Illustration Credit: PxMolinA, Confidencial
This week in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega continued to crack down on critics and opposition leaders in advance of the November elections that will see him vying for a fourth consecutive presidential term (and fifth term overall). Over the past two weeks, Ortega’s government has arrested and detained 13 prominent opposition figures, including four prospective presidential challengers. Using a controversial law passed in December that allows the government to classify citizens as “traitors to the homeland” and ban them from electoral politics for a laundry list of alleged and arbitrary offenses, Ortega’s crackdown expanded this week to encompass Nicaragua’s business and civil society sectors: Ortega arrested nearly the entire leadership of UNAMOS—an opposition party comprised principally of defectors from Ortega’s Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN)—and a prominent banker, Luis Rivas Anduray. Hugo Torres, vice president of UNAMOS and Ortega’s FSLN comrade-in-arms during the Nicaraguan Revolution, was also arrested over the weekend. “Forty-six years ago, I risked my life to rescue Daniel Ortega and other political prisoners from prison, but that’s how life goes: those who once held their principles high have now betrayed them,” claimed Torres in a video recorded before his arrest. Anduray, executive president of Banco de Producción, S.A., was charged with inciting foreign interference and conspiring with foreign powers to impose sanctions against the Nicaraguan government.
In response to the escalating crackdown, the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a resolution condemning the arrests of the Nicaraguan political prisoners and calling for their immediate release; only Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines voted against the resolution, with Mexico, Honduras, Dominica, Argentina, and Belize abstaining. The OAS resolution follows the United States Department of State’s announcement that it would levy sanctions against four Nicaraguan officials, including Ortega’s own daughter, for undermining democracy and human rights abuses. The United Nations also called on Nicaraguan authorities to respect international human rights charters and release the detained opposition figures.
Analysts and observers suggest that Ortega’s recent crackdown—the most brazen offensive against Nicaragua’s political opposition since government security forces were deployed to put down protests in 2018, killing hundreds of demonstrators—have the twin objectives of guaranteeing Ortega an easy path to remaining in power and gaining proverbial chips to be used in negotiations with the U.S. and other multilateral institutions to ease sanctions on the country and its ruling class. According to Oscar René Vargas, a dissident who fled to Costa Rica in 2018 in the aftermath of the earlier government crackdown, the arrests are designed to “win time, give away the minimum to stay in power, and achieve the lifting of sanctions on his family and immediate circle.” Meanwhile, Dora María Téllez—a former FSLN guerilla and Ortega’s onetime health minister turned strident government critic, who was arrested alongside Torres—has maintained that Ortega and his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, “are gambling on staying in power through blood and fire. But that is a risky bet—it’s the last gamble of a dictator’s family.”