Nicaragua: ’80s nostalgia in wake of contested elections

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hosted Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega at the Kremlin Dec. 18, as a group of Communists in St. Petersburg called for naming one of the city’s new subway stations “Nicaragua” or “Sandinista” as “a sign of Russia’s recognition and serious intentions to return to Latin America.” That same day, The Netherlands announced the suspension of 12 million euros of aid for Nicaragua, charging Ortega with frustrating free and fair local elections. (RIA Novosti, Radio Netherlands, Dec. 18)

Nicaragua’s 2008 National Assembly concluded last week in a state of paralysis, with lawmakers from Ortega’s ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) unable to achieve a quorum to discuss a mounting pile of pending legislation. National Assembly president RenĂ© Núñez, a Sandinista, attempted to convoke a legislative session, which was declared illegal and boycotted by the opposition, preventing quorum. The Sandinistas, able to muster only 41 of the 47 lawmakers needed for quorum, eventually had to retire from the National Assembly, unable to hold session. Núñez criticized the absent opposition lawmakers for demonstrating an “irresponsible attitude” and a “permanent boycott” of the National Assembly.

Ortega also harshly criticized the opposition legislators. “In these moments, we have a group of lawmakers who are refusing to session and refusing to work and comply with their function,” he said during a speech last week. “This has led to a paralysis of the resources needed by the Nicaraguan people, especially the poor.”

The National Assembly has been paralyzed for more than a month, following the opposition’s protest of the Nov. 9 municipal elections, which critics charge were stolen by the Sandinista Front. Since the elections, the opposition has been trying to introduce a bill to National Assembly to annul the vote.

Opposition lawmaker Eduardo Montealegre, who claims he was robbed of victory in the Nov. 9 election for mayor of Managua, said legislators in his bloc—led by the right-wing Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC)—will only attend a session that is convoked legally. He charges Núñez with circumventing the rules by failing to convene the National Assembly’s directorate, where four Liberal lawmakers sought to introduce the initiative, instead attempting to take Sandinista initiatives directly to the floor.

Enrique Sáenz, legislator for the dissident-left Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), claims that the contested municipal elections had the exact opposite political effect of what Ortega wanted. “Now they are worse off than before,” Sáenz said. “Whatever little legitimacy they had before the elections has now been sunk.” (Nica Times, Costa Rica, Dec. 12)

The opposition has charged Ortega’s FSLN with making death threats against lawmakers who didn’t support the official results of the contested municipal races. PLC legislator Wilfredo Navarro told a press conference that independent lawmaker Guillermo Osorno was among several who had been “threatened with death” by Sandinista militants. (EFE, Dec. 5)

Nicaraguan-Italian MRS politician Alberto Boschi has fled to his native Italy after Nicaraguan judges sentenced him to a year in prison for illegally carrying a firearm and inciting violence in a trial he says was based on false charges and supported by paid-off witnesses. “It’s not worth dying in Nicaraguan prison,” Boschi said in an interview from Italy. Boschi planned on running for mayor of Ciudad Sandino before the government banned minority opposition parties in June from participating in the Nov. 9 election.

Boschi attended a protest against the government’s ban in which Antenor Peña, a reporter for the state-run TV channel 4, was injured with a rock. Boschi said he, too, was attacked during the march. Boschi was prosecuted for Peña’s injury and for carrying a firearm—allegations he dismisses as absurd. Boschi says he was filing a police report against his own assailants in Managua when Peña was injured.

Boschi came to Nicaragua in 1994 as a Catholic missionary and helped build a high school in the industrial city of Ciudad Sandino. After receiving Nicaraguan citizenship, he joined the MRS, led by veteran Sandinistas who have broken with Ortega. He is appealing his case in Nicaragua. (Nica Times, Dec. 10)

The MRS is demanding that the municipal elections be held again throughout the country, and that the sitting members of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) all step down. In the town of Jinotega, the MRS municipal president Jaime Salguera accused the CSE of throwing the the mayoral race, with votes “disappearing in the CSE’s electronic system, giving the victory to the candidate of danielismo.” Germán ZeledĂłn of the PLC was ahead by 2,000 votes with 98% of the vote counted before the computerized fraud, Salguera charged. He said the CSE “disregarded the popular will, as in a total dictatorship.” (La Prensa, Nicaragua, Dec. 8)

The MRS itself was barred from fielding candidates. In May, the CSE voted to cancel the legal status of four political parties—the MRS, the Conservative Party, the Multi-Ethnic Party for Caribbean Coast Unity (PAMUC) and the Multi-Ethnic Indigenous Party (PIM). The CSE cited the failure of the Conservatives, PAMUC and PIM to present candidates in over 80% of municipalities for the upcoming local elections—this despite the fact that the PAMUC and PIM are regional parties of the Caribbean zone. The decision to bar the MRS was due to its supposed failure to present documentation of internal structural changes—an accusation the MRS denies. The minority parties charge that the CSE is controlled by the FSLN and PLC—rivals that cooperate to dominate the political system. (Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, Aug. 17; Nicaragua Network Hotline, May 27)

See our last posts on Nicaragua and Central America.

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