International Criminology World

World : North America : Nicaragua

Nicaragua takes its name from Nicarao, chief of the indigenous tribe then living around present-day Lake Nicaragua. In 1524, Hernandez de Cordoba founded the first Spanish permanent settlements in the region, including two of Nicaragua's two principal towns: Granada on Lake Nicaragua and Leon east of Lake Managua. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821, briefly becoming a part of the Mexican Empire and then a member of a federation of independent Central American provinces. In 1838, Nicaragua became an independent republic.

Much of Nicaragua's politics since independence has been characterized by the rivalry between the Liberal elite of Leon and the Conservative elite of Granada, which often spilled into civil war. Initially invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, an American named William Walker and his "filibusters" seized the presidency in 1856. The Liberals and Conservatives united to drive him out of office in 1857, after which a period of three decades of Conservative rule ensued. Taking advantage of divisions within the Conservative ranks, Jose Santos Zelaya led a Liberal revolt that brought him to power in 1893. Zelaya ended the longstanding dispute with Britain over the Atlantic Coast in 1894, and reincorporated that region into Nicaragua. However, due to differences over an isthmian canal and concessions to Americans in Nicaragua as well as a concern for what was perceived as Nicaragua's destabilizing influence in the region, in 1909 the United States provided political support to Conservative-led forces rebelling against President Zelaya and intervened militarily to protect American lives and property. Zelaya resigned later that year. With the exception of a 9-month period in 1925-26, the United States maintained troops in Nicaragua from 1912 until 1933. From 1927 until 1933, U.S. Marines stationed in Nicaragua engaged in a running battle with rebel forces led by renegade Liberal Gen. Augusto Sandino, who rejected a 1927 negotiated agreement brokered by the United States to end the latest round of fighting between Liberals and Conservatives.

After the departure of U.S. troops, National Guard Cmdr. Anastasio Somoza Garcia out-maneuvered his political opponents, including Sandino who was assassinated by National Guard officers, and took over the presidency in 1936. Somoza, and two sons who succeeded him, maintained close ties with the United States. The Somoza dynasty ended in 1979 with a massive uprising led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which, since the early 1960s, had conducted a lowscale guerrilla war against the Somoza regime.

The FSLN established an authoritarian dictatorship soon after taking power. U.S.-Nicaraguan relations deteriorated rapidly as the regime nationalized many private industries, confiscated private property, supported Central American guerrilla movements, and maintained links to international terrorists. The United States suspended aid to Nicaragua in 1981. The Reagan administration provided assistance to the Nicaraguan Resistance and in 1985 imposed an embargo on U.S.-Nicaraguan trade.

In response to both domestic and international pressure, the Sandinista regime entered into negotiations with the Nicaraguan Resistance and agreed to nationwide elections in February 1990. In these elections, which were proclaimed free and fair by international observers, Nicaraguan voters elected as their president the candidate of the National Opposition Union, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

During President Chamorro's nearly 7 years in office, her government achieved major progress toward consolidating democratic institutions, advancing national reconciliation, stabilizing the economy, privatizing state-owned enterprises, and reducing human rights violations. In February 1995, Sandinista Popular Army Cmdr. Gen. Humberto Ortega was replaced, in accordance with a new military code enacted in 1994 by Gen. Joaquin Cuadra, who espoused a policy of greater professionalism in the renamed Army of Nicaragua. A new police organization law, passed by the National Assembly and signed into law in August 1996, further codified both civilian control of the police and the professionalization of that law enforcement agency. The October 20, 1996 presidential, legislative, and mayoral elections also were judged free and fair by international observers and by the groundbreaking national electoral observer group Etica y Transparencia (Ethics and Transparency) despite a number of irregularities, due largely to logistical difficulties and a baroquely complicated electoral law. This time Nicaraguans elected former-Managua Mayor Arnoldo Aleman, leader of the center-right Liberal Alliance. The first transfer of power in recent Nicaraguan history from one democratically elected president to another took place on January 10, 1997, when the Aleman government was inaugurated.

In November 2000, Nicaragua held municipal elections--the country's third free and fair election since 1990. President Aleman's Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) won a majority of the overall mayoral races, but the FSLN fared considerably better in larger urban areas, winning a significant number of departmental capitals, including Managua. Presidential and legislative elections were held in November 2001.

Enrique Bolaños of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) was inaugurated on January 10, 2002. He was elected to the Nicaraguan presidency on November 4, 2001, defeating the FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega, by 14 percentage points. The elections, characterized by international observers as free, fair and peaceful, reflected the maturing of Nicaragua's democratic institutions. During his campaign President-elect Bolaños promised to reinvigorate the economy, create jobs, fight corruption, and support the war against terrorism.



An end to war-related violence in 1990 brought a brief period of conciliation between the competing political factions in Nicaragua. That year, the last 1,000 persons detained in connection with the Contra conflict were released. That action followed the release in 1988 and 1989 of some 2,800 members of the National Guard and others held by the Sandinista government on security-related grounds.

Frequent episodes of political violence continue to plague the heavily polarized Nicaraguan society. Clashes resulting in bloodshed are often the outgrowth of demonstrations and protests in areas of the country where Chamorro's strength is greatest or in border areas where support for the Contras has been strong. Disputes over resettlement and land title have brought violent confrontations in many rural areas. By invading government-owned cooperatives both ex-Contras and former EPS soldiers have attempted to regain land that had been expropriated from the Somozas. The assassination of former Contra leader Enrique Bermúdez Varela in February 1991, followed by an inept police investigation and the failure to identify any suspects, has undermined confidence in the ability of the government and the security forces to maintain order.

The Contra war left Nicaragua bitterly divided and heavily armed. An estimated 25,000 to 100,000 weapons remain in civilian hands. By mid-1991, some demobilized Contras had begun to rearm in small groups. These Recontras, as they were called, carried out numerous raids, originally intended to pressure the government into honoring its promises of jobs, farms, and credit for land purchases and to bring about an end to harassment by police and security forces. The Recontras' actions included kidnappings of Sandinistas for ransom and attacks on members of farm cooperatives. In 1993 the United States Department of State described their activities as principally criminal, with political overtones.

The best known of the Recontra groups is Northern Front 3-80 (Frente Norte 3-80), whose strength in 1993 was estimated at 1,400. The Recontra guerrillas survive because of support from sympathetic local peasants in mountainous areas north of Managua where police and army patrols rarely venture. They also receive some financial help from conservative Nicaraguan and anti-Castro Cuban groups in Miami.

A number of armed bands composed of dismissed members of the EPS call themselves Recompas, a name taken from compañeros, the term by which Sandinista soldiers referred to one another. The main Recompa group is the Revolutionary Front of Workers and Peasants (Frente Revolucionario de Obreros y Campesinos--FROC). In July 1993, FROC gained control of the northern town of Estelí, reportedly looting some US$4 million from banks and shops before regular army troops drove them out, incurring numerous civilian casualties. A month later, a large government delegation that had been invited to discuss an amnesty offer was taken hostage by Northern Front 3-80. In retaliation, pro-Sandinista gunmen kidnapped thirty-four UNO government officials, including the country's vice president, who were meeting in Managua. Following intense negotiations, both sides released their hostages.

The grievances against the government by Recontras and Recompas are similar in many ways. Although the predecessor organizations of both groups fought each other in the 1980s, the Recontras and Recompas have, for the most part, avoided violent confrontations with each other in the 1990s. An amnesty proclaimed by the National Assembly in 1993 resulted in the surrender of large numbers of personnel from both rebel groups, leaving some 600 from each side still in the field.



The market-based economy is predominantly agricultural; coffee, seafood, sugar, beef, light manufacturing, and tourism are key sectors. The country's population is approximately 5.3 million. A worldwide drop in coffee prices, the lack of an adequate legal framework to give confidence to domestic and foreign investors, a fragile banking system, large external debt, inflation, and unresolved property disputes and unclear land titles stemming from massive confiscations by the Sandinista government in the 1980s limited economic growth. The economy grew by 3 percent in real terms in 2001; however, the growth rate was expected to decline to approximately 1 percent during the year. The annual rate of consumer price inflation was expected to be 4 percent during the year, marking the fourth consecutive year of single-digit increases.

Nicaragua began free market reforms in 1991 after 12 years of economic free-fall under the Sandinista regime. Despite some setbacks, it has made dramatic progress: privatizing more than 350 state enterprises, reducing inflation from 13,500% to 8%, and cutting the foreign debt in half. The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew 2.5% in 2001, with overall GDP reaching $2.44 million in 2001. In 2001, the global recession, combined with a series of bank failures, low coffee prices, and a drought, caused the economy to retract.

Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere with a per capita GDP of less than $500--below where it stood before the Sandinista takeover in 1979. Unemployment is officially around 11%, and another 36% are underemployed. Nicaragua suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits and a high debt-service burden, leaving it highly dependent on foreign assistance--as much as 25% of GDP in 2001.

One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export. Exports were 640 million in 2001. Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continued to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, the fastest growth is now in nontraditional exports: maquila goods (apparel); gold; seafood; and new agricultural products such as peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions. Nicaragua also depends heavily on remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad.

Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, but construction, mining, fisheries, and general commerce also have been expanding during the last few years. Foreign private capital inflows topped $300 million in 1999 but, due to economic and political uncertainty, fell to less than $100 million in 2001. Rapid expansion of the tourist industry has made it the nation's third-largest source of foreign exchange. Some 60,000 Americans visit Nicaragua yearly--primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. An estimated 5,300 U.S. citizens reside in the country. The U.S. embassy's consular section provides a full range of consular services--from passport replacement and veteran's assistance to prison visitation and repatriation assistance.

Nicaragua faces a number of challenges in stimulating rapid economic growth. Long-term success at attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depend on its ability to comply with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, resolve the thousands of Sandinista-era property confiscation cases, and open its economy to foreign trade. This process was boosted in late 2000 when Nicaragua reached the decision point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative. However, HIPC benefits will be delayed because Nicaragua subsequently fell "off track" from its IMF program. The country also has been grappling with a string of bank failures that began in August 2000. Moreover, Nicaragua continues to lose international reserves due to its growing fiscal deficits.

The U.S. is the country's largest trading partner by far--the source of 25% of Nicaragua's imports and the destination of about 60% of its exports. About 25 wholly or partly owned subsidiaries of U.S. companies operate in Nicaragua. The largest of those investments are in the energy, communications, manufacturing, fisheries, and shrimp farming sectors. Good opportunities exist for further investments in those same sectors, as well as in tourism, mining, franchising, and the distribution of imported consumer, manufacturing, and agricultural goods.



In the early 1990s, the vast majority of Nicaraguans were nominally Roman Catholic. Many had little contact with their church, however, and the country's Protestant minority was expanding rapidly. Roman Catholicism came to Nicaragua in the sixteenth century with the Spanish conquest and remained, until 1939, the established faith. The Roman Catholic Church was accorded privileged legal status, and church authorities usually supported the political status quo. Not until the anticlerical General Jos้ Santos Zelaya (1893-1909) came to power was the position of the church seriously challenged.

Nicaraguan constitutions have provided for a secular state and guaranteed freedom of religion since 1939, but the Roman Catholic Church has retained a special status in Nicaraguan society. When Nicaraguans speak of "the church," they mean the Roman Catholic Church. The bishops are expected to lend their authority to important state occasions, and their pronouncements on national issues are closely followed. They can also be called upon to mediate between contending parties at moments of political crisis. A large part of the education system, in particular the private institutions that serve most upper- and middle-class students, is controlled by Roman Catholic bodies. Most localities, from the capital to small rural communities, honor patron saints, selected from the Roman Catholic calendar, with annual fiestas. Against this background, it is not surprising that the Sandinista government provided free public transportation so that 500,000 Nicaraguans, a substantial part of the national population, could see Pope John Paul II when he visited Managua in 1983.

Despite the leading position of the Roman Catholic Church, it touches the lives of most Nicaraguans only sporadically at best. The activities and resources of the church are concentrated in the cities. Although the church attempts to reach people in small towns and rural areas, its capacity to do so is limited. In the mid-1980s, there was approximately 1 priest for every 7,000 Roman Catholics, a ratio lower than the Latin American average and considerably lower than the 1 priest per 4,550 Nicaraguan Roman Catholics recorded in 1960.

Urbanites, women, and members of the upper and middle classes are the most likely to be practicing Roman Catholics, that is those who attend mass, receive the sacraments, and perform special devotions with some degree of regularity. Nicaraguans of the lower classes tend to be deeply religious but not especially observant. Many limit their practice of the sacraments to baptism and funeral rites. Yet they have a strong belief in divine power over human affairs, which is reflected in the use of phrases such as "God willing" or "if it is God's desire" in discussions of future events.

Religious beliefs and practices of the masses, although more or less independent of the institutional church, do not entail the syncretic merger of Roman Catholic and pre-Columbian elements common in some other parts of Latin America. Popular religion revolves around the saints, who are perceived as intermediaries between human beings and God. Prayers are directed to a relevant saint asking for some benefit, such as curing an illness, in exchange for ritual payment, such as carrying a cross in an annual procession. Pictures of saints, called cuadros, are commonly displayed in Nicaraguan homes. Set in a corner or on a table and surrounded with candles, flowers, or other decorations, a cuadro becomes the centerpiece of a small domestic shrine. In many communities, a rich lore has grown up around the celebrations of patron saints, such as Managua's Saint Dominic (Santo Domingo), honored in August with two colorful, often riotous, day-long processions through the city's lower-class neighborhoods. The high point of Nicaragua's religious calendar for the masses is neither Christmas nor Easter, but La Purํsima, a week of festivities in early December dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, during which elaborate altars to the Virgin Mary are constructed in homes and workplaces.

Protestantism and other Christian sects came to Nicaragua during the nineteenth century, but only during the twentieth century have Protestant denominations gained large followings in the western half of the country. By 1990 more than 100 non-Roman Catholic faiths had adherents in Nicaragua, of which the largest were the Moravian Church, the Baptist Convention of Nicaragua, and the Assemblies of God. Other denominations included the Church of God, the Church of the Nazarene, the Episcopal Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Seventh Day Adventists. Most of these churches have been established through the efforts of missionaries from the United States and, although now institutionally independent and led by Nicaraguans, retain strong links with members of the same denomination in the United States.

The Moravian Church, established in eastern Nicaragua in the late nineteenth century, is the dominant faith among the non- Hispanic population of the region. Virtually all Miskito are Moravians, as are many Creoles, Sumu, and Rama. Moravian pastors play a prominent leadership role in Miskito communities. The Nicaraguan Baptists are related to the American Baptist Church, which began missionary work in 1917. The Nicaraguan Baptist Church's membership is concentrated in the Pacific region and is heavily middle class.

The Assemblies of God, dating from 1926, is the largest of the rapidly expanding Pentecostal denominations. Known for ecstatic forms of worship, energetic evangelization, and the strict personal morality demanded of members, the Pentecostal faiths are flourishing among the urban and rural poor. By helping recent arrivals from the countryside adjust to city life, they draw many migrants into their congregations. Pentecostalism reportedly has particular appeal to poor women because it elicits sobriety and more responsible family behavior from men. Largely because of the Pentecostals, the long-stagnant Protestant population has accelerated in numbers, going from 3 percent of the national population in 1965 to more than 20 percent in 1990. It could easily surpass 30 percent in the 1990s.

The 1970s and 1980s were years of religious ferment in Nicaragua, often coupled with political conflict. Encouraged by the spirit of liberal renovation then sweeping through Latin American Catholicism, a new generation of Nicaraguan Roman Catholic Church officials and lay activists tried to make the Roman Catholic Church more democratic, more worldly in its concerns, and more sensitive to the plight of the poor majority. Many were inspired by the radical doctrines of Liberation Theology and the related idea of consciousness- raising Christian base communities (small groups of people from an urban slum or rural district who met regularly to read the Bible together and reflect on social conditions). In the 1970s, priests, nuns, and lay workers committed to social change organized community development projects, education programs, and Roman Catholic base communities. Especially after 1972, Roman Catholic clergy and lay activists were increasingly drawn into the movement opposed to the regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Many developed links with the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional--FSLN), which was very receptive to radicalized Roman Catholics and led the insurrection that finally toppled the dictator.

No previous Latin American revolution has had such broad religious support as that of the Sandinistas. Even the Roman Catholic bishops openly backed the anti-Somoza movement in its final phases. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Roman Christian Base Communities (Comunidades Eclesiแsticas de Base-- CEBs) provided the FSLN with vital political support among the urban poor. Roman Catholics, including several priests, accepted positions in the new government and became members of the Sandinista party. But the close ties between Sandinistas and Roman Catholics generated tensions within the Roman Catholic Church and between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the FSLN. The bishops, led by Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, accused the Sandinistas and their Roman Catholic supporters of attempting to divide the church by creating a separate Popular Church out of the CEBs. They viewed the Marxist-oriented FSLN as a long-term threat to religion in Nicaragua, despite the professed tolerance of the Sandinistas. An explosive church-state conflict developed, during which the bishops more or less openly allied with the Sandinistas' political enemies and the FSLN struggled vainly to contain the influence of the institutional church. Throughout the 1980s, pro- and anti-Sandinista forces regularly manipulated religious symbols for political effect.

Protestant leaders were less inclined than the Roman Catholic episcopate to become embroiled in conflicts with the Sandinistas. Some, including prominent Baptist ministers and a minority of pastors from other faiths, were sympathetic to the FSLN. At the other extreme, a few Moravian ministers openly identified with Miskito Contra forces operating from Honduras. Most Pentecostal leaders, reflecting the conservative attitudes of the United States denominations with which they were affiliated, were cool toward the Sandinistas but generally adopted a public stance that was apolitical. Suspecting that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Christian conservatives in the United States were promoting evangelical activity in Nicaragua to undercut their government, Sandinista authorities monitored and tried to intimidate certain Pentecostal leaders. They did not, however, attempt to limit the growth of normal religious activity. The expansion of the Protestant population actually accelerated under Sandinista rule. During the first five years of Sandinista government, the number of evangelical churches (largely Pentecostal) had doubled to 3,000.

By the time the Sandinistas left power in 1990, church-state relations were considerably smoother than they had been in the early 1980s and mid-1980s, in part because the Contra war, which intensified conflict over religion, was winding down. Some of the radicalized Roman Catholics who had supported the Sandinistas in the years since the 1970s remained loyal to them, but their influence outside the Sandinista movement and a few religious think tanks was limited. The number of active CEBs plunged in the early 1980s and never recovered, in part because the bishops had systematically restricted the church-based activities of pro- Sandinista clergy. The Pentecostal churches continued their rapid growth among the poor, eclipsing the radical branch of Roman Catholicism and challenging the Roman Catholic Church's traditional religious monopoly. By the early 1990s, the Pentecostal minority was large enough to cause some observers, aware of the recent role of Christian conservatives in United States politics, to speculate about the influence of Pentecostals in future Nicaraguan elections.


With the notable exceptions of murder, rape, and aggravated assault, the crime rate in Nicaragua is low compared to industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Nicaragua. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Nicaragua will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1998 was 25.24 per 100,000 population for Nicaragua, 1.10 for Japan, and 6.3 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1998 was 27.34 for Nicaragua, compared with 1.48 for Japan and 34.4 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1998 was 66.83 for Nicaragua, 2.71 for Japan, and 165.2 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1998 was 345.16 for Nicaragua, 15.40 for Japan, and 360.5 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1998 was 214.47 for Nicaragua, 187.93 for Japan, and 862.0 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1998 was 76.65 for Nicaragua, 1198.13 for Japan, and 2728.1 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1998 was 0.41 for Nicaragua, compared with 28.37 for Japan and 459.0 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 756.1 for Nicaragua, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4615.5 for USA. (Note: data were not reported to INTERPOL by the USA for 1998, but were derived from the Uniform Crime Report for 1998)



Between 1996 and 1998, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder decreased from 26.48 to 25.24 per 100,000 population, a decrease of 4.7%. The rate for rape increased from 26.03 to 27.34, an increase of 5%. The rate of robbery increased from 57.06 to 66.83, an increase of 17.1%. The rate for aggravated assault increased from 276.18 to 345.16, an increase of 25%. The rate for burglary increased from 213.72 to 214.47, an increase of 0.4%. The rate of larceny decreased from 86.37 to 76.65, a decrease of 11.3%. The rate of motor vehicle theft decreased from 0.76 to 0.41, a decrease of 46.1%. The rate of total index offenses increased from 686.6 to 756.1, an increase of 10.1%.



The collapse of the Somoza administration in 1979 left Nicaragua without any agency of public order because the National Guard had performed police services, albeit in a repressive and corrupt fashion. For a brief period, FSLN veterans, working with the Sandinista Defense Committees and other mass organizations, provided rudimentary police functions, but this improvised system failed to prevent an upsurge of organized criminal activity, armed robbery, and attacks by youth gangs. The easy availability of weapons also contributed to the breakdown of law enforcement. A more professional police force was gradually put into place with the help of security training by the Panamanian National Guard and the Cuban government. Panama also donated vehicles and equipment and accepted several hundred Nicaraguans in Panama's police training academy.

Under the newly established Ministry of Interior, the Sandinista Police (Policía Sandinista--PS) resembled a militarytype staff organization, headed by a former FSLN brigade commander. Individual operating sections were responsible for traffic, public safety, prisons, communications, surveillance, legal processing, and embassy protection. Women made up a substantial proportion of the force.

An eight-month training course for police cadets included a heavy dose of military training, because in a national emergency the PS was expected to perform a support role in national defense. In addition to controlling street crime, the police were called on to combat the social legacy of the corrupt Somoza administration by enforcing morality and public welfare laws. Campaigns were launched against prostitution and alcoholism, but the new morality ordinances were enforced only sporadically. The crime rate was reduced somewhat when the police were granted authority to arrest "known delinquents" for "illegal association" when more specific charges could not be proven.

The police were later assisted by Revolutionary Vigilance Patrols organized by neighborhood Sandinista Defense Committees. These patrols conducted nighttime walks through neighborhoods and tended to discourage community crime. The PS also cooperated with the state security forces to suppress counterrevolutionary elements and to arrest political opponents of the administration.

Known as the National Police after 1990, the police force has continued to be controlled by Sandinistas despite the turnover of power to President Chamorro. The National Police's total complement was given as 11,000 by one source. The Sandinista police commander, René Vivas Lugo, remained its head. Police matters come under the Ministry of Government, which replaced the Ministry of Interior. The police, who act with substantial autonomy, have been repeatedly accused of human rights violations. A local human rights group has described the use of torture as an investigative tool as "systematic."

Many officials of the state security apparatus linked to serious human rights violations under the Sandinistas assumed positions as chiefs of police in provincial towns. To investigate and correct police wrongdoing, in 1991 a Civil Inspection Unit was formed within the Ministry of Government. The following year, Chamorro appointed a civilian without Sandinista ties as vice minister of government who would be responsible for supervising the police. Twelve police commanders, including Vivas, were removed and more moderate Sandinistas appointed from within the ranks. A new police law has instituted a regular system of promotion and retirement, emphasizing professionalism and subordination to civilian authority.

The counternarcotics efforts of the National Police are relatively weak, but the drug problem in Nicaragua appeared to be modest as of 1993. Although firm evidence is lacking, cocaine use is described as substantial. The only local drug produced are from small plots of marijuana, which is consumed domestically. Nicaragua is on an overland drug transit route from South America to the United States via the Pan American Highway, and drug movement by ship has been suspected through both Caribbean and Pacific ports. The effectiveness of drug law enforcement has been limited, although a law was passed in 1992 to authorize the establishment of an antinarcotics unit in the National Police.

The secret police and intelligence operations of the Ministry of Interior under the Sandinistas were the main instruments used to maintain FSLN control and suppress dissent. The secret police agency, the General Directorate of State Security (Dirección General de Seguridad del Estado--DGSE), carried out surveillance and operations against perceived opponents. The DGSE could arrest suspected counterrevolutionaries and hold them indefinitely without charge. It operated its own detention and interrogation centers and clandestine prisons. The DGSE was reported to have been assisted by at least 100 Cuban advisers.

After Chamorro's election in 1990, the DGSE was transferred to the army along with 1,200 of its 1,700 members, and renamed the Directorate of Defense Information (Dirección de Información para la Defensa--DID). The DGSE's chief, Colonel Lenín Cerna Juárez, a militant Sandinista, became head of the DID. Human rights activists called on President Chamorro to remove Cerna from his position and to investigate human rights violations attributed to him while he headed the DGSE. In 1993 Chamorro removed the DID from EPS control by transferring it to the Presidency as the Directorate of Intelligence Affairs. Cerna was then replaced by a civilian. Nevertheless, the EPS continues to maintain a security office under a Sandinista EPS officer, and Cerna was transferred to the post of inspector general of the EPS.

Little is known about the way DID functions as part of the military, but it is believed to conduct both military intelligence and internal intelligence gathering. Local human rights groups claim that the DID has followed the DGSE practice of operating wiretaps, intercepting mail, and conducting illegal searches of homes and businesses. Unlike the DGSE, however, DID does not have the power of arrest and therefore is not in a position to impose its authority on the civilian population, as was the case with its predecessor agency.

As of year 2002, the President is the supreme chief of the national defense and security forces. Former President Aleman established the first civilian defense ministry upon his inauguration in 1997; however, the Minister of Defense has limited authority over the military under the Constitution. The Ministry of Government oversees the National Police, which is charged formally with internal security; however, the police share this responsibility with the army in rural areas. The National Police continued to reduce the role of voluntary police (private citizens contracted by the National Police to help fill staffing gaps) in law enforcement. Use of voluntary police was discontinued in Managua; however, it continued in rural areas. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

There were no reports of political killings by government officials; however, the police received 20 allegations of unlawful killings by police; each of these was referred by the Inspector General of the police to the courts. All of the cases were pending before the courts at year's end.

The law makes the use of torture a punishable crime; however, police continued to beat and otherwise abuse detainees. There were numerous credible reports that police beat or physically mistreated detainees, often to obtain confessions. CENIDH received 422 complaints of torture or degrading treatment by the authorities during the year and verified 201 of these.

The Constitution provides for protection against these abuses, and the Government generally respected these provisions in practice. The Constitution stipulates that all persons have the right to privacy of their family and to the inviolability of their home, correspondence, and communications; requires warrants for searches of private homes; and excludes from legal proceedings illegally seized letters, documents, and private papers. The 1979-91 Sandinista regime expropriated nearly 20,000 properties from Somoza regime officials and thousands of others, including those who remained out of the country for more than 6 months.


The capacity of the Nicaraguan prison system was greatly expanded during the Sandinista period to keep pace with the incarceration of political prisoners. By the mid-1980s, the country had nine penitentiaries or public jails, holding cells in forty-eight local police stations, and some twenty-three DGSE detention centers. By the government's own estimate, there were 5,000 prisoners in 1984, of whom 2,000 were National Guardsmen or others accused of cooperation with the Contras. An independent human rights group in Nicaragua, the Permanent Human Rights Commission, claimed in 1986 that 10,000 were incarcerated, 70 percent of whom were political dissidents. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which periodically visited prisons, counted more than 1,000 guardsmen and 1,500 others accused of pro-Contra activity in early 1988. An estimated 500 to 600 additional persons were in DGSE facilities. After the release of thirty-nine inmates in February 1990, no further political prisoners were believed to be in Nicaraguan jails.

Under the Sandinistas, mistreatment and torture were reported to be common in the DGSE detention centers. The regular penitentiaries and public jails were known for primitive conditions and corruption emanating from the Prison Directorate under the Ministry of Interior. The largest penitentiary at Tipitapa outside Managua held most of the National Guardsmen and persons linked to the Contras. Tensions between inmates and guards were high, especially during peace talks, when releases appeared to be near. Heightened tensions were caused primarily by political prisoners who were unwilling to do work that they believed could help the Sandinista cause.

In late 1990, President Chamorro created a National Penitentiary Commission to oversee and improve the penal system. A report issued by a human rights group in 1992 described conditions in the national penitentiary system as "disastrous." The report accused the government of inexcusable indifference because it failed to allocate adequate funds. The prisoners were described as suffering from lack of food, clothing, medicine, and medical treatment. Cases of malnutrition were found as well as contaminated water. Although physical abuse in the penitentiaries was rare, a high percentage of prisoners complained of torture and mistreatment in police detention cells.


Immediately after the Sandinista victory in 1979, the FSLN government enacted by decree a Statute on the Rights and Guarantees of Nicaraguans. Among many provisions, the decree banned the death penalty and all forms of torture as well as cruel and degrading punishment. The maximum sentence for any crime was set at thirty years. Basic procedures were outlined for arrest and detention, including a defendant's right to legal counsel. Arbitrary violation of an individual's personal integrity, home, or correspondence was prohibited. These principles were gradually eroded by a series of measures, the first of which, the Law of National Emergency in 1982, legalized prolonged detention of opponents of the government and imposed constraints on political opposition and labor groups. An expanded State of Emergency, announced in 1985, virtually suspended all civil liberties, including the prohibition against arbitrary imprisonment, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and speedy trial, the right to trial, and habeas corpus.

An immediate problem faced by the new Sandinista administration in 1979 was how to handle the approximately 7,800 former National Guardsmen and former Somoza government officials who had been interned and then incarcerated. There was strong popular sentiment for executing those who were identified as torturers or "war criminals." Both Sandinista troops and the general public killed some captured Somoza supporters--the Sandinista junta later admitted that perhaps 100 Somoza officials had been put to death in the chaotic period following the July 1979 victory--but most were held for appearances before special tribunals that sat between November 1979 and February 1981. Trials by these politicized tribunals were heavily publicized to remind the public of the evils of the Somoza administration. Some 6,300 trials were conducted, with a 78 percent conviction rate and sentences ranging up to thirty years. Their proceedings were widely criticized by international human rights groups. Sandinistas who were not lawyers sat as judges and presented evidence. The charges were often vague and imprecise, and defendants had little time to prepare a defense. A proper appeals mechanism was lacking, and some of the accused were exposed to a campaign against them by the FSLN media. Nevertheless, the accused had legal representation, media access was permitted, and the convictions were based on the previously existing legal code. Observers sympathetic to the Sandinistas argued that the justice administered by the special tribunals was relatively fair, especially when compared to actions taken by other newly victorious revolutionary governments in a similarly heated atmosphere.

A major problem of the early years of the Sandinista administration was the overcrowded criminal docket, which led to lengthy periods of detention for those awaiting trial and sentencing. In 1983 jury trials were limited to only the most severe felonies, on the grounds that this limitation would help unclog the courts. A law of amparo, a feature of Spanish common law empowering courts to obtain redress of administrative excess or error, was suspended by the 1982 Law of National Emergency. The emergency law also suspended the limitation of seven days' detention without arraignment.

Two additional legal innovations were introduced by the FSLN junta. One was the People's Anti-Somoza Tribunals (Tribunal Popular Anti-Somocista--TPAs). Similar to the special tribunals, members of the TPA panels were drawn from Sandinista mass organizations, and their jurisdiction was over persons charged as members of the Nicaraguan Resistance. The TPA's jurisdiction later was expanded to include a broad category of acts construed to threaten the revolution. Defendants were held incommunicado for indefinite periods, and their legal counsels were unable to present a proper defense. In some cases, defendants were compelled to appear without benefit of attorney. Nearly all the accused were convicted, usually after long detention before trial. The TPAs were abolished in 1988, but many of the TPA judges were transferred to regular criminal courts.

The second legal innovation was an expansion of police power. In 1980 the Sandinista Police were given authority to adjudicate cases of cattle rustling, drug dealing, and insult to authority. Later, police power was further expanded to include breaking up unauthorized demonstrations and dealing with economic crimes such as hoarding, with sentences of up to two years. This new authority also extended the traditional powers of police judges to impose sentences of up to six months on such charges as vagrancy, drunkenness, or disturbing the peace. The police courts could impose sentences without granting defendants the right to counsel, the right to call witnesses, or the right to appeal to courts in the regular judicial system.

After the Chamorro government took office in 1990, it began efforts to depoliticize the judiciary. However, it was not until late 1993 that the Supreme Court, whose members serve six-year terms, had a non-Sandinista majority. Some progress was made in replacing Sandinista appointees to the 250 trial and appellate judgeships, yet Sandinista appointees remained in the majority in 1993. Nevertheless, because the Supreme Court appoints appeals and lower court judges, the prospect for more non-Sandinista judges seems favorable.

Military courts continue to be responsible for dealing with crimes committed by or against members of the armed forces or police. Proceedings of trials in military courts are secret, although information can be released at the discretion of the military. According to the United States Department of State's annual human rights reports, convictions by military courts are rare, and even when soldiers are convicted, they receive light sentences or the sentences are not enforced. According to a 1991 study by Americas Watch, virtually no political crimes--whether committed by members of the military, ex-Contras, or civilians partial to the Sandinistas or to UNO--were prosecuted in the judicial system.

Procedures for the arrest of criminal suspects are set forth in the Police Functions Law. The law requires police to obtain a warrant before detaining a suspect, but the warrant is issued by a police official rather than a magistrate. The law also permits police to detain suspects for up to nine days for the purpose of collecting evidence before being brought before a judge. Police are required to inform families when persons are detained but rarely do so, and detainees are not granted access to legal counsel once charged, as required by the constitution. The Reform Law of Penal Procedures, passed in 1991, provides for a maximum of three days' detention, but police continue to follow the Police Functions Law, which has not been amended. The 1991 reform law also provides for bail; previously only compelling reasons such as ill health qualified accused criminals to remain at liberty while awaiting trial.

Defendants have the right to legal counsel at their trials. Although indigents are entitled to pro bono counsel, public defenders do not exist. In spite of the constitutional right to a speedy trial, arrested persons often spend months in jail before appearing in court. Under the 1991 law reforming penal procedures, jury trials have been restored. However, the jury system has not proven effective, partly because prospective jurors seek to evade jury duty, delaying trials. Those convicted have the right of appeal.

In 1993 the role of the Nicaraguan military was still in a state of flux. Only established as a modern national entity in the 1930s, the Nicaraguan army was first a tool of the Somozas (as the National Guard) and then the military arm of the FSLN during the Sandinistas' eleven years in government. Despite massive downsizing and attempts to increase professionalism in the 1990s, in 1993 the Nicaraguan army was still controlled by its former FSLN leaders and unsure of its role. Whether the country's armed forces could become a truly national army was a question still unanswered.

Under the 1987 constitution, the Supreme Court is an independent branch of government, whose members are selected for six-year terms by the National Assembly from lists submitted by the president. From among those members, the president selects the head of the Supreme Court. The constitution also provides that the Supreme Court justices appoint judges to the lower courts. Supreme Court justices can only be removed constitutionally "for reasons determined by law."

In National Assembly-approved 1990 reforms to the Organic Law of Tribunals, the Chamorro government enlarged the Supreme Court's membership from the constitutionally mandated seven justices to nine, as a way of breaking what was perceived as Sandinista domination of the court. Those seven members had been appointed to their six-year terms in December 1987, and their terms were to expire in 1993. In 1990 President Chamorro also dismissed the court's Sandinista-appointed head and replaced him with one of her own choosing. The evaluation of this act depended on one's political point of view. According to Nicaraguan analysts, the nine-member court decided that it would take decisions only on the basis of consensus, a procedure some saw as guaranteeing Sandinista influence on the court, others saw as neutralizing Sandinista influence, and still others saw as effectively paralyzing the operations of the court.

According to the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report for 2002, the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary was susceptible to corruption and political influence. The judiciary was hampered by arcane legal codes, prosecutors who played a passive role, an underfunded and understaffed Public Defender's Office, judges and lawyers who often lacked sufficient training or education, and corruption. Many judges did not have previous experience as lawyers. Judges' political sympathies, acceptance of bribes, or influence from political leaders reportedly often influenced judicial actions and findings.

The judicial system comprises both civil and military courts. The 16-member Supreme Court is the system's highest court, and in addition to administering the judicial system, is responsible for nominating all appellate and lower court judges. The Court is divided into specialized chambers on administrative, criminal, constitutional, and civil matters. Under the Law of the Child and Family, which took effect in 1998, the Attorney General's Office rather than the police investigate crimes committed by and against juveniles. The 1994 military code requires the civilian court system to try members of the military charged with common crimes.

A 5-year administration of justice reform program, begun in 1997, achieved a number of its objectives, including a Judicial Organic Law and a new Criminal Procedures Code; however, the revision of the country's outdated Penal Code remained bottled up in the National Assembly. The 1999 Judicial Organic Law contained a provision that established minimum professional standards for judicial appointees. However, a Judicial Career law to establish a more professional and independent judiciary remained in the National Assembly for consideration and action at year's end. In December, the 2001 Criminal Procedures Code entered into effect. It will alter significantly the way that trials are held. Instead of the Napoleonic trial system that emphasizes the role of magistrates and written evidence, the new system will be an adversarial-style system that allows oral arguments from both the defense and the prosecution.

The Assembly began the process to approve a new Penal Code in 2000; however, an extended political dispute between the administration and the Assembly delayed the legislation. Nonetheless, in June the Penal Code was modified to include certain economic crimes, including illegal enrichment. In 1999 the National Assembly approved a reform of the Public Ministry that streamlined the judicial process by separating the defense and the prosecutorial functions. Specifically, the reform transferred powers from the Attorney General's Office (Procuraduria) to a newly created Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalia), which is charged with prosecuting criminal cases. In November 2001, the National Assembly elected Julio Centeno Gomez to the new position of Fiscal General.

The Procuraduria continued to have the responsibility to defend the Government against legal action taken by private or other public actors. In addition, the Procuraduria was empowered to prosecute criminally persons when the state has been aggrieved; for example, the misappropriation of government funds by public officials. In 2000 the Government opened new property tribunals to handle cases concerning seized properties. In November, the CSJ consolidated these tribunals into a single tribunal due to budgetary concerns.

The civil and criminal courts continued to expedite the judicial process for those in prison without a prior court hearing; however, the number of suspects in prison awaiting trial increased. Human rights and lawyers' groups in general continued to complain about the delay of justice, sometimes for years, caused by judicial inaction.Judges appeared susceptible to corruption and political influence. The shelving of politically charged cases or rulings in favor of the politically connected party remained the most common manifestations of judicial corruption.

The Supreme Court's campaign to reduce incompetence and corruption in the judiciary slowed during the year. Since the campaign began in 1997, the CSJ has removed a total of 105 judges--more than one-third of the 300 judges in the system; however, only one judge was removed during the year.In criminal cases, the accused has the right to legal counsel, and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The Judicial Organic Law provided for the establishment of a Public Defender's Office to represent indigent defendants. The office in Managua maintained a staff of 13 appointed public defenders throughout the year; however, more were needed. The court requested funding for 26 additional public defenders to be located outside of Managua, but only one of these requests was approved for Ciudad Dario.

Elsewhere in the country where public defenders were not available, the system in effect before the passage of the Judicial Organic law continued in use. Under that system, the presiding judge appointed attorneys from a standard list to represent indigent defendants; however, many attorneys paid a fine of about $7.00 (100 cordobas) rather than represent such clients because the State did not pay for attorneys for the indigent.

According to press accounts, the number of indigent defendants who went to trial without an attorney to represent them decreased, despite difficulties in fully implementing the provisions of the Judicial Organic law. However, high-ranking officials in the Public Defender's Office complained that they continued to find judges willing to sentence defendants without the presence of a public defender. Until the end of the year, the country used the Napoleonic legal system. Police had to present a detained suspect before a judge within 48 hours, who had to hold a preliminary hearing within 10 days.

These constitutionally mandated deadlines were usually observed. If a judge ruled the suspect was provisionally guilty at the preliminary hearing, the suspect was sent to trial. While awaiting and undergoing trial, suspects were often held in custody. The trial consisted of hearings held by the judge to investigate the matter further, followed by a review of the written record of the hearings by a 5-member jury, which would issue a final decision. Very simple cases or those with high profile or outside interest could be resolved quickly, but others languished for months. Although the legal limit for resolution is 6 months, 560 suspects were held without trial for longer periods, according to the CSJ. On December 24, an entirely different system of prosecuting criminal cases entered into effect.

The new penal process is more adversarial and transparent and relies more on the initiative of prosecutors and less on the initiative of judges and magistrates to file charges. It prescribes an arraignment at which a judge decides whether to send the case to trial or dismiss it. Once the case reaches trial, the judge takes a neutral presiding role, and both sides present oral arguments to a jury.

The new system will be applied initially to the most serious offenses. By December 2003, the new system will apply to all criminal cases. The new system offers greater transparency by allowing the accused greater access to the process. However, its implementation could cause more trial delays as the judicial system adjusts to a radically different process, including potentially serious staffing shortfalls for prosecutors and public defenders, since they, rather than judges, take the lead in conducting trials under the new system. The country still lacks an effective civil law system.

Many criminal cases are really civil disputes. Often the effect of a criminal proceeding in these matters is to force one party to concede to the party with more influence over the judge rather than face the prospect of detention in jail. In addition, this civil-based criminal caseload diverts resources from an overburdened Public Prosecutor's Office that otherwise could be directed toward genuine criminal matters. There were no reports of political prisoners.


The capacity of the Nicaraguan prison system was greatly expanded during the Sandinista period to keep pace with the incarceration of political prisoners. By the mid-1980s, the country had nine penitentiaries or public jails, holding cells in forty-eight local police stations, and some twenty-three DGSE detention centers. By the government's own estimate, there were 5,000 prisoners in 1984, of whom 2,000 were National Guardsmen or others accused of cooperation with the Contras. An independent human rights group in Nicaragua, the Permanent Human Rights Commission, claimed in 1986 that 10,000 were incarcerated, 70 percent of whom were political dissidents. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which periodically visited prisons, counted more than 1,000 guardsmen and 1,500 others accused of pro-Contra activity in early 1988. An estimated 500 to 600 additional persons were in DGSE facilities. After the release of thirty-nine inmates in February 1990, no further political prisoners were believed to be in Nicaraguan jails.

Under the Sandinistas, mistreatment and torture were reported to be common in the DGSE detention centers. The regular penitentiaries and public jails were known for primitive conditions and corruption emanating from the Prison Directorate under the Ministry of Interior. The largest penitentiary at Tipitapa outside Managua held most of the National Guardsmen and persons linked to the Contras. Tensions between inmates and guards were high, especially during peace talks, when releases appeared to be near. Heightened tensions were caused primarily by political prisoners who were unwilling to do work that they believed could help the Sandinista cause.

In late 1990, President Chamorro created a National Penitentiary Commission to oversee and improve the penal system. A report issued by a human rights group in 1992 described conditions in the national penitentiary system as "disastrous." The report accused the government of inexcusable indifference because it failed to allocate adequate funds. The prisoners were described as suffering from lack of food, clothing, medicine, and medical treatment. Cases of malnutrition were found as well as contaminated water. Although physical abuse in the penitentiaries was rare, a high percentage of prisoners complained of torture and mistreatment in police detention cells.

As a result of drastic cutbacks in the judicial system's budget, more than half of the prisoners in 1993 were persons awaiting trial.

As of year 2002, prison conditions remained harsh. The number of prisoners who spent 6 months or more incarcerated without a trial increased significantly. According to government statistics, the prisons, with an official capacity of 5,132, had a total inmate population of 5,624 in December, compared with 5,060 in November 2001 and 4,903 in September 2000. Detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners.

Prison guards received human rights training from NGOs and the Catholic Church and generally treated prisoners well, although there were some reports of abuses. There were no reports of riots or other violence during the year.The prison system remained underfunded and medical attention ranged from inadequate to nonexistent.

Medical care available to prisoners fell far short of basic needs. For example, for all 8 penitentiaries and 5,624 prisoners, prison authorities maintained a staff of 24 specialists, including doctors, psychologists, teachers, and social workers. Prison authorities also reported that 49 percent of prisoners were without beds; these prisoners slept on concrete beds or floors. Several churches, national and international NGOs donated foodstuffs, beds, and medicine to the prison system to help alleviate shortfalls. Prison officials calculated that the daily expenditure per prisoner for food was about $0.50 (6 cordobas) and reported that the annual budget for food remained constant. There was some improvement in prison food, but malnutrition remained a problem in local jails and police holding cells. Many prisoners also received additional food from visiting family and friends.

Some prisons and many police holding cells were dark, poorly ventilated, and unhygienic. Conditions in jails and holding cells remained harsh. Police station holding cells were severely overcrowded. Suspects regularly were left in these cells during their trials, since budgetary shortfalls often restricted the use of fuel for frequent transfers to distant courtrooms. At the Bluefields jail, there were only 2 showers and 4 toilets for more than 105 prisoners. The authorities occasionally released detainees when they no longer could feed them. Only Managua has a separate prison for women; outside the Managua area, women were housed in separate wings in prison facilities and were guarded by female custodians. As of December, females made up 3.8 percent of the prison population. The Public Defender's office assigned two full-time employees to work with the women's prison system to help ensure its proper functioning in areas such as timely release of inmates granted parole. As of December, 1 percent of the prison population was between the ages of 15 and 18, less than a quarter of what it was in 1999. All youths were housed in separate prison cells from adults; the youths were on a different schedule for mealtime and recreational activities.

In August Casa Alianza and the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office published a survey of 85 underaged detainees throughout the penal system. According to the survey, the police did not inform over 21 percent of the respondents why they were being detained at the time of their arrest, the police mistreated 47 percent, and 48 percent said that they were detained 3 days or more before seeing a judge. Fully half said they were not aware of being assigned a defense attorney, and 24 percent said they were incarcerated with adults. The Director of Prison Systems maintained that children were held in separate cells and that their rights generally were respected.In September Casa Alianza and the Center for Justice and International Law presented a complaint to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission regarding the 1999 suicide of 16-year-old Wilmer Gonzalez Rojas inside the adult jail in Tipitapa. The IACHR had not decided whether to accept the case by year's end.

The Government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Or Exile Arbitrary arrest and detention by the police remained a problem. The Police Functions Law requires police to obtain a warrant prior to detaining a suspect and to notify family members of the detainee's whereabouts within 24 hours. Compliance with this law increased significantly since 1999, largely due to pressure from the Police Internal Affairs office and support for compliance from the Chief of Police.

Detainees do not have the right to an attorney until they have been charged formally with a crime. Local human rights groups were critical of the law for providing inadequate judicial oversight of police arrests.Police may hold a suspect legally for 48 hours before they must bring the person before a judge to decide if charges should be brought. The judge then either must order the accused released or transferred to jail. Although cumbersome, this law was observed more closely than in the past, and few prisoners were held illegally beyond the 48-hour deadline.

The number of prisoners who spent 6 months or more incarcerated without a trial increased significantly. In 2000, the Criminal Chamber of the CSJ ordered all local magistrates to give priority to those cases involving pretrial prisoners with 6 months or more of incarceration. However, according to government statistics, 10 percent of 5,624 prisoners had been in jail for 6 months or longer without a trial, up from 2 percent in 2001 and 4 percent in 2000. Statistics from the Department of Prisons indicated that 26 percent of all prisoners being held were awaiting final verdicts. Exile is not practiced. There were no reports of political violence against any citizens returning from civil war era self-imposed exile.


The most prevalent violations of women's rights involved domestic and sexual violence, which were widespread and underreported. The National Police reported that of 41,487 reports filed by women between January and December, including reports filed at the Women's Commissariats through November, more than 19,788 concerned physical or sexual abuse, a 47 percent increase in the number of reported cases from 2001.

The 1996 Law against Aggression against Women reformed the Criminal Code to criminalize domestic violence and to provide up to 6 years' imprisonment for those found guilty of such violence. The law also provided for the issuance of restraining orders in cases in which women fear for their safety. The National Police, as well as local human rights groups, confirmed that while police sometimes intervened to prevent domestic violence, they rarely prosecuted perpetrators because victims often refused to press charges.

Those cases that actually reached the courts usually resulted in not guilty verdicts due to judicial inexperience with, and lack of legal training related to, proper judicial handling of such violence. In October the National Police Women's Commissariats as well as a number of human rights advocates expressed reservations about the potentially negative impact of the adversarial nature of hearing cases under the new Criminal Procedures Code.

Advocates expressed concern that victims of domestic violence could be less likely to bring charges under the new process since the victims, under the new system, have to face their abusers directly and have no assurance the abusers will be jailed. Under the old system, those accused of domestic violence were usually jailed while the judge investigated the case and made a preliminary ruling, a period of up to 10 days. This "cooling-off" period was seen as providing some protection to the victim. Advocates also fear that many judges could put undue pressure on domestic violence victims to use alternate mediation rather than endure a trial, in which they will face cross-examination.

The Criminal Code provides punishment for sexual abuse and stipulates that any person convicted of physically abusing or raping another person can be sentenced to between 9 months and 4 years in prison. According to statistics from the National Police, the police received 1,308 rape complaints during the year compared to 1,170 reported instances of rape in 2001.

Many women are reluctant to report abuse or file charges due to the social stigma attached to victims of rape. The police manage 13 women's commissariats in 13 cities with a total staff of 75 people. Each commissariat is located adjacent to a police station and is supposed to be staffed by six police officers, two social workers, one psychologist, and one lawyer. However, due to a lack of funding, the staff size is often limited to a far smaller number. The commissariats provide both social and legal help to women and mediate spousal conflicts.

They also investigate and help to prosecute criminal complaints and refer victims to other governmental and nongovernmental assistance agencies. As of November, the commissariats processed a total of 2,363 cases--1,867 cases of domestic violence and 496 cases of sexual infractions.

In May the Appeals Court denied the appeal by Zoilamerica Narvaez of the December 2001 decision of Judge Juana Mendez to drop sexual molestation, harassment, and rape charges against Daniel Ortega on the grounds that the 5-year statute of limitations had expired. The case was before the Supreme Court at year's end. On March 4, the IACHR held a hearing on the Narvaez case, focusing on the issue of whether the Government had denied Narvaez due process. The Government subsequently expressed its willingness to accept an "amicable solution" to the dispute, discussions on which were underway at year's end.

Prostitution is legal and common. According to a number of sources, including the Director of Police Criminal Investigations, Julio Gonzalez, and the Director of Police Economic Investigations, Carlos Bandana, prostitutes in the country work without a pimp, since prostitution is legal but pimping is not. Statistics from the Women's Commissariats showed only three cases of pimping for the year throughout the country. A number of studies supported this, including an intensive diagnostic done during the year by the University of Central America in the tourist city of Granada, in which all the under-aged prostitutes interviewed told the researchers that they operated on their own. In Managua most prostitutes work on the streets, clandestinely in nightclubs and bars, or offer sexual services in massage parlors. In towns along the Pan American Highway, women and girls sell sexual services to truck drivers and other travelers, who are often foreigners driving north from Costa Rica.

In port cities such as Corinto, the primary clientele are sailors. Corinto is unusual in that prostitutes receive medical examinations and a card certifying that they are free of disease. In addition, prostitutes in Corinto reportedly often work together to maintain a rudimentary price-setting structure that enabled them to earn much more than they would in other areas. However, in most areas, prostitutes do not have access to medical screening or treatment.

There were credible reports of isolated cases of the trafficking of women for prostitution. The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace; however, it continued to be a problem.Although the Constitution provides for equality between the sexes, discrimination against women persisted.

According to a poll released in April 2000 by the Nicaraguan Women's Institute in conjunction with the Government, women comprised approximately 61 percent of the public sector labor force, a number much larger than in the private sector. It also showed that even with comparable educational backgrounds, salaries for male and female workers differed significantly, with men sometimes making twice as much as women in the same positions.

Even with similar qualifications, men advanced more quickly than women. Women constitute the majority of workers in the traditionally low-paid education and health service sectors. According to a 1998 "Nicaraguan Survey on Demographics and Health" by the National Statistical Institute, women have equal or somewhat better access to education than men, especially in urban areas.

Women are generally underpaid, but the majority of women have some type of employment. An October 2001 International Labor Organization (ILO) study concluded that of the 561,000 employed women, 184,000 were self-employed and 377,000 were salaried workers. More than 92 percent of women capable of employment have some type of job.There are many NGO and government programs that target discrimination against women, mostly by analyzing the status of women in the workplace. For example, the Program for Reform and Modernization of the Public Sector, directed by the Vice President, was formed in 1998 in an attempt to publicize issues of gender discrimination by collecting statistics on salary differences and hiring techniques in the public sector. The initiative produced a number of publications on the subject of women in the workplace, including an extensive study in 2000 of women working in the public sector and a manual distributed to managers in the public sector during the year that outlined procedures to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace.



The Government publicly expressed its commitment to children's human rights and welfare; however, government-wide budget constraints prevented it from providing adequate funding levels to children's programs or primary education. A constitutional provision known as the 6 percent rule automatically allots 6 percent of the annual budget to a higher education consortium, often at the expense of funding for primary and secondary education programs.

Children 15 years of age and younger made up approximately 39 percent of the population. Education is compulsory through the sixth grade, but this provision is not enforced, and 20 percent of the population was classified as illiterate. According to census figures from 2001, primary school enrollment rates for boys and girls were estimated at 75 and 80 percent respectively, up from 73 and 75 percent in 1995. However, secondary school enrollment rates dropped to 35 and 45 percent from 1995 levels of 39 and 47 percent. Juvenile offenders under the age of 17 comprise less than one percent of offenders incarcerated. This low figure is largely attributed to the leniency given to juvenile offenders by the Children's Code, which rarely gives jail time to juveniles.

During the year, 47 minors died as a result of violent crime. During the same period, victims of rape included 277 children under the age of 13 and 658 between the ages of 13 and 17. There were an estimated 1,216 reported cases of child abuse (physical and psychological), 314 cases of child kidnaping, and 100 children who disappeared. The national police estimated that about 63 percent of sexual abuse victims were under the age of 18, and that 36 percent were younger than 13.

A study by the University of Leon indicated that 27 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys experienced sexual abuse. According to a Ministry of Labor study, over 676,000 children are at-risk and exposed daily to violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect. According to UNICEF, this number is expected to increase because the population of children under the age of 5 years who live on the streets is growing.According to local media and the Ministry of the Family, the incidence of child prostitution increased, especially in Managua, and near border cities and ports.

The Child and Family Law provides that juvenile prisoners can no longer be held in adult facilities or for more than 24 hours without being charged. Child labor is a problem.



Nicaragua has a statute that specifically prohibits trafficking in persons and assigns a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. While the preconditions for trafficking exist, there is little documented evidence of a substantial trafficking problem within the country; however, there is some limited evidence that the country is a source for trafficking in women and children to other countries for purposes of sexual exploitation. The Government instituted an awareness campaign with border police and immigration officials at entry points to Honduras to identify and question young women who are not accompanied by family members. In addition, the Government formed a 56-member Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit within the police. According to the Ministry of Labor, strip clubs are inspected several times each year to ensure that there are no underage workers at these clubs.

The law does not make prostitution illegal, though it bans its promotion; however, the Child and Family Law, which took effect in 1998, defines statutory rape as sexual relations with children 13 years old and younger. Therefore, there is no legal prohibition on prostitution by juveniles 14 and older.

According to a number of sources, including the Director of Police Criminal Investigations, Julio Gonzalez, and the Director of Police Economic Investigations, Carlos Bandana, prostitutes in the country work without a pimp, since prostitution is legal but pimping is not. Statistics from the Women's Commissariats showed only three cases of pimping for the year throughout the country. A number of studies support this, including an intensive diagnostic done during the year by the University of Central America in the tourist city of Granada, in which all the under-aged prostitutes interviewed told the researchers that they operated on their own. Although national figures are not available, a study conducted in Managua in 1998 found that 40 percent of the 1,200 prostitutes in the city were under the age of 18. No numbers were available for other cities, but in 1998 UNICEF reported that teenage sexual exploitation had increased in recent years in rural areas, border cities, ports, and in Managua. UNICEF also noted significant growth in prostitution among children between the ages of 12 and 16 in towns where taxi drivers were said to serve as middlemen. OAS personnel in the country also noted an increase in prostitution among girls as young as 10 years of age; in rural areas, their clients are often truck drivers and other travelers, including foreigners, who patronize prostitutes in towns along the Pan American Highway. From December 1998 to May 1999, the Ministry of the Family sponsored an investigation into child prostitution in five municipalities.

Of the more than 300 children surveyed, 82 percent reported that they had started engaging in prostitution within the past year. Many of those surveyed said that they engaged in prostitution to buy basic necessities such as food and clothing, or to support a drug habit. A 1999 survey by the NGO Casa Alianza reported that of 520 children, 504 admitted to using drugs, usually glue. There have been cases of adults who exchange sexual favors with street children in return for glue.

In 1999 a National Forum against the Sexual and Commercial Exploitation of Children and Adolescents was created to fight for children's rights and bring this issue to the public's attention. During the year, it held a number of public forums on children's issues and trafficking in persons and distributed a number of substantial anti-trafficking publications to the public.

According to press reports, five Nicaraguan women, ages 20-25, were taken to Guatemala by Janeth Esperanza Rivera in May. Rivera promised the women jobs as sales clerks, and a better life in Guatemala. Upon arriving in Guatemala, Rivera sold the women to a group of unidentified men, who locked them up in a room. The women were only allowed out to be prostituted. This continued for 5 days, until 4 of the women escaped and reported the incident to the Guatemalan police. Rivera was captured and a police investigation of her records revealed Rivera had been trafficking women into Guatemala for months. None of the women from the previous trafficking have been located or interviewed.

In October police detained three 17-year-old women near the town of Chinandega traveling to Guatemala. The women were being driven to Guatemala to work in brothels there. Although the women indicated they were not deceived or coerced into going, their travel and work was being facilitated by three alleged traffickers, who were detained by police. The three facilitators were charged with trafficking, but a court in Chinandega acquitted them due to a lack of evidence that trafficking had occurred.


Nicaragua, a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, is a significant drug transit country of concern, although we do not have evidence establishing that drugs coming to the U.S. from Nicaragua are coming in significant enough quantities to have a significant effect on the U.S. Police made record drug seizures during 1998. The country has a growing consumption problem. The administration of President Arnoldo Aleman is strongly committed to confronting the international narcotics trade. The Nicaraguan National Police's efforts to combat trafficking have generally been effective, although these efforts are constrained by resource shortfalls. Although important steps toward legal reform are underway, the country's antiquated judicial system has a mixed record of convicting traffickers. During 1998, the USG provided significant assistance to the Police's counternarcotics activities for the first time.

Sharply increased drug seizures during 1998 suggest both that drug traffickers may have increased their use of Nicaraguan territory as a transit route between South and North America and that the police are becoming increasingly effective at interdicting this flow of drugs. The Nicaraguan National Police are a highly capable law enforcement organization, but its effectiveness is limited by severe resource constraints. Consumption of illegal drugs (especially crack cocaine) is a serious and apparently growing problem, especially on the Atlantic Coast. Although principal responsibility for law enforcement rests with the police, the army, which includes a naval unit, supports law enforcement efforts.

Nicaragua has demonstrated its commitment to combating narco-trafficking and drug consumption. As the recently established counternarcotics relationship between the U.S. and Nicaragua broadens and deepens in coming years, we expect Nicaraguan law enforcement to become even more effective in combating trafficking. Moreover, ongoing USG-supported justice sector reform efforts should increase the likelihood that arrested traffickers will be convicted and incarcerated. Nevertheless, because counternarcotics efforts will continue to be hampered by Nicaragua's geography and poverty for the foreseeable future, and because of pressure on more traditional routes to the U.S. market, traffickers are likely to attempt to continue to expand their operations through Nicaraguan territory.



Internet research assisted by Emmanuel Martinez

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