On January 10, President Enrique Bolaños Geyer of the ruling Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) assumed office, promising to fight corruption. With strong popular and media backing, Bolaños took on PLC leader and former president Arnoldo Alemán, long suspected of malfeasance. In September, a judge found several of Alemán’s associates and relatives guilty of corruption and sentenced them to prison. Alemán, who is a member of the National Assembly, escaped conviction because of immunity. On December 12, the assembly lifted Alemán’s immunity, and on December 22, he was convicted of money laundering. At year’s end, he remained under house arrest while awaiting trial on a host of other corruption charges.
Authorities have yet to enforce Law 372, which went into effect in April 2001 and requires all journalists to have authorization from the journalists’ organization Colegio de Periodistas de Nicaragua (Association of Nicaraguan Journalists) to work in any media outlet. The Supreme Court of Justice is still considering a constitutional challenge to the law, which journalists and media owners filed in June 2001.
Asked about the most serious problems they face, Nicaraguan journalists cited job instability, low salaries, the lack of an ethics code, and the polarization and politicization of the media. They also complained about the lack of access to public information and the culture of secrecy that pervades the government.
Some journalists are concerned that the government favors giving advertisements to large media outlets supported by the Bolaños administration, hurting smaller news organizations without government ties. At the same time, a mounting economic crisis has forced officials to reduce state advertising. The daily La Noticia, which received generous government advertising during the Alemán administration despite its small circulation, folded in September, claiming it could not overcome its mounting debts and lack of private and government advertising.
A draft bill to improve access to government information, which Bolaños sent to the legislature in March, progressed little in 2002. At year’s end, the legislation was stalled in the National Assembly.
ýLC parliamentary deputies introduced two legislative proposals considered restrictive of press freedom that were withdrawn in October after protests from journalists. One, a bill to “regulate the crime of disrespect of State organs,” proposed prison terms of up to five years for publicly offending government officials, according to local news reports.
The press saw the second proposal, the “law of civil protection of the right to a private life, family, honor, reputation, and image,” as an attempt to block reporting on former PLC government officials under investigation for alleged involvement in corruption.
At the request of the Attorney General’s Office, on October 11, the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications (TELCOR) abruptly closed the radio station La Poderosa, claiming that its broadcasting license had not been properly registered and that it had acquired broadcasting equipment without paying import duties. Although La Poderosa was known as the mouthpiece of a PLC faction led by former president Alemán, journalists still protested the move. Many felt that the government did not attempt to exhaust other administrative sanctions or to bring charges against the station’s owners and instead used technicalities to close the station. La Poderosa owners filed an injunction against TELCOR before the Managua Appeals Court, which ruled against TELCOR on October 25, restoring La Poderosa’s license. However, the court ordered that the station remain shuttered until the Supreme Court considers the merits of another injunction filed by the station’s owners against TELCOR. At year’s end, the Supreme Court had not issued a ruling on the matter.
Tirso Moreno, a former commander of the right-wing contras, attacked the offices of the Managua daily La Prensa and took several journalists and other personnel hostage. He surrendered to the police nearly two hours later.
Moreno, who appeared to be drunk and nervous, entered La Prensa‘s offices wielding a handgun at around 3:30 p.m., according to La Prensa. After threatening a security guard at gunpoint, Moreno forced him to give up his handgun. He then went into the paper’s newsroom, where some employees escaped, but at least 18 were trapped.
Once inside, Moreno blamed La Prensa for the death of former president Arnoldo Alemán’s eldest son, who had just died in an accident at the Alemán family ranch. After, Moreno went outside and fired several shots at security guards. Back in the newsroom, Moreno told his hostages that if the police attempted a rescue, there would be “a bloodbath.”
Moreno demanded to speak to several religious and political figures, but attempts to contact them were unsuccessful. Finally, two police officers entered the newsroom with Moreno’s consent and convinced him to surrender. Moreno was then taken to the De2artment of Criminal Investigations headquarters.
On October 24, criminal proceedings began against Moreno, who was charged with several counts of assault, kidnapping, death threats, attempted homicide, endangering others, and violating property. On November 4, a judge found Moreno guilty of kidnapping·and endangering others but dismissed the remaining charges. Under the Penal Code, he faces a maxi- mum sentence of five and three years in prison, respectively, for the two crimes. La Prensa‘s lawyers said they would appeal the decision, claiming the evidence also proved the other charges.