Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is facing growing international criticism after the arrest of four possible presidential candidates last week, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday to call for their freedom.
On Tuesday, Juan Sebastian Chamorro Garcia was the last opposition leader arrested, hours later Felix Maradiaga he was arrested.
Chamorro Garcia, cousin of another hopeful presidential detainee Christian Chamorro – seen as a favorite to beat Ortega in a November vote – was arrested on Tuesday on charges of “inciting foreign interference in internal affairs”.
He is also accused of using “funding from foreign powers” to plan to “perpetrate terrorist acts,” according to a police statement.
Four opposition political leaders have been detained since last week in Nicaragua, prompting growing criticism that Ortega is becoming increasingly authoritarian and that he intends to keep his opponents away from running in the next elections.
A Guterres spokesman told reporters on Wednesday that the UN secretary-general is urging Nicaraguan authorities to fully respect their international human rights obligations and release political leaders.
“These events can seriously undermine public confidence in the democratic process ahead of the November general election,” Stephane Dujarric said.
Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, also urged on Twitter the release of Chamorro Garcia “and the rest of #Nicaragua’s political prisoners.”
He added: “The harassment and oppression of the dictatorship of … Daniel Ortega must cease. Nicaragua deserves to be free and democratic.”
The release of Juan Sebastián Chamorro and all the other political prisoners is urgent #Nicaragua and that the harassment and oppression of the dictatorship of the patrician Daniel Ortega cease. Nicaragua deserves to be free and democratic. https://t.co/xG8b8hb7Yw
– Luis Almagro (@ Almagro_OEA2015) June 9, 2021
Repression Tuesday night
The reduction began a week ago when Cristiana Chamorro, a journalist not affiliated with a political party, was placed under house arrest on money laundering allegations, widely seen as outdated.
Chamorro’s mother, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, defeated Ortega in the 1990 presidential election.
Then, on Saturday, Arturo Cruz, 67, was ordered to pretrial detention while prosecutors are investigating allegations of “provocation … and conspiracy to harm national integrity.”
Cruz announced his presidential candidacy two months ago with the conservative Citizens Alliance for Freedom party.
Authorities also arrested well-known businessman Jose Aguerri and human rights activist Violeta Granera on charges similar to those imposed on Tuesday night against Maradiaga and Chamorro Garcia, according to police.
Former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla tweeted that “it’s a night of long knives, tropical version.”
It’s a night of long knives in the tropical version
Where are the region’s Democratic presidents laying down ideologies in defense of democracy?#Nicaragua
– Laura Chinchilla M. (@Laura_Ch) June 9, 2021
Maradiaga is a candidate with a non-parliamentary opposition group from UNAB that supported the protests against Ortega that have resulted in 328 deaths and thousands of exiles since 2018, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Chamorro Garcia and Aguerri, in turn, are members of the ACJD alliance that is negotiating with the government to end the demonstrations.
“It has become clear, even in recent days, that under President Ortega, Nicaragua is becoming an international pariah, moving away from democracy,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price , during a press conference.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the United States announced sanctions against four Nicaraguan officials who support Ortega, including the president’s daughter, accusing them of undermining democracy and abusing human rights.
“President Ortega’s actions are hurting Nicaraguans and leading the country to tyranny,” said Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control.
“The United States will continue to expose those officials who continue to ignore the will of its citizens.”
Ortega spent a decade in power after leading the rebels who ousted Anastasio Somoza in 1979. He returned to office in 2007, winning re-election in 2011 and 2016, but his recent government has been marked by widespread protests.
Now 75, the opposition and NGOs have accused him of increasing authoritarianism and brutally suppressing demonstrations. He is widely running in the November election, though he has not said so.
The European Union and the US maintain sanctions against Ortega and his government.
Ortega’s wife and vice president, Rosaria Murillo, said Tuesday that “justice comes late, but it comes,” while mocking “this group of thieves, not only thieves, but also terrorists, criminals.”
Last month, the Nicaraguan legislature appointed a majority of magistrates aligned with the ruling party for the electoral body that will oversee the election.