San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Liberals approach U.S. ambassador as Nicaragua spirals into chaos

MANAGUA – Alleging massive irregularities in Sunday´s elections, Managua mayoral candidate Eduardo Montealegre and some of his closest supporters met with U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan yesterday afternoon to express concerns about apparent electoral fraud and the anti-democratic direction of the country.

Montealegre, who ran on the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) ticket and declared victory Monday morning, rattled off several examples of apparent vote tampering by the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) that favored Sandinista candidate Alexis Argüello. Though Montealegre claims his own vote count – based on the party´s copy of each voting station´s official ballot tally – shows he won with more than 51 percent of the vote in Managua, the official CSE count has Argüello 5 points ahead of Montealegre, making the Sandinista candidate the presumptive winner.

Montealegre, however, insists those results are a “manipulation” of the vote count by CSE. He showed Callahan several examples of where the official vote count differed greatly from what was reported at the individual voting stations. For example, one station reported 95 votes for the PLC and 81 votes for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), but was then recorded in the CSE´s final tally as five votes for the PLC and 281 for the FSLN. Another CSE tally registered 400 votes for the FSLN and zero for the PLC, meaning that even the PLC party-members assigned to monitor that voting station cast their ballot for the rival party.

Instances of fraud have been reported in other parts of the country as well, such as in the hotly contested department of León, where thousands of ballots were found Tuesday night in the garbage – something the CSE has tried to dismiss as being staged.

Francisco Aguirre, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States who accompanied Montealegre in his visit to the U.S. Embassy yesterday, told Callahan that if the PLC were to accept the disputed election results, “we´d be closing the chapter on democracy in Nicaragua.”

Callahan said Washington is “very worried” about the situation in Nicaragua, as is the international community.

With the CSE yet to present its final vote tally, Sandinistas and Liberals continue to duke it out in the streets of Managua. Three days into the post-electoral violence, the situation has spiraled into something resembling anarchy – bands of masked Sandinista youth armed with mortars, rocks and clubs have blocked off whole sections of downtown and opposing gangs continue to clash in the streets.

Even reporters have been targeted. A journalist for Sandinista radio was hospitalized after allegedly being pulled out of his car and stabbed in the street by unknown assailants, he told reporters, saying his attackers told him they were going to cut out his tongue “for talking shit” and then burned his vehicle, according to TV news reports.

Police have failed to restore any order, and President Daniel Ortega has remained in private since voting Sunday afternoon, a situation that has only fed the impression that no one is in charge of the country.

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