Watchdog group takes cedula complaints to OAS

(posted March 13, 11:30 a.m.)- Electoral watchdog group Ethics and Transparency yesterday denounced the State of Nicaragua before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) for abusing its power by politicizing the issuance of national identification cards, or cédulas.

Ethics and Transparency’s case against Nicaragua was based on more than 200 documented instances in which the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) denied Nicaraguans their right to a state identification card.

Roberto Courtney (second from left) before the ICHR yesterday (courtesy photo)

“Our complaint is a civil matter; not having a cédula affects people’s access to education and work, it makes it difficult for them to access public services. This is about more than just the right to vote,” said Roberto Courtney, executive director of Ethics and Transparency, the Nicaraguan affiliate of Transparency International.

Courtney told the Organization of American States (OAS) human rights commission that Nicaragua’s state identification apparatus is “at the mercy of one party, which facilitates the process for some and makes it difficult for others.”

In representation of the Nicaraguan government, Luis Alvarado dismissed the statistics presented by Ethics and Transparency as “isolated cases” and accused the watchdog group of playing opposition politics with “the government of reconciliation and national unity.” He dismissed the criticism of Nicaragua’s cédula system as the cries of protest from “small opposition groups” that are trying to create an “environment of confrontation.”

Alvarado complained that human rights and democracy groups in Nicaragua are acting like opposition political parties.

Iván Lara, the Sandinista government’s other representative before the ICHR, defended the state’s position by rattling off a bunch of laws that guarantee citizen rights and the equality of all Nicaraguans. He said of the 4,473,691 Nicaraguans registered on the government’s roster, 4,399,127 already have their cédulas. “That’s equivalent to 98.2% (of all citizens), and only 80,562 citizens have supplementary documentation, which is equivalent to 1.80% of the population,” he said.  

“There are some difficulties in the process of issuing cédulas, but there is a shared responsibility of our citizens too, and many times those responsibilities can’t be assumed by state functionaries,” Lara said.

In many instances, he said, Nicaraguans “wait until the last minute” of the electoral calendar to request their cédulas. “As a result, it’s impossible for the state to respond to all the solicitudes—we’re talking about thousands—at the last minute.”

In other cases, he said, Nicaraguans can’t get their cédulas because they don’t have their birth certificates in order. And the government, as part of its efforts against organized crime, has to be very careful not to issue cédulas to the wrong people, he said. (Indeed, a cédula-trafficking network operating inside the CSE wasn’t careful enough to avoid detection last year, when naughty narco magistrate Julio César Osuna was caught selling cédulas to drug dealers).

 After hearing both sides, ICHR president Rosa María Ortiz asked the Nicaraguan government delegates for permission to send a commission to Nicaragua for an “in situ” visit. Nicaragua’s Alvarado said he would pass the request along to Managua.


  • Ken

    I wonder what the data really show. Being jerked around while trying to get a cédula (or anything else from government bureaucrats) is hardly uncommon in any country, so Ethics and Transparency needs to make the link between the delays and politics. I’ll be interesting to know whether they can make that link.