Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nicaragua Army Chief Is Snared in Scandal over Boy's Shooting CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nicaragua Army Chief Is Snared in Scandal over Boy's Shooting CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION

Article excerpt

A PHOTO of 16-year-old Jean Paul Genie appears every day on page 3 of La Prensa, a Managua newspaper. Next to it is the number of days since his murder and the question: "Where is the justice?"

On Oct. 28, 1990, the teenager allegedly was shot while trying to pass the motorcade of Gen. Humberto Ortega Saavedra, head of the Nicaraguan Army. Two weeks later, a police officer investigating the case was killed in what police describe as an "accidental" shooting. In July 1992, a criminal court judge indicted General Ortega for a possible coverup of the Genie murder and ruled his eight bodyguards be prosecuted for the boy's death.

"This could be Humberto Ortega's Watergate," says political scientist Oscar Rene Vargas. "He made a mistake by not confronting this from the beginning."

Ortega, whose brother Daniel leads the Sandinistas and is a former president, has been President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro's most controversial appointment since taking office in 1990.

General Ortega ruled the Army under the 1979-1990 Sandinista rule, and prominent members of Mrs. Chamorro's own party have strongly objected to his continued role. But Chamorro sees Ortega as crucial to reducing the size of the Sandinista-run military as well as keeping peace between her government and the Sandinistas.

Nicaragua's judicial system has shown only intermittent interest in tackling the case. While finding there was sufficient evidence for a trial, the civilian judge effectively passed the buck by ruling that a military court should handle it. The family now is appealing to the Supreme Court.

On Nov. 6, a United States congressional committee on human rights sent a letter to Chamorro expressing their concern that, "If this case is tried in a military court the result will most likely be a miscarriage of justice." Human rights groups also question whether the military will fairly judge its own commander. …

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