Washington, D.C. — The arrests of four presidential candidates in Nicaragua in less than a week generates grave concern of the use of government institutions that should be independent to attack political adversaries of Ortega’s administration.
On June 2, the Nicaraguan government detained and filed criminal charges against Cristiana Chamorro, a presidential candidate in the elections scheduled for November of this year. The charges have to do with technical and administrative questions about an annual financial report from Chamorro’s foundation; framing them as criminal issues related to money laundering is not credible.
Beyond the filing of the charges themselves, the call by Nicaragua’s attorney general for a judge to rule Chamorro ineligible to hold public office appears politically motivated and at odds with due process and Nicaraguan constitutional procedures.
The effect of the charges, and of the move to exclude Chamorro from public office, is to weaken one of the leading challengers to President Ortega’s re-election campaign, at a moment when opposition groups are mobilizing.
“This appears to be a politically driven effort to undermine a political opponent, not a serious investigation of a criminal matter. The Nicaraguan government should drop these charges, and refrain from any further efforts to use the legal system to harass or attack political opponents,” said Geoff Thale, President of WOLA.
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) has called on the Ortega government to ensure that the upcoming elections are conducted fairly and freely, as have members of the U.S. Congress.
“Nicaraguans deserve an electoral campaign that offers real debates and serious choices about the future of the country,” said Thale. “The international community should strongly press the Ortega government to ensure that the upcoming elections are conducted fairly and freely.”
In a subsequent attack against the opposition and the Nicaraguan electorate, on Saturday June 5, a second presidential candidate, the economist Arturo Cruz, was captured at the Managua international airport when he was returning from the United States, where he served as Ortega’s ambassador between 2007 and 2009.
The allegations of the Public Prosecutor’s Office that Cruz “is being investigated by the National Police for having strong indications that he has attacked Nicaraguan society and the rights of the people,” not only further undermines the credibility and independence of that institution, involved in the capture of Chamorro, but also evokes similar doubts about the country’s police, over which serious accusations of human rights violations weigh.
On June 8th, in the afternoon, the Police informed that a third candidate, academic and political activist Félix Maradiaga Blandón was being accused of a series of crimes, including “destabilization”, “proposing economic blocks”, “applauding the imposition of sanctions against Nicaragua” and “injuring the supreme interests of the nation.”
Maradiaga was detained after making a statement before the Public Prosecutor’s Office, where they confirmed that they had opened an investigation for “inciting foreign interference in internal affairs.”
“Going after Maradiaga means they are acting against not only their center right opponents, but the center left ones as well, and suggests they are trying to clear the field of all opposition candidates,” said Thale.
Just a few hours after the arrest of Maradiaga, the Nicaraguan police reported on the arrest of economist and center-right presidential candidate Juan Sebastián Chamorro, alleging a series of unfounded crimes as in the cases of the other candidates.
*This statement was updated after the arrests of Arturo Cruz, Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastián Chamorro. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the elections would be held in September. The elections will take place in November.