Project for combating juvenile
One section of Nicaragua’s Congress is planning a law
against juvenile gang members, whom, if the Liberal Party proposal is
approved, would be treated under the same legal regulations as adults.
They would go to prison or serve harsh terms without any kind of
consideration or mitigation for their age — from 12-18 years.
As a general rule, one’s future goals and objectives
begin to take shape at an early age. However, life plans for many become
complicated if they fall — whether from negligence or poverty — into a
spiral of violence, as is occurring at a high rate among Nicaraguan
youth. In spite of the sharp increase in juvenile delinquency, according
to the opposition Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the
looming supposed solution is worse than the problem itself, given that
in the long term, it only puts off the problem and ignores the root
causes. In addition, the proposal is unconstitutional and would generate
schemes similar to the anti-crime measures taken by the governments of
El Salvador and Honduras, according to Casa Alianza, a regional civic
organization for children’s rights.
Were the initiative to materialize, it also would
disregard stipulations of the Code on Childhood and Adolescence, in
effect since 1973. At one time, the code was qualified as a tremendous
step forward in providing a shield of protection for that sector of the
population, so decisive for every country. Zelmira García, director of
Casa Alianza in Nicaragua, also stated that the measure under discussion
will never go beyond the narrow framework of its applications, given
that it precisely seeks to punish and not to eradicate the problem. Such
legislation would distort the country’s Constitution and corresponding
social rights. And in a more general context, it would ignore the 1989
enactment of the General Convention on the Rights of Children, a
historical landmark for the protection of minors.
“This project does not deal with the causes that
produce the problem, such as poverty and unemployment. It attempts to
solve with imprisonment the social problems that remain unsolved by the
justice system in the second poorest country of Latin America,” García
In addition, in the regional magazine Derecho penal de
menores y derechos humanos en América Latina, Carlos Tiffer Sotomayor, a
law professor at the University of Costa Rica, affirms that juvenile
delinquency proliferates where diverse factors of risk and social
response are combined. Thus, it occurs in every society where the
anti-values of violence, aggression, savage competition and consumerism
are imposed over the superior values of tolerance, solidarity and
justice, Tiffer emphasized.
The magnitude of the problem
Some 7,000 people die violently every year in Central
America, as is admitted by the Pan-American Health Organization (OPS),
whether from premeditated homicide or as the result of fights and
assaults. Likewise, in Nicaragua, the average number of arrests per year
for minors who commit such crimes is 40,568. The largest concentration
of them is in Managua, the capital.
Some 100 street gangs are based there, and the rest of
Nicaragua’s total of 365 gangs are spread throughout the country, using
names such as Come muertos (Death-eaters), Las Gárgolas (The Gargoyles)
or Los Sultanes (The Sultans).
For Commissioner Hamyn Gurdián Alfaro, chief of police
in Managua’s District 2, the local gangs have not yet lost their family
connections, which is positive in one sense; however, there is concerned
at their growing connections with organized crime. When that occurs,
Gurdián says, they become - as is occurring in Honduras — extremely
violent and aggressive in terms of controlling their territory, with a
well-defined organization that facilitates their acquisition of weapons.
The product of diverse social and economic crises, the
large majority of these youths live beyond the reach of health,
education, housing or recreational services. Jobs in informal sectors,
due to the lack of offers by the state, involve inexperienced young men
and women in marginal and risky situations, such as selling drugs or
prostitution. The average rate of unemployment is about 60%. Casa
Alianza in Nicaragua confirmed that violence has a stronger presence in
families of five or more children (where an appropriate father figure is
missing), and among homeless and extremely poor young people. It is also
present among individuals with little or no education, or who live in
densely populated urban areas.
An inhuman attitude
Since 1999, the question of how to sentence minors who
have committed a serious offense, such as murder, is a daily issue in
Nicaragua. It reached A peak after the death of Deputy José Alfonso
Cuadra García, who presumably died at the hands of a teenager.
On that occasion, several press reports highlighted
the increasing violence; there was even a commentary published in La
Prensa daily asserting that many minors commit crimes knowing that they
will not be tried.
In line with that position, former president Arnaldo
Alemán himself — now imprisoned for corruption — lent his vote to
reforming the Code on Childhood with the following statement: “For
extremely dangerous juvenile delinquents, it is valid that the more
serious and harmful the crime committed, the more severe the punishment
that should be imposed on the criminal”” (see El Nuevo Diario 26/08/99)
Years later, and in the face of the persistence of
that inhuman and scandalous attitude among the followers of “Arnoldismo,”
Judge Alba Luz Ramos Vanegas, of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court,
recommended a genuine and gradual application of the Code on Childhood
and Adolescence, which complicated the previous effort to reform or
abolish that law. For Judge Ramos, the problem is not the law, but the
lack of conditions - both material and economic — and the infrastructure
of Nicaragua’s judicial system.
Maria Victoria Valdes-Rodda
2 July 2004