Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ortega Set to Win Nicaragua's Presidency, Again, Amid Concerns about Fair Vote



As Nicaragua approaches general elections on November 6, Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the Wall Street Journal questions whether a fair vote is possible in the country. The conservative commentator argues that incumbent President Daniel Ortega will not allow himself to be voted out of office, as he was in 1990, 11 years after dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle was overthrown by the Sandinista Revolution. O’Grady warns that: 
Mr. Ortega doesn't plan to allow a rerun of 1990 if he can prevent it—by whatever means.
The WSJ points out that Ortega is constitutionally barred from holding a second (consecutive) term, and orchestrated a vote among allies in the Supreme Court to give the appearance that this barrier had been legally overcome. However, according to O’Grady, this is not valid, as only Congress can change this law. She also warns of opposition concerns that some of their supporters are being denied voter ID cards.

This concern about electoral manipulation is given weight by reports in the Nicaraguan press today of citizens protesting about problems in getting their voter ID. Also, local election observers the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), as noted in a previous post, reported recently that more than 70 percent of electoral rolls they examined featured names of dead people. The U.S. State Department released a statement Monday expressing concern about the elections, saying;

We specifically note the Nicaraguan Government’s failure to accredit certain credible domestic organizations as observers, difficulties faced by voters in obtaining proper identification, and pronouncements by Nicaraguan authorities that electoral candidates may be eliminated after the elections.
However, despite the validity of concerns about the regime’s efforts to stay in power, it is also true that the Ortega government remains popular, partly due to its work to help Nicaragua’s poor. Even O’Grady admits that some of the president’s policies have given a measure of relief to those living in poverty in the country, though tempering this with the assertion that “Venezuelan oil largess has allowed the president to buy support.”

The president currently has 48 percent support among voters, according to polls, with a 15 point lead over rival Fabio Gadea.

The Tico Times points to the strong economy as part of the reason Ortega is likely to win, highlighting one government program which has handed out some 5,000 land titles to the poor since August. It highlights his personal popularity, tied in with memories of the 1979 revolution, as potentially being able to override questions about corruption and electoral malpractice. The site quotes Manuel Orozco, analyst at Inter-American Dialogue, as saying “At least 55 percent of the population says Ortega has been doing a good job, so the allegations that he’s corrupt, even though they’re right, are not an issue for the majority of Nicaraguans.”

Like O'Grady, Orozco also points to help from Venezuela as a factor in Ortega’s likely win, estimating that the Nicaragua receives $500 million worth of subsidized oil each year from its socialist ally:

for the past 15 years, [Ortega has] been respecting private property and doesn’t charge high taxes on the private sector. He was able to keep the country relatively stable during the recession, mainly by utilizing revenues from the sale of Venezuelan oil to pay for welfare services.

News Briefs

  • The LA Times reports on how many children of immigrants to the U.S. are finding it difficult to access the middle-class lifestyle and professional jobs their parents hoped for, even when they are well-qualified. This group of young people, whose parents are foreign-born, are being hit particularly hard by the faltering economy and squeeze on well-paid jobs. Many find themselves working the same kind of unskilled jobs that their immigrant parents did, according to the report. Meanwhile IPS reports on how President Obama’s failure to carry out promised immigration reform has alienated the Latino vote, with many angered by programs such as “Secure Communities,” which, as noted in previous posts, has contributed to a surge in deportations, including of individuals without criminal records. One activist told IPS that the program, which involves checking fingerprint records for migration status, has led to many in immigrant communities being discouraged from reporting crimes. However, as the Washington Post and others have commented, the Republicans are currently pursuing policies that will repel Latino voters even further - this means that Obama has less incentive to try to appeal to this group.
  • In more news on migrant communities, Mexico’s Central Bank announced that remittances from Mexicans abroad were up more than 21 percent on-year in September, to $2.08 billion. The sum sent in the first nine months of the year was up 6.64 percent on the same period in 2010. This would appear to suggest that Mexican immigrants, at least, are not doing too badly in the U.S., despite the picture painted by the LA Times.
  • InSight Crime reports on the latest developments in threats by hackers collective Anonymous against Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel. Over the weekend, the group released a video warning the Zetas it would reveal the identities of their allies if the cartel did not free a hacker it had allegedly kidnapped in Veracruz. Despite reports in Mexican media that some members had announced the collective was backing down from the plan, Anonymous’ Mexican Facebook page was updated to say the plan was going ahead, and a form was put online for users to report Zetas collaborators, according to InSight Crime. However, as the Associated Press points out, “if the promised revelations materialize, they could be nothing more than common rumors or gossip sent in by tipsters or foes of those named.”
  • In a sign of the risks Anonymous may be running by taking on the Zetas in Veracruz, eight dead bodies were found in a mangrove swamp in the Mexican Gulf coast state. The corpses had their hands and feet tied, and showed signs of torture. It is not yet known who they belonged to, or who carried out the crime, but other recent mass findings of dead bodies have been related to an escalating battle between the Zetas and rival groups, some representing the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, for control of Veracruz.
  • Also reporting from the troubled state of Veracruz, The New York Times profiles the more unusual methods some are taking to protect themselves from the fallout of Mexico’s drug conflict. Many are now turning to witchcraft to ward off trouble, particularly extortion demands, which are booming in the climate of fear. “In the midst of the violence that has beset the state of Veracruz, new and creative forms of witchery for protection against extortion and for help finding kidnapped kin have become the leading demands from clients, local practitioners say,” reports the newspaper. Police and cartel members also use the shamans’ services, according to the report, but generally do not recognize each other when they cross paths in the waiting rooms.
  • Also in the New York Times is a piece on efforts to move beyond short-term aid efforts in Haiti, with a report on how U.S. pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories is trying to set up a self-sustaining charitable enterprise that produces a peanut-based product that can be used to treat malnourished children. “If you’re going to see a transformational change in a place like Haiti, it’s going to take a strategy beyond philanthropy,” one Abbot representative told the newspaper. Meanwhile the Miami Herald reports on how the country’s coffee industry is getting a boost from rising global prices, encouraging Haitian farmers to move back into the business.
  • Rio de Janeiro state legislator Marcelo Freixo has said he will flee Brazil following threats from militia groups. Death threats are not new to the politician, who has long campaigned against these criminal organizations, which are generally made up of former and current military police and members of the army, and control whole neighborhoods of the city. In 2008 Freixo headed a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the militias, which has led to some 500 people being jailed, reports IPS, including high-level officials. However, following the murder in August of a Rio judge who took a hard-line against the groups, Freixo decided to take extra precautions. He will go with his family to an unnamed European country, helped by Amnesty International, he told Reuters
  • AFP reports on Mexico’s Day of the Dead, which it says has been combined this year with memorial services for those who have lost their lives in the country’s struggle against organized crime. Poet Javier Sicilia, who has been a prominent campaigner against violence since the murder of his son by criminal gangs, led a silent march in Mexico City to place crosses on an independence monument in remembrance of the dead. The LA Times also has coverage on events, reporting on the planting of one of the city’s main roads with orange marigolds.
    Images of the Day of the Dead from the BBC.
  • Univision looks at the two prospective first ladies of Guatemala, ahead of the final round of the presidential elections on Sunday. The women, who share the name Rosa, were both married before they turned 18 -- Otto Perez’s wife was aged 17, and Manuel Baldizon’s wife was 15.
  • The New York Times’ photography blog features a piece by Simon Romero to accompany Kike Arnal’s photos of gold mining in Colombia’s remote Pacific province of Choco.