Allegations that the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) stole two key municipalities in the Jan. 18 municipal elections on the Caribbean coast has led to several bouts of violence and a tense atmosphere among Miskito indigenous communities who warn they will not allow the Sandinistas to steal another election.
Following a relatively calm election day, marked by traditionally high abstention rates, the situation turned tense Monday afternoon when the disreputable Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) announced that the Sandinistas had won four of seven municipalities in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), including the regional capital of Puerto Cabezas (Bilwi).
Bouts of post-electoral violence between Sandinistas and opposition indigenous groups reportedly broke out Monday night in the disputed border outpost of Waspam. The National Police quickly refuted those reports. “We have no reports of violence, we haven’t had to deploy any riot police,” said police spokeswoman Vilma Reyes.
CSE president Roberto Rivas, accused of acting as President Daniel Ortega’s accomplice in the scandalous Nov. 9 municipal elections when the Sandinistas were accused of stealing 44 mayoral seats on the Pacific side of the country, said on Jan. 19 that the RAAN elections had gone smoothly and without serious incident. He said that with most of the voting stations reporting, the Sandinistas were the presumptive winners in Puerto Cabezas, Waspam, Rosita and Bonanza, while the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) had won in the municipalities of Siuna and Mulukukú, and the indigenous party YATAMA in Prinzapolka.
The Sandinistas, who started celebrating their victory before the vote results were announced, were later accused by YATAMA and the PLC of rigging the elections in Puerto Cabezas and Waspam.
YATAMA leader Brooklyn Rivera, despite being an ally of Ortega’s Sandinista Front in the 2006 presidential elections, announced Monday that his Miskito party refused to recognize the Sandinistas’ victory in Puerto Cabezas and Waspam. Rivera reportedly held a rally Monday afternoon in YATAMA headquarters with several hundred Miskito supporters and told them to “prepare to take actions,” according to local press reports.
Though Rivera was not reachable by phone this week, fellow YATAMA leader Reynaldo Francis, the governor of the RAAN, told The Nica Times this week that the Sandinistas had “sent their specialists to rob the elections.”
Francis said the Sandinistas on election day were handing out state identification cards (cédulas) to minors so they could vote, bussing party supporters in from other parts of the country to vote illegally in the RAAN, and using Miskito “mercenaries” to promise gifts of cooking-gas tanks to poor people in exchange for voting Sandinista.
Francis also blames the PLC for attempting to buy votes in the hurricane-devastated SandyBay area with $20 -$100 cash handouts and meat. “They have slaughtered 87 cows in the past week to win votes with food,” Francis said.
Osorno “Comandante Blas” Coleman, the PLC’s candidate for mayor of Puerto Cabezas, told The Nica Times in a phone interview this week that his group is also crying fraud and refuses to accept defeat following an election he says was “marred by fraud.”
Coleman claims the Sandinistas bussed in some 700 party supporters from the municipality of Río Blanco to vote in Puerto Cabezas, and that some 1,500 military soldiers voted in the elections, even though they weren’t from the area.
“There were lots of anomalies,” said Coleman, a former anti-Sandinista guerrilla leader who split from Rivera’s YATAMA group in 2006 in protest of their alliance with Ortega. Coleman now heads a splinter group called YATAMA NO SANDINISTA.
Coleman said that the alleged electoral theft in the RAAN was “more technical” and “better planned” than the alleged rigging of the Nov. 9 elections on the Pacific coast.
Furthermore, Coleman said, the entire election was in violation of the Electoral Code because YATAMA and the Sandinistas ran together as an alliance in several municipalities and on opposing tickets in other municipalities. Coleman, a lawyer, said it’s illegal for two parties to run as an electoral alliance in one municipality and as competitors in the next.
Coleman said that his group YATAMA NO SANDINISTA will be meeting this week to decide their next move. He does not rule out the possibility of reuniting his group with Rivera’s YATAMA group. He said he thinks the two groups may be able to find a common bond again against the Sandinistas.
“This could unify the two groups, but nothing has been decided yet,” Coleman said.
YATAMA leaders, however, seem less open to that possibility.
“It is the fault of Blas and the PLC that the Sandinistas won in Puerto Cabezas,” Francis said Tuesday morning in a phone interview.
“They divided the YATAMA vote. If it weren’t for them, the Sandinistas wouldn’t have had a chance of winning.”
Francis lamented that so many Miskitos supported Coleman’s PLC candidacy and split the traditional YATAMA group.
“The saddest part is that for $20 or $30 for their vote, we have lost our right as an indigenous population for the next four years by giving power to the FSLN,” Francis said.