(posted Sept. 25, 12:00 p.m.)- Private sector leaders are giving guarded votes of confidence to President Daniel Ortega’s appointment of a soldier and a police officer to head the controversial new Financial Analysis Unit (UAF), but are still concerned the institution could be used as tool for political repression.
President Ortega this week appointed Army Inspector General Denis Membreño as the new director of the UAF, and Police director Aldo Sáenz as deputy director. Sandinista talking heads were quick to laud the president for his sagacity.
“Their principal interest is to defend the integrity of Nicaragua and continue the struggle against drug trafficking and organized crime,” said Sandinista journalist and party pundit William Grigsby, who praised the professional qualifications and integrity of both Membreño and Sáenz.
Business leaders say at least Ortega didn’t name a party lackey to the posts.
“It would have been worse if the president named a Sandinista politician who is blindly obedient to him,” says Yalí Molina, president of the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM).
Molina says that given the circumstances, the appointment of two individuals with professional track records after long careers in respected institutions is the best outcome Nicaragua could have hoped for. He says the business chamber hopes that Membreño and Sáenz will continue to demonstrate the same professionalism and respect for the Nicaraguan Constitution in their new civilian jobs as heads of the UAF.
Molina says the private sector also hopes Membreño and Sáenz will be up to the challenge of creating the UAF as an independent and serious organization, and not a tool of the Executive Branch.
“We have to be confident that they will perform their jobs professionally and indiscriminately,” Molina says.
The private sector’s main concern with UAF is the law itself.
Advertised as a government initiative to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, the UAF was approved unilaterally last June by Sandinista lawmakers, who completely disregarded the concerns raised by opposition lawmakers and the business sector.
Business leaders fret the UAF will have arbitrary authorities that can be used as a repressive political tool to invade citizen privacy, gather financial information on opponents, intercept correspondences and persecute adversaries—similar to the USA PATRIOT Act.
Sandinistas say the opposition is being alarmist and that concerns over the newly formed UAF are unfounded. The new law, Sandinista congressmen say, is consistent with other international efforts to combat money laundering, organized crime and terrorism financing.
Nevertheless, COSEP, the country’s main business chamber, is challenging the constitutionality of Articles 4 and 9, which establish the faculties of the UAF and determines who will be required to report their finances to the new government body. Article 9 gives UAF the right to investigate “any person” who “due to the nature of their business or profession manages funds or resources, data or information that is required by the UAF”—in other words, anyone who is somehow involved in any type of economic activity.
COSEP asked the president to partially veto those articles last June, but Ortega never responded.