How can you have an election and there be nobody selling things to the waiting voters? The answer: nobody in line, so no rush for fast food! The booths for Nicaragua's Election Day were all open, we had heard about it and planned well in advance with some thoughts schools would be closed for a whole month. We all knew it was Election Day because of the media talk. But come the day to vote, Sunday the 6th was like every other Sunday. Quiet. No fanfare, no noise, no political posturing even a week before. Why so?
Lots of conjecture. People we spoke to on the street said they would vote but later because there was little rush; others said they would not vote because there was no doubt: Daniel will win. They insisted that Daniel Ortega, the current President and former Sandinista Commander, and his astute wife, who has been made Vice President, have complete control of the country since they came (back) into power in about 2000 and that the election was rigged. There is perhaps always that cry from losing opposition parties but there could be some merit to it given the constitution was conveniently changed to allow Daniel to run a third time and for his wife to become Vice President. Further, some people even said that the key opposition leaders sold out this time, or at least, didn't fight hard enough when they became ineligible to run. They became ineligible because of a relatively minor misdemeanour: we read that they cut trees down on their properties and so broke environmental laws.
So what does this all mean? Is it bad? When there is corruption at the highest level and the system of justice compromised it is not a good sign of security and prosperity for all. And by many accounts that is happening in Nicaragua. However, Nicaragua certainly appears to have prospered in recent years and there is relative stability in contrast to neighbouring countries. For example, the crime rate in Honduras and El Salvador is excessive, and border insecurity high in other Latin American States. In Managua we have certainly observed far more middle class since the 1990's, far more modern cars on the road, and many more people with apparent expendable income. There are more hospitals in Managua too that rate well internationally, and private schools as well. On the island where we live, however, little of that has impacted and people still complain there is no work, costs are higher and yet their average salaries still hover at about US $140 a month. In schools and government centres only Sandinistas pro Daniel are given work, which means many educated people are unemployed. The only chance of work for them or in particular uneducated people (the majority here!) is domestic work or selling goods on the street or labouring work in plantations but, again, there are a plethora of people already doing this work and income is low. In the main there is little security of regular income.
So people just maintain their routine, and remain 'entrenched' in their daily habits. Central to that is the church which currently is celebrating the festivities surrounding their patron Saint San Diego of Alcalala. Every morning at 4.30am and every afternoon at 5.00pm there is a mass, after which a life size figure of the beloved Franciscan priest is ushered to houses who have requested his presence for the day or night. Fire works and kids with their drums accompany the processions to the houses where they plead for mercy and divine help in the coming year. As part of their plea, the family hosting San Diego hand out all sorts of goods to the adoring and waiting community. To our secular eye it is a tad misguided but it is a popular community event and a key thread in the hope that emboldens the people. Our kids in our 'Casa' are involved, so attendances at our activities are affected: most have been up all night celebrating and are too tired to go to school or come to our centre. But that is life here.
And so too are the elections, and coping with the realities of dictatorships: you just keep going. I asked one person: what will change with the election? Nothing. So, for this election, complete disinterest. And therefore no snags this Election Day.
There was much more interest in the US Election, and the outcome has significant effects here and throughout Latin America, let alone the world.