Fri 25 Jun, 2010 07:46 am
Nicaragua's Sandinistas accused of paying for power
Daniel Ortega's ruling Sandinistas Front is using strong-arm tactics to limit opposition, observers say.
BY TIM ROGERS
Special to The Miami Herald
MANAGUA -- Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is allegedly dipping into hefty Venezuela-funded coffers to bribe, buy and scatter the weakened opposition as part of his push for a second term, lawmakers and analysts say.
And when money doesn't work, Ortega's ruling Sandinista Front is using strong-arm tactics to silence the opposition, including the removal of four democratically elected mayors in the past month, the analysts say.
Several opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly have accused the Sandinistas of offering substantial sums of money to reach the 56 votes -- or 60 percent of lawmakers -- needed to reverse the constitutional ban on consecutive reelection and legitimize Ortega's 2011 candidacy. Sandinista lawmakers deny the allegations.
A Sandinista-controlled division of the Supreme Court ruled last year that the reelection ban doesn't apply to Ortega, who is already advertising his candidacy on billboards across the capital. But to eliminate doubt about whether his candidacy is legal, Sandinistas are moving to reform the constitution and strike the reelection ban altogether, analysts say.
José Pallaís, a lawmaker with the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), told The Miami Herald that he and four other lawmakers were offered money, cabinet positions and judgeships in exchange for their votes.
``I was offered a seat on the Supreme Court if I went against my party and voted with the Sandinistas,'' he said.
The congressman said he rejected the offer ``immediately'' and reported the alleged bribe to his party, led by former President Arnoldo Alemán. The PLC has publicly denouned the alleged bribe attempts, but has not filed any complaints or sought an official investigation.
Pallaís said the PLC's 20 lawmakers in the 92-seat assembly will remain firmly behind a ``wall of dignity'' to avoid Sandinista temptations to cross party lines.
FOR SOCIAL AID
The Sandinistas said the money is for development and social aid. Sandinista legislative leader Edwin Castro told The Miami Herald that allegations that his party is buying votes are ``totally false.''
He said the Sandinistas are still 16 votes shy of the 60 percent majority needed to reform the constitution. ``We're focusing on passing laws that have consensus,'' Castro said. ``I don't know who is talking about constitutional reforms.'' Since returning to power in 2007, Ortega has received about $1.1 billion in aid from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, according to the Central Bank. Accusations that Sandinistas have offered bribes have caused rifts and suspicions among the opposition.
``Here's my wallet, you can come and look at it. I don't have anything else,'' said opposition congresswoman Ana Julia Balladares, after being accused of corruption by a fellow party member. ``My house is the same house with all the same things. I don't have anything else.''
The accusations of bribery are not limited to congress. The Sandinistas have also been accused of buying opposition mayors and city council members.
Nelson Artola, head of the government's poverty relief organization (FISE), boasted recently that six mayors and 56 city council members from different municipalities have recently switched parties and ``embraced'' Ortega's government project, which he likened to ``the project of Christ.''
The government's use of state institutions and finances for party recruitment is yet another example of the Ortega administration's comingling of state and party, according to analysts.
The Sandinistas have reduced government institutions to instruments of ``blackmail and bribery,'' said Carlos Tünnermann of the civic group, Movement for Nicaragua.
``Nothing is free in politics,'' Tünnermann said, adding that politicians who accept the Sandinistas' offering will soon find themselves used as pawns in Ortega's ``agenda to continue in power.''
Congressman Wilfredo Navarro, vice president of the PLC, said his party's mayors and city council members have reported widespread allegations of Sandinista bribery attempts.
``Daniel Ortega is trying to consolidate a single-party system and eliminate all dissidence,'' he said. ``This is not a government of Nicaragua; it's a government of the Sandinistas.''
Ortega is not shy about his fondness for single-party political systems. During a visit to Cuba last year, Ortega said he envied its political system because ``multiparty systems are nothing more than a form of disintegrating a nation and dividing the people.''
Some critics said Ortega's plans for a single-party system in Nicaragua are already further advanced than many people might admit.
``In practice, it's already a single-party system. The Sandinistas are using Chávez's money to buy the opposition to grow their political monopoly,'' said Luciano García, a Managua city council member for the minority Conservative Party.
García blames the private sector for acting as accomplices to Ortega's political aspirations by ``accommodating themselves to the single-party system'' and becoming ``minority partners'' in the new Sandinista economy.
Sandinista dissident Sergio Ramírez, Ortega's former vice president from the 1980s, says he believes Ortega is going for a different look from Cuba.
The Sandinistas, he said, want a system where they are the ``dominant group'' but have smaller minority parties that act ``submissively'' while providing the image of multiparty system.
However, he said, behind the thin veil of democratic pluralism, the Sandinistas are ``unscrupulously'' consolidating power to remain in government ``at all costs.''
``When we lost the elections in 1990, Daniel Ortega proposed to never give up power again when he got it back,'' Ramírez said. ``He is not going to leave power voluntarily.''