MANAGUA – The divided opposition to President Daniel Ortega has united to speak out in one voice against the Sandinistas’ attempt to suspend the upcoming municipal elections in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), allegedly because of destruction caused by last year’s Category 5 Hurricane Felix.
Ortega this week called for a suspension of the regional elections in three municipalities in the RAAN, arguing that the conditions don’t exist to hold the vote in November.
The Sandinistas’ regional ally, the Miskito party YATAMA, has argued that hurricane damage to buildings and cedula identification cards lost in the flooding have created a situation where it’s impossible to hold the elections.YATAMA, a former militant group, has threatened to forcibly block election officials if they attempt to enter the region (NT, Feb. 29).
The opposition, however, claims that the Sandinista-YATAMA alliance is afraid to hold elections because they think they’ll lose their three mayoral seats in the region: Waspam, Prinzapolka and the regional capital of Bilwi – the three municipalities where Ortega wants elections canceled.
“They are afraid that the [Caribbean] coastal population is going to hand them the bill after their disastrous terms in office,” said Enrique Sáenz, the mayoral candidate for Managua for the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). Sáenz said that the excuse of storm damage is a “cover up.”He notes that the previous municipal elections were held during a “real emergency” caused by rioting in 2004, and last year elections were pulled off during flooding along the Rio Coco.
Eduardo Montealegre, Liberal party candidate for mayor of Managua, has called Sandinista efforts to block the vote both “unacceptable and illegal.” Montealegre argues that any decision to suspend the elections would have to be made by the National Assembly. Ortega, meanwhile, claims the decision is up to the Regional Council of the RAAN, which is controlled by YATAMA.
The Sandinistas already seem confident that they will get their way. In fact, the party didn’t even name candidates to run in the elections in Bilwi,Waspam or Prinzapolka.
Cynics say that’s all the proof they need to know the Sandinistas are planning to cancel the vote, one way or another.
Conservative lawmaker Standford Cash said that residents of the Caribbean coast are threatening to paralyze all public transportation in the Mining Triangle and in Bilwi if elections are canceled, and warns of an “escalation of violence developing in the region” if the elections are suspended.
On the Caribbean coast, a splinter group of Miskitos known as “YATAMA No Sandinista” is also protesting the proposed election ban, and has clashed with YATAMA. Group leader Osorno “Comandante Blas” Coleman has said that a suspension of the elections would be the next step in Ortega’s attempts to implement a dictatorship.
Several community leaders from the Caribbean coast trekked to Managua this week to add their voices of concern.
Bernicia Sanders, who represents an indigenous women’s group from Bilwi, came to the capital to ask opposition politicians for help against what she claims is a serious violation by this government against the rights of the Caribbean coastal population.
She said that in addition to the post-hurricane fishing and lumber ban, which has made it impossible for the indigenous population to earn a living, now the central government is also trying to prevent them from exercising their right to democracy.
“We know our rights,” she said. “And we need to elect our own leaders.”