MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega was sworn in for a fourth straight term on Monday after elections were deemed rigged and on a day marked by sanctions by the United States and the European Union on members of his government.
Beside him was First Lady Rosario Murillo, who was being sworn in for her second term as his Vice President.
“We will continue to fight to defend the people so that they have health care, education and housing,” the former Sandinista commander said in the capital’s Revolution Square, which was filled with waving flags of his party.
Ortega, 76, and Murillo, 70, oversaw the detention of opposition leaders, including seven potential challengers for the presidency, months before the November election. They have remained defiant to foreign pressure.
On Monday night, Ortega called for the lifting of sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba — whose leaders both attended the event — and said the US president has “more than 700 political prisoners” in relation to those linked to the storming of the US -Capital were detained a year ago.
Ortega claims that the huge street protests against his government in April 2018 were an attempt to overthrow his foreign-backed government.
Earlier Monday, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on more Nicaraguan officials.
The Treasury Department announced it would freeze the US assets of the Secretary of Defense and five other officials in the army, telecommunications and mining sectors. As with dozens of Nicaraguan officials already under sanctions, US citizens will be barred from doing business with them.
“Since April 2018, the Ortega-Murillo regime has cracked down on political opposition and public demonstrations, resulting in more than 300 deaths, 2,000 wounded and the imprisonment of hundreds of political and civil society figures,” the agency said in a statement Ministry of Finance. “More than 100,000 Nicaraguans have since fled the country.”
The State Department said Nicaragua “continues to hold 170 political prisoners, with many of those detained suffering from a lack of adequate food and medical care.”
The State Department also imposes visa restrictions on 116 people linked to the Ortega regime, “including mayors, prosecutors, university administrators, and police, prison and military officials.”
“Ortega’s corrupt security and judicial system has arrested these individuals for engaging in independent journalism, working for civil society organizations, voting in elections and publicly expressing an opinion contrary to government orthodoxy, among other activities contained in a free society are considered normal,” the state department wrote.
“President Ortega will inaugurate himself today for a new term as president, but the pre-determined elections he conducted on November 7 do not confer on him a new democratic mandate,” the statement said. “Only free and fair elections can do that.”
Ortega was elected to a fourth consecutive term in the November 7 election, which was widely criticized as a farce after seven suspected challengers to Ortega were arrested and imprisoned in the months leading up to the vote. His inauguration ceremony was scheduled to take place later Monday.
With all institutions of government firmly within Ortega’s reach and the opposition in exile, in prison or in hiding, the 75-year-old leader sapped remaining hope that the country could soon return to a democratic path. Instead, he seemed poised to test the resolve of the international community and further scale down its targeted sanctions and statements of disapproval.
The Ortega regime has been plagued by rounds of sentencing and sanctions since the vote.
The government of Nicaragua announced in November that it would withdraw from the Organization of American States after the regional authority accused Ortega’s government of acts of repression and electoral fraud.
The OAS General Assembly voted to condemn the elections, saying they were “not free, fair or transparent and lacked democratic legitimacy”.
25 American countries voted in favor of the resolution, seven – including Mexico – abstained. Only Nicaragua voted against.
Ortega’s defiant stance has left Latin American governments with the dilemma of deciding whether to send representatives to the inauguration.
The Mexican government, for example, repeatedly tipped over Sunday and Monday whether it would send anyone.
On Sunday, Mexico said it would send a middle official for foreign relations, but then said it wouldn’t. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday he wasn’t sure, then corrected himself and said he would send the chargé d’affaires to the Mexican embassy in Managua.
The list of expected participants included representatives from China, North Korea, Iran, Russia and Syria. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel also attended.