Nicaragua: Five more opposition figures detained ahead of election

Dora Téllez. File photo

AFP/Getty Images

Police in Nicaragua have detained five more prominent opposition figures, in what critics say is a crackdown on opponents of the country’s president.

Several former allies of long-time President Daniel Ortega were among those arrested on Sunday.

Police accused them of inciting foreign interference in Nicaragua’s affairs, among other crimes.

About 12 opposition figures, including four hopefuls in November’s election, have been arrested in recent days.

Mr Ortega, 75, is expected to seek a fourth consecutive term in November’s presidential election. But opinion polls suggest his popularity has plummeted after a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in 2018 in which hundreds of people were killed.

In power since 2007, Mr Ortega has been accused of suppressing dissent and political opposition to his government ahead of the poll.

The police said those held on Sunday were all members of Unamos, an opposition party that is largely made up of dissidents who split from President Ortega’s governing party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).

The FSLN was a socialist revolutionary movement that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza and swept to power in the Central American nation in 1979.

Among those detained were retired General Hugo Torres and Dora Téllez, a former government health minister who turned against Mr Ortega.

Mr Torres said the opposition would keep fighting against Mr Ortega.

“These are desperate moves by a regime that feels it is moribund, that has no legal standing, that has no justification… to remain in power beyond November of this year when free and supervised elections should be held,” Mr Torres said.

Julie Chung, the top US diplomat for Latin America, called the arrests “arbitrary” and denounced Mr Ortega’s “campaign of terror” in a tweet.

What are they accused of?

Nearly all of those detained have been accused of plotting against Nicaragua’s sovereignty and independence and of organising terrorist acts with financial help from foreign powers.

They have been held under a controversial treason law passed in December by Nicaragua’s National Assembly, which is dominated by government allies.

Under the law, the government has the power to ban candidates from running for office if they are deemed to be traitors to Nicaragua. Anyone designated a traitor can be sent to prison for up to 15 years.

The government says the law aims to protect “the independence, the sovereignty and self-determination” of Nicaragua. It says the country is under threat from imperialist powers in the US and “coup-mongers” within Nicaragua who are determined to overthrow President Ortega.

But critics say the law is designed to stop opposition politicians from standing in the election. The US, the UK and the EU have imposed sanctions on Nicaraguan officials, whom they accuse of undermining democracy.


Who is Daniel Ortega?

Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega in the 1980s and in 2018

Getty Images and Reuters

  • Joined the left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the 1960s
  • Played a key role in the armed struggle against dictator Anastasio Somoza, whose family had ruled the country since 1936
  • Formed part of the Sandinista junta that seized power after ousting Somoza in 1979
  • Elected president in 1984 in the first elections to be held after Somoza’s overthrow
  • Defeated in the 1990 election after his presidency was marred by economic collapse and a war against US-backed right-wing rebel groups
  • Accused of sexual abuse by own stepdaughter in 1998
  • After two more defeats in elections in 1996 and 2001, he makes a come-back in 2006 after rebranding himself as a Christian socialist
  • Wins elections in 2011 and 2016 following constitutional changes that allowed him to run again
  • Resists calls to step down after the violent suppression of anti-government protests in 2018


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