The Washington Post

Nicaragua arrests top presidenti­al challenger­s to Ortega

Two candidates detained during visit to area by Vice President Harris

- BY ISMAEL LÓPEZ OCAMPO AND MARY BETH SHERIDAN mary.sheridan@washpost.com Sheridan reported from Mexico City.

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA — President Daniel Ortega’s government is arresting his top challenger­s in the November elections in a sharp escalation of political repression in Nicaragua.

Authoritie­s arrested two more presidenti­al hopefuls on Tuesday — Félix Maradiaga, an academic and political activist, and Juan Sebastián Chamorro, an economist — after detaining Arturo Cruz and Cristiana Chamorro in the previous week. The roundup represente­d a clear challenge to the Biden administra­tion, occurring around Vice President Harris’s visit to Central America and Mexico this week to promote good governance and find solutions to unauthoriz­ed migration.

Geoff Thale, president of the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group, said the arrests were a signal to the Biden administra­tion — “a message that plays to nationalis­t sentiment in the region, that the gringos aren’t going to push us around.”

The Chamorros are cousins and belong to the most storied political family in Nicaragua. Cristiana Chamorro’s mother, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, defeated Ortega in the presidenti­al race in 1990, ending the 11-year reign of the Sandinista movement that had triumphed in a 1979 revolution.

The U.S. government has slapped financial sanctions on a growing number of Nicaraguan political and security officials since a bloody government crackdown on nationwide protests in 2018. The Biden administra­tion has continued that policy, targeting officials it says are corrupt and dismantlin­g democratic institutio­ns.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury blackliste­d four more prominent government supporters, including the head of the central bank, Leonardo Ovidio Reyes Ramírez, and Ortega’s daughter Camila, who helps manage a family-run TV channel. Ortega’s wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, and several of their sons had already been sanctioned.

But the penalties haven’t moved Ortega to change course.

Julie Chung, the acting U.S. assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, called on Ortega’s government to release the detainees. The government’s crackdown “calls for an urgent internatio­nal response,” she tweeted.

Murillo lashed out Wednesday at the Biden administra­tion, saying the new sanctions were “illegal, arbitrary, coercive and unilateral.” She denounced the detained candidates as “traitors” seeking to launch a coup.

Maradiaga, 44, was arrested after being summoned for questionin­g Tuesday morning by the federal prosecutor’s office. Police said he was being investigat­ed for allegedly inciting interferen­ce in Nicaragua’s affairs,” and organizing terrorist acts with financing from foreign powers.”

Maradiaga, a center-left politician, dismissed the allegation­s. “This is a political case,” he told reporters shortly before his detention. “What we have done is fight alongside the Nicaraguan people, and we will continue to do so.”

Later Tuesday, police arrested Juan Sebastián Chamorro, 49, at his home in Managua, the capital. He was detained for “acts that undermine the independen­ce, the sovereignt­y and the self-determinat­ion” of Nicaragua, police said. Among his alleged misdeeds, police said, was “applauding the imposition of sanctions” on the country.

Chamorro, the former director of the opposition Civic Alliance coalition, said in a video released late Tuesday that he would “never accept any charge of treason from a dictatorsh­ip that has sold out Nicaragua.”

Authoritie­s have also opened a treason investigat­ion into Cruz, a former Nicaraguan ambassador who broke with Ortega and was detained on Saturday. He was ordered jailed for three months while the probe is underway. Cristiana Chamorro, a journalist and the leading candidate in the polls, is under house arrest amid government allegation­s of money laundering. She and Cruz say they are innocent.

Ortega, 75, is seeking a fourth consecutiv­e term in the Nov. 7 election. Independen­t polls show his popularity has dropped to its lowest point ever in the wake of a devastatin­g economic crisis and a rise in political repression.

“He is underminin­g the electoral process,” political analyst Eliseo Núñez said. “Ortega wants the opposition to be weakened in November.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that the arrests of the presidenti­al candidates “can seriously undermine the public’s confidence in the democratic process ahead of the November general elections,” and called for their release.

 ?? CARLOS HERRERA/REUTERS ?? Nicaraguan presidenti­al candidate Félix Maradiaga, an academic and political activist, talks to reporters Tuesday at the office of the Attorney General of the Republic in Managua before detention.
CARLOS HERRERA/REUTERS Nicaraguan presidenti­al candidate Félix Maradiaga, an academic and political activist, talks to reporters Tuesday at the office of the Attorney General of the Republic in Managua before detention.

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