Nicaragua: Exit of Electoral Council Chief Demanded


Gabriel Alvarez: “an unsustainable model”; Granera: “It’s a national shame.” Both demand an independent investigation of Roberto Rivas’ illicit wealth.

By Arlen Cerda  (Confidencial)

Roberto Rivas (c) Photo:

HAVANA TIMES – Magistrate Roberto Rivas should resign the post that he’s occupied for over twenty years as head of an electoral system that has collapsed, even though his exit alone won’t reestablish its credibility. 

This is the unanimous opinion of analysts and figures from the Nicaraguan opposition, after Rivas’ name was included in the list released by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control of corrupt international officials to be sanctioned under the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.   The opposition also demands an independent investigation of the illicit wealth accumulated by the controversial functionary. 

Gabriel Alvarez, a political analyst and a lawyer specializing in Constitutional Law, warns, “The Nicaraguan electoral system has been useless for quite a while. One individual can’t make this problem better or worse, but in any case Rivas needs to get out.”

Rivas was sanctioned this past Dec. 21, together with another fourteen figures from all over the world. U.S. legislators have already included the sanctions against Rivas in the other initiative known as the Nica Act, which conditions the awarding of multilateral loans for Nicaragua on “free, fair and transparent elections.” The NICA Act was passed in October by the House of Representatives, and has currently been referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. 

In passing the act in the House, Congressional representatives based their arguments on State Department reports on human rights in Nicaragua, as well as “investigative reporting from La Prensa and Confidencial documenting accusations of corruption against Rivas. These have reported that he’s accumulated a fortune and is the owner of houses, mansions, yachts and airplanes, although his government salary is only $5,000 a month.”

More than 3 weeks after the sanctions, the government of Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo have maintained silence. During this time, Ortega hasn’t even made any public appearances or official activities.

“Unsustainable” model

Alvarez sees the U.S. sanctions against the magistrate as a “demonstration of the unsustainability and the strategic failure of the dynastic corporate model that Ortega has been constructing in his alliance with COSEP (Superior Council of Private Enterprise).”

“The Magnitsky Global Law’s sanctions to Rivas highlight the impressive fragility and precariousness of this regimen that can’t be sustained,” he insists.

Roberto Rivas (c) and the full Supreme Electoral Council. File Photo:

Economists and independent analysts have warned of grave risks for the Nicaraguan economy, faced with the sanctions against Rivas, plus others regarding Albanisa, plus those in the Nica Act.  Nonetheless, members of the private sector who’ve touched on the topic discount any effect and elect to highlight the promise and interest in foreign investment in Nicaragua, whose stated goal is US 1.5 billion dollars for 2018.

Confidencial attempted without success to contact representatives of the private sector to hear their impressions.

Alvarez criticized the fact that in Nicaragua “the rule of law has been supplanted by an exclusive and perverse movement of very few important business figures with their tight circle.”  According to the analyst, “They and Ortega and his closest followers are the only ones who have reaped any fruits from this model.”

According to the lawyer, those who open their eyes in time can see that the sanctions to Rivas reveal that “Ortega is no longer capable of protecting the security or patrimony of this small group, much less that of other businesspeople, workers who want a democratic system, or the rest of the Nicaraguans”

“Either [Ortega] undergoes a real change – maybe not because he wants to, but out of a simple survival mechanism – or his irreversible collapse over the short or medium term will begin,” was his verdict.

“National shame”

Violeta Granera, national leader of the opposition group Broad Front for Democracy, agrees that Rivas “should go”, even though his dismissal would be “absolutely insufficient” to restore credibility to the electoral system.

Granera judges Rivas to be “a national shame”, but insists that the real demand and concern of Nicaraguans is the establishment of conditions for the realization of free and transparent elections.

Rivas and the Supreme Electoral Council he presides over have been accused of orchestrating the electoral frauds that have benefitted the governing Sandinista Front over the last decade. Nevertheless, Ortega designated Rivas to guarantee the three-year work plan that was signed with the Organization of American States to “Strengthen the institutional operations” of the electoral system, although there’s been no further news about this.

Granera demands that the renewal of the electoral system not be resolved via “cosmetic changes, or Rivas’ departure, but with profound reforms to the system and the appointment of an independent official of recognized integrity to its head.”

At the end of 2017, the Broad Front for Democracy presented a fifteen-point proposal for reform and for a just, free, inclusive and transparent system.  The proposal builds on past proposals from the now extinct Promotor Group for Electoral Reforms that have been circulating for over a decade.

Eliseo Nunez Morales, a lawyer and former opposition deputy, agrees with Granera that the sanctions imposed on Roberto Rivas should send a message, “not only to Ortega, but also to his immediate circle.”

Like Alvarez, Nunez notes that the sanctions cited “are causing uncertainty in those close to Ortega, leaving them clear that he can’t protect them beyond Nicaragua, and that there’s no possible impunity.”

Jose Pallais, former deputy for the Liberal party and a specialist in Constitutional Law, estimates that despite the official silence, the inclusion of Rivas in the Office of Foreign Assets Control list has had “a great impact on the government.”

“It’s known that they’re thinking about what kind of response to give and considering if they should try to diffuse the confrontation created or continue it.  They must be analyzing all of their possibilities for this, and the strength of their internal and external alliances,” he reflects.

According to Pallais, selecting Rivas for such sanctions “has the effect of hitting not just the person noted for corruption, but also Ortega’s electoral system by highlighting the fact that the president of the electoral organ is responsible for anti-democratic practices.”

“The legitimacy of all the elections held under Rivas’ direction has been left in serious question, and as a result – Pallais believes – the legitimacy of the Ortega government.”