The Nicaraguan government has ordered the arrest of two more members of President Daniel Ortega’s opposition. With an upcoming presidential election, Nicaraguan authorities have carried out numerous attacks against Ortega’s political opponents. Most recently, sixteen people have been detained, including potential presidential candidates.
Ortega’s administration passed new legislation in December 2020 allowing the government to autocratically classify citizens as “terrorists” and “traitors to the homeland.” This classification bars citizens from running for office.
The law allows the government to declare someone a terrorist if they “lead or finance a coup…encourage foreign interference, ask for military intervention…propose or plan economic blockades, applaud and champion the imposition of sanctions against Nicaragua or its citizens.”
The Nicaraguan government has also increased restrictions on civil media freedoms. International news reporters are being denied entrance to the country, and Nicaraguan journalists are being targeted and detained. The government has also begun arresting journalists for publishing “fake news.” The New York Times reported that many Nicaraguan journalists have now been forced to go into hiding.
The arrests prompted the United States to implement new sanctions against members of Ortega’s inner circle. Andrea Gacki, Director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, condemned the actions of Nicaraguan authorities saying, “President Ortega’s actions are harming Nicaraguans and driving the country deeper into tyranny.”
The Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution condemning the actions of the Nicaraguan government and calling for the prisoners to be released. The OAS denounced “the misuse of legislation and actions to intimidate and threaten members of the opposition and the press and to restrict political participation.” With the election approaching, the resolution also called for the implementation of measures to develop a transparent and free electoral process.
Experts are concerned that the measures being used to influence Ortega could end up causing a crisis in Nicaragua. According to Ivan Briscoe from the International Crisis Group, Ortega has a history of “exposing Nicaraguans to economic suffering in the name of political victory.” With harsher sanctions being introduced, many are concerned that Nicaragua will experience a humanitarian disaster. There are also fears that sanctions will push Nicaragua to become more dependent on Russia and China.
Briscoe recommends that the international community engage in diplomatic exchanges with Ortega. Private negotiations, as well as a unified message of moral outrage from left-wing Latin American countries and the Catholic Church, may bring about concessions from Ortega. In fact, Managua’s papal envoy has played a key role in mediating Nicaragua’s political disaster since 2018.
The Nicaraguan government has continued to defend its actions and has accused U.S.-funded “usurpers” of plotting to undermine Ortega’s power. As the crisis continues to worsen, the international community needs to find an effective way to achieve concessions. The country’s continued movement away from democracy requires the international community to act quickly to prevent a second Nicaraguan dictatorship from taking shape.
“This hearkens back to the anti-communist national security dictatorships of the 1970s,” Ivan Briscoe said. “It’s not just tilting the playing field along the lines of what we see very clearly in Venezuela in recent years. This is effectively removing the opposition as an actor.”
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