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JOURNAL Nun Testifies on State of Nicaraguan Prisons SAN ANTONIO Fr. Bill Davis cares about human rights. Davis, who is pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church here, also directs the San Antonio Archdiocese Committee for Peace and Justice. Last November Davis, with eyes peeled for human rights violations, toured Nicaragua. There he met Mary Hartman, an American nun who has worked in the country since 1962. “I hear there are prisons in Nicaragua where they torture people,” Davis says he told Hartman. Hartman replied, “Name the prisoner. I’ll take you there.” Hartman, Davis discovered, has authority to visit any prison in Nicaragua unannounced and demand to talk to any prisoner alone. Tall, lean, and vital, Hartman, at age 59, is a member of Nicaragua’s National Committee for Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. The committee was established in 1980 in response to a United Nations request that all members establish human rights offices to monitor abuses in their own countries. Hartman returned to the United States to receive the Mary Rhodes Award, presented by the Sisters of Loretto for her work among women in Nicaragua. Davis invited her to Texas to address audiences in San Antonio and Austin. “Nicaragua is not a human rights paradise,” Hartman said. “But human rights violations are not government policy. There are no death squads and no torture by the government in Nicaragua.” Hartman stressed the importance of maintaining family contacts for rehabilitating prisoners. “With few exceptions, all prisoners have rights to conjugal visits. As a prisoner progresses from higher to lower security conditions in the work training and labor program, they graduate from visits by family every 40 days, to visits every two weeks, to the semi-open system where one can go home one day per month and have family visits every Sunday all day. The open system allows one week at home each six months,” Hartman said. “In Nicaragua, jail is not so much punishment as rehabilitation. A Pan American conference of 11 Latin American countries agreed among themselves that Nicaragua is the only nation doing serious prisoner rehabilitation,” Hartman said. According to Hartman, credit for this goes to Interior Minister Tomas Borge. “Borge was a prisoner under the dictator Somoza,” Hartman said. “He was tortured horribly. Amnesty International called Borge ‘the most tortured man in the world.’ While [Borge was] in prison, Borge’s wife was captured, tortured, raped, and executed.” Hartman said her committee makes the rounds of all prisons every few months. “On one occasion, in the city of Grenada, we found some prisoners had been kept in darkness and deprived of food. We reported it to the authorities. The guards responsible were jailed and their names published in newspapers,” Hartman said. “We are serious about genuine rehabilita ALAN POGUE Sr. Mary Hartman tion. In the early ’80s most prisoners were henchmen for the former dictator. They worked as assassins. They knew guns but had no other skills and were illiterate. “We set up a skills training program for which any prisoner could volunteer. They can learn carpentry, shoemaking, prefab housing, sewing, or farming. They are paid competitive salaries which most send to their families,” Hartman said. “When the Guatemala peace plan is in place, 50 percent of all Contra and National Guard prisoners will be released. When the treaty is completed the rest will be freed. That will reduce our prison population by 40 percent,” Hartman said. Hartman said that peace is important for the sake of all Nicaraguans. “The Contra war has killed 50,000 Nicaraguans and made 12,000 orphans in a population of three million. If the people of the United States suffered equivalently, we would have over 3.7 million dead and nearly one million orphaned.” Fr. Bill Davis said Hartman’s advocacy efforts are well-known in Nicaragua. “One official told me, ‘Sister Mary really loves God’s people. If the Vatican does not canonize her as a saint, Nicaraguans will,’ ” Davis said. TOM KEENE Tom Keene is a freelance writer living in San Antonio. Unionists Dealt Setback on Prevailing Wage AUSTIN The mood was almost festive when hundreds of Austin’s union construction workers met in the Palmer Auditorium parking lot on July 28. Hailing friends from current or previous jobs, introducing spouses and children, trading jokes or swigging beer, they might have been gathered for a union picnic rather than a march on City Council chambers to protest a proposed 30 percent cut in their wages. But, then, they had reason for optimism. Members of the Council had all won AFL-CIO endorsement by pledging to uphold the wage standard. Only Lee Cooke, Austin’s new mayor elected on a promise to bring the city’s tax rates under control, had publicly opposed the prevailing wage. The odds were clearly in labor’s favor. But sorhewhere between the election and the vote on the prevailing wage, four Councilmembers changed their thinking on the issue and on July 28 labor lost, five to two. Those who voted with Mayor Cooke to lower the prevailing wage Councilmembers Robert Barnstone, George Humphrey, Charles Urdy, and Max Nofziger claimed that labor lost out to the economic realities forcing cutbacks in city expenditures. On the other side the argument was made that economic realities, particularly a tax revenue shortfall produced by declining property values, did not unambiguously dictate cuts in the prevailing wage. While Mary Guerrero Peizel, chairwoman of the city’s Construction Advisory Committee, put labor costs at 37 percent of total construction costs and claimed the city could 4 SEPTEMBER 2, 1988