THE opposition Sandinista National Liberation Front appears to have scored the first point in the political ping-pong match over former President Arnoldo Alemán’s jail terms, following the former President’s dramatic March 19 midnight transfer to La Modelo prison in Tipitapa, east of Managua.
As government leaders and politicians scratched their heads over last week’s contradictory resolutions from Managua’s Appeals Court regarding Alemán’s transfer from house arrest to jail (TT, March 19), criminal judge Juana Méndez ordered and carried out the former President’s arrest that same night on separate charges related to Alemán’s alleged siphoning off of $1.3 million of state funds from the Channel 6 television station.
Alemán, whose personal fortune is estimated at $250 million, is already serving a 20-year sentence on a separate fraud and money-laundering conviction. The Channel 6 case has been pending since March 2002.
ALEMÁN was arrested at his private compound known as El Chile, outside Managua, where because of health considerations he had been allowed by Judge Méndez to serve out his sentence.
The former President’s family, including his wife Maria Fernanda Flores, and one of his daughters, congresswoman María Auxiliadora Alemán, attempted to impede the police’s entrance into the house by blocking the door and punching police officers.
In a spectacle broadcast live on TV, the frantic women warned the police and judges they would seek revenge once they came back to power.
After the family members were peeled away, police barged through the front door and moments later came out escorting Alemán, who walked out smiling and raising his fists in the air like a prize fighter being led to the ring.
THE former President was placed in the back of a sports utility vehicle and taken in a police caravan to Tipitapa. Several hundred Alemán sympathizers poured out onto the dark streets and threw rocks and burning tires onto the roads in Managua, attempting to stop the caravan.
Riot police opened fire on the protestors with rubber bullets, one of which hit a photographer from the daily newspaper Hoy.
The photographer suffered a massive welt on his right shoulder, but was otherwise okay.
The protests continued Saturday as several dozen arnoldistas protested in front of the party headquarters of Alemán’s ruling Liberal Constitutional Party, breaking bottles in the street and lighting more tires on fire. By Tuesday, the protests had simmered.
ALTHOUGH a public opinion poll published this week in the daily La Prensa suggests most Nicaraguans believe Alemán is guilty and should serve his sentence in jail, many were quick to condemn the midnight arrest and blast it as politically authored revenge by Sandinista party boss Daniel Ortega, seen by some as the power behind the gavel of Sandinista judge Méndez.
The Catholic Church condemned the way the arrest occurred, and President Enrique Bolaños, who was on a diplomatic visit to Sweden at the time, denounced the action as reminiscent of the midnight purges during the years of the Sandinista government in the 1980s.