MANAGUA – Two days after the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) released a statement Jan. 4 urging the government to support a positive investment climate by providing judicial security, the Eric Volz case once again reared its ugly head in a New York Times article headlined: “Killing in Nicaragua Makes a Spectacle of the Courts.”
The article, which called the Volz case a “political spectacle,” gave a harsh description of Nicaragua’s judicial system.
“The case has laid bare the deficiencies in Nicaraguan justice,” New York Times journalist Marc Lacey reported. “Decisions are believed to be bought and sold. Politics infiltrates judges’ chambers. Confidence in the system is as low as it can be.”
Lacey told The Nica Times this week, “I was struck during my reporting in Nicaragua by how little faith there is in Nicaragua’s justice system – by both foreigners and Nicaraguans alike, by those who think Eric Volz is innocent and those who think he’s guilty.”
That perception is not unique. Reformers and activists for years have been charging that Nicaragua’s judicial system is too highly politicized to function impartially, and have called on the government to pass legislation aimed at depoliticizing the courts and strengthening democracy.
But in the wake of the highly publicized Volz case, a story that circled the globe several times over and threatens to continue haunting Nicaragua in the form of a forthcoming book and possibly a movie, the negative perception of the country’s judicial system – and image in general – has been taken to a new low.
Volz, convicted last February of brutally killing his Nicaragua ex-girlfriend, Doris Ivania Jimenez, only to be deported last month shortly after having his sentence overturned by an appeals court, made his first U.S. appearance on the Today Show Jan. 10. Seated on the couch alongside his mother, Volz said he had been a “political prisoner” whom the Nicaraguan government used to “create diplomatic tensions” to bargain with the United States.
Despite reportedly getting “white-collar” treatment while in prison here, and having access to repeated medical care at the Roberto Huembes Hospital, where he was transferred several times during his 13 months in jail,Volz painted a grim picture of his treatment and conditions, calling the prison “the waiting room to hell” and “deadly.”
That image of an innocent U.S. citizen rotting in a slummy cell in Nicaragua after being framed for murder has upset many people over the last year, including many Nica Times readers who have expressed concerns about the country’s judicial system and overall climate for U.S. citizens in Nicaragua.
Some readers have gone so far as to say that they were once considering investing in Nicaragua, but have since changed their minds in light of the Volz case.
Still others have advocated boycotting Nicaragua altogether in protest of the Volz ruling, while others threatened to pull their investment out of the country if Volz wasn’t released on appeal last December (see letters page).
“The investment climate is affected every time politics gets involved in a judicial process,” said Edwin Krüger, the former president of the Superior Business Council (COSEP). “In this case much more so, because a U.S. citizen was involved.”
Krüger said that the Volz case could have short-term implications on the investment climate because U.S. citizens place a great premium on justice and tend to stand in solidarity with their fellow countrymen.
Krüger said he thinks the Volz case has had a “tremendous effect” on the way many people view Nicaragua, but says that in the long run it shouldn’t matter too much.
“In six months this will pass,” he said. “Most investors, whether they are from the U.S. or Europe, tend to move forward.”
Investment consultant Raul Calvet says he doesn’t think the Volz case has had any effect on the country’s investment climate.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the investment climate, nor should it,” said Calvet, who in addition to consulting several dozen U.S. investment projects, also travels regularly to the United States to meet with potential investors.
“In the past year, I spoke with 200-300 investors, and only one investor in Nashville Tennessee [Volz’s hometown] asked me about the case,”Calvet said.“No one else ever mentioned it.”
Tourism Minister Mario Salinas says he too doubts the Volz case has or will scare people away.
“I don’t think it affects tourism,” Salinas told The Nica Times this week. “It has been in all the media, but anyone realizes it’s just one case.”
Cesar Zamora, president of AMCHAM, also downplayed any long-term effect on investment and tourism, and said the real issue people should be concerned about is who killed Jimenez?
One Nicaraguan man, Julio Martin Chamorro, was convicted alongside Volz last February and remains in jail for murder. But it appears doubtful that he acted alone.
Volz, for his part, told the Today Show that Chamorro was involved and that he knows who the other killers are, and that they remain free in Nicaragua. But when asked by Today Show host Meredith Vierira why the killers are still free if he can identify them, Volz doesn’t seem up to pursuing the case.
“Well, at this point, it’s up to the Nicaraguan authorities, you know. Umm, it’s not our family, it’s not our job as a civilian family to, to, you know, it’s not our, we aren’t authorized to do that,”Volz said.
Blake Schmidt contributed to this report.