MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaraguan National Police on Tuesday arrested two other potential challengers of President Daniel Ortega, the third and fourth opposition pre-candidates in the November 7 elections held last week.
Félix Maradiaga was arrested after being summoned to the general prosecutor’s office to give a statement. He is under investigation for alleged crimes against the government. His campaign said in a statement that police arrested him, his driver and his lawyer after leaving the attorney general’s office.
Later Tuesday, police announced the arrest of Juan Sebastián Chamorro, another pre-candidate and former director of the opposition Civic Alliance coalition. He had received a summons on Wednesday for an “interview” at the attorney general’s office to make a statement regarding a case against the non-governmental group Nicaraguan Foundation for Social Development which he led until 2018.
A police statement said he was being investigated for alleged crimes similar to those in Maradiaga.
Just before his arrest, Maradiaga told reporters that he had been questioned for four hours about his activities as the former director of a non-governmental group focused on economic research, if he had any connections to drug traffickers. drugs and whether during his trips to the United States he had asked for sanctions against Nicaragua. He said he told them he asked for sanctions “but not to punish people, but rather government officials who have committed crimes against humanity.”
Authorities last week 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’s detention for three months during an investigation. Cristiana Chamorro remains under house arrest.
Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary of the US State Department for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said via Twitter that the “arbitrary” arrest of Maradiaga – and detentions last week – “undoubtedly confirms that ‘Ortega is a dictator. The international community has no choice but to treat it as such.
Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murrillo referred to the investigations Tuesday and called the subjects of the investigations “terrorists” and “criminals”.
“They believe they will go unpunished forever, (but) justice is coming, belatedly but it is coming to this Nicaragua which had prospered and in reconciliation,” she said. “How much we would have done with what this mountain of thieves stole, not just thieves but also terrorists, criminals.”
Ortega is running for a fourth consecutive term as president. His government has acted aggressively to clear the field of the challengers. Maradiaga was a pre-candidate for the Blue and White National Unity opposition coalition.
Coalition spokesman Josué Garay said Maradiaga was beaten by police during his arrest, causing his face to swell. He also said that the police were carrying out a search of Maradiaga’s home.
A national police statement said Maradiaga was under investigation for “acts which diminish independence, sovereignty and self-determination, inciting foreign interference in internal affairs, calling for military intervention, organized with funding from foreign powers to commit acts of terrorism and destabilization, propose and manage blockades of economic, commercial and financial operations against the country and its institutions, demanding the exaltation and applause of the imposition of sanctions against the Nicaraguan State and its citizens, harming the supreme interests of the nation.
In its own statement, the attorney general’s office was investigating two organizations led by Maradiaga – the Fundación Libertad (Foundation for Freedom) and the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy.
Tiziano Breda, Central America analyst for Crisis Group, a non-governmental group aimed at preventing and resolving deadly conflicts, said the arrests serve several purposes for Ortega.
First, he said, it sends a message to rally the Sandinista base, reinforcing Ortega’s narrative that the 2018 street protests were an attempted coup with foreign backing. Second, it is a show of force aimed at stoking divisions within the opposition and possibly forcing them to make the decision to support a lesser candidate or not to participate in the elections, Breda said.
Finally, he added, he is testing the limits to see what the international community will tolerate, but is getting far enough ahead of the November elections to allow for negotiations.
“Ortega is trying to eliminate those (candidates) who clearly represent a greater challenge, a greater risk of being able to build up sufficient support to challenge him in the elections,” Breda said.
The US and European sanctions imposed on Ortega’s relatives and key figures in his government clearly bothered him, but only led him to dig deeper and failed to produce concessions, said Breda.
He said the U.S. diplomatic outreach, recommended by Crisis Group in a report last month, would represent an alternative strategy for President Joe Biden’s administration.
Breda said Ortega could face prosecution for alleged crimes against humanity when removed from office and has so far not been prompted to relinquish power.
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