Five months before the presidential election in Nicaragua, law enforcement agencies of the Central American country detained more than a dozen opponents and preliminary candidates whom they accuse of allegedly committing acts that threaten national sovereignty, which has already raised serious doubts about the legitimacy of the electoral process and received condemnation from the international community. What’s happening in Nicaragua today? Why did the internal political struggle take on such contradictory forms?
The general election in Nicaragua is scheduled for November 7, but today the degree of internal tension has increased to the limit. The oppositionists Felix Maradiaga (Spanish – Félix Alejandro Maradiaga Blandón) and Juan Sebastian Chamorro (Spanish – Juan Sebastián Chamorro García) were arrested in early June by Nicaraguan law enforcement agencies on suspicion of threatening national sovereignty of foreign intervention and foreign interference. They, like two other politicians arrested in early June, could compete with 75-year-old President Daniel Ortega (Spanish – José Daniel Ortega Saavedra), who plans to run for the fourth time in a row in the upcoming election. In practice, civil society in the Latin American country is still fragmented and lacking a coherent basis, so there is little that can prevent the current head of state from being re-elected for another term in November.
By the way, on June 8, Maradiaga was summoned to the prosecutor’s office, where he confirmed his desire to present his candidacy in the framework of the upcoming electoral process. As a result, a four-hour interrogation awaited him, during which investigators tried to understand whether Felix Maradiaga intended to ask the White House to impose sanctions against the Nicaraguan government. After his testimony, Maradiaga and his lawyer were detained and then taken away in an unknown direction.
A few days later, another alleged candidate, Juan Chamorro, was detained at his home. According to police, the arrests of both were related to “actions that undermine the sovereignty and independence of the country”, as well as “attempts to call for foreign interference in the internal affairs of the country and incitement to military intervention”.
In addition, the opposition leader and the former Ambassador of Nicaragua to Washington Arturo Cruz (Spanish – Arturo José Cruz Sequeira), the cousin of Juan Chamorro, Cristina Chamorro (Spanish – Cristiana María Chamorro Barrios), who is still under house arrest, were also detained. The latter was charged with money laundering. The US State Department has already called for the release of Christina Chamorro.
In order to analyze the current situation in Nicaragua, it is worth turning to the context of the events of recent years, one of which was the adoption of the controversial Law No. 1055. The bill, approved by the National Assembly of the Central American country in December 2020, was allegedly aimed at “protecting the rights of the people to independence, sovereignty and self-determination in the name of peace” and was used during these years mainly to detain various opponents of the government of Daniel Ortega.
At the moment, among the 14 detainees, there are already four potential presidential candidates in the elections to be held in November. Of these, 13 were arrested on the basis of Law No. 1055. Judging by this pace, Daniel Ortega may not have any opponents left to conduct the electoral process.
Ortega, leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Spanish – Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, abbr. – FSLN), was a member of the Council of the Government of the National Renaissance at the height of the Sandinista Revolution from 1979 to 1985. He was then first elected president for the period 1985-1990 and finally returned to power in 2007 after winning elections in November 2006. Since then, Daniel Ortega has been re-elected twice following a constitutional reform that removed restrictions on re-election for the post of head of state in Nicaragua for subsequent terms.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Spanish – Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos, Cenidh) condemned on Monday “the brutal escalation of repression and harassment against civil and political leaders”. On June 15, the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a Resolution on the Situation in Nicaragua, in which it expressed “alarm” over the recent deteriorating political situation in the Central American country and demands electoral reform to guarantee free and transparent elections.
The OAS resolution was adopted with the support of 26 countries with three votes against and five abstentions, including Mexico and Argentina, who nevertheless published a Joint Communiqué reflecting the approved document. Despite their disagreement with the “disregard for the principle of non-interference in internal affairs” and with the “intent to impose guidelines from the outside”, the two Latin American states reject political persecution and admit that a review of the arrests of opposition politicians “would help to ensure that the intended electoral process receives appropriate international recognition”. In November 2020, another Resolution, setting May 2021 as the deadline for the Nicaraguan government’s electoral reform, was supported by 20 countries.
In recent months, human rights defenders have been very concerned. The former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet (Spanish – Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria), who has served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights since 2018, said: “Since the last report on Nicaragua on 23 February, our agency has noted an alarming acceleration in the deterioration of the human rights situation. This reduces the chances of the population to fully exercise their political rights in the November 7 election. I call on the Nicaraguan government to urgently change the course of action it is pursuing against the backdrop of the election campaign”.
Despite criticism from the international community, Ortega’s government remains adamant. The aggravation of the political struggle continues. Thus, in addition to the aforementioned Law No. 1055, a security bill was approved in December, formally designed to protect sovereignty, and an electoral reform was carried out in May, which casts even more doubt on the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. While some experts are wondering why Daniel Ortega needed to eliminate political opponents in this way, because, according to forecasts, his electorate was able to provide him with significant support, others note that problems with human rights in Nicaragua existed even before the sandinistas came to power. A little less than five months remain before the planned electoral process, and the very near future will show how the current government will behave in its pursuit of victory in the election.