Nicaraguan police detained another opposition presidential hopeful Saturday, the second such arrest in four days, and charged him with “conspiring against Nicaraguan society,” ratcheting up the government’s repression against potential opponents of President
in coming elections.
Arturo Cruz, 67 years old, who once served as Mr. Ortega’s ambassador to the U.S., was detained in Managua airport as he returned from a trip to Washington. The Nicaraguan Attorney General’s Office said in a statement Mr. Cruz was being investigated because of “strong evidence that he had conspired against Nicaraguan society and the rights of the Nicaraguan people” and would be presented to “competent judicial authorities.”
Mr. Cruz is the second opposition presidential candidate to have been detained this week by Nicaraguan police. On Wednesday, police broke into the home of Cristiana Chamorro, who leads the opposition to Mr. Ortega in the polls, and placed her under house arrest for alleged money laundering. Ms. Chamorro, 67, is the daughter of Violeta Chamorro, who beat Mr. Ortega in Nicaragua’s 1990 presidential elections.
“This is an intensification of the attacks of the dictatorship against possible opposition candidates,” said Kitty Monterrey, the president of Citizens Alliance for Liberty, Mr. Cruz’s political party. “Ortega wants to dishearten citizens so they lose hope and drop out of the political process.”
Ms. Monterrey said the accusations against Mr. Cruz were a sham. No one has been able to speak with him since his arrest, she said.
The U.S., which had already condemned the arrest of Ms. Chamorro, called for the release of Mr. Cruz. “The international community has spoken: under Ortega, Nicaragua is becoming an international pariah and moving farther away from democracy,” wrote Julie Chung, the State Department’s leading Latin America official, in a tweet.
A senior U.S. State Department official said the arrests were driven by Mr. Ortega’s fear of losing the election.
“These measures are designed so he can select his opponents to the election, and exclude the opponents he is most fearful of,” the U.S. official said.
The official said the U.S. would work with the European Union and countries in the Americas to obtain the release of the detained candidates and to put the Nicaraguan elections, scheduled for November, back on track.
Mr. Ortega, 75, who has been in power since 2007, is expected to run for a fourth consecutive term. He last won re-election in a landslide in 2016. In 2018, his government was shaken by massive street protests. About 330 people were killed, most by police and allied government paramilitary forces, according to human-rights organizations.
The Nicaraguan president first came to power in 1979 leading Marxist guerrillas in the Sandinista revolution which overthrew a longtime dictatorship headed by the late
Mr. Cruz’s detention is the latest of a flurry of moves against Mr. Ortega’s political opponents and the country’s independent media. Last month, Nicaragua’s government withdrew legal recognition from one of two opposition umbrella groups that planned to contest the election.
“Ortega is clearly out of control,” said José Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch.
The senior State Department official said there had been unsuccessful conversations over recent months with Nicaraguan officials to convince them that the U.S. would accept any results of a free and fair election, including an Ortega victory. The official said the Ortega government would likely face consequences for stamping out democracy.
“They don’t understand that the elimination of democracy would be a direct challenge to the Americas, and not just the U.S.,” the senior State Department official said.
Mr. Cruz is the first person to be arrested under the provisions of a new law that went into effect in December. A police statement said the law prohibited actions that promote foreign interference in Nicaraguan affairs, destabilize the country’s government or call for the imposition of damaging sanctions.
“Ortega has ready to go legislation that he can use to take any opponent out he wants to,” said Mr. Vivanco. “The law allows for anything. If you go to Washington and meet with a government official or accept an invitation, you could be targeted by this law.”
In a series of tweets before his detention, Mr. Cruz condemned the arrest of Ms. Chamorro, and said he wouldn’t participate in elections if the process of the government eliminating presidential hopefuls continued.
“When I got into this process, I said very clearly I would not take part in an electoral farce,” he wrote in a tweet.
Write to José de Córdoba at email@example.com
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