Amid tumultuous screams of “police, murderers," the bodies of Mercedes Torres Pérez and his two sons, Josué Sael and Elmer Torres Cruz were laid to rest in the city of Cusmapa in northern Nicaragua. Looking on, the grieving widow Irenia Cruz wailed, “Punish the murderers of my husband and my two sons,” she said.
Mercedes and his sons were activists for the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) – the party of opposition presidential candidate Fabio Gadea. According to stories told by the local population, on Tuesday of last week – close to midnight – a group of local police, the local political secretary of the FSLN (President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista party) and the CEM (municipal electoral authorities) began “hunting” opposition leaders. Upon arriving in the town, they fired their weapons in the air and yelled, “we’ve come to kill all the liberals in this community, and today is the day they will not escape.” Torres and his two sons were found hiding in a dark corner, and executed.
According to stories, the murderers then stood on the bodies.When the human rights organization CENIDH arrived in the city the following day, the community handed over 18 AK-47 bullet casings.
General Ramon Avellan of the national police arrived in the community to assure the villagers that the four police and the FSLN political chief had been placed under arrest and that Internal Affairs was carrying out a full investigation of the incident.
According to another report, the day before the elections in another “barrio," members of the FSLN were seen distributing new bats; which they used to intimidate community members.
This round of elections in Nicaragua has been fraught with violence and controversy. To start with, the candidacy itself of Daniel Ortega was illegal; the Nicaraguan constitution forbids presidential re-election. Ortega obtained permission to run by having a pro-FSLN Supreme Court rule that the constitution violated his human rights.
The Supreme Electoral Council, also controlled by President Ortega, did not provide accreditation to all domestic electoral observers; and the international observer missions of the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States (OAS) called the elections “opaque” and “worrisome” respectively. The international community has been slow to recognize the electoral result; with the US State Department calling the vote “not transparent.”
More details are slowly emerging as to the extent of the fraud. Using the excuse of preparedness, the Supreme Electoral Council printed 2.6 million more ballots than were needed. After the results were tallied, it became clear that congressional candidates received 100,000 more votes than the President. In Nicaragua, as in the United States, that is unheard of; and has led to swinging up to14 seats in favor of the FSLN – giving them a supermajority in congress, according to sources.
According to IPADE (an electoral observation organization), in 34 percent of the voting centers the Voter Reception Teams (JVR – part of the citizen verification process as part of electoral law) did not have access to the final results at their voting centers; 13 percent could not arrive at their voting centers because of issues such as violence or interference; 20 percent of voting centers did not have observers from the opposition party alliance; lack of accreditation of observers (national and international); in 20 municipalities voters were systematically intimidated by police and pro-government forces; and finally a general lack of control on the voting and vote counting process.
In 1989 an over-confident Daniel Ortega failed to rig the elections enough and was forced to hand over power to Violeta Chamorro – he was not about to repeat the mistake.
The international community should not let this fraudulent election stand. Over the last two decades Nicaragua has worked too hard to win their freedom and stability to be plunged back into dictatorship under the same man who destroyed the country in the 1980s.
As signatories to the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Democratic Charter – the government of Nicaragua has the legal responsibility to abide by the principles of constitutional, representative democracy which includes free and fair elections and adherence to their own constitution. It is clear that these elections abide by neither.
The United States and its allies should call Nicaragua out at the next OAS Permanent Council meeting, invoking an article 20 violation of the charter for an, “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime,” and then use the full power of the hemispheric community to assure that the elections are done again – this time with a legal candidacy of the FSLN and abiding by the full safeguards laid out in the electoral law.
Thankfully, the times have changed. No longer is the FSLN regime propped up by a predatory communist superpower; a fact which makes them much more vulnerable to international pressure. Now is the time to exert that pressure. Otherwise, the deaths of Mercedes, Josue and Elmer will not only have been in vain – but could be followed by many more.
Joel D. Hirst is a Principal at the Cordoba Group International. He tweets at www.twitter.com/joelhirst and www.twitter.com/cordobagroupint.