Daniel Ortega tightens his grip as Nicaragua prepares for elections

Two decades ago, Violetta Chamorro defeated Daniel Ortega in the Nicaraguan election. This month, Ortega arrested Chamorro’s daughter as part of an unprecedented crackdown on opposition figures aimed at paving the way for a fourth consecutive presidential term.

The veteran strongman chose his targets one by one before the November vote. Since June 2, Ortega has arrested four presidential candidates, a major businessman and two opposition leaders. An arrest warrant has also been issued for the president of the American Chamber of Commerce.

“It is quite clear that he is setting the stage for his candidacy without any meaningful opposition,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch.

First up was Christiana Chamorro, whose mother defeated the Sandinista rebels in the 1990 elections. She was accused of money laundering, which she denies, and was held under house arrest.

Arturo Cruz, the former ambassador to the United States, was next. He was arrested on arrival at Managua airport under the treason law passed by Ortega late last year – one of the… set of repressive measures It aims to neutralize the opposition in the wake of the 2018 protests, in which some 450 people were killed.

Then came Félix Madaraga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Christiana’s cousin, accused of instigating foreign interference in internal affairs.

The four were potential candidates in the November 7 election, as Ortega, 75, who first took power after the Sandinista revolution that toppled US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, seeks another five-year term. He ruled from 1989 to 1990, and has held power without interruption since 2007.

Violetta Granera, opposition activist, Jose Ballet, former foreign minister, Jose Adan Aguirre, former head of the largest commercial lobby, Cozip, were also arrested. In hiding, Mario Arana, the leader of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the former governor of the Central Bank.

Daniel Ortega “He is someone who will do anything to stay in power – there is no end to the repression he will use,” said Bianca Jagger, a human rights defender in Nicaragua.

One adviser, who asked not to be named in order to protect the people he worked with in Nicaragua, described Ortega’s tactics as a “partial cancellation of the elections.” Or, as Jagger said, “What you see is Daniel Ortega who will never run and lose an election.”

Indeed, Ortega doubled down on his control of the electoral apparatus in May, placing his party, the FSLN, in charge of running the elections. It eliminated monitors and enabled the banning of opposition parties.

Ortega’s increasingly brazen tactics are unlikely to spill over into protests due to the spread of fear. Masked paramilitaries shot protesters in 2018 Ortega has tightened his grip on the country even more since then. As one local said: “He controls everything.”

Ortega has tightened his grip on Nicaragua since the armed crackdown on demonstrations in 2018 © Inti Ocon / AFP via Getty Images

Activists and regional political leaders had hoped that the United States would advance. Nicaragua was included in what former US National Security Adviser John Bolton called a “trilogy of tyranny” along with Cuba and Venezuela, however, “Ortega enjoyed years of neglect on the part of the United States and the international community . . . so he was able to dare . . . . said Maria Bozmoski of the Atlantic Council, a think-tank.

Despite US sanctions on allies and senior officials — including his wife, Rosario Murillo, the regime’s vice president and mouthpiece, and some of his sons — Ortega has thrown his nose at Washington.

Christiana Chamorro was arrested while Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, was at a regional meeting in neighboring Costa Rica. Others were arrested while Kamala Harris, the vice president, was in Mexico.

“The only card left is the United States,” said Laura Chinchilla, the former president of Costa Rica. “Biden’s credibility is at stake.”

Julie Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, chirp that “Nicaragua has become an international pariah and is moving away from democracy.”

The United States says it will reconsider Nicaragua’s commercial access to the United States if it fails to hold free and fair elections. But his comment from Cafta-DR . Free Trade Agreement It can backfire.

“Keeping Nicaragua in Cafta is like injecting a dying patient with blood and keeping him on oxygen,” Bozmoski said. But if Nicaragua is commented “The people who will suffer are half a million whose jobs depend on… [export-oriented] free zone. These jobs will strive to exist.”

Chinchilla urged lenders to “turn off the taps” while Vivanco appealed to “a flood of sanctions directed against senior officials” to escalate pressure on the Ortega regime.

But one veteran US diplomat said that even if that works, it risks “further impoverishing a region where we’re trying to do something” and could lead to more immigration from Central America.

The diplomat added that more than 100,000 Nicaraguans fled to Costa Rica during the 2018 protests, but the numbers arriving at the US border, while still low, have recently risen slightly.

Ortega’s control of the country, including the army and police, protects him, but the situation remains volatile.

“I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen,” the consultant said. “But I’m sure it’s not over yet.”

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