Neither her sister, Cristiana Chamorro, nor her cousin, Juan Chamorro, were so lucky. These are two of the five presidential candidates who were arrested ahead of the elections due in November. The crackdown also includes at least a dozen other prominent opponents of President Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, who is also the vice president.
The majority are held in El Chipote prison in Managua – many in secret – under the new law on the defense of the rights of the people to independence, sovereignty and self-determination for peace. They can be held for up to 90 days. In the case of presumptive presidential candidates, this essentially renders them ineligible.
“The strategy is to demoralize Nicaraguans, to delegitimize the electoral process to the point that the majority of people abstain because there is no opposition. This is Ortega’s goal. That way, he can win his fourth election in a row without even resorting to outright fraud, since he has paved the way for all challengers, ”Lesther Aleman told Al Jazeera.
Aleman is a university student leader who helped spark an uprising against President Ortega in April 2018. Hundreds of people were killed by police and paramilitary groups in clashes that lasted for weeks. Hundreds more have been imprisoned. More than 107,000 Nicaraguans have fled the country, the majority to neighboring Costa Rica. It appeared that things calmed down and “returned to normal.”
But three weeks ago, a new crackdown on opponents began, and over the past few days it has accelerated dramatically.
Vice President Rosario Murillo calls it “belated justice”, accusing jailed opponents of plotting with foreign powers to undermine the interests of the nation.
She offered no proof.
“They have become vulgar traitors to the nation, vulgar soldiers of fortune, paid to sow death, destruction and hatred,” Murillo said on a radio and television show earlier this week.
William Grigsby is a close ally of Murillo who is seen as an unofficial spokesperson for the government.
“The operation has only just begun. There will be more (arrests). The law is for anyone who betrays the nation, which is a crime, ”Grigsby said on his radio show Without Borders, shortly before two more opponents of Ortega were arrested on Monday.
Even “uncooperative” bankers and prominent business leaders are arrested. For those who still remember the Sandinista revolution that toppled the former Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua and brought Daniel Ortega to power for the first time in 1979, some of the arrests are shocking.
Over the weekend, Hugo Torres, a retired Sandinista general who rescued Ortega from prison in the 1970s and served under him until the 1990s, was arrested. A few hours earlier, the emblematic Sandinista rebel commander Dora Maria Tellez and the former Sandinista Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Victor Hugo Tinoco. They belong to a group of Nicaraguan revolutionaries who broke with Ortega in the 1990s and formed an opposition party, Unamos. They accuse their former comrade in arms of having become the new dictator of the country and of sequestering their movement, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
Detentions are a message from Ortega: no one is banned, whatever their revolutionary credentials.
The repression alarmed the international community
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a new report expressing “a worrying and accelerating deterioration in the human rights situation. It is therefore unlikely that Nicaraguans will be able to fully exercise their political rights in the November 7 elections. “
Bachelet says the laws used to justify the arrests “are used to persecute opponents.”
Previously, Human Rights Watch released its own report detailing what it called “gross violations of physical and political rights” against many opponents.
“The growing repression in Nicaragua is reaching levels rarely seen in recent Latin American history. It is imperative that the international community and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres take firm action, ”HRW Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco told Al Jazeera.
Human Rights Watch requests that the Secretary-General invoke Article 99 of the Charter of the United Nations. This enables him to draw the attention of the Security Council to anything that could threaten international peace and security. In this case, Vivanco argues that a new, much larger migration crisis from Nicaragua could destabilize Central America, which already suffers from massive undocumented migration and violence from organized crime.
Hours later, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Law on Strengthening Nicaraguan Membership in Electoral Reform Terms (RENACER). It seeks to impose new sanctions on the Nicaraguan government in coordination with the European Union and Canada.
It is unclear exactly what type of penalties the bill would apply if passed by the US Congress. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and its economy is based almost exclusively on trade with the United States. Nicaragua is part of the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Central America. So far Washington has been reluctant to take the same hard-line stance against the Ortega government it has taken against its allies Cuba and Venezuela.
“It seems the United States doesn’t want to stir things up in Nicaragua, which at least doesn’t cause them as much of a problem as it does in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, no matter how badly things go. inside our country. They are afraid of an exodus and more unwanted migrants, ”Carlos Fernando Chamorro told al Jazeera.
But some fear that if a peaceful, transparent and fair election is thwarted in November, there could be a bloodbath.
“Right now, people are not taking to the streets because public demonstrations are punishable by imprisonment. Social explosions require a detonator, and the next could be the November 7 election. If there is fraud I cannot imagine the level of fury it will generate. We don’t want to see this scenario, ”said Aleman, choosing his words carefully.
As if to respond to this possible scenario, Ortega’s ally, William Grigsby, warned: “The Sandinista Front has never renounced armed struggle. Let it be very clear. We revolutionaries have made the decision to defend our freedom with weapons, blood and our lives.