Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega faces growing international criticism after four possible presidential candidates were detained last week, prompting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday to demand his release.
On Tuesday, Juan Sebastian Chamorro Garcia was the last leader of the opposition to be arrested, hours later Felix Maradiaga he was detained.
Chamorro Garcia, the cousin of another detained presidential hopeful Christian Chamorro – seen as a favorite to beat Ortega in a November vote – was arrested 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, fueling growing criticism that Ortega is becoming increasingly authoritarian and seeking to dismiss his opponents from running in the next elections.
A Guterres spokesman told reporters Wednesday that the UN secretary-general is calling on the Nicaraguan authorities to fully respect their international human rights obligations and to release political leaders.
“These developments can seriously undermine public confidence in the democratic process ahead of the November general elections,” Stephane Dujarric said.
Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, also organized on Twitter the release of Chamorro Garcia “and all other political prisoners in # Nicaragua.”
He added: “The persecution and oppression of the dictatorship of … Daniel Ortega must stop. Nicaragua deserves to be free and democratic.”
The release of Juan Sebastián Chamorro and all other political prisoners #Nicaragua and that the persecution 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
Tuesday night repression
The fight started 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 trumped up.
Chamorro’s mother, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, defeated Ortega in the 1990 presidential election.
Then, on Saturday, 67-year-old Arturo Cruz was ordered detained on remand 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 famed businessman Jose Aguerri and human rights activist Violeta Granera on charges similar to those charged against Maradiaga and Chamorro Garcia Tuesday night, according to police.
Laura Chinchilla, former president of Costa Rica, tweeted that “it’s a Night of the Long Knives, tropical version.”
It’s a night of long knives in a tropical version
Where are the democratic presidents of the region who establish ideologies in defense of democracy?#Nicaragua
– Laura Chinchilla M. (@Laura_Ch) June 9, 2021
Maradiaga is a candidate with a UNAB non-parliamentary opposition group that has supported 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 alone, 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, 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 into a deeper tyranny,” said Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Property Control.
“The United States will continue to expose those officials who continue to ignore the will of its citizens.”
Ortega came to power a decade after the main rebels ousted Anastasio Somoza in 1979. He returned to his post in 2007, winning re-election in 2011 and 2016, but his recent rule has been marked by widespread protests.
Now 75, he has been accused by the opposition and NGOs of increasing authoritarianism and the brutal suppression of demonstrations. He is very much expected to run in the November elections, even if 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 “justice is late, but it’s coming,” while lashing out at “this group of thieves, not only thieves but also terrorists, criminals.”
Last month, the Nicaraguan legislature appointed a majority of party-aligned magistrates to the electoral body that will oversee the elections.