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)

Nicaragua parliament bars opposition from 2021 election

The Nicaragua National Assembly on Dec. 21 approved a law that will bar opposition politicians from participating in the November 2021 election.

The "Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace" was sponsored by President Daniel Ortega and bars "those who ask for, celebrate and applaud the imposition of sanctions against the Nicaraguan state." It gives the government power to unilaterally declare citizens "terrorists" or "traitors to the homeland," and to ban them from running as political candidates. Treason can be punished by imprisonment of up to 15 years.

The law was passed by 70 votes, with only 15 voting against, and four abstenions.

Numerous human rights groups have opposed the bill. The Organization of American States (OAS) called on the government to repeal the law, stating that it "would deny the Nicaraguan people the right to freely choose their representatives, transforming the 2021 elections into an imposition rather than an election."

The US has sanctioned 27 people close to Ortega, including his wife and three children. On the day the law was passed, the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on three more individuals: Vice President of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court of Justice Marvin Ramiro Aguilar Garcia; a deputy of the National Assembly, Walmaro Antonio Gutierrez Mercado; and commander of the Nicaraguan National Police in Leon department, Fidel De Jesus Dominguez Alvarez.

Elections will be held in November 2021, and Ortega is expected to run again. (Jurist)

Nicaragua opposition figure Chamorro put under house arrest

Police in Nicaragua have placed opposition presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro under house arrest. Prosecutors have accused Chamorro of money laundering, which she denies, and demand she be barred from running in November's election.

Chamorro is seen by many in the opposition as their best hope of defeating President Daniel Ortega, who is expected to run for a fifth term. Her mother Violata Chamorro defeated Ortega in the 1990 presidential poll. (BBC News)

The Supreme Electoral Council has also aboragted the legal status of the opposition Democratic Restoration Party (formerly the Sandinista Renewal Movement), barring it from running candidates. (Confidencial)

Nicaragua detains yet another opposition politician

Police in Nicaragua have detained another leading opposition politician and potential presidential candidate. Police said June 5 they arrested Arturo Cruz Sequeira, a former ambassador to the United States, under a controversial "treason" law passed in December. Cruz Sequeira was considered a contender for the nomination of the opposition Citizens for Liberty party in the Nov. 7 elections. (AP)

Nicaragua detains two more opposition leaders

Nicaragua's National Police arrested two more potential challengers to President Daniel Ortega on June 8—Félix Maradiaga of the Instituto de Estudios Estratégicos y Políticas Pública (IEEPP) and Juan Sebastián Chamorro of the Civic Alliance. Both are accused of conspiring against the government. (AP, Europa Press)

Nicaragua detains five more opposition leaders

The Nicaraguan government of President Daniel Ortega arrested five opposition leaders during a major weekend round up, in what appears to be widespread detentions of anyone who might challenge his rule. The arrests suggest Ortega has moved beyond detaining potential rival candidates in the Nov. 7 elections, and is targeting any figure of the opposition. The arrests bring to 12 the number of opponents detained this month. Among the detained is prominent ex-Sandinista dissidents Dora María Téllez and Hugo Torres. (WaPo, Confidencial)

Nicaragua detains yet another opposition leader

Argentina and Mexico have recalled their ambassadors to Nicaragua following the latest in a series of high-profile political arrests. A joint statement said the envoys would return to their capitals for talks about the Nicaraguan government's "worrying" actions.

The move came after another potential presidential candidate was detained. Journalist Miguel Mora was held under Nicaragua's controversial "treason" law. He is the fifth presidential hopeful to be arrested in the past three weeks.

The wave of detentions comes five months before elections in which President Daniel Ortega is expected to run for a fourth consecutive term. (BBC News)

HRW assails Nicaragua crackdown

Human Rights Watch on JUne 22 urged the UN and member countries to pressure Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to halt a crackdown on opposition figures ahead of the presidential election in November.

The report lists multiple cases of arbitrary detention and targeted harassment. Lawmaker Gustavo Eduardo Porras Cortes is one of the officials named in the report. It was under Porras' leadership that the Law for the Defense of People’s Rights to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self Determination for Peace was enacted last year, which gives the government power to unilaterally declare citizens "terrorists" and to ban them from running as political candidates.

The report recommends that members of the UN Human Rights Council place pressure on the Nicaraguan government to comply with the Council's resolution A/HRC/46/L.8 of March, which urges the government to "repeal or amend legislation that may unduly restrict the rights to the freedoms of expression and association, to privacy and to take part in the conduct of public affairs." (Jurist)

Nicaragua detains campesino leader

Medardo Mairena, leader of Nicaragua's Movimiento Campesino, became the sixth presidential hopeful to be detained on July 6. He is allegedly being investigated for acts that "undermine national sovereignty." (EFE, BBC)

EU imposes sanctions on eight Nicaraguan officials

The European Council on Aug. 2 imposed sanctions on eight Nicaraguan officials, including Vice President Rosario Murillo, for serious human rights violations and actions that "undermined democracy or the rule of law." Murillo is also Nicaragua's First Lady. (Jurist)

Nicaragua opposition party barred from elections

The main opposition party in Nicaragua has been disqualified ahead of the country's November elections. The electoral council said the president of the Citizens Alliance for Liberty Party (CXL) holds dual US and Nicaraguan citizenship in violation of the law.

The supreme electoral council accused CXL of carrying out "verbal acts that undermine independence, sovereignty and auto-determination."

The electoral council also revoked the citizenship of CXL's leader Carmella Rogers Amburn, also known as Kitty Monterrey, leaving her at risk of deportation. (BBC News)

Opposition newspaper raided in Nicaragua

Police in Nicaragua have raided the offices of the country's main newspaper, La Prensa, which has been highly critical of President Daniel Ortega's government. Photographs on La Prensa's website show riot police entering the building and boxes of materials being removed. Journalists said internet access and electricity were cut during the raid.

Police said they were investigating allegations of customs fraud and money laundering by the newspaper's managers.

La Prensa is owned by the family of Christiana Chamorro, a high-profile politician who was detained two months ago after announcing she would run against President Ortega in November's elections. Other presidential hopefuls have also been detained. (BBC News)

Ortega regime orders arrest of Sergio Ramírez

Nicaraguan prosecutors ordered the arrest of an award-winning novelist who used to be a close aide to President Daniel Ortega. Sergio Ramírez, who in 2017 won the Premio Cervantes, the most prestigious literary award in the Spanish-speaking world, is accused of "incitement of hate" and "conspiracy." 

Ramírez is also accused of receiving money from the Violeta Barrios Chamorro Foundation, which is accused of money laundering and undermining national sovereignty.

Ramírez, who fell out with Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front in 1995, left the country in June after appearing as a witness in the case against the Chamorro foundation.

He is also accused of receiving money from the Luisa Mercado Foundation, a cultural organization that the prosecutor's office has accused of trying to "destabilize" the country.

Ramírez, 78, had been an official in the Sandinista government that came to power in 1979 and was vice president under Ortega during his first period as president from 1985 to 1990.

The Nicaraguan government has already accused some 34 political opponents, including seven presidential candidates, of plotting against the state in a law that was approved by parliament in December. (AFP)