote, until then the self-proclaimed Ugandan president. Soon enough after the coup, Amin decided to follow his example and those who celebrated the end of Obote's regime faced exile or death. Nowadays, Idi Amin Dada lives in Saudi Arabia, safe from justice.

Twenty years on, things have not changed so much. The current president is a former guerrilla commander, Yoweri Museveni, who vows that there will not be another reign of terror. But Amnesty International points out in its 1999 Report that gross human rights violations are still taking place in the Central African country.

Uganda's relations with its neighbours, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan are not the best. Uganda hosts armed rebels opposed to the DRC's government, while Sudan reciprocates, hosting Ugandan soldiers opposed to Museveni regime.

Apart from this unrest with neighbouring countries, Uganda is still suffering an ongoing civil war, with armed opposition groups acting in different areas of the country. The Allied Democratic Front is active around the DRC border. In the north, the Ugandan army fights against a group calling itself the Lord's Resistance Army. The Ugandan National Rescue Front renewed military operations in the Northwest in March 1998, while the West Nile Bank Front acts from bases in the DCR. Only in the north of the country, over 400,000 people remain internally displaced. The Ugandan Army does not allow them to return to their home areas.

In July 98, the Uganda Human Rights Commission published its first annual report. It identified human rights violations by the state. Muslims and members of the Ugandan Somali community are being targeted by the security forces, imprisoned without trial and held incommunicado. Amnesty International points out that soldiers and police were responsible for at least 40 killings that appeared to be extrajudicial executions and also for the ``disappearance'' of some prisoners

The opposition groups are also held responsible for human rights abuses, ranging from the abduction of children, beatings, and rape, to sexual slavery and arbitrary killings.

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