Roberto Rivas, who was sanctioned by the United States, remains as “President” of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council, but without any duties. Lumberto Campbell becomes the de facto president, while Rivas maintains his immunity, salary and privileges.
By Arlen Cerca (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Reforms to the Electoral Law were approved last week by the National Assembly, transferring the functions of the Supreme Electoral Council’s president to the vice president of this institution. The reform “is illegal and illegitimate”, according to Jose Pallais, lawyer and former deputy for the Liberal party who was at one time in charge of the Parliament’s Commission for Legal Affairs.
The Assembly passed the current reform as an urgent matter, fifty days after the United States Treasury Department imposed sanctions against Roberto Rivas Reyes, Magistrate and President of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE). Rivas has been missing from the public view since that time, and had already been replaced in his official capacity by Vice President Lumberto Campbell.
Pallais notes that: “Article 192 of the Constitution establishes that the initiative for a partial reform must be forwarded to a special commission to rule on it within sixty days.” In contrast, the reform to Article 14 approved on Wednesday, was drafted and approved in less than 24 hours.
“As a result,” Pallais maintains, “the procedure for approval and the reform measure are unconstitutional, and as such are illegal and illegitimate.”
In addition, the lawyer and expert in Constitutional Law affirms: “the reform violates the principle of functional hierarchy which makes possible the orderly functioning of the administrative powers and organs. Such a procedure is only possible under totalitarian regimes, where all the members of the Chamber know and accept that no one has authority, but that authority is exercised only by the dictator who authorizes everything, right down to the most minimal details, with all of the Legislature subordinate to the Executive authority,” he states critically.
“So as not to abandon him”
Azahalea Solis, a member of the opposition party Broad Front for Democracy and also an expert in Constitutional Law, believes that the approved electoral reform measure is merely “a way of freeing themselves from the problem, of getting Roberto Rivas out of the predicament he’s in, and the Ortega government as well.”
“The gringos need a response, and you can’t leave a member of the mafia unprotected. If (Ortega) deposes (Rivas), that’s a bad message for others that are in the same situation -scamming the institutions and managing them however they want, with electoral frauds, corruption and the rest. Upon feeling themselves unprotected, perhaps some of those figures wouldn’t hesitate to make a deal with the United States, and he’d lose out,” was Solis’ appraisal.
Solis also coincides with Pallais that “there’s no legal nor political justification for acting that way via an urgent procedure.”
Mauricio Diaz, former diplomat and candidate for mayor of Managua with the Citizens for Freedom party, also believes that the objective of the reform is to avoid leaving Rivas without protection. Rivas, despite having gravely reduced duties, will conserve his immunity, his salary estimated at about $5,000 a month, and all the privileges of his office.
“They’re still trying to protect him, to cover up what can’t be covered up, because they continue to confront a very delicate situation (with the United States). Effectively, Roberto Rivas hasn’t been condemned by any court, but they’ve affected his assets and those of his family members, who are going to appear in the blacklists,” Diaz assumes.
“The goal, he repeats, “is to protect him. Not to abandon him. That’s the way the Sandinistas behave. They won’t throw him to the lions, or chop the fallen tree into kindling.”
According to Diaz, these “are bad signs for the Nicaraguans, because this Government does whatever they want. They continue abusing power, and up until today we haven’t been able to come to an agreement and confront this kind of regime in a more decisive and united manner.”
Anyone else in this position would resign, says the ex-president of the Supreme Electoral Council
The ex-president of the Supreme Electoral Council, Rosa Marina Zelaya assures that “It’s incomprehensible why they made this change,” leaving Campbell as the acting president and Rivas in name only.
“There’s a de facto dismissal, because the President is now without powers. This situation where the Vice President has more power than the President has never been seen in any other part of the world,” Zelaya states. She believes that any other President in his situation would resign his office.
Former guerilla commander and leader of the Sandinista Renewal Movement, Dora Maria Tellez, considers that the electoral reform was the government’s way out in the face of Rivas’ situation. She notes that “the sanctions left him without a legal life, with a civic death due to the economic effects, so that his role was liquidated and the Electoral Council left paralyzed.”
In the reform measure’s rationale, there was no mention of the United States sanctions. Instead, the explanation merely revolves around “the search for administrative efficiency within the process of modernizing the State, wherein it has become opportune to have the administration of the Electoral Power be exercised by the Vice President,” citing “the dynamic of the process which integrates the departments of Vital Records, Citizen Identification Cards, and the Electoral Rolls, all managed by the Supreme Electoral Council.”
Nevertheless, Tellez assures: “Put simply – Rivas is being hidden and protected,” and for that reason “they’re leaving him his immunity, his office, the salary, and his privileges.”
“How much information does Roberto Rivas have on Daniel Ortega in order to enjoy such protection? No one is investigating him, no one is stripping him of protection. He’s covered under the mantle of the Ortega-Murillo family,” Tellez accuses.
For his part, Eliseo Nunez, lawyer and former Liberal Party legislator, estimates that with the reform “Ortega is closing himself off from any kind of concession. “This,” he says, “is a sign that he won’t dismiss Roberto Rivas and he creates a legal patch so that the banks can accept the signatures of the Supreme Electoral Council.”
Nunez also points out that the procedure for approving the reform “violates the Organic Law of Legislative Power.” Nevertheless, he indicates, “that has already stopped being of interest to the regime. They don’t even care about maintaining minimum legal appearances anymore, knowing that they’re in complete control of the system.”
“Roberto Rivas,” he sums up, “is left as an Icon of the Regime’s Resistance to Imperialism.”