Monday, March 4, 2024

LATIN AMERICA | 08-11-2021 10:10

Timeline: Nicaragua's authoritarian slide

Under ring-of-steel security, Nicaragua opened its polls for presidential elections dismissed as a "sham" by the international community, with all viable challengers to long-term leader Daniel Ortega locked up or in exile.

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, who won a fourth consecutive presidential term on Monday, has been cracking down on the opposition for months.

No fewer than seven presidential hopefuls have been arrested since June, with the United States and European Union branding Ortega a dictator.

We look back at the Central American country's slide into authoritarianism under the former Sandinista leader.


Pre-election arrests

The roundup of potential presidential challengers began in June when Cristiana Chamorro, the daughter of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, was placed under house arrest.

Polls suggested Chamorro was the favorite to defeat Ortega, as her mother did in 1990.

In recent months, six more opposition presidential hopefuls were among nearly 40 people detained by Ortega's government for threatening Nicaragua's "sovereignty."

All are charged under a widely criticized law passed in December seen as a means of freezing out challengers and silencing opponents ahead of the election.



Brussels and Washington have called on Ortega to release those arrested and start talks with the opposition.

The top US diplomat for Latin America, Julie Chung, tweeted that the arrests "should resolve any remaining doubts about Ortega's credentials as a dictator."  

The former revolutionary leader governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, returned to power in 2007 and has won four successive re-elections since then.

In August, the 75-year-old former leftist guerrilla confirmed that his wife, Rosario Murillo – vice-president since 2017 – would again be his running mate.


Bloody protests in 2018

Ortega has been accused of increasing authoritarianism, especially following the brutal repression of anti-government demonstrations in 2018 that left more than 320 dead and forced over 100,000 into exile.

Those protests were triggered by now-scrapped social security reforms, with demonstrators accusing Ortega and Murillo of establishing a corrupt and nepotistic dictatorship.



Washington imposed sanctions on Ortega's government and inner circle during the 2018 demonstrations.

US President Joe Biden said in a statement on Sunday that the outcome was "rigged" long before the "sham" election.

"What Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, orchestrated today was a pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic," the president said, adding the pair now run Nicaragua "as autocrats."

In June, it imposed fresh sanctions against three Nicaraguan officials and the president's daughter, while accusing the regime of undermining democracy and abusing human rights.

In August, the EU also slapped new sanctions on Murillo, her son Juan Carlos and six government officials for "serious human rights violations."

Days before the polls, the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell branded Ortega a "dictator" who was staging "fake" elections.

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