MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaragua Police detained five prominent opposition figures in two days and accelerated a move to one-party government.
A wave of arrests of politicians and civil society leaders over unfounded allegations of undermining over the past week has left longtime President Daniel Ortega virtually unopposed in the November general election.
“Ortega has crossed the line,” said Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a leading Nicaraguan publisher. Two of whose next of kin were detained last week. “This is the last blow to political competition.”
In general, police sent four opposition presidential candidates to jail or under house arrest in the past week, along with the spouse of one of the candidates, a leading social activist and a business leader. The crackdown continued on Wednesday, with police arresting another prominent opposition activist, José Pallais.
The US responded to the repression by Wednesday four of the officials of Mr. To sanction Ortega, including his daughter. Sanctions against dozens of other top Nicaraguan officials have not eased repression in recent years.
Most of the latest political detainees have been held under Nicaragua’s so-called ‘Guillotine Law’, which has allowed the government since late last year to accuse any citizen of working for foreign powers and promoting unrest without having to prove to deliver.
In another sign of increasing repression, prosecutors have questioned nearly thirty journalists in alleged money laundering cases over the past few weeks and are threatening to stifle the last independent media in the country.
The speed and breadth of the attack on Nicaragua’s last bastions of opposition over the past week, even the opponents of Mr. Ortega surprised, who has gradually dismantled the country’s democratic institutions and suppressed dissent since he won the 2006 election.
The latest arrests have made former allies and officials of Mr. Ortega included; three of the detainees took part in the peace dialogue with the president after the police’s brutal repression of protests in 2018, which left more than 300 people dead.
“We see something unparalleled in modern Latin American history – a return to Cold War-style dictatorships,” said Mateo Jarquin, a Nicaragua expert at Chapman University in California.
The US has reacted strongly to the repression of Mr. Ortega and asked for the immediate release of the detainees. Five US congressmen have imposed targeted economic and diplomatic sanctions on Mr. Ortega asked in a dual statement released Wednesday.
The arrests “must resolve the remaining doubts about Ortega’s credentials as dictator,” Julie J. Chung, wrote the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for affairs of the Western Hemisphere on Tuesday. “The international community has no choice but to treat him this way.”
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Gutteres, said on Wednesday that the arrests were undermining confidence in Nicaragua’s election and called for the release of the detained dissidents.
But the oppression in Nicaragua was quietly committed by others Central American governments, a sign of the broader move away from democratic norms in the region.
Only one Nicaraguan opposition movement, Citizens for Liberty, is still legally eligible to register candidates for the November vote. Despite the rapidly shrinking options, the movement remained challenging.
“With the candidate left, we will confront Ortega,” Kitty Monterrey, president of Citizens of Liberty, said Monday.