San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Contentious Elections Cause Global Concern

As the European donor countries consider cutting aid to the Nicaraguan government amid allegations that the Nov. 9 municipal elections were rigged, President Daniel Ortega’s main ally, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, defended the Sandinista government’s “democratic triumph” this week.

As electoral fraud allegations here catch headlines across the globe, a growing international rift has split between Western countries and leftist Latin American countries over whether the elections were legitimate or should be subject to a recount with international observers.

The Organization of American States (OAS) was scheduled this week at press time to discuss “concerns” by its member states over electoral disarray in Nicaragua. The international organization’s concern over the situation here prompted Ortega to accuse the OAS of backing U.S. “interventionism” in the country’s electoral process.

In a Nov. 14 appearance at the OAS, Foreign Minister Samuel Santos accused the opposition in Nicaragua of “not having the elegance, the manhood, to accept defeat.”

Meanwhile, Ortega’s leftist allies, including Chávez, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and Ecuadoran President Rafael Corea, defended the Supreme Electoral Council’s controversial preliminary results and congratulated the Sandinistas on their victory in 101 of 146 municipalities.

Zelaya said the Sandinista victory was yet another “significant advancement for popular, progressive and leftist movements” in the hemisphere in 2008.

The Honduran government also rejected “violence and disrespect for democratic rules” on the part of the Nicaraguan political opposition.

The Chávez government released a statement applauding the Sandinistas’ “democratic triumph” in a “clean and absolutely transparent process.”

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry also expressed concerns over the “interventionist conduct” of the U.S. Ambassador to Managua Robert Callahan.

After the Liberal Constitutional Party’s mayoral candidate for Managua, Eduardo Montealegre, met with Callahan at the U.S. Embassy last week to seek backing for his fraud claims, Callahan said the U.S. government is “very worried” about the situation in Nicaragua. Four days later, on Nov. 17, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Nicaragua, noting “heightened security concerns” and advising its citizens to “maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.”

Ambassador Callahan told Nicaraguan reporters that the United States “reserves the right to review” its aid support to Nicaragua.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, ran an editorial suggesting the United States should punish the Ortega government by cutting some of the $175 million in Millennium Challenge aid Nicaragua receives.

As a protest measure, opposition legislators and judges have declared a work stoppage until the election dispute is settled in a satisfactory manner.

The walk-out is intended to stall approval of the Ortega government’s 2009 budget in the National Assembly, which could put at risk millions in cooperation funds from the International Monetary Fund, which is scheduled to send a delegation here next week.

Adding a new international twist to Nicaragua’s electoral drama, U.S. citizen Eric Volz, who was convicted here last year for murdering his Nicaraguan girlfriend in San Juan del Sur but was then deported last December after the Appeals Court overturned his sentence, expressed concern from his home back in the United States that his case is being taken up again by Nicaragua’s Supreme Court after Liberal judges who walked-out on their jobs were replaced by supplemental judges loyal to Ortega.

“Ortega has basically seized the moment and called my case to be reviewed in an attempt to provoke the United States, the embassy and Washington,” Volz said in a video posted on the Web site YouTube.

He alleged that Ortega has filled the Supreme Court with party loyalists who will carry out Ortega’s orders.

“According to the Nicaraguan Constitution this is an absolutely illegal procedure, but since in essence the state is now governed by a dictator, the rule of law has subsequently lost relevance,” Volz charged in his video post.

Supreme Court spokesman Mamely Ferreti told The Nica Times this week that all three Liberal magistrates – of the six total judges who preside over the Supreme Court – returned to work Monday for the Volz hearing.

They have 30 days to determine a sentence in the Volz case, he added.


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