Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) , a one-party
Communist dictatorship, has ruled Nicaragua since a broad
opposition coalition toppled the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.
The FSLN has ignored its 1979 commitment to the Organization
of American States (OAS) to install and foster a genuinely
democratic system of government. In 1987 a new Constitution
institutionalized Sandinista control over the country's
national security apparatus (army and state security) and over
the national economy. Both an internal civic opposition and
an armed resistance movement (RN) have long challenged the
legitimacy of FSLN rule in Nicaragua.
The Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) and the Ministry of Interior
(MINT), in addition to their normal military and police
structures, maintain an extensive and repressive internal
security apparatus. Using Warsaw Pact and Cuban instructors,
they have developed a tight internal control system which
engages in surveillance and infiltration of the legal
political opposition, and which includes the "Committees for
the Defense of the Revolution," a system of neighborhood
informers based on the Cuban model to monitor and control the
population. The EPS and the MINT are under the direct control
of the Sandinista party.
Although the economy is technically "mixed", the Sandinista
leadership has made it clear that the State and the economy
are unalterably Socialist. The Government exercises
regulatory authority over much of the economy, is openly
hostile to private initiative, and has expropriated private
property for political as well as economic reasons. Dissident
political expression is often punished by the withholding of
food ration cards and other economic punishments.
Under pressure, at a series of Central American summits and in
meetings with the internal opposition, the FSLN in 1989
committed itself to take actions which could have an important
impact on the human rights situation: to move up national
elections from February 1991 to February 1990; to allow
political parties and the media to operate with greater
freedom; to grant amnesty to political prisoners; to suspend
the military draft during the electoral period; to repeal or
amend certain draconian laws of public order; and to refrain
from confiscation of private property for political purposes.
However, there is serious doubt about Sandinista intentions to
conduct a free and fair election and to relinquish power if
they lose. The political opposition and independent media
operated somewhat more freely than in 1988.
Because of serious continuing abuses, the general human rights
situation in Nicaragua remained poor in 1989. Political and
extrajudicial killings are still being reported, the political
opposition still suffers considerable harassment and
intimidation, the Government continues to hold political
prisoners, and the writ of the security forces still runs deep
and wide. While the Sandinistas have allowed the political
opposition and independent media to operate with more formal
freedoms as elections approach, Nicaragua remains a one-party
State. Whether this new "political space" was simply a
tactical move by the Sandinistas and will not last beyond the
internationally monitored February 1990 election was a major
human rights concern at year's end.N ICARAGUA
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were reliable reports of political and extrajudicial
killings throughout 1989. The human rights organization
Americas Watch (AW) reported a "pattern of summary executions
by government forces." Amnesty International (AI), in an
October 6, 1989, update on the human rights situation in
Nicaragua, reported that it "has continued to receive reports
of cases of apparent summary execution of noncombatants in war
zones during 1989 from both domestic and international human
rights organizations." AI stated that, while it had not yet
had the opportunity to verify such cases independently or
interview surviving family members, it nevertheless "noted
that several cases have been documented independently by more,
than one source." The Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights (lAHCR), in a 1989 report, also reported "complaints"
of extrajudicial killings "chargeable" to government forces.
Precise numbers of those summarily killed by government forces
remain elusive. AW reported 51 killings attributable to the
Sandinistas between March 1988 and June 1989. AI reported 56
killings in its October 1989 update, but some of these predate
1988 and 1989. Another reliable human rights organization
reported government forces summarily executed 9 RN members and
13 peasants in 1989. On December 10 in the rural town of
Masatepe a United Opposition Union (UNO) political rally was
attacked by Sandinista thugs. The ensuing melee resulted in
one person being stabbed to death with a machete, while
numerous other persons were injured.
It is clear that government security forces continued to carry
out extrajudicial killings of Nicaraguan citizens. While
specific cases are more readily available for 1988 and
earlier, reliable observers reported the continuation of this
pattern of abuse in 1989. For example, AI reported that
Sandinista soldiers from the Los Millones army base killed
five children and one adult who were celebrating a birthday
party in Comarca los Pases, Chontales, on January 28, 1989.
In another case, the EPS killed a Roman Catholic lay preacher
from Matiguas, Matagalpa, on January 27, 1989. Carmelo
Mairena Rosales, a farmer from the area of Rio Blanco,
Matagalpa, was taken from his home on December 24, 1988, and
removed to a state security facility in nearby Matiguas. His
dismembered body was found on December 27. No one has been
charged with this murder. RN members reported that the EPS
captured an RN commander, "Toro," and seven of his men on
October 3, 1989, and executed them the next day. The bodies
were not recovered.
Most extrajudicial killings attributable to the Government
take place in the isolated and rugged areas of central
Nicaragua, long areas of sympathy and support for the armed
resistance. The killings seem designed to cow the local
population; residents in these areas have long reported a
climate of fear and intimidation, based on the apparent
willingness of local Army and MINT forces to kill suspected
resistance sympathizers.
In response to charges of such abuse, the Government took
action against 13 EPS soldiers for the murders of 7
civilians. Nine of these soldiers were convicted, and
reportedly are serving prison terms of from 6 to 30 years.
Two soldiers were in the trial process, and two others were
being sought by authorities at year's end. Both AI and AW
claim that the Government has not been consistent in
investigating cases and prosecuting suspects.
The RN has also been accused of engaging in summary
executions, usually of suspected informers or Sandinista
spies. Between March 1988 and April 1989 the organization
Witness for Peace charged that the RN carried out 20 killings
of noncombatants in Nicaragua. Although RN leaders denied
most of these allegations, they accepted some as valid and
prosecuted many of those involved. RN commander Isaac Blacker
Hurtado, alias "Israelita," was found guilty of the
premeditated murder of an alleged Sandinista agent in August
1989. Blacker was tried by an RN tribunal created to judge
cases involving RN members in serious crimes. Five other RN
members were given lengthy sentences for carrying out a
      b. Disappearance
Reports of disappearances generally involve persons initially
detained by the EPS or state security forces on charges of
draft evasion or collaborating with the RN. EPS military
recruitment practices include late evening roundups of young
males at schools, movie theaters and other public sites, and
at military check points where "recruiters" halt vehicles and
remove draft-age men. Those so detained are usually not given
an opportunity to notify their families, and relatives must
search in military installations throughout the country to
determine if the missing person has been conscripted or has in
fact disappeared. Some who resist conscription have
disappeared permanently.
The Government and private human rights monitoring
organizations have charged the RN with kidnaping peasants for
conscription and taking them into Honduras. An independent
human rights organization reported 18 cases of kidnapings by
the RN from January to August 1989. The RN says that many of
these persons claimed as missing have in fact volunteered for
service with the Resistance. The RN released 104 Sandinista
military and Nicaraguan civilians from its holding areas in
Honduras on December 29, 1988. Forty-four of the released
prisoners returned to Nicaragua, while 60 decided to remain in
Honduras as refugees.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Nicaragua's three types of prisons include State Security
(DGSE) facilities, national penitentiary prisons, and open
farms. The majority of Nicaragua's prisoners are held in the
first two systems, and most human rights abuses occur there.
Interrogation of detainees is usually conducted in DGSE
detention facilities. During interrogation detainees have
been subjected to various forms of physical and psychological
torture, including food and water deprivation, mock
executions, and beatings. The nongovernmental Permanent Human
Rights Commission (CPDH) reports that physical torture is more
commonly used against peasants, while psychological methods
are utilized against members of civic, political, and labor
organisations. Death threats against prisoners and their
families are also common. The systematic use of these
interrogation techniques by the DGSE reflects a deliberate
policy which targets political prisoners in DGSE prisons or
its secret jails.
AI representatives visited the Las Tejas DGSE detention center
in Matagalpa in March 1989. The center was temporarily empty,
but the visitors noticed several closet-like cells, which the
MINT claimed were no longer in use. Subsequent interviews
with prisoners in the national penitentiary system prison in
Juigalpa, however, revealed that such cells were still being
used to force prisoners to cooperate with their captors. The
cells are less than a square meter in size; the prisoner
cannot move his arms and legs. AI added that "the cells have
no openings for light or air and are pitch-dark." Bringing
the use of these cells to the attention of the MINT, AI
reminded the MINT that it had previously claimed it no longer
used such cells or such interrogation methods. In June 1989
AI reported that it had received a communication from the MINT
claiming that the MINT had converted the cells into closet
AI further reported that prisoners who participated in a
hunger strike in February 1989 at the Modelo jail in Tipitapa
were taken to the El Chipote interrogation center and were
systematically physically abused—held handcuffed and naked,
deprived of water, and several were beaten. This treatment
went on for a number of days. AI stated that 13 of the hunger
strikers were reported to have been severely beaten, and that
one of them, Rosenda Rugama Guadamuz, was beaten into
unconsciousness and removed to the prison infirmary.
Three prisoners, former National Guardsmen Silvio Mayorga,
Miguel Cordero, and Guadalupe Pineda, have allegedly been so
severely mistreated during their 10 years of imprisonment that
a judge in Managua's Fourth Criminal Court ordered them
released. The release order was ignored by the director of
the national penitentiary system, and the same judge who
ordered the release subsequently annulled it. Silvio
Mayorga 's condition worsened to the point where he was finally
placed in a civilian hospital in September 1989.
Several of the almost 1,900 former National Guardsmen who were
freed after a 10-year imprisonment on March 17 reported brutal
treatment during their incarceration, including sexual
torture, beatings, poor sanitary conditions, denial of niedical
care, and rations of spoiled food. Other former National
Guardsmen still in prison (39 remain jailed) also report
systematic mistreatment which they claim has continued through
As reported in the Sandinista media, some of the 44 former
prisoners of the RN who returned to Nicaragua in early 1989
alleged they were tortured and generally abused while in
resistance prisons.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution provides that a detainee must be brought
before a competent legal authority within 72 hours of arrest;
this provision is often ignored, and suspects have been held
for m.onths without charges or access to counsel. Short-term
arrest and interrogation appear to be an integral part of the
Government's counterinsurgency tactic of harassing and
intimidating suspected RN supporters, especially in isolated
areas of the countryside. Such suspects are generally picked '
up at night by the DGSE and normally held until they agree to
confess or implicate others in counterrevolutionary
activities. Persons suspected of views critical of the
Government are often detained and charged with common crimes.
The CPDH has reported that in some areas peasants have been
charged with "counterrevolutionary activities" if they refuse
to join Sandinista mass organizations.
The Government arbitrarily detained hundreds of peasants in
1989 during large-scale roundups of suspected RN supporters in
the departments of Chontales, Matagalpa, and Jinotega. Entire
families were detained for days in primitive jail facilities
for allegedly giving food and assistance to RN forces. Former
National Guardsmen residing in Nicaragua have reported
widespread abuse and arbitrary arrest. The leaders of this
group have been picked up by DGSE agents and threatened with
rearrest or even death if they did not cease their organizing
work in the ex-prisoners association or if they did not become
DGSE informers. Members of the private sector Cattleman's
Association, most of whom are reportedly in favor of the
political opposition, claim they were arrested on fabricated
charges of aiding the RN.
The Government in past years used the Law for Maintenance of
Order and Public Security, a vague instrument which
criminalized a wide range of antigovernment activities, to
charge and sentence many Nicaraguans for political and
"counterrevolutionary" activities. As part of an agreement
reached with the political opposition on August 4, 1989,
concerning electoral conditions, the Government repealed this
law in October.
Also as part of the August 4 agreement, the Sandinista
Government reformed certain aspects of the Law of Juridical
Functions of the Sandinista Police on October 10, 1989. The
reform of this law technically eliminates the authority of the
Sandinista Police to imprison persons, restoring this
authority to the judicial branch of government. The reformed
law also requires that a written warrant be used for arrest,
except in cases of flagrant crimes. The reformed law
nevertheless continues to allow police detention for up to 9
days (essentially the same as the previous law), but the
police must now take into account any evidence provided by a
defense attorney. The new version, however, apparently
eliminates the previous broad discretionary right of the
police to imprison persons, on their own authority, for up to
2 years. The reformed law still contains articles that could
permit abuses. For example, it authorizes police arrests
based on "written orders from other organisms", probably a
reference to the MINT'S State Security branch (DGSE) and, in
some cases, military authorities. By year's end, it was not
yet clear if the reformed law will, in practice, substantially
reduce arbitrary detentions.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Anti-Somocista Popular Tribunals, basically nonprofessional
political courts, were abolished in January 1988.
Nevertheless, many of the untrained judges of these Tribunals
have been moved into the regular court system. The influx of
these often poorly-prepared jurists has politicized the
regular court system to a greater extent than previously was
the case. Three Supreme Court Justices resigned in December
1987, charging that the Executive Branch showed no respect for
the court and its decisions.
The majority of Nicaragua's political prisoners were tried and
convicted by the Anti-Somocista Popular Tribunals. Despite
the abolition of these Tribunals, their cases have not been
reviewed. Nevertheless, the Government pardoned 1,783 former
National Guardsmen and 72 other prisoners in March 1989.
Thirty-nine Guardsmen were not pardoned because the Government
claimed they were too dangerous to release and were guilty of
especially vicious crimes; the 39 responded that they were
still being held because of their refusal to submit to
"reeducation." A number of human rights organizations charged
that the decision not to release the 39 was politically
motivated. In addition, there was criticism that, in choosing
which of the Guardsmen it would release, the Government had
not followed the criteria for release set forth in an lACHR
report on the prisoners. This report resulted from the 1988
Sapoa negotiations between the Nicaraguan Government and the
RN, in which it was agreed that there would be a release of
former National Guardsmen on the basis of an lACHR
investigation and recommendation. The lACHR report, however,
has never been made public, reportedly at the insistence of
the Sandinista Government. In its annual report, the lACHR
said, "by denying a pardon to the 39 persons, the Government
of Nicaragua continues to be in violation of the provisions of
the American Convention on Human Rights."
In a few instances, the judicial system or National Assembly
has released or pardoned criminals apart from a more general
amnesty. In April an appellate court freed three Nicaraguans
who were convicted in June 1988 for passing "secret" economic
data to the U.S. Embassy; the court ruled that the government
documents were not secret and that there was no law against
the distribution of government economic information. In a
separate case, the National Assembly pardoned three prisoners
who had been serving long-term sentences for espionage,
treason, or other activities against the State.
The August 1989 International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) semiannual census of political prisoners showed 1,268
"counterrevolutionaries" and the 39 former Guardsmen. The
ICRC count did not include, however, persons held in state
security interrogation and detention facilities. Since August
1988, the Sandinistas have released, according to their
statistics, some 1,358 peasants accused of counter
revolutionary activities. However, the charges against these
persons have not been dropped, nor their sentences pardoned;
they could be returned to custody at any time. Under
Nicaraguan law, the only institution that can grant
provisional liberty is the judicial branch, while the National
Assembly is the only institution that can legally pardon
prisoners. The Government in any case did not publish a list
of the peasants given provisional freedom nor make available
information on where they had previously been detained.
Consequently, it was extremely difficult for human rights
monitors to determine whether the prisoners released were
convicted "counterrevolutionaries" or detainees who had been
held without charge or trial.
The question of how many political prisoners the Government is
holding is a contentious one. The Government admits to
holding some 1,300 political prisoners. Some local human
rights organizations, such as the CPDH or the U.S. -funded
Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) , believe the
number may be three or four times greater. AI and AW accept
as more likely a total figure closer to that provided by the
Government. The Government has stated that it would publish a
master list of all prisoners it is holding for all crimes.
This would allow the Government's list to be crosschecked with
those of various human rights groups. The Government has yet
to publish its list, however, and until it does the total
number of prisoners held, political and common, will remain
unknown. The Government at year's end stated that it would
not release the remaining political prisoners until "concrete"
steps are taken to begin the process of demobilizing the RN.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
According to Article 26 of the Constitution, the Government
cannot violate the home, correspondence, or communication of
Nicaragua's citizens. By law, a private home may only be
searched with a warrant from a competent judge or another
expressly authorized official to prevent a crime from being
committed or to avoid injury to persons or goods. Despite
these restrictions, homes of civic opposition leaders have
been searched without a warrant. Unauthorized searches of
homes to locate -draft-age men have been common. In rural
areas, military and DGSE troops routinely search homes without
a warrant.
The Government also routinely monitors the telephones of
political, business, and labor leaders; it intercepts and
examines correspondence mailed both within the country and
from abroad. A wide network of DGSE informants monitors the
activities of persons suspected of anti-Sandinista attitudes
or behavior. In sum, putative national security needs have
largely overridden the Constitution on the inviolability of
the home and private communications.
      g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
Prior to the formal suspension of offensive operations in
March 1988, civilian casualties due to indiscriminate
artillery fire were common. As noted in the case of RN
commander "Toro" (see Section l.a.), the rights of prisoners
were not always respected. Both sides in the armed conflict
have been accused of killing prisoners. The Government
suspended its declared cease-fire on November 1, 1989. By
year's end, it was not yet clear if this action would
seriously impede the activities of humanitarian organizations
in conflictive areas. The RN, in several cases, suspended
officers who were tried and convicted of human rights
violations in the conduct of their field operations.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
While the state of emergency—which permitted broad
restrictions on freedom of speech and press—was lifted in
January 1988, the Provisional Law on Communications Media
remained in effect. This law grants the Media Directorate of
the MINT significant power over the press, including the power
to order suspensions. In May 1989, the Independent
Journalists Association filed a lawsuit against the Government
for its continued use of the Provisional Law on Communications
Media. The Sandinista-dominated Supreme Court decided in
favor of the Government, and the Independent Journalists
Association denounced the action before the lACHR.M ICARAGUA
During the August 4 meeting with the internal opposition, the
Government agreed to reform the more onerous aspects of the
media law, especially those parts dealing with MINT control
over the media. The law was reformed in September 1989, but
the changes appeared to be minimal. The Supreme Electoral
Council (SEC), during the electoral period, will be "charged
with applying the media law and appropriate regulations in all
areas pertaining to the electoral law." This leaves the vast
majority of media affairs under the control of the MINT.
Regarding the new media law, the lACHR said in its annual
report that the law, "grants excessive and counterproductive
powers to the Ministry of the Interior," which it
characterized as a "political agency." The lACHR also
criticized the new law for maintaining a "government monopoly
on television."
Nicaragua's only daily opposition newspaper. La Prensa, and
independent radio stations have been outspoken throughout the
year in their criticism of the Government. Nevertheless, they
operate under continuing government pressure designed to
intimidate and restrict their freedom of expression. For
example, the Government continued its prohibition against any
government entity placing notices or advertisements in La
Prensa, which the Government accuses of being a spokesman for
the RN and the United States Government. In November 1989,
the independent Radio Catolica was the subject of a complaint
filed by a Sandinista radio station, charging Radio Catolica
with violating the electoral law by broadcasting partisan
political ads. The SEC warned the radio station not to do so
again; Radio Catolica rejoined by noting it is forced to carry
Sandinista propaganda and electoral activities whenever the
Government deems them "news" and forces all the media to carry
the items on nationwide networks.
While the situation of the media improved, compared to 1988,
the Government continued to engage in a pattern of censorship
and harassment. The MINT warned the director of the
independent radio station Radio Corporacion to modify the tone
of his commentaries. Three employees of Radio Corporacion
were threatened by State Security agents because of their
employment at a station opposed to the Government. The
Government also warned La Prensa in writing that its
editorials should show more respect for the leaders of the
revolution. Officials of Radio Catolica's news program were
also warned by the Government to be more cautious in
presenting information and to "project less violence" in the
station's news broadcasts. Other sources of intimidation of
the media include government control of supplies of newsprint,
a particular problem for La Prensa, and the arbitrary delay in
releasing equipment and spare parts for opposition media from
customs control, a problem encountered by Radio Corporacion.
Radio Catolica's news broadcasts resumed on March 20 after
being curtailed on July 11, 1988, following its coverage of
the Sandinista breakup of an opposition rally in Nandaime, but
the independent radio news broadcast "Cinco en Punto" (Five
O'clock Sharp) was suspended in January following its
transmittal of news on cuts in the Nicaraguan defense budget.
A foreign journalist from Freedom House was expelled in July
after being accused of spying. Sandinista authorities seized
500 copies of an exile newspaper, Nicaragua Hoy, at the
Managua airport in November, refusing to allow them into the
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the rights of association,
assembly, and peaceful demonstrations. However, opposition
political rallies during the year often continued to be marred
by the presence of Sandinista-controlled mobs—the so-called
turbas. The turbas generally attempt to provoke violence, and
they often succeed. Opposition rallies throughout the country
in October and November 1989 witnessed rock-throwing incidents
and beatings. The Sandinista toughs usually attacked
stragglers arriving late to the rally or stoned those on the
fringes of it. The opposition has begun to register
complaints about these activities with the SEC and with
international observers, but the Sandinistas generally deflect
criticism of the actions of the turbas by claiming that they
are simply a spontaneous manifestation of the people's
enthusiasm. In two instances, turba attacks against
opposition rallies resulted in large-scale violence and
death. The press and observer organizations wrote extensively
about these incidents in Cofradia on December 3 and Masatepe
on December 10 .
Citizens in the more isolated parts of the country have
reported being directly threatened with physical harm if they
attend opposition rallies. Workers have been threatened with
losing their jobs if they attend opposition events. Such an
incident happened in the town of Nandaime prior to a rally on
November 19. Several U.S. Congressmen were shown threatening
letters left at the doorsteps of the citizens of Muelle de los
Bueyes, Chontales, the night before a November 12 opposition
rally. The departments of Matagalpa, Jinotega, and Chontales
have witnessed significant Sandinista harassment of those
wishing to attend opposition events. In general, the more
isolated the area, the more direct have been the threats. A
UNO rally in Masatepe on December 10 was disrupted by
Sandinista thugs; one UNO supporter was mortally wounded in an
assault attributed to the thugs by electoral observers of the
bipartisan, U.S. -based Center for Democracy.
For much of 1989 legal assembly was impeded by the
Government's requirement that all outdoor demonstrations
receive prior approval from police authorities. Many rallies
were effectively crippled by the withholding of government
permission until the last moment. Publicity for the rallies
was prohibited until such permission was obtained. Commencing
in September 1989, however, prior permission was no longer
needed for political rallies that form part of the electoral
campaign. The opposition was able to plan and carry out
outdoor rallies without such prior permission.
The Government sent a circular note to all diplomatic missions
in Managua in June stating, in part, that foreign diplomats
were not permitted to observe political rallies or meetings.
Members of Managua's diplomatic community were privately
informed by the Government that the ban applied only to U.S.
diplomats. On July 31, four U.S. Congressmen were ordered by
MINT officials to leave the city of Diriamba, where they had
been invited by an opposition party to attend an outdoor
rally. The Congressional delegation was escorted out of town
by MINT officials, who told the Congressmen that their safety
could not be guaranteed.
A number of private and professional organizations exist in
Nicaragua. Their members are able to meet and to maintain
contact with their foreign counterparts. Several of these
private organizations, however, have been the focus of verbal
attacks by FSLN officials and by the Sandinista press. The
Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) , for example,
has been described by the Government as an agent acting
against Nicaragua. The private civic organization, Via
Civica, which has been active in encouraging voter
registration and education in connection with the February
elections and which receives funding from the U.S. National
Endowment for Democracy, was the subject of harsh attacks in
the pro-Sandinista daily El Nuevo Diario.
The Government continued its policy of confiscating the
property of its private sector critics. In June 1989, the
farms of three leading coffee growers, who were also COSEP or
coffee growers' association leaders, were confiscated
following their criticism given during a meeting of the coffee
association in the town of Matagalpa of Government economic
policies. The three were charged with "discouraging
production" and fomenting anarchy and social chaos during a
period of economic crisis.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
organized labor, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for the free exercise of religion.
Nicaragua is 85 percent Roman Catholic; the rest of the
population belongs to a variety of Protestant denominations or
professes no faith. There are no direct restrictions on
religious activity or association, but the regime has a
generally hostile attitude toward the Catholic Church, which
it views as a rival to its control over Nicaraguan society.
The Government's relations with the leader of the Catholic
Church in Nicaragua, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, continued
to be hostile during 1989. Sandinista-controlled women's
groups conducted weekly protests for much of the year
demanding that the Cardinal intercede on behalf of relatives
allegedly held prisoner by the RN, and the Sandanistacontrolled
press printed occasional articles clearly designed
to undermine the position of the Church and its leaders. On
the other hand, the Government permitted the former leader of
the Church's social action program, COPROSA, to return to
Nicaragua in order to resurrect the program, and President
Ortega announced in March that 10 foreign priests expelled in
1984 could return to Nicaragua. The Government did not return
to the Church COPROSA 's vehicles and equipment, which it
confiscated when it shut the program down in 1985.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Government imposes restrictions on foreign travel through
the use of exit visa requirements. The Government limits some
opposition figures to single-exit visas; it also often denies
exit visas to young men of draft age or to professionals with
skills needed by the State. Exiles returning to Nicaragua are
required to sign a document upon arrival declaring that they
renounce any ties with the RN. There were no reports of
refugees being forcibly expelled from Nicaragua in 1989.
Several prominent figures who have in the past been associated
with the RN voluntarily returned from self-proclaimed exile;
they reportedly encountered no special harassment.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The Constitution states that "political pluralism assures the
existence of participation of all political organizations in
the economic, political, and social affairs of the country,
without ideological restrictions except for those which seek a
return to the past or advocate the establishment of a similar
political system." While a wide variety of political parties,
ranging from Communist to conservative, have legal status, the
right of citizens to peacefully change their government has
not yet been tested in Nicaragua.
The Marxist-Leninist Sandinista Party, more than the formal
institutions of government, is the de facto ruler of
Nicaragua. Its nine-man Directorate makes all the essential
decisions of state, which are subsequently endorsed by the
various ministries and the 103-member National Assembly. The
powerful EPS and MINT are for all practical purposes
instruments of the Sandinista Party and are used to ensure its
monopoly of power. This symbiotic relationship between the
party and the State throws into serious question the right of
citizens to change their Government. "Bourgeois" formalisms,
such as free elections, are not central to the Sandinista
political philosophy. Thus, while recognizing that the
Sandinista Government has in fact taken many steps to
establish the formal mechanisms for free elections, their
commitment to holding free and fair elections in 1990, with
the possibility of a real turnover of power to an elected
opposition, continued to be viewed with skepticism by many
The October voter registration process for the elections was,
for the most part, orderly, but opposition figures complained
that registration was somtimes obstructed by the Government in
rural areas, where the opposition anticipate support, and said
their observers did not always receive their credentials
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government states that it welcomes international scrutiny
of its human rights record, but has shown itself to be
sensitive to attempts to probe too deeply into its human
rights practices. It continued during 1989 to attack
independent Nicaraguan human rights groups. The
Government-sanctioned human rights group focused virtually all
of its attention during the year on alleged human rights
abuses by the RN.
International human rights groups made visits during 1989. AI
and AW both conducted prison inspections, but AI ' s visits were
to State Security detention centers that had been emptied of
prisoners. The ICRC visited political prisoners held in the
regular national penitentiary system, and was continuing
negotiations with the Government over visits to detention
centers. The lACHR also visited Nicaragua, but its full
report on political prisoners was not published, reportedly at
the insistence of the Government. The lACHR 1989 annual
general report did include sections on Nicaragua, which
concluded that the trials of ex-National Guardsmen lacked
validity under international human rights law.
The CPDH was founded to document abuses during the rule of the
deposed dictator Anastasio Sotnoza, and its work has continued
during the Sandinista regime. The CPDH has been the target of
many Sandinista attempts to discredit it, the latest occurring
in September 1989 when the Government attempted to malign the
organization's reporting on political prisoners. CPDH members
report frequent harassment and threats. The CPDH is routinely
denied access to government prisons and is not allowed to seek
information from MINT personnel. In July 1989 CPDH
investigators were denied entry to the town of La Libertad in
Chontales, where they wished to investigate numerous charges
of human rights abuses. CPDH Executive Secretary Lino
Hernandez was told by MINT officials that the MINT had issued
orders to keep him out of town. Prisoners and their families
are warned by Government officials not to report abuses to the
Other Nicaraguan organizations that investigate and record
allegations of human rights violations include the Office of
Legal Assistance for Ethnic Minorities of the Atlantic Coast,
the Office of Legal Assistance of the Evangelical Committee
for Development Aid, and the Legal Aid Office of the Central
American University. The ANPDH, based in San Jose, Costa
Rica, is a U.S. Government-funded group independent of the RN
but clearly opposed strongly to the Sandinista regime. It
trains RN combatants in respect for human rights, and
investigates reports of RN abuses. The ANPDH opened an office
in Managua in 1989.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Nicaragua's minorities, numbering some 80,000 Indians and
26,000 English-speaking blacks, live primarily on the Atlantic
coast. Sandinista efforts after 1979 to integrate the
Atlantic coast more closely with the rest of Nicaragua
alienated much of the coast population and generated many
human rights abuses, including forced relocation, destruction
of villages, mass imprisonments, killings, and
disappearances. These conditions led to mass flights of
Indians to Honduras. An autonomy statute was promulgated in
September 1987 which purports to establish a democratic and
responsive program for meeting the special needs of the
Atlantic coast minorities. However, it fails to address major
issues of fundamental concern to the area's indigenous groups,
such as allocation of income from regional resources. In June
1989 Indian leaders Brooklyn Rivera and Steadinan Fagoth
announced they would return to Nicaragua to reintegrate into
their communities and to participate in Atlantic coast
political life. They and other Indian leaders returned in
August and September.
The Government also continued to facilitate the return of
Miskito refugees from Honduras. The U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Managua reported that 2,557
Nicaraguans had returned through UNHCR programs through the
end of September, including 884 Miskito Indians who returned
from Honduras, and four who returned from Costa Rica.
Violence against women, including domestic violence such as
wife beating, exists in Nicaragua. However, a lack of
reliable statistical data makes it very difficult to determine
the true extent of this problem. Victims of such abuse
frequently are reluctant to report it or to press charges,
leading to the likelihood that it is significantly
under reported.
The Government does not tolerate such violence. In
particular, the Sandinista mass organization, the Luisa Amanda
Espinoza Association of Nicaraguan Women (AMNLAE) , assists in
protecting the rights of women and bringing cases of violence
against individual women to the Government's attention.
AMNLAE also urges government sanctions against publications
that may contribute to violence against women by publishing
articles that feature women as sex objects. Women are not
subject to any special restrictive measures by the Government,
and they participate in most levels of the economy and society.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Article 87 of the Constitution provides workers the right to
associate in organizations of their own choosing and to elect
their own representatives. In practice, however, the
Government often uses coercion, economic pressure, or force to
impede workers' rights to organize and elect their
representatives. For example, in October 1989 the leadership
of the government-controlled Sandinista Workers' Central (CST)
used economic coercion to expel the leadership of an
independent construction union, SCAAS. The CST was able to
capitalize on government control of the country's battered
construction industry to coerce workers to renounce the
leadership of the SCAAS, an affiliate of the anti-Sandinista
Independent Confederation of Labor (CGT-I). With unemployment
at about 60 percent in the construction sector, the CST was
able to use the threat of job loss to lure workers from the
CGT-I and to establish a rump Sandinista-controlled SCAAS,
which then was given legal status by the Government.
The right to strike is recognized in Article 83 of the
Constitution. However, a decree law in 1981 stipulated that
any worker who incited a strike could be jailed for up to 3
years. In May 1989, a series of wildcat strikes by teachers
broke out throughout the country. The teachers complained
about the dramatic drop in their purchasing power due to
hyperinflation and currency devaluations. In response, the
Government and the Sandinista-controlled mass organizations
launched a propaganda campaign to discredit the teachers,
accusing them of being "unpatriotic" and "agents of the U.S.
Embassy." In fact, the majority of the disaffected teachers
were members of the Sandinista-controlled National
Association of Nicaraguan Educators. The strikes were
eventually quelled through economic coercion and Sandinistasponsored
The CST is affiliated with the Communist-controlled World
Federation of Trade Unions. The other major Sandinista labor
body, the Rural Workers Association, is not affiliated with
any international body. Anti-Sandinista trade unions are
allowed a measure of freedom to maintain international
contacts, although subject to Government surveillance and
harassment. For example, the Confederation of Labor
Unification is affiliated with the International Confederation
of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), and the Confederation of
Nicaraguan Workers is affiliated with the World Confederation
of Labor (WCL).
ICFTU, WCL, the Latin American Workers' Central, and the
International Organization of Employers (lOE) have filed a
number of complaints against the Government of Nicaragua.
These complaints allege that the Government violated
International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 87 on
Freedom of Association by, among other things, the murder,
assault, intimidation, and imprisonment of trade union
leaders, the destruction of their property, and denial of
their right to express their views. These complaints have
alleged the harassment, intimidation, and imprisonment of
employer representatives and the confiscation of their
property. In September 1988, an ILO study mission was
dispatched to Nicaragua to investigate these allegations.
Based on the mission's report and conclusions, the ILO
Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) , at its November
1988 meeting, urged the Government to take concrete measures
in the shortest period of time to apply fully the Conventions
on Freedom of Association, including changes in legislation
and the release of worker and employer representatives from
prison. The CFA recommended the establishment of a Commission
of Inquiry unless the Government provided information
demonstrating a- change of attitude and a clear desire to make
progress before the Committee's next meeting.
At its November 1989 meeting the CFA summarized the various
Freedom of Association complaints brought against the
Government of Nicaragua by the ICFTU, the WCL, and the lOE.
Acknowledging some cooperation from the Government, the
Committee noted its failures to respond to requests and
recommendations and continuing contradictions between
statements of the complainants and the Government, and
recommended that the matter be referred to a Commission of
Inquiry (COI).
During 1989 the ILO Committee of Experts (COE) and Committee
on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CACR)
also considered complaints against Nicaragua. The COE noted
the lifting of the state of emergency, but cited reports of
ILO representatives and committees indicating that a number of
excessively severe regulations remained in effect, including
the General Provisional Act which forbids the publication,
distribution, circulation, exhibition, dissemination, showing,
transmission, or selling of writings which compromise or
endanger internal security, national defense, or national
economic stability. Noting that elements of the media ha^l
been suspended under this Act, the Committee called on the
Government to give full guarantees of expression to worker and
employer representatives so they could defend the interests of
their members.
The COE noted that 60 strike actions had been recorded in 1988
but that trade union organizations had reported pressure and
repressive measures against strikers. The COE noted other
provisions or omissions in Nicaraguan legislation which do not
accord with Convention 87, including: failure to guarantee
the right of association to public servants and other groups
of workers; requirement of approval of an absolute majority of
workers in a work place in order to form a union; and
excessive limitations on the right to strike, including the
Government's authority to refer strikes to compulsory
arbitration. The COE expressed the hope that new legislation
correcting these and other deficiencies would be promptly
The CACR also observed the persistence of divergencies between
law and practice and the full application of ILO Conventions
87 and 98 (collective bargaining), and requested the
Government to take promptly all measures necessary to
eliminate restrictions concerning the right of employer and
worker representatives to freely exercise the rights
guaranteed by these two conventions.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Articles 82 through 88 of the Constitution contain a number of
labor rights, including the right to negotiate individual or
collective bargaining agreements. Nicaraguan workers,
however, do not enjoy these rights in practice. The
Government does not prohibit, but state-owned companies also
do not engage in, collective bargaining with independent labor
unions. Moreover, the Government directs its own
Sandinista-controlled union, the CST, to accept what the
Government proposes. With respect to working conditions, the
Government simply does not negotiate with unions on this issue.
Restrictions on independent union organizing activity are
mostly extraof facial and indirect. Union activists are
subject to state-sponsored intimidation by Sandinista
militants. There are no economic processing zones where
additional restrictions or regulations on labor apply.
In its 1989 report, the COE repeated its longstanding request
to the Government to repeal Decree 530, which requires that a
collective bargaining agreement must be approved by the
Government before it can become effective, in violation of
Convention 98 on collective bargaining.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Although there is no official policy of using forced labor,
the Government uses its Sandinista Defense Committees (CDS) to
mobilize local communities to perform specific economic
development projects, ostensibly on a voluntary basis. The
CDS chiefs in various neighborhoods are responsible for
organizing these labor crews for weekend work projects. Those
who do not participate in these projects are reportedly
subject to a range of sanctions that could affect their
working conditions, housing situation, or children's schooling,
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Children under the age of 14 legally are not permitted to
work. Article 84 of the Constitution states "child labor that
can affect normal childhood development or interfere with the
obligatory school year is prohibited." This law is generally
enforced in the small modern sector of the economy, but
children frequently work on family farms at an earlier age.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government has not strictly enforced employer compliance
with occupational health and safety requirements. In June
1988, the Government suspended the National System for
Ordering Work and Salaries, although it continues to serve as
a "reference point" for employers in determining wages and
salaries. The minimum wage for workers varies from sector to
sector. For example, the average wage for agricultural
workers is about $32 per month. The average minimum wage for
industrial workers is $58 per month, and in the service sector
about $19 per month.mCARAGUA
For state workers, these salaries are augmented by food
allocations and other incentives. With hyperinflation having
reached five-digit figures for 1988, and likely to reach
four-digit figures in 1989, the real purchasing power of
workers has plummeted dramatically over the past year and the
living standard for the working class has declined sharply.
The Government periodically adjusts state workers' salaries;
however, Government officials have acknowledged that these
salaries are not adequate to provide the basic needs oi.
workers. The legal workweek in Nicaragua is 48 hours for most
workers. The legal workday for agricultural workers is 6
hours, and the workday in the mining sector is 7 hours