|Roberto Rivas Reyes|
President of the Supreme Electoral Council of Nicaragua
We know the tale of the Nicaraguan leftists as they describe themselves in their own words; revolutionaries, working-class heroes, anti-Somozistas, friends of the poor, and idealists leading their country to a more socially just future.
Please forgive my break with decorum as I must now resort to that frank American colloquial euphemism I regard as the only appropriate commentary on the collective self-image of the Sandinistas--Bullshit!
So what is going on here? Well, the Nicaraguan government is now in the midst of a very terse diplomatic back-and-forth with Costa Rica because the latter has seized a Porsche belonging to the family of FSLN leader Roberto Rivas Reyes, President of Nicaragua's Supreme Electoral Council, whose brother Harold is Nicaragua's Ambassador to Costa Rica. The controversy stems from a violation of user and, what is especially important under Costa Rican law, import tax privileges accorded to the personal vehicles of accredited diplomats, who are permitted to avoid paying excessive licensing fees normally required for private individuals who bring high-priced automobiles into the country to use while they reside there. The catch is that Costa Rica offers the exemption to diplomats provided that the car is maintained exclusively for their own use, which leads us to the problem. Apparently the Porsche 911 in question was for the personal use of Maurice and Laureano Ortega, sons of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who are students at a university in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose and who also, evidently, have been driving back and forth to Nicaragua using the official diplomatic vehicle.
News of the car's seizure first broke from Costa Rica and was picked up by Nicaragua's La Prensa newspaper about two weeks ago. How surprising is it? I submit, not much. Those who have followed my blog might recall how I posted Nicaraguan journalist Luciano Cuadra's complaint last November about disciplined schoolchildren waiting in line at stoplights who find themselves forced "to get up on the sidewalk when the Comandante passes by quickly in his Mercedes Benz." And evidently the frills of power also extend to Ortega's two sons as well. But hey! Maurice and Laureano are college students. They need to get the chicas! And they required some help to gather the accoutrements of jet-set status about them. Enter Roberto Rivas, who has such means at his disposal as would make a Las Vegas pimp jealous.
Somehow--we can only imagine--Roberto and Harold Rivas seem to have acquired rather extensive personal wealth as evidenced by property they have in Costa Rica. In addition to the Porsche 911 in question, the Rivas family has also brought a Mercedes Benz S 500 and a BMW M3 into the country as accredited diplomatic vehicles, the latter of which was registered to Guillermo Matus, third secretary of the Nicaraguan delegation in San Jose. In late November of last year the Costa Rican newspaper La Nación reported the misuse of these two vehicles, which may have started this investigation by Costa Rica's Ministerio de Hacienda, i.e. Finance Ministry, since Roberto Rivas, who is not a diplomat attached to the Nicaraguan embassy, was reported driving the Mercedes and that his wife had an accident the previous July in the same vehicle. Moreover; their son Roberto Miguel Rivas, who is also a student in San Jose, was photographed using the BMW. And where were Roberto Rivas and his family residing while in San Jose, Costa Rica? Well, in their luxurious private residence in the prestigious Villareal district of the capital city where, according to La Prensa, homes go for between $980,000 to $3 million (U.S.).
There has been some back-and-forth on this controversy which, in the larger scheme of things, may not appear too significant, though the irresponsibility of the excesses of the Rivas and Ortega families and their inattention to Nicaraguan interests cannot be denied. During December the affair seemed confined largely to a public scandal played out in the news media, but evidently it had an effect, given that the Costa Rican government eventually seized the Porsche. Daniel Ortega's response was low-level intimidation, he ordered official police protection withdrawn from the Costa Rican embassy, which was reciprocated in kind in San Jose when Costa Rica also drew back its police guard from the Nicaraguan diplomatic compound. Nicaragua then issued an order forbidding Costa Rican diplomatic vehicles from leaving the country. Sandinista old-guard Comandante Tomas Borge, who you may remember as one of the facilitators of the Medellin Cartel in the 1980's, blasted Costa Rica and its President Oscar Arias from Lima, Peru, where he serves as Ambassador from Nicaragua. The Costa Ricans obviously took offense and Nicaragua's Foreign Minister Samuel Santos sought to distance his government from Borge's remarks, after which the controversy seems to have settled down for the moment.
But what does all this say about the FSLN leadership? That there exists a pervasive personal corruption among them is too easy a conclusion to draw, there is more. It is the arrogance that follows the corruption that is particularly disgusting and which marks the Sandinistas as something comparable to the old-style Central American oligarchic elites. Forget the rhetoric, the Sandinistas represent nothing more than a new oligarchy for Nicaragua, a modern elite made rich from public thievery and criminal associations. We can only hope that their tenure is short-lived and that Nicaragua and its people are once again given a chance for a prosperous and democratic future.
Recommended Link (in Spanish): Los hijos de Daniél Ortega y el "diplomático" Roberto Rivas: La corrupción sandinista by Gustavo Coronel at his Las Armas de Coronel blog.