A leading Latin American analyst in Washington is worried that the ruling Sandinista Party in Nicaragua is slowly killing democracy, while the opposition remains divided and too weak to challenge the regime of the former Marxist revolutionaries.
The Sandinista judges on the Supreme Court recently removed a restriction that prohibited Nicaraguan presidents from serving more than two terms, presenting a significant boost to President Daniel Ortega, who wants to run for a third overall term in 2011.
“If there were any doubts that Nicaraguan democracy is slowly being extinguished, this latest development should remove them,” said Jaime Daremblum, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.
Mr. Daremblum, also a former Costa Rican ambassador to the United States, explained the court is made up of 16 members, with eight appointed by the Sandinistas and eight by the Liberal Party. However, the Sandinistas now enjoy an eight-to-seven majority because a Liberal Party judge died in May, and his seat remains vacant.
The decision to remove the re-election restriction on the president was made by only six of the Sandinista judges who met without informing the Liberal Party judges. Robert Callahan, the U.S. ambassador in Nicaragua, called the decision “improper,” sparking violence from Sandinista mobs that attacked the U.S. Embassy.
Mr. Ortega served as president after the Sandinista revolution of 1979. He was elected a second time in 2006 with only 38 percent of the vote because the opposition was split between two candidates.
“The lack of a united opposition has made it easier for Ortega and his cronies to trample the democratic process,” Mr. Daremblum said Tuesday in an analysis of the political situation in Nicaragua.
Since he began his second term, Mr. Ortega has increased his anti-American rhetoric and established alliances with Iran and Venezuela.
CHAOS IN CUBA
American leftists may praise Cuba as a “workers’ paradise,” but average Cubans are worried about their future, dissatisfied with the communist government and eager to own private property, according to a new poll by the International Republican Institute (IRI).
A year-and-a-half after Fidel Castro, in failing health, turned over the government to his brother, Raul, 82 percent of Cubans are fed up with communism, 75 percent would vote for fundamental political change and 86 percent would endorse a market economy, the survey found.
“The data reveals Cubans’ strong dissatisfaction toward their leadership and their indisputable preferences for political and economic change,” IRI President Lorne Craner said.
The institute polled 432 adults over the summer in 12 of Cuba’s 14 provinces. It contains a margin of error of five percentage points.
In addition to other findings, the survey showed that 52 percent of Cubans cite economic issues as their greatest concerns, including worries about low salaries and a high cost of living. Two-thirds have no confidence that the government can improve their lives.
An overwhelming 91 percent “support the ability to freely purchase and sell their homes, a rights that is not currently afforded to them.”
Cell phone use has increased 10 percent and e-mail use by 23 percent since November 2008, the survey found.
“The data on cell-phone and e-mail use is encouraging,” Mr. Craner said. “Not surprisingly, those people with more access to information and communication tend to be the most critical of the Cuban government and the ones with the largest appetites for reform.”
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