New Nicaragua law gives Sandinistas power over army


MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- More than six months after the Sandinista Front lost power in national elections, the official government register has published a new law, dated before the elections, that grants Sandinista commanders broad permanent authority over the structure and operations of Nicaragua's large military forces.

The law, apparently approved by Sandinista leaders while the National Assembly was in recess in December, took immediate effect upon its publication this month in La Gaceta, the little-noticed newspaper of official legal announcements.

Its publication has prompted anger and astonishment among government supporters, who say it amounts to a fundamental shift in the balance of political power, effectively insulating the current military commander, veteran Sandinista strategist Gen. Humberto Ortega Saavedra, from civilian control.

The law requires that any successor to General Ortega be elevated from the military hierarchy, which is controlled by the general and dominated by Sandinista officers.

It also grants General Ortega or any future commander broad control over the military's budget, size, manpower, human rights investigations and foreign relations.

The office of President Violeta Chamorro, who retained General Ortega as a gesture of national unity upon her inauguration in April, said yesterday that it would have no immediate reaction to the dispute.

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