In January 2000, electoral magistrate Roberto Rivas was named the new president of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) as a product of the nascent power-sharing pact between Daniel Ortega and then-President Arnoldo Alemán.
Outgoing CSE president Rosa Marina Zelaya said Rivas’ candidacy was proposed as an “impartial” compromise by his godfather, Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, who was acting as a witness and facilitator to the birth of El Pacto.
But Rivas’ promotion was not necessarily a reward for his exemplary work as a magistrate, Zelaya says.
Asked what she remembers of Rivas’ performance as an electoral magistrate, Zelaya said: “He came to the meetings. He was very quiet. He didn’t participate much, but he was aware of what was going on. He traveled a lot outside of the country to attend to his businesses in Miami.
She added, “He didn’t demonstrate any enthusiasm to learn about the job, but he did make known his desire to become president of the CSE; he said that a lot.”
Zelaya said Rivas, whom the Sandinistas are currently trying to reelect as president of the CSE, brought that same mediocrity to the job of chief magistrate.
The CSE he inherited in 2000, she said, was one that had undergone a great process of professionalization. And with the support of the international community, the CSE had state-of-the-art technology and was well-advanced on issuing state identification cards (cédulas) to all citizens.
“We had state-of-the-art vote-mapping machinery from Canada – the same technology they used in Canada. We had state-of-the-art machines from Spain to manufacture cédulas. And the U.S. gave us top-of-the-line machines to print all our own ballots and voting materials,” Zelaya said. “But don’t ask me what happened to those machines. They were never used and instead left to deteriorate somewhere in a warehouse.”
Zelaya said Nicaragua should have the technology in place now to give final election results at 7:30 p.m. on election day. And instead of struggling to issue cédulas to the long list of Nicaraguans who still don’t have their voter-I.D. cards 10 months before the elections, the CSE should be in the process of issuing cédulas to Nicaraguans living abroad – something that hasn’t even started.
“All these institutional deteriorations occur when an institution is not managed well,” Zelaya said. “There’s a lack of will to do things better and a lack of professional capacity; the CSE fired all its administrative staff between 2000 and 2003 and has dismantled everything under Roberto Rivas.”