Washington calls the Sandinista regime a "dictatorship" and demands the release of detainees, including four presidential hopefuls.
On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department imposed economic sanctions on key figures in the Nicaraguan Government, led by Sandinista Daniel Ortega, in response to the arrest of several opposition members, including four presidential hopefuls. Among those affected by Washington's decision is Camila Ortega Murillo, coordinator of the so-called Creative Economic Commission and daughter of Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo. The sanctions also include Leonardo Ovidio Reyes, president of the Central Bank; Deputy Edwin Castro Rivera, loyal political operator of the regime in the National Assembly; and Julio Rodríguez Balladares, General of the Nicaraguan Army. The Treasury Department claimed that these individuals support "a regime that undermined democracy, abused human rights, enacted repressive laws with grave economic consequences, and sought to silence the independent media."
The sanctions are announced a day after the regime launches a new offensive against political dissent. Four prominent opposition figures were arrested on Tuesday, accused of "inciting foreign interference in internal affairs," including two presidential hopefuls, a prominent activist, and the former president of the country's leading business chamber. The arrests generated strong international rejection, including from the United States, which described the Ortega government as a "dictatorship."
The first arrest took place in the morning, when academic and activist Félix Maradiaga, a pre-candidate for the presidency, was detained after appearing at the headquarters of the Public Ministry, where he was confirmed that he was the target of an investigation. Hours later, police searched former deputy finance minister Juan Sebastián Chamorro García, nephew of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. He had also announced his intention to face Ortega in elections scheduled for November. At night, activist Violeta Granera and José Adán Aguerri, former president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), were detained in their homes.
The Council maintained a cooperative government relationship with Ortega between 2007, when the former Sandinista guerrilla returned to power, and 2018 when a series of social protests demanding the end of the Sandinista's mandate was brutally repressed. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), 328 people were killed in those incidents.
Aguerri is also part of the Civic Alliance. This opposition group was born during the protests to negotiate a peaceful solution to the political crisis. COSEP denounced in a statement what it considers the "dismantling" of the democratic regime in Nicaragua and stated that Tuesday's arrests "challenge the democratic viability of carrying out a free, fair, competitive and transparent electoral process." The employer demanded the release of all detainees, which they described as "political prisoners."
Maradiaga, Chamorro García, Granera, and Aguerri were arrested on charges of "inciting foreign interference in internal affairs," according to the authorities, a crime under the Law for the Defense of People's Rights to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace, approved in December by the National Assembly, under the control of Ortega. This Law was denounced by human rights organizations as a judicial instrument to censor and persecute voices critical of the Government because they are seeking foreign funding to conspire against the regime. Granera was placed under house arrest. The others were taken to the Directorate of Legal Aid (DAJ) in Managua, whose cells were denounced as torture centers by human rights organizations.
With the arrest of Maradiaga and Chamorro García, four presidential candidates have been investigated and detained in recent days. Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of former leader Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, was the primary opposition candidate until she was placed under house arrest by the Ortega regime on 2 June. She is accused of laundering assets through the foundation that bears her mother's name. The Public Ministry summoned several journalists to testify in this case because they received support from the foundation, including María Lili Delgado, a correspondent for the US Hispanic channel Univisión. She was prevented from leaving the country.
Tuesday's arrests sparked a wave of international criticism. The US State Department attacked Ortega again, calling him a "dictator."
"The arbitrary detention of presidential candidate Félix Maradiaga –the third opposition leader detained in 10 days– confirms beyond any doubt that Ortega is a dictator. The international community has no choice but to treat it as such," the head of US diplomacy for the Americas, Julie Chung, posted on Twitter. "The repressive measures against political leaders and civil society require an international call to the regime. Ortega is responsible for the well-being of detainees. They must be released immediately," added the US diplomat. Spain also condemned the arrests, expressing in a note from the Foreign Ministry its "deep concern" with the situation in the Central American country and calling for the release of the detainees.
Nicaragua has general elections scheduled for November, but Ortega took it upon himself to curb any type of competition, not only with the arrest of his rivals but also with reforms in the Electoral Power that guaranteed him total control of the entire electoral system, so that the regime prepares the ground for new re-election of the Sandinista, in power since 2007.
INTELLECTUALS CALL FOR MORE SANCTIONS FROM ORTEGA
Dozens of intellectuals, writers, former presidents, filmmakers, journalists, academics, and activists from Spain, Germany, and Latin America signed a manifesto demanding that the international community impose more sanctions against the regime led by Daniel Ortega. The manifesto, released on Monday and signed by 220 people and human rights organizations, calls for "condemnation by the international community of the actions of the Government of Ortega and Murillo, an electoral process that meets the minimum conditions required by the international community law, and do everything within its diplomatic and political reach to punish the regime for the systematic violations of human rights in the country."
Among the signatories are Spanish writer Almudena Grandes, filmmaker Isabel Coixet, Colombian writer Laura Restrepo, Spanish MEP José Antonio Bauzá and former Costa Rican presidents Laura Chinchila, Óscar Árias, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez and Luis Guillermo Solís. "The Nicaraguan people, a victim of so many civil wars in the past, this time opted for a peaceful exit from the crisis in which they have been plunged for three years. This solution is free, transparent elections and with guarantees to move towards the recovery of the Rule of Law and the construction of democracy with full respect for human rights", concludes the manifesto.
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