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Nicaragua spirals deeper into repression as Ortega jails rivals and former allies

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 6/15/2021 Adriana Brasileiro, Miami Herald
a close up of a man wearing glasses: Dora Maria Tellez, former Sandinista guerrilla commander and leader of the Renewal Sandinista Movement, opposing the government of President Daniel Ortega during an interview with AFP in Managua, on July 18, 2012. © AFP/AFP/TNS Dora Maria Tellez, former Sandinista guerrilla commander and leader of the Renewal Sandinista Movement, opposing the government of President Daniel Ortega during an interview with AFP in Managua, on July 18, 2012.

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega stepped up attacks on his political opponents over the weekend by arresting five leading critics, including three former allies who fought alongside him during the Sandinista revolution, as he continues to suppress the opposition ahead of presidential elections in November.

Defying U.S. demands for the immediate release of four presidential candidates arrested over the past two weeks, Ortega ordered the arrest of Dora María Telléz, 65, a well known revolutionary and former leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, and detained a retired Sandinista general, a former foreign minister and two opposition party leaders.

The U.S. announced sanctions on four people last week, including Ortega's daughter, and warned the Central American nation that more measures will be taken soon if political opponents aren't released. The Organization of American States is meeting on Tuesday to address the situation in Nicaragua amid calls for its suspension from the regional forum.

"Ortega-Murillo's campaign of terror continues with more arbitrary arrests this weekend. OAS members must send a clear signal this week: enough repression," Julie Chung, the State Department's Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said on Twitter on Sunday. "The region cannot stand by and wait to see who is next."

Hugo Torres, 73, a retired Sandinista general who participated in the takeover of the National Palace in Managua — which marked the turning point in the revolution that toppled Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza — was also arrested.

"Forty-six years ago I risked my life to get Daniel Ortega and other political prisoner comrades out of jail. And In 1978 I once again risked my life alongside Dora María Téllez to free about 60 other political prisoners," Torres said in a recorded video message that was shared on social media. "But that's how life goes, those who once welcomed principles today have betrayed them."

Téllez is now part of the left-wing opposition party Unamos, whose leader, Suyen Barahona, as well as members Ana Margarita Vijil and Victor Hugo Tinoco were also arrested over the weekend.

They are among about a dozen opposition, civil society leaders and presidential hopefuls who have been jailed or placed under house arrest since earlier this month, effectively preventing them from campaigning five months before presidential elections in November. Ortega, 75, is running for a fourth consecutive term in office after spending 14 years as president.

Ortega has slowly weakened Nicaragua's democratic institutions since winning elections in 2006, suppressing dissent and changing the constitution to abolish term limits. His administration has also failed to implement reforms to the country's electoral system that were called for by the Organization of American States and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Earlier this month Ortega placed Cristiana Chamorro, the leading opposition candidate in the November presidential elections, under house arrest just hours after she officially announced her run for the presidency. His regime arrested two more presidential hopefuls, Felix Maradiaga, an academic and political activist, and Juan Sebastián Chamorro, an economist, making it impossible for them to continue their campaigns.

The U.S. State Department is urging the international community to pressure Nicaragua to ensure free and fair elections but won't hesitate to use diplomatic and economic tools to pressure Ortega, Chung told journalists last week.

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