Opinions on the scandal vary among my wife’s family and their neighbors my real sources of information on Nicaragua for the last seven years. Rosa Maria’s sister, a mother of eight and a former nurse, is proSandinista like most of her neighbors. They have watched once-free public education and health care become privatized, as real salaries decline and unemployment soars. \(Unemployment and under-employment have hovered between 50 and 60 percent for charges are pure politics, meant to defeat Ortega once and for all. For others, such as my wife’s oldest brother Francisco \(who works for the private hospitals as head of electrical maintenance, and who has spent several he has always known. Ortega is a perverse monster, Francisco says, a megalomaniac obsessed with power and control, raping the country even as he raped his daughter. Despite the scandal, the Sandinistas reelected Ortega as secretary general. Tomas Borge, the hard-line founder of the FSLN \(Sandinista Front for retary over Victor Hugo Tinoco of the moderate, reformist wing of the party. But the close vote was something of a victory for Tinoco, seen to be Ortega’s main future challenger for the party’s presidential nomination. Aleman has said little about the charges against Ortega, perhaps because he is preoccupied with his own “Narcojet” scandal. Apparently a Lear Jet owned by a Colombian businessman \(and earlier linked by its way to Nicaragua illegally in 1997, and was later reported stolen. Nicaraguan investigators say the plane was subsequently used for travel by members of the political and business establishment, including President Aleman. How the plane came to Nicaragua and whether drugs were involved has not yet been determined, but several officials have been fired or charged with misconduct. The scandal has not yet personally touched the President, but the Narcojet episode is one of several embarrassing revelations of governmental corruption. But our own visit was really about family, and about buying a piece of land. Prop law’ s cousin’s husband assures us that the land we are buying has no such conflicts. It was purchased from pineapple farmers by two brothers who are or were Sandinista officials. And though one of the brothers was implicated in illegally purchasing other land intended for land reform and then selling it, this land is not involved. Our efforts are frustrated when we try to pay the brothers with travelers’ checks instead of cash; and even when we return with cash we receive no title, and instead must go to Masaya to register the land. In Masaya we learn that the calculations of the land area are not shown on our plan and we’re sent back to the sellers to get a copy of the calculations. We leave Rosa Maria’s brother Manuel with money for the property taxes, so that he can return to Masaya and get the deed. We never make it to the beach. In the middle of our visit, Rosa Maria’s niece, Marta Lorena, is about to have a baby and we are about to become godparents. But doctors at the public hospital have been on strike for three months, and Marta’s husband’s insurance will not cover the cost of the birth at a private hospital. Freddy is an accountant at a glassware distributor and earns a good salary, $200 a month about four times the average salary of a public doctor. But paying for the delivery will be very difficult. So family and neighbors agree to pitch in. We take Marta Lorena to two private hospitals in search of an ultrasound exam and to check on the costs. At Baptist Hospital they warn us that the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck and that Marta Lorena will require a Caesarean delivery. The presence of an American seems to jack up the price to $800, which all agree is outrageous. We move on, to what Freddy calls “Karl Marx Hospital.” After the Sandinista revolution, the West German government donated an entire hospital and doctors to the Nicaraguan people. The Sandinistas chose the name, and the hospital became a cornerstone of the country’s public health system. It turns out that the newlyrenamed “German Hospital” is being privatized one of the reasons, along with low salaries, for the doctors’ strike. Hospital workers are hanging a banner declaring “No to Privatization Support Your Public Doctors.” As we make our way to the private clinic within, I keep my distance and the price of the Caesarean drops to $500. On the following day, Marta Lorena gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. Her father chooses the first name Fidelia, in honor of Castro. Her mother picks the second Alondra, after a soap opera character on Univision. At home, the pro-Sandinista neighbors call the baby by her first name. The younger, soap-opera fans use Alondra. When it is time to leave, Manuel, wife, and children once again accompany us to the airport, where we are joined by Rosa Marla’s sister, most of her kids, and some of the neighbors perhaps thirty people in all, here to bid us farewell. As we rise into the air over Managua, the fires have subsided, and the skies are clear. Cyrus Reed is a project director at the Texas Center for Policy Studies, an environmental policy and research organization based in Austin. He and his wife, Rosa Maria, are volunteers with Tecnica-Austin, a non-governmental organization offering material and technical support to Nicaragua. erty transactions in Nicaragua can be difficult. While the Sandinistas were in power, about 12 percent of Nicaragua’s land mass much of it belonging to the Somoza family, but much belonging to others was confiscated and redistributed, mainly to nearly 120,000 poor campesinos. After the Sandinistas lost the election, the Chamorro government, under heavy U.S. pressure, set up a process to either return the land or compensate the former owners. Some 5,500 former owners have come forward and about half of those cases have been resolved. The land issue, not surprisingly, has created friction between the San dinistas and Aleman. also my wife’s Our lawyer, Carlos SEPTEMBER 25, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31
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