Nicaraguan Police Detain Brother of Arrested Opposition Leader Chamorro

An accelerating political crackdown in Nicaragua has resulted in the arrest of the brother of apprehended opposition leader, Cristiana Chamorro. The arrest is the most recent in a string of 20+ detentions of opposition leaders and political opponents of President Daniel Ortega carried out since early June, escalating as elections draw nearer. Allegations against the accused include money laundering, abusive management, and inciting foreign interference, among other causes. Those arrested have been detained indefinitely with limited access to family, and in some cases, lawyers. 

Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Barrios, presidential hopeful and member of the opposition group Citizen Alliance, was arrested Friday night under a supposed violation of the country’s recently adopted “sovereignty laws.” Police claim he is “under investigation for acts that undermine the independence, sovereignty, and self-determination of Central American countries.” 

Under increasing backlash, Ortega- who initially governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and returned to power in 2007, winning two-reelection bids following a revision of the constitution allowing for an unlimited number of terms- issued a statement reaffirming the legitimacy of the arrests, claiming that his government was merely arresting and prosecuting criminals who planned to carry out a coup against him. “It’s absurd to set them free”, he argued, “Everything we’re doing, we’re doing it by the book.”

Despite Ortega’s defense of the arrests, international outcry has been significant. He faces growing accusations of authoritarianism and undermining democracy. The accelerating crackdown prompted Mexico and Argentina to withdraw their respective ambassadors to Nicaragua, citing increasing alarm about “the worrisome political-legal actions taken by the Nicaraguan government”. The Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution of their own, raising concern “at the recent deterioration of the political climate and human rights situation” in the country. Another statement issued by the US Department of State concurs that “The current conditions of repression and exclusion are not consistent with credible elections.” 

The string of arrests indicate a clear violation of democracy, a blatant undermining of election procedures, and an abuse of police force. 

The importance of international solidarity is emphasized by Victoria Cárdena, Chamorros’ wife, and Berta Valle, wife of fellow political prisoner and presidential candidate Félix Maradiaga. The women penned an opinion piece for The Washington Post where they call upon “the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the United States and other democratic governments in the Americas and around the world — to demand and act to secure the release of Félix, Juan Sebastián and the more than 130 political prisoners held by Ortega’s regime.”

Emphasis on the importance of mounting international pressure on the Ortega regime cannot be understated, “If free elections are not allowed, there is the possibility that the Nicaraguan people will seek a peaceful solution, a legitimate rebellion against oppression, as established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the third paragraph of its preamble,” says human rights defender Gonzalo Carrión, who is part of the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Never Again (Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca), and worked at the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, “That resistance is what the regime has not been able to subdue. In order for this peaceful resistance to be successful, international support and solidarity is necessary.” 

Ultimately, militarized international intervention is not an option. A peaceful transfer of power is absolutely necessary in order to prevent the worsening of preexisting political turmoil, which, in turn, would have direct detrimental impacts on the social and economic livelihoods of Nicaraguan civilians. It’s likely that a military coup backed by a foreign government would only serve to exacerbate the turmoil. Non-violent action- isolation, similar to Mexico and Argentina’s decisions to withdraw ambassadors, and targeted sanctions- as imposed by the US on the Nicaraguan Police Force in March of 2020 following ‘violent repression’ of Nicaraguan civilians- serve as potential examples of diplomatic action which could bear results. Further, the United Nations and democratic states globally should denounce the abuse of power in Nicaragua, imposing increasing pressure on the Ortega administration and demanding the release of political prisoners and restoration of undisrupted democratic election procedures. It’s imperative that the international community monitors the situation closely as it develops, standing in solidarity with Nicaraguan civilians.