Nicaragua votes in elections criticized as ‘parody’ by international observers

According to Nicaraguan state media, voters from across the country turned out to cast their votes for president and members of the national assembly. “Massive participation in all municipalities,” reported state media El 19 Digital, which described long lines in “order, peace and tranquility.”

However, several Nicaraguans interviewed by CNN painted a different picture.

“Going to vote is a joke,” a high-ranking member of the clergy of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua told CNN by text message. “People are afraid and are locked in their houses.”

“A lot of the people I know are not leaving their homes,” said another Nicaraguan in the city of Granada, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. As he drove through the city, the streets and polling stations he saw were empty, he added.

People wait in line to vote during Nicaragua's general elections, at a polling station in Managua on November 7.

During a press conference with Murillo in the capital Managua on Sunday, Ortega described the voter turnout as a “vote for peace.”

“We have the right, as Nicaraguans, to open investigations against terrorists and defend peace,” he also said, apparently defending the dozens of arrests of government critics that had preceded the elections.

An empty field

At least half a dozen potential presidential contenders were detained before the vote, clearing the path for Ortega to another five years in office. Although five other presidential candidates were included in the final vote on Sunday, none is seen as a strong challenger.

Among those arrested was the former candidate and journalist. Christian Chamorro Barrios (whose mother defeated Ortega at the polls in 1990); his cousin, the economist Juan Sebastián Chamorro García; the former diplomat Arturo Cruz; the political scientist Félix Maradiaga; the journalist Miguel Mora Barberena; and the rural union leader Medardo Mairena Sequeira.

Dozens of other prominent critics and opposition leaders were also detained and investigated for alleged national security concerns, according to Nicaraguan police, measures that much of the international community has criticized as political repression.

Opinion: My father is imprisoned in Nicaragua.  His fate could depend on his upcoming presidential election.
Increasing concerns that the deck has been stacked in favor of the current president and his party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the country Electoral Council aligned with Ortega had limited campaigning and political party eligibility, creating what the Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro He described in May as “the worst possible circumstances for an electoral process.”
Disinformation and manipulation of social networks have emerged as another possible contaminant in the electoral process. Facebook said last week that it had removed a troll farm from more than 1,000 government-backed Facebook and Instagram accounts. Reuters reported. The accounts had been working to amplify pro-government content, according to the news agency.
Throughout it all, the specter of Covid-19 has loomed over voting. Although the country has officially counted Fewer than 20,000 cases and only 209 deaths since the start of the pandemic, health experts say the reality could be more dire than previously reported. According to the Pan American Health Organization, less than 20% of the Nicaraguan population has been vaccinated.
Exiled Nicaraguan citizens demonstrate in San José, Costa Rica, November 7, 2021.

‘A parody of an election’

The Ortega government’s tactics to stifle competition have drawn condemnation from democratic governments and members of the Nicaraguan diaspora around the world.

“What Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, orchestrated today was a pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and certainly not democratic,” said US President Joe Biden. said in a statement On Sunday he asked the ruling couple to release the detained political dissidents.

At a protest in the Costa Rican capital, San José, dozens of protesters disguised as clowns to indicate their claim that the Nicaraguan elections were a “circus.” “This is a fraud. I am dressed as a clown because this vote is a joke,” a protester who did not identify herself for fear of repercussions told CNN en Español.

In Miami, Florida, protesters carried blue and white Nicaraguan flags and signs saying “no to electoral fraud” in Rubén Darío Park, named after the Nicaraguan poet.

And in Madrid, Spain, protesters gathered in front of the country’s Congress building with a large sign that read “Nicaragua: justice and freedom,” demanding that the results of the vote be rejected.

Nicaraguan citizens exiled in Costa Rica demonstrate in San José, Costa Rica, on November 7, 2021.

Regional governments have long expressed concern over the Ortega regime’s repression over the past year. Following a wave of arrests this summer, Mexico and Argentina called their ambassadors for consultations, citing “troubling legal actions by the Nicaraguan government.”

At a November 3 meeting on a new report On the political repression of Nicaragua by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, US Representative Bradley Freden described the Nicaraguan election as “nothing more than a sham.”

“The event that is about to take place on November 7 is a parody of an election,” echoed Canadian Representative Hugh Adsett.

A day earlier, on November 2, the European Union’s diplomatic chief, Josep Borrell, described the Nicaraguan election as so “completely false” that it would not be worth sending independent observers.

“We are not going to send any electoral observation missions there because Mr. Ortega has taken it upon himself to imprison all the political contenders who have stood in these elections,” Borrell said, speaking in Lima, Peru.

Both the European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on senior Nicaraguan officials, including members of the Ortega-Murillo family. United States too willing to impose new punitive financial measures after Sunday’s vote.

Ortega and Murillo’s increasingly strong grip on power

Ortega came to power as part of the Sandinista rebels who overthrew the Somoza dynasty in 1979 and fought the US-backed Contras during the 1980s. First elected in 1985, he has since demolished the presidential term limits of Nicaragua, allowing you to run over and over again.

However, Ortega has increasingly withdrawn from the public eye, with weeks and even months between appearances. His wife, Rosario Murillo, is now the recognized face and voice of the administration, with an idiosyncratic daily radio broadcast.

Over the years, the couple has inexorably consolidated power, appointing loyalists to top government positions and exercising increasingly strict control over the country’s social and political spheres. The local press describes a climate of fear and intimidation.

Nicaragua's impending election poses two challenges for the rest of the region

“They fear losing control of power,” Julie Chung, acting deputy secretary of the US State Department’s Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said in June. “As such, that fear of democracy, I think, has contributed to unleashing these types of actions, repressive actions, because they do not have confidence in their own capacity for people to support them.”

Anti-government protests in 2018, sparked by the uproar over a plan to cut the country’s social security programs, provided a striking example of the government’s intolerance of dissent.

Armed pro-government groups arbitrarily detained hundreds of participants, attacked churches and universities where protesters were thought to be hiding, and reportedly prevented the wounded from accessing medical care.

At least 322 people died then, according to human rights groups, with thousands injured and hundreds detained. At the time, UN human rights experts accused the government of human rights violations against the protesters. Ortega said that the UN report “is nothing more than an instrument of the politics of death, of the politics of terror, of the politics of lies, of the politics of infamy.”

Hundreds of protesters and activists are believed to remain in detention, according to a report by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights in February, and more than 100,000 Nicaraguans have fled the country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Protests against the government were subsequently banned. Even waving the country’s flag in public, a key symbol of the 2018 demonstrations, was criminalized.

Today, civic engagement feels useless, a young woman told CNN on Sunday.

“Years ago, during elections, there were lines at the polls and people wanted to participate,” he said. Although he had boycotted the vote, he noted that others in Nicaragua are not free to do even that, with government employees under particular scrutiny.

“My father works for the state and if he does not vote, they will fire him. It is a way of forcing people to vote, it is not voluntary,” he said.

Their only hope is to get out of the country, he added. “I don’t see a future here. Unless Daniel Ortega and that woman die, nothing will change. There is no life here.”

Previous reporting contributed by CNN’s Flora Charner, Taylor Barnes, Claudia Rebaza, and Matt Rivers.

Reference-rss.cnn.com

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