Nicaragua facing political chaos
Ten of the accused are placed under custody for further investigations. Ex–president Alemán and daughter escape justice because of parliamentary immunity, but popular pressure is increasing.By Christian Korsgaard
11. September 2002
Nicaragua is facing a political chaos of unforeseeable dimensions, following last night’s presentation of the results of a local judge’s preliminary investigations of the ‘guaca case’. According to Nicaraguan legal laws, judge Juana Méndez was assigned to investigate the corruption charges formulated against ex–president Arnoldo Alemán and 13 others members of his closest family and circle of friends. According to the judge’s conclusions, ten of the 14 accused should now be formally prosecuted. The implicated persons are:
- Amelia Alemán – ex–president Alemán’s sister
- Alvaro Alemán – ex–president Alemán’s brother
- Mayra Estrada de Alemán – Alvaro Alemán’s wife
- Arnoldo Alemán Estrada – Mayra and Alvaro Alemán’s son
- Alfredo Fernández – ex–president Alemán’s secretary
- Byron Jerez Solís – former Chief of Department of Taxes
- Ethel González de Jerez – Byron Jerez’ wife
- Valeria Jerez González – Byron Jerez’ daughter
- Esteban Duque Estrada – former Minister of Finance
- Jorge Solís Farias – former president of the national telecommunications institution, ENITEL
All the former mentioned are to be placed under custody while investigations continue. Judge Méndez discharged the accusations presented against Ligia Segovia García and Auxiliadora López Román, both secretaries of Byron Jerez, but included nine new names on the list of suspects: Jerónimo Gadea, Sebastián Martínez, María Lourdes Chamorro, Gilberto Wong Chang, Leonado Somarriba, Roberto Vassalli, Jorge Castillo Quant, Oscar Moreira, and José David Castillo Sánchez. All are charged with having known about the laundering scheme.
Ex–president protected by immunity
As was expected, judge Méndez did not mention neither ex–president Arnoldo Alemán nor his daughter María Dolores Alemán, as both are at present members of Parliament and thus protected by the immunity granted by this institution. The Parliamentary Board will tomorrow decide whether the Alemáns should be stripped of this immunity and forced to face trial. Civil society organizations have announced manifestations and happenings in front of the Parliament at the time when the Board is in session, but many people doubt that the Board will in fact act against the interests of Alemán. Though the ex–president’s control of the Parliament have fallen apart these last weeks, the ‘arnoldistas’ still has a majority in the Board.
A more optimistic analysis is that even though Alemán controls the Board, the members cannot ignore the fact that a majority of the Members of Parliament recommends that the Alemáns face trial. Also, the fact that civil society organizations have during the last month been able to recollect well over 800.000 signatures to support the popular demand of Alemán facing charges must in some way impress the Board. Nicaragua has a total population of some 5 million people.
It is at this point quite difficult to foresee what will happen in the Nicaraguan political landscape these coming days. So far the sandinista (left-wing) opposition has in fact been one of (liberal) president Enrique Bolaños’ most eager supporters, but that might well change soon.
During her investigations, judge Méndez was able to establish that part of the money supposedly laundered by the accused was used for financing the 2001 presidential and parliamentary campaigns. Even though the elected might not have known about this setup, it does in fact put into question the results of the November 2001 elections. Should Bolaños’ innocence at some point be doubted, what he himself described as a “guaca” (native grave containing treasures) when he presented the evidence against his former friend and colleague Alemán, might become a Pandora’s Box whose content nobody knows how to control or handle.
It thus turns out that what initially seemed to be an investigation into a corrupt ex–president’s affairs, can in fact become a threat to the only 12 year old Nicaraguan democracy.