Campaign, Electoral Process Marred By Violence
With rocks, baseball bats and gunfire, opposing factions of Liberal and Sandinista supporters battled out their differences over Sunday’s election results in violent street fights Monday and Tuesday that left several injured, eight with gunshot wounds and unconfirmed reports of three deaths.
Violence began Monday morning after Managua mayoral candidate Eduardo Montealegre, of the Liberal Constitutional Party, claimed that the vote count was being-rigged by the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and declared himself the winner based on his own parallel count.
After Montealegre encouraged his supporters to “take to the streets” to make sure “the elections aren’t robbed,” a crowd of Liberals wielding rocks and baseball bats marched through the streets of Managua.
It wasn’t long before they ran into Sandinistas in front-of the mayor’s office of Managua, prompting a violent clash. It rained rocks and bullets for more than an hour, resulting in a 15-year-old Liberal supporter being shot in the back as Montealegre supporters vandalized a yellow school bus belonging to a Sandinista cooperative.
Liberal protestors marched along the fringes of Sandinista-dominated neighborhoods, launching rocks and chunks of concrete, prompting opponents to come out of their shanties to defend their barrios with rocks and machetes, according to images on local TV.
The state-run Channel 4 blamed Montealegre and TV Channel 2 for inciting the violence. Moments later, Montealegre tried throwing water on the fire by calling on his supporters to back down.
“Calm down. Return to your homes,” he said outside his campaign quarters while standing-atop a vehicle above a fired-up crowd of Liberals, who booed at being told to stand down.
The rampage continued for much of the day, with mobs burning a motorcycle, defacing Sandinista billboards, destroying Sandinista vendor stands and pegging homes of Sandinista supporters with rocks.
Edén “Comandante Cero” Pastora, a former Sandinista guerrilla leader who supports the Ortega government, said he came home to find some “500” Liberals attacking his house with “hundreds of stones” that broke the windows of his house and vehicles.
The aging commando ran inside his house and grabbed his old M-16 assault rifle and fired “six or seven rounds over their heads,” which forced the group to flee. Pastora said the group was a “bunch of cowards” and blames Montealegre and his vice mayoral candidate Enrique Quiñonez for inciting violence.
He told The Nica Times that “if they return, I will shoot to kill.”
By Monday afternoon, riot police had blocked off many of the streets.
But as the state-run TV Channel 4 continually called on Sandinistas to celebrate the “irreversible” victory of their candidate, Alexis Argüello, the Liberals returned to the streets Tuesday afternoon and more clashes ensued.
Sandinista mobs got revenge on the Liberals by vandalizing Montealegre’s campaign headquarters with rocks and bullets Monday evening, setting ablaze a truck parked out front.
TV reporters recorded the violence at length before police showed up to restore some order.
“We sent out all necessary reinforcements,” National Police spokesperson Vilma Reyes told The Nica Times. “Now we’re taking measures to ensure there are no more confrontations. We’re calling for calm, a stop to violence, that no more blood be spilled.”
Though local media and party leaders reported three deaths, Reyes couldn’t confirm it as of press time.
While President Daniel Ortega remained out of the public eye during the first two days of protest, the CSE released a statement blaming Montealegre and his party for being responsible for damages caused by the protests. The state authority also blamed the opposition media for provoking disorder with “misinformation.”
Lesser clashes between Liberal and Sandinista factions also occurred in the departments of León, Matagalpa, Masaya and Nuevo Segovia this week.
Electoral violence leading up to the Nov. 9 elections began as early as June and had been escalating since, mostly by Sandinista groups attacking Montealegre’s campaign.
The week before the election, the wives of Montealegre and Quiñonez were hit in the face with stones while campaigning in the capital.
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