Ex-Combatants Threaten To Block Vote

February 29, 2008

A group of anti-Sandinista ex-combatants is warning that President Daniel Ortega and Miskito ally Brooklyn Rivera are attempting to illegally block municipal elections in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) for fear of losing the three mayoral seats they currently control.

Violence broke out last weekend in Bilwi as an anti-Sandinista indigenous group known as “YATAMA No Sandinista” clashed with Sandinista supporters loyal to Rivera, a lawmaker with the YATAMA faction loyal to the Sandinistas.

Osorno “Comandante Blas” Coleman told The Nica Times that he was among 15 men injured in the skirmish, and that he fears more violence is to come as emotions run high. Coleman said that most residents want elections, but that Rivera and Ortega are afraid they will lose.

“If they suspend the elections, we will have a dictatorship,” Coleman said.

Rivera’s group, some 800 demobilized indigenous combatants, last weekend threatened to prevent electoral officials from conducting upcoming municipal elections in November if long awaited relief aid from last year’s Hurricane Felix doesn’t first get distributed to those in the zone.

The former combatants claim that the conditions don’t exist to hold elections because the schools where voting takes place were destroyed and many lost their state identification cédulas, so they can’t vote.

“The proposal to suspend the elections demands that the resources that would be used in the upcoming electoral campaigns in those municipalities be used instead for the reconstruction of the communities,” Rivera told The Nica Times this week in an e-mail.

“I believe our organized communities headed by demobilized soldiers would be ready to take diverse actions in defense of our community members so they aren’t cheated and manipulated by the political parties in this upcoming election,” Rivera said.

Before signing a controversial electoral alliance with Ortega in 2006, Rivera led a similar YATAMA protest in Bilwi in November 2000, to protest exclusion from the first municipal elections held there. At the time, Ortega and former President Arnoldo Alemán had rewritten the Electoral Law to exclude minority parties, as part of the two’s original power-sharing pact.

The violent protests back then led to a quick militarization of Bilwi, as authorities feared YATAMA was preparing to rearm itself. That violence is a real possibility now, Coleman warned this week.

“Things are getting hot,” he said.

Meanwhile, farther down the Caribbean coast in Bluefields, protesters hit the streets last week to demand primary elections for the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), while party members in other departments, such as Matagalpa, held primaries this week.

In Managua, Liberal factions engaged in last-minute negotiations in attempts to agree upon a candidate for mayor and vicemayor before next week’s deadline for registering political alliances with the Supreme Elections Council (CSE).

 

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