Monday, August 22, 2011

Nicaraguan Electoral Council restricts electoral observers


The electoral campaign in Nicaragua officially launched on Sunday, marking the beginning of a battle for the November 6th election. The campaign begins amid accusations of irregularities in the administration of the electoral process on the part of the Supreme Electoral Council. The fragmented opposition party is divided into four candidates, only two of which seem to have enough viable support to challenge the current president, Daniel Ortega.

Ortega served his first term as president and leader of the Sandinista socialist party in 1979 and then was re-elected in 2006. The constitution of Nicaragua forbids presidents from serving two consecutive terms, but in a controversial decision, the Supreme Court ruled in October 2009 that law ‘unenforceable,’ thus opening up a spot for Ortega in this year’s electoral campaign. According to polls, Ortega is the front-running candidate for election in November, despite oppositional protests that his candidacy is unconstitutional.

In a statement given last Friday, Ortega announced that he invites all international and national observers to be a part of the election and monitor the process under the mandate of an ‘accompaniment ruling.’ The ruling, defined by the Supreme Electoral Council, is ‘loaded’ with restrictions on organizations planning to observe the November elections. The Council defended that the ruling was based on the political and judicial principals of the constitution. The document includes 25 articles establishing who can participate, what their functions can be, and the limits of their actions, and the process of accreditation to become an official observer, among other restrictions.

Critics argued that the Council ruling will impede organizations from properly observing the electoral process and assuring its democratic legitimacy. In response, Ortega ‘lashed out’ at the opposition, calling for peace throughout the campaign, especially from critical members who are upset with the way the Council administers the process.

Top Stories

· Some corrections and additions to last Thursday’s feature story: Plaza Publica gained access to Wikileaks cables regarding the Guatemalan presidential candidate, Otto Perez Molina. In a July interview with Plaza Publica, Otto Perez Molina was unwilling to share his financing information with the Guatemalan newspaper but did discuss it in the cable. Also, Molina denied any connection whatsoever to the Mendoza family in the same July interview, but admitted to ties with one family member in the cable—the Mendozas have known connections with narco-trafficking. In another correction, Molina did not serve as the Minister of Defense, but was sent by the Minister to attempt reconciliation with the local indigenous population with the Nebaj brigade. Also, as the head of military intelligence (not Director of Intelligence, as I had mentioned) Molina denied any involvement in the disappearance of ‘Everardo’, a guerilla commander of the United Front of Guatemala Guerrillas (URNG), during an ambush in 1992. InSight Crimes summarizes highlights from the July interview and the cables in English.

· After eleven peasant farm workers died in Honduras last week over land disputes in the Bajo Aguan valley, gunmen shot and killed Secundino Ruiz, the movement’s leader. Reportedly, he was leaving a bank with over $10,000 in workers’ pay when he was gunned down.

· After a 17-month long investigation, federal border inspectors arrested a doctor from Los Angeles and 14 others involved in a narcotics operation smuggling prescription drugs (mostly painkillers) into Mexico.

· According to a recently released congressional report, kidnappings in Mexico have increased by 317 percent in the past five years, with more than one-fifth of the crimes involving soldiers or police officers. As a result, some Mexicans have been buying satellite-enabled under-the-skin tracking devices, reports the Washington Post.

· As mentioned last week, former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe is under investigation by a congressional commission based on suspicions of corruption. In an interview with the Washington Post, Alba Luz Florez came forward with behind-the-scenes insight into Operation Stairway. According to the story, the operation was controlled by the Department of Administrative Security (DAS) under the supervision of the president. Prosecutors in the case argue that the operation was designed to ‘cripple the court’s investigation of corrupt congressmen.’

· After a group of indigenous protestors began a march against a Brazilian-funded highway in Bolivia last week, President Evo Morales is blaming the U.S. for inciting the opposition and threatening to expel USAID from the country.

· In an emotional (and televised) display of support, several supporters of President Hugo Chavez shaved their heads on Sunday while hundreds of observers, including Chavez himself, prayed.

· After suspending adoptions in 2007 due to allegations of fraud and baby theft, the Guatemalan government issued a decree yesterday allowing those cases stuck ‘in limbo’ due to the suspension to continue. According to Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, there are still 400 adoption cases in need of review, 44 of which will be covered by this decree, reports the AP.

· In Argentina and Brazil, crack cocaine consumption has been dramatically increasing in recent years, reports InSight Crime. As security measures in Colombia have increased, Bolivian coca paste producers have been forced to push their product elsewhere—both Brazil and Argentina share fairly accessible borders with Bolivia. The refinement process of cocaine produces crack as a by-product, opening up a profitable local market for the dangerous and highly addictive drug.

· El Confidencial comments on fears the Guatemala’s government is in danger of reverting back to the political right, as Otto Perez Molina pulls ahead in the electoral campaign.