New Property Law Passed in Nicaragua
Claimants of expropriated properties are up in arms in Nicaragua after the approval of the new Property Law on November 27th. After various attempts to reach a compromise agreement the National Assembly, under pressure from the Aleman administration, passed this law which secures the contested legal status of properties confiscated and redistributed by the Sandinista government. While many see the passage as an end to the insecurity which small urban and rural landholders have faced for the past 7 years, others accuse the National Assembly and even President Aleman of having sold out to the Sandinista and the "pitateros" or those who were questionably benefited from property redistribution and privatization of state businesses.
The new law basically will affirm the legality and facilitate titling of urban plots up to 100 cubic meters and rural plots up to 300 cubic meters obtained in accordance with the Agrarian and Urban Reform. Any properties above these dimensions will have to be paid for by the owners. Current owners of former state businesses rented out during the privatization process of the 90's will be given an extended payment period facilitated by the issuing of government bonds. There are over 200 such businesses with an accumulated debt currently standing at $68 million. Though the law still offers claimants of confiscated properties the legal mechanisms to prove ownership, any currently occupied property will not be returned but rather claimants will be compensated with government bonds.
Opposition to the law's passage is encountered on all sides of the political spectrum. Though no official comments have been made, members of the Movimiento Comunal have expressed concerns that the new revision of property ownership mandated by the new legislation could adversely affect many small property holders as many lack legal titles or in cases where conflicting titles exist. Conflicts have arisen within the executive levels of government where the director of the National Public Administration Corporation (or CORNAP as more commonly known), Rosendo Diaz, has stated that he will resign due to his opposition to the law. Diaz has expressed that the law precludes the reacquisition of property by claimants, leaving them only the opportunity to be compensated with bonds. The former director has also brought into question the legal process by which many of the former state businesses came into private or workers' hands and claims that the property law only consolidates the hold that these groups and individuals have on these questionably obtained properties.
Another division has taken place within the highest levels of government, where the vice-president, Enrique Bolanos, has written an official communique expressing his disapproval of the recently passed legislation. Though Bolanos affirms that he still supports the president, he publicly states that the law was too rushed, sacrifices content in the name of expediency, and places the "historic responsibility for the legalization of the pinata (or the questionable privatization process of former state businesses) on us." Bolanos' attitude is explained by his strong ties with claimants of property expropriated by the Sandinista government. In fact, his position is quite mild in comparison with the associations that represent these claimants.
The "confiscados" or those affected by property confiscations, as these individuals are referred to in Nicaragua, allege that President Aleman and his Liberal Party have betrayed them with the approval of the law. A legal representative for the Association of "Confiscados" considers that the law eliminates the legal mechanism by which claimants can recuperate expropriated properties. Associations of "Confiscados" of various nationalities, including the US "confiscados" have begun a campaign both nationally and internationally to reverse the law or pressure the Nicaraguan government from abroad to do so. Faxes have been sent to the US and European countries asking that foreign aid be halted and that foreign investors refrain from coming to Nicaragua. The most vociferous group by far is the Association of North American "Confiscados", headed by Lucia Solorzano de Sacasa, which is mainly comprised of Nicaraguans who obtained US citizenship during their exile in the 80's. This group plans to meet with Senator Jesse Helms to request that he pressure the Aleman government to revoke the new law. Senator Helms has consistently supported the demands of the US "confiscados" and played a powerful role in having suspended US aid to Nicaragua for one year during the Chamorro administration. Satisfactory resolution of the property disputes of US citizens is required by the US law in order for Nicaragua to receive any assistance from the US government.
Though not all sectors of Nicaraguan civil society have expressed their opinions on the Property Law, it is clear that the new legislation will have a major impact in stabilizing disputes which have kept the country divided for years. This stabilization is expected to contribute to the socio-economic development of Nicaragua as both international financial institutions and the business sector have seen property dispute resolution as a prerequisite to investment and economic growth. Given the past influence of the US government in property settlement, it is important that US citizens in solidarity with Nicaragua support the current efforts to resolve these disputes and that US economic aid is not used as a tool for groups to pressure for their resolution demands. To these ends concerned citizens must keep abreast of the resolution process and stay alert to the need to lobby US legislators to maintain US government aide to Nicaragua.
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