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Guest Post: Constitutional Danger in Nicaragua, Ortega Up to His Old Tricks

This morning in Managua, Nicaragua there are reports that the U.S. Embassy was vandalized by supporters of the leftist Sandinistas party.  Borrowing a page from the Castro-Chavez playbook for re-making Latin America in the Bolivarian image – just take a look at what they are doing over in Honduras – the Sandinista government is accusing the United States of meddling in Nicaraguan domestic affairs.  The mobs reacted.

So what is all the fuss about?  Fellow Washingtonian and Latin America watcher, Eddy Acevedo, published a piece on the matter in The Americano.  Acevedo discusses the October 19, 2009 Nicaraguan Supreme Court ruling that may allow Daniel Ortega to make his presidential bid possible for 2011.  The rub is that the Nicaraguan constitution states that a President cannot run for a consecutive re-election campaign and cannot be President more than twice.

In Honduras, the Supreme Court and the Congress was clearly in the right in removing from power Zelaya and his associates.  In Nicaragua, it seems that Daniel Ortega and his folks are clearly in the wrong.  This presents an interesting conundrum for Obama’s Latin America team.  As they try and dig out of their Honduran mistakes, another problem has been brewing just over the border in Managua that could result in outright violence.  How will the November 29, 2009 Honduran elections impact Managua?  My guess is that U.S. bumbling in Tegucigalpa already has.

The complete article is re-published below, with the author’s permission:

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Constitutional Danger in Nicaragua: Ortega Up to His Old Tricks

By: Eddy Acevedo

Published: October 28, 2009, The Americano

As the current Obama administration continues to rub shoulders and remain friendly with leaders in Latin America, constitutions in the region are being threatened by overzealous leaders who aspire to have more power for a longer period of time in complete rejection of the rights of the people and the rule of law. Latin America is second to Africa in regions of the world who use bribes in the judiciary system. According to the 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, Nicaragua is towards the bottom of the list with the highest reports of corruption behind Venezuela, Ecuador, and Paraguay. Nevertheless, the Organization of American States (OAS) continues to support leaders in the hemisphere who actively engage in breaking the law.

As much as the international community wanted to believe that the new Ortega was different from the old, many have now learned that a leopard never loses its spots. Due to the November municipal elections in Nicaragua in 2008, violence and widespread chaos troubled Nicaraguan citizens and jeopardized stability in the region. The Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) faced allegations of voting fraud and using intimidation tactics, but that did not stop the OAS from ignoring the pleads of the Nicaraguan people. During his first years in office, the first thing on Ortega’s agenda was to seek re-election but he quickly learned that he did not have enough votes in the National Assembly to accomplish this goal legally so he turned to alternative ways in which he can make his campaign in 2011 a reality.

On October 19, 2009, the Supreme Court of Justice in Nicaragua ruled in favor of Ortega to make his presidential bid possible for 2011. In Nicaragua, article 147 of the constitution clearly states that a President cannot run for a consecutive re-election campaign and cannot be President more than twice. Ortega is seeking to run for re-election for a consecutive term and wants to be president for the third time, both issues are clearly prohibited by the Nicaraguan Constitution. Ortega is not the only president in the region dealing with this re-election challenge. As soon as Ortega returned from the ALBA conference with the backing of his allies Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, Jose Ramon Machado, and Evo Morales, the first thing on his platform was sidestepping the National Assembly to regain power for another 5 years.

So why did the Supreme Court rule in his favor? The judicial branch is made up of judges from the Sandinista party that vote in favor of interest and not the rule of law. Ortega had everything planned out and coordinated very well when the Supreme Court issued their decision. His supporters headed to the ‘rotondas’ in Managua with signs and propaganda to show their support of the court’s ruling. These supporters could not have orchestrated such a response so quickly unless they were given advance notice. These rallies become dangerous as most individuals carry weapons and block commerce and products moving within the capital that can impact the country’s economy.

Due to the threat to democracy, the civil society organizations and the political parties in Nicaragua have begun to unite. The Bancada Democrática Nicaragüense, Partido Liberal Constitucionalista, Movimiento Renovador Sandinista, and the Alianza Liberal Nicaragüense are looking for legislative tactics in order to revoke this ruling. The unification of all the political parties guarantees 48 votes which is a majority in the Nicaraguan National Assembly. Hopefully, the unification can last long enough in order to seek change in the country. The past has proven that it is extremely difficult for all these leaders to stay united through the crisis at hand. The private sector organizations such as the Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada (Cosep) and the Cámara de Comercio Americana Nicaragüense (Amcham) have also spoken publicly against the ruling by the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Justice, Manuel Martinez, has commented over his uncertainty of the legality of the ruling and the failure to follow proper procedures to fulfill quorum at the high court such as allowing sufficient time to be present for the court’s deliberations. Some might ask why not let the elections go through and let the people decide? As Nicaraguan citizens learned in 2006, the Supreme Electoral Court cannot be trusted in conducting a fair, free, and transparent election. Ortega stole the presidential elections in 2006 and the municipal elections in 2008, so there is no reason to believe that he will not do it again. In order to prevent more instability and chaos in Nicaragua and throughout Central America, the United States must begin to engage and realize the actual importance of the events that are occurring right in its backyard or its quickly going to feel like the Cold War all over again in the hemisphere.

Eddy Acevedo currently serves as the Federal Affairs Coordinator of Miami-Dade County’s DC Office. Miami-Dade County is the 9th largest county in the United States and is considered the Gateway to the Americas. Mr. Acevedo advocates for the County’s priorities with Congress and the White House. In 2005, he worked as Senior Legislative Assistant to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18), Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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