Esteban Felix/AP
Supporters of the ruling Sandinista
National Liberation Front, FSLN,
celebrate the official elections´
results in Managua.

Nicaraguan Elections Marred By Corruption Dispute and Violence

November 25, 2008 02:01 PM
by Josh Katz
Nicaragua’s troubled past reemerges as opposition groups engage in violent clashes with Sandinistas over the allegedly fraudulent results of a recent election.

Controversial Election Stirs Up Opposition

Nicaraguan oppositionists are questioning the results of the country’s Nov. 9 elections and are calling for the Nicaraguan legislature to plan new ones. The country’s ruling Sandinista party won most of the races, and secured the influential Managua mayoral position. Opposition parties have charged the government with electoral fraud and violent protests have occurred.

Liberal party boss and convict Arnoldo Aleman said, “We demand the total revision of all the electoral ballots and the voting acts in the country, with the presence of credible national and international observers,” World Politics Review reports.

President Daniel Ortega—who defeated dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, lost an election in 1990, and regained his position in January 2007—said the proposed new elections were “illegal,” according to the Associated Press.

Ortega’s ruling Sandinista party emerged victorious during the elections, taking 105 of 146 mayoral seats. The party earned 19 more mayoral seats from the election. The Liberal Constitutional Party won 37 races and other parties took 4. Opposition leaders say they lost as many as 50 seats because of corruption.

Nicaragua blocked representatives from the United States and Europe from observing the election. Republican U.S. congressmen Frank Wolf and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have sent letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Millennium Challenge Corporation—an organization that provides poor countries with funding—calling for the MCC to suspend $175 million in aid “until it is adequately demonstrated that the Nicaraguan government is committed to demonstrating progress in ruling justly, investing in people and economic freedom,” according to World Politics Review. European countries are also debating whether to cease aid to Nicaragua.

Last week, Sandinista supporters impeded an opposition march in the capital by hurling rocks and firing mortar rounds, injuring several people. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights claims that more than 20 news reporters have been wounded in the clashes, according to the AP. Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic bishops said the skirmishes were “reopening deep wounds” from the 1980s,” when the U.S.-backed Contra rebels battled President Ortega and the Sandinistas.

Nicaraguan officials have also scolded the U.S. for censuring its elections, and Nicaragua’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, Dennis Moncada, said the U.S. was using its “policy of interference” to “destabilize” the country, World Politics Review writes.

Opinion & Analysis: Ortega and Chavez

A piece in The Independent argues that President Daniel Ortega is no longer the person he was in the late 1970s. Instead of representing leftist idealism he has become Anastasio Somoza, the dictator he overthrew. He’s stressed Catholicism, not because he’s a Catholic, but because he needs Catholic votes, and “everything that Ortega and his people do is aimed at one objective: the perpetuation of his hold on power,” according to the editorial. “Today in Nicaragua, two years after the Sandinistas’ return to power, there is no idealism, no poetry, no romance,” according to The Independent. Instead, it is “the old story of what happens with idealists, always and everywhere, once they have tasted power. It is Animal Farm all over again.”

Mary Anastasia O’Grady of The Wall Street Journal points to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s relationship with Ortega and suggests possible ties to the voter fraud allegations. “Consolidating Marxist power in Nicaragua is a prime goal of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Mr. Ortega is supposed to carry out the plan,” O’Grady writes, adding that Ortega’s “campaign efforts were underwritten by Mr. Chávez, who sends millions of dollars in oil to Mr. Ortega but asks to be paid for only 50% of it.” O’Grady goes on to connect profit from that oil to the investment operation called Albanisa and a Sandinista political slush fund; “The director of the Nicaraguan oil company and of Albanisa is also the treasurer of the Sandinista party.”

Background: The Sandinistas and the Iran-Contra scandal

In the 1980s, a leftist military government ruled Nicaragua, having been established by the Sandinista revolutionaries after overthrowing Anastasio Somoza Debayle, a brutal and corrupt dictator, in 1979.

The goals of the Nicaraguan government ran counter to American interests in the region and were seen as a vehicle for Soviet political strategy. President Ronald Reagan, who believed that anti-Communist insurgents should be supported wherever they might be, allowed the CIA to fund and train Nicaragua’s counterrevolutionary guerrillas, the “Contras”—a group primarily made up of soldiers from Somoza’s National Guard.

President Reagan signed off on a top-secret document, National Security Decision Directive 17, which gave the CIA permission to recruit paramilitary units to take part in covert actions against the Sandinista regime.

News of the CIA directive leaked to the press in 1982; Congress acted to block these operations, and by 1984 the Boland Amendment made further support of the guerrillas almost impossible. However, members of the Reagan administration continued to push for the ouster of the Sandinista regime.

In 1985, National Security Advisor John Poindexter used a third party to send funds to the Contras, sanctioning the redirection of funds from illicit U.S. sales of arms to Iran to the Contras. The deal would be made public in November 1986 by Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa, sparking a major political scandal known as the Iran-Contra affair.

In June 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. violated international law by providing aid to the Contras. The court ruled that the U.S. owed compensation to Nicaragua, but the Reagan administration ignored the verdict and the case for compensation was dropped in 1991.

Reference: Nicaragua


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