MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Government critics are raising new concerns about Sandinista intolerance and Nicaragua’s increasing international isolation following the administration’s recent decision to throw two international representatives out of the country.
Organization of American States (OAS) Ambassador Pedro Vuskovic and UNICEF representative María Jesús Conde were both reportedly asked to “leave Nicaragua immediately” in two separate incidents last week.
The demands for removal are raising serious questions about President Daniel Ortega’s increasingly anti-democratic tendencies.
The first incident came after the UNICEF representative, a Spanish national, gave an interview to Spanish newswire EFE in which she claimed that the number of neonatal deaths (the number of deaths during the first 28 days of life per 1,000 live births) has slowly increased from “15 to 16” during the Ortega administration. Conde warned that Nicaragua is not on track to meet the Millennium Goals in the area of neonatal healthcare.
That claim does not jibe with the Sandinistas’ narrative of improved health care, and the government responded furiously. The Sandinistas argued that Conde was using old data from before the Ortega administration. The government demanded a clarification from UNICEF, which it received on Sept. 2 in a communiqué that was heavy on the Sandinista-speak.
“UNICEF recognizes the efforts made by the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity to universalize policies in favor of infants within the framework of the System of Social Wellbeing … the advances achieved by Nicaragua in the last years are highly significant.”
Conde went a step further, telling the Sandinista media that her initial interview had been “manipulated” by the press.
But the apologies and retractions apparently weren’t enough. According to the online publication El Confidencial, the Sandinistas demanded that Conde “leave immediately and not make any noise” about her removal. She did just that, slipping out of the country quietly last week.
El Confidencial tracked her down in the Dominican Republic, but she declined a request for interview.
The second incident occurred Sept. 10, when Denis Moncada, Nicaragua’s ambassador to the OAS, sent a letter to the OAS secretary general calling for “the immediate removal” of OAS Ambassador Pedro Vuskovic, whom the Sandinistas accused of “repeated political meddling” (TT, Online Daily News, Sept. 14).
Several hours before the Sandinistas demanded his ouster, Vuskovic agreed to meet with Nicaraguan-Italian Catholic missionary Alberto Boschi, a harsh critic of Ortega who was stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship last June, allegedly as a retaliatory move by the Sandinista government (NT, July 2).
Vuskovic agreed to meet Sept. 10 with Boschi, who has tried unsuccessfully to appeal his case in Nicaragua and wanted to make his alleged political persecution known to the OAS as well. The Sandinistas responded immediately by demanding Vuskovic’s removal, apparently for agreeing to meet with Boschi.
Neither the Sandinistas nor the OAS has elaborated on the incident. The government’s silence has fanned opposition speculation about an alleged Sandinista plot to prevent the OAS from observing next year’s presidential elections.
“For the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), the (Sandinistas) have only one objective behind this move: to block the OAS from participating as electoral observers in 2011 so they can commit another electoral fraud,” reads a statement released by the country’s largest opposition party.
Ortega supporter Roberto Rivas, the de facto head of the Supreme Electoral Commission (CSE), said last week that selected foreign observers will only be allowed to “accompany” next year’s presidential election process, but warned that anyone who tries to criticize the CSE or the electoral process will be thrown out of the country.
Rivas, whose constitutional period in office has already expired, yet who remains in his post due to an executive order extending his term indefinitely, also warned foreign ambassadors not to opine on Nicaragua’s electoral system. He said that if it were up to him, he already would have thrown several ambassadors out of Nicaragua.
Religious leaders are also speaking out against the government’s apparent intolerance, and wondering what it will mean for the future of Nicaragua’s international relations.
“It is very sad,” said Catholic Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes, according to the daily La Prensa. “Now all the ambassadors and representatives of other institutions are going be afraid to receive someone because they’ll be scared they are going to speak badly about the government.”