The United States called on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government on Friday to immediately release detained opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro and two of her colleagues.
“Their detention on trumped-up charges is an abuse of their rights, and it represents an assault on democratic values, as well as a clear attempt to thwart free and fair elections,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
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Chamorro was placed under house arrest after her home was raided by Nicaraguan police on June 2 in an escalating political battle before November elections in which Ortega is seeking to maintain his grip on power.
The 67-year-old journalist Chamorro is regarded as a possible challenger to Ortega, who is expected to run for re-election in November for a third consecutive term.
Police raided Chamorro’s home in the capital, Managua, and after being on site for more than five hours, they placed her “under house arrest, in isolation”, her brother Carlos Fernando Chamorro had announced on Twitter.
Chamorro is the third potential opposition candidate to be arrested in Nicaragua where two opposition parties already have been declared illegal.
Chamorro’s detention also drew condemnation on Friday from a leading Democratic member of the US Congress, Representative Eric Swalwell of California.
“Instead of wasting time undemocratically clamping down on dissent, Ortega should be working to lift his country out of the poverty and horrific violence that have caused so many of his constituents to leave the country,” Swalwell said.
I condemn in the strongest possible terms the unjustified house arrest of popular opposition candidate Cristiana Chamorro by Nicaragua president, Daniel Ortega. My statement: pic.twitter.com/Fiw1g4IOls
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) June 4, 2021
Swalwell called on the Biden administration to work with allies in the region “to impose consequences on Ortega for his regime’s assaults on freedom democracy and human rights”.
A group representing Nicaraguan political prisoners and the mothers of people killed protesting Ortega’s authoritarian government have called for a national strike following Chamorro’s detention.
“A national strike is better than a bullet,” said Grethel Gomez, standing in front of Chamorro’s house, where families of political prisoners came to show their solidarity.
Earlier this week, Nicaragua’s attorney general – an Ortega ally – sought Chamorro’s disqualification from public office due to the criminal investigation launched against her, and a judge immediately signed off.
She has been accused by state prosecutors of money laundering and a lesser citation of misrepresentation, charges she has denied.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting President Carlos Alvarado in neighbouring Costa Rica on June 1, had criticised the Ortega regime’s actions and reaffirmed US economic sanctions against Nicaraguan officials.
“Sanctions are there for a purpose, and that is to promote accountability for those who engage in human rights abuses, corruption, or undermine democracy,” Blinken said.
In Costa Rica, Antony Blinken says ‘Nicaragua is going in the opposite direction’ | Q COSTA RICAhttps://t.co/QWbd4ciQEH
— La Voz de Nicaragua (@vozdenicaragua) June 4, 2021
While Chamorro can appeal the disqualification, a reversal is unlikely due to Ortega’s influence over the courts.
Chamorro, who comes from a storied political lineage, recently emerged as a possible unity candidate who could rally a fractured opposition in the November vote to defeat Ortega.
Chamorro is the daughter of Violeta Chamorro, who was elected Nicaragua’s president in 1990, removing Ortega after his first stint in power, and her father, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, was assassinated in 1978 after leading the pro-democracy opposition to the Somoza dictatorship for decades.