Nicaragua: sweeps target opposition activists
Over 30 opposition figures were detained by the National Police in nationwide sweeps across Nicaragua on Sept. 26. Most were released after questioning, but some are still being held. The majority of the detained were members of a newly formed opposition body, the National Coalition, which brings together three political parties and several dissident organizations. Among those detained were 17 indigenous Rama and Kriol (Afro-Nicaraguan) activists from the Caribbean coastal department of Río San Juan. Included in this group were prominent Kriol environmentalist Princess Barberena and Jaime McCrea Williams, president of the Territorial Government of Rama & Kriol. In Managua, police surrounded the offices of the Maria Elena Cuadra Movement, which advocates for the rights of working women, and interrogated the group's representative Sandra Ramos when she arrived on the scene.
Ramos later told reporters she believed the group was targeted for its work representing the mothers of political prisoners since the protest wave of 2018. "We're not a terrorist organization or anything resembling one," said Ramos. "We're a shitload of women who defend other women."
The Maria Elena Cuadra Movement is a part of the National Coalition, which was formed in June. It also includes three political parties, the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD) and the indigenous-led Yatama; and several popular organizations, most prominently the Civic Alliance for Justice & Democracy, the Blue & White National Unity (UNAB) and the Campesino Movement. (Global Voices, Sept. 28; Rio Times, Havana Times, Nicaragua Confidencial, Sept. 27; La Prensa, Sept. 4, CNN Español, June 26)
The sweeps came days after official commemorations of Central American independence, celebrated Sept. 15. Amid a strong police deployment, President Daniel Ortega received the "Torch of Freedom & Fraternity," which was being runs through the five Central American republics to mark the 199th anniversary of their independence. Ortega received the torch three days before its arrival in Costa Rica's capital on the 15th. He was criticized for not wearing a mask at the event, exacerbating opposition claims that he has denied the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nicaragua Today, Sept. 13) The Citizens' COVID-19 Observatory, an independent group monitoring the coronavirus in Nicaragua, reported 9,998 suspected cases as of Sept. 2, nearly three times the official count of 3,659 cases, as well as 2,680 deaths—way above the government's figure of 137. (The New Humanitarian, Sept. 2)
The opposition as well as international rights groups charge that political space is rapidly closing in Nicaragua. Legislation introduced by Ortega's ruling FSLN would require entities receiving any funds from abroad to register as "foreign agents" with the Interior Ministry. The proposed law is assailed by Amnesty International as an "instrument of repression." Ortega has also proposed a legal reform to allow life sentences for "hate crimes," and explicitly threatened to use the measure against protesters accused of attacking police. (Tico Times, Sept. 27; Associated Press, Sept. 15)