President Daniel Ortega has spent the last week using the undeniable power of the country’s police and courts to crack down on his political opposition with brutal efficiency.
Four of the detained opposition leaders are presidential candidates charged with crimes that would likely disqualify them from running against Ortega.
According to a statement from the Nicaraguan prosecutor’s office, it all began with the arrest of leading presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, who was investigated since last month for mismanaging a non-profit free press advocacy organization was.
Just a day after he announced his candidacy for the presidency as an independent, officials raided his home. Prosecutors have so far offered no serious evidence to back up their vague claims, on charges including “abusive management, ideological lies in competition with the crime of legalizing money, goods and property, to the detriment of the State of Nicaragua”. Chamorro Barrios denies – was arrested – all charges.
The Chamorro Barrios are one of Nicaragua’s prominent families and were widely considered to have a good chance of defeating Ortega in November. He was defeated by his mother, Violet Barrios, in the 1990 presidential elections.
A few days later, Ortega’s political witch hunt caught sight of another presidential contender, Arturo Cruz, who was arrested at the international airport in the capital of Managua after returning from a trip to the United States.
And over the next four days, another five prominent opposition leaders were detained, among them Juan Sebastian Chamorro García, the cousin of Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, who was also running for president of another party.
More opposition leaders were arrested over the weekend, including Tamara Davila, who leads a coalition of opposition groups known as Blue and White National Unity; Suyen Barhona, president of the Unamos party founded by the Sandinistas; Unamos Vice President Hugo Torres Jimenez; Dora Maria Tellez; Founder of Unamos, and Ana Margarita Vijil, an activist at Unamos.
According to the press release from the prosecutor’s office, most are being investigated for similar charges – acting “against the country’s independence, sovereignty and self-determination.”
“It is the product of the fear and terror that Daniel Ortega has to face transparent, competitive elections,” Juan Sebastian said in an interview with CNN en Espaol’s Carmen Aristegui, days before his arrest.
The Ortega administration did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
But for those who keep a close eye on Nicaragua, the events of the past week have not been surprising. Many people feel that it has been a long time since they arrived.
2018: Turning Point
President Ortega, along with his wife and Vice President, Rosario Murillo, have been undermining Nicaraguan democracy for years, according to critics and human rights groups.
Centralization of the executive branch of government followed, followed by the weakening of its democratic institutions. Ortega and Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) loyalists were elected to head the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s office, and even the Supreme Electoral Council.
The 2008 municipal election results were cast in doubt by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CNIDH) and the 2016 presidential election was not watched by international observers.
But the real turning point came in 2018, when Ortega’s government approved changes to the country’s social security programs in an effort to stem the growing deficit within the program. The contribution of workers and employers would have increased, but the amount received by retired employees in their pension would have decreased.
People of all ages took to the streets to stage a massive protest. The government was forced to withdraw its proposal, but it did little to quell the anger of Nicaraguans, many of whom took the time to express widespread anger with Ortega’s regime.
The protests developed into wider demands, including the resignation of Ortega.
Instead of working with opposition groups and protesters to find a peaceful solution, Ortega’s government took the opposite approach – swift and lethal action, human rights violations by pro-government armed groups arbitrarily detaining hundreds who protested. were participating.
Churches were attacked if the protesters were believed to be seeking security inside, which was condemned by the country’s Catholic Church.
Human rights group CENIDH reported that pro-government forces attacked students hiding in defiance against the government, killing at least two people in a fatal incident, the universities were void.
According to several human rights groups, at least 325 people were killed during the civil unrest as Ortega’s security forces used lethal force against the protesters.
Ortega’s government denied those allegations. According to their “official” figures, at least 195 people died, an inconsistency that persists to this day.
Months after the protests began, the government was able to temporarily calm the storm, working to negotiate a settlement with several civic groups – with the Catholic Church serving as their mediator – all meeting certain demands. and with the intention of ending the disturbance.
But talks will stall as Ortega refuses to succumb to his main point – a call for early elections. The government eventually agreed to allow international organizations in the country to investigate the deaths of hundreds of protesters, and some of them were released in what the IACHR called “baseless and unsubstantiated allegations”.
Ortega continued to exert excessive force against any dissent, consolidating his hold on power in all state institutions – the judicial, the Supreme Court, the military, the media.
The protest became the justification for the enactment of several new laws, which continued to suppress any dissent, creating fear across the country.
Later anti-government demonstrations were banned. Publicly waving the country’s flag or wearing its colours, a prominent symbol of the 2018 demonstrations, was criminalised.
According to the IACHR, more than 100 university students who took part in the demonstrations were expelled from school and health care workers assisting the injured lost their jobs.
Anyone who speaks publicly against the government can be considered a traitor to the country. Independent news stations were also targeted, some were raided and closed. Journalists were imprisoned or exiled.
The protest movement against Ortega began to subside until it eventually ended, yet systematic repression continues.
Independent media institutions and journalists are being harassed. Some political parties have been dissolved. International suggestions submitted to ensure free and fair elections have been ignored.
“Here, the person who raises his voice is marked or reproached as a traitor to the country,” said Juan of Nicaragua, who disagrees with the Ortega government and supports the protests. He told CNN not to use his real name to speak against the administration without fear of reprisal.
When asked what would happen if the government came to know that he was talking to foreign journalists, he said, “They will consider me a traitor to the country.” “They may commit some crime and take me to jail who knows how many years.”
Juan spoke to CNN from inside his car outside his job, because he was afraid to express his true opinion inside. He said there are always people who can report anti-government sentiment to the authorities.
Her fear of persecution is well established.
The government did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the torture allegations.
Ortega’s latest action has generated international condemnation.
“At this stage we have a mask of democracy in Nicaragua,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the US Human Rights Watch. “There is little room in Nicaragua today for dissent and free work from the media and civil society.”
In a statement last month, the spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Marta Hurtado, expressed concern that the prospect of a free and fair election in November “was diminishing as a result of measures taken by the authorities against political parties, candidates and independent journalists”. “which further limits civil and democratic space.”
On Wednesday, the US government announced sanctions on four senior members of Ortega’s government, including his daughter, saying they were “involved in the repression of the regime.”
During a US State Department call with reporters on Thursday, Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary of the US State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said that Ortega “has to follow through on its commitment to allowing free and fair elections”. had a chance,” but was playing another game instead.
“They are afraid of losing, they are afraid of a free and fair, transparent system. They are afraid of losing their grip on power. As such, the fear of democracy has, I think, contributed to the trigger of this type of action, repressive actions, because they have no confidence in their ability to support people,” Chung said.
He urged the international community to join America’s efforts and support the people of Nicaragua.
“Ultimately, if Ortega continues on this path, he will further cement his position as an international pariah,” Chung said.
For an ordinary Nicaraguan like Juan, there are fears that Nicaragua is fast becoming “the second Venezuela.”
“Democracy does not exist or has not existed in Nicaragua for a long time,” he said.
As far as voting in the November election is concerned, Juan is torn.
“Participating in these elections in these current circumstances means that we are validating these elections, but if we do not vote, we are also going against our legal mandate to exercise our right to vote. “