Denis Obando is certain he won reelection as mayor of Nueva Guinea. But he says he’s also certain that Nicaragua is no longer a democracy, and that’s why it doesn’t matter how many votes he got on Nov. 4 because elections don’t matter anymore.
“I’m not dismounting my horse, I’m getting pulled out of the saddle,” Obando told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a recent interview.
Despite presenting official copies of all the voting records from Nueva Guinea to support his claim that he won reelection handily by more than 2,000 ballots, the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) refused to honor his request for a revision or recount. Instead, electoral authorities awarded victory to the Sandinista challenger without further consideration or concern. Obando’s supporters protested the CSE’s decision, but their demonstration was quickly squelched by what the mayor calls “the Sandinista Police.” Dozens of protesters were injured—several seriously—and some 54 of Obando’s supporters were arrested.
Now, the popular lame-duck mayor says his followers are coming to grips with the realization that they’ve lost power despite winning the popular vote. But he thinks the incident served as an important wakeup call for a drowsy nation.
“This has unmasked the capacity and the extremes to which this regime is willing to go,” Obando says. “This whole electoral process was cooked before it started. The spaces for democracy in Nicaragua have been closed. This is the end of a chronicle of a pre-announced death.”
In the testy days following the Nov. 4 municipal elections, Nueva Guinea—a former hotbed of contra activity in the 1980s—was unexpectedly thrust into the national spotlight as an example of grassroots rebellion against the Sandinistas’ centralized political project. Obando, a virtual unknown political player on the national stage less than a month ago, suddenly became a symbol of resistance.
As such, he says, all the opposition forces flocked to Nueva Guinea—everyone, that is, except for Arnoldo Alemán, the formerly portly party boss of the withering Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC). Ironically, Alemán, whose interest in politics these days doesn’t seem to extend beyond the gates of his own farm, offered no support for his party base in the one municipality where it was starting to show some signs of life.
Others, however, came knocking. Nueva Guinea, Obando says, was turned into a “political emporium for all types of people trying to gain advantage from the situation here.” The mayor says he was courted by leaders of the Independent Liberal Party, the Social Christian Democrats, the Sandinista Renovation Movement, and even leaders of the rearmed contra groups that supposedly don’t exist.
“The rearmed contra leaders established contact with me and made a proposal, but they have no strategy and don’t realize the dimension of what they are trying to start. The conditions for that still don’t exist,” Obando says.
Though the opposition tried to make Nueva Guinea a rallying cry, Obando says that flame is already flickering and soon he will be left all alone to pay for the consequences of his brief rebellion against the system. “I know that at some point, I alone will have to pay the cost for all this,” he says. “There is solidarity now, but there will come a moment when I am left alone to face the totalitarian system.”
“This fire will be extinguished,” he says, “and my flame won’t last long.”
‘Now comes the fear’
Obando thinks now that the Sandinista Front controls 134 of 153 municipalities their project will shift its focus from consolidating power to exercising power.
“This is the beginning of a new regime,” Obando says. And with the exercise of power, he says, the ruling party will try to instill fear in the people, as it did last week’s dust-up in Nueva Guinea.
“The fear is coming, and it will be the number one ally of the Ortega regime,” Obando says. “Our leaders were arrested illegally and mistreated; one has five fractures, and no one received medical attention. Now the prosecutors’ office won’t file any complaints against the Sandinista Police. They have stoned our houses to deliver a clear and flamboyant message that we are no longer leaders in a normal community.”
Obando thinks the situation will get worse before it gets better. “I know what is coming because I know the extremist philosophy of the Sandinista Front,” he says.
Obando says starting in January he’ll no longer be a political leader, but a social leader. And that, he says, is where he got his support in the first place.
“I am social leader, not a political leader; I never identified too much with my party’s letters anyway,” Obando says. “ In rural communities we don’t need political parties, we need social struggle.”
The work, he says, won’t be easy. Most people have improved their lives since the 1980s, when there were food shortages, repression and war. And that progress is strong motivation to keep people at home and out of opposition activity, Obando says.
Obando, whose own family suffered the consequences of the war in the 1980s, says he understands why people are reluctant to get involved.
“I have my land, I have my children, and my wife says tells me, ‘Denis, this doesn’t make sense! Denis, we have children and enough money to live! Denis, you can find another job in an NGO.’ And if my wife is telling me that, I am sure that other Nicaraguan families are saying the same thing,” Obando says.
Eventually, he predicts, people will get pushed too far.
“In a totalitarian system, the first thing you lose is your human rights, and what sense does everything else have if you don’t have your dignity as a person?” Obando says.
Prior to the municipal elections, Obando says, many people in Nicaragua’s opposition still believed in democracy on a local level. “There were still people who thought we could work our way out of this democratically, but I have been down that road and I am 100% sure that there is no democratic way out of this given the current conditions and the government’s tendency.”
Following the Nov. 4 elections, the people of Nueva Guinea are starting to wake up to that reality, he says.
“In six to eight months, people will realize that Nicaragua is on an irreversible path that is incompatible with democracy. Then we will be able to see more clearly the way forward against this dictatorship.”