Nicaraguan Protest March in Masaya “They Took Away Our Right to Choose”

“If the 15 thousand polling stations remain empty, this will be the greatest rejection,” claims an opposition member who is calling for mass abstention.

by Danae Vilchez  (Confidencial)

Protestor against election farce in Masaya. Photo: Ricardo Salgado/confidencial
Enough is enough!  Protestor against election farce in Masaya. Photo: Ricardo Salgado/confidencial

HAVANA TIMES — Marlene Guerrero, a native from the Niquinohomo neighborhood, in the Masaya province, claims that she has been hounded for months now by the government’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party members to receive pigs and cows in exchange for her vote in the general elections which are set to take place on Novemeber 6th, where Comandante Daniel Ortega is looking for a third consecutive presidential term, with his wife Rosario Murillo as his running mate.

However, Guerrero protests that she will not vote and instead took part in a march organized in Masaya this past Saturday to protest against the elections, which opposition parties and civil bodies have labeled a “farce”.

“This government has us fed up, that’s why I’m here, I’m making sacrifices to come here, but I’ve come. I’m not going to vote because there’s nobody to vote for,” says Guerrero. Her neighborhood lies about 15 kms east of the city of Masaya, the provincial capital.

On August 27th, around 800 people took part in the march that began at the San Jeronimo roundabout on the Masaya-Granada highway, and ended at the small market in Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Cardenal Square, in the Monmbo neighborhood. This protest is the first one of a “blue and white civil campaign”, which civil society organizations have called for.

Ortega sympathizers tried to block the march

Since 8 am. in the morning on Saturday, citizens and opposition party sympathizers who make up the National Coalition for Democracy, excluded from the elections, gathered together at the entrance to Masaya. However, they were met with their first obstacle.  Ortega’s FSLN was celebrating its own march on the same route that had been drawn out for their march.  There were over 500 high school students and members of the Sandinista Youth Movement who took part, protected by National Police agents and their motorized detachment, known as “Los Dantos”.

“We sent a letter to the Police about 10 days ago, but there aren’t any surprises. This is the way they work; we know that the FSLN has attack groups. This is a student event that had been scheduled to take place somewhere else but they moved it here to the roundabout [to provoke a clash]. We already know that this is the way the political power acts,” responded Sergio Boffeli, the executive director of the Movement for Nicaragua (MPN), which called for this march last week.

After two hours, the party event came to an end and at approximately 9:30AM, a group of opposition members tried to kick off their march. A brief conflict between protests and members of the FSLN attack squad changed the public mood, but no casualties were recorded. Minutes afterwards, opposition members were able to pass through the city and its inhabitants appeared at the doors and windows of their homes, some of them even joined the protest waving Nicaraguan flags.

“Abstention is the only way”

In June, a court ruling by the Supreme Court (controlled by the government) snatched the Liberal Independent Party’s legal representation away from the group led by former presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre, leaving the National Coalition for Democracy opposition party without a banner or voting box on ballots. Furthermore, the Supreme Electoral Council (also controlled by the government) has monopolized control of provincial voting structures and Ortega has discredited and banned independent national and international commissions from observing the elections.

Under these conditions, the opposition and different sectors of civil society have urged that the Nicaraguan people exercize a conscious and active abstention from the elections, while other groups are calling for people to go to the polls, but cancel their votes.

At this march on Saturday, representatives from the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), of the Citizens for Liberty group which joins together the old PLI’s structures and sympathizers, among other political groups, took part.

According to Victor Hugo Tinoco, a member of the MRS, abstention is the strongest suggestion to stand up to the control that the government exercises over the elections. Tinoco was unseated from the National Assembly along with 27 other opposition lawmakers, due to a questionable order from the Electoral Court against which they filed an appeal but haven’t received a response.

“What we are suggesting to the population is that the best way to reject the suspension of free elections is by abstaining from voting. Not going to vote and making sure that the 15,000 polling stations remain empty, this will be the greatest rejection,” insisted Tinoco.

Raquel Gonzalez, an activist for Citizens for Freedom, said that she won’t vote in November, but that she will participate civically and denounce the elections.

“There really won’t be any elections taking place here, they’ve taken away our right to choose freely. I’m not going to vote, the elections are a show, they took away our right as Nicaraguan citizens,” complains Gonzalez.