Nicaragua arrests potential challengers to President Daniel Ortega

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – The Nicaraguan National Police arrested two other potential challengers to President Daniel Ortega on Tuesday, the third and fourth opposition candidates for the November 7th elections arrested last week.

Félix Maradiaga was arrested after being called to the Attorney General’s office to make a statement. He is being investigated for alleged crimes against the government. His campaign said in a statement that police stopped him, his driver and his lawyer after leaving the attorney general’s office.

Later on Tuesday, police announced the arrest of Juan Sebastián Chamorro, another candidate and former director of the opposition coalition Civic Alliance. On Wednesday he had received an invitation to an “interview” at the attorney general’s office to comment on a case against the NGO Nicaraguan Foundation for Social Development, which he headed until 2018.

A police statement said he was being investigated for alleged crimes similar to those of Maradiaga.

Shortly before his arrest, Maradiaga had told journalists that he had been interrogated for four hours about his work as a former director of a non-governmental organization focused on economic research, whether he had connections to drug traffickers and whether he had requested sanctions against Nicaragua while traveling to the USA. He said he had requested sanctions “not to punish the people, but to government officials who have committed crimes against humanity”.

Last week the authorities arrested Cristiana Chamorro, a cousin of Juan Sebastián Chamorro, and Arturo Cruz Sequeira, a former ambassador to the United States, who was arrested on Saturday under a controversial “treason law” passed in December. On Monday, a judge ordered Cruz to be held for three months while an investigation is underway. Cristiana Chamorro remains under house arrest.

Julie Chung, US State Department’s assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said on Twitter that Maradiaga’s “arbitrary” arrest – and last week’s detentions – “undoubtedly confirms Ortega is a dictator. The international community has no choice but to treat him as such. “

Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murrillo mentioned the investigation on Tuesday and described the investigators as “terrorists” and “criminals”.

“They believe that they will go forever with impunity, (but) justice comes late, but it arrives in this Nicaragua that has prospered and reconciled,” she said. “How much would we have done with what this mountain of thieves stole, not just thieves, but also terrorists, criminals.”

Ortega is aiming for a fourth consecutive term as president. His government has acted aggressively to clear the field of challengers. Maradiaga was a candidate for the opposition coalition Blue-White National Unity.

Coalition spokesman Josué Garay said Maradiaga was beaten by police during his arrest, causing his face to swell. He also said that police ransacked Maradiaga’s home.

A statement by the National Police said that Maradiaga was being investigated for “acts that undermine independence, sovereignty and self-determination, incite foreign interference in internal affairs, solicit military intervention, organize with funding from foreign powers to carry out acts of terrorism and destabilization measures,” Proposal and management of economic, trade and financial blockades against the country and its institutions, which call for the imposition of sanctions against the Nicaraguan state and its citizens with praise and applause, which harm the highest interests of the nation. “

The attorney general’s office said it was investigating two organizations that Maradiaga ran – the Fundación Libertad and the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy.

Tiziano Breda, Central America analyst for Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to avoid and resolve deadly conflicts, said Ortega’s arrests are for multiple purposes.

First, he said, it sends a message to rally the Sandinista base and reiterates Ortega’s story that the 2018 street protests were an attempted coup with foreign support. Second, it is a show of force aimed at fueling divisions within the opposition and ultimately forcing them to decide whether to support a lesser candidate or not to vote, Breda said

Finally, he added, test the limits to see what the international community will tolerate, but get well enough before the November elections to allow negotiations.

“Ortega is trying to eliminate those (candidates) who are clearly more challenging, more at risk, to garner enough support to challenge him in the elections,” Breda said.

The sanctions by the United States and Europe against Ortega supporters and key figures in his administration have clearly molested him, but only resulted in him driving in more and not making concessions, Breda said.

He said US diplomatic contacts, which the Crisis Group recommended in a report last month, would represent an alternative strategy for President Joe Biden’s administration.

Breda said Ortega could be prosecuted for alleged crimes against humanity after his resignation and had so far received no incentive to relinquish power.

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