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  Number 356 | Marzo 2011
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Nicaragua

NICARAGUA BRIEFS

Envío team

CORRUPTION IN THE
ELECTORAL BRANCH
For several days in the last week of February, El Nuevo Diario ran a powerful investigative series by reporters Luis Galeano and José Adán Silva detailing with evidence (photocopies, originals, video shots) the operation of a mafia in the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) under the direction of chief magistrate Roberto Rivas that extracted some $20 million between 2004 and 2008. They invented invoices with false stationery and stamps for “services” provided to the CSE by nonexistent and even existing businesses. The chain ended with the issuing of checks that CSE officials then cashed as “advance payments pending justification.” Galeano received death threats the day before the publication began and again afterward, which were reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Press Association to protect his life. The five comptrollers of Nicaragua’s Comptroller General’s Office admitted having detected the anomalies when they reviewed the documentation the CSE had sent them in those years, but had decided not to sanction anyone. The 4-1 vote on February 24 by those comptrollers—two hand-selected by Daniel Ortega and two by Arnoldo Alemán—not to pursue the investigations into the case, caused a major scandal. The vote of the two loyal to Alemán’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party was yet another sign of the ongoing collusion between the two political leaders.

PROCLAMATION BY
HISTORICAL SANDINISTAS
In immediate response to Daniel Ortega’s proclamation as the FSLN’s presidential candidate, a dozen historical FSLN leaders, including members of its one-time National Directorate, led by poet Ernesto Cardenal, met beneath the silhouette of Sandino atop Tiscapa Crater Lake in Managua to read their own Proclamation. Their statement says in part: “February 26 will go down in Nicaraguan history as a day of shame and rage because the leaders of the criminal grouping that has usurped the name of the Sandinista National Liberation Front that led the people to victory against the Somocista dictatorship are shameful. They shame us because they want to make us forget that the principle of non-reelection was a conquest of the Nicaraguan people that cost so much sacrifice and blood. Ortega and his power group shame us because they have installed and consecrated corruption and impunity, corruption that has been transformed into the lifestyle of those who are governing in the name of the ‘Left.’ This date will also be remembered as a day of rage by a people they want to continue tricking, betraying and impoverishing. That is why they hide the crudest neoliberal policies and recipes behind the discourse of being ‘Socialist, Christian and in solidarity.’ Today marks the beginning of the defeat of a new corrupt dictatorship. It is the day on which all Nicaraguans have stopped believing we can do nothing. We are many men and many women, and are everywhere. The traitors fear us.”

ELECTORAL OBSERVATION
Throughout the month national and international pressure mounted for the government to authorize sufficiently in advance participation by the national electoral observation organizations Ethics and Transparency and IPADE and by international observers in November’s general elections. The Citizens’ Union for Democracy announced that its “What’s the Fear” campaign had gathered 10,000 signatures demanding observation. European ambassadors and the US ambassador reiterated in various declarations that observers need to arrive in the country soon to give the elections credibility. Mendel Goldstein, the EU ambassador in Nicaragua, announced that “the normal thing” would be for European observers to come in May or June. After being proclaimed the FSLN’s presidential candidate, Ortega changed his tune and accepted observers with these words: “Welcome all to Nicaragua! You can come from the United States, you can come from Europe, you can come from everywhere. We’re going to invite you and, as of now, we invite all of you to come and accompany these elections, to come to see, to observe. Ah, but respectfully! Because they are disrespectful, they come here talking with total disrespect!” Nonetheless the Supreme Electoral Council had yet to issue a single invitation to any electoral observer by the time this issue went to press in the second week of March.

THE MURDER OF JAHOB
Former Resistance member José Gabriel Garmendia, who again took up arms against the government of Daniel Ortega last year under the biblical alias of Jahob, was killed on a farm in Santa Teresa de Kilambé, El Cuá, Jinotega, on February 14. His murder triggered hypotheses and suspicions and even made international news. The Nicaraguan Police and Army deny any involvement in the event. On March 3, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) issued a report on its detailed investigation conducted at the site, demanding that the National Police do its own professional investigation. Neither it nor any other state or private institution has investigated the crime scene. CENIDH concluded that Garmendia’s death was no accident, nor was it aimed at another person, as had been suggested initially. CENIDH offers three hypotheses for his death:1) it was a “contract killing” for reasons of personal revenge, 2) it was the initiative of “some power group for unknown motives and purposes”, or 3) it was implemented by a state intelligence agency. After rearming, Garmendia gave several interviews to El Nuevo Diario, in the last of which, in August 2010, he said, “We’re going to wait to see what the people say in the elections. If they remain asleep, we will remain asleep. But if the people react the day after Daniel Ortega steals the elections, we’ll be ready to see what to do and how to deal with it.”

PARTISAN ISSUING
OF VOTER/ID CARDS
Nicaraguans continued demonstrating throughout February in different parts of the country (Managua, Rivas, León, Ocotal and even among Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica) to demand the issuing of their ID cards. The card, an indispensable document for any financial or other official procedure and also serves as voter identification, is issued through the Public Registry. which for years now has been in the hands of the Supreme Electoral Council. They are reportedly being given out with partisan bias in different areas. On February 16, the mayors of Muelle de los Bueyes, Nueva Guinea and El Rama, all of which are in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, where there is a traditionally large Liberal vote, came to Managua to demand the opening of municipal offices to issue the cards to the population locally. They also charged that this document is only being provided in their zones to those who present an endorsement from the Councils of Citizens’ Power, run by governing party activists.

FIVE ELECTION OPTIONS
March 1 was the deadline for registering party alliances with the Supreme Electoral Council for the November 6 general elections. There will be five boxes on the ballot: 1) the alliance headed by the FSLN, which includes the Miskitu regional party Yatama, among others; 2) the alliance headed by the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), which this year is running with the Conservative party and has Arnoldo Alemán as its candidate; 3) the alliance headed by the Alliance for the Republic (APRE); 4) the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), which is running alone; and 5) the Nicaraguan Unity for Hope (UNE), headed by the Independent Liberal Party (PLI), which in the end decided not to ally with the ALN and was the first to announce its presidential ticket: Fabio Gadea-Edmundo Jarquín. UNE is made up of an array of PLC dissidents, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the We’re Going with Eduardo Movement and various civic associations. According to UNE campaign chief Eliseo Núñez Morales, the alliance’s strategic objective will be to struggle against voter apathy, against Ortega and against Alemán. This, he said, “will be a fight between change and what now exists. And what now exists is the PLC and the FLSN misgoverning this country together from the time they made their agreement in 1999 right up to today. The FSLN and the PLC represent the same thing in this country. Defeating them represents the possibility of true change.”

THE GOVERNMENT CELEBRATES
CARDINAL OBANDO’S 85TH BIRTHDAY
On February 4, the government celebrated Cardinal Miguel Obando’s 85th birthday in a formal event attended by representatives of the state institutions. The inaugural words of the celebration throughout the month were offered by First Lady Rosario Murillo, who said of the FSLN’s former adversary: “I think that if one thing unites us all, it’s the cardinal. He’s like the national flag, a symbol of our nationality, our identity, our struggles and our victories, a sign and a symbol that we have to see as the example and the inspiration in our lives. It’s no surprise, then, that the humble, laborious, hopeful people who live in this Promised Land proclaim you Pastor of All Their Causes and above all of the Supreme Cause: Peace, Harmony, Reconciliation and Unity for the Common Good. You embody the realization of the human being who, when called upon to do so, transcends selfishness, inhabits the community and thus knows, only in that way, true happiness. Cardinal Miguel, some say that you are the Prince of the Church, but knowing you, I know that you prefer, as did Christ, to mount a humble horse and go, like Quijote, only with flowers and palms, not with lance or shield, proclaiming the Higher Truth… I heard that your biography does not belong to this world of ours of unresolved complexities, that you, on your 85 fortunate and fulfilled years of service, are more a saint than one who treads through these dusty paths of mundane glory. So right are those who see you beyond the mire, beyond the dreamer Quijote searching hither and yon for disproportionate attractions! Well beyond the precarious, lowly and ephemeral bewilderment of politics!”

NEW WIKILEAKS REVELATION
The Spanish newspaper El País published an article on Nicaragua on February 24 based on a cable it received from WikiLeals that had been sent to Washington on February 25, 2009, by then-US ambassador in Nicaragua Roberto Callahan. He stated that “in two meetings since the November 2008 elections, CSE Chief of Staff [Judge Rodrigo] Barreto, with surprising candor, acknowledged that the FSLN had stolen the elections.” According to sources cited by the US diplomatic mission, the fraud was committed in at least 40 of the 146 municipalities involved. Barreto allegedly admitted that the FSLN had rigged the electoral system through the CSE starting a year before the elections, but that “election-day results were not as planned, leading to gross alterations of the tally sheets in order to give the FSLN the huge win the CSE announced.” According to Embassy sources, Ortega and Alemán met in private to “redistribute” mayoral seats according to party interests, although without modifying the ballot count. The cable went on to claim that “the governing FSLN admits electoral fraud and expects (or maybe hopes) the opposition and the international community will accept it and move on.”

Barreto, a former Sandinista Popular Army officer, admitted having met with two US Embassy officials the day the cable says, but categorically denied using the word “fraud” at any point. The PLC spokesperson called the leak “unfounded rumors.” President Ortega made no reference to the cable, having already shrugged off as a “rumor mill” other WikiLeak cables referring to his government. The opposition, on the other hand, unsurprisingly considered the information in the cable to be true.

WORLD COURT RULES ON
NICARAGUA–COSTA RICA DISPUTE
The International Court of Justice at The Hague handed down its ruling on March 8 regarding the suit Costa Rica filed against Nicaragua on the border dispute triggered when Nicaragua began dredging the Río San Juan, which belongs to Nicaragua but marks the border between the two countries. Costa Rica had asked the World Court for preventive measures, ordering Nicaragua to halt the dredging. The Court ruled that there is no reason whatever for such measures because Costa Rica failed to demonstrate that the dredging had caused any irreparable damage. It recognized a “territory in dispute” on the border and ordered the two parties to abstain from “sending to or maintaining in that territory civil police [Costa Rica] or military personnel [Nicaragua].” It also ordered them to abstain from “any action that could aggravate the situation.”

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