Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nicaraguan Elections Marred by Violence and Claims of Fraud

Three people have been killed and dozens injured in violence that followed a sweeping victory for Nicaragua’s ruling Sandinista party in local elections marred by claims of widespread fraud.

With over 90% of the vote counted, President Daniel Ortega’s Sandanista Front (FSLN) laid claim to 76% of the vote and control of 134 out of 153 municipalities - up from 108.

Sporadic violence erupted around the country as the results came in, with opposition supporters claiming fraud clashing with Sandanistas and security forces. One Sandanista supporter was killed in Jarico, while two members of the opposition Independent Liberal Party (PLI) were killed in the city of Dario, where  the PLI claims they won by more than 1,500 votes, but the Sandinistas are trying to force the local election leader to sign a falsified vote tally handing victory to the FSLN

The U.S. State Department was quick to condemn the elections as “lacking transparency” and being “rife with irregularities and voter fraud,” according to Businessweek. The department highlighted incidences of citizens being denied the right to vote, a failure to respect the secrecy of citizens’ votes, and reported cases of voters being allowed to vote multiple times

According to a preliminary report by electoral watchdog the Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), up to 20% of voters were excluded from the polls because they did not appear on either of the two voter registries. An IPADE spokesman said it was not yet clear whether this was due to the Supreme Electoral Council’s (CSE) technical incompetence or an issue of political manipulation.

The Nicaraguan Dispatch features a detailed analysis of the election, concluding the Sandanista’s would have won easily without any rigging and in allegedly doing so have “managed to turn another slam-dunk election into a Pyrrhic victory, similar to 2008 and 2011 when the Sandinistas won locally yet lost international credibility.”

In a side issue, the elections were the first since a reform passed requiring at least 50% of candidates put forward by parties to be women. It was also the first time Nicaragua has used its “Independent Electoral Citizen Observation Platform,” which encourages citizen monitoring of the elections through social media.

News Briefs
  • The Financial Times has an in-depth report from Brazil on the Rio de Janeiro “slum pacification” policy, which has cleared several favelas of the drug gangs that ran them through military style assaults followed by the stationing of special Police Pacification Units (UPP). The FT reports that the “the UPP has reached a tipping point” having succeeded in drastically reducing the murder rate and gun crime but at the price of a surge in crimes such as domestic violence, robbery and rape as the police have failed to replace the draconian vigilante order imposed by the gangs. According to the article, the security gains made by UPP are also being undermined by the failure of the UPP Social unit to follow through with social investment, casting the long term viability of the policy into doubt. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has begun a campaign with local NGOs distributing information packs to people living in slums in the Mare area of the city, which is the next favela slated for “pacification”. The packs inform people of their human rights and are aimed at “avoiding the kinds of human rights violations that have taken place during similar recent operations.”   
  • The L.A. Times reports on a 2-bus caravan carrying mothers, wives and sisters of missing Central American migrants through Mexico in a search for their lost loved ones. The annual mission organized by several migrant rights and church groups travels to 23 cities and towns in 14 states in 19 days - a total of nearly 3,000 miles. According to the article: “thousands have gone missing in recent years — kidnapped, killed, shanghaied into forced labor by drug traffickers, or simply lost to poverty and desperation.” 
  • The Global Post reports on a long-running border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. According to the article, the Nicaraguan government has been creating tension by stationing Sandanista Youth camps on disputed territory. The teenage campers work on environmental projects such as reforestation and river dredging but are also taught about homeland defense and border protection.
  • InSight Crime features an analysis of Mexican cartel the Knights Templar, which it says has replaced the now defunct Familia Michoacana - not only in its criminal activities but also by cementing its control of the region through public works, infrastructure maintenance and even implementing price controls on basic goods.
  • The Guardian features the first two videos (1) (2) in a three part series of mini-documentaries looking at the devastating consequences to the Honduran rainforest of slash-and-burn farming and efforts to promote a sustainable organic alternative. 
  • The AP reports on an 8-year-old boy found working in a gold mining camp in Guayana. In response to international criticism over the case, the Guayanese government has set up a task force to inspect camps and remove children or people found to be working under exploitative conditions. The article cites a report from the U.S. Department of Labor, which found that there are more than 44,000 children ages 5-14 working in Guyana, including in dangerous activities in agriculture and prostitution. 
  • From Honduras, EFE reports on the murder of three rural laborers in a drive-by shooting linked to a conflict between landless families and large scale agri-business backed by the government.  
  • The BBC features the work of Swiss photographer Jean-Claude Wicky, who spent years documenting the underground lives of Bolivian miners.