Nicaraguan Legislature Passes Amnesty Law
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ The National Assembly on Saturday pardoned both the Contra rebels and Sandinista government workers accused of wrongdoing in a sweeping amnesty law of ″national reconciliation.″
″We must avoid political vengeance and block any moves by hotheads in the National Opposition Union,″ said Carlos Nunez, president of the legislature. He was apparently referring to possible reprisals against Sandinista government workers after the opposition takes over April 25.
The amnesty was proposed by leftist President Daniel Ortega after he lost the Feb. 25 presidential elections to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who headed the National Opposition Union’s ticket.
The leftist Sandinistas control the National Assembly, and lawmakers passed the law on a vote of 72 in favor with six abstentions. Only 78 of the 96 members were present.
The law absolves Nicaraguans, ″residents or not in the country, who commit crimes against public order and against internal security of the state.″
The U.S.-backed Contras, who have fought to overthrow the Sandinistas, have resisted calls from the outgoing and incoming governments to lay down their weapons. About 11,000 Contras are based in border camps in Honduras.
The ″Law of General Amnesty and Reconciliation″ was introduced Thursday, replacing an earlier version that prompted significant opposition. The wording of the new version was changed to make the amnesty more sweeping.
The amnesty covers public employees who ″presumably committed crimes of failing in their duties, fraud or theft and have not been prosecuted″ between July 1979, when the Sandinistas came to power, and the day the law takes effect.
Legislators said it will take effect between March 20-23 when it is published in the official government gazette.
Edwin Illescas of the Democratic Conservative Party said he supported the law because he recognized that by holding elections, the Sandinistas were working for peace. He said similar laws had been passed in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile and hastened the return of democracy.
The law says it is designed ″to contribute to the national reconciliation of all the sectors of society with the goal of peace and tranquillity to Nicaraguan families.″
″The union of Nicaraguan families needs the pardon and to forget those deeds that brought anxiety and restlessness in the nation.″
″The law is not to protect criminals″ but benefits ″people who have worked more than 10 years protecting the revolution,″ Nunez said.
The Sandinistas hold 61 seats in the present legislature to 35 for the opposition. The 14-party National Opposition Union will hold a majority in the new legislature, with the Sandinistas remaining the largest single party.