San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Pre-Election Tensions Simmer on Coast

As political tensions build in anticipation of March 7 regional elections in the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS, respectively), indigenous separatist leaders on the northern Caribbean coast are insisting there will be no elections at all.

In a recent letter addressed to President Daniel Ortega and Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) president Roberto Rivas, the leaders of the self-proclaimed Communitarian Nation of the Moskitia declared, “All elections in which the political parties participate have been suspended because these elections have only served to trick and pillage our community’s patrimony, divide our families and cause the historical poverty of our people.”

The letter questions the “quality, honesty and honorableness” of the electoral authorities, and warns: “Do to attempt party elections in the Moskitia, because we are not your guinea pigs.”

In addition, the separatists add, the time has come for the local government of the RAAN to fully hand over power to their aspiring nation.

When the Miskito Council of Elders declared the rebirth of the Communitarian Nation of the Moskitia last April, separatist leaders gave the local government a sixmonth timeframe to hand over power (NT May 1; June 26).

On Oct. 19, they claim, time runs out. “We are going according to the plan,” said separatist leader Oscar Hodgson, “On Oct. 19, we are going to take over the government building.”

Hodgson said he expects more than 3,000 indigenous separatists to march on the regional capital Oct. 19 as a show of force. He warned of the possibility of violence, and said his group has information that members of the YATAMA Miskito group, which has allied with the Sandinistas, is stockpiling “weapons of war.” Hodgson says his group also has information that YATAMA plans to kidnap him and separatist leader Hector Williams, known as the Whita Tara, or “Great Judge,” who now has two armed bodyguards with him at all times.

“We are trying to do everything possible to calm tensions,” Hodgson told The Nica Times in a phone interview from Bilwi. “The only way our movement will succeed is if it’s civil, not violent.”

YATAMA leader Brooklyn Rivera, a national lawmaker in Managua, denies that his group has plans to kidnap Hodgson or Williams. He says he “doesn’t have any information” about the stockpiling of weapons, either.

Regarding the alleged kidnap plot against Hodgson, considered by many to be the true intellectual leader of the separatists, Rivera said, “That doesn’t make any sense. He is just a common guy with no leadership or importance, so there is no reason to kidnap or attack him.”

Governor Reynaldo Francis is also trying to downplay the situation as “noise on the street” made by “a little group.” Francis insists his administration has no plans to hand over power to the separatists, adding, “The law wouldn’t allow it.” “Nicaragua has a constitution and we have to follow the law,” Francis told The Nica Times. “My period of government ends May 1, 2010.”

Francis insists he’s not worried about the separatists’ threat to oust him from office next week, and says he’s putting the situation “in the hands of police.” He said that starting Oct. 12, the whole region will be celebrating the anniversary of its autonomy, an event that could bring more police to the area. Francis did, however admit he’s concerned about rumors that the separatists are looking to arm themselves. He said he’s received information that the separatists were seeking to purchase 170 assault rifles from drug dealers.

Hodgson, for his part, acknowledges that many of the separatists already have weapons in SandyBay area, a zone that until recently was heavily infiltrated by drug-traffickers. But he said the group will only use them for self-defense.

“We are not calling for violence,” Gov. Francis said. “If they [the separatists] want violence, that’s up to them.”

The governor said there’s been no capture order issued for the separatist leaders, but warned, “If there is another problem here, or bloodshed, everyone will know who’s to blame.”

Building Alliances

While separatist tensions simmer on the Caribbean coast, on the Pacific coast, it’s politics as usual among the traditional political parties, which are in the process of rehatching their oftentimes flimsy electoral alliances with minority parties and regional political groups from the RAAN and RAAS.

On Sept. 30, the ruling Sandinista Front and its clumsily named “AllianceUnited, Nicaragua Triumphs” inscribed its 90 candidates as part of an unlikely coalition of former enemies, including the Nicaraguan Resistance Party (former Contras), Alternative for Change (a former evangelical party) and YATAMA, the Miskito resistance front that battled the Sandinista government in the 1980s.

Opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre’s political grouping is an equally tentative alliance between his ex-party, the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), the divided Liberal Independent Party (PLI) and the minority Party of the Coastal Unity Movement (PAMUC).

Ex-President Arnoldo Alemán’s Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) has allied with several small regional groups, and the southern Caribbean Creole party “Coast Power” has formed a minority alliance with the Democratic Christian Union.

New Rules

Despite serious problems during the past two elections – the November ’08 municipal elections on the Pacific coast, and last January’s municipal elections in the RAAN, both of which led to street violence and unrest following allegations of vote fraud on the part of the Supreme Electoral Council acting in cahoots with the Sandinista Front – the upcoming elections could be even trickier.

Julio Acuña, CSE’s director of inscribing political parties, said that next year’s elections on the Caribbean are “special and very complex” because they will be based on a new redistricting model.

According to the new model, each region has 15 districts, and each district will have three candidates for each party. The official government publication El 19 explained the new system thusly: “The districts are a territorial demarcation that doesn’t necessarily correspond to the political administrative divisions, but rather refer to the territories of the indigenous people.”

The CSE’s Acuña explained the situation in slightly clearer terms, but not by much. “It has to do a little with the representation of the ethnic groups in the territories, and for that reason the law requires the political organizations to make their top candidate in each district a representative of the corresponding ethnic group,” he said.

What is clear, however, is that the CSE – the institution with one of the lowest confidence ratings in the country, according to polls – already has two strikes against it after its questionable performances during the past two elections (the opposition is still pushing for a bill to have the November 2008 municipal elections annulled).

Even though the CSE is desperate for a hit, the upcoming elections – which are already being protested by separatists, facing sharp national and international scrutiny, and confused by an untested new districting rule – appear to have all the elements for another Nicaraguan electoral adventure.


Comments are closed.