A standoff between a small town mayor and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the country’s rural interior has sparked a growing grassroots resistance movement to the ruling party’s increasingly audacious power grab in Nicaragua.
Hugo Barquero insists he is still the legitimate mayor of Boaco, despite being forcibly removed from office this week by riot police and Sandinista sympathizers.
Barquero’s violent ouster from office came on the one-year anniversary of the coup d’état in Honduras, which the Sandinista government objected to vehemently.
“They hit me and dragged me out of the mayor’s office,” Barquero told The Nica Times by phone on June 28. “This is completely illegal, completely illegitimate and unconstitutional.”
Barquero, a Liberal Party dissident allied with opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre, was stripped of office last week by a questionable resolution passed by the Sandinista-controlled city council.
Barquero said he had been approached by the Sandinistas earlier this year and asked to support President Daniel Ortega’s 2011 reelection efforts, which he refused to do.
As a result, he was removed from office on allegations of corruption and replaced by Ortega supporter Juan Obando. But no proof of corruption was presented against Barquero, and he refused to leave office. The government’s audit of Barquero officially started this week, after his removal.
Barquero’s ouster is being decried as another dangerous blow to Nicaragua’s increasingly precarious institutional democracy.
In past weeks, the Sandinistas have used their considerable resources to buy and bribe 56 opposition city council members and six opposition mayors, who now pledge allegiance to Ortega. The ruling party has also forcibly removed four mayors from office using legally questionable resolutions passed by Sandinista-controlled city councils (NT, June 18).
The opposition has likened the Sandinistas’ takeover of local governments to a municipal coup – an effort by the ruling party to eliminate potential political opposition to Ortega’s reelection next year. Barquero insists the opposition must hold the line in Boaco. If not, he said, the situation is only going to get worse quickly.
“First they are going to come for us, and then they will come for our properties and for our business, and eventually for our children, who are going to have to depend on the state or become cannon fodder for the forced military draft,” Barquero said.
After two weeks of resistance, Barquero, a little-known doctor-turned-politician, has won growing support from Nicaragua’s diverse and divided opposition – from suit and- tie politicians in Managua to former contras in the mountains of Matagalpa.
Barquero insists the people of Nicaragua must stand up to the Sandinistas’ municipal power grab, which he says is a continuation of the 2008 electoral fraud, when the Sandinistas were accused of stealing more than 40 municipalities. The ousted mayor remembers that the Sandinistas tried to steal Boaco back then, even though he claims he won by some 3,000 votes.
“They tried to steal it from us in 2008, but we fought for 15 days to protect the vote,” Barquero said. “Now they are following up on that effort.”
Barquero also lamented the role of the police.
“The police are totally politicized; they are working directly for the Sandinistas,” Barquero said. “The political secretary for the FSLN is practically giving orders to the police here.”
The police fired tear gas and clashed with anti-Sandinista protesters on June 25, in a brief street battle that reportedly left more than a dozen people injured. A smaller clash the night before left at least seven people injured and half-a- dozen arrested, according to the NicaraguanCenter for Human Rights.
The Sandinistas marched on Boaco June 25 with state workers who were bussed into town for a peaceful demonstration in support of the newly designated mayor Obando.
Commissioner Horacio Rocha, subdirector of the National Police, said the police’s responsibility is to protect the municipal authorities and property.
“The National Police are acting as we should act,” Rocha said. Eduardo Montealegre, however, said the situation demonstrates that Ortega has “deteriorated the institutionalism of the National Police.”
Dennis Báez, of the NicaraguanCenter for Human Rights, said the police are clearly backing the Sandinista mayor.
Báez also lamented that Nicaragua’s judicial insecurity has once again raised its ugly head in the crisis in Boaco.
First, the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) took less than 90 minutes to ratify the Sandinista city council’s decision to replace Barquero – a process that normally takes 15 days.
Barquero then appealed the resolution to the Liberal-controlled Court of Appeals in Chontales, which quickly ruled in his favor and overturned the resolution.
The Sandinistas then appealed that ruling to the Sandinista-controlled Managua Appeals Tribunal (TAM), which ruled in their favor. But that ruling was overturned in a matter of hours by the Liberal-controlled Masaya Appeals Court, which again ruled in favor of Barquero.
The judicial ping pong match did nothing to clarify the legal status of Barquero, and only reaffirmed the perception that Nicaraguan justice has more to do with politics than law.
To be Settled in the Streets Now Barquero and others feel the solution to the problem will be settled in the streets, rather than in the courts.
A massive march on Boaco was scheduled for Wednesday at press time. “We are calling on people to go out into the streets in protest for change in their own communities. I can’t do this alone,” Barquero said. “The people who voted for us will have the last word.”